Excerpt: Not Straight, Not White, by Kevin J. Mumford

Published in the New Yorker, the long piece meditated on American racism, seeing white prejudice as arising from the reality that the “white man’s masculinity depends on a denial of the masculinity of the blacks” and that therefore the nation subjected the “Negro” to many “horrors.” After reading the essay, Kennedy had reportedly contacted Baldwin and sought the meeting because he wished to hear “fresh” ideas on “coping with civil rights problems.” If he had invited only the older and more moderate celebrities, such as Lena Horne or Harry Belafonte, it seems unlikely that the meeting would have ended as it did, in frank disagreement and an acrimonious exit. But the presence of Jerome Smith, a participant in the southern Freedom Rides that continued to press for the desegregation of buses and stations, had raised the stakes.

Excerpt: The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare, by Sean M. Kelley

It is hard to know exactly how many of the Hare captives lived in clusters that permitted them contact with their countrymen and countrywomen. To start, we do know that forty-four of the fifty-six were purchased along with at least one other Hare captive, while eleven were purchased singly, but even being purchased together did not necessarily mean the captives would stay together. Africans throughout the Americas placed a special importance on the shipmate relationship. Shipmates treated one another as kin, and recognition of the bond might continue into subsequent generations. However, being purchased in company with another Hare captive did not guarantee an enduring, close shipmate relationship.

Excerpt: Sea Breeze activity from Lessons from the Sand

It’s easy to stand on a beach and watch waves moving sand around, but we tend to forget it’s the wind that makes the waves. In that sense, wind is the fundamental cause of major changes on a beach.

Excerpt: Us Versus Them, by Douglas Little

Although the source of the 9/11 attacks was quite novel and although both the scale and the location of the harm “they” inflicted on “us” were unprecedented, the notion of a virtuous America endangered by wicked and violent enemies was not new at all. Indeed, from the moment that John Winthrop and the Puritans dropped anchor in Massachusetts Bay in 1630 and vowed to build a “City Upon a Hill,” Americans have tended to view the world in terms of “us versus them.”

Martha S. Jones: Don’t Miss Out on What Michelle Obama Actually Said in 2008

Don’t let Melania Trump’s Monday night speech be your guide to what Michelle Obama said in 2008. Instead, keep listening. There is more to learn than who borrowed what words.

Excerpt: Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution, by Caroline Cox

Samuel Aspenwall did not say anything about his early boyhood. He began his account of his service, as did his sister Mary in her supporting deposition, with recollections of the family arguments about the lad enlisting. He said nothing about why he wanted to serve. We can imagine war news swirling around him, his family, and his town during his boyhood by reading other historical sources: local newspapers, local muster rolls that indicate that veterans were coming and going, and understanding the interactions of town life. What veterans’ anecdotes or ministers’ sermons he heard, what games played, songs sung, or books read that caused this “Strong desire,” is something difficult even to guess.

Excerpt: The Ashley Cooper Plan, by Thomas D. Wilson

The political scientist Daniel J. Elazar identified three traditions of political culture in America, generally consistent with Tocqueville’s characterizations. New England political culture of the Puritans evolved to become moralistic political culture. This component of American character emphasizes community and civic virtue over individualism. It promotes the idea of participatory democracy and the positive role of government in addressing common problems. The Mid-Atlantic region produced individualistic political culture, which views government as a utilitarian necessity and seeks to limit its intrusion into private activities. Private initiative is held to be of higher importance than the public sphere. The South produced traditionalistic political culture, which elevates social order and family structure to a prominent role.

Excerpt: Chained in Silence, by Talitha L. LeFlouria

For many Americans, Independence Day of 1884 was an occasion for merriment. Sunrise gun salutes, picnics, orations, wheelbarrow races, greased-pig-catching contests, and pulsating fireworks that blistered the sky were popular scenes implanted in America’s nineteenth-century viewfinder. But for fourteen-year-old Mollie White, July 4, 1884, signified the closing of her innocence and the suspension of her liberty and bodily sovereignty; it was the day that marked her dreadful passage into Georgia’s itinerant state penitentiary system.

