*The New York Times* on Jeff Sessions and Romans 13

jeff-sessions

It’s been a crazy day.  Last night I was wrapping-up some writing on the Southern Baptist Convention, trying to finish some end-of- the-academic-year paperwork, scheduling some blog posts, and preparing for the Believe Me book tour.

Then Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 and The Washington Post asked me for some historical context. I have been answering questions all day.

Here is my contribution to Julia Jacobs’s piece at The New York Times:

Referring to the Bible in political speeches is nothing new, said John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush did so liberally, for example. But using Scripture as an enforcement tool for a particular federal policy is more concerning, Dr. Fea said.

“The founding fathers created the criminal justice system to be a largely secular criminal justice system,” he said. “They didn’t have in mind punishing criminals and condemning them using Bible verses.”

And the passage he chose drew considerable criticism. Historians and theologians took to the internet to point out that Romans 13 has been used to defend antiquated or outright contemptible points of view.

Before the nation’s founding, it was frequently used by Loyalists to oppose the American Revolution, Dr. Fea said. And in the 19th century, pro-slavery Southerners often cited the chapter’s opening verses to defend slavery — in particular, adherence to the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the seizure and return of runaway slaves.

Read the entire piece here.

It’s Official: Monticello Affirms Thomas Jefferson Fathered Children with Sally Hemings

2c666-monticelloflickr

It was announced on June 6, 2018.  Here is the press release:

The issue of Jefferson’s paternity has been the subject of controversy for at least two centuries, ranging from contemporary newspaper articles in 1802 (when Jefferson was President) to scholarly debate well into the 1990s. It is now the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s view that the issue is a settled historical matter.

A considerable body of evidence stretching from 1802 to 1873 (and beyond) describes Thomas Jefferson as the father of Sally Hemings’s children. It was corroborated by the findings of the Y-chromosome haplotype DNA study conducted by Dr. Eugene Foster and published in the scientific journal Nature in November 1998. The DNA study did prove paternity of a Jefferson family member and corroborated the ample documentary and oral history evidence. Other evidence supports Thomas Jefferson’s paternity as well, including his presence at Monticello during Sally Hemings’s likely windows of conception, the names of Hemings’s surviving children, and the fact that all of her children were granted freedom – they were either allowed to leave the plantation, or legally emancipated in Jefferson’s will, a unique occurrence among Monticello’s enslaved families. The summary of the most important evidence proving Jefferson’s paternity is listed below.1

  1. Madison Hemings provided an account of his mother’s life that was published in an Ohio newspaper in 1873. The basic outline of Madison Hemings’s account, including his mother’s “treaty” with Jefferson and the freedom granted to him and his siblings, was well known to his community before it was published. His narrative is the most important extant evidence and much of the corroborating evidence supports the outline of his narrative.
  2. The Foster et al. (1998) DNA study revealed that male-line descendants of Eston Hemings (a son of Sally Hemings) and male-line descendants of Field Jefferson’s father (who was Thomas Jefferson’s grandfather), shared the same Y-chromosome haplotype.  This demonstrates that Eston’s father was a Jefferson male. This result not only corroborates Madison’s account in the Pike County Republican, it definitively refutes the claims by Jefferson grandchildren, including Ellen Randolph Coolidge and her brother Thomas Jefferson Randolph, that either Peter or Samuel Carr (they could not agree on which one) was the father of Sally Hemings’s children.
  3. Madison Hemings was described by a U.S. census taker as the son of Thomas Jefferson in 1870.
  4. Israel Gillette Jefferson, formerly enslaved at Monticello, corroborated Madison Hemings’s claim in the same newspaper, referring to Sally Hemings as Thomas Jefferson’s “concubine.”
  5. Eston Hemings changed his racial identity to white and his surname to Jefferson after moving from Ohio to Wisconsin in 1852.  Newspaper accounts in Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1887 and 1902 recalled that Eston resembled Thomas Jefferson.
  6. The two oldest surviving children of Sally Hemings, Beverly Hemings (a male) and Harriet Hemings, were both allowed to leave Monticello without pursuit and were described as “run away” in Jefferson’s inventory of enslaved families. In an 1858 letter to her husband Joseph Coolidge, Jefferson’s granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Randolph Coolidge, (while denying Jefferson’s paternity) described Sally Hemings’s children as “all fair and all set free at my grandfather’s death, or had been suffered to absent themselves permanently before he died.”
  7. Jefferson’s records of his travels and the birthdays of Sally Hemings’s children reveal that he was present at Monticello during the estimated dates of conception for all six of Hemings’s documented offspring. Statistical modeling shows the likelihood of this coincidence for any other male (if we assume that Thomas Jefferson is not the father) as 1 percent, or 1 chance in 100 — strong evidence of Thomas Jefferson’s paternity.2
  8. Oral tradition connecting the Hemings and Jefferson families was transmitted among the descendants of both Madison Hemings and Eston Hemings over many generations. Madison Hemings calls Jefferson his “father” in his 1873 recollections, a fact repeated by his descendants.  Eston Hemings’s descendants altered their family history to state that they were related to one of Thomas Jefferson’s relatives in order to hide Eston Hemings’s decision to change his racial identity when he moved to Wisconsin.
  9. Jefferson freed all four surviving Hemings children (in accordance with the terms of his negotiation with Sally Hemings, as reported by her son Madison). He did not grant freedom to any other enslaved nuclear family.
  10. The names of Sally Hemings’s four surviving children — William Beverly Hemings, Harriet Hemings, James Madison Hemings, and Thomas Eston Hemings — suggest family ties to Thomas Jefferson. Annette Gordon-Reed outlines these naming connections in her book, Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997).  A man named William Beverly accompanied Jefferson’s father on an expedition through Virginia in 1746, and he was connected to Jefferson’s mother’s family by blood and marriage. There were multiple Harriets in the Randolph family, including a sister and a niece of Thomas Mann Randolph, Jefferson’s son-in-law. Madison Hemings was named at the request of Dolley Madison, whose husband, James Madison, was one of Jefferson’s close friends. Historian and biographer Fawn Brodie offered two possible explanations for Eston Hemings’s name: Eston was the birthplace of Jefferson’s maternal ancestor, William Randolph, in Yorkshire, England. Thomas Eston Randolph was also a first cousin of Jefferson; Jefferson described their two families as being “almost as one.”3Furthermore, it was convention for Jefferson to be involved in the naming of family members. His children with Martha Jefferson were given the names of his sisters and mother, and he personally named each of his grandchildren.4

