Pennsylvania History: The Final Exam!

PA Hall

The 1838 burning of Pennsylvania Hall, a meeting place for abolitionists

For the past decade I have been teaching a course on Pennsylvania History at Messiah College. The class meets several requirements.  Some history majors take it for a 300-level American history elective.  Other history majors take it as part of their concentration in public history.  Non-history majors take the course to fulfill their general education pluralism requirement.

I have to make this course work for all of these students.  For the public history students, we do a lot of work on the relationship between “history,” “heritage,” and “memory.”  We also feature some training in oral history. Each student is required to do an oral history project in which they interview and interpret someone who can shed light on a particular moment in Pennsylvania history.  As a pluralism course, Pennsylvania History must address questions of religion, race, ethnicity, and social class in some meaningful way.

This year, I split the class into four units:

After several tries, I think I have finally found a pedagogical formula that works.   The students take their two-hour final exam on Friday.  Here are the questions they are preparing:

In preparation for the exam, please prepare an answer to one of the following questions:

QUESTION #1

In each of our four units this semester, we spend considerable time talking about the idea of race and race relations in Pennsylvania History. How do issues related to race play out in the following periods and places in state history:

  • Early 19th-century Philadelphia
  • The Pennsylvania frontier in the 1750s and 1760s.
  • The way the Civil War has been interpreted at Gettysburg
  • The City Beautiful movement in Harrisburg
QUESTION #2
We often use the past to advance particular agendas in the present. Consider this
statement in the following contexts:
  • The Centennial celebration in Philadelphia (1876)
  • The Paxton Boys Riots
  • Gettysburg as a “sacred” site
  • The portrayal of Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward by reformers affiliated with the City Beautiful movement.

Good luck! Or as I like to say to my Calvinist students: “May God providential give you the grade you deserve on this exam.”

Should the Red Sox Boycott Their White House Visit?

Betts

Mookie Betts, 2018 American League MVP, will not be joining his team at the White House

Over at The Atlantic, Jemele Hill wonders why the Red Sox players who will soon visit the White House are not supporting their black and brown teammates who refuse to go to Washington because of Trump’s racial politics.  Here is a taste:

 

So far, the conversation about the upcoming Boston Red Sox visit to Donald Trump’s White House has centered around the people of color who are skipping the event. The manager Alex Cora, a critic of the Trump administration’s inexcusable treatment of Puerto Rico amid the devastation of Hurricane Maria in 2017, cited his home island’s continuing troubles as his reason for opting out.

“Unfortunately, we are still struggling, still fighting,” Cora said in a statement. “Some people still lack basic necessities, others remain without electricity and many homes and schools are in pretty bad shape almost a year and a half after Hurricane Maria struck. I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten, and my absence is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”

The majority of the Hispanic and African American players on the Red Sox—including the pitcher David Price and the 2018 American League MVP, Mookie Betts—have also declined to attend. Not all have explained their reasons, but the Mexican-born relief pitcher Hector Velázquez has been honest. “I made the choice not to go because, as we know, the president has said a lot of stuff about Mexico,” he told MassLive. “And I have a lot of people in Mexico that are fans of me, that follow me. And I’m from there. So I would rather not offend anyone over there.”

And here is Hill on the Baylor University women’s basketball team’s recent visit to the White House:

Recently, Trump hosted the NCAA champion Baylor women’s-basketball team at the White House, making the Bears the first women’s championship teamTrump has held a private ceremony for since he became president. That the Baylor coach, Kim Mulkey, had publicly campaigned for an invitation to the White House helped bring about the visit. Trump has shown that he can be petulant about extending invites to championship teams if his overture won’t be warmly received. After the Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship in 2017, Trump rescinded his invitation to them on Twitterbecause several players had been critical of the president, and many of them made it known that they had no interest in attending a White House reception.

When photos of Baylor’s visit circulated on social media, the internet had its fun making note of how some of the players didn’t look thrilled to be there. As of now, no one outside the team knows if Mulkey ever considered how some of her players might feel about being in the presence of someone who has insulted not just people of color, but also women—and women athletes in particular.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Gerson on the Failure of Reconstruction

Reconstruction 2

The Washington Post columnist reminds us of the “horrors” of Reconstruction.  The column basically serves as a reflection on Henry Louis Gates’s Stony Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow.

Here is a taste:

Gates is especially insightful in revealing how black people, after their constitutional rights were stolen, attempted to reassert their dignity in nonpolitical ways. Through Booker T. Washington’s version of self-help. Or by cultivating the achievements of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “talented tenth.” Or through the artistic excellence of the Harlem Renaissance. Or through pan-African pride.

