Emily Suzanne Clark: I Don’t Believe in No Ghosts: America and Spirits

Whether or not you reading this post believe in them, ghosts fascinate Americans. A century and a half before the popularity of ghost-hunter shows on the SyFy Network and NBC’s award-winning show “Medium,” belief in spirit communication was serious and widespread in the United States. Spiritualism swept across the United States in the mid-nineteenth century and remained popular into the twentieth century. Put simply, a Spiritualist is one who believes that communication with the spirits of the dead is not only possible but also desirable. Popularized by the Fox Sisters and their “Rochester rappings,” Spiritualism interested Americans young and old, white and black, male and female, rich and poor. Much of this appeal came from Spiritualism’s ability to bridge the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Lon Kurashige: What Would Teddy Roosevelt Do?

It is important to recall Roosevelt’s positions on immigration because of the similarities between his day and our own. Immigration fears are a regular feature in today’s headlines as the United States (not mention the U.K. and European countries) wrestles with how much and in what ways to close its borders to newcomers. The same was true when Roosevelt became president.

Lorien Foote: Adding Prisoners of War to ‘Free State of Jones’

Director Gary Ross had a fascinating and complicated story to tell, and if he had difficulty weaving the parts together for a two-hour movie, his problems would have been compounded had he tried to tell the story of the deserters in rebellion against the Confederacy in the Carolinas. Imagine Free State of Jones with nearly 3,000 escaped prisoners of war thrown into the mix.

Excerpt: Bonds of Union, by Bridget Ford

For the urban Ohio River valley, the richest source of evidence about African Americans’ personal service work derives from Eliza Potter’s singular autobiography, A Hairdresser’s Experience in High Life, published in Cincinnati in 1859. Born in New York, Potter moved to Cincinnati as a young woman in 1834. She worked as a child’s nurse in several wealthy white households and accompanied one family to Paris in 1841. After a dispute over wages, Potter left the family to learn the art of hairdressing. Returning to the United States after traveling and working in both France and England, she built a successful career dressing wealthy clients whom she dubbed “our aristocracy.”

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.

J. Michael Butler: Wendel Blackwell, Philando Castile, and the Continuing Black American Freedom Struggle

In 1969 the Pensacola NAACP’s Youth Council listed “police brutality” as one of their two primary concerns for the coming decade, and numerous incidents supported their claim into the 1970s.

Emily Suzanne Clark: 150 Years After the Mechanics’ Institute Riot

Thus on July 30 as a group of supporters paraded towards the Mechanics’ Institute with drum and fife, they were followed by a white mob. That mob was then joined by local police and members of the fire department who helped storm the Mechanics’ Institute and allowed the mob access to the convention-goers, most of whom were unarmed. By the end of the day over forty black Republicans lay dead, along with three white Republican allies and one white rioter. Many of the slain African American men were Union veterans. The violence spread beyond the Mechanics’ Institute as blacks across the city were attacked and their property vandalized. According to the U.S. House Select Committee on the riot, “Scores of colored citizens bear frightful scars more numerous than many soldiers of a dozen well-fought fields can show.”

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.

Robert G. Parkinson: The Last News Story of Colonial America

What was the tipping point that pushed Americans into taking the step of declaring their independence? After all, the colonies had been at war with Britain for more than a year by the end of the spring of 1776. The other factor most attributed to causing independence, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, was five months old by that time. What changed in May 1776 to encourage patriot political leaders in both the Continental Congress and in many of the separate colonial assemblies to support severing ties with Britain? What produced a sudden support for independence?

The Germans were coming.

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.

4 Ways to Celebrate the Release of Free State of Jones

Today the film Free State of Jones opens in theaters across the United States. Historian Victoria E. Bynum, whose book of the same name helped inspire the film, has been making media rounds this week, talking about what the New York Times has called “the first Hollywood drama to come with footnotes.” Director Gary Ross comes correct on the history in this project, so historians, enjoy! Here are four ways you can celebrate the opening of the movie today.

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.

Video: Mahershala Ali on Narrating ‘The Free State of Jones’ for Audible

In the following video, Actor Mahershala Ali (House of Cards) shares his experience transforming The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War into an audiobook for Audible.

Brian Craig Miller: “Civil War America” and a Side of Tomato Soup

We welcome to the blog a guest post from Brain Craig Miller, Civil War historian and author of recently published Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South.   In today’s post, Miller reflects on the Civil War America series and how it shaped his views of the Civil War.  ### It was the morning prior …

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James J. Broomall: Reflections on “Civil War America”

We welcome to the blog a guest post from James J. Broomall, Civil War historian and director of the George Taylor Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University.  In today’s post, Broomall writes about how the Civil War America series has guided his studies over the years. ### Like any good …

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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.”

Catherine A. Stewart: Looking Backward: On Memory and the Challenges of Oral History

My mother and her only sibling, my aunt, are losing their memories. Though their short-term memory has all but disappeared, their shared memories of childhood still remain vivid. One of their neurologists described the brain’s storage of memory and the onset of dementia as a file cabinet, with the most recently filed folders disappearing first, and the ones stored long ago as the last to go.