Why Remove the Qualifiers?

As the Thomas Jefferson Foundation began planning The Life of Sally Hemings, an exhibit that relies on the account left by her son, Madison Hemings, it became apparent that it was time to reexamine how to characterize Jefferson’s paternity. For nearly twenty years, the most complete summary of evidence has remained the report authored by the Foundation in January 2000. While there are some who disagree, the Foundation’s scholarly advisors and the larger community of academic historians who specialize in early American history have concurred for many years that the evidence is sufficiently strong to state that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings.

In the new exhibit exploring the life of Sally Hemings, her choices, and her connection to Thomas Jefferson, as well as in updates to our related online materials and print publications, the Foundation will henceforth assert what the evidence indicates and eliminate qualifying language related to the paternity of Eston Hemings as well as that related to Sally Hemings’s three other surviving children, whose descendants were not part of the 1998 DNA study. While it remains possible, though increasingly unlikely, that a more comprehensive documentary and genetic assemblage of evidence could emerge to support a different conclusion, no plausible alternative with the same array of evidence has surfaced in two decades.

  • 1.All the evidence enumerated comes from the unpublished Report on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, TJMF, January 2000, section IV, pp. 6-8, and Appendix F, “A Review of the Documentary Evidence,” pp. 1-7. The entire report and other resources are available online at https://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/jefferson-hemings….
  • 2.Bayes’ theorem allows us to measure just how strong. To take advantage of it, we need to be willing to summarize the strength of evidence that Jefferson was the father, based on other evidence (say the DNA result and Madison’s testimony), as a “prior” probability. Bayes’ theorem allows us to rationally update this prior probability, using the 1 percent likelihood, to yield a posterior probability that Jefferson was the father of all six children. Given a prior probability of 50%, Bayes’ theorem yields a posterior probability of 99%: 99 chances out of 100 that Jefferson was the father of all six children.
  • 3.Fawn M. Brodie, Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (New York: Norton, 1974).
  • 4.Annette Gordon-Reed, Thomas Jefferson & Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1999) pp. 196-201.

Slavery Databases

9d6eb-slaveryOver at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell has a nice roundup of some of the best databases about enslaved people.

Here is a taste:

This is just one of several online databases about enslaved people that researchers can now use. There’s the venerable Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, which has numbers (not names) of every known slaving voyage from Africa to the New World. This project has recently received a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to expand with information about shipments from one American port to another.

The New York Slavery Records Index has collected records that “identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War.”

Runaway Connecticut is based on a selection of the runaway notices that appeared in the Connecticut Courant between 1765 and 1820. Those advertisements involve different sorts of people—escaping slaves, runaway apprentices, deserting soldiers, escaped prisoners, and dissatisfied husbands and wives.

The Afro-Louisiana History and Genealogy site is based on databases created by Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall and published on CD-ROM by the Louisiana State University Press in 2000.

The Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer website collects “the names of all the enslaved Virginians that appear in our unpublished documents.” That means it’s not as comprehensive as other compilations, but the society felt it was better to share what they had which would otherwise remain hidden than to wait for more. 

Read the entire post here.

Author’s Corner with W. Thomas Mainwaring

P03434.pngW. Thomas Mainwaring is chair of the Department of History at Washington and Jefferson College. This interview is based on his new book, Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania (University of Notre Dame, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Abandoned Tracks?

WM: I wrote Abandoned Tracks: The Underground Railroad in Washington County, Pennsylvania, because I was dissatisfied with the popular portrayal of the local Underground Railroad – a portrayal dominated by myths, legends, and hoary stereotypes. I wanted to write a scholarly study of the Underground Railroad based upon historical evidence and to establish the context in which the Underground Railroad emerged. I also wanted to bring to light discoveries that I had made about unknown individuals and networks, largely African Americans.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of  Abandoned Tracks?

WM: The argument of Abandoned Tracks is that the popular understanding of the Underground Railroad has long been dominated by myths and legends that fixate on subterranean hiding places and secrecy. It attempts to bridge the gap between popular perceptions and recent scholarship on the Underground Railroad.

JF: Why do we need to read Abandoned Tracks?

WM: I hope that Abandoned Tracks offers a good model of how to study abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in one locality. Abandoned Tracks is particularly relevant for studying the “border” North – areas that were contiguous to or near slaveholding states.

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

WM: I decided to become an American historian when I took two junior seminars on the history of the American South. I was hooked!

JF: What is your next project?

WM: I would like to examine the causes of the American Revolution from a British perspective.

JF: Thanks, Tom!

Teaching Liberty

Liberty Appeal

Over at The Junto, Tom Cutterham writes about his course on the “meaning of liberty” from the American Revolution to Civil War.    Here is a taste:

The truth is, I find it hard even to begin thinking collectively about freedom. Our starting point is unfreedom. It was the same for Thomas Jefferson. His Declaration of Independence gives meaning to liberty by listing its violations. When we read David Walker, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Jacobs in my class, we try to glimpse freedom by looking deep into its absence. But it’s too easy for students to assume that because slavery has been abolished in America, the problem of liberty has already been solved. Spend too long pondering slavery, and just about anything else starts to look like liberty.

There were critics of abolitionists who tried to raise the same problem. In my class, we read William West’s series of letters to The Liberator, describing “wages slavery” as a system of dependence, abjection, and poverty which West calls “worse” than chattel slavery. It is wage slavery that can most truly claim to be the “sum of all evils,” West writes, because it is only this variety of slavery that hypocritically appropriates “the name of liberty.” We read West critically, of course. But when I ask my students if they ever felt like their boss was a tyrant, that’s when they begin to understand that freedom is a problem of the present, not just of the nineteenth century.

It’s the curse of such a topic—the meaning of freedom in American history!—to be so deeply bound up with progress. Didn’t things just keep on getting better; sometimes faster, perhaps, and sometimes more slowly, but basically, better? We read Judith Sargent Murray in the second week, then Sarah Grimké in the seventh, the Seneca Falls declaration and Lucretia Mott in the tenth. One of my students noted how depressing it is to see the same good arguments repeated, periodically, over sixty years of alleged progress. The way we raise and teach our children, the way they imbibe the ideology infused in their surroundings—as those women powerfully described—is an unfreedom none too easily abolished.

Read the entire post here.  I love the way Cutterham challenges his students to think historically about the “meaning of liberty.”  History teachers take note.

A “Kanyefication of one of our most enduring national myths”

kanye-west

Writing at the Los Angeles Times, historian Kevin Waite connects Kanye West’s comments about slaves choosing slavery with Lost Cause myths about slavery.  Here is a taste:

Yet there’s an uncomfortable truth in West’s comment. Ill-informed though his views may be, they align alarmingly well with popular interpretations of American history.

The claim that slaves somehow consented to their own enslavement is a Kanyefication of one of our most enduring national myths. Depicted in fiction, film and even statuary, the “loyal slave” has persisted for more than a century and a half. The trope buttresses the so-called Lost Cause school of history, an intellectual movement celebrating the plantation South and exonerating it from any blame for the Civil War. Instead, that cataclysm is charged to the North, which destroyed a civilization that benefited masters and slaves alike — so goes the logic of Lost Cause propagandists.

Read the entire piece here.

Kanye West’s #SlaveryWasAChoice Rant in Historical Context

Here is Kanye’s appearance on TMZ:

A lot of historians are weighing-in on Kanye’s misinformed and generally incoherent ramblings.  Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion puts it all in context.  Here is a taste of her piece “Kanye’s Brand of ‘Freethinking’ Has a Long, Awful History“:

Kanye West’s “freethinking” condemnation of generations of enslaved people’s failure to rebel is drawn—whether he knows it or not!—from a dangerous ideology that’s older than the United States. Twitter has spent the past few days dragging West for his willful ignorance, and #SlaveryWasAChoice has already made the absurdity of his comments abundantly clear. But West’s particular approach to history—projecting his own self-concept and psychology onto people long dead, without giving a thought to the complexity and pitfalls of such an enterprise—is a temptation we all indulge in, from time to time. Let’s use West’s outlier example to remember how harmful it can be.

First, there’s the long history behind the argument “slavery is a choice.” Before the American Revolution, Francois Furstenberg writes in In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, white Americans pushing for independence from Britain argued that people “proved their virtue by maintaining their freedom; they proved their lack of it by submitting to slavery.” There are constant invocations of the word slavery in slaveholding colonists’ assessments of their relationship to the Crown. This looks painfully ironic to the contemporary eye, but the colonists, Furstenberg argues, were thinking through the nature of freedom—deciding who was meant to be free, and who was not.

After the Revolution, the “conceptual opposites” of slavery and freedom were increasingly “moralized,” as Furstenberg puts it. This framework “helped promote the idea that a virtuous person would resist slavery, even at the cost of life itself.” As the 19th century began, Americans who might otherwise have been uneasy with the continuation of the institution of slavery in a proudly republican nation convinced themselves that the enslaved people had given what Furstenberg terms “tacit consent” to remain in their positions. This is what drove contemporary apologists to mention, over and over, enslaved people’s affection for their masters—to tell, again, the story that Washington’s whole household cried and grieved when he died. (You’ll still see this idea of the “happy slave” circulate among slavery apologists today.)

