Forty years ago CBS aired the miniseries Roots, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 bestseller in which he traced his own ancestors back to West Africa, followed them to the United States as slaves, and took them forward into freedom. For the first time, a massive audience—roughly half the country’s population—confronted slavery and its legacies through an African American perspective. Roots prompted Americans to search out their own ancestors, particularly in subsequent years as digitization and personal computing brought resources to searchers’ fingertips.Now genealogy’s popularity—attested by the success of ancestry.com and the television show Who Do You Think You Are—makes it tempting to forget that we often shape our ancestors ourselves, even at the expense of historical evidence. Professional historians, in fact, were quick to point out fictions within Roots, a charge Haley accepted by originally calling his book a work of “faction.” I (re)learned this lesson about historical memory myself when it almost derailed the project that became my book, Atlantic Bonds.
We have celebrated the theme of Community for the past several days with our sibling publishers in the Association of American University Presses’ #UPweek. Today we invite you into our own virtual rolodex to introduce you to just some of the many partner organizations with whom we have collaborated to make many of your favorite books and journals possible.
Some writers have noted the presence of the “southern gothic” or the “southern porch” in Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s visceral visual album Lemonade. But the landscapes are unambiguously part of the geography of Louisiana; the visual album is haunting because of its specificity to place. Barely visible, in the discussion thus far, is the history of slavery—and its remnants—all over the landscape of the album.
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.
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. …
James B. Duke did not wait for markets to emerge to justify massive capital investments in hydropower; he cultivated industrial consumers. Duke’s company, and other companies that followed, had never envisioned providing service to rural or residential customers.
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The sources were my friends, and I took pleasure in going into archives and looking at papers without a great deal of preparation. The mentalités scholarship allowed me to think about what it might have meant when diaries said virtually the same things except on Sundays, or when diarists listed the numbers of ducks they killed, or when they wrote at length about circus visits, or when young women wrote, night after night, “Did my work today,” and meant they sewed, darned, or knitted. Sources were often surprising. I had never heard of ring and lance tournaments before they appeared in some letters. An otherwise frustrating trip to Savannah yielded the diary of a teenager who worried about the ramifications of making fudge on Sunday. I certainly recall finding a letter at the Southern Historical Collection in which a young man bragged about having sex with a young woman in a buggy after Sunday night services. And sources taught me things I then needed to analyze, like the self-conscious modernity of county fair organizers or the decline in church disciplinary proceedings or the practice of town women staying away from town squares when rural men invaded on court days and Saturdays.
A favorite trick of Golden’s was to add a well-known author, philanthropist, politician, or actor to the circulation list of the Carolina Israelite without the celebrity’s knowledge, then mention the famous person in print as one of the newspaper’s loyal subscribers. It’s amazing how often this led to real friendship! The famous and powerful liked Golden for the same reasons so many regular folks did—his straight talk, his encyclopedic knowledge on politics and history, and his refreshingly tart humor.
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.
Contemporary documentary projects such as StoryCorps and Humans of New York thrive today in a spirit similar to that which led the vision of the Federal Writers’ Project and These Are Our Lives. They remind us that every life has a story, and every story matters.
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.
In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone.
Southern cuisine was a key component in historic preservation efforts in the early twentieth century to promote and sell the South and its racial mores to both tourists and locals. Through constructed memories of southern food from the plantation to the mountain South, sophisticated campaigns were launched to promote the “taste” of the Old South in Williamsburg, Virginia, the Lowcountry flavors of Savannah and Charleston, the fashionable Creole cuisine of New Orleans, and the “authentic” “hillbilly” and “Highlands” foods of the mountain South.
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.
When NPR first partnered with me in presenting The Thistle & Shamrock®, we talked about using my radio show to open a doorway into a world of evolving Celtic music traditions for public radio listeners. I could never have imagined how far that door would swing open my way, too, helping inspire my search for the depth of connection that underpins our migration story in Wayfaring Strangers.
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.
A worker in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte who asks you to “mash the button” for the elevator or to “he’p him tote the computer right yonder” would get a quizzical look or a patronizing chuckle for “talking country” in the towering edifice representing the second-largest financial center in the United States. But those who react in condescension may not realize that this way of speaking was the dialect norm in the city just a couple of generations ago—and probably in the residential home that once stood on this site. As one elderly Charlotte resident, born in 1919, recalled: “I remember when Discovery Place was just a little neighborhood store.”
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.
Monsanto officials shared with industrial customers (at least those who made inquiries) precisely the same knowledge that they pointedly denied in statements to the local news media.