Excerpt: The Indicted South, by Angie Maxwell

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The Indicted South: Public Criticism, Southern Inferiority, and the Politics of WhitenessBy the 1920s, the sectional reconciliation that had seemed achievable after Reconstruction was foundering, and the South was increasingly perceived and portrayed as impoverished, uneducated, and backward. In The Indicted South: Public Criticism, Southern Inferiority, and the Politics of Whiteness Angie Maxwell examines and connects three key twentieth-century moments in which the South was exposed to intense public criticism, identifying in white southerners’ responses a pattern of defensiveness that shaped the region’s political and cultural conservatism. Maxwell exposes the way the perception of regional inferiority confronted all types of southerners, focusing on the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee, and the birth of the anti-evolution movement; the publication of I’ll Take My Stand and the turn to New Criticism by the Southern Agrarians; and Virginia’s campaign of Massive Resistance and Interposition in response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision. Tracing the effects of media scrutiny and the ridicule that characterized national discourse in each of these cases, Maxwell reveals the reactionary responses that linked modern southern whiteness with anti-elitism, states’ rights, fundamentalism, and majoritarianism

In the following excerpt (pp. 54–58), Maxwell discusses the origin of the Scopes Trial in the Butler Act, which prevented the teaching of evolution in public schools.

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The War between the States . . . Again

In the years preceding the Scopes Trial, the anti-evolution message was proclaimed incessantly throughout Tennessee, which appeared prominently on the speaking schedule for Dr. William Bell Riley, president of the World Christian Fundamentals Association, in 1923. Summoned by several prominent Tennessee attorneys, William Jennings Bryan also delivered a historic address in Nashville, “Is the Bible True?” The sermon proved so stirring that it inspired the sponsors to disseminate thousands of printed copies throughout the state; an additional 500 pamphlets were provided to members of the Tennessee statehouse upon its 1925 opening session. The result was the Butler Bill, House Bill 185, sponsored by John Washington Butler and introduced on January 21, 1925. Initially, the bill was recommended for rejection by the house committee to which it was assigned. But local evangelical ministers held powerful sway in the state of Tennessee.[1] Despite vocal opposition, from university academics to editorials in the Nashville Banner, warning about the threat the bill posed to free speech, one particular line of argument proved effective. Rev. A. B. Barrett of the Fayetteville Church of Christ “charged that many college students were returning home atheists and agnostics because of the teachings of Darwinism.”[2] The Tennessee preacher, whether knowingly or not, touched on one of the greatest anxieties of God-fearing parents of the 1920s.

The very foundations of the anti-evolutionist argument had long been focused on the fear that children would lose their religious faith if they were exposed to Darwin’s theories, and the movement proudly proclaimed that its primary intention was to save American youth from self-destruction. Many of Bryan’s early speeches heralding the literalist interpretation of the Bible and denouncing Darwinism were offered as reactions to books such as The Belief in God and Immortality: A Psychological and Anthropological and Statistical Study by James Henry Leuba, published in 1916. Leuba’s research concluded that during their experience with higher education, particularly throughout the four years of college, many students lost interest in their religious faith.[3] The Butler Act was, in fact, sponsored by a father whose children began questioning the church of their upbringing after their high school science classes presented the theory of evolution. Anti-evolutionists played on this fear of southern Christian parents—the fear that examining the origins of man would lead to a more far-reaching rejection of the Bible and a subsequent embrace of modernity. And, of course, embracing modernity could affect not only one’s religious commitment but also the racial contract upon which the Jim Crow system relied.
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: The Indicted South, by Angie Maxwell’ »

  1. [1] Israel, Before Scopes, 145–46.
  2. [2] Bailey, “Enactment of Tennessee’s Anti-Evolution Law,” 477.
  3. [3] Coletta, Political Puritan, 200.

UNC Press Scholarly Monographs Now Live on Oxford’s UPSO Platform

UNC Press

The University of North Carolina Press is pleased to announce the launch of North Carolina Scholarship Online on Oxford University Press’s University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO) platform to take advantage of a fully enabled XML environment with cutting-edge search and discovery functionality. UNC Press books are now live on the UPSO platform.

“The University of North Carolina Press is honored and excited to be a part of the University Press Scholarship Online platform,” said John Sherer, Director of The University of North Carolina Press. “Part of our 10-decade long tradition has been to disseminate the work of our authors as broadly as possible and this new partnership will achieve that in a dynamic new way.”

Responding to increased demand for online scholarly content, UPSO streamlines the research process by making disparately published monographs easily accessible, highly discoverable, and fully cross-searchable via one online platform. Research that previously would have required users to jump between a variety of books and disconnected websites can now be concentrated through a single search engine.

UPSO’s mission is to create an individually-branded home for monographs from each participating university press just as it has done for Oxford Scholarship Online while allowing highly intuitive tools to deep search across all the content in the program. As such, UPSO will be the premier online research tool—for scholars, teachers, graduate and undergraduate students—and an essential resource for all academic libraries.

Benefits of UPSO for academics, libraries, and partner presses:

  • Provides the highest quality scholarly content across 28 subject areas
  • Includes a vast and growing number of titles (14,000+ to date), all with abstracts and keywords at both the book and chapter level for each title
  • All UPSO content is available in XML, which provides deep tagging and better search results. Content can also be saved and downloaded to PDF
  • Content is fully cross-referenced and cross-searchable, with clickable citations from bibliographies and footnotes, including OpenURL and DOI-linking support
  • Allows users to streamline research through a single online platform
  • Can be easily integrated into library systems and updated frequently with new content
  • Offers full customer support services as well as flexibility and choice in purchasing models
  • Fully mobile optimized for use on smartphones and tablets
  • Increases discoverability and usage of university press scholarly materials

“The University of North Carolina Press is an exemplar of scholarly publishing, a perfect representative of the best American university presses have to offer,” said Niko Pfund, President of Oxford University Press USA. “UPSO’s holdings will be much enhanced by UNC’s top-quality scholarship, defined as it is by rigorous peer review and attentive editing.”

 

Excerpt: New Netherland Connections, by Susanah Shaw Romney

New Netherland Connections:  Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century AmericaSusanah Shaw Romney locates the foundations of the early modern Dutch empire in interpersonal transactions among women and men. As West India Company ships began sailing westward in the early seventeenth century, soldiers, sailors, and settlers drew on kin and social relationships to function within an Atlantic economy and the nascent colony of New Netherland. In the greater Hudson Valley, Dutch newcomers, Native American residents, and enslaved Africans wove a series of intimate networks that reached from the West India Company slave house on Manhattan, to the Haudenosaunee longhouses along the Mohawk River, to the inns and alleys of maritime Amsterdam.

Using vivid stories culled from Dutch-language archives, New Netherland Connections: Intimate Networks and Atlantic Ties in Seventeenth-Century America brings to the fore the essential role of women in forming and securing these relationships, and she reveals how a dense web of these intimate networks created imperial structures from the ground up. These structures were equally dependent on male and female labor and rested on small- and large-scale economic exchanges between people from all backgrounds. This work pioneers a new understanding of the development of early modern empire as arising out of personal ties.

New Netherland Connections was awarded the 2013 Jamestown Prize from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the Annual Hendricks Award for 2013 from the New Netherland Institute.

In the following excerpt (pp. 41-43), Romney discusses how Dutch travelers across the Atlantic often depended on women relatives for management of their financial interests back in the Netherlands.

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Eventually, soldiers, sailors, and travelers left the houses and inns of maritime Amsterdam behind and took their place on board ships headed to New Netherland and elsewhere. With the chartering of the [West India Company (WIC)] in 1621, the number of Atlantic-bound ships rose, and increasing numbers of Amsterdammers followed in Marritgen Wouters’s footsteps, waving goodbye to family, spouses, and friends sailing out across the Zuider Zee. As those ships began taking settlers to North America in 1623, more and more travelers needed someone to help them manage their newly transatlantic finances. They turned to their kin, immediate connections, and family. Ties within and between maritime families enabled people to negotiate the small-scale, informal, and grey economies that flourished in these years. Once the WIC changed its regulations to allow wider access to the beaver-skin trade in 1638, travelers used these same intimate networks to enter the transatlantic fur trade. Growing migration by middling families and the creation of a burgher population in New Netherland in the 1640s and 1650s caused an even wider range of travelers and Amsterdammers to become caught up in trading networks involving an ever greater variety of goods. Complex webs and financial instruments show that these networks developed into a functional Atlantic economy that ran in tandem with the economy of formal companies and larger interests. The structure of this new Atlantic economy paralleled that of the local early modern economy, from the participation of women to the reliance on face-to-face, personal systems of credit and trust. Thus, the intimate networks of travelers and Amsterdammers allowed for the development of a diffuse, participatory commercial economy that diversified the trade system beyond the large-scale merchant houses and equally helped establish the Dutch Atlantic empire.

When Amsterdammers and travelers waved goodbye to one another, the financial ties between them did not suddenly end; people continued to manage their personal and financial lives together. The wealthiest travelers left behind families and kin, houses and partnerships, accounts and credits due. The poorest left crushing debts and needy family members. People had to find someone they could trust to represent them honestly and further family interests in their absence. Travelers most often turned to the very family members, kin, and intimate connections who waved goodbye from shore. Relatives and in-laws, parents and spouses, friends and neighbors were among those whom travelers counted on most. For instance, Wouter Jansz, a sailor going to “the Virginias” in the service of the WIC in 1627, asked his two uncles to oversee the inheritance due him from the estate of his wife’s late grandmother. Both his financial capital and his financial representatives were drawn from among his close relatives.[1]
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: New Netherland Connections, by Susanah Shaw Romney’ »

  1. [1] Empowerment, May 7, 1627, Not. Arch. 721, 158, Not. P. Carelsz, SA.

Raúl Necochea López: Therapeutic Abortion Finally Regulated in Peru after Being Legal (Kinda) for 90 Years

A History of Family Planning in Twentieth-Century Peru, by Raul Necochea LopezWe welcome a guest post today from Raúl Necochea López, author of A History of Family Planning in Twentieth-Century Peru. Adding to the burgeoning study of medicine and science in Latin America, this important book offers a comprehensive historical perspective on the highly contentious issues of sexual and reproductive health in an important Andean nation. Necochea López approaches family planning as a historical phenomenon layered with medical, social, economic, and moral implications. At stake in this complex mix were new notions of individual autonomy, the future of gender relations, and national prosperity.

In the following post, Necochea López reports on Peru’s recently established guidelines that finally bring the country’s laws regarding therapeutic abortion out of a 90-year legal limbo.

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I was in Santiago recently, attending a workshop on the history of family planning in Latin America, with colleagues from Chile and Argentina, myself representing Peru. One of my tasks was to discuss how therapeutic abortion came to matter to physicians in my country in the 1920s. After all, it had been this generation of physicians who witnessed the legalization of therapeutic abortion in 1924. Article 163 of the Penal Code defined therapeutic abortions as those demanded by women and performed by clinicians, in consultation with a committee of their peers, “if there is no other way to save a mother’s life or avoid a permanent and severe lesion in her.” However, Peruvian authorities at the time did not answer crucial questions to make the law applicable, such as which lesions counted as permanent and severe, or what interventions should be used to cause an abortion, or how far into a pregnancy an abortion could be provoked. As a result, the law remained in a legal limbo that made it difficult to enforce, while endangering women’s lives and vexing medical professionals.

By some fascinating coincidence, this all changed on the very day of my talk in Santiago, on June 27, 2014, with the publication of Peru’s Ministry of Health’s new guideline, which standardizes the procedures to be used should the need for an abortion arise for pregnancies under 22 weeks. (You can read the text of the guideline here.) Continue reading ‘Raúl Necochea López: Therapeutic Abortion Finally Regulated in Peru after Being Legal (Kinda) for 90 Years’ »

Excerpt: Choosing the Jesus Way, by Angela Tarango

Angela Tarango’s Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indiginous PrincipleChoosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indigenous Principle uncovers the history and religious experiences of the first American Indian converts to Pentecostalism. Focusing on the Assemblies of God denomination, the story begins in 1918, when white missionaries fanned out from the South and Midwest to convert Native Americans in the West and other parts of the country. Drawing on new approaches to the global history of Pentecostalism, Tarango shows how converted indigenous leaders eventually transformed a standard Pentecostal theology of missions in ways that reflected their own religious struggles and advanced their sovereignty within the denomination.

In the following excerpt (pp. 50-52), Tarango tells the story of Charlie Lee, an American Indian convert to Christianity who became a missionary and practiced Pentecostalism without losing his sense of identity as a Navajo.

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Charlie Lee grew up herding sheep in the shadow of the Shiprock on the Navajo reservation in the Four Corners region of northwestern New Mexico. From a young age, Lee was a spiritual seeker—he wanted to know the meaning of life and, as a Navajo, turned to his elders for answers. According to Lee, “My wise old grandfather tried to draw from the resources of his own years of experience to bring some measure of satisfaction to my inquisitive mind, but still the searching went on.”[1] His grandfather and grandmother taught him about the Navajo gods and traditional beliefs, but it was not enough. At a government boarding school, Lee discovered that he was a talented artist. His talent attracted notice, and school officials sent him to the Santa Fe Indian School, a boarding school that specialized in the arts. His paintings, traditional renderings of Navajo life and animals, began selling remarkably well. By the time Lee graduated, he had exhibited his paintings at the Indian Ceremonial in Gallup, New Mexico, the State Art Museum in Santa Fe, the Philbrook Art Museum in Tulsa, the Heard Museum in Phoenix, and the de Young Art Memorial in San Francisco. He had also won two first prizes at the 1946 New Mexico State Fair, one for animal figures and one in the home life category.[2] Dealers all over the Southwest bought his paintings, and the Smithsonian Institution purchased one as an example of modern Navajo art.[3] Fame and fortune had unexpectedly smiled on the young Lee.

Lee realized that he was extraordinarily fortunate because his artistic ability had given him a viable way to make a living. Yet he was still seeking answers and felt a call to serve his people. Boarding school had introduced him to mainline Protestant Christianity. To him this was simply the “white man’s God,” an impersonal and detached deity who could not give him the answers he needed. The summer after graduation from high school, he visited an Apache friend at the San Carlos reservation in Arizona, where he encountered [Assemblies of God (AG)] missionaries and Pentecostal-style worship. Lee reported, “For the first time in my life I saw a group of Indians worshiping God with enthusiasm and sincerity. They not only testified to the saving grace of God, salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, but also emphasized the infilling of the Holy Spirit.”[4] Upon attending several services, Lee experienced a conversion that he explained as “a personal confrontation with a Being, not a religious process of being initiated into an organization. It was a confrontation with an individual personality—Jesus Christ.”[5]

When Lee converted, he moved beyond making a commitment to Jesus. Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Choosing the Jesus Way, by Angela Tarango’ »

  1. [1] Charlie Lee, “Charlie Lee’s Testimony,” Pentecostal Evangel, 17 August 1952, 10.
  2. [2] Turning Point with David Manse, The Charlie Lee Story, 1976, Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, Springfield, Mo., 4.
  3. [3] Ibid.
  4. [4] Lee, “Charlie Lee’s Testimony,” 10.
  5. [5] Manse, The Charlie Lee Story, 8.

Job Opening: Book Designer/Production Assistant/Associate at UNC Press

Book designer/Production Assistant/Associate at UNC Press

This is an entry- to mid-level position that includes but is not limited to the following: Designing book covers and dustjackets and designing or applying already existing templates to interior book designs. This is a small department that covers the production of both books and journals. Other duties include, but are not limited to: conversion of existing jackets to paperback covers, cast-off of manuscripts, distribution of proofs, evaluation of art, and assistance with other jobs as necessary.