Ultimately, Gates argues that Frederick Douglass got closest to the truth — that there is no path to pride and equality that does not include political power, particularly voting rights. This was the main theme of the NAACP and, eventually, of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It is a tribute to the importance of justice as the first human need.

The denial of justice recounted by “Stony the Road” was every bit as bad as apartheid. It was not just racism, but also the systematic attempt to destroy — through violence, threats and mockery — the dignity, political rights and social standing of blacks in America. It was far worse than anything I was taught in history classes. Yet only by knowing this period can we understand how white supremacy became the broadly accepted, and sadly durable, ideology of white America.

Read the entire piece here. It is good to see Gerson writing on this theme.

David Brion Davis, RIP

 

David Brion Davis, the Yale historian of slavery and race in America, has died. I never met him, but his books were a ubiquitous presence on my graduate-school reading lists.

Here is historian and Davis colleague David Blight‘s reflection:

David Brion Davis has passed after a long illness.  The historical profession, the GLC, and countless friends have lost a giant of a figure.  The GLC team and network of hundreds of scholars, teachers, and readers send our condolences to Toni Davis and their two sons, Adam and Noah.  David still read books on a Kindle until a few months before his death.  In his room in Guilford, CT he was especially proud of pointing to the photograph on the wall of himself and Barack and Michelle Obama, taken at the White House on the night he received the National Humanities Medal from the President.  David’s trilogy on the problem of slavery in western culture remains a monument to Professor Davis’s extraordinary and singular quest to understand the ideas surrounding slavery and its abolition across the Atlantic world over more than two centuries.  His many other works and his essays in the New York Review of Books made a mark on American and international history like few other historians anywhere in the second half of the 20th and early 21st centuries.  David was the founding and emeritus director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition.  He was an intellectual in pursuit of truth and wisdom.  In his presence one always learned something. He was a deeply spiritual man who saw the historian’s craft as a search for the minds and souls of people in the past.  He devoted his life and career to understanding the place of the inhumane but profoundly important and persistent practices of slavery and racism in the world.  He was a philosopher at heart, a lyrical writer, and defined why we do history.  We stand on his shoulders.  At the GLC we carry on his legacy every day.  We loved him.  His portrait hangs on the wall at the GLC amidst a large portion of his book collection, still containing his post-its, book marks and thousands of annotations.  We will always have him nearby.

A White Teacher is Removed from Teaching a Michigan High School Course in African-American History

Groves
Recently an African-American staff writer at the Bridge Magazine in Michigan wrote an opinion piece criticizing an African-American history course at Groves High School in Birmingham, Michigan.  Chastity Pratt Dawsey was not happy that her children, who were enrolled in the course, were required to watch movies such, Boyz in the Hood and Do the Right Thing, view the documentary “Inside Bloods and Crips,” and read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Dawsey was especially upset that the course, taught by a white teacher, did not give enough attention to the accomplishments of African Americans.

Dawsey posted the syllabus from Scott Craig‘s African-American history course.  I think she thought that by posting the syllabus it would strengthen her argument.  In my view, the syllabus actually reveals that Craig is a very good history teacher.  The syllabus includes readings from Malcolm X, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Howard Zinn, Martin Luther King Jr., Winthrop Jordan, Ulrich Philips, Kenneth Stamp, and Marcus Garvey.  Craig’s list of movies include Amistad12 Years a Slave, and Glory.

The syllabus also notes:

Students will be exposed to readings and films that have distinct points of view.  One skill we will work on is recognizing and evaluating point of view.  Some of the readings will contradict each other, and students will have to wrestle with differentiating and deciding which POV is most value…

The course covers the following topics: police brutality and African Americans, the success and failure of Affirmative Action, white flight, poverty and racism, the 1967 Detroit riot, the successes of the black middle class, African American political leadership, De Jure v. De Facto racism, segregation and resegregation, gangs and gang culture, and cultural appropriation.

Sounds like a great class.  Can I take it?

But the story does not end here.  The superintendent of Birmingham Public Schools apologized to parents for permitting this course to be taught.  He apologized because the “resources listed in the course pilot syllabus failed to meet the depth and breadth of African American history.”  That is actually the only thing the letter says about the content of the course.  Apparently many in Birmingham’s African-American community believe that an African-American should be teaching the course.

And now Scott Craig, the teacher of this course, has weighed in. Craig has been teaching social studies in Michigan for thirty-two years and appears to be very popular among students.  In 2013, he ran for a spot in the Michigan state house as a Democrat. In August 2017, he was Birmingham’s delegate to a National Association of Education Conference on the subject of equity and integrity in education. In 2018 he marched, on behalf of his students, in a “March for Our Lives” rally against gun violence.  He has an M.A. in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University.   We should also add that he designed the African-American history course in question because he thought African-American history was not getting a fair shake in his school district.

Here is a taste of his piece: “I am the Michigan teacher removed from teaching African-American History.”

While the original article may leave readers with the impression that some random white guy was assigned to teach the African-American course, I created the course out of a deep commitment to civil rights and ending prejudice. I come from a family where both parents were involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. I have a master’s degree in African American and Labor History from Wayne State University. And I’ve been a participant in nearly every district initiative around issues of race and diversity. I’m the sponsor of the Diversity Club (25 years) at neighboring Seaholm High that organizes school exchanges and provides a forum for open discussion. I’ve also organized 12 of our past 15 MLK Day assemblies at Seaholm.

I created the course because I saw a need. American history texts hardly mention African Americans from Reconstruction until Rosa Parks. Then, they drop most discussion about African Americans after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. They also gloss over the rich debate and controversies within the African-American community as they faced over 100 years of second-class citizenship after Reconstruction. Most white students in Birmingham have little understanding about the real history and conditions faced by African Americans. Many of our black students are truly interested in learning more about their history.

Both the Bridge column and the superintendent’s letter to the staff and community portrayed the course as shallow, inappropriate and as somehow avoiding proper review. This was not the case.  

In 2015, I researched existing African-American history syllabi, mostly taught in colleges. I examined and selected the best, most challenging readings ‒ such as works by Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois ‒ and chose films that reflected a variety of points of view.  

The course was reviewed and approved in 2015 by my principal, department head, and our district Education Council that included three or four African-American parents. Approval was unanimous and widely praised, especially by the African-American parents on the Council. The course was reviewed again and I created a longer curriculum guide in the summer of 2018. The administrators who reviewed it also offered praise.

While my name was not used in Bridge or in the letter, within days hundreds of staff and community members figured out I was the teacher. I decided to speak openly in defense at a district board meeting Feb. 26, especially when I learned members of BAAFN, the parent group protesting my class, would be speaking.

At the meeting, I listened as the head of the parent group argued for a revamped curriculum approved by the parents, and a black teacher to teach this course. By the time I spoke, 35 to 40 district teachers had contacted me. All of them offered support, and most of them expressed the fear that they could be next.

As I was leaving, I was stopped individually by five African Americans. One was a district teacher who expressed strong support and said he wanted to speak, but his wife told him he could not risk his job. Others were parents. One said she did not know who I was or my background at the time that I was dismissed from teaching the class. The district had not offered much explanation. Another parent said her son was in my class, liked it, and that about a dozen students talked about staging a sit-in at the principal’s office demanding to know why their teacher had been removed.

Read the entire article here.  What is going on here?

An Anti-Racist Syllabus for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam

Northam

American University historian and National Book Award-winner Ibram X Kendi offers a reading list to embattled Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in the wake of his blackface scandal.

Here are some of the books on Kendi’s list:

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Edward E. Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told

Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh

Leon Litwack, North of Slavery

Eric Foner, Reconstruction

Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis

Mary L. Dudziak, Cold War Civil Rights

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

Read Kendi’s entire piece at The Atlantic

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.

Why I Defended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Statement on its Racist Past

Southern Sem

Below is a version of what I wrote in the comments of this post.  You can read that post to get up to speed.

I responded to a post by someone named Justin S.  He wrote:

We are all in different stages of processing our racial heritage and identities, and I like you’re “walking” analogy. The trouble is–it seems to me–that a lot of people come from such a retrogressive perspective that they expect affirmation for taking a step or two forward when they have miles left to go.

It is commendable that SBTS is making an effort to more-clearly assess its trouble past, and I think you make a good point when you observe that we are all in different places. But when you lobby for more understanding and equanimity from their critics, it sounds like you are saying, “Hey, let’s cut them some slack now because–even though they are still pretty racist–they are slightly less racist than they used to be.” It’s unrealistic to expect people to treat dogmatic racists kindly just because they’re trying to be less racist about their dogma, especially when they’re still hurting people with their slightly-less-toxic racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and nationalism.

