The Author’s Corner with Noeleen McIlvenna

Early American RebelsNoeleen McIlvenna is Professor of History at Wright State University. This interview is based on her new book, Early American Rebels: Pursuing Democracy from Maryland to Carolina, 1640–1700 (University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Early American Rebels?

NM: All my work starts from the premise that the poor are not stupid. They know when they are being used and abused. But, in most eras on most continents, it’s very difficult to do anything about it. Power has all the weapons and they are relentless in their pursuit of more power and wealth. Working people have only numbers. And there is so much to fear: losing one’s livelihood, one’s health, the unknown future. So organizing ourselves to act collectively and then maintaining that solidarity over time and under varying pressures is a very tough road to climb. That’s why revolutions occur so rarely.

This is my third book on southern colonial history. As an immigrant myself, who grew up on one side of the Atlantic and crossed in my early twenties, I identify with the first generation of settlers along the North American coastline. I understand how one carries over cultural baggage and must adjust to a New World. So I write about those people: in North Carolina (A Very Mutinous People), in Georgia (The Short Life of Free Georgia), and now in Maryland.

Early American Rebels began as a prequel of sorts to A Very Mutinous People. While I was in the middle of the Georgia book, a genealogist contacted me and asked if I was aware that one of the Mutinous People protagonists had been in trouble in Maryland earlier. I was totally unaware; North Carolina historians had always felt that the first settlers came from Virginia. So when the Georgia manuscript had been sent to the publisher, I began to follow up, thinking I would write a small article about this story. But very quickly, I realized I had stumbled into a much bigger story: a whole network of activists had organized and organized and organized over two generations, struggling to establish a society based on Leveler ideals. Levelers were the radicals of the English Revolution: they wanted a society with a level playing field: no monarchy, no aristocracy; a vote for every man. Equality. We think of that as a basic American value, but it was revolutionary in the seventeenth century. And too often, Americans are taught that those ideals came from Virginia planters of the eighteenth century. But that is wrong. Poor indentured servants a hundred years before the American Revolution held those ideals and fought for them.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Early American Rebels?

NM: A network of settlers in the Chesapeake region fought for a say in their own governance in the mid-late seventeenth century. American democratic ideals are their legacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Early American Rebels?

NM: It is important for us to understand that we should look to those at the bottom of any society for leadership on how to change it. Early American Rebels gives us a guide on what it takes to create a more equitable world. It warns us how we might fail if the powerful separate us by race and make us compete for the crumbs. I hope you will get a sense of the playbooks of both the rebels and the elite.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

NM: That occurred in several stages. The most important was the first day of eighth grade, back in Northern Ireland, when my new history teacher wrote the preamble to the Declaration of Independence on the blackboard and told us to copy it into our notebooks. When I got to the phrase, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish [their government],” I looked up and met his eyes. I repeated the phrase to him and he nodded, smiling. As a poor Catholic girl growing up during the Troubles, no one had really said that clearly to me and I knew immediately its significance. We mostly studied European history for the rest of high school, but I was hooked on understanding how some people came to have power and some did not. If someone had told me that there was such a job as an historian and that a poor Catholic girl was allowed to have that job, I would have signed up for it at age thirteen. But I had no concept that such a thing was possible.

I studied History as an undergraduate in Northern Ireland, but still did not grasp that I could become a history professor. No women taught history at that university. It seemed that a woman who loved history had one outlet: teach the subject at the high school level. Fast forward some years, an emigration or two and a few adventures and I was working at the University of Tennessee as a staff archaeologist. I saw lots of women professors and graduate students. When my boss told me I needed an MA and history was close enough to archaeology to suffice, I walked across the parking lot to the History department. The first graduate class I signed up for was Colonial America. That was that.

JF: What is your next project?

NM: I want to write an economic history from the bottom up. That is, how did the seventeenth-century Atlantic World economy function, starting at the workplace of an indentured woman in the Chesapeake and moving up and out until we finish with the King, politicians and financiers in London. We would see how much work she does to earn enough to eat, how the tobacco she works on, or whatever she produces gets sold and resold, who enjoys the profit at what stage and so on.

