Archive for May, 2007


Tea Time

I couldn’t resist passing on this little gem.

North, South divided over iced tea

Tea as a substitute for wine in the South? I had never heard that. And rather than sweet tea, my mother made what was essentially simple syrup with a few drops of tea for flavor.


Southbound Stops

I left town on May 14 and spent a little over a week with my family in Virginia. On the way home, I made two stops—one in Chapel Hill and the other in Atlanta. I spent a day each at the UNC’s famed Southern Historical Collection and Emory University’s Manuscripts and Rare Books Library.

Both were relatively productive. Of course, there were the usual ups and downs—unorganized collections, mislabeled material, and dusty papers that makes me sneeze a lot. But overall, I think it was well worth the effort.

At the SHC, I was looking primarily at the records of the Southern Justice Institute, a North Carolina-based legal aid firm that assisted with voting rights litigation throughout the South. The collection was mostly legal procedural filings: motions, orders and the like. Not exactly the most exciting sources, but worthwhile. Unfortunately, I had not done my homework thoroughly enough before making the trip, and I didn’t really understand a lot of the context for the stuff I was looking at. Eventually, though, as I read the newspapers and start to put the pieces together, I think it will prove to have been a useful stop.

I also looked at several nineteenth century sources. I noticed that they had a fair amount of material on the county I’m researching. I just looked at a few of these, and didn’t really find what I was hoping for (I was hoping to get some sources that spanned the Civil War and Reconstruction into the late-nineteenth century), but there are several others that I didn’t have time to look through. I’ll need to go back at some point, I suppose, but mainly, I just wanted to be able to say I’d done research at the Southern Historical Collection. And now I can.

Emory was much more productive. The staff there was extremely helpful, and already had my materials pulled when I arrived. I spent most of the day Thursday looking through the Newsweek Atlanta Bureau collection, which holds a ton of material relating to the South from the 1950s through the 1980s, I suppose. I only looked at a very small portion of it, but I found some great stuff. There were a lot of filed reports and such, but also materials that reporters collected for their stories. I was pleasantly surprised.

I had originally planned to spend two days at Emory, but the other collection I was looking at proved to be virtually useless. It was the personal papers of one of the Newsweek reporters who spent considerable time in the community, and I was hoping I would find his notes from interviews and such, but alas. No such luck. The boxes did have a slip of paper with his address and phone number on them, however, so I think he might be getting a phone call this summer.

(As a side note, both archives also allow the use of digital cameras in lieu of photocopying, and this allowed me to bring home readable digital copies of hundreds of documents that would have probably otherwise cost me a not inconsiderable sum. I just used my very basic Sony camera and transferred the images to my computer when I got home, but another researcher I saw had a very elaborate looking tripod and had the camera plugged directly into the computer, so she transferred the files immediately and could edit them as needed. I will have to look into this technology.)


Black Like Me

I’ve noticed that a somewhat befuddling number of people have reached the site by searching for “black like me,” which I included on my “Required Reading” list of memoirs. I can only assume that somewhere out there is a teacher who has assigned an essay on John Howard Griffin’s book, one that is due very soon.

So, to all you students out there, allow me to apologize for not having something more substantial to offer about the book (like, say, a summary, a list of central characters and themes, and a discussion of the relevant symbolism). I’ll also take this opportunity to again recommend that you actually read it. Believe it or not, it’s an enjoyable read.


The Mouthpiece Meets His Maker

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should state plainly that I have never been a Jerry Falwell fan. And that is probably an understatement.

Oh, but if I could be a fly on the wall in his meeting with the Lord. That, I expect, would be an interesting encounter. I wonder how the Lord felt all these years about Falwell’s ham-handed fatwas. I also wonder, for someone who put forth the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, how closely Falwell read it.

“For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment.” (Genesis 18:19)

“Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Falwell and his ilk have certainly doled out their fair share of judgment, and when he was in the pulpit, (self?) righteousness flowed like a swollen river during flood season. But how often did Falwell “do justice” in equal measure?

The second quotation is particularly relevant, because of its use by another well-known preacher who had a radically different world-view. Let us not forget the Jerry Falwell who once decried the “civil wrongs movement” and claimed that the separation of church and state was invented by the Devil “to keep Christians from running their own country.” Only a few years before, he had asserted that preachers had no place in politics. “Preachers are not called to be politicians,” he said, “but to be soul winners.” If only he had listened to himself.

