Penn goes online

Penn 2

Here is the Daily Pennsylvanian:

Following a spike in COVID-19 cases across the United States, Penn is no longer inviting students back to campus for the fall semester and is encouraging all students not to return to Philadelphia.

Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett sent an email to the Penn community on Tuesday announcing that the University will scratch its plans to conduct a hybrid fall semester that guaranteed on-campus housing for first years, sophomores, and transfer students in the College House system. Penn will not raise tuition by 3.9% for the fall semester as planned by the University Board of Trustees on Feb. 27.

The vast majority of undergraduate fall classes will be held online with very few in-person offerings such as clinical experiences in The School of Nursing. Graduate schools are continuing to evaluate their own fall operations.

“The sheer number of students who by Pennsylvania public health recommendation would now upon arrival—or based upon testing or high-risk exposure—need to go into a two-week quarantine is untenable,” Gutmann wrote. “At the same time, supply chain issues have more severely limited the availability and the turn-around time of COVID testing than medical experts foresaw. Since we last communicated we learned that our planned pre-testing regimen would not be possible.”

Read the rest here.

David Blight talks with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about Frederick Douglass

Blight

Listen or read here.

A taste:

DAVID BLIGHT:

Multiculturalism, we use it so loosely that we don’t even know what it means anymore. Well, Douglass knew what it meant. It meant the dream put into reality that people of every kind of creed, every kind of race background, ethnicity difference, even though they’re going to fight it out, they’re going to fight like hell over the sources, and meaning, and religion, and interpretation. They’re going to fight like hell, but it’s possible to create a democracy in which all of them can actually live. 

Also this:

CHRIS HAYES:

Let’s talk about your way into this man who, he’s one of these figures where… I think this is sort of the case a little bit with Hamilton and Chernow’s biography and then the musical, which is that, sure, it’s not like Alexander Hamilton is not famous. He’s famous. We know Hamilton’s a founding father, but the depth of complexity of the guy’s life, it’s like you read it. And you’re like, “Whoa, wow.” And Frederick Douglass is in a somewhat similar category in so far as like, yes, we know Fredrick Douglass. When we see his picture, we recognize him. But the sheer volume of his thought, his writing, his speaking, his political influence, his life experience. I had no idea the life this man lived.

DAVID BLIGHT:

Well, to go right back to your central point in your introduction. He did have a vision of a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious America in a more robust way than almost anybody of his own time. Long before an idea like multiculturalism was any form of consensus in this country. He was the prose poet, if you like, of American democracy in the 19th century. He was a creature of words. We can come back to that if you want of just how a former slave, a kid who grows up a slave spends 20 years as a slave, become such a genius with language. But he managed to find in language, written prose, autobiographical prose, political editorials, thousands of speeches, even one work of fiction. He found ways to penetrate and explain, describe and explain the experience of slavery as both physical and mental. The experiences of racism, they didn’t use that term in the 19th century. They called it racial prejudice, et cetera. And, and he found ways to explain what was happening to the American nation, the country itself, because of this issue of slavery and its aftermath, like nobody else.

Whether he belongs on a Mount Rushmore. I don’t know, on that issue, it’s worth talking about as we go through these monument wars, whether we’ve almost been too obsessed with people on monuments, and maybe we need to think more and more about memorialization, about ideas and concepts and events and processes, and so on. This obsession with heroes sometimes just gets us in trouble because everybody’s got flaws. That’s why George Washington is now in trouble, right, on the monuments.

Read more here.

If Kanye West does not become president you can blame the iPhone. They are “notoriously faulty”

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game

Here is Amber Neely at Apple Insider:

West’s lawyer is now claiming that the “notoriously faulty” clock of the iPhone may be one of many reasons his campaign team missed Wisconsin’s strict 5:00 p.m. ballot deadline.

Kanye West’s campaign team reportedly filed his Wisconsin presidential campaign ballot 14 seconds late on August 4, preventing his name from being added to the state’s presidential ballot. His campaign team and lawyer are now pushing back against Wisconsin in an attempt to get West added to the ballot.

A West campaign aide, Lane Ruhland, said that she had arrived at Wisconsin’s Elections Commission office before 5:00 p.m., though the door was locked, putting her behind schedule. By the time she reached the door, it was 14 seconds after the filing deadline.

West’s lawyer, Michael Curran, points that a Democratic Party staffer had timed her entrance with an iPhone video and that iPhone clocks are “notoriously faulty.”

Ruhland claims that the elections specialist had not provided any official timestamp, either.

“The elections specialist did not show us a clock, timer or recording showing the time of 5:00:14, nor did the filings receive a time stamp,” Ruhland said in her affidavit, highlighted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Read the rest here.

Court evangelical: Trump “cusses” because he no longer has time to watch “gospel television”

This would be hilarious if thousands of people did not hang on every word prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland says. Here is Copeland’s logic:

  1. Paula White told Copeland that before Trump became president, he only watched “gospel TV.”
  2. When he became president, he started using vulgar language. This is bad. (But Copeland also says that Trump is “president of the United States and can talk any he wants to”).
  3. The Lord showed Copeland “what happened” to Trump. The president “got over into the place where he didn’t have time to watch gospel television” and the vulgarity “slipped back in his mouth.”

There is a lot of other court evangelical stuff in this video as well.

