Archive for the 'Musings' Category


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.


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.


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.


A Query

I was happy to see that in its May 7 issue, Time devoted significant attention to Jamestown and “America at 400.” I was even happier to see that, rather than whitewashing the issue of slavery, they included an article (albeit brief) by Harvard scholar Orlando Patterson, who some years ago authored a very enlightening book, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study.

While reading, a question posed by one of my college professors came back to me. The question sounds sort of pointed, but it’s really intended more as a jumping off point for critical thinking, and as a student, I found it an interesting way to start a discussion. I’ll probably use it when I begin teaching.

Were enslaved people enslaved because they were black? Or were they black because they were enslaved?

The first option is obviously widely accepted in today’s society, and there’s certainly some truth to it, but it’s the second part of the question that really made me think. Africans have been implicated in the slave trade, which complicates the issue, but what I find more interesting is the evolution of racialized thinking in the colonies.

Early on, there was little distinction made between African (black) slaves and English (white) indentured servants. Of course, the greatest difference would be that indentured servants held on to the hope of achieving their freedom after several years (provided they didn’t succumb to exhaustion, disease, or malnourishment), whereas slaves were bound in perpetuity.

But the Patterson article raises several issues that took me back to that question. He writes, “The colony’s elite remained committed to indentured white servitude as the backbone of the labor force until at least the middle of the 17th century because indentures were cheaper than African slaves.” This (aside from providing a comment on capitalism and the American way) would seem to indicate that race was not a primary factor.

Patterson continues by saying that “As the black population grew and increasingly became the labor force of elite whites, both attitudes and laws changed.” He cites the 1662 declaring children of slaves to be bound for life, the abolition of Christianity as an obstacle to enslavement, and the right of a master to kill a slave.

More importantly, Patterson argues that the views on race formed at Jamestown eventually shaped the nation, with “fateful consequences for black Americans.” Jamestown, he concludes, laid the cornerstone for the fundamental contradiction in American society, “that African Americans, even though they were among the earliest arrivals, did not belong to the body politic and were to be permanently excluded from all basic rights of citizenship.”

In his view, the civil rights movement “dismantled” the foundations laid at Jamestown. He points to Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama as evidence that “Whatever the persisting problems of black Americans—many of which, like a fragile family life and the lack of inheritance, also originated in slavery—it is now incontestable that they belong to America as America belongs to them.” His hopeful gloss on the present and future is unsatisfying, but his sentiment is probably correct.

The article is excellent and thought-provoking, and I encourage everyone to read it. I still don’t have a definitive answer to the question first posed to me in college, and I doubt seriously that I ever will. But it makes me think, and that is a start.


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.


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.


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