Stephen Cushman on one of the quieter anniversaries of the Civil War

Over at our Civil War blog, Stephen Cushman, author of Belligerent Muse: Five Northern Writers and How They Shaped Our Understanding of the Civil War highlights a Civil War anniversary likely to be overlooked in this year’s sesquicentennial observances.

Sarah S. Elkind: Air Pollution and Prosperity

I was recently interviewed for a series of radio essays called “We Used to Be China,” on China’s air pollution, by Sarah Gardner at American Public Radio’s Marketplace. These stories got me thinking about China’s air pollution problem, and about Marketplace’s premise. Did we, the United States, used to be China? In what ways?

Excerpt: The Indicted South, by Angie Maxwell

Many white southerners were particularly concerned with the way history would present their side of the sectional conflict and how it would judge their advocates, such as Bryan. Thus controlling, in some way, what children were taught in schools actually carried a significant sub-agenda.

Excerpt: New Netherland Connections, by Susanah Shaw Romney

Men sailing out from Amsterdam often trusted and relied on their wives above all others. Like all Dutch huysvrouwen, or housewives, maritime women formed essential partnerships with their husbands, and they had detailed knowledge of their seafaring spouses’ interests and personal property.

Marc Stein: Sotomayor v. Roberts: Race, Affirmative Action, and Impatience

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.

Excerpt: The Making of a Southern Democracy by Tom Eamon

Unlike many white leaders of the time, Sanford was acquainted with many black business and political leaders. He brought Durham bank executive John Wheeler into interracial discussions. Wheeler publicly prodded Sanford to take bolder steps toward integration but also offered vital links to more militant younger people whom Sanford did not know.

William A. Blair on the Consequences of Silence during the Civil War

Americans have a high regard for free speech, but should we have the same concern for the protection of silence? Should saying nothing or doing nothing open one to military arrest? What if a president has gone on record as advocating such a policy? This may sound like a ridiculous proposition, given our system of rights embedded in the Constitution. But it is not a hypothetical statement: this scenario faced northerners, border state loyalists, and especially Confederates in occupied zones during the U.S. Civil War. Saying nothing and doing nothing did bring the U.S. Army to one’s door.

William A. Blair on Confederate Disfranchisement after the Civil War

In his guest blog post at UNCPressCivilWar150, Blair writes about one of the ways secessionists were punished for treason: disfranchisement. He looks at how states crafted various laws and policies whose intended effects were to prevent former Confederates from voting.

Excerpt: Stories of the South: Race and the Construction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915, by K. Stephen Prince

When it was published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin quickly became the most inflammatory, explosive, and politically significant literary text of the antebellum period. Adapted to the stage shortly thereafter, Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s moral fervor, emotional power, and iconic characters soon made it a theatrical institution.

Angie Maxwell: The Long Shadow of Scopes

When Bryan agreed to assist the prosecution in the 1925 Scopes trial that would test the Butler Act’s ban of the teaching of evolution in Tennessee, he was anything but new to the debate. Despite his progressive political record on issues such as women’s suffrage, Bryan’s swan song as an anti-evolution crusader was zealous and emphatic. He argued, wrote, and perhaps believed, that this single issue would erode American faith. For Bryan there was no middle, and his readers need only choose sides. His widespread essay on the subject was titled “The Bible and its Enemies,” and he considered the cause the greatest reform of his life. Science and even the experts who defense attorney Clarence Darrow had attempted to call at the trial, were adversaries in a zero-sum game that the world was watching.

K. Stephen Prince: Thinking about Reconstruction at 150 Years

Reconstruction remains one of the most widely misunderstood eras in United States history. Though historians have largely discredited the white supremacist interpretations of William A. Dunning and his students, the Dunning School lives on in the public at large. Otherwise informed and well-meaning individuals unthinkingly parrot early-twentieth-century critiques of Reconstruction, casually dismissing it as an era of federal overreach, northern cruelty, and cynical corruption. My own experience bears out this observation: a friend who claims that Reconstruction failed because it was “too harsh,” or a student who labels the period a “tragedy” without being able to provide a single reason for this characterization. I expect other scholars of the period have had similar experiences. It seems that on an instinctive, knee-jerk level, many Americans respond negatively to Reconstruction, though most could not explain why. The 150th anniversary of Reconstruction offers a perfect opportunity to set the record straight, or at least to give the public a fair accounting of the period’s challenges, its successes, and its failures.

Interview: Blain Roberts on the Intersection of Beauty and Race in the South

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.