Read the rest here.

An Interview with Peter Wood

WoodI still occasionally assign Peter Wood‘s Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion.  It remains one of the most accessible books on the slave culture that developed in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

Over at History News Network, Tiffany April Griffin interviews Wood.  He currently serves as professor emeritus of history at Duke.

Here is a taste of the interview:

Why did you choose history as your career?

Both my parents were scientists, but I faint at the sight of blood, so medicine was out. They nurtured a love of fact over fiction, so even though I wrote lots of poems, I was not going to be a novelist. Also, I was a lefthander who could never hit curve balls very well, so I gave up my dreams of being the next Stan Musial for the St. Louis Cardinals. I guess that was fact triumphing over fiction!

I fell in love with history early, because it allowed me to roam widely. Most careers address some slice of life, while history allows you to go anywhere. Not just any place or time, but bringing any tools you wish and can manage. If you are fascinated by economics or astronomy, feminism or religion, literature or cooking, you can probably bring that interest to bear. Our own strengths and weaknesses, personal interests and blind spots tend to shape our work as much as any “availability of sources.”

Read the rest here.

The Penn Slavery Project

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Students at the University of Pennsylvania have been exploring the university’s connection to slavery through the Penn Slavery Project.  The Daily Pennsylvanian reports on how things are going.

Here is a taste of Giovanna Paz’s piece, “New findings from Penn Slavery Project show how U. benefited financially from enslaved labor“:

The students unearthed evidence that implicated several leading figures, such as Robert Smith, a prominent architect for the Academy and a slaveholder, as having substantial involvement in the slave trade. There is also significant evidence that the University had considerable knowledge of the connections, which included a campaign soliciting funds from a number of wealthy donors, many of whom owned slaves. 

Perhaps the most explicit evidence that Penn documented and was aware of connections to the slave trade involved Ebenezer Kinnersley, an early professor of the Academy who worked alongside Penn founder Benjamin Franklin. Kinnersley was reimbursed by the University from 1757 to 1770 for the work done by his enslaved person on campus.

“These funds are coming directly from people who are benefiting from the slave labor and the exploitation of enslaved bodies and the University was aware,” College senior and PSP member Caitlin Doolittle said during the presentation. “None of this is happening in a vacuum. They are not ignorant to the fact that these people are slaveowners.”

For two semesters, a group of undergraduate students has explored Penn’s ties to the slavery and the slave trade. Throughout the process, the students used material from local, online, and University archives. 

Read the entire piece here.  Also check out this recent piece at The Progressive.

The Poet Laureate of the 1969 Miracle Mets

Ed Charles

If you are a New York Mets fan, a general baseball fan, a poet (it’s National Poetry Month), or a student of the African-American experience you must read Gettysburg College historian Tim Shannon‘s recent Penn Live (Harrisburg Patriot-News) piece on Ed Charles.  (I should also add that Shannon will be our guest on Episode 36 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  It drops tonight).

I was too young to see Ed Charles play third base for the Mets (1967-69), but I have fond memories watching him play in the “Miracle Mets” highlight footage that WWOR (Channel 9) used to show during Mets rain delays in the 1970s.

Tim Shannon is one of the few writers who can connect Ed Charles’s poetry to Phillis Wheatley and the Atlantic slave trade.

Here is a taste of his op-ed:

Ed Charles, the third baseman for the “Miracle Mets” team of 1969, died last month at the age of 84.

When the New York Times ran his obituary, it included several photos, including two shots of Charles on the field. One showed him diving for a ball with the agility that earned him his nickname, “The Glider.” 

Another showed him leaping with joy along with pitcher Jerry Koosman and catcher Jerry Grote after the Mets recorded the final out of the ’69 World Series.

These two shots of Charles in action on the diamond were accompanied by a very different one of him taken in the Shea Stadium locker room in 1967, not long after he had been traded to the Mets by the Kansas City A’s. 

Charles sits on stool by his locker, dressed in his uniform, with a pad of paper on his knee and a pen in his hand He looks away from the camera, his eyes raised above the horizon. The photographer, it would seem, has caught “The Glider” in a different kind of action. 

Rather than being in mid-air, he is in mid-thought. 

Charles was a locker room poet. 

Read the entire piece here.  Here is Charles the poet:

cHARLES pOET

 

The Author’s Corner with April Holm

58ed097f35437.jpgApril Holm is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Mississippi. This interview is based on her new book, A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era (LSU Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I have a long-standing interest in the border states and how border residents experienced the Civil War. I was led to this particular topic as a graduate student when I read Richard Carwardine’s Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America and was intrigued by his comment that the aftermath of the Methodist schism of 1844 deserved more scholarly attention. I gave it a look, and obviously, I agreed!

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Kingdom Divided?

AH: I argue that the border was at the center of a long struggle over slavery, sin, and politics in American evangelicalism that consumed individual congregations and entire states. This book illuminates border evangelicals’ view of their providential role in American history, demonstrates that border churches established the terms of the debate over the relationship between church and state in wartime, and explains how border Christians contributed to a lasting sectional rift in the churches that obscured the role of slavery in their history.

JF: Why do we need to read A Kingdom Divided?