JF: Thanks, Noeleen!

Historian: North Carolina Opened Too Soon in 1918

NC Flu

“Canteen workers, Charlotte, N.C. Taking food to the colored family all down with the ‘Flu.’ They found the mother had just died…” (Library of Congress)

Check out Ned Barnett’s Raleigh News Observer story on the 1918 pandemic in North Carolina based on his interview with Chapel Hill professor James Leloudis.

A taste:

The 1918 pandemic came through North Carolina in three waves: a small one in the summer of that year, a big one in the fall and winter and another smaller one in the winter of 1919.

“What gives me pause when I look back at 1918 is I think about the second wave,” Leloudis said. “People did social distancing and there was this sense of ‘that’s behind us and we can all move on’ and then the second wave hit and it was just devastating.”

By the end, 20 percent of the state – some 520,000 people – were infected and 13,644 died.

“One clear lesson of the 1918 pandemic is to be wary of that kind of thinking,” Leloudis said. “Letting down the guard in that case turned out to be disastrous. It’s the same situation we are in now.”

In North Carolina as of Friday, there were 10,923 confirmed cases of infection with the new coronavirus and 399 deaths. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, says the U.S. is almost certain to face a second surge this fall and winter.

Many say the COVID-19 crisis will change American society and politics, but Leloudis said that was not the case after the 1918 pandemic. Health care in North Carolina did not improve and the number of hospitals actually declined.

Leloudis said one troubling aspect of the COVID-19 crisis is that it also mirrors the racial inequities of a century ago.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Bruce Stewart

Redemption from TyrannyBruce Stewart is Associate Professor of History at Appalachian State University. This interview is based on his new book, Redemption from Tyranny: Herman Husband’s American Revolution (University of Virginia Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Redemption from Tyranny?

BS: I first heard of Herman Husband’s role in the North Carolina Regulation movement as a young history buff growing up in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. I encountered him again as a Ph.D. student researching my dissertation (which became my first book, Moonshiners and Prohibitionists), when I learned that Husband also participated in the Whiskey Rebellion in southwestern Pennsylvania. Many years later, as I was going down a series of rabbit holes trying to find my next project, I searched for a biography of Husband and discovered that the only full-scale account of his life was published in 1940. While I later discovered an excellent unpublished Ph.D. dissertation on Husband written in 1982, I knew that the revolutionary American deserved more attention. And just like that, my next project was born.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Redemption from Tyranny?

BS: Influenced by personal experience, Western political thought, and radical Protestantism, Herman Husband viewed the Revolution as an opportunity to forge a new republic that promoted economic equality among white men. Only by preventing the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, he argued, could ordinary white Americans achieve economic independence, retain their political rights, and redeem the young nation from tyranny.

JF: Why do we need to read Redemption from Tyranny?

BS: Redemption from Tyranny uses the life of Herman Husband as a lens through which to explore how ordinary people shaped–and were shaped by–the American Revolution. Such a bottom-up approach complements recent scholarship that focuses on the experiences of common folk in the Revolutionary Era, allowing scholars to raise questions that broaden our understanding of the origins and nature of democracy in the United States. What did the Revolution mean to those who experienced it? How radical was the American Revolution? What role did evangelical religion play in politicizing ordinary people? In what ways did common folk demand not only political, but also economic equality, and which was most important to them? This final question remains relevant today, as Americans continue to debate the role that government should play in maintaining its citizens’ political and economic rights. Ultimately, because Husband’s vision of the young republic–one that stressed a more equitable economic system–represented an ideology shared by other common folk, his story enables us to gain fresh insight on the sources of agrarian radicalism, the obstacles that confronted reformers, and the mixed results of the American Revolution.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

BS: I can’t recall the exact moment when I decided to become an American historian. Looking back, I have always been interested in history. As a child, I often accompanied my father to Civil War battlefields, so I credit him for instilling a love of history in me. My high school history teacher, Keith Walker, further sparked my fascination with history. I was by no means a stellar high-school student, but I enjoyed his class. When I got to college, I became a history major and by the end of my freshman year, I knew I wanted to be a professor of history (I credit those trips with my father to Gettysburg and other battlefields for leading me to focus on American history).

