Why Did a 74-Year-Old Amateur Historian Steal a Monument Commemorating the Slave Trade in Charlottesville?

Charlottesville slave block

This is a really interesting story.  Here is a taste of Michael Miller’s piece at The Washington Post:

The humble sign in the sidewalk had often gone unnoticed, overshadowed by the giant Confederate statues towering over it in Charlottesville’s central Court Square.

But Thursday, the small plaque marking a century of slave auctions suddenly went missing, stirring consternation and controversy in a city already struggling with its history.

“It was disturbing,” said Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. “Although this slave auction plaque was so small and set in the ground and you could walk over it, it was the only thing we had to commemorate the slaves whose lives were torn apart there.”

Schmidt, who has advocated for the removal of Charlottesville’s Confederate statues, initially worried that the plaque had been taken to protest a proposed law that would allow cities in Virginia to remove offensive monuments.

Others feared that it was simply another racist gesture at the site of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, during which a neo-Nazi killed protester Heather Heyer.

Then something odd happened. The culprit publicly confessed.

Read the rest here.

Annette Gordon-Reed Reviews Alan Taylor’s New Book on Jefferson and Education

Taylor JeffersonWhen a Pultizer-Prize-winning American historian reviews a new book from another Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian it is worth a separate post here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Taylor’s book is titled Thomas Jefferson’s Education.  Here is a taste of Gordon-Reed’s review at The Atlantic:

The Revolution and the creation of the United States of America broadened Jefferson’s vision in many ways, and by his mid-40s, he had taken to insisting that the job of reforming Virginia—above all, ending slavery, a system in which he participated—would fall to “the rising generation.” He and his fellows in the revolutionary generation had done their service by founding a new country. It was now up to the young people who inherited that legacy to carry the torch and continue the advancement of what he considered Enlightenment values. But Jefferson could not totally bow out of the quest to transform the place he was born and had long thought of as his “country.” After 25 years in national public service, he was at last able to return to the project in 1809, and he did so decidedly in his own way.

Improving Virginia’s system of education, Jefferson believed, was the foundation upon which progress would be built, and the foundation had to be laid properly. If publicly supported primary and secondary schooling was not possible, he would shift his focus. He filled his time in retirement writing and answering letters, and playing host to the hordes of visitors who came up the mountain to see him. But his main mission was planning for a university that would rival the great universities in the North. No longer would the sons of Virginia be limited to attending his alma mater, William & Mary, or traveling north to Harvard or Yale—choices that disconcerted him for different reasons.

In Thomas Jefferson’s Education, Alan Taylor—the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Professor of History at the University of Virginia—probes that ambitious mission in clear prose and with great insight and erudition. He explains why Jefferson found those educational choices so intolerable, what he planned to do about the situation, and how his concerns and plans mapped onto a growing sectional conflict that would eventually lead to the breakup of the Union that Jefferson had helped create.

Read the entire review here.

UVA Men’s Basketball Team Declines White House Invitation

Bennett

UVA basketball coach Tony Bennett.

The defending national champs will not be going to the White House.  Here is a taste of Mike Barber’s reporting at the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

CHARLOTTESVILLE — After winning the national championship, the Virginia basketball team won’t be following the tradition of visiting the White House.

“We have received inquiries about a visit to the White House,” UVA coach Tony Bennett said in a statement the school released Friday. “With several players either pursuing pro opportunities or moving on from UVA, it would be difficult, if not impossible to get everyone back together. We would have to respectfully decline an invitation.”

Virginia went 35-3 this season and beat Texas Tech to win the school’s first basketball national championship earlier this month. Since then, junior guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome, junior forward Mamadi Diakite and sophomore forward De’Andre Hunter all have declared for the NBA draft. In addition, sophomore reserve guard Marco Anthony has said that he has entered his name in the NCAA’s transfer portal and will be leaving the Cavaliers.

Hunter retweeted the school’s announcement, adding the words “No Thanks Trump,” followed by two laughing emojis.

Read the rest here.

I guess the UVA basketball team doesn’t like fast food.  Or maybe something else is going on.  🙂

By the way, the women’s Division 1 champs, the Baylor Lady Bears, have accepted Trump’s invitation.

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball

Bennett

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was no evangelical.  But he was a champion of religious liberty and had a lot of support among Virginia evangelicals when he ran for president in 1800. So it is unclear what he would have thought about an evangelical running his school’s national championship basketball program.

UVA coach Tony Bennett has been outspoken about his evangelical faith.  His faith has been covered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic AssociationThe Daily Progress,  the Baptist Press, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Heavy.  (The Washington Post discussed how he handled racism during 2017 white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville, but says nothing about his Christian faith).

Following his team’s national championship victory on Monday night, Bennett told Jim Nantz that he had played a Christian song titled “Hills and Valleys” to get his team ready for the game.  This song must have had special meaning for Bennett.  Last March, Bennett’s UVA program was definitely in the “valley” after it became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC). (It should be no surprise that Bennett received a text from former NFL coach and motivational speaker Tony Dungy after the loss to UMBC).

The lyrics of “Hills and Valleys” focus on God’s faithfulness during the joy and pain of life:

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Frankly, it’s refreshing to see Bennett invoke a song that celebrates God’s faithfulness in the wins AND the losses.

The role that Bennett’s faith plays in his coaching is covered well in Jonathan Adams’s piece at Heavy. Here is a taste:

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is outspoken about his Christian faith and how it shapes his work with players. During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Bennett noted his faith helps him through stressful situations in games.

“You certainly feel things – things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? And I always tell our guys: It’s got to be something that is unconditional,” Bennett said, per Christian Headlines. “And I know I have that in the love of my family – unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from – my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things.”

Bennett committed to being a Christian while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp when he was 14, per Decision magazine. The Virginia coach emphasizes five pillars to his players, and the tenets have become a staple of the Virginia program. Bennett drew upon Biblical principals to create the five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Former Virginia player Joe Harris spoke with Decision magazine about the impact these pillars have had on his life beyond basketball.

“You can apply those pillars to the rest of your life, not just basketball,” Harris noted to Decision. “I always tell people that being at Virginia with coach Bennett helped me in a huge developmental standpoint as a basketball player, but that I developed even more as a person.”

Something tells me Jefferson would still be happy with the UVA win.

Tweeting the History of Slavery at the University of Virginia

UVA

The Daily Progress has a nice piece on Kirt von Daacke, Professor of History at the University of Virginia and the university’s co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery, who has been tweeting the results of his research. Check out his tweets @slaveryuva

Here is a taste:

Kirt von Daacke, an assistant dean of history and co-chairman of the President’s Commission on Slavery at the University, writes most of the tweets. The periodic intrusion into Twitter timelines helps to keep the immediacy of slavery alive at the university, von Daacke said, and helps users get a sense of how interconnected and violent the system was in Central Virginia.

“Real people lived and died to build and maintain the U, it’s not just abt Jefferson. #SlaveryU,” he posted in January.

“I started tweeting out information eight or nine months ago just as a way to share it, promote our existence and begin to think about the evidence,” von Daacke said. “As I did it, I was struck by how useful it was as a way to begin to see patterns in all the data.”

So he kept tweeting between classes and meetings, sometimes enlisting students or other researchers to write a few posts about their own research.

“Each individual tweet doesn’t do much, but if you are following, it starts to creep in just how many people were involved, how much money, how much violence and misery,” he said.

Read the rest here.

This project is certainly fitting in light of what happened on the Charlottesville campus in August, but it also serves a great model for using Twitter to share snippets of historical research.

 

 

Robert Lee

LeeWe live in a very strange world.  I am sure by now you have heard about ESPN football announcer Robert Lee.  On Tuesday, ESPN decided to remove him from covering the season’s first University of Virginia football game because he shares a name with the Confederate general whose statue triggered racial violence in Charlottesville.  According to this piece at The Atlantic, ESPN wanted to protect their Robert Lee from “memes and jokes.”  I guess that didn’t work out very well.

So what about all the other people in the United States named Robert Lee?  Julie Beck is asking the same question.  Here is a taste:

Both Robert and Lee are extremely common names. According to the website HowManyofMe.com, which searches a database of U.S. Census data, there are 5,128,282 Roberts in the United States, 731,046 people with the last name Lee, and a whopping 11,518 Robert Lees…

Surely some of them were named explicitly for Robert E. Lee, but many—probably most—were not. Wattenberg says that there used to be many people named for General Lee, but nowadays, “homage names are just an endangered species.” If someone chooses to go by the full “Robert E. Lee,” you might reasonably presume that they are trying to play up the Confederate connection, Wattenberg says. But the sports broadcaster Robert Lee is Asian American, and “one knows that broadcaster is not from a family proud of its Confederate ancestry,” she says.

Lee is the 22nd most common last name in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the people who share it are a fairly diverse group. White people make up 40.1 percent of Lees, 37.8 percent are Asian or Pacific Islander, 17.4 percent are black, 1.3 percent are Hispanic, and 1 percent are Native American.

One Robert Lee, who lives in San Francisco and works as a business analyst, didn’t fully understand the significance his name holds in the United States until he went to college. He lived in Hong Kong until he was 18, and then went to Brown University.

Read the entire piece here.

Charlottesville Tweets

This morning I return to blogging after about a week of rest.  While I was gone, of course, a lot of things happened.  Though I wasn’t writing here, I was commenting on recent events in Charlottesville via my Twitter feed. Here are some of my tweets with additional commentary.

There are still serious questions here about history and how we remember it, but this past weekend was not the time to have these debates.  Remember, monuments often say more about the time they were erected than the historical event they commemorate.  If the defense of the Confederacy and the white supremacy that came with it is driving the kind of violence we saw in Charlottesville, then the Lee monument should come down:

The next couple of tweets represent a small attempt to provide some historical context:

I was off the grid on Friday night and did not know what had happened with the white supremacist march at the University of Virginia.  I think this was my first tweet on Saturday morning when I finally realized what was going on in Charlottesville:

My tweets during Trump’s response:

“Bringing people together” on what terms?  What are the moral principles that define the community Trump wants to create here?  Remember, Lincoln condemned slavery, discussed our collective sins, and then talked about a new birth of freedom and a way forward.  Communities–even national communities–have clear boundaries.  Trump did not draw them on Saturday.  His call for “bringing people together” is meaningless:

Trump does not read.  He does not understand American history or the role of race within it:

I try to teach my students how to read historically.  Granted, we can never get inside Trump’s mind to know what he really meant when he spoke on Saturday.  So we must interpret what he said in context.  The context of Trump’s campaign and presidency (so far) must be considered if we want to come close to understanding Trump’s mind.  This is how future historians and students of history will approach these remarks when they read them as primary sources.  Context, of course, does not give us a definitive answer to what Trump was thinking, but it should be our starting point in trying to make sense of what he said:

I think this one does not need any further elaboration:

I think it’s fair to say that if Trump comes out tomorrow and gets specific, most Americans will think it is too late.  The window may have closed:

So far, none of the court evangelicals have condemned Trump for failing to condemn white supremacy:

Brinkley gets it right:

Robert Jeffress eventually did tweet that racism is sin.  I hope he called Trump to rebuke him.  That is what Christian leaders with “unprecedented access” do in times like this:

Yes–historians will get the last word:

Very proud of my pastor Sunday morning:

More Charlottesville civil rights history:

These guys lost their friends fighting the Nazis:

Catholic Theology at the University of Virginia

University-of-Virginia-Rotunda

Nichole Flores is Catholic and teaches Catholicism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia.  In the May 2017 issue of America she tells us what that is like.