AH: A Kingdom Divided analyzes the crucial role of the border churches in shaping antebellum divisions in the major evangelical churches, in navigating the relationship between church and the federal government, and in rewriting denominational histories to forestall reunion in the churches. It highlights how religion, morality, and politics interacted—often in unexpected ways—in a time of political crisis and war. My book offers a new perspective on nineteenth century sectionalism and regionalism. And, in revealing the surprising extent of federal intervention in border churches, it addresses the problem of loyalty and neutrality in wartime. Finally, it revises the timeline of postwar reconciliation and reunion, supplying a new explanation of the origins of Southern evangelical distinctiveness in the postwar period.

In addition to all these things, A Kingdom Divided is a study of the failure of neutrality as a strategy in the face of a moral and political crisis. White evangelical clergy in the border region who tried to remain neutral in divisive debates over slavery and secession came to view the debates—not slavery—as the greater evil. Moderate white border clergy saw their own neutral stance as morally superior to engaging in political conflict. However, when the war ended, neutrality was no longer possible and the major denominations pressured border clergy to take a side. These border clergy felt persecuted by their denominations and they began to turn to southern churches, which continued to defend slavery even after it had been abolished. Neutrality on slavery ultimately led them into proslavery denominations. My study of attempted neutrality in the face of moral disputes reverberates in present-day conflicts. It explains why people turn to moderation or neutrality as a strategy in the face of intensely charged conflicts. It also reveals why people who attempt to remain neutral so often feel that they occupy the moral high ground and why they ultimately find fault with people demanding justice, rather than with injustice itself.

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

AH: I can trace my interest in the past back to my childhood love of historical fiction. I decided to become a historian when I started taking history seminars as an undergraduate at Reed College. I am interested in the border states because they exemplify and complicate so many of the key issues of the Civil War era—they are paradoxically both peripheral and central.

JF: What is your next project?

AH: I am currently researching a book on provost marshals and civilians in the occupied border during the Civil War. During the Civil War, border civilians frequently came in contact with provost marshals, who were federal agents who acted as military police and commanded wide-ranging authority over the civilian population. Their many duties included enforcing martial law, administering loyalty oaths, seizing property, and arresting disloyal citizens. In sum, provost marshals wielded tremendous power.

My project will develop a clearer picture of who these men were and the role they played in civilian networks within their communities. Currently, my research suggests three conclusions. First, that Union occupation was both immediate and local. Provost marshals were usually appointed directly from the community and therefore policed neighbors and acquaintances. Second, provost marshals became the face of the Union army in interactions with civilians of all political orientations, races, and genders. This included loyal Unionists, Confederate sympathizers, guerillas, enslaved people, free African-Americans, and women (both black and white). In occupied cities, the provost marshal’s office was an avenue for groups outside the sphere of war to access federal power. Finally, civilian interactions with provost marshals led to the development of a contested language of loyalty that fused the moral and the political. I extend my study past the war years to show how negative memories of provost marshals—often rehashed and embellished—contributed to the development of Lost Cause mythology in postwar years.

JF: Thanks, April!

White Supremacy in the History of American History Textbooks

pictoralhistory00goodrichHarvard’s Donald Yacovone has an interesting piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education on the history of American textbooks and their representation of race.  Here is a taste of “Textbook Racism: How scholars sustained white supremacy“:

There it sat on a library cart with 50 other elementary, grammar, and high-school history textbooks, its bright red spine reaching out through time and space. As I opened the book’s crisp white pages, it all came back. My loud gasp startled those near me at the special collections department of Harvard University’s Monroe C. Gutman Library. Exploring the New World — published repeatedly between 1953 and 1965 — had been assigned in my fifth-grade social-studies class in Saratoga, Calif.

As part of a broader study of the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the modern civil-rights era, I wanted to assess how abolitionism had been presented in textbooks. I imagined a quick look. Instead, I found myself immersed in Harvard’s collection of nearly 3,000 U.S. history textbooks, dating from about 1800 to the 1980s. Without intending, I had become engaged in a study of how abolitionism, race, slavery, and the Civil War and Reconstruction have been taught for generations.

After reviewing my first 50 or so textbooks, one morning I realized precisely what I was seeing, what instruction, and what priorities were leaping from the pages into the brains of the students compelled to read them: white supremacy. One text even began with the capitalized title: “The White Man’s History.” Across time and with precious few exceptions, African-Americans appeared only as “ignorant negroes,” as slaves, and as anonymous abstractions that only posed “problems” for the supposed real subjects of history: white people of European descent.

Read the rest here.  To the extent that American history textbook publishing reflected the concerns of the larger society, this should not surprise us.

Freedom on the Move

slave_ads_3

Cornell University is the host of “Freedom on the Move,” a digital database of fugitive slave ads from North America.  Here is a taste of Allison Meier’s article on this resource at Hyperallergic:

Readers of the May 24, 1796 Pennsylvania Gazette found an advertisement offering ten dollars to any person who would apprehend Oney Judge, an enslaved woman who had fled from President George Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. The notice described her in detail as a “light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair,” as well as her skills at mending clothes, and that she “may attempt to escape by water … it is probable she will attempt to pass as a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage.” She did indeed board a ship called the Nancy and made it to New Hampshire, where she later married a free black sailor, although she was herself never freed by the Washingtons and remained a fugitive.

