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.”

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.

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.

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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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.

Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Global Village, Eighteenth-Century Style

Last July, when wreckage from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 washed ashore on Réunion, a typical response was something like “where?” The New York Times described the Indian Ocean island as “a French department about 4,000 miles from Europe,” adding that “if people had heard about it before, it was most likely because of bad publicity surrounding shark attacks or an epidemic of chikungunya.” So much for the world getting ever smaller. Over two centuries earlier, in the seaport town of Salem, Massachusetts, the island was well-known. Many was the Salem vessel that set sail for this isolated speck round the Cape of Good Hope.

John Shelton Reed: North Carolina Needs a New Holiday

Not only was it seven years earlier than the Tea Party, its story is much more colorful. While the Tea Party offers only a pitiful attempt to avoid the blame by dressing up as Mohawk Indians, the Barbecue story involves a stand-off between the local militia and the British Navy, a conflict between the Governor and the courts, a duel to the death, and a suicide by disembowelment.

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.