Excerpt: Native American Whalemen and the World, by Nancy Shoemaker

Native Americans were one small constituency in a diverse whaling workforce brought together by ship owners for one purpose only—to cooperate in gathering whale products from the world’s oceans. The merchant investors, who did the initial hiring, sought trustworthy, skilled officers and cheap, hardy, and obedient laborers. With profit as their objective, they were open to hiring any man who could do the job but not if the crew’s social composition threatened orderly collaboration. From the top down, federal laws and industry standards applied measures to enhance productivity by dampening the volatility such diversity produced: they privileged rank over race and regulated the number of foreigners serving on American ships. From the bottom up, seamen brought prejudices on board with them. The color of one’s skin, the land of one’s birth, and the language one spoke inflected how shipmates interacted with each other and at any time could combust in conflict. Even though race had no formal role in how the ship operated, it loitered beneath the surface to bear on who was hired to do what job and shadowed shipboard relations with unspoken assumptions.

Excerpt: The Wilmington Ten, by Kenneth Robert Janken

The case of the Wilmington Ten emerged out of the events of February 1971. In an effort to lay blame for the violence and remove the effective and popular organizer Benjamin Chavis, the Wilmington police and state prosecutor—assisted by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF)—concocted a case against Chavis, eight other black men (five of them high school students), and one white woman. Arrested more than a year after the disturbances, they were charged with conspiracy, burning Mike’s Grocery, and shooting at the firefighters and police who responded to the fire. (Ann Shepard was charged only with conspiracy.) The prosecutor, with the assent of the presiding judge, illegally excluded blacks from the jury. He solicited perjured testimony from his main witnesses to convict the Ten, who were sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. Their convictions sparked a campaign across North Carolina, the nation, and the world to free them.

Excerpt: The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West, by Carole Haber

In arguing that the jury had to find Laura “not guilty by reason of insanity,” Quint and Cook hoped to focus their attention around four central issues. At the heart of their case, they argued, was the notion that Laura was unconscious and irrational at the time of the murder. In contrast to the prosecution, which had relied on gossip and rumor to condemn Laura’s character, they would base their case on the latest scientific findings and medical expertise. By calling to the stand doctors with advanced knowledge and training, they would prove that Laura—much like Mary Harris before her—was a victim herself, captive to the effects of severe organic disease. Especially when her menstrual cycle approached, she experienced recurring bouts of hysterical mania that left her without control of her actions or awareness of events. Thus, no matter how heinous the act appeared, she was not responsible for its commission.

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.

Excerpt: Gulf Stream Chronicles, by David S. Lee

I looked up in time to see a flying fish sailing past at eye level, 15 feet above the water. Turning to Captain Harry Baum, I asked whether any had ever landed in this boat. While he was telling me that in 26 years of fishing in the Gulf Stream, that had never happened, an 11-inch-long flying fish crash-landed on the deck below. I rushed down, secured my prize, and hurried back to the bridge to ask Captain Baum if his boat had ever been struck by lightning. What I thought was the best one-liner of the day was not appreciated. The captain proceeded to recount the times his boat had been struck, how insurance companies refused to insure electrical navigational equipment, and how, when . . . well, you get the idea.

During the warm months, flying fish are commonly seen in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina. So at times when there is not much going on aboard ship, and when other creatures of the open sea are scarce, I watch fish fly.

Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

A variety of factors contributed to the explosion of weight loss culture during and after the Great War, and one especially potent factor was the creep of metrics into daily life. The application of calories to food in the late nineteenth century and the emerging discipline of statistics resulted in well-publicized comparisons of food consumption and body weights between individuals and across populations. At the same time, life insurance statistics were revealing new correlations between excess weight and chronic disease. More and more Americans, meanwhile, were purchasing newly affordable home scales and buying their clothing ready-made, and thus increasingly thinking of their bodies in terms of numbers and sizes instead of, say, just making clothes to fit their individual bodies. Moreover, metrics grew more prevalent in daily life just as the motion picture industry was taking off and as a visually oriented print media continued to expand. Handed the tools to make physical comparisons, Americans eagerly made them. The growing ease of numerical and visual comparisons contributed directly to the valorization of thinness. But what accounts for the moral stigma that leeched onto the idea of being overweight? The answer lies at the heart of the Progressive ideology of self-control, a value that transcended the Progressive Era itself, both supporting and thriving within the enduring associations between thinness, willpower, and beauty.

Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir

For most black artisans in the antebellum South, being born into slavery placed clear limits on their future. No matter how skilled they might be, seldom could enslaved artisans expect to trace the customary path from apprentice to master that white artisans pursued. For Montford, as for a remarkable number of his fellows in New Bern, however, the timing and circumstances of his birth together with his skills, industry, ambition, and relationships enabled him to realize such hopes as he moved from slavery to freedom and became a master of apprentices and slaves, a property owner, and a voting citizen. Only as Montford’s life drew to its close in the 1830s did he and his fellow artisans of color witness the onset of oppressive racial laws that chilled the hopes of New Bern’s black craftsmen for themselves and for their children.

Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers

As the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers had in previous eras, the children of lesbian feminist families often acted as mediators between their families and a larger society that saw their homes as deviant. Unlike in previous eras, however, the children of lesbian feminist families in the 1970s negotiated the distance between radically open lesbian families and a dominant heterosexual society. Whereas in earlier decades, children of lesbian mothers had moved between their families and mainstream heterosexual society tacitly, the children of lesbian households in the 1970s were much more visible because their families demanded the right to openly exist. These children were bicultural in that they belonged to a vocal oppositional minority culture but also had to operate within the dominant culture that questioned the viability of their families. These children grew up in lesbian households that were more assertive than those of earlier decades, but compared to children of the later lesbian and gay baby boom, they still found their home and family lives to be very separate from mainstream society.

Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello

James B. Duke did not wait for markets to emerge to justify massive capital investments in hydropower; he cultivated industrial consumers. Duke’s company, and other companies that followed, had never envisioned providing service to rural or residential customers.

Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl

The hotel’s ability to foster trust and nurture people who are otherwise temporarily homeless and dependent has been a long-standing feature of the modern landscape, and this functionality makes the hotel an irresistible magnet for those across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Kay Thompson famously captured the hotel’s imaginative allure for the vulnerable wealthy in her 1955 fabulously popular Eloise stories, and the resulting marketing of these stories as a distinguishing feature of the hotel she—and her creator—called home attests to the hotel’s ability to incubate new kinds of identity and self-making even for those guests who seem to have it all. A ward of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, the six-year-old Eloise roams the hallways of one of the world’s finest hotels, her mother perennially absent. Without the protecting spaces provided by the hotel’s public and private venues, Eloise would be alone in a dangerous and unprotecting world, but in the generative habitus of the hotel she invents a world rich with play at self-making.

Excerpt: Born to Be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist, by Randy D. McBee

Stories such as this one about middle-class riders making motorcycling respectable were common in the early 1960s. Their arrival both coincided with and was the product of the introduction of the Japanese Honda into the American marketplace. Yet despite the enthusiasm that greeted the middle-class rider, ambivalence and frustration also surrounded him. These were serious riders, or so they claimed, yet their critics found it all too easy to dismiss them as “casual” motorcyclists. If anything, their struggle to overcome this claim made their impact on motorcycling more conspicuous than it might have been otherwise, and it brought the issue of class to the fore.

Excerpt: Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, by Timothy Gloege

The oatmeal market suffered under the weight of too many competitors, with prices often falling below production costs. Crowell saw the solution in the mill’s overlooked Quaker trademark. And so, at a time when most consumers shoveled their oatmeal from open barrels, Crowell’s product appeared on shelves in sealed, two-pound boxes. Richly illustrated advertisements saturated local, then national, print media. Both package and ad featured the iconic Quaker, always smiling jovially and holding a scroll on which was written the single word “Pure.”