JF: What is your next project?

BS: My next project is co-writing a comprehensive study of Reconstruction in North Carolina. The last such history was written in the early twentieth century and contains–to put it nicely–major interpretation errors. My co-author and I are currently completing the research phase (I recently wrapped up most of my research at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Southern Historical Collection before the birth of my son at the end of 2019, and I plan on visiting Duke University’s Special Collections and the State Archives of North Carolina this year). Because of the enormous scope of the project, we don’t have a projected completion date yet.

JF: Thanks, Bruce!

North Carolina General Assembly Session Records Are Now Online

NC Map

“History for All the People,” a blog of the State Archives of North Carolina, recently announced that the state’s General Assembly session records are now online.  Here is a taste of the post:

After three years, The General Assembly Session Records digital collection is now online!

This digital collection covers the session records from 1709 to 1814, located in the State Archives of North Carolina. The physical collection includes records that extend to 1999, but we wanted to highlight the history of colonial North Carolina and the days of early statehood. The documents include Senate and House bills, joint resolutions, propositions, filed grievances, boundary disputes, and petitions that typically discussed divorces, inheritances, name changes and emancipation.

Learn more.

Can a Senior Scholar Apply for This Internship?

Outer Banks

Asking for a friend. 🙂

The Outer Banks History Center (OBHC) is excited to announce the second iteration of its annual summer internship. The David Stick Internship, sponsored by the Friends of the Outer Banks History Center, is a fully-funded summer position with the Outer Banks History Center (OBHC) in Manteo, N.C. This is a 10-week, full time position performing archival work for the OBHC. The intern will be paid a $4,000 stipend. Additionally, local housing can be arranged for the intern at a minimal cost.

Read the rest here?

The Author’s Corner with Philip Gerard

The Last Battleground The Civil War Comes to North CarolinaPhilip Gerard is a Professor of Creative Writing at The University of North Carolina Wilmington. This interview is based on his new book, The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: The book began as a series of monthly narratives for Our State magazine, which has a wide readership in the South and beyond—fifty in all, spanning the four years of the Sesquicentennial of the conflict. The idea was to report the war as if it were happening right now. Addressing the American Historical Association in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (was there ever a more vivid figure in American history?) said, “The true historian will bring the past before our eyes as if it were the present.” I wanted to make the war present—to get beyond the usual chess game accounts of regiments maneuvering here and there and put a human face on it. The Civil War was a profound human trauma that engulfed a nation, and for me the most important thing to remember is this: at the time, no one knew how it would turn out. All those caught up in it—soldiers, sailors, generals, privates, free persons of color, Cherokees and Lumbee Indians, liberated slaves, farm wives, wealthy plantation owners, working men and women, railroaders, even nuns of the battlefield who nursed the wounded—endured a true and terrible suspense. From the start I knew it was going to be a book—a whole coherent narrative made up of their many personal stories. So I re-reported all the narratives; edited, revised, and re-sequenced them; and added my own reflections.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: North Carolina provides the perfect lens for capturing the whole epic sweep of the war: its white population was evenly divided in their loyalties; it was a homefront, a battleground, and occupied territory all at once; it contributed more soldiers than almost any other southern state, including so-called U.S. Colored Troops—and North Carolinians served on both sides; it was home to the Heroes of America, actively subverting the Confederacy; it was the refuge of the CSA government once it fled Richmond; it was the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, who gained the presidency upon the death of Lincoln and made such a shameful hash of Reconstruction; it was the ground of Sherman’s Final March and the cataclysmic Battle of Fort Fisher, guarding the last open port of the Confederacy; and it was the site of the Great Surrender of 90,000 troops that ended the war militarily and politically in the main theater of war.

JF: Why should we read The Last Battleground: The Civil War Comes to North Carolina?

PG: Our nation remains divided by many of the same existential issues for which the war was fought at such cost. The Civil War remains the unreckoned-with backstory of our current state of affairs, and if we understand it in all its terrible complexity, we might be better able to really enjoy “a new birth of freedom.”

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PG: My interest in history goes all the way back to childhood. My father used to bundle us all into the station wagon and drive us to historical sites such as Gettysburg, Brandywine Creek, Valley Forge, and the Daniel Boone Homestead. Every year we would ride the excursion boat to Fort Delaware and explore its battlements and tunneled galleries, playing hide-and-seek with the uniformed Civil War reenactors.. Walking the ground even then instilled in me a sense that history was real and urgent, dramatic and important. I learned early that history has a future, and we are that future. And so I adventure into the past to find the truth of my own—and our own—identify.

JF: What is your next project?

PG: My novel Cape Fear Rising, which peeled the scab off a long-suppressed historical event in my hometown—a white supremacist coup and racial massacre—is relaunching in May in a special 25th anniversary edition with a foreword by Randall Kenan and an author’s afterword discussing the creative process of writing it and the ugly backlash that followed from some in the white community. I have been writing a narrative series called “Decades” for Our State—addressing the wartime 1940s and the 1950s, the cauldron of Civil Rights, among other stories. And I am writing a novel about the building of the Fontana Dam on the Little Tennessee—a wartime project conceived in deception and built in haste, which changed forever the lives of an entire displaced farming community—as well as inspiring a generation of kids who spent four remarkable years in a town of 5,000 people erected virtually overnight, as they watched their fathers construct the highest dam east of the Rockies.

JF: Thanks, Philip!

The Author’s Corner with Hampton Newsome

The fight for the old north state

Hampton Newsome is an independent historian and co-editor of Civil War Talks: Further Reminiscences of George S. Bernard and His Fellow Veterans. This interview is based on his new book, The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864 (University Press of Kansas, 2019).

JF: What led you to write The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: I was drawn to this project by the intriguing mix of military and political issues involved with the battles in eastern North Carolina during the first half of 1864. These events, which included Confederate attacks on New Bern and Plymouth, form a compelling story complete with battles on land, naval combat between ironclads and wooden gunboats, Unionist resistance to the Confederacy, and a crucial state election.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: In attacking key Union positions in North Carolina during the first months of 1864, Confederate leaders sought to secure vital supplies for Robert E. Lee’s army and to dampen a growing peace movement that threatened to pull the state out of the war. These military operations, particularly the capture of the Federal garrison at Plymouth in April, helped achieve these goals for the rebellion.

JF: Why do we need to read The Fight for the Old North State: The Civil War in North Carolina, January-May 1864?

HN: This book provides an in-depth look into a compelling chapter of the war that has received limited attention in the past. It covers George Pickett’s New Bern expedition, Robert Hoke’s assault on Plymouth, the fall of “Little” Washington, and Hoke’s final approach on New Bern in May. Although the study focuses on specific military engagements, it also sets these events in a broader context. It delves into the gubernatorial contest between Governor Zebulon Vance and William Holden, emancipation in the state, the activities of North Carolina Unionists including those recruited into Federal units, the construction of Confederate ironclads, and Union strategy for coastal North Carolina.

JF: When and why did you become an American historian?

HN: Though I’m not a historian by profession, I have a long-standing interest in the Civil War. I’ve always been drawn to learning about battles and campaigns as well as the broader political and social picture behind those events.

JF: What is your next project?

HN:  I’m gathering research on several Union raids in Virginia and North Carolina in 1863.

JF: Thanks, Hampton!

In Defense of Keeping Silent Sam

Silent Sam

Get up to speed here and here.