Here is a taste:

Richard Gaillardetz, now the Joseph Chair of Catholic Systematic Theology and chair of the theology department at Boston College, worked for a decade at the University of Toledo. Like Sister Clifford, he found that some university community members were worried about religion having any role in the life of the university. Many of his fellow academics, he says, “presumed outdated 19th-century notions of social scientific ‘objectivity’ and then used that as the basis to negate any place for theology, properly speaking, to be included in the public conversation of the university.” In this theory of knowledge, detachment is consecrated as the first principle. Catholic theology, by definition, cannot be extracted from its foundational principles—faith in the triune God, Scripture as the revealed word of God and the church as mediator of revelation, to name a few—and thus can generate suspicion among those who would seek to protect the religious neutrality of public institutions.

But this drive for scientific objectivity and perfect neutrality fails to account for the ubiquitous presence of religion in U.S. public life. According to the Pew Forum’s Religious Landscape Study, more than three-quarters of people in the United States claim to be religious. Religious language pervades political discourse from protests to presidential elections. Religious beliefs are implicated in some of the most challenging social issues of our time. Former Secretary of State John Kerry once warned in the pages of America that “we ignore the global impact of religion at our peril.” Failure to attend to the religious dimensions of our common life hinders the pursuit of the common good.

From my perspective as a Catholic theological ethicist, it is precisely theology’s strong, consistent affirmation of the particular values of the Catholic social tradition—dignity, justice and the common good—that allows for its unique perspective on the relationship between belief and practice. The Catholic faith is a public faith, asserting truths that touch every aspect of human life. Its public character emerges from its specific theological claim that each human being is created in the image of God and thus has inherent dignity. Scriptural mandates to care for the most vulnerable members of society pervade the church’s theological and moral teachings. Implementing these goods calls upon Catholics, and people of different faith traditions, to engage their beliefs in a religiously and culturally pluralistic public realm.

I was grateful to find a community of scholars who either shared, or at least respected, the demands of living out a public faith. Faculty members in my department had a range of relationships to Catholicism: some had been raised Catholic, some had attended Jesuit schools and some were theologians from other traditions. As luck would have it, I moved into the office next to a renowned Jesuit historian who helped me connect to a local parish and kept me grounded in all things Ignatian.

But this hospitable and collaborative environment did not always extend to the rest of the university community. In some quarters, I found my scholarship was considered conservative for engaging sources from deep within the Catholic tradition. In others, I was called a radical for my commitment to social justice and my methodological commitment to experience and context as crucial sources of knowledge. Both camps viewed my work as marginal and dangerously close to breaching the wall.

Read the rest here.

At one point in the above excerpt Flores writes:  “Failure to attend to the religious dimensions of our common life hinders the pursuit of the common good.”  Despite this fact, it seems that most secular colleges and universities do not hire people of faith based on the conviction that their religious beliefs will add to the collective life of the university.  Rather, they tend to hire people of faith in spite of their religious beliefs.  To put it differently, they want people who are able to bracket their faith from the classroom and scholarship.

Some scholars of faith searching for a university post have pedigrees and vitas that enable them to keep their personal religious convictions out of the search process.  These candidates know that in order to advance in the search they should probably keep silent about their religious beliefs.  These beliefs, after all, are irrelevant in the modern university.

But those scholars who have attended faith-based institutions, especially evangelical faith-based institutions, do not have the luxury of staying silent about their pedigrees. People on search committees will ask them about it.  As a graduate of two evangelical institutions (including an evangelical seminary) I got asked about this a lot.  Some people were simply curious.  Others were more hostile.  I quickly realized that in order to win their trust I had to always preface conversations about my pedigree with a phrase like “I am not that kind of evangelical.”

I think it’s fair to say that I am not that kind of evangelical, but why did I always feel the need to make this clear?  (This has stuck with me. When I am in secular settings I am always asked about Messiah College. I usually respond with something like “we are not that kind of Christian college”).

Will we ever get to the point where these caveats will not be needed?  Will we ever get to the point where evangelical scholars will land positions at research universities not in spite of their evangelicalism, but because of it?  Probably not in my lifetime.