The advertisement is one of thousands that were printed in newspapers during colonial and pre-Civil War slavery in the United States. The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) public database project, now being developed at Cornell University, is the first major digital database to organize together North American fugitive slave ads from regional, state, and other collections. FOTM recently received its second of its two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) digital humanities grants.

Read the rest here.

Race, Slavery, and Historical Interpreters

Slave Interpreters

Historical interpreters at Booker T. Washington Monument (via Donnie Nunley @ Flickr)

Over at The Outline, Zoe Beery writes about Cheyney McKnight, an African American historical interpreter at Historic Richmond Town on Staten Island.

Here is a taste:

Over the last ten years, McKnight has built a career as a living historian who embodies black lives, rather than just black trauma, in her interpretations of slavery. She does not portray specific people (“I’m not an actor,” she said), preferring to inhabit a generalized role while speaking from a contemporary viewpoint. “I want to change the way people see the story of slavery,” she said, “so that when people think of slavery and women, they think of me, not Aunt Jemima or Mammy.”

McKnight grew up in Atlanta and was fascinated since early childhood with the stories her parents and family told her about the Civil Rights movement. She devoured books about black history, from the 1960s to the Great Migration to enslavement. When she learned that she could spend time reliving what she had been spending so much time studying, re-enacting became her end-goal. Her parents were always on board. “They knew I was never going to have a specific life plan and had resigned themselves to having an oddball daughter,” she said.

For her first event, she traveled to the site of the Battle of Gettysburg for a 150th-anniversary re-enactment. In a borrowed blue and white dress, she portrayed a 22-year-old freewoman alongside four other black re-enactors. The re-enactment was, as Civil War historian Melvin Ely termed such eventslast year, a white fantasy: McKnight’s group was the largest bloc of black civilians anyone had ever seen at an event whose historical basis was full of black civilians. “At the time, that just wasn’t done,” McKnight said. Astonished spectators stopped them constantly, usually assuming they were portraying enslaved people. “I had old white men come up to me and tell me I reminded them of their maids,” she said. “People seemed to feel this need to put me in my place as an enslaved person.”

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

Thoughts on Michael Gerson’s “The Last Temptation”: Part 2

Last temptation

Read Part 1 of this series here.  Read Gerson’s Atlantic piece here.

Anyone who reads my work knows that I am a big fan of George Marsden‘s essay “Human Depravity: A Neglected Explanatory Category” in Wilfred McClay’s ed., Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past (Eerdmans, 2007).  In this essay, Marsden writes: “Of all traditional Christian teachings the doctrine of original sin or of pervasive human depravity has the most empirical verification.  The modern world, rather than undercutting this doctrine, seems to increasingly confirm it.”

In Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, I argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that all human beings are created in God’s image and thus have value, worth, and dignity.  More specifically, the Christian faith teaches that all human beings–past and present–are important because Jesus Christ died for their sins.  People have dignity because they are eligible for redemption.  For Christians, history should drive us to hope in the eschatological culmination of our redemption. It should instill in us a longing for a time when there will be no more sin and suffering.

Sin, the imago Dei, and the Christian understanding of hope and redemption inform my work as a historian.  When I do my work I should not be surprised that human beings are flawed and do horrible things.  I should also not be surprised when men and women perform acts that might be described as heroic or just.  Such acts bear witness to the fact that they are created in God’s image.  The most serious and devout evangelicals have sinned.  They have failed to live according to New Testament standards.  The most serious and devout evangelicals have lived-out their faith in acts of mercy, justice, and love.  Yes and yes.

In his Atlantic piece, “The Last Temptation,” Michael Gerson discusses the first half of the 19th-century as a time when evangelicals led social reform movements to end slavery.  We could also add other reform movements to his story, including efforts to curb the negative effects of alcohol, the crusade to win the vote for women, the movement to reform prisons, and the evangelical commitment to the education of urban young people through Sunday Schools.  All of these reform movements had roots in the genuine desire of “revived” evangelicals (products of the Second Great Awakening) to apply their faith to public life.

But let’s not forget that evangelicals were also, often at the very same time, involved heavily in some of the darker moments in the American past.  They were trying to limit Catholic immigration out of fear that Catholic immigrants would undermine their Protestant nation.  The Southern ministers and laypersons who experienced intense revivals in Confederate army camps were, in many cases, the same people constructing a sophisticated biblical and theological argument in defense of slavery.

Gerson needs to be careful about asking us to return to an evangelical golden age when all born-again and revived Christians were truly living-out the justice-oriented message of Jesus.  His historical analysis in this piece is only half right.  But having said that, I am willing to give him a pass since there is only so much one can do in an essay format.  As I said in my first post in this series, “The Last Temptation” is a very good piece.

More to come.

When the Union Army Stuck Confederate Soldiers in “Slave Pens”

Slave Pen

Check out Jonathan White‘s piece at Smithsonian on the freedmen’s reaction when the Union Army arrested Confederate soldiers and civilians and imprisoned them in the same pens and jails that the enslaved were forced to endure prior to the war.