Watch:

David Barton says 19th-century Christians who used the Bible to defend slavery were “the exception, not the rule”

Watch:

There are a lot of historical problems with this video, but the one of the most overt problems is Barton’s claim that most 19th-century Americans were abolitionists. Apparently Barton believes that those who used the Bible to defend slavery were the “exception to the rule.” The only way such a statement is true is if you believe that the South was not part of the United States during the era of slavery. I am sure Barton knows that the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in America today, was born out of a reading of the Bible that justified slavery. Exception to the rule?

Barton also confuses slavery and racism. (The conversation takes place in the context of a condemnation of the Black Lives Matter movement). He claims that 75% of New England clergy signed a petition condemning slavery. I don’t know if this is true, but I don’t think it would surprise any historian that 75% of New England clergy would sign such a petition. This region was the center of anti-slavery activism in the 1850s.

But even in New England, segregation and racism was present, if not dominant. Systemic racism was deeply embedded in the region’s culture. I would encourage Barton to read Joanne Pope Melish’s Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England ,1780-1860. Here is a description of the book:

Melish explores the origins of racial thinking and practices to show how ill-prepared the region was to accept a population of free people of color in its midst. Because emancipation was gradual, whites transferred prejudices shaped by slavery to their relations with free people of color, and their attitudes were buttressed by abolitionist rhetoric which seemed to promise riddance of slaves as much as slavery. She tells how whites came to blame the impoverished condition of people of color on their innate inferiority, how racialization became an important component of New England ante-bellum nationalism, and how former slaves actively participated in this discourse by emphasizing their African identity.

As some of you know, I have been reading David Blight’s biography of Frederick Douglass. Blight notes how Douglass faced overt racism in New England following his escape from slavery. Here is just one small passage from Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom:

The distances between the young abolitionist’s private and public lives were thrown into stark contrast, which would only grow with time. Twice in September [of 1841] Douglass was insulted, accosted, or thrown off the Eastern Railroad, the second instance occurring at the Lynn depot. On September 8, Collins and Douglass had purchased train tickets in Newburyport to travel north to Dover, New Hampshire, to speak at the Strafford County Anti-Slavery Society. The two were sitting in one double seat as the gruff conductor ordered Douglass to immediately move forward to the Jim Crow car. For Douglass such constant practices of segregation were always about dignity, as much as the “mean, dirty, and uncomfortable” space of Jim Crow cars. Collins vehemently objected on behalf of his black companion….With the conductor’s “little fist flourished about my head,” Collins reported, he too was ordered to leave the car. “If you haul him out, it will be over my person, as I do not intend to leave this seat,” proclaimed Collins. The conductor brought in several of the railroad’s hired thugs to do the deed. With Collins loudly protesting this was “no less than lynch law,” five men dragged the strong Douglass over Collins’s unmoved body, “like so many bloodhounds,” and “thrust him into the ‘negro car.'” In the fracas, Douglass’s clothes were torn and Collins described himself as “considerably injured in the affray.” Not missing an opportunity to make a Garrisonian doctrinal point, Collins told of a second conductor who went into the Negro car to console Douglass with the intelligence the railroad’s policy was not so bad after all, since so many churches “have their ‘negro pews.'”

Please don’t get your American history from David Barton.

What has Liberty University’s Falkirk Center said about Jerry Falwell’s “indefinite leave of absence”?

Falkirk band

Nothing.

The co-creator of the Christian Right, pro-Trump, attack-dog “center” which has become the public voice of Liberty University’s culture war agenda has just lost its leader. And here is what the Falkirk Center is tweeting about:

The Falkirk Center, more than any other part of the Liberty campus, represents the divisive and corrosive spirit of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s leadership. The way the Board of Trustees handles the Center will speak volumes about the future course of this university. So far it looks like business as usual.

Remember, not all Christian colleges are the same.

“The world will little note, nor long remember what Trump says there”: Trump may accept the GOP nomination at Gettysburg

monument-gettysburg-P

Civil War historians get ready.

Here is Lauren Gambino at The Guardian:

Donald Trump said on Monday that he is considering accepting the Republican presidential nomination later this month with a speech at the civil war battlefield of Gettysburg, one of the most hallowed spots in American history.

The move prompted almost instant condemnation from critics. Gettysburg is the site of the bloodiest battle of the US civil war and viewed historically as a turning point for the Union army against the Confederate army defending the slave-owning rebel south. There, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address, a speech carved into the walls of his presidential memorial on the Washington Mall.

The prospect of Trump delivering his own speech on the battlefield, after repeatedly defending the use of Confederate symbols and monuments during a period of civil unrest linked to racial justice protests, was met with derision from his critics.

Trump speaking at Gettysburg?”  tweeted Bill Kristol, a Republican critic of Trump. “The good news: 1. The prospect is more ludicrous than sickening. 2. The presumptuousness of the choice of location will backfire. 3. The world will little note, nor long remember what Trump says there.”

Presidential candidates traditionally deliver their remarks on the final night of a weeks-long nominating convention, in front of a raucous crowd of thousands of the party faithful. Plans for this year’s party conventions have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, forcing both candidates to reimagine these events without the usual pomp and circumstance.

Trump said he was mulling two options: Gettysburg and the White House.

Read the rest here.

Liberty University names Jerry Prevo acting president of Liberty University. He’s a Falwell family loyalist.

Prevo

Jerry Prevo is acting president of Liberty University

Here is Sarah Rankin and Elana Schor of the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. — Liberty University in Virginia announced Monday that its board had chosen an interim president to lead the school days after Jerry Falwell Jr. began an indefinite leave of absence after one of his posts on social media created an uproar.

Jerry Prevo, who has served as chairman of the school’s board of trustees since 2003 and recently retired as the senior pastor of a Baptist church in Alaska, will assume the role of acting president immediately, Liberty said in a news release.

Prevo expects to work from the Lynchburg campus starting Aug. 17 and will step aside from his position on the board for the duration of the new role, according to the news release. The board’s executive committee appointed Prevo, Liberty said.

Read the rest here.

Prevo is 74-years old and the former pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple in Alaska. He was an honorary co-chair of Trump’s 2016 campaign in Alaska. He has a long history of engaging in Christian Right causes and was a friend of the late Jerry Falwell Sr., the founder of Liberty.

Prevo took a trip with Falwell Sr. and other Christian Right pastors to South Africa in 1985.  This trip took place after Falwell Sr. called Desmond Tutu “a phony” and blamed “communist agitators” for the anti-apartheid unrest in the country. (Sound familiar?)

Sat, Aug 24, 1985 – Page 33 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com

Here is an article about a stunt Prevo pulled in 1985 in order to mock an anti-apartheid protest outside his church.

Tue, Oct 8, 1985 – Page 8 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

Prevo apologized:

Wed, Oct 16, 1985 – Page 5 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

And what Christian Right warrior would not have criticized Dr. Ruth?: Wed, Jul 30, 1986 – Page 6 · Daily Sitka Sentinel (Sitka, Alaska) · Newspapers.com

Prevo’s approach is straight out of the Falwell Sr. playbook:

Fri, Oct 24, 1980 – Page 19 · Argus-Leader (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) · Newspapers.com

Rather than understanding the new leadership at Liberty University in terms of change, we should probably see it in terms of continuity. Prevo is a Falwell loyalist. Don’t expect any reforms.

Who are these members of SHEAR who “support the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument?” I don’t think we have met.

a934c-shear_002_000

Some of you who read this blog are familiar with the controversy going on in the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). You can get up to speed with these posts. We also interviewed Dan Feller in Episode 72 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

On July 24, 2020, SHEAR’s official website, The Panorama, published Johann Neem’s piece “And/Or: Reflections on SHEAR’s Plenary.”  Here is a taste of that post:

Instead of “and,” “or” was all over the plenary session on Jackson and the immediate Twitter response. The panel revolved around a paper offered by Daniel Feller, director of the Papers of Andrew Jackson, contesting both Trump’s claim to the Jacksonian legacy, as well as what Feller considers the “cartoon version” of Jackson offered by recent historians. When I first read Feller’s pre-circulated paper for the SHEAR plenary, I was intrigued. It felt important to assess Jackson, the founder of the Democratic party, the longtime inspiration for its egalitarian commitments, who has fallen from grace because of his racist ideas and actions, and is now Donald Trump’s favored president. It seemed like a good choice for a broad public discussion.

Unfortunately, Feller seemed to be in an “or” mode. And in response, Twitter exploded with “or.” “Or” is most useful to bring sharp distinctions into relief, to cut the past analytically in ways that make rendering judgment easier. I have often used “or” in my writings, especially when I want to draw attention to contrasts. “Or” is a powerful tool to divide or categorize, but it can hide complexity. Often, it lacks humility.

“And” was missing from the conversation. Maybe this reflects our current cultural mood. We desire certainty and want people to be on our team. Perhaps we seek perfection in our heroes and want our villains to be purely terrible. Perhaps the contradictions we find in people like Jackson reflect his failings. But maybe, just maybe, our unwillingness to understand the past in terms of “and” reflects a failing on our part too. As Emerson said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

I am not defending Jackson. If anything, I must confess, and it is a bit embarrassing, but I kind of like the Whigs. The Whig party was, in our terms, more progressive on issues of gender and race. And Whigs’ vision of freedom emphasized cultivating human capabilities through collective institutions, from the family to civil society to the state.

But the Whigs were never just this, or else the left would have turned to the Whigs for their inspiration. They didn’t. To those who became Democrats, Jackson and his supporters offered a vision of egalitarian democracy that Whigs supposedly lacked. That is why left-leaning historians of labor and education have tended to side with the Democracy. The Democrats were the party of the working class who resisted the expansion of capitalism, historians argued. And the Democrats challenged the nativism, anti-Catholicism, and social control efforts of Whig philanthropy, including the Whigs’ vision of common schooling. Andyet Democrats were also the party most committed to upholding white supremacy.

There is nothing wrong with Feller wanting to defend Jackson and his legacy. At his best, Feller asked us to think seriously about historical context and to look beyond rhetoric to the specifics of Jacksonian policy.  But it was also true, as critics pointed out, that Feller’s paper and remarks did not engage meaningfully with the specific arguments made in recent scholarship critical about Jackson. The panel would have been stronger if these perspectives had been represented by including, for example, an expert in indigenous history. But Feller urged us to remember the Jackson who, in the Bank War, challenged an economic and political system favoring the few over the many. We historians must contend honestly with that Jackson too.