I know some of the folks who wrote the SBTS statement and I can attest to their integrity and serious commitment to racial reconciliation.  Justin, what do you want them to stop doing? Seriously, would you rather they not have written the report? Are their past sins so great that cannot be redeemed? (I don’t think you believe this). These folks know the work is not done.

As far as I know, no one at SBTS is “expecting affirmation” for the statement. So far they have been quiet about the criticism they are getting. (By the way, when I say I know these folks I do not mean Al Mohler. Frankly, I am afraid he will open his mouth and make things worse. I am referring instead to some of the historians who authored the document).

I have defended the SBTS publicly because I felt someone had to do it. I don’t want to “cut them slack,” I want to encourage my fellow evangelicals to walk with them on the journey. Of course we will all be watching to see where they go next.

In the end, I think SBTS is going to have to turn for help to people with whom they might have theological disagreements.  Non-conservative evangelical Christians have more experience on this front.  For example, what might it look like if SBTS takes a meeting with Chris Graham and his racial reconciliation committee at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the so-called “Cathedral of the Confederacy?” Of course SBTS will never embrace St. Paul’s progressive liberal theology, but they can certainly learn from the way this historic church has tried to deal with its racist past.

I understand that progressive Christians want more out of this statement. Many have suffered as a result of the Southern Baptist Convention’s racist past. This should not be ignored. There is time and space to be angry, but I am a Christian and I cannot dwell in anger any more than I can dwell in fear.

Right now progressive Christians should be getting on the phone and calling SBTS to ask how they can help the seminary on its journey.  Isn’t this the kind of work progressive evangelicals want to do?  Instead, they are criticizing the seminary in public and on social media.

I tend to view the SBTS statement through the eyes of hope.  And God knows we could use more hope in the world right now.

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Report on Racism and Slavery is Well-Done and It is a Big Step in the Right Direction

southern-baptist-theological-seminary1

In case you haven’t heard, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville recently issued a 66-page historical report on its long history of supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, racial inequality, Lost Cause mythology, and white supremacy.  The scholars who composed the report produced an excellent work of institutional history.  I have known professors Gregory Wills, Matthew Hall, and John Wilsey to be first-rate historians and honest scholars.

A wise friend once told me that when it comes to dealing with race and racial reconciliation in America all of us (especially white people) are on a journey.  When we engage the darkness of race relations in the United States we are always going to encounter people who are at various stages on that journey.  What I have learned in recent years is that we must walk beside one another on this journey and help each other along the way.  As I see it, it is the only way forward.

I say this because I have been disappointed by the response the SBTS statement has received by those who seem to believe that they are further down the road on the question of race relations in America.  Rather than seeing this statement as a MAJOR step in the right direction for SBTS–a step that should be commended by all those concerned with racism in the Christian community–most of the coverage has attacked the statement as not going far enough.

For example, I think Rod Dreher, bombast aside, is generally correct in his criticism of Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove‘s piece in the Washington Post.  Here is a taste of Dreher:

The gist of his column is that because the leaders of SBTS are theologically conservative, and because many white Southern Baptists are politically conservative, they are not much different from their slaveholding and white supremacist ancestors. If they were really sorry for slavery and white supremacy, Wilson-Hartgrove’s column says, then the Southern Baptists would become Social Justice Warriors like — golly! — Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.

It’s an extraordinarily graceless piece of work. It’s important for this reason. Today I blogged about the Fairness For All proposal, an attempt by some Evangelical leaders — conservatives among them — to find middle ground on the struggle between LGBT rights and religious liberty. Already some conservative Evangelicals are calling it a sellout of principle that will in any case not be respected by liberals and progressives. Part of their argument is that progressives do not negotiate in good faith, that if you yield even a bit, they’ll take advantage of the opportunity to smash you.

A column like Wilson-Hartgrove’s gives ammunition to the “no compromise” side. To be clear, I don’t believe for a second that SBTS president Albert Mohler ordered the appraisal because he sought any kind of political advantage, whatever that might look like. I believe he did it because it was, and remains, the right thing to do. But those on the religious right who oppose initiatives like this on grounds that it will allow progressives to weaponize confession and repentance will cite Wilson-Hartgrove’s column as evidence that the Evangelical left is interested only in scoring points against their enemies.

Read Dreher’s entire post here.  I wonder if Wilson-Hartgtove, whose work I admire, just missed an opportunity to walk alongside SBTS as they embark on this journey.

