Marcie Cohen Ferris: Civil Rights, Lunch Counters, and North Carolina Basketball

In 1966, Charles “Charlie” Scott (b. 1948 in NYC) became the first African American student to attend the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill on an athletic scholarship. He decided to attend UNC rather than basketball powerhouse Davidson College after a wrenching moment at a small café in Davidson, North Carolina. Former Davidson College basketball star Terry Holland, who both played and later served as assistant coach under the college’s legendary coach Lefty Driesell, and UNC law professor and civil rights attorney Daniel H. Pollitt, who was a passionate advocate for social justice in Chapel Hill during the 1950s and 1960s, vividly recall Scott’s historic decision. Pollitt worked with Dean Smith, UNC’s beloved basketball coach (1961-1997) and Robert Seymour, progressive minister at the Olin T. Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, to recruit Charlie Scott and to help integrate the university community.

Video: Tomas F. Summers Sandoval Jr. on what history tells us about our present

Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr., author of Latinos at the Golden Gate: Creating Community and Identity in San Francisco, explains how history might not be synonymous with the past.

Brian K. Feltman: Blurred Lines: Prisoners of War, Deserters, and Bowe Bergdahl

Accusations of desertion prompted many of Bergdahl’s supporters to reconsider their positions and left several congressmen scrambling to delete early tweets that praised his service. While many Americans may be surprised by the heated controversy surrounding Bergdahl’s capture, the Bergdahl affair is only the most recent example of the hazy line separating deserters and prisoners of war.

Christina D. Abreu: In Honor of Professor Juan Flores

Criticism and embrace of identity terms like “Hispanic” and “Latino/a” have been longstanding in the field of Latino/a Studies. Puerto Ricans, Flores argued, share more in common with African Americans than with other Latino/a groups. He contended that Puerto Ricans and African Americans experience similar forms of racial and ethnic subordination in the United States because of parallels in their location in urban areas, their socioeconomic status, and their position as colonized subjects of the same nation-state.

Christopher C. Sellers: How a Mid-Century LA Environmentalist Got Beyond John Muir

A century out from Muir’s death, humanity’s mounting influence on the planet, and what we now know about that influence, have made a truly pristine nature ever more difficult, even impossible, to find. No place on earth stays untouched by a phenomenon like climate change. To be sure, we still need our Yosemites, not least for the transcendent encounters that Muir and his descendants have helped us to find in them. Yet in a time when human impacts have turned planetary in scale, the project of protecting our wildest places has become far more bound up with what we do in our cities, suburbs, and factories than Muir ever imagined

Glenn David Brasher’s Civil War Top 10 from 2014

Do we have a new annual tradition on our hands? Last year over on our CivilWar150 blog, Glenn David Brasher gave us a great roundup of Civil War-related highlights from throughout the year. He’s back at it again with 2014’s big news in Civil War history. You’ll find elections, debates, satire, sincerity, and more.

Excerpt: Alcohol: A History, by Rod Phillips

One of the earliest printed books on aqua vitae, in this case brandy, was published in Germany in 1476 and recommended a half-spoonful every morning to prevent conditions as varied as arthritis and bad breath. Other physicians wrote of the beneficial effects of brandy for physical ailments (it cured headaches, heart disease, gout, and deafness); as an aid to appearance (it improved the bust and stopped hair graying); and as therapy for emotional and other problems (it banished melancholy and forgetfulness). The inclusion of conditions commonly associated with aging (such as deafness, forgetfulness, and graying) reflects the claims that drinking brandy prolonged youth and thus life itself.

Essential Background Reading on Cuba from UNC Press

In light of the sea change in U.S.-Cuban relations, I am delighted to recommend two books to anyone who wants to get up to speed: On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture, by Louis A. Pérez Jr., and Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, by William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh.

Video: Celebrating 75 Years of ‘These Are Our Lives’

Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.

Lisa Wilson: Cinderella and Her Still Evil Stepmother

Looking at the history of the evil stepmother stereotype I think explains some of the staying power of these familiar tales. Although stepmother characterizations have been negative since as far back as ancient Greece, in Western culture the need for evil stepmothers became more urgent in the United States in response to a new idea of the proper family in Enlightenment Europe. Sentimental families, as they were called, became the ideal for the rising middle class in Western Europe.

Christopher C. Sellers: Beyond Environmentalism: Marching toward Climatism

Over the last decade around New York, a host of more localized concerns and groups have mobilized around a new bevvy of “green” causes: banding together to rebuild after Sandy, campaigning for locally grown and organic food, and fighting against fracking. At the People’s Climate March, they found welcome and common cause with those pushing for divestiture from fossil fuels, as well as those from more far flung locales, those rebuilding on the Gulf Coast after Katrina, those from island nations and from other communities on the “front line” of environmental change. In an earlier era, “the environment” had gained traction because of how it linked so many issues long considered separate, from pollution to wilderness preservation. Now “climate” may have proven itself sufficiently capacious to serve as an entire movement’s umbrella.

Doug Orr: The Profound African American Influence on Appalachian Music

It is generally known that the American banjo’s origins trace back to West Africa and a gourd-like instrument the gnomi, among other names. However, the plantations were something of an incubator for music of the African American slaves in a variety of forms: the fiddle, learned at the plantation house; the call-and-response work songs from the toil of the plantation fields; spirituals stemming from church worship—often clandestine services or camp meetings with hidden messages of freedom’s call; and the hush lullabies sung by mammies to their babies, and sung with irony to the children of the plantation overlords.

Interview: Rod Phillips and the world history of alcohol

Brewsters were female brewers. They were important because during the Middle Ages (and later in the American colonies) women brewed the beer their families needed. Brewing was seen as a woman’s task, like baking. Beer was liquid bread, and very nutritious. But as brewing became more commercialized, women were pushed out. The world of big business was seen as no place for women, and women didn’t have access to the financing needed for a commercial brewery. So brewing became a male occupation, and it’s really only with the rise of craft breweries in the last decade or two that women have started to re-enter the industry.

Lisa Wilson: Stepfamilies Are “Traditional” American Families

What is a traditional American family? In a recent article in AARP Magazine, “The New American Family: Meet 6 clans who embody our country’s changing ideas about what kinship is,” Brennan Jensen, citing high divorce rates, argues that modern families now include “a tumble of step- and half-siblings.” I applaud Jensen’s effort to complicate what we think of as a “real” American family, but I would suggest that the “new” American family is actually the “old” American family—at least in terms of the presence of stepfamilies.

Luther Adams: W. E. B. Du Bois’ One Charge

“Black-on-black crime” is not real. It only exists to suggest being black is the true crime, and to deflect attention away from the fact of ongoing inequality. What many have termed “black-on-black crime” tells us more about white supremacy, and the devaluation of black life, than it does about crime. Connecting crime and blackness is central to racial control, as is the link between guns and white supremacy. The true crime is that black lives have less value to society and to even to other black people.