Matthew Mason: Movement within Bounds on the Antislavery Political Spectrum: The Case of Edward Everett

If we can bring ourselves to take seriously their protestations both of love for the Union and distaste for slavery, we should not be surprised to see them move along a spectrum of antislavery belief and action. While that peregrination rarely proceeded in one direction or predictable ways, it did transpire within limits for every antebellum Northern politician. The relative strength of their antislavery principles dictated that there were bounds beyond which their conservatism could not go, but their nationalism and respect for law and order also set boundaries beyond which their antislavery could not go.

Laura Visser-Maessen: How Exploring Bob Moses’s 1960s Civil Rights Activism in Mississippi Can Modify America’s Current Terrorism Debate

Paris is only a five hour drive from my home in the Netherlands. I have strolled its streets many times, undoubtedly also those covered in blood after the November 2015 attacks. I have also passed through San Bernardino, California, and have stood regularly at the former World Trade Center site. Yet as I commemorate those victims of religious terrorism, I cannot but remember my meetings with black civil rights activist Bob Moses and his colleagues of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Their haunting tales of life in Mississippi in the 1960s wryly challenge some politicians’ and media pundits’ current claim to exclusivity for the term “terrorism” only in relation to Islam, reminding us that the most bloody and consistent trajectory of terrorism in the United States occurred under the banner of white supremacy.

Laura Visser-Maessen: Bob Moses’s Lessons on the Meaning of Citizenship We Need in Today’s Race Debates

After the 2015 riots in Baltimore and elsewhere, I was struck—though not surprised—by many of the media’s depictions of its black inhabitants, as if they were irrational, self-defeating hoodlums, rather than emphasizing stories like that of Wayne, one of several hundred students in Baltimore’s public schools who participate in the Algebra Project (AP). Wayne had been kicked out of several schools until his AP involvement made him realize “what I can do inside of school and how I can help other people.”

Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Global Village, Eighteenth-Century Style

Last July, when wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 washed ashore on Réunion, a typical response was something like “where?” The New York Times described the Indian Ocean island as “a French department about 4,000 miles from Europe,” adding that “if people had heard about it before, it was most likely because of bad publicity surrounding shark attacks or an epidemic of chikungunya.” So much for the world getting ever smaller. Over two centuries earlier, in the seaport town of Salem, Massachusetts, the island was well-known. Many was the Salem vessel that set sail for this isolated speck round the Cape of Good Hope.

Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Origins of Our “Numerical Neurosis”: Numbering Systems in American Life

April 15: yet another occasion to provide your social security number. It’s just one of many numbers we use to identify ourselves, along with those found on our driver’s licenses, passports, and military ID’s. Being a number instead of a name has become a cliché, but the use of such numbers goes beyond reducing personal identity to a set of numerals. It’s part of a larger world of numbering systems that order people and things alike.

Excerpt: Jack London, by Cecelia Tichi

The audience eagerly anticipated a larger-than-life figure, a novelist, journalist, sailor, war correspondent, exponent of modern marriage, sportswriter, and, most recently, a gentleman farmer-rancher. His audience reached from the workers with “hard hands and strong arms” to the affluent bourgeoisie of “placid . . . sedentary existence.” Awaiting his appearance in the hall, many in the audience opened purses or dug into trouser pockets to snap up the ten-cent “‘genuine’ blood red flags, the ‘Jack London souvenirs of a great and momentous occasion.’” The fiery female union organizer from the coalfields, Mother Jones, was in the hall, and her shout-out later in the evening was to be memorable for its typical “crisp” and “clipped speech.” The atmosphere was amiable, though the speaker was overdue because his train was late. When London finally took the stage at 9:15 P.M., no one in the audience (not even the New York Times reporter) guessed that the celebrated Jack London was half-sick from lingering effects of the flulike grippe. This was America’s epicenter of capitalism, and Gotham could flatten a man who didn’t show himself fit in body and mind. Such a man wouldn’t last one round.

Interview: Sherie M. Randolph on Black Feminist Radical Florynce “Flo” Kennedy

Taylor Humin: This is the first full-length work written about Flo Kennedy; meanwhile, Gloria Steinem, her contemporary and fellow activist, is a household name. Why isn’t Kennedy better known?

Sherie M. Randolph: Despite Kennedy’s willingness to seek the media’s spotlight, the media often ignored her leadership in the women’s movement. She was black and middle-aged, and her image did not fit neatly with the media’s fascination with the “young,” “hip” new women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The media had a bias toward stereotypically attractive women (read white and young) and often preferred to center or elevate in the press those women who fit this category (Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example).

Often the media coverage of Kennedy’s actions did not mention that she was even a member (or an early or founding member) of organizations such as NOW or that she was a feminist. Instead, Kennedy was often portrayed as an organizer who was working alongside NOW or other feminist groups, but not as a leader of these organizations and actions. Some scholars have repeated this bias by ignoring or under-analyzing black feminism and Flo Kennedy.

Kennedy was well known to most radical activists during the 1960s and 1970s because she was a lawyer, fundraiser, and very skilled at drawing media attention to her causes. As a media-savvy activist, she was skillful in gaining the media’s attention for her actions; which ranged from pee-ins to protest Harvard Law School’s lack of bathroom facilities for women to marches down Fifth Avenue to protest the assassination of Martin Luther King. She relied on street theater to draw the notice of the media (and therefore advertisers, etc.) and potential organizers. Yet, until my book, history has forgotten her.

Excerpt: The Lives of Chang and Eng, by Joseph Andrew Orser

The Siamese twins had long been used ironically as symbols of American nationalism. The earliest pamphlet about the twins published in the United States in the early 1830s featured a title page image of a flying eagle carrying a banner that read “E Pluribus Unum,” and beneath that was the phrase, “United We Stand.” This appeared opposite a frontispiece that pictured the twins as dark-skinned boys wearing queues and loose Oriental garments. The 1836 pamphlet published under the twins’ direction similarly featured a bald eagle clutching the national shield, beneath which were the words “Union and Liberty, one and inseparable, now and forever.” Analyzing the Siamese twins and American identity, scholar Allison Pingree argued that these exhibition booklets, which juxtaposed the parlance of the day describing conjoinedness—“united brothers” or “united twins”—with the symbolism of the American eagle holding an “E Pluribus Unum” banner in its beak, were playing to political concerns of the period. Even as nationalists appropriated the bond to symbolize union, proponents of states’ rights could claim that “connecting the states too closely was ‘monstrous’ and excessive.”

Kim Tolley: What If There Had Never Been a Confederate Battle Flag?

During recent debates over the flag, the history of the South sometimes appears as a straightforward tale of unrelenting proslavery leading up to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era. But there’s another aspect of southern history that is sometimes overlooked—the antislavery of the early antebellum era.

Excerpt: The Life of William Apess, Pequot, by Philip F. Gura

These accounts were prefatory to what in the Puritan era would have been termed the “application” of Apess’s texts, specifically, how they served as “looking-glasses” or mirrors for white people to see themselves as they were. Look at the “reservations” in the New England states, Apess commanded, home to “the most mean, abject, miserable race of beings in the world,” places of “prodigality and prostitution” where rum corroded the inhabitants’ moral fiber, and sexual exploitation often was the result. “Agents” or overseers appointed by the state offered no help and often participated in the Natives’ exploitation, neglecting to educate them as the law required and helping themselves to wood and other cash crops on tribal lands. And why? It was because of racial prejudice, whites’ unwillingness to acknowledge the simple humanity of the Indians. “I would ask,” Apess wrote, “if there cannot be as good feelings and principles under a red skin as there can be under a white” (155–56).

Interview: Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett on Harry Golden, ‘Carolina Israelite’

A favorite trick of Golden’s was to add a well-known author, philanthropist, politician, or actor to the circulation list of the Carolina Israelite without the celebrity’s knowledge, then mention the famous person in print as one of the newspaper’s loyal subscribers. It’s amazing how often this led to real friendship! The famous and powerful liked Golden for the same reasons so many regular folks did—his straight talk, his encyclopedic knowledge on politics and history, and his refreshingly tart humor.

William Marvel: Sacrificing General Sherman

As stern and formidable an opponent as Confederate soldiers and civilians found William Tecumseh Sherman, the general always insisted that he would accept them as fellow countrymen as soon as they submitted to federal authority. He proved as good as his word, especially after hearing President Lincoln’s conciliatory instructions at their City Point conference, late in March of 1865. When he cornered Joe Johnston in North Carolina, less than three weeks later, the two negotiated a complicated surrender agreement that essentially established terms for peace and reunion. It seems odd that neither recognized how far they had exceeded their authority.

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett: Digitization with a Bit of Resentment

These technological leaps shouldn’t surprise me. Growing up in the newspaper business, I collected the fallen metal letters as the journeymen printers in the back shop set the type for my mother’s small newspaper—fingers flying, somehow managing to set whole pages without errors despite the challenge of doing it all backwards as necessitated by the printing method. (All the more impressive given that more often than not, the printers had enjoyed their liquid dinners at the Legion Hall down the street.)

By the time I became a reporter at age 19, the shift to phototypesetting was solidly in the works and by the time I left the Seattle Times in 2003 to research my book about Golden, the whole journalistic process from note-taking to layout took place on computer screens, and the printing press was miles away.

Graham T. Dozier on Letters from the Battle of Cedar Creek

Two days later, when Tom took the time to send Susan a letter, he was still stunned. “In the morning [the Confederates] were lions, in the evening lambs. Such facts are incredible to one who has not witnessed them but they are unfortunately too true.”
In the same letter, dated October 21, Carter offered a simple opinion as to why the battle had been lost. “The Yankee discipline,” he asserted, “is immeasurably superior to ours.” In a rare moment of frustration, he lashed out at the behavior of his army’s leaders.

What Ken Burns’s ‘The Roosevelts’ doesn’t tell us (but viewers should know) about Josephus Daniels

Lee A. Craig, author of Josephus Daniels: His Life and Times, talks to Publicity Director Gina Mahalek about his reaction to the portrayal of Josephus Daniels (who was, at the time, one of the most influential men in the world) in the latest Ken Burns PBS documentary series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.

Graham T. Dozier on a Civil War Soldier Who Became a Civil War Tourist

Civil War buffs and historians are not the only people interested in visiting historical battlefields. On our Civil War blog, Graham T. Dozier, editor of A Gunner in Lee’s Army: The Civil War Letters of Thomas Henry Carter observes how Civil War battle sites have long fascinated visitors of all kinds.

Claude Andrew Clegg III: Elijah Muhammad, Then and Now

Our America is a product of Muhammad’s America and to know our times is to appreciate the era in which he lived.

Susan Ware: The Ongoing Battle of the Sexes

The footage shows not a player who was intentionally tanking a match, but one who was consistently and masterfully outplayed by a superior opponent, which Riggs admitted at the time and maintained right up until his death in 1995. The unsupported ESPN allegations have no place in sporting history.

Twelve Years a Slave: The Narrative Behind the Film

The film tells the story of Solomon Northrup (Ejiofor), a free man and fiddle-player from New York who was drugged, kidnapped, and sold into slavery in Louisiana. It explores Northrup’s efforts to retain his dignity in the face of inhumanity as he longs for the family he was taken from and hopes for freedom throughout time in the employ of three different masters, ranging from a kindly preacher (Benedict Cumberbatch) to a cruel plantation owner (Fassbender). Remarkably, and horrifically, the story is a true one.

Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery Hosts Thomas Day Exhibit

Much like Marshall and Leimenstoll’s book, Dubrow describes the Smithsonian’s exhibit as, “doubly intriguing—combining his startlingly unique cabinets, bureaus, chairs, even a child’s Gothic-Classical style ‘commode’ (potty), architectural designs, with his extraordinary career.”