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.

The Free State of Jones movie trailer is here!

The previews for The Free State of Jones are screening in theaters now, and the movie will be released in May. So there’s plenty of time between now and then to read the full history in Victoria E. Bynum’s book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. (And now you can picture Matthew McConaughey in the role of Newt Knight and Gugu MBatha-Raw as Rachel Knight as you read. . . . )

Interview: Kenneth Robert Janken on The Wilmington Ten

Hannah Lohr-Pearson: Who are the Wilmington Ten and why are they important?

Kenneth Robert Janken: The Wilmington Ten were Ben Chavis, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, Ann Shepard, Connie Tindall, Willie Earl Vereen, and Joe Wright. They were nine black men in their teens and early twenties, many of them still in high school, and a white woman in her thirties, who participated in conflict and protests over the desegregation of the public schools in Wilmington, North Carolina, and were punished with the full force of the law for standing against discrimination. The case of the Wilmington Ten amounts to one of the most egregious instances of injustice and political repression from the post-World War II black freedom struggle. It took legions of people working over the course of the 1970s to right the wrong. Like the political killings of George Jackson and Fred Hampton, the legal frame-up of Angela Davis, and the suppression of the Attica Prison rebellion, the Wilmington Ten was a high-profile attempt by federal and North Carolina authorities to stanch the increasingly radical African American freedom movement. The facts of the callous, corrupt, and abusive prosecution of the Wilmington Ten have lost none of their power to shock more than forty years after the fact, even given today’s epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct. Less understood, but just as important, the efforts to free the Wilmington Ten helped define an important moment in African American politics, in which an increasingly variegated movement coordinated its efforts under the leadership of a vital radical Left.

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.

Holly M. Karibo: Cutting the Cancer of Drug Use Out of the Nation? Reflections on the History of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the United States

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the passage of the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, a law that dramatically reshaped American drug policies. While the precedent for mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses had been established four years earlier, the Narcotic Control Act greatly expanded the scope of these sentences. Among its many clauses, the act raised the minimum sentence on some drug offenses to five years and allowed the imposition of the death penalty on anyone over the age of eighteen convicted of trafficking heroin to minors. This made the Narcotics Control Act the strictest drug law in the nation’s history—one that treated addiction as a plague that needed to be addressed through punitive measures.

April Merleaux: The Mexican Soda Tax Debate

Last year Mexico became the first nation in the world to impose a surtax on sweetened soft drinks. Policymakers justified the move by pointing out that people in Mexico consume more soda per capita than anywhere else in the world, a trend they argue fosters the nation’s high rates of obesity and diet-related disease. While governments around the world have also used economic incentives–or, in this case, disincentives–as a means of bolstering public health, Mexico’s soda tax does so on a much grander scale. A year later, in July 2015, public health researchers reported that consumption of soft drinks in Mexico fell by more than five percent. Many people hope for similar measures in the United States. California and New York are considering similar policies. New York City tried something similar a few years ago, before a judge overturned it, and the Navajo Nation just passed a junk food tax.

But the great Mexican soda tax debate can be viewed in a wider context than public health policy. It is, after all, also about the politics of capitalism and global trade.

Video: Kishwar Rizvi on Islamic Architecture and Historical Memory

In the following video, Rizvi talks with Marilyn Wilkes about The Transnational Mosque in an episode of The MacMillan Report, produced by the MacMillan Center at Yale University.

John Ryan Fischer: Indian Cowboys in California

The stories of Indian laborers often feel secondary to the spaces and stories of the Franciscan fathers, despite the fact that the missions were primarily centers of Indian work. The fathers hoped that productivity would lead to a surer conversion while they also made a profit, especially from the products of cattle in the form of hides and tallow that they sold to British and American ships along the Pacific coast. There are certainly signs of this work throughout the missions—from tallow vats to tanneries—and La Purisma stands out to me as a site that focuses on the type of work that its mostly Chumash inhabitants did on a daily basis. Beyond the missions, Indians as workers are even less visible in public presentations of California’s historical memory. Vaquero parades, rodeos, and festivals are rare, and the role of Indians in those festivals is small to nonexistent.

There are a few likely reasons for this omission.

Book Trailer: Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World by Julia Gaffield

In the following video, Gaffield navigates a history wrought with slavery, colonialism, racial stereotyping, and global power politics, revealing how her book answers the question: What happened after the Haitian revolution? (running time 2:19).

Patricia Appelbaum: Pope Francis and the 1967 Theologians

This past summer, Pope Francis released his very welcome encyclical on climate change. Supporters and opponents have both noted his attention to science. What I find more interesting is his attention to theology and religion.

Video: Julie Weise on the History of Mexicans in the U.S. South

When Latino migration to the U.S. South became increasingly visible in the 1990s, observers and advocates grasped for ways to analyze “new” racial dramas in the absence of historical reference points. However, as this book is the first to comprehensively document, Mexicans and Mexican Americans have a long history of migration to the U.S. South. …

Continue reading ‘Video: Julie Weise on the History of Mexicans in the U.S. South’ »

Tiya Miles: Ghosts ‘R Us

Judging by the sheer number of supernatural walking tours, bus tours, hearse tours, and reality TV shows proliferating across the country, America is host to manifold hauntings: at prisons, insane asylums, old hotels, historic sites and, of course, exceedingly Gothic haunted houses. It is perhaps not surprising that many of these hauntings are rooted in the South, the site of the American tragedy of slavery and the seat of the Civil War. In today’s Dixieland, enslaved ghosts join a cast of spectral characters: Confederate soldiers carrying muskets, young plantation belles in mourning, lovelorn barmaids done wrong, and profiteering pirates. But it is the ghosts of the enslaved who stand out.

John Ryan Fischer: Land on Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea

Since October of last year, dozens of protestors have been arrested near the peak of Mauna Kea, the large mountain formed by volcanic activity on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. The peak is one of the most sacred sites to traditional native Hawaiian beliefs, and the protestors have demonstrated against the construction of a large astronomical observatory there.

Kim Tolley: (Nearly) Equal Pay for Women in the Antebellum South

Modern commentators often assume that earnings inequality has persisted throughout history and improved only recently, but this isn’t the case.

Holly M. Karibo: Race and Violence on the Northern Borderline: The Case of the Windsor “Jazz Riot”

If the Windsor Jazz Riot has long been lost from our collective historical memory, it provides an important moment to think about current national debates over riots, race relations, and national boundaries. Borders—be they national, geographical, social, or cultural—provide us the opportunity to blame outsiders for social ills, and for expressing collective fears. We tend to associate this most often with the U.S.–Mexico border, where inflammatory language about anchor babies, Mexican rapists, and drug smugglers dominates public debates. But there is a deep history of racial division along the U.S.–Canada divide, one that needs to be acknowledged as we debate the “American” race problem in the twenty-first century.