University of Pennsylvania historian Jonathan Zimmerman is in favor of keeping the statue on campus.  He writes in the wake of the UNC-Chapel Hill administration’s decision not to build a special interpretive center for the statue.  Here is a taste of his piece at The Chronicle of the Higher Education: “Historians Should End Silence on Silent Sam“:

The Confederate statue known as Silent Sam is a monument to white supremacy, so it should be removed from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Right?

Wrong. It’s precisely because the statue embodies white supremacy that it should remain on the campus, in a history center that tells its full and hateful story. And my fellow historians should be the first people to say that.

Alas, we’ve gone mostly silent on the removal of Silent Sam. Historians have carefully exposed the racist roots of such Confederate memorials, which were typically erected in the early 20th century to burnish slavery and buttress Jim Crow. But when Chapel Hill’s chancellor, Carol L. Folt, proposed that Silent Sam be placed in a new history center, sparking protest by students and faculty members, few members of our guild rallied to her side. And late last week, when the UNC Board of Governors voted down Folt’s plan, most of us kept quiet.

Even worse, some historians embraced the attack on the proposed history center. In a statement last week, the National Council on Public History argued that placing Silent Sam on display “threatens to discourage open dialogue about the white-supremacist history” of the monument and about “the negative effects of its continued presence on members of the UNC community.”

Come again? Putting Silent Sam out of sight will also put him out of mind, suppressing rather than promoting the kind of “open dialogue” that the council hails. And ultimately that will have negative effects for the entire UNC community, including its minority members.

I understand and respect that many minorities at UNC denounced the history center, arguing that a racist symbol like Silent Sam has no place anywhere on the campus. But I think they’re wrong, and the best way to show respect for them is to explain why. Anything less isn’t respect; it’s condescension.

Read the rest here.

Goodbye Silent Sam

In case you have not heard, last night protesters (apparently students) at the University of North Carolina pulled down a Confederate statue called “Silent Sam.”

A few quick comments:

  1. I support the spirit behind this act.  The statue needed to be removed from its prominent place on campus.
  2. I understand what Silent Sam stands for, and I oppose it, but I was bothered by the hate and rage I witnessed during this video.
  3. The UNC History Department has made an earlier statement about the monument.  The department proposed removing the monument from its prominent position on campus and moving it to an “appropriate place” where it could “become a useful historical artifact with which to teach the history of the university and its still incomplete mission to be ‘the People’s University.'”  I wish the UNC administration would have acted sooner on the UNC History Department’s recommendation.

The Billy Graham Motorcade Rolls Through Black Mountain

Graham Montreat

This is the Graham motorcade passing through his home town of Black Mountain, NC on his way to Charlotte.  Historian Ben Brandenburg, a history professor at Montreat College, took this picture.

Brandenburg wrote on his Facebook page:

Billy Graham Motorcade in Black Mountain. Solemn moment. But I was half hoping that Billy would resurrect from the Hearse and dismiss the Confederate Flag by the Town Square.

Great line.

The Vada Palmer and Pete Maravich Papers

Pistol

Vada Palmer was a junior at Needham B. Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina. She had a classmate named  Pete Maravich.  Of course he would go on to a stellar basketball career at Louisiana State University and then the NBA.  He also had a mad crush on her.

And the State Archives of North Carolina have eleven of their letters.   Here is a taste of a blog post at “History for All the People.”

I received the Vada Palma and Pete Maravich Papers as Vada’s gift to the State Archives in July of 2013. On the phone she was charming and generous, and referred me to an informative interview piece written by Tim Stevens (now retired), high school sports editor for the News and Observer. See Steven’s “Pistol on the court; shy boy a-courtin’,” dated March 10, 2010, via http://www.newsobserver.com/sports/high-school/article10364456.html. One of the most telling aspects of the piece was Vada’s comment, reiterated in my conversation with her: “If you were writing a book about my life, Pete Maravich would be one paragraph. I was really happy when I heard he had met someone and gotten married. He was such a sweet boy.”