Job requirements: Excellent knowledge of Indesign (version 5.5 or later) and Photoshop. Strong sense of good typographic design. Working knowledge of Illustrator.

Desired: at least 2 years of design experience and an ability to write composition specs. Knowledge of xml or epub creation a plus.

This is a permanent full-time position at the University of North Carolina Press. Benefits include paid vacation, paid holidays, sick leave, and health insurance. We are part of the NC Retirement system.

Compensation based on experience. Please send resume, salary requirements, design samples, and references to:

Heidi Perov
heidi@unc.edu

Marc Stein: Sotomayor v. Roberts: Race, Affirmative Action, and Impatience

Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe, by Marc SteinWe welcome a guest post today from Marc Stein, author of Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe. In the book, Stein focuses on six major Supreme Court cases, examining the more liberal rulings on birth control, abortion, interracial marriage, and obscenity in GriswoldFanny HillLovingEisenstadt, and Roe alongside a profoundly conservative ruling on homosexuality in Boutilier during the 1960s and 1970s.

In today’s post, Stein explores the recent opinions of Justices Roberts and Sotomayor regarding racial discrimination and affirmative action.

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which upheld the state of Michigan’s ban on race- and sex-based affirmative action in public employment, public education, and public contracting (except when required to maintain eligibility for federal funds), featured an unusually fierce exchange of words between Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Chief Justice John Roberts. Responding to an earlier affirmative action decision in which Roberts had declared, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race,” Sotomayor wrote that this was “a sentiment out of touch with reality.” She added, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.” Roberts replied in Schuette, “People can disagree in good faith on this issue, but it . . . does more harm than good to question the openness and candor of those on either side of the debate.” Sotomayor apparently felt so strongly about the case that for the first time she read one of her opinions from the bench, an option that the justices rarely exercise.

Roberts’ earlier phrasing was deceptively simple, but it can usefully be deconstructed by suggesting that the chief justice really meant that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race against people of color is to stop discriminating on the basis of race against white people.” For Roberts, discrimination is discrimination, and as a constitutional, legal, and policy matter, discrimination on the basis of race against white people is equivalent to discrimination on the basis of race against people of color. For Sotomayor, this belies “the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination” against people of color.

When I teach students about the history of constitutional law, I usually focus on the substantive legal arguments in Supreme Court decisions, but sometimes I encourage my students to focus on the tone, the emotion, the affect. I try to show my students that this can help us understand what is really going on in these decisions and it can help us consider the underlying issues and the political stakes. In thinking about how I might teach my students about the exchange between Roberts and Sotomayor in Schuette in the future, I find myself revisiting a Supreme Court case from the late nineteenth century, one that also featured more than just legal reasoning. The case, United States v. Stanley (1883), is well known to constitutional law experts.

Eight years earlier, in 1875, the U.S. Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act, which guaranteed that all persons within the United States, regardless of race or color, “shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” Several individuals, including Mr. Stanley, were indicted under the Civil Rights Act on charges of denying African Americans equal access to inns, hotels, theaters, and railroad cars. The legal reasoning of the Supreme Court’s decision, which struck down the relevant sections of the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional, focused on the fact that Congress did not have the power to interfere with individual and private forms of racial discrimination; the recently ratified Fourteenth Amendment, according to the Court, prohibited racial discrimination by the states, but not racial discrimination by private businesses and individuals.

When I teach Stanley, I work with my students to understand the legal reasoning used by the Supreme Court in this case, but I also encourage them to think about the tone. Continue reading ‘Marc Stein: Sotomayor v. Roberts: Race, Affirmative Action, and Impatience’ »

Excerpt: The Making of a Southern Democracy by Tom Eamon

Making of a Southern Democracy: North Carolina Politics from Kerr Scott to Pat McCrory  by Tom EamonThe story of modern politics in North Carolina is very much one of American democracy, with all its grand ambitions, limitations, and pitfalls. So argues Tom Eamon in his probing narrative of the state’s political path since the 1940s. In The Making of a Southern Democracy: North Carolina Politics from Kerr Scott to Pat McCrory, Eamon charts the state’s political transformation into a modern democratic society to show that this change was more than an evolution—it was a revolution, one that largely came about through political means, driven by strong movements and individuals working for change.