But Flores’s piece offers hope.  I was encouraged by it.  I appreciate the way she tries to navigate her Catholicism and her teaching of Catholicism in a public university.  And I appreciate that a place like the University of Virginia seems to support her in her efforts.

Studying Slavery at the University of Virginia

The Virginia public university founded by Thomas Jefferson has announced that it has appointed a commission to study the history of slavery at the institution.  Here is a taste of an article on the subject in UVA Today:

Investigating and commemorating a major part of the University of Virginia’s past will be the focus of U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan’s newly established Commission on Slavery and the University. 

The commission, comprising 27 U.Va. faculty and staff members, students, alumni and local residents, will further the efforts of multiple groups exploring U.Va.’s historical relationship with slavery and provide an institutional framework to guide research and gather resources on the contributions of enslaved laborers to the University. 

“The commission builds on the effort of many members of our University community who have worked to raise awareness of the University’s relationship with slavery and to commemorate the role of enslaved persons in appropriate ways,” Sullivan said. “The commission will now carry this work forward with the help of community partners who share our concern about this issue.” 

Her specific charge to the commission is to “provide advice and recommendations on the commemoration of the University of Virginia’s historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people.”

Led by co-chairs Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, and Kirt Von Daacke, associate professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences, the group will investigate the interpretation of historically significant buildings and sites on Grounds related to slavery and propose projects that would educate students, faculty, staff and visitors about enslaved individuals who worked at U.Va., as well as commemorate their work.

Read the rest here.

The "Mormon Moment" Continues at the University of Virginia

The New York Times is reporting that the University of Virginia is establishing the Richard L. Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies:

The University of Virginia has announced a new endowed chair in Mormon studies, making it the first university in the East to have such a position. The chair will be named for Richard Lyman Bushman, a distinguished historian of early America who taught for many years at Columbia University and more recently directed the Mormon studies program at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif., which in 2008 became the first secular institution outside Utah to offer such a program.

Mr. Bushman, the author of “Rough Stone Rolling,” a biography of Joseph Smith, said in a statement that the Virginia chair represented a maturation of Mormon studies, which has recently begun to attract scholars from across disciplines, including many with no personal connection to the church. (He is a Mormon.) “Now we will have a center for study here in the East, where the Mormon movement had its genesis,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for those of us who care deeply about researching the sources of human behavior, motivation, commitment, relationships and expression.”

The chair, whose occupant has yet to be selected, is supported by a $3 million endowment from anonymous donors, and will be in the Department of Religious Studies. That department, which has no affiliation with any church or theological seminary, is the largest of its kind at any public university, according to a university statement.

Not to sound too envious, but how about a chair in Evangelical Studies?  Why not?

What Do Our Bathrooms Tell Us About Amercian Culture?

Philip Bess teaches in the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture and is the author of Till We Have Built Jerusalem: Architecture, Urbanism, and the SacredCrisis Magazine is running an excerpt from this book in which Bess reflects on multi-bathroom homes, suburbia, Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, and Tocqueville.  Here is just a small taste:

Bigger and more luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms seem to me just one physical manifestation of that shrinkage of the public realm happening reciprocally and in tandem with America’s true growth industry, the care and tending of the autonomous self. Like the decline of the street and square as active public spaces—and the demise of the alley, the ubiquity of the driveway, the transformation of the garage door into the front door, the demise of uninterrupted curbs on residential blocks, the relocation of domestic life to yards and family rooms at the rear of the house, and the creation of complex suburban roofs apparently intended to simulate small villages—the growing number and importance of domestic bathrooms and bedroom suites indicates yet another way we materialize in our built environment our culture’s turn from the civic to the private.

This turn to the private would have dismayed but not surprised Alexis de Tocqueville. Indeed, Tocqueville recognized individualism as a peculiarly democratic proclivity. His 1840 characterization of individualism (“a mature and calm feeling, which disposes each member of the community to . . . draw apart with his family and friends, so that after he has thus formed a little circle of his own, he willingly leaves society at large to itself”) goes far toward describing a social reality that has taken physical form in the American suburb.