And here is historian Alison Collis Greene, a historian I know and respect, at National Public Radio:

Notwithstanding the seminary’s new openness about its pro-slavery past, the detailed chronology ends in 1964. “In the decades following the civil rights movement, the seminary continued to struggle with the legacy of slavery and racism,” the report concludes, but without further elaboration.

“Making a statement about Confederate monuments might be a next step,” says Alison Greene, a historian of U.S. religion at Emory University in Atlanta, “or taking a stand on questions of voting rights in the 21st century. That would be really significant.”

Greene, who was raised as a Southern Baptist, found the seminary report lacking in its failure to acknowledge any consequence of the denomination’s recent association with conservative politicians and the policies they have promoted.

“It papers over a generation of hand-in-glove cooperation with efforts to roll back every single social program that served African-Americans or promised to rectify, even in the smallest ways, the gross economic and social effects of enslavement and segregation and inequality on black communities,” Greene says.

Greene’s criticism here is fair.  But rather than see the statement for what it doesn’t do, I prefer to see it for what it does do.

I know Greene has not been at Emory University very long.  Perhaps she will be able to help Emory add to its own statement about the school’s connection to slavery.  It is nowhere near as thorough as SBTS’s statement and it stops at 1962.

NBC’s coverage quotes my friend, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs professor Paul Harvey: “The Southern Baptist Seminary, and by extension the denomination leaders…did a very good job of reckoning with the past, and a not-so-good job of reckoning with the present.”  Again, this is a fair criticism.  SBTS has a long way to go on this issue.  Perhaps a model for moving forward might be what is happening at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”  (Listen to episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).  But in the meantime, I am glad to see that SBTS has begun the journey.  As someone on my Facebook page noted, “Let’s hope they keep walking.” Yes!  We will be watching.

I hope future coverage of this statement will be more balanced.  For example, why hasn’t The Washington Post, NPR, or NBC talked with African-American leaders within the Southern Baptist Church?  Where are the interviews with Fred Luter, Thabiti Anyabwile, Byron Day or anyone in the National African Fellowship or the Black SBC Denominational Servants Network?

I also hope other southern schools–seminaries, colleges, and universities–will do the kind of historical work SBTS has done as a necessary starting point to address their own racist pasts.  I am thrilled to see the way these SBTS professors are using the study of history to work toward justice.

Interpreting Slavery at James Monroe’s Plantation

Monroe

Highland, the Virginia home of James Monroe from 1799-1823, is coming to grips with its history of slavery.  Here is a taste of Jordy Yager’s piece at National Public Radio:

Today the area is surrounded by wineries and other tourist draws, like Thomas Jefferson’s nearby plantation, Monticello. In fact, Jefferson helped Monroe buy the Highland property, which is now run as a historic site, hosting weddings, concerts, and thousands of visitors each year.

Until recently, however, the enslaved weren’t much talked about. Guides at Highland knew only that some of the enslaved had been sold and sent to Florida. And then, about two years ago, George Monroe, Jr. paid Highland a visit. He approached a staff member at the visitor’s center and said, “My last name is Monroe and my family comes from off this plantation.”

Since then, George Monroe, Jr. has been working with Highland’s Executive Director Sara Bon-Harper to build relationships with more than a dozen descendants in the immediate area and across Virginia. Bon-Harper wants them to tell the story of Highland.

“The theme of having one’s eyes opened to reality that one was completely ignorant of, I think, goes through race relations in Virginia,” said Bon-Harper. “And my response is to be completely open to learning the things that I have not known and Highland is really, really, excited to have these contacts now and having the willing collaboration of the descendant communities is tremendous.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Ansley Quiros

9781469646763.jpgAnsley L. Quiros is an assistant professor of history at the University of North Alabama. This interview is based on her new book God with Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942–1976 (The University of North Carolina Press, 2018). 

JF: What led you to write God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: As I pressed into the racial issues at the heart of American history, I began to think more about the South, particularly about the befuddling relationship between race and religion. These were issues that had long dogged at the corners of my consciousness as a child of the South, raised in Atlanta, but now I brought to them a historian’s perspective as well as native’s inquisitiveness. I wanted to see how exactly theological commitments animated not only the pursuit of racial justice but the opposition to it. And Americus was a perfect place to set this case study—notable for the presence of Koinonia Farm (an interracial Christian farming community founded in the 1940s), SNCC’s Southwest Georgia Freedom Project, the brutal, violent opposition to civil rights, and the deep religious commitments on all sides. I wanted to see how theological ideas took on flesh and blood, how they were incarnated in American life.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: The struggle over civil rights was not, for many, just about lunch counters and waiting rooms or even access to the vote; it was also about Christian orthodoxy. God with Us examines this theological struggle through the story of one southern town–Americus, Georgia–where ordinary Americans both sought and confronted racial change in the twentieth century.

JF: Why do we need to read God With Us: Lived Theology and the Freedom Struggle in Americus, Georgia, 1942-1976?

AQ: In the past few years, it has become impossible to ignore the ways in which those who claim Christianity have also buttressed systems that uphold white supremacy. And this has been, for many evangelicals, shocking and dismaying. But it has a long history. This book contributes to understanding how these alliances came to be in the mid-twentieth century, how racism hides within certain theologies, sometimes in plain sight. But the book also, I think, offers hope. The courage of black and white activists for freedom and justice, the way that they refused to believe heresy but insisted on truth, is truly moving. And it may yet stir us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly.

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

AQ: I suppose I had always been interested in big questions, and I had engaging, bright history teachers in high school who made me want to major in history when I went to college. At Furman University, I got to take a wide array of courses. My professors there encouraged me to consider graduate school and I ended up at Vanderbilt after I graduated. At Vandy, I had wonderful mentors and advisors, people who really taught me how to read and write history, how to harness my historical curiosity. And though I was interested in lots of different fields, I kept returning to questions about the American past, that compelling drama of freedom and exclusion. Even after all this time, I find the story of American history completely enthralling. I always tell my students, ‘I couldn’t make this up!’

JF: What is your next project?

AQ: I have two projects in the works. One is an exploration of the Atlanta street party known as Freaknik. It’s a wild story, but one that reveals much about the city of Atlanta, the rise of the black new South, and the limits of black governance in the multicultural 1990s. The other project is spiritual biography of Charles and Shirley Sherrod, racial justice activists who have spent their lives in Southwest Georgia. I guess I’m not done with Georgia yet!

JF: Thanks, Ansley!

A Retired Army General Trashes His Portrait of Robert E. Lee

Lee

Here is Stanley A. McChrystal:

On a Sunday morning in 2017 I took down his picture, and by afternoon it was in the alley with other rubbish awaiting transport to the local landfill for final burial. Hardly a hero’s end.

The painting had no monetary value; it was really just a print of an original overlaid with brushstrokes to appear authentic. But 40 years earlier it had been a gift from a young Army wife to her lieutenant husband when the $25 price (framed) required juggling other needs in our budget.

The dignified likeness of General Robert E. Lee in his Confederate Army uniform had been a prized possession of mine. I’d grown up not far from the Custis-Lee Mansion, and at West Point, Lee, the near-perfect cadet, Mexican War hero, academy superintendent, and, finally, the commander of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, cast a long, ever-present shadow. Later, in Army quarters from Fort Benning, Georgia, to Fort Lewis, Washington, the painting reflected my fascination with leadership, and it spoke of duty and selfless service.

Although it was a portrait of a man, to many it evoked wider ideas and emotions. For like an object bathed in the light of the setting sun, Robert E. Lee’s shadow took on exaggerated size and grew steadily as America’s Civil War retreated ever further into the softer glow of history.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

The Author’s Corner with Loren Schweninger

9780190664282Loren Schweninger is Professor Emeritus of History at UNC Greensboro. This interview is based on his new book Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Appealing for Liberty?

LS: For many years I have been interested in freedom suits in the South, beginning in 1970 when I discovered a suit for a family–Thomas/Rapier–that became the basis for my doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago on James Rapier and Reconstruction.  During the period 1991 thru 2009 I headed a project titled “The Race and Petitions Project” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (now on line at the University with some 60,000 “hits” each month and part of Proquest’s Slavery and the Law Collection”. Most of the freedom Suits in this study come from this collection.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Appealing for Liberty?

LS: The book argues that African Americans were involved in contacting lawyers and bringing the suits to court and that to a surprising degree many among them are successful, in about three fourths of the cases. 

JF: Why do we need to read Appealing for Liberty?

LS: Anyone interested in the African American experience, race relations, and the coming of the Civil War should be interested in this volume.

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

LS: I became an American historian in 1966 under to tutorship of John Hope Franklin, a life-long mentor and friend. I’m now a professor emeritus, retired in 2012, at the University where I taught African American history for forty years.

JF: What is your next project?

LS: With regard to my next project I’ve been thinking about an examination of Slavery and Freedom in the District of Columbia, but this is in its very early stages.

JF: Thanks, Loren!

VOX on Kaepernick, Nike, and an Alabama Pastor with Scissors

Nike

Another well-written and researched piece by Tara Isabella Burton.  Here is a taste:

Pastor Mack Morris wanted to take a stand. Preaching in front of his Mobile, Alabama, congregation on Sunday morning, positioned just to the left of an American flag, he declaredthat he was sick and tired of the way clothing brand Nike had, in his view, disrespected America and its people.

“The first pair of jogging shoes I wore were Nike jogging shoes,” he told his congregation, “That was in the early ’80s. I’ve been wearing Nike jogging shoes since 1980. I got news for you. I’ve bought my last pair of Nike shoes.” He produced two branded items — a Nike wristband and a headband. Then he cut them up right there at the pulpit.

His audience’s response? Raucous applause.

Morris’s actions are part of a larger trend among conservatives in recent weeks who have been destroying Nike products to protest its selection of controversial quarterback Colin Kaepernick — who famously knelt during the national anthem to protest police brutality — in its latest ad campaign. For Kaepernick’s critics, including President Donald Trump, his refusal to stand for the national anthem is evidence that he lacks respect for the American flag, and more broadly, for America itself.

Read the entire piece here.  I was happy to help her with the piece:

John Fea, a professor of history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and author of Believe Me: the Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, told Vox in a telephone interview on Thursday that Morris’s actions represented a combination of two elements. The first, he said, was “conservative evangelicals’ commitment to the idea that America is a Christian nation, and that somehow the American flag not only symbolizes generic nationalism but that the nation was founded by God, that it’s a nation created by God. So [people think], how dare Colin Kaepernick take a knee.”

Secondly, he said, “Christian nationalism has always been connected with whiteness. It has always been about [the idea of] America’s founding by white Christians.”

These ideas, Fea said, have existed throughout American history. But Donald Trump’s campaign and election have them to the fore. Furthermore, he said, we’re seeing an unprecedented relationship between the president and the evangelical religious establishment, in which pastors take “marching orders” from Trump’s own discourse.

“So you now have Baptist pastors in the South in essence taking their cues from the president of the United States … and not from Biblical ideas,” Fea said.

He argued that there was a direct trickle-down effect from Trump’s tweets to church pews. Trump’s relentless focus on Kaepernick made his protest into a national controversy. White evangelicals, in turn, followed Trump’s lead, treating Kaepernick’s protest as a direct affront to the sanctity of an (implicitly Christian) America.

Fea said that the Kaepernick case is specifically about ideology, not theology. After all, he said, the Bible says nothing about flags or protests.

Colin Kaepernick’s Christian Faith?

God tattoos

Many on the Christian Right despise Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem. His decision to kneel before the American flag was a form of protest against systemic racism in America.

Recently a reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home blog asked me check out the “Personal Life” section of Kaepernick’s Wikipedia page.  Here is what I found:

Kaepernick was baptized Methodistconfirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during his college years.[117] Kaepernick spoke about his faith saying, “My faith is the basis from where my game comes from. I’ve been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it. I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field. I think if you go out and try to do that, no matter what you do on the field, you can be happy about what you did.”[118]

Kaepernick has multiple tattoos. His right arm features a scroll with the Bible verse Psalm 18:39 written on it. Tattooed under the scroll are praying hands with the phrase “To God The Glory” written on them. To the left of both the scroll and praying hands is the word “Faith” written vertically. His left arm features a Christian cross with the words “Heaven Sent” on it referring to Jesus. Written above and below the cross is the phrase “God Will Guide Me”. Written to the left and right of the cross is the Bible verse Psalm 27:3. His chest features the phrase “Against All Odds” and artwork around it that represents “inner strength, spiritual growth, and humility”. His back features a mural of angels against demons.[119][120][121] Near the end of the 2012 NFL season, Kaepernick’s signature touchdown celebration involved flexing and kissing the bicep of his right arm. Kaepernick says he kisses his “Faith”, “To God The Glory”, and Psalm 18:39 tattoos and the reason he does the celebration is because “God has brought me this far. He has laid out a phenomenal path for me. And I can’t do anything but thank Him.”[119]

I don’t know the current state of Kaepernick’s spiritual life or how he currently understands his religious identity (he girlfriend, Nessa Diab, is Muslim), but all of this sounds pretty evangelical to me.  This sounds like a job for my Messiah College colleague Paul Putz, an expert on the history of sports and Christianity.

If the Wikipedia page (you can follow the footnotes through the links) is correct, would this change the minds of Kaepernick’s Christian Right critics?  Would School of the Ozarks consider renegotiating their contract with Nike?  Would this guy put his scissors away?  Probably not, but if Kaepernick is a “brother in Christ” it would make it a bit more difficult to ostracize him.

Southern Baptist Pastor Cuts-Up Nike Gear During His Sermon

mack-morrisjpg-5e00eb676c943223

Pastor Mack Morris

Rev. Mack Morris is the pastor at Woobridge Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.  On Sunday he took a pair of scissors and cut-up a Nike headband and wristband.  During the sermon Morris said “America may not be the best country in the world and we have a lot of faults, but I tell you what, a lot of folks died for the sake of what the flag represents.”  The congregation gave him a standing ovation.

Here is a taste of John Sharp’s piece at AL.com:

The Rev. Mack Morris took a hold of an old Nike headband and a wristband, held them both up before a packed church, and cut them. 

“I ain’t using that no more,” said Morris, the senior pastor at Woodridge Baptist Church in west Mobile during his weekly Sunday sermon. 

“I’ve bought my last pair of Nike shoes,” Morris said.

The reason? Morris, during a sermon titled “The Storms of Life,” said it was in protest to the Oregon-based apparel company’s recent advertising campaign centered around Colin Kaepernick, the professional football player who was the first athlete to take a knee during the national anthem that triggered a firestorm of controversy that exists to this day.

Kaepernick’s protest centered around concerns about police behavior and racial injustices in America.

Read the rest here.

What does Colin Kaepernick, Nike, or the national anthem have to do with a Sunday morning worship service?

And yes, a lot of folks did die for the sake of what the flag represents.  They died for Colin Kaepernick’s right to take a knee for the purpose of calling attention to our failure to live up to our highest ideals.

Evangelicals Come to Stone Mountain

Stone Mountain

Wait–I thought evangelicals were racists and white supremacists?

Here is a taste of Josh Shepherd’s piece at Christianity Today:

Rising 825 feet over the skyline of Atlanta, Stone Mountain is the most-visited destination in the state of Georgia. On its north face, a carving in the granite wall depicts three figures central to the Confederacy: Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Against this backdrop, observers might have puzzled over the scene unfolding on a recent Saturday at the top of the monument. An ethnically diverse crowd of more than 3,000 people, the majority under age 30, sang as a full rock band led the crowd in Christian praise songs.

Nearly all lifted their hands, shouted, and even danced as pop-rock worship music blasted from speakers. Then a black man in a bright red shirt with white letters reading Reconcile took the mic.

“Heaven is among us,” said Jonathan Tremaine Thomas, a young pastor from Ferguson, Missouri. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Thomas was followed by civil rights leader John Perkins, who was followed by apologies from Christian leaders to two Jewish leaders for the history of Christian anti-Semitism, who were followed by declarations of forgiveness for Dylann Roof by family members of Charleston church shooting victims. And this was all in the first 150 minutes.

Read the rest here.

Washington and Lee University in the Wake of Charlottesville

Lee College

One might expect that Washington and Lee University, a school named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, might respond to the tragic events of Charlottesville 2017 by removing Lee from its name or removing on-campus memorials to the Confederate general.  According to Susan Svrluga’s piece at The Washington Post, this has not happened.  But other things have changed.

Here is a taste:

In the days after the Charlottesville conflict, the new president of the private university in Lexington, Va., William Dudley, convened a group and asked it “to lead us in an examination of how our history — and the ways that we teach, discuss, and represent it — shapes our community.”

As this school year began, Dudley announced the changes that would — and those that would not — take place on this storied campus, where traditions carry tremendous weight: The university will keep its name, Lee Chapel will remain an integral part of campus, and the school will find ways to tell its history more fully.

The school has begun a national search for a director of institutional history, a historian who will lead the design, construction and operation of a museum and oversee all of the school’s historical sites. The museum will be dedicated to the university’s many connections to American history. Dudley envisaged close collaborations with students and faculty members to create interactive exhibits, such as a campus walk, that would delve into lesser-known parts of the institution’s history — including the role of slavery.

The challenge for Washington and Lee was different from what other colleges confronted as they considered the fate of Confederate relics. Duke University removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee last year after it was vandalized. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, protesters recently toppled a monument to alumni who fought for the Confederacy. At Washington and Lee, named for two generals who helped the school endure and thrive, “they aren’t just honorifics,” the school’s president said. Both men played important, direct roles. And Lee is buried on the grounds.

Read the entire piece 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.