Archive for April, 2007


Southern Stories

Today in the New York Times, a great article about race and southern history that is right up my research interest alley. It begins, “The gripping black-and-white photographs of civil rights protesters in the South reflect the black-and-white morality tale that generally accompanies them.” Several historians are quoted: Jason Sokol, Matthew Lassiter, Kevin Kruse, and Joseph Crespino. With the exception of Crespino, I’ve read–or at least skimmed–all of their books, and they’re all excellent.

In other news, I’m also reading a recently published collection, The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory (eds. Renee C. Romano and Leigh Raiford, University of Georgia Press), which speaks to a lot of these same issues. I’m only through a couple of chapters, but so far, it’s terrific.

Getting back to the article, it asserts that “A new generation of historians is exploring some of the untold stories of the civil rights movement and its legacies: the experiences not of heroes or murderous villains, but of ordinary Southern whites.” My own research is very similar in some ways, and as the earliest draft of that endeavor will be handed in later this week, I thought this very appropriate.

I also find it interesting that both Lassiter and Crespino find their inspiration in their own “southern roots.” It seems that many (though certainly not all) southern historians have roots in the South. I wonder if this is the same for other fields of history.

Until I found this article, I had originally planned to write a little bit about Orlando Patterson’s recent piece in Time, which discusses the roots of slavery at Jamestown. It brought to mind an interesting and thought-provoking question once posed by own of my college professors. Stay tuned.


Private Proms

A couple of days ago, CNN reported on Turner County, Georgia’s first integrated prom. It’s a great article, and there are several very interesting things to point out here.

First, it’s important to note that the “white prom” continued as usual. I would have appreciated some numbers about attendance at the “white prom” versus the “integrated prom,” particularly to see if there were white students who attended both. But one student was quoted as saying that although blacks could have attended the “white prom,” none did: “I guess they feel like they’re not welcome.” Probably not. I wonder why. This reminds me of my research, in which a former headmaster of the school I’m studying said that although the admissions process was “equal opportunity,” no blacks ever applied. My take? It might have had something to do with the fact that the school was formed in order to avoid integration, but I can’t be sure.

Getting back to Turner County, there also seems to be a severe gender gap, and this is what gives me hope for the future. Apparently, the push for an integrated prom was entirely student-led. Not all parents approved, however.

Nichols said while her parents were in support of the integrated prom, some of her friends weren’t allowed to go.

“If they’re not coming tonight it’s because either they had to work and they couldn’t get out of it or because their parents are still having an issue because they grew up in south Georgia,” she said.

“I’ve asked, ‘Why can’t you come?’ and they’re like, ‘My mommy and daddy — they don’t agree with being with the colored people,’ which I think is crazy,” she said.

The use of the phrase “colored people” is bizarre–the quote almost reads like the ones I’m finding in forty year-old newspapers, but the saddest thing I read might be the quote from one mother who was watching black and white students pose together for photographs: “That is so fake. There is nothing real about that.” As if black and white students couldn’t possibly be interested in genuine social interactions with each other.

The principal said that he had no plans to stop the private proms–which makes sense. As principal of a public school, he probably has no legal standing to stop them. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be stopped. Regrettably, he had to throw in this cop-out line appealing to the more “conservative” parents in the community: “That’s going to be up to the parents. That’s part of being in America. If they want to do that for the kids, then that’s fine.”

Sure, having a choice is part of being in America. And unfortunately, segregating your kids in school is too. But we shouldn’t condone it so glibly.


Required Reading (Part I)

I’ve been absolutely swamped with work lately, and because I haven’t had time to devote to making any analytical posts, I decided to start this serialized post. Here are my nominees for “required reading” on Southern history in the category of memoirs and autobiographies. I’ll add my favorite historical works, and maybe even fiction at some point. So without further ado…

Blood Done Sign My Name
Timothy Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name

Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Autobiography of Malcolm X

The Desegregated Heart
Sarah Patton Boyle, The Desegregated Heart

Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

Separate Pasts
Melton McLaurin, Separate Pasts

Killers of the Dream
Lillian Smith, Killers of the Dream

Black Like Me
John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me

The Making of Black Revolutionaries
James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Of course, there are plenty of other books that I could have put on this list. But I’ll leave that for you to do. Please feel free to offer your own suggestions—keep it to memoirs and autobiographies, though, as I plan to add to this list in several parts. I expect I’ll get some great recommendations, and hopefully some that I’ve not yet read.


“A Tragedy of Monumental Proportions”

As a Virginia alum and a dyed-in-the-wool Wahoo, it is not often that I express sympathy for Virginia Tech, but today is obviously not like any other day. I am stunned by the news from Blacksburg, and I have been glued to my television for much of the afternoon.

Upon hearing the horrible news this morning, I scrambled to contact as many friends and former classmates as possible. Thankfully, everyone I know is safe. Unfortunately, however, there are many people who were not, and my heart goes out to all of their friends and family. I’m still in a state of shock, and I am deeply saddened by what happened this morning.

As one Virginia fan posted on a message board: The rivalry is on hold until further notice.


Pumpsie Green Day

Today marks the sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic first game as a Brooklyn Dodger. The ESPN commercials advertising Jackie Robinson Day pay tribute to the many things that he did off the field: “Being a Hall of Fame second baseman was,” as they say, “the easy part.”

Robinson was surely a great man and deserves his day, and I certainly don’t wish to minimize his contributions to the game of baseball or to American society in general. Too often, however, we forget about the other pioneers. There are many, but I would like to recognize just one. It still amazes me to think that even after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it took more than twelve years for the rest of the league to “catch up.”

Pumpsie Green made his Major League debut on July 21, 1959, becoming the first black player to suit up for the Boston Red Sox–the last team to integrate its roster. By that time, Robinson had already concluded his Hall of Fame career, but his more important work was still unfinished. Pumpsie Green was the man to take that last first step. Today, he is all but forgotten.

It would be foolish to claim that Green’s career merits a celebration on the scale of Jackie Robinson Day–in five major league seasons, he hit a mere .246–but it would be equally foolish to believe that Green’s contributions to the game can be measured in numbers.


Worthless Apologies

Don Imus. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Believe it or not, I actually didn’t plan to write about him, but after I titled this post, I realized I couldn’t help but mention his name. I won’t weigh in on the Imus fiasco except to say that I wish I could have been a fly on the wall during his meeting with C. Vivian Stringer and her Rutgers players last night.

Speaking of worthless apologies, noted historian James Cobb recently published an op-ed in the The New Republic (also available on his blog without registration) arguing that all of these recent apologies for slavery are actually bad for blacks, and he makes a compelling argument.

I’ll admit that I was impressed by the first apologies, and generally think that any public acknowledgment that slavery was wrong is a step in the right direction. However, I did find it curious that they began to snowball, and after reading Cobb’s take, I’m considerably more skeptical now.


The Perfect Storm

I apologize for my lack of posting. My computer has ceased connecting to the internet, my workload for the semester has finally reached a critical mass, and unfortunately, the start of baseball season has focused my attention elsewhere.

I’ll try to post something of value every once in a while, but I’ll probably be more or less absent from the blogosphere for the next month or so.

Currently Reading

Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain