LaKisha Michelle Simmons: Landscapes, Memories, and History in Beyoncé’s Lemonade

Some writers have noted the presence of the “southern gothic” or the “southern porch” in Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s visceral visual album Lemonade. But the landscapes are unambiguously part of the geography of Louisiana; the visual album is haunting because of its specificity to place. Barely visible, in the discussion thus far, is the history of slavery—and its remnants—all over the landscape of the album.

Steven E. Nash: Who Was Virgil Lusk?

It was a cold, rainy December afternoon when my wife finally asked the question: “Who was Virgil Lusk?” It was a fair question. After all, I had dragged her around Asheville’s historic Riverside Cemetery for well over an hour trying to locate his grave. With each grave adorned with a miniature Confederate battle flag, my frustration mounted. Lusk was a Confederate soldier. So why was my strategy of driving toward those flags not producing any results? Was his flag missing? Who was Virgil Lusk?

Catherine A. Stewart: Having an Honest Conversation about Slavery—Now and Then

But this current conversation is not the first time Americans and political leaders have attempted to talk honestly about slavery. In the 1930s, the federal government began an unprecedented and revolutionary discussion of slavery and its legacy by hiring unemployed writers to interview the last living generation of African Americans to have experienced slavery. The Federal Writers’ Ex-Slave Project sparked conversations between direct descendants of Confederate slaveholders and former slaves. This project, with its radical objective of recovering and reclaiming African Americans’ experiences with slavery and freedom, along with its failings and limitations, has much to tell us about why conversations about the past of slavery remain so difficult for Americans today.

Robert G. Parkinson: The Shot Heard Round the World Revisited

Sixty years after the battle, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a triumphant hymn to the “embattled farmers” of Concord, Massachusetts who gathered at the “rude bridge that arched the flood” underneath “their flag to April’s breeze unfurled” and “fired the shot heard round the world.” Emerson solemnized the “spirit that made those heroes dare / to die, or leave their children free.” Emerson’s imagery added to the already thick layers of mythology surrounding the events of April 19, 1775, fusing together nature and nation to craft an American pastoral patriotism. Ever since, when Americans think about the start of the Revolution, it is Emerson’s chorus—of heroic white colonists fighting to preserve their liberty—that plays in the background of this nationalist legend.

But that wasn’t how some people thought about the events of that night. In fact, race played a role in how people reacted to the Lexington Alarm.

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.

Obama Lands in Cuba

With his arrival in Cuba yesterday, President Barack Obama has become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation since 1928. This three-day trip is just one step in the major shift under the Obama administration to begin to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. For insightful historical perspective on what this trip means, we check in with some UNC Press authors who are providing helpful analysis.

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: The Ashley Cooper Plan, by Thomas D. Wilson

Ashley Cooper’s Grand Model was the ultimate product of English colonial policy, political philosophy, and city planning prior to the Enlightenment. The Fundamental Constitutions and “instructions,” products of both Ashley Cooper and Locke, formed a body of law and policy written by two of the most astute minds of the time, tempered to be sure by the diverse opinions of the remaining seven Carolina proprietors. Within those documents, city planning (in the broad sense of the term used throughout) held an essential place in the overall design of the colony’s social structure, economy, and government.

Help Celebrate an Appalachian Icon: Grandfather Mountain

Your gift will underwrite the considerable production costs for 5,000 copies of this lushly illustrated volume, with 206 images spread throughout 304 pages. Now through March 31, 2016, a generous friend of UNC Press will contribute $1 for every $1 you donate through our power2give.org initiative, up to $6,000! And, all gifts are charitable contributions, so donate today.

Stephen G. Hall: Black History Month: Revisiting the Communal Nature of the Black Past

From Jacob Oson’s “A Search for Truth; or, An Inquiry for the Origin of the African Nation” to Ann Plato’s Essays to William Still’s The Underground Railroad, nineteenth-century book writers connected their scholarly endeavors to unearthing a communal past. Oson accentuated Africa’s role as central to human history. Plato used the quiet dignity of her essays to highlight the role of black women in the immediate and larger communities of the period. Still presented the Underground Railroad as the living embodiment of a race’s communal struggle for dignity and recognition. He did so in a postbellum moment fraught with the politics of sectional reconciliation, which sought to eradicate the memory of a contested past.

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.

Books in American History now 40% off!

Last week, in honor of African American History Month, we shared a list of our newest African American History books here at UNC Press. Now, to accompany our reading list, we’re offering 40% off our entire American History collection!

Crystal R. Sanders: The 1966 Preschool March on Washington

Fifty years ago today, 48 preschoolers from Mississippi and their chaperones took over the ornate United States House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee hearing room in Washington, D.C. The youngsters came to Capitol Hill seeking refunding of the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) Head Start program. Head Start began in 1965 as a War on Poverty initiative that provided low-income children and their families with early childhood education, nutritious meals, healthcare, and social services. CDGM stood out because it was one of the largest inaugural Head Start programs nationwide and because it was so closely aligned with Mississippi’s civil rights movement. Many of the Magnolia State’s black citizens who had lost their jobs because of their proximity to the movement, including Pap Hamer (husband of Fannie Lou Hamer) and Roxie Meredith (mother of James Meredith), secured CDGM employment. These well-paying jobs outside of the local white power structure disrupted the state’s racial and political status quo and provoked the ire of segregationists including United States Senator John C. Stennis (D-MS).

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.

UNC Press Black History Month Reading List 2016

The study of African American history is a year-round endeavor for UNC Press, but in honor of African American History Month, we’d like to highlight the great new work we’ve been able to publish in this field recently. Here are books on African American history, culture, and modern society from UNC Press over the past year, plus a few that will be available later this spring and are available for pre-order now.

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: Ku-Klux, by Elaine Frantz Parsons

The Ku-Klux began as a name. It was chosen by a group of young former Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee, in May or June 1866. Pulaski, the seat of Giles County, is seventy-four miles south of Nashville, connected to the city by the Nashville and Decatur Railroad. The war’s shadow fell heavily on the nation, but Pulaski bore a disproportionate share of suffering. While it was never itself a battlefield, Federal troops had occupied it, and it was in close proximity to some of the war’s most deadly fighting. Union troops camped in Pulaski in the days before the bloody Battle of Nashville, and were a frequent presence throughout the war. These strains may have contributed to the area’s fraught postwar atmosphere.

Graham T. Nessler: The Politics of Racial Difference: The View from Revolutionary Hispaniola

As the Obama era nears its end, the politics of racial (and religious) difference seem to dominate the headlines. From the anti-Muslim violence and bigotry that have intensified following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, to the heightening of the affirmative action debate to the festering controversies over racially-charged criminal justice issues such as policing and mass incarceration, this appears to be a particularly polarized moment in America. As I finished my book this past fall, I often thought of parallels between these current events and my own area of historical expertise: the Haitian Revolution and the counterrevolutionary project that followed.

Margaret Bendroth: Disorganized Religion

Protestant aversion to organized religion is everywhere, even on the sign on the front lawns of churches. Smart congregations are dropping the Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian label and replacing it with soft generic names like Willow Grove or Saddleback. They are becoming nonspecific “communities” and “fellowships” associating themselves with some broad spiritual aspiration, like “resurrection” or “hope” or “reconciliation.”

Steven E. Nash: Riot, Reconstruction, and Racial Politics in Asheville

Through centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow segregation, white Americans have claimed public spaces—like Pack Square—through naming or regulated access. But those claims were never complete or total. Perhaps that is one reason why the commemorations and memories—such as those surrounding Vance—neglect the region’s complicated Reconstruction history. After all, the war may have ended slavery, but the real struggle over the meaning of freedom began when the soldiers stacked arms in 1865.