It can be hard to find the space and patience for “and” during these fraught times. With all that is happening in our country and around the world, there are days when I want to stake a position and hold it against all challengers. I want to know who’s with me. Sometimes I mistake this for solidarity. But maybe it’s my Whig sensibilities that remind me how fragile institutions like SHEAR are, and how much they depend on our collective will to sustain them over time. I think that doing so requires all of us—myself included—to be more open to “and.” And not just for the people we study; we among the living also contain multitudes. Do I contradict myself? I can’t help it. I have contradictory impulses. I only know so much. My intellect is limited. I make mistakes. I may need your forgiveness.

As historians, we have the opportunity to help one another and our students, readers, and listeners make sense of “and.” Because I have been coming to SHEAR for years, I know many of you, and I know that when we sit down to talk, we understand “and.” We are not “and” users or “or” users. We’re both.

I was glad to see The Panorama publish Neem’s post. The piece asks us to remember the historian’s task and it calls for honest and fair debate among those trained in the discipline.

But after I read Dawn Peterson’s and Laurel Clark Shire’s recent piece at Panorama, I wonder if Neem’s commitment to “AND” is really possible. Peterson and Shire were two of the historians Feller criticized in his plenary paper. They write:

On July 17, 2020, the Society for the History of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) held a plenary session online in lieu of the cancelled annual conference. The speaker was University of Tennessee professor Daniel Feller, the editor of Andrew Jackson’s papers. The plenary, based on a pre-circulated essay, was a debacle. By giving an apologist for slavery and Indian removal a large platform, SHEAR highlighted ongoing weaknesses both within the society and in the historical profession writ large regarding the histories of African American and Indigenous people, and of race and white supremacy more broadly.

The claim that Dan Feller is an “apologist for slavery and Indian removal” seems to be little more than a smear on the character of a fellow historian. There was nothing in Feller’s paper, the Q&A session that followed, or in my long podcast interview with Feller to suggest that he is an “apologist for slavery and Indian removal.”

Peterson and Shire continue:

Feller’s defensiveness was evident from the start. During the session, he excoriated journalists and historians for misrepresenting Jackson as a “hardcore racist” and the originator of “Indian genocide.” He dismissed scholarly interrogations of Jackson’s policies as being part of a politically motivated campaign to decry Donald Trump, who claims Jackson as a personal hero and inspiration. The essay demonstrated a stubborn refusal to engage scholarship by Indigenous and African American historians or even by other scholars of their histories. Instead, he misrepresented and caricatured recent work on Jackson—most of it by women historians—as he excused and defended Andrew Jackson’s policies. During the Q&A session, he refused to address Jackson’s slaveholding (lack of time, he said) and, at the end of the plenary, he even spoke aloud, and then repeated, a racist slur. Feller’s arguments were directly contradicted by respondent David Waldstreicher, which we and many others appreciate. Yet the speaker’s essay and its delivery, combined with the senior, all-white panel of respondents, indicated that SHEAR had failed to ensure that this panel would represent its own policies on diversity, equity, and inclusion. As we are two of the people whose scholarship Feller mocked, the editor of ThePanorama asked us if we would like to respond, and we do so here.

I have said this before, but the argument Feller made in his paper was well within the bounds of historical debate. I wish Feller would have been more hospitable to the voices of other scholars. Much of what he said was tainted by his use of a racial slur. Moreover, this session may not have been the best choice of panels to put forth as the face of the organization. (Feller acknowledges all of this in my podcast interview). But there was nothing about the content of the paper that merits the attacks he is receiving.

Feller was familiar with Peterson’s and Shire’s work. He cited them in the paper. Perhaps he should have engaged with them more because their work is important. So is the work of the scholars they cite in the footnotes of The Panorama piece. Personally, I have learned a lot from their scholarship and I have tried to use my platform to amplify their voices and arguments. In August 2016, I interviewed Shire as part of this blog’s Author’s Corner series. Many of the scholars mentioned in the footnotes have also appeared as part of this series. Julie Reed, the author of Serving the Nation: Cherokee Sovereignty and Social Welfare, 1800-1907, and a former colleague of Feller at the University of Tennessee, was our guest on Episode 46 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. In the end, Feller read Peterson’s and Shire’s work and found it wanting on several points. His differences were based on his reading of the sources.

Shire and Peterson write:

Andrew Jackson was not only a racist, but was also a person who made his career, his money, and his reputation on his steadfast commitment to racial slavery and genocide. He held some 150 people in bondage, separated kin on the auction block, and profited from the trade in human beings. He sent U.S. troops into sovereign Indian nations and ordered them to execute the residents of entire villages. He also advocated for and directed the forced eviction of thousands of Indigenous people from their lands, a removal that was carried out with violence and had terrible immediate and long-term human costs. Many respected historians of that policy note that if Indian removal had happened in the twentieth century we would recognize it as an “ethnic cleansing.”Historians also recognize that the eviction of Native peoples cleared the way for the expansion of slavery in the early republic, an economic boon for the white families of Jacksonian America, and one that expanded and perpetuated Black servitude. All of these things are historical truths acknowledged long before Trump occupied the White House.

I think Dan Feller would agree with everything in this paragraph.

These truths are not under dispute, not even by longstanding defenders of Jackson. Instead, Jackson’s apologists diminish their significance in light of what they consider to be Jackson’s other “accomplishments” in U.S. political and economic history. When historians write of Jackson as a white supremacist, defenders question the integrity of that research, arguing that it either ungenerously judges this historical figure by “presentist” standards or finding ways to undermine decolonizing methodologies or the documentary record writ large.