In Vada’s estimation the letters were simple, and not the stuff of a grand love story. Yet such letters touch on the aspirations and hopes of youth, and symbolize for many the sentiments of one in the throes of a first crush, and represent the tension and complexity of navigating adolescence, school, first love, and the uncertain demands and possibilities of the adult world.  Fortunately, students and researchers now and in the future have as a resource this collection (PC.2071), which preserves for the long term some eleven letters, a period Valentine’s Day card, six photographs, and two newspaper clippings. Related additions are always welcomed.

Read the rest here.

The Great Dismal Swamp and Fugitive Slaves

Washington_ditch_trail_great_dismal_swamp_nwr

Check out writer Richard Grant’s piece on the Great Dismal Swamp:

Here is a taste from Smithsonian.com:

The worse it gets, as I wade and stumble through the Great Dismal Swamp, the better I understand its history as a place of refuge. Each ripping thorn and sucking mudhole makes it clearer. It was the dense, tangled hostility of the swamp and its enormous size that enabled hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of escaped slaves to live here in freedom.

We don’t know much about them, but thanks to the archaeologist hacking through the mire ahead of me, we know they were out here, subsisting in hidden communities, and using almost nothing from the outside world until the 19th century. The Dismal Swamp covered great tracts of southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, and its vegetation was far too thick for horses or canoes. In the early 1600s, Native Americans fleeing the colonial frontier took refuge here, and they were soon joined by fugitive slaves, and probably some whites escaping indentured servitude or hiding from the law. From about 1680 to the Civil War, it appears that the swamp communities were dominated by Africans and African-Americans.

Read the entire piece here.

Teaching Historical Methods to Non-History Majors

graham

This Spring I will be once again teaching my “Pennsylvania History” course.  I have now taught the course twice since we revived it as part of our relatively new public history concentration.  The majority of students who take this course are not history majors. These students are taking the course to fulfill a general education requirement in the category of “pluralism.”  The rest of the class are history majors.  Many of them are taking this course either to fulfill a 300-level requirement in American history or as part of the public history concentration.  All of these students have different needs and I am charged by the academic administration to make sure I deliver content and teach them skills related to those needs.  I try to get the pluralism students to think about whether or not William Penn’s original vision of a “holy experiment” has been successful.  I try to get the American history students to see how Pennsylvania is a reflection of the United States writ-large.  I try to teach the public history students skills such as oral history, local history, and digital history.

Frankly, the course is a mess.  After teaching it twice I still have not landed on the best approach to meet all of these needs.  Do I try to cover, in a sweeping series of readings and lectures, the history of Pennsylvania?  Or do I abandon the coverage model and focus on particular episodes in Pennsylvania history?  Or do I focus more on a semester-long project, perhaps something connected to our ongoing “Digital Harrisburg” project.  In the past I have done a little of everything–and no one has been satisfied.

So needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed public historian Christopher Graham‘s recent article at Common-Place on teaching a class on North Carolina history to non-history majors. Graham has abandoned the coverage model in favor of a research project that taught his students how to think like historians and “do history.”  Here is just a small taste of his excellent and inspiring piece:

Yet my students did have access to a less tangible, and no less important, suite of historical thinking skills. They learned that evidence has limits. They learned the value of browsing. They learned to restrict their claims to what the sources can support. They learned to adjust their question based on absences in the documentary record. They, in short, successfully confronted the iterative, revisionist, and flexible nature of information and research described by the Association of College and Research Libraries’ “Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education.” In fact, to non-history majors, these skills are just as important as the ability to effectively use a history database or critique an academic monograph. Indeed, I frequently regaled the class with articles from business journals praising the capacity of liberal arts majors in technical and scientific fields to deal with complexity, ambiguity, and opaque evidence. In the future, then, I will be content to directly guide them to historical questions to ask, the best sources to consult, and let them fully engage with the intellectual exercise of grappling directly with history.