In this excerpt (pp. 84-89), Eamon discusses the steps that North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford took to improve racial relations in his state as greater changes occurred on a national scale.

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When Sanford took his oath of office in 1961, North Carolina’s racial order had changed little from 1910. Segregation remained entrenched. Despite the introduction of token integration in a few urban school systems and the state colleges, 99 percent of the state’s black public school students attended racially separate schools. The federal courts had ruled against the legality of segregation on buses and trains, but station facilities remained rigidly segregated, as did hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, public parks, and beaches. In the case of eating and sleeping establishments, “segregation” usually meant that blacks were banned outright except from places that served blacks only.

Though the black proportion of registered voters exceeded the low levels of pre–World War II days, whites still constituted 90 percent of the registered electorate. Nonwhites (a category that also included Native Americans and Asians) comprised nearly 25 percent of the population. A study by the federal-government-sponsored North Carolina Advisory Commission on Civil Rights estimated that in 1961, 90.2 percent of the potential white electorate was registered, compared to only 31.2 percent of the potential nonwhite voters. In the state’s major cities—Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, and Winston-Salem—black registration was heavy enough to influence some election outcomes. In rural and small-town counties, especially those of the coastal plain and the eastern piedmont, black voting was discouraged and remained low.[1]

Raleigh News and Observer editor Jonathan Daniels had counseled Sanford to make a bold statement on racial equality in his 1961 inaugural address, but Sanford incorporated only one sentence on the subject: “We are not going to forget as we move into the challenging years ahead, that no group of our citizens can be denied the right to participate in first class citizenship.”[2] Still, from a southern governor in 1961, such a statement signaled a break with tradition. In addition, Sanford’s daughter, Betsee, and son, Terry Jr., were enrolled in the “integrated” Murphy School (which had one black student) near the governor’s mansion rather than in a private school. North Carolina and national newspapers noted the symbolism of the decision.[3]
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: The Making of a Southern Democracy by Tom Eamon’ »

  1. [1] In the rural Black Belt counties, dramatic growth in African American voting would not occur until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  2. [2] Sanford, “Inaugural Address,” 8.
  3. [3] Covington and Ellis, <em>Terry Sanford</em>, 250–51. Bill Campbell, the young African American who integrated the Murphy School, was elected mayor of Atlanta in 1993.

Minkah Makalani on Ghana, the World Cup, and the Ties That Bind

Amidst the thrills and heartbreaks of the World Cup, Minkah Makalani writes of his own heart’s ties to Ghana’s Black Stars:

I hop on the A at Utica Ave., in Brooklyn, and no sooner than I sit down does a short, heavy-set brother move to sit exceptionally close to me, smiling. He asks, “Did you see us annihilate them?” His accent throws me, though it is clearly African. “What?” I am confused, a bit defensive, until he says, “The match! Did you see us beat the U.S.?” And it hits me. He’s Ghanaian. The Black Stars had just eliminated the U.S. from the 2006 World Cup. I am still in my Black Stars jersey that I had purchased in Ghana the month before. I settle into the conversation. “You think we have a chance against Brazil?” My change in attitude does not mask my doubts about bringing down a giant. “We are not afraid of them,” he declares without pause, enunciating each word in a crisp, exacting manner. “We do not care who takes the pitch, we will slay them like we slayed the United States.” We talk football and Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien all the way into Manhattan.

My attraction to Ghana and support for the Black Stars grew out of a sense of connection that began when I read Kwame Nkrumah’s autobiography, Ghana, in an African history course. I adopted a Ghanaian first name in honor of the first sub-Saharan African country to kick out the British. I’ve often wondered whether a family genealogy would reveal ancestral ties to present-day Ghana, whether my mitochondrial DNA could help locate some distant relative there. I envy those who have made such connections, imagined the tangible, specific, locatable tie to the continent providing them some form of closure. After centuries of having your history systematically obscured and hidden, an empirical link is nothing short miraculous.

Read the full post, “You know who else is a Black Star? Who? Me.” at Makalani’s blog, Détour.

Minkah Makalani is assistant professor of African and African diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His book In the Cause of Freedom: Radical Black Internationalism from Harlem to London, 1917-1939, is now available in paperback. Follow him on Twitter @minkahm.

Corinne T. Field: “Boomerang Kids” and the Political History of Adulthood

The Struggle for Equal Adulthood, by Corinne T. FieldWe welcome a guest post today from Corinne T. Field, author of The Struggle for Equal Adulthood: Gender, Race, Age, and the Fight for Citizenship in Antebellum America. In the fight for equality, early feminists often cited the infantilization of women and men of color as a method used to keep them out of power. Field argues that attaining adulthood—and the associated political rights, economic opportunities, and sexual power that come with it—became a common goal for both white and African American feminists between the American Revolution and the Civil War. The idea that black men and all women were more like children than adult white men proved difficult to overcome, however, and continued to serve as a foundation for racial and sexual inequality for generations.

In the following post, Field addresses recent media attention on “boomerang kids” who return home to live with their parents after graduating from college (often with a lot of student debt).

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Adam Davidson’s recent New York Times Magazine cover story about “Boomerang Kids” effectively chronicled the cultural anxieties generated by the rising number of young college graduates moving back in with their parents. The statistical trends, familiar from a decade of alarmist commentary, are stark: 20 percent of Americans in their twenties and early thirties are now living with parents; 60 percent rely on financial support from mom or dad. This in contrast to a generation ago when only one in ten young adults moved back home and few relied on parents’ money. Davidson correctly attributes this new phase of dependency to long-term economic changes that since the late 1970s have eroded wages and job security for all but the most skilled Americans. Given these marked shifts, Davidson uses young adults as a vehicle for exploring broader anxieties about job insecurity and economic inequality. Young adults become a mirror in which we can all contemplate our own economic fears whatever our particular ages.

If what we see makes us nervous about our future, however, I would like to suggest that this unsettled reaction involves more than simply economics. Concerns about adult independence cut to the very heart of what it means to be an American citizen, and indeed, to long-standing assumptions about the proper functioning of democracy itself. Anxieties about coming of age have a history, and this history is not just economic but political. To understand the political history of adulthood, we must abandon the idea of a generic young adult and focus more precisely on the intersections of age, gender, race, and class as measures of independent citizenship.

During the American Revolution, patriots established an enduring link between the transition to adult, white manhood and political independence. As Thomas Paine, the most influential pamphleteer in the colonies, persuasively claimed: “to know whether it be the interest of this continent to be independent, we need only to ask this easy, simple question: Is it in the interest of a man to be a boy all his life?” The answer was as obvious to Americans then as it is today—dependent boys should grow up to become independent men. Once freed from British rule, Americans would prove their transition to adulthood by establishing themselves as independent citizens rather than the dependent subjects of a distant King. As patriots drafted new state constitutions, however, they clarified that the majority of adults in the new nation—including most women, slaves, and men without property—would remain perpetually dependent, denied political rights and many civil rights as well.

By the first decades of the nineteenth century, white men without property successfully argued that they should be able to vote upon reaching the legal age of majority at twenty-one. As delegates to state constitutional conventions replaced property requirements for suffrage with age requirements, voting at age twenty-one became both a political right and a rite of passage, but only for white men.

For enslaved people, reaching the age of adulthood did not bring a transition to independence, but an increased valuation in a master’s account book. Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery in Maryland to become the most prominent black abolitionist, recalled in his 1845 Narrative how as a child he befriended poor, white boys on the streets of Baltimore, and would compare his prospects to theirs: “I would sometimes say to them . . . ‘You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?’” Douglass succeeded in freeing himself and joined black men in the North demanding equal recognition as adult male citizens.

White and black women’s rights activists, meanwhile, organized to fight for the right to vote at age twenty-one. Continue reading ‘Corinne T. Field: “Boomerang Kids” and the Political History of Adulthood’ »

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