Here is a taste:

For decades before the Civil War, slave markets, pens and jails served as holding cells for enslaved African-Americans who were awaiting sale. These were sites of brutal treatment and unbearable sorrow, as callous and avaricious slave traders tore apart families, separating husbands from wives, and children from their parents. As the Union army moved south during the Civil War, however, federal soldiers captured and repurposed slave markets and jails for new and often ironic functions. The slave pens in Alexandria, Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri, became prisons for Confederate soldiers and civilians. When one inmate in St. Louis complained about being held in such “a horrible place,” an unsympathetic Unionist replied matter-of-factly, “Yes, it is a slave-pen.” Other slave markets, such as the infamous “Forks of the Road” at Natchez, Mississippi, became contraband camps—gatherings points for black refugees from bondage, sites of freedom from their masters, and sources of protection and assistance by Union soldiers.

Ex-slaves relished seeing these paradoxical uses of the old slave pens. Jermain Wesley Logan had escaped slavery to New York in 1833 and returned to Nashville in the summer of 1865, where he found his elderly mother and old friends he had not seen for more than 30 years. “The slave-pens, thank God, have changed their inmates,” he wrote. In place of “the poor, innocent and almost heartbroken slaves” who for years had been held captive there as they awaited sale to the Deep South, Loguen found “some of the very fiends in human shape who committed those diabolical outrages.”

Loguen turned his eyes to the heavens. “Their sins have found them out,” he wrote, “and I was constrained to give God the glory, for He has done a great work for our people.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Randy Browne

51HQEW4XcnL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_Randy Browne is Assistant Professor of History at Xavier University. This interview is based on his new book, Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: In graduate school I knew I wanted to study the history of slavery—and I thought I was going to write a dissertation about slave resistance in the American South. But two things happened that led me down a different path. First, as I turned my attention toward the wider Atlantic world, I was struck by the demographic differences between slavery in North America and the Caribbean and especially by just how deadly Caribbean plantation societies were. As historians have long known, most Atlantic slave societies were death traps; slave populations outside of the U.S. did not reproduce themselves, and slaveowners relied on the transatlantic slave trade to replace slaves they worked to death. But what, I wanted to know, did this demographic reality mean on the ground, for enslaved people’s day-to-day lives? The second thing that happened was that I came across a remarkable series of legal records—the reports of British Crown officials known as fiscals and protectors of slaves—from nineteenth-century Berbice (part of what is now Guyana) in which enslaved people themselves described their world, the challenges they faced, and their relationships with one another and their enslavers. It didn’t take long for me to realize that enslaved people were primarily concerned with trying to find ways to survive—which was extraordinarily difficult given the conditions they faced. Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean is my exploration of what the unrelenting struggle for survival looked like.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: I argue that for most enslaved people the central problem was not how to resist or escape slavery but how to survive. I also argue that using survival as a lens changes they way we understand enslaved people’s social relationships, cultural practices, and political strategies. 

JF: Why do we need to read Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean?

RB: In my view, there are two major reasons to read my book. First, taking the problem of survival as the starting point challenges readers to reconsider some of their assumptions about slavery, power, and enslaved people’s agency. In particular, it offers an alternative to the domination and resistance framework that has predominated for decades—a framework that makes two problematic assumptions: (1) that the organizing principle for enslaved people’s politics was the struggle for “freedom” and (2) that slaves’ lives are best understood by focusing on their conflicts with enslavers. Instead, what I show is that most enslaved people recognized that escaping slavery was unlikely and were therefore preoccupied with the challenge of survival. Foregrounding survival also reveals that the power relationships of Atlantic slavery were much more complex than we often imagine. Enslaved people fought their oppressors, of course, but they also navigated complex and fraught relationships with one another that were at least as important. In the end, I hope readers will realize, like I did, that the story of enslaved people’s resistance to slavery and the story of their struggle to survive intersected but were not the same.

The other thing I hope readers take away from the book is an appreciation for the human stories that I reconstructed from the remarkable archive that distinguishes Berbice from most slave societies, where the voices of ordinary slaves are so much harder to find. Taken together, the records of the Berbice fiscals and protectors of slaves are the single largest archive of first-person testimony from enslaved people in the Americas. And rather than focus on a handful of exceptional characters, they document the day-to-day lives of hundreds of enslaved people from virtually every possible background. These stories reveal, in astonishing and often painful detail, the world that enslaved Africans and their descendants confronted, their hopes and fears, and their efforts to survive horrific conditions.

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

RB: Even before college, I knew that I wanted to study and maybe teach history one day. As an undergraduate at Eckerd College, I got very interested in the history of slavery and especially the American South, which is what I thought I was going to focus on when I arrived at the University of North Carolina for graduate school. But as soon as I came across the sources I describe above, I knew I had to shift gears and focus on Berbice. I quickly fell in love with Caribbean and Atlantic history and never looked back.

JF: What is your next project?

RB: I’ve started work on a history of slave drivers—enslaved men appointed by plantation managers or planters as supervisors—throughout the Caribbean. I got interested in the complicated social and political role of drivers while writing my first book (which has a chapter devoted to drivers) and want to build on what I learned to take a wider approach to these crucial go-betweens, who haven’t received nearly as much attention as they deserve. I’ve found some very exciting records from Cuba and Jamaica already and am casting a wide net—so feel free to send any sources my way!

JF: Thanks, Randy!

The Paragraph on Slavery That Thomas Jefferson Cut From the Declaration of Independence

Declaration

Ben Railton has a nice blog post on this here.

A taste:

In this July 4th, 2015 piece for Talking Points Memo, my second-most viewed piece in my year and a bit of contributing bi-monthly columns to TPM, I highlighted and analyzed the cut paragraph on slavery and King George from Thomas Jefferson’s draft version of the Declaration of Independence. Rather than repeat what I said there, I’d ask you to take a look at that piece (or at least the opening half of it, as the second half focuses on other histories and figures) and then come back here for a couple important follow-ups.

Welcome back! As a couple commenters on that post noted (and as I tried to discuss further in my responses to their good comments), I didn’t engage in the piece with a definitely relevant historical context: that the English Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, had in November 1775 issued (from on board a warship anchored just off the Virginia coast) a prominent Proclamation both condemning Virginian and American revolutionaries, declaring martial law in the colony, and offering the prospect of freedom to any African American slaves who left their owners and joined the English forces opposing them. A number of slaves apparently took Dunmore up on the offer, and so when Jefferson writes that “he [King George] is now exciting these very people to rise in arms among us,” he might have been attributing the idea to the wrong Englishman but was generally accurate about those English efforts. Yet of course Jefferson’s misattribution is no small error, as it turns a wartime decision by one English leader (and a somewhat unofficial one at that, as it’s not at all clear to me that Dunmore had the authority to make such an offer nor that the Crown would necessarily or consistently have upheld it) into a defining feature of the relationship between England and the colonies.

Read the entire post here.  I have really been enjoying Ben’s blog “American Studies.”

Happy Birthday Frederick Douglass

frederickdouglass01

Today marks 200th anniversary of the birth of slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass.  On his birthday I want to call your attention (HT: Library of America) to Douglass’s April 1865 address to the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston.  Here is a taste of “What the Black Man Wants

I have had but one idea for the last three years, to present to the American people, and the phraseology in which I clothe it is the old abolition phraseology. I am for the “immediate, unconditional, and universal” enfranchisement of the black man,in every State in the Union. [Loud applause.] Without this,his liberty is a mockery; without this, you might as well almost retain the old name of slavery for his condition; for, in fact, if he is not the slave of the individual master, he is the slave of society, and holds his liberty as a privilege, not as a right. He is at the mercy of the mob, and has no means of protecting himself.

It may be objected, however, that this pressing of the negro’s right to suffrage is premature. Let us have slavery abolished, it may be said, let us have labor organized, and then, in the natural course of events, the right of suffrage will be extended to the negro. I do not agree with this. The constitution of the human mind is such, that if it once disregards the conviction forced upon it by a revelation of truth, it requires the exercise of a higher power to produce the same conviction afterwards. The American people are now in tears. The Shenandoah has run blood—the best blood of the North. All around Richmond, the blood of New England and of the North has been shed—of your sons, your brothers and your fathers. We all feel, in the existence of this Rebellion, that judgments terrible, wide-spread, far-reaching, overwhelming, are abroad in the land; and we feel, in view of these judgments, just now, a disposition to learn righteousness. This is the hour. Our streets are in mourning, tears are falling at every fireside, and under the chastisement of this Rebellion we have almost come up to the point of conceding this great, this all-important right of suffrage. I fear that if we fail to do it now, if abolitionists fail to press it now, we may not see, for centuries to come, the same disposition that exists at this moment. [Applause.] Hence, I say, now is the time to press this right. It may be asked, “Why do you want it? Some men have got along very well without it. Women have not this right.” Shall we justify one wrong by another? That is a sufficient answer. Shall we at this moment justify the deprivation of the negro of the right to vote, because some one else is deprived of that privilege? I hold that women, as well as men, have the right o vote [applause], and my heart and my voice go with the movement to extend suffrage to woman; but that question rests upon another basis than that on which our right rests. We may be asked, I say, why we want it. I will tell you why we want it. We want it because it is our right, first of all. [Applause.] No class of men can, without insulting their own nature, be content with any deprivation of their rights. We want it again, as a means for educating our race. Men are so constituted that they derive their conviction of their own possibilities largely from the estimate formed of them by others. If nothing is expected of a people, that people will find it difficult to contradict that expectation. By depriving us of suffrage, you affirm our incaPacity to form an intelligent judgment respecting public men and public measures; you declare before the world that we are unfit to exercise the elective franchise, and by this means lead us to undervalue ourselves, to put a low estimate upon ourselves, and to feel that we have no possibilities like other men. Again, I want the elective franchise, for one, as a colored man, because ours is a peculiar government, based upon a peculiar idea, and that idea is universal suffrage. If I were in a monarchical government, or an autocratic or aristocratic government, where the few bore rule and the many were subject, there would be no special stigma resting upon me, because I did not exercise the elective franchise. It would do me no great violence. Mingling with the mass, I should partake of the strength of the mass; I should be supported by the mass, and I should have the same incentives to endeavor with the mass of my fellow-men; it would be no particular burden, no particular deprivation; but here, where universal suffrage is the rule, where that is the fundamental idea of the Government, to rule us out is to make us an exception, to brand us with the stigma of inferiority, and to invite to our heads the missiles of those about us; therefore, I want the franchise for the black man.

Read the entire piece here,

As always, I am looking forward to teaching Frederick Douglass’s Narrative later this semester in my U.S. survey course.