At the end of the semester we invited Blandwood staff and docents, as well as university faculty who had helped us along the way, to a roundtable discussion of our findings. We presented a binder that included an editorial introduction, a glossary of nearly 100 identified individuals, the transcription itself, and copies of relevant primary sources. Much to our satisfaction, the Blandwood staff were surprised by what we had found. My students were eager—aggressive, even—to press them about how these new findings would reshape interpretation at the historic house. I can’t imagine a better end to the class.

Read the entire post here.

The Author’s Corner with Glenn Jonas

acloudofwitnessesfromtheheartofthecityGlenn Jonas is Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Charles Howard Professor of Religion at Campbell University. This interview is based on his new book, A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City: First Presbyterian Church, Raleigh, 1816-2016 (Mercer University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?

GJ: The First Presbyterian Church of Raleigh, NC, contracted with me to write A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City.  The church celebrated its bicentennial this year and in 2012 they enlisted me to write their history.  I had just completed a similar project for the First Baptist Church of Raleigh that year.  Writing these two books has been the most enjoyable, yet challenging, scholarly work that I have done.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?

GJ: In A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City, I attempt the chronicle the two hundred year history of one of the leading churches in the heart of downtown Raleigh, NC, the capital city of the state.  I set the story of this local congregation within the broader context of regional, state, national and denominational history and in doing so, provide a glimpse of Presbyterian history from the “bottom up” rather than from the “top down.”

JF: Why do we need to read A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City?

GJ: A Cloud of Witnesses from the Heart of the City, is a useful read for any member of that church.  However, others will find interest in the book because it provides a glance at the history of a denomination from the perspective of one congregation.  Typically, denominational histories are written from the perspective of the leading theologians, ministers or denominational leaders.  My approach is to tell the story from the perspective of the people who sit in the pews each week.  So, I provide a look at Presbyterianism from the perspective of the local congregation as it filters up to the denominational leadership.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

GJ: During my second year of seminary, I made a decision to pursue a Phd at Baylor University in the history of Christianity.  This was approximately 1983.  During my doctoral work, I focused on American Religious history, a subset of American history, and a field in which I continue to be fascinated.

JF: What is your next project?

GJ: Currently, I am working with two other scholars here in North Carolina to edit a work which will highlight the various religious traditions in the history of North Carolina.

JF: Thanks, Glenn!

North Carolina Historians Arrested

Hall

William Chafe of Duke University and Jacqueline Dowd Hall of the University of North Carolina, both former presidents of the Organization of American Historians, were arrested this week for protesting the Republican policies of the North Carolina legislature.  In an op-ed published in the Charlotte News and Observer, Chafe and Hall argued that the policies of the North Carolina legislature contradict the long history of civil rights that has come to define the Tar Heel State over the course of the last half-century.  Here is a taste:

This week, we were arrested at the General Assembly. We chose the path of civil disobedience – along with 29 others – as a means of calling attention to the headlong assault on our state’s history by the governor and the state legislature.

We are not radicals. Each of us has been president of the Organization of American Historians, the leading professional organization of all American historians. We cherish the history we have spent our lives studying. Yet now we see a new generation in Raleigh threatening to destroy the very

Chafe

history we have spent our lives celebrating.

During the last half century, North Carolinians helped pave the way for racial justice, educational leadership and fairness for all citizens.

They conclude:

That history is one that our current legislature and governor now seek to reverse: by denying 500,000 people health care through Medicaid, even though it would not cost the state a cent for the first two years; by restricting women’s access to reproductive health care; by terminating unemployment payments for more than 160,000 workers laid off through no fault of their own; by endangering the right to vote of tens of thousands of people through curtailing early voting and requiring state-issued picture IDs; by cutting taxes on the rich, and increasing them on the poor; by telling a father in New Bern that if his daughter chooses to vote in Boone, where she attends Appalachian State, instead of traveling five hours back to New Bern to cast her ballot, the father can no longer claim his daughter as a dependent on his tax return.

This political juggernaut runs totally contrary to what North Carolina has stood for during the last half century. It represents class warfare against the middle class and the working-class residents of our state. Justice lies at the core of our civic life. And we are all responsible for sustaining that justice.