I am not sure anyone is trying to diminish Jackson’s racism. Also, one can still teach in a way that calls attention to Jackson’s political and economic policies without necessary calling them “accomplishments.” Do any of us really teach Jackson solely in terms of his views on slavery and Indian removal? If we say something in class about Jackson’s populism, appeal to immigrant workers in the North, his role in the Nullification Crisis, his “Kitchen Cabinet,” or his efforts to crush the National Bank, do we automatically “diminish the significance” of Jackson’s white supremacy, slavery, and treatment of  Indians?

Nicholas Guyatt is a historian for whom I have much respect, but I just don’t understand this tweet he posted in response to my podcast interview:

 

Did Jackson’s slaveholding and Indian removal play a “crucial role in creating the cotton belt?” Of course. I don’t think anyone would argue with the distinguished Cambridge professor on this point. But his tweet makes me wonder if Guyatt (and other critics of this so-called “triad”) has ever taught the U.S. survey course. What would a middle school or high school teacher say about this tweet as they try to cover all the stuff about Jackson included in their state social studies standards? What about an AP U.S. History teacher who needs to prepare students for the AP exam? As someone who graded these exams for seven years, I can attest to the fact that students will need to know things about the bank crisis, nullification crisis, and Jackson’s appeal in the North. Apart from the fact that it reduces Jackson’s life to merely one category of analysis, Guyatt’s attack on the “old triad” is impractical. It is disconnected from the work of American history teachers in the trenches.

Shire and Peterson write:

When a scholar makes racist comments, or tries to normalize white supremacy in the past, or displays clear sexism (or ableism, or homophobia), treating these comments as legitimate opinions to be debated makes it seem as if they are reasonable and must be engaged with. When people choose to respectfully debate racism it preserves “white comfort” at the expense of people of color and other marginalized groups. For a historian to claim that Indian removal and slavery were “overstated distractions” or “details we don’t have time for” was alienating and hostile to scholars of Indigenous and African American descent. It appeared that, with one exception, the goal of the panel assembled by SHEAR was to keep things “civil” as the speaker tacitly acknowledged the harms done to people of color as unfortunate, necessary evils along the way to American democracy. As Indigenous studies scholars have repeatedly argued, this call to “civility” stages white supremacy as both normal and legitimate and makes any refusal to support it beyond the pale of legitimate engagement or “civilization.”

Rather than supporting “both sides” approaches we urge SHEAR to no longer amplify histories that justify racism and violence and instead prioritize and emphasize the work of scholars committed to equity, particularly that of scholars of color. Giving historians who seek to defend white supremacy platforms equal to (or, often times, even greater than) those who highlight the individual and collective resilience of those targeted by the colonial state supports the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument. If SHEAR, for example, was committed to exploring Donald Trump’s fascination with Jackson—as was the stated intention—then why not create a plenary session with scholars who could speak to that in the context of both men’s devastating policies toward Black and Indigenous communities and the political mobilizations that arose and strengthened as a result?

Again, this seems unfair. It implies that Feller said that Indian Removal and slavery were “overstated distractions” and “details we don’t have time for.” Feller never said any of this. Peterson and Shire ask SHEAR to reject a “both sides” approach that gives voice to the work of historians who “amplify histories that justify racism and violence.” Who are these members of SHEAR? Are there really members of this esteemed organization of early Americanists who “support the idea that white supremacists actually have a legitimate argument?” Is SHEAR going to build its case for moral purity on such a straw man?

One final word. I have received several responses to my podcast interview with Feller. Most of them have accused me of not criticizing Feller or going too easy on him. Guilty as charged!! Anyone who wants to see how scholars are criticizing Feller can read Twitter and the official statements from SHEAR. My goal in the podcast was to let Feller tell his side of the story. That, after all, is what historians do. We try to listen to multiple perspectives of a particular event and draw our own conclusions. I hope Shire and Peterson will listen to that interview.

Listening again to a classic commencement address from the late David Foster Wallace

Yesterday a friend recommended The End of the Tour, a movie about writer David Foster Wallace based on Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky‘s book Although of Course You End up Becoming Yourself. I manage to convince my 19-year-old daughter to watch it with me. (I thought it might be a nice break from her regular diet of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, but it was the promise of a pizza delivery that ultimately sealed the deal).

The movie, which was very good, prompted me to listen again to Wallace’s commencement address to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. If you haven’t heard “This is Water,” you need to listen to it. If you have heard this speech, you need to listen to it again, and again.

Comparing the “Woke Left” and the “Alt-Right”

Grant statue

According to one study, they are a lot a like. This has definitely been my experience.

Here is a taste of Zaid Jilani’s piece at Quillette:

Until now, the personality linkages between authoritarian right-wing and authoritarian left-wing individuals was based largely on informally pooled anecdotal observations. This is perhaps the first time that the personality congruence between these two emerging groups—nominally progressive Politically Correct Authoritarians, and alt-right White Identitarians—has been studied systematically. And the results reinforce the social sense that many of us get from our most ideologically intolerant co-workers and social-media contacts: Notwithstanding their diametrically opposed political postures, both hard Left and hard Right seem disproportionately populated by individuals who are impelled to control others’ behavior, and draw attention to themselves.

Read the entire piece here.

Report: The White House asked the governor of South Dakota how to add a president to Mount Rushmore

Noem and Trump

This is a fascinating story from The New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman. It appears that the Trump White House reached-out to South Dakota governor Kristi Noem about the “process to add additional presidents to Mount Rushmore.” When Trump arrived at Mount Rushmore for his July 4, 2020 speech, Noem was waiting for him with a “four-foot replica of Mount Rushmore that included a fifth presidential likeness: his.” Three weeks later, Noem flew to Washington D.C. to assure Mike Pence that she was not interested in replacing him on the 2020 GOP ticket. According to the article, Noem’s ambitions are great. She is even taking advice from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Here is a taste:

Drawing less attention, but working equally hard to burnish her national profile, is Ms. Noem. The governor, 48, has installed a TV studio in her state capitol, become a Fox News regular and started taking advice from Mr. Trump’s former 2016 campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who still has the president’s ear.

Next month, she’ll address a county Republican dinner in Iowa.

“There seems like there might be some interest on her part — it certainly gets noticed,” Jon Hansen, a Republican state representative in South Dakota, said of Ms. Noem’s positioning for national office.

Her efforts have paid off, as evidenced by the news-driving celebration at Mount Rushmore. Yet Ms. Noem’s attempts to raise her profile have not been without complications. And they illustrate the risks in political maneuvering with a president who has little restraint when it comes to confidentiality, and a White House that shares his obsession about, and antenna for, palace intrigue.

To the surprise of some of her own advisers, Ms. Noem flew with Mr. Trump to Washington on Air Force One late in the evening after his Mount Rushmore speech. Joined by Mr. Lewandowski, she and the president spoke for over an hour privately during the flight — a fact that Mr. Trump and some of his aides soon shared with other Republicans, according to officials familiar with his disclosure.

Read the entire piece here.

As I was writing this post, I was trying to think of a South Dakota GOP politician with a national profile. Of course George McGovern and Tom Daschle were Democrats.

And is anyone surprised Trump wants to be on Mount Rushmore?

“Even before Trump declared his candidacy, the culture of Liberty was changing to one of greater deference to Falwell and an intolerance of dissent”

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

Jack Stripling of The Chronicle of Higher Education has done some of the best reporting on Liberty University’s decision to remove Jerry Falwell as president of Liberty University.

Here is a taste of his piece “The Making (And Unmaking) of Jerry Falwell Jr“:

Early on, Falwell showed an interest in academic matters, but he became ever more focused on the financial side of the university over the course of his presidency, according to a former administrator. Falwell’s relationship with Trump, such as it was, seemed to accelerate a preoccupation with money, said the administrator, who was not authorized to speak about working at Liberty and requested anonymity out of fear of retribution.

“He was moving the focus away from academics and more toward the financials, and Trump gave him an ideology to put behind that,” the administrator said.

Even before Trump declared his candidacy, the culture of Liberty was changing to one of greater deference to Falwell and an intolerance of dissent, the administrator said. Colleagues who once called the president “Jerry” started referring to him as “President Falwell,” and the reverence that had once been reserved for his father was extended to him, the administrator said.

“Jerry Jr. is no prophet,” the administrator said. “But some folks just transferred that right over to the next guy.”

Insulated from criticism within his ranks, Falwell grew more publicly political and began to cultivate a persona not unlike that of Trump, who had spoken at Liberty’s convocation in 2012. As Trump had demonstrated, a free-form, politically incorrect style played well to Liberty’s conservative students. Falwell, who had sometimes stammered or appeared to shake nervously at the podium, wanted that same kind of reaction, the administrator said, going so far as to announce on the spot that classes were canceled for the day.

“Increasingly he loved the crowds,” the administrator said. “There was a frat boy-ness about how he behaved around them.”

Falwell’s provocations, though, took a darker turn in late 2015, when, in responding to a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., he encouraged students during a convocation to acquire concealed-carry permits and indicated that he was carrying a gun in his back pocket.

“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in and killed,” Falwell told the students, who were required to attend.

Later that day, in Falwell’s office, where his lieutenants had gathered for a meeting, there were awkward whispers about what had been said — right up until the moment when Falwell walked into the room, according to the administrator. The subject did not come up again.

“It was extremely tense,” the person said. “Jerry made no mention of it”

Read the entire piece here.

A Liberty University alum offers five recommendations for his Alma mater in the post-Falwell era

Liberty Mountain

John Ross is Personal Video Coordinator for the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association. He is also a 2006 graduate of Liberty University.  In his recent piece at Medium, he offers five suggestions for his Alma mater now that Jerry Falwell is no longer president.

  1. Terminate Jerry Falwell Jr’s relationship with Liberty University
  2. Terminate all enablers of Jerry Falwell Jr., including members of the Board of Trustees and Executive Leadership Team.
  3. Apologize
  4. Disband the Falkirk Center
  5. Find new leadership and a new president (and start the search with Karen Swallow Prior)

Read who Ross develops these points here.

*The New York Times* does some local reporting on the Jerry Falwell’s indefinite leave of absence

Liberty CampusHere is Aishvarya Kavi and Rick Rojas:

Still, after finishing his own sermon at Tree of Life, Mr. Dodson said that redemption would require hard work. If Mr. Falwell could humble himself, Mr. Dodson said, he would like to see him restored to his position with the university. But it was clear to him that Mr. Falwell’s behavior made him, for the time being, unfit for the job.