Certainly, Jerry Falwell will be remembered for his tremendous impact on the history of our nation, and on the South in particular. For many, he became a hero and a role model, and in some ways that legacy is justified. But while I’ll leave it to others to debate the relative worth of his “rights,” let us never forget his “wrongs.”


Help Wanted

In my (limited) experience, sitting down with perfect strangers and asking them questions about their past is one of the most intimidating things in all of researchdom—and given my line of historical inquiry, I’ve also anxiously awaited the day when someone not-so-subtly hinted that I should give it up. Thankfully that has not happened yet. But despite the downsides, oral history has also proven to be one of the most interesting and rewarding elements of my research. It sounds cliché, but hearing people tell their stories about the past, flawed as they may be, makes what I study seem relevant, and it reminds me that history is not merely an abstraction. Even those long dead were once living, making history in their own place and time.

I’ve conducted several interviews over the past few months. All have been informative, and while I can feel myself getting better with practice, none have been altogether satisfying. Maybe they never will be; there will probably always be that one question I think of after the fact and wish that I had asked. But I just bought myself a new recorder that can transfer the audio files to the computer for long-term preservation, and I plan to conduct several more interviews over the summer, so I’m hoping to learn more about the intricacies of the process. How to make the interviewee feel comfortable, how to ask questions and guide the conversation in a way that yields the desired information, how to handle sensitive subjects like race, politics, and religion, and, of course, how to make sure that you can actually use the material in a publication. Also, I’m hoping to find out how to know when your subject is lying to your face. I’m pretty sure I’ve been lied to, even if I can’t say for certain whodunit.

This is where you come in.

I’m going to be shameless in my quest for knowledge. If you have any experience at all with oral history, or even if you know where I can find some good information, I would be much obliged if you would pass it along. You can either leave a comment on this post, or you can use the contact form. Anything at all—books, articles, links, personal observations, whatever. It’s all useful. Many thanks in advance.


Review Posted

I’ve posted my review of Brundage’s The Southern Past and Romano and Raiford’s The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory. Check out the Reviews page. I’ve also included a PDF file if you don’t want to read that much tiny text. (It also includes a few footnotes.)


Summer Plans

“School’s out for summer! School’s out for…” Well, only a couple of months. Still, I couldn’t be more relieved. I am seriously in need of a break.

I have several things planned for this summer, many of which are still academic in nature, but I’m glad to finally be able to do them at my own pace. Plus, I’m hoping to have time to post here bit more often, and I’m really looking forward to reading some books of my own choosing (including fiction!). Here’s some of my reading list for the summer, in no particular order:

The Dante Club (Matthew Pearl)
The Dixiecrat Revolt (Kari Frederickson)
All God’s Dangers (Theodore Rosengarten)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)
Clemente (David Maraniss)
Radio Free Dixie (Timothy Tyson)
The Last Days (Charles Marsh)
The Confederate Battle Flag (John Coski)
Dear Senator (Essie Mae Washington-Williams)
Plus as much John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell as I can squeeze in

Some of you might be wondering: “Harry Potter?” I admit it, and I’m unashamed. (OK, I’m a little ashamed.) But the previous four have been thoroughly enjoyable, and since the fifth movie will be in theaters July 13, I’ve got to read the book before they butcher it.

I also have several small research trips planned: Chapel Hill, Atlanta, Montgomery, and Auburn. Possibly Sewanee, Tennessee, as well, although I think that was probably shot down this morning when the archivist got back to me with news that the collection I was interested in had nothing of what I was looking for. Because I’m broke, I think I’ll probably be camping out or sleeping on various friends’ sofas and floors. Ask me about it in a couple of months, but for now, I have a very romantic vision of how this will go. Something akin to Kerouac perhaps.

I’ll also be writing an article for the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Although I fear I don’t know enough about my topic to write something substantial, I do have several books piled up on the floor, and some of my archival research this summer will overlap. I do think that my entry will be a worthwhile inclusion, and I was a little surprised (and thrilled at the same time) that it wasn’t on the list the editors sent me to choose from.

I’m also looking forward to visiting family and friends in Virginia and Mississippi. It will be good to revisit all the old stomping grounds and get out of town for a couple of weeks. I could certainly use a brief change of scenery.

Currently Reading

Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain