There is no way to tell the story of what happened on June 17, 2015, without talking about deeper histories of race, religion, and violence.
Charleston is nicknamed the “Holy City,” because of the many steeples that punctuate the graceful poetry of its skyline. There are more than 900 houses of worship in the Low Country, representing all of the world’s major faiths, and more than a few minor ones. Some of the congregations were founded in the 1600s, others in the 2010s. Some meet in grand buildings on the National Historic Registry, others in humble strip mall storefronts. Regardless of how old they are or where they meet, Charleston’s congregations are driven by faith. That faith was sorely tested this week with the racially motivated murders of worshipers in Emanuel AME church. How could a city so steeped in faith witness a scene of such unimaginable horror in one of its holy places?
Gina Mahalek: What was the Manhattan Musical Marketplace that you discuss in your book?
David Gilbert: This is a term that I coined to explain the historical formation of New York City as the center of American popular culture at the turn of the twentieth century. I think that many music fans, musicians, and scholars kind of take for granted that NYC has always been America’s capital of popular entertainment, and I wanted to tell the story about how this came to be. Rather than assume Broadway Theater and Tin Pan Alley song publishing just naturally developed into leading culture industries, I want to call attention to the moment in which these spaces—and their connotations—developed. And I want to emphasize African Americans’ roles in creating both New York’s unique culture markets and important facets of American popular culture.
By the 1980s, the Charleston police department and departments around the country were deployed to fight two “wars” on the home front. They fought a war on crime, of course, but also on drugs. Thinking about policing as war and civilians as the enemy led to a crackdown on impoverished urban minority communities the likes of which the country had never seen before.
The reason social critics and entertainers still point out white appropriation when they see it is because the American public, and its leaders, have not matured the way black music and culture have. Even though millions of whites may profess to love and respect black music, their daily decisions—and those of their elected and institutional leaders—indicate that they do not love black people.
Musically, there continues to be a deep stylistic overlap between country and soul. Some of the biggest country stars of today utilize the sounds and songs of R&B, while many contemporary soul and hip-hop artists (particularly from the South) bring the characteristics of country onto their records. Then there are the folks in the middle—many of whom, like Jason Isbell or Valerie June, are from the triangle—who draw from both traditions and blend them together in new and interesting ways. It remains one of the deepest wells of American music.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
To celebrate Tobe’s seventy-fifth anniversary, historian Benjamin Filene, director of public history at UNC Greensboro, will moderate a panel called “Voices of Tobe,” featuring special guest appearances by several individuals from Tobe, their descendants, and members of their community.
Yet a closer inspection of the Scottsboro case reveals how complicated was the relationship between African Americans and the Communist Party in the 1930s. The CP championed the working-class and unemployed masses, but these were precisely the people who had terrorized the black boys on the train, falsely accused them of rape, and would have lynched them without the governor’s intervention. Antilynching activists, on one hand, and labor defenders, on the other, relied on diametrically opposed conceptions of the populist masses and the law. Whereas the antilynching movement called for the rule of law to quell mob hysteria, labor defense stood up for workers against a prejudicial legal system. These opposing views posed a challenge to the CP in attracting black members and sympathizers. While communists prophesied a future revolution led by an international proletariat, the most visible form of proletarian collective action in the South, according to some skeptical observers at the time, was the lynch mob.
On the whole, black southern women forged a more intimate—and more active—relationship with the burgeoning world of beauty than did white southern women.
Our America is a product of Muhammad’s America and to know our times is to appreciate the era in which he lived.
Claiming the South as Home was and still is a call to action and for reparations, but it is also an expression of black southern identity.
When I teach students about the history of constitutional law, I usually focus on the substantive legal arguments in Supreme Court decisions, but sometimes I encourage my students to focus on the tone, the emotion, the affect. I try to show my students that this can help us understand what is really going on in these decisions and it can help us consider the underlying issues and the political stakes.
Puerto Ricans played a pivotal role in the building of the civil rights movement in New York City—one of the less-heralded but still vital sites of movement.
The image of the beautiful southern belle/lady was, by definition, racially exclusive, and many black women would have keenly felt its discriminatory power. There were occasions, however, when individuals and institutions attempted to claim the image for black women, to challenge its underlying racial assumptions and reframe its meaning. An interesting example is a photo spread that ran in Ebony magazine in 1971 entitled “Belles of the South” that featured young women from southern historically black colleges. The magazine said very explicitly that it wanted to prove that not all southern beauties were white—that black women were belles of the South, too.
Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, author of Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston, recently gave a talk for the James A. Hutchins Lecture at the Center for the Study of the American South entitled “Making a Way out of No Way: Black Women in the Old South.” In this lecture, she expands upon ideas discussed in her book about how black women fought for freedom in their oppressive environment.
We would like to congratulate all of last night’s Oscar winners, but there are a few winners who are especially close to our hearts at UNC Press. After the dust of pre-Oscar predictions settled, Twelve Years a Slave arose victorious last night winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Adapted Screenplay. When director Steve McQueen accepted the Oscar he said, “Everyone deserves not just to survive but to live,” and we could not be more happy that such an important film has received the recognition it deserves.