“It had to stop,” he said.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Jessica Marie Johnson

Wicked fleshJessica Marie Johnson is Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. This interview is based on her new book, Wicked Flesh: Black Women, Intimacy, and Freedom in the Atlantic World (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: In 1999, I took my first trip to New Orleans and my research on its history began not long after that as a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. I was immediately struck by the power of a city steeped in its own history and of a history wrapped in (seeming) contradictions. From its founding, New Orleans has been inundated with African diasporic social, cultural, and political life. New Orleans has also been an intensely racist, colonial city where deep social, cultural, and political rifts rooted in race, class, color, gender, and sexuality become fault lines residents of African descent must navigate with care and at the risk of their own lives. Hurricane Katrina made this aggressively clear; COVID-19 (New Orleans was the second most active hotspot next to New York City) demonstrated it again.

And yet cutting across these truths is also the presence of Black women at every level and in every texture of historical and contemporary life. Black woman professors holding space for students at Tulane, Dillard, and Xavier Universities; Black women laborers work at cafes, restaurants, and bars; Black nuns and Catholic culture suffuse the calendar with occasions for feasts and penitence; Black women guide systems of belief from Spiritual Churches to Santería to vodun; Black women change the narrative as artists and culture workers. Black women in New Orleans are unapologetic in their strategies for play and pleasure. As a historian, I wanted to know more about the roots of this fiercely independent, community-accountable, and geographically rooted practice of living freedom. I wanted to consider the challenges that these practices faced in a city and region that experienced three slaveholding empires (French, Spanish, United States) and grew into an urban space during the Age of Revolution, but became the homebase of plantation empire as the U.S. moved into the nineteenth century.

It became clear very quickly in my research and thanks to foundational work by Jennifer Spear, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Paul Lachance, Virginia Meacham Gould, Daniel Usner, Tom Ingersoll, and connective work by Ira Berlin and Michael Gomez, that African history is where the story of the city begins, that the Caribbean is where the story connects, and that Black women were central to everything we think we know about New Orleans and the Atlantic world. New Orleans is a site of overlapping Atlantics, where diasporic and archipelagic flows splash and crash into each other. These flows have ramifications for all involved, but especially for African women and women of African descent. And yet, historians have not centered Black women when they tell the story of the founding of the city or the African presence in the region. I wrote this book as a way to witness Black women’s foundational work as an archive, history, and legacy.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: Wicked Flesh is a Black feminist history of the founding of the Gulf Coast. In it, I argue that over the course of the eighteenth century, the intimate and kinship strategies of African women and women of African descent reshaped the meaning of freedom in the French Atlantic, laying the groundwork for Black resistance strategies and abolitionist practices of the nineteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: Black women, when mentioned, are often relegated to the footnotes of histories of the early modern, early American, and Atlantic worlds. However, race, sex and gender function as more than categories of analysis for historians interested in molding records and archaic stories. Race, sex, and gender were organizing principles of the early modern world, used by historical subjects in their fight over resources (politics), their relations with each other (society), and in the meaning they made of the world around them (culture). African women and women of African descent, or those who came to be seen as Black (in all of its iterations) and woman (in all of its complications) shaped the slaveholding empires of the eighteenth century. They did so through their presence and through the symbolic labor (to draw on Jennifer Morgan) they were forced to engage in when slaveowners, colonial officials, slave ship captains, husbands, white women, and more used their bodies, their Africanness, their blackness, their assumptions about their sexuality, and the practices they engaged in for their own safety and security as reasons to enslave (partus sequitur ventrem), commodify, exploit, violate, and deny them equivalent access to rights and privileges.

But if that isn’t enough of a reason to read Wicked Flesh, there is more. Part of what I argue in this book is Black women did more than survive these attempts at control and coercion. They reshaped the nature of freedom through each challenge and affront to their survival. At each step in Wicked Flesh, year by year as the slaving process proceeded, crystallized, and evolved, African women and women of African descent refused to abide by the boundaries officials placed on or around them. Their refusal, sometimes physical, sometimes legalistic, sometimes more fugitive and maroon, changed the terms of what freedom (and slavery) meant. In other words, enslavement was a process and as a process has a history that we need to understand deeply and intricately. African women and women of African descent were key players in that history and in contesting enslavement.

None of this means Black women were always successful (and, in fact, this book queries what “success” even means in a world of slaves). In Wicked Flesh, we see how success and failure as a binary of freed (success) or enslaved (failure) are false binaries for understanding African women who were part of New Orleans’ Atlantic World–a geography that in this book stretches from coastal Senegal to the Caribbean to the shores of the Gulf Coast. Instead, exploring Black women’s lives and history offers a different vision of freedom. It offers a fuller history of Black womanhood, Black humanity, and African diasporic early modern life, but it also reshapes how we historicize empire, violence, pleasure, property, aesthetics, refusal and contestation.

JF: Tell us a little bit about the source material you used in the writing and researching of Wicked Flesh?

JMJ: The eighteenth century generated astronomical amounts of material on Africans and people of African descent as slaves, but not always as human beings. So I also drew on contemporary Black feminist theory, Black queer/trans theory, Black women’s literature and poetry to inform my reading of the archive and the documents. Where and when I could, I centered the cultural production of Black women of New Orleans or who claim New Orleans as an ancestral site like Rae Paris, Brenda Marie Osbey, Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson, Jeri Hilt and others, letting their cultural work inform my reading of the sources.

JF: What is your next project?

JMJ: Dark Codex: Blackness, History and the Digital explores the way images and texts created out of slavery’s archive resonate across digital and social media. In Dark Codex, I explore research, teaching, and theories that position Atlantic African diaspora history and histories of slavery as the unforeseen and oft-ignored heart of the digital humanities. As a digital humanities scholar, I’ve had the opportunity to explore questions of history, slavery and the digital as the as the curator of sites like African Diaspora, Ph.D. (http://africandiasporaphd.com) and Diaspora Hypertext, the Blog (http://dh.jmjafrx.com). Dark Codex continues this work by exploring the history of the study of slavery (from U.B. Phillips to the Slave Voyages Database) alongside the historical and digital practices of everyday black women and women of color.

I’m excited to be able to spend the Spring 2021 semester working on this project as a fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard University.

JF: Thanks, Jessica!

Wayne Grudem is still defending Trump

Grudem 23

In the form of a letter from a young follower disturbed about this support for Trump, evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem once again defends his support of the president. In a piece at Town Hall, he makes his case:

Grudem claims he is voting entirely on policy:

A few months ago, while the impeachment trial was going on, a younger faculty colleague asked me at lunch, “What would Trump have to do to make you stop supporting him?” My response was something like this: “I would stop supporting him if he began to favor higher taxes, more government regulation, a weaker military, open borders, judges who believed in a “living Constitution,” extended abortion rights, restrictions on freedom of religion, hostility toward Israel…

Later in the letter he says, “Can you understand that I am seeking to influence politics because of the Bible (italics are Grudem’s), because of my conviction that the Bible speaks to all of life.” He adds, “Don’t you think that Jesus wants his disciples to influence the world for good?”

Grudem is a Christian ethicist, theologian, and New Testament scholar. He knows that the Bible does not teach anything about tax policy, government regulation, borders, the U.S. Constitution, and freedom of religion. Grudem tells his young friend that he cares about how the Bible speaks to all of life. If this is true, and I believe it is, then Grudem needs to consider what the Bible says about life, peace, justice, love, care for the poor, creation, the role of good government, and welcoming strangers.  I can’t believe I need to say this to a guy who has been teaching Christian theology for decades. I have sat under his teaching.

Grudem then goes on to defend Donald Trump’s character:

At the heart of our disagreement is the fact that my evaluation of Donald Trump’s character is more positive than your evaluation. Can we least agree that the evaluation of a person’s character is a complex process that requires wise judgments based on a wide variety of factors, and that people can legitimately disagree in their honest assessments of someone else’s character?…

Do you really know what his motives are? It is appropriate to be cautious in speaking about another person’s motives. It is often difficult to know the motives in our own hearts regarding decisions that we make. And our evaluation of other people’s motives is influenced significantly by our previous opinions about them.

This argument may have held a tiny bit of water in 2016, but it no longer does. We have seen the heart of Donald Trump.

And then there is this:

What will Trump do in a second term? The best basis for predicting his conduct in a second term is his conduct for the past four years. If in a second term Donald Trump acts in the way he has acted in his first term, this will bring a continued strong economy, a strengthened military, better trade terms with other nations, a secure border, more originalist judges, stronger protections for unborn children, strong employment and wage growth, greater energy independence, greater school choice, more safety in inner cities, protection of religious freedoms, and greater liberty for Americans in general.

I do agree with Grudem’s second sentence in this paragraph.

Grudem does not like the left’s ad hominem arguments against Trump:

It has seemed to me recently that the strategy of the political left has been to deemphasize policy arguments (where their progressive policies cannot prevail in elections) and to focus their efforts on attacks against the person they are running against. To put it in simple terms, many prominent Democrats have shifted from arguing, “The Republican candidate has bad policies” to arguing, “The Republican candidate is a bad person.” (And even, “If you support Trump you are a bad person” – which stifles healthy political discussion.)

This approach has been helped by a shamefully biased mainstream media including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC. I receive a newsfeed each morning from the New York Times and the Washington Post, and their blatantly biased reporting reveals a hostility toward President Trump unlike anything I’ve seen regarding any other political leader in my lifetime.

I think it is pretty clear that the “Republican candidate” IS a “bad person.” This makes him bad for the country and bad for the church. Grudem’s claim that ad hominem attacks  on political candidates are only coming from the left make me wonder if he is even paying attention.

Finally, Grudem addresses his legacy:

You say that if I write another article in defense of Trump, “You will be tarnishing your theological legacy for the sake of a man who does not deserve it.”

I’m deeply aware that God has given me a positive reputation in much of the evangelical world, and I count that reputation as a stewardship from God. I’m deeply aware of the responsibility that comes with that stewardship. “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).

But I have been thinking that God might want me to use whatever influence I have to help the country move in the right direction politically. When I think of the thousands of Americans who gave their lives to protect this country, it is a small thing to risk my “reputation.” In addition, supporting Trump by writing additional articles could cut both ways – it could improve my reputation with some people as well as damage it with others. Who knows? In any case, I don’t want to stand before God at the Last Day and have him ask why I did not use my reputation and my writing ability (that he gave me) to influence the United States for good when it was at a decisive turning point in history, and I would have to say, “But I was trying to protect my reputation.” 

Is God really going to judge Wayne Grudem based on how he was able to influence the United States for good? Is God going to judge Grudem for his commitment to originalist judges, a strong military, free-market economics, lower taxes, sanctions on China, opposing Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, stopping Washington D.C. from becoming a state, and a border wall?

Read the entire piece here.