How is David Garrow’s MLK Article Faring Today?

King preaching

We are starting to hear from historians and others on today’s David Garrow’s Standpoint piece on Martin Luther’s King’s moral indiscretions.  I linked to the article here and blogged about it last night.

Here is some news/commentary on Garrow’s piece that we found today.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers Garrow’s piece, has an article about Garrow, and explains to readers why it is covering this story.  In the latter piece, the AJC mentions that Garrow approached the paper with his findings and wanted to work together on an investigative report. AJC declined because it did not have access to the King tapes.  (The tapes will be released in 2027).

Meanwhile, the Washington Post quotes several historians.  Gillian Brockell’s piece notes that Garrow has been skeptical in the past about using FBI memos on historical research.  Garrow makes the case that the MLK memos are different. Yale’s Glenda Gilmore questions the veracity of the hand-written notes in the memos.  (This is relevant because the reference to King watching a rape is hand-written). Gilmore adds that FBI files often contain “a great deal of speculation, interpolation from snippets of facts, and outright errors.”  Nathan Connolly of Johns Hopkins is also “deeply suspicious” about Garrow’s sources.  He said that Garrow’s decision to publish these documents is “archivally irresponsible.”

From this article at Insider we learn that the Guardian originally accepted the piece and then retracted it at the last minute.  It was also rejected by The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and The Intercept.

I am sure there are historians working on op-eds and blog posts as I type this.  I will monitor this as best I can.

Of course I have no idea if any of the allegations in Garrow’s piece are true.  Historians will offer interpretations.  The way they respond to this story could have career-defining implications.  I think you will see a lot of caution and hedging over the next few days and weeks.  And, I might add, this is a good thing.  Historians should be the last people to rush to judgement (one way or another) on a story like this.

Journalists will now try to track down people who know something about what is written in these FBI memos.  They will shape the so-called “first draft” of this story.

Indeed, as Connolly and Gilmore note, we need to think about bias in these FBI sources.  This is important, especially in light of what we know about J. Edgar Hoover.  I read some of the documents embedded in Garrow’s piece and I also had suspicions about the hand-written marginal comments.  The memos Garrow found were documents that were obviously part of an ongoing editing process.  I am guessing that the final, more polished, reports are with the tapes.  Once historians see them they will be able to make more definitive statements about how the FBI interpreted the tapes.

We also know that context teaches us that King was not a saint when it came to these encounters with women who were not his wife.  Any historian will take this into consideration. King historians can comment on just how far of an intellectual leap is needed to get from what we already knew about King to the allegations in the FBI memos.

And what if we learn that Garrow is right about King?  This will be a reminder that all historical figures are complex and deeply flawed people.  Stay tuned.

This is also a great opportunity for teaching students and others about how to read the Internet responsibly.  (See Sam Wineburg’s new book and our interview with him here).  Different news outlets and opinion sites are already reporting this story in different ways.

What is Socialism?

Debs

Eugene Debs

National Public Radio’s “Here and Now” explores this question with historians Ed Ayers and Nathan Connolly.  Here are some highlights:

 

On the definition of socialism

Connolly: “I think many people would assume that socialism is very un-American. But there also are very different stripes of it. In the European strain, there was a great emphasis on to each according to their needs, from each according to their skill. On the American side, you have a certain commitment to it maybe a revolutionary rhetoric, but reformist implementation, for the most part. And the other thing that may surprise people is that just day to day practices that we would today call “socialistic,” perhaps, certainly publicly owned lands, represent a kind of socialism. Whether you’re talking about parks or grazing land. Even something like say eminent domain, which is the taking of private property for a public good, is actually a very American practice — moving something from a market to a nonmarket use, per se.”

On when socialism became a dirty word

Ayers: “Before it really became a dirty word, it became a very popular word. The second best-selling book of the 19th century was Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” which actually is a utopian vision of what America might be in the future and their utopian Bellamy clubs all across the United States. So that’s in 1888, that recently — in the middle of the Gilded Age — which had the great wealth disparities that we’re seeing today. Some people talk about living the second Gilded Age, well that was the first one, when people were so shocked about what concentration of wealth meant and what corporate power meant. People immediately started imagining what an alternative might be. And one of the men who came out of that culture was Eugene Debs from Terre Haute, Indiana, who became the great era socialist of American history. And I guess to answer your question, it was around Debs that socialism began to become a dirty word.”

Read the entire piece here.

Big Changes at “Backstory”

 

backstory_hosts_12-2016_03-825x550

Backstory with the American History Guysthe popular American history radio show and podcast, is going to have to make a slight alteration to its subtitle.  That is because Yale historian Joanne Freeman has joined the show.   Freeman will join Ed Ayers and Brian Balogh beginning February 3, 2017.  In addition to Freeman, Johns Hopkins history professor Nathan Connolly will also join the cast.

Peter Onuf, one of the original “American History Guys” is stepping down from his regular hosting slot, but he will continue to contribute to the show.

Here is a taste of the press release from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities:

Freeman is a professor of History and American Studies at Yale, author of the award-winning “Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic,” and editor of “Alexander Hamilton: Writings.” A specialist in revolutionary and early national American history, her work focuses on political violence and the culture of politics. Her extensive knowledge of dueling and research into the life of Alexander Hamilton influenced Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Broadway’s “Hamilton” the musical.  In a New York Times story, Miranda credited Freeman’s book “Affairs of Honor” and her edited volume of “Alexander Hamilton: Writings” as “indispensable.”

Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University and the author of “A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida.” Connolly’s research and writing focuses on the “interplay between racism, capitalism, politics, and the built environment in the twentieth century.” A self-described desegregationist, Connolly is the first African American author to win either the Kenneth T. Jackson Book Award from the Urban History Association or the Bennett H. Wall Award from the Southern Historical Association. Connolly is also the co-author of “Trump Syllabus 2.0” and the first black U.S. historian to earn tenure at Johns Hopkins.

Longtime host Peter Onuf will continue to contribute to the program.

“Peter Onuf’s rambunctious sense of humor, iconoclastic insight, broad vision, and passion have given BackStory much of its energy, irreverence, and relevance,” said Ayers. “We’re delighted that Peter will remain a part of BackStory, with guest appearances on the show, and we know our listeners will always be happy to hear his resonant voice.”

BackStory’s audience is already familiar with the voices of both Freeman and Connolly as guests and as co-hosts. This year, Connolly guest-hosted “Well-Regulated Militias” and Freeman guest-hosted “Judaism in America.”

“I can’t wait to start working with Joanne and Nathan on a weekly basis. It’s about time that they earned an honest living,” Balogh said. “All kidding aside,” he continued, “I am honored to work with two such fine scholars, who have advanced their fields but not lost sight of the big picture.”