Archive Page 2


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.


Wikipedia, Part Deux

This Wikipedia debate is, for some reason, still very hot, so I thought I’d include a link to this article from the latest issue of Perspectives, wherein the author describes his use of Wikipedia in an assignment.

My main goal was to expose students to the idea that historical knowledge is created. The whole Wikipedia controversy seemed to me to be a dispute over legitimate means by which knowledge is created and verified. On one side, we had academic historians claiming that their expertise gave their interpretations weight. On the other, we had the Wikipedia advocates who claimed that the “wisdom of the crowds” would ensure the accuracy and veracity of Wikipedia’s information. A study of Wikipedia would allow my class to explore the ways in which history is “created,” and to practice the skills of deciding between different sources of information.

Sounds good to me. It’s actually a pretty fascinating (if a bit lengthy) article. Check it out.


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.


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.

Currently Reading

Dennis Covington, Salvation on Sand Mountain