Toby L. Parcel: Exploring Attitudes toward Public School Desegregation Over Time

parcel_end_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Toby L. Parcel, coauthor, with Andrew J. Taylor, of The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments. One of the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan areas, Wake County, North Carolina, added more than a quarter million new residents during the first decade of this century, an increase of almost 45 percent. At the same time, partisanship increasingly dominated local politics, including school board races. Against this backdrop, Parcel and Taylor consider the ways diversity and neighborhood schools have influenced school assignment policies in Wake County, particularly during 2000–2012, when these policies became controversial locally and a topic of national attention.

In a previous post, Parcel sees common—rather than competing—interests in some school assignment decision making. In today’s post, Parcel discusses new research exploring ongoing attitudes toward public school desegregation in several southern cities.


Why have some school districts sustained school desegregation over many years while others have resegregated by race and income? Can we tie these differing histories to the attitudes and values of residents in these areas? Have attitudes and values in Wake County, North Carolina, regarding school desegregation changed over the last few years?

These are some of the questions I am investigating following the 2015 publication of my book with Andy Taylor, The End of Consensus: Diversity, Neighborhoods, and the Politics of Public School Assignments. In that work Andy and I reported the results of a mixed-methods study that used interviews, focus groups, archival data, case studies, and a 2011 representative survey of Wake County adults to understand school assignment policy change in the county. We wondered why in 2009—after many years of successful, voluntary school desegregation—had Wake citizens elected a school board committed to returning the county to neighborhood schools? Indeed, upon election, the new board discarded the student assignment policy based in part on promoting economically diverse schools, although they did not get very far in their quest to return most students to attending schools close to home.

We found several answers explaining the school board election and subsequent policy change. First, Wake County had experienced rapid population growth, making it very difficult to keep up with the influx of school-aged children. In turn, this growth prompted longer bus rides, and at times essentially mandatory attendance at year-round schools, both of which many parents resisted. In addition, the board increased student reassignments both to promote diversity and fill new schools the county was able to build. These were controversial. Second, the Republican Party was growing stronger in Wake, its members less committed to diversity and more invested in neighborhood schools than other residents. Third, citizens were worried that reassignments threatened both children’s learning and their school friendships. They believed reassignments were challenging for parents and children, and they worried about the sometimes unclear process the school board used to decide which children would be reassigned and when.

In writing this book, we also seriously engaged with another key question: was Wake unique? What was going on in other large districts, both in the South and elsewhere? Were they resegregating, and, if so, why? To address this, Andy I reported the results of studying both archival data and case studies of many school districts, large and small. We concluded that Wake was the largest school district in the country that had sustained school desegregation over many years, the recent debates and changes from 2009-2015 notwithstanding.

But I wanted to go further. Continue reading ‘Toby L. Parcel: Exploring Attitudes toward Public School Desegregation Over Time’ »

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

gaffield_haitian_PBOn January 1, 1804, Haiti shocked the world by declaring independence. Historians have long portrayed Haiti’s postrevolutionary period as one during which the international community rejected Haiti’s Declaration of Independence and adopted a policy of isolation designed to contain the impact of the world’s only successful slave revolution. Julia Gaffield, author of Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution, however, anchors a fresh vision of Haiti’s first tentative years of independence to its relationships with other nations and empires and reveals the surprising limits of the country’s supposed isolation.

Gaffield frames Haitian independence as both a practical and an intellectual challenge to powerful ideologies of racial hierarchy and slavery, national sovereignty, and trade practice. Yet that very independence offered a new arena in which imperial powers competed for advantages with respect to military strategy, economic expansion, and international law. In dealing with such concerns, foreign governments, merchants, abolitionists, and others provided openings that were seized by early Haitian leaders who were eager to negotiate new economic and political relationships. Although full political acceptance was slow to come, economic recognition was extended by degrees to Haiti—and this had diplomatic implications. Gaffield’s account of Haitian history highlights how this layered recognition sustained Haitian independence.

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

Julia Gaffield is assistant professor of history at Georgia State University. Her book Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution is now available. Connect with Gaffield on her blog Haiti and the Atlantic World or follow her on Twitter @JuliaGaffield.

Holiday Sale!

Our Biggest Holiday Sale Ever! Save 40% on ALL books, plus free shipping on orders of $75 or more!

Let it snow . . . books! At 40% off, it’s easy to find a gift for everyone on your holiday list. All UNC Press books in print are on sale—no exceptions! Just enter 01HOLIDAY at checkout. And if you order $75 or more, shipping is FREE.

But there’s more! Get 40% off any Spring 2016 book in our new catalog when you pre-order using 01HOLIDAY at checkout. (Books not yet published will be shipped as soon as they are available.)

See below for some great gift ideas. Remember to browse our website to view the complete book blizzard!

Happy holidays, happy shopping, happy gifting!

Gulf Stream Chronicles: A Naturalist Explores Life in an Ocean River, by David S. LeeFlorynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. RandolphLittle Rivers and Waterway Tales: A Carolinian's Eastern Streams, by Bland SimpsonSunday Dinner: a Savor the South® cookbook, by Bridgette A. LacyLittle Dreams in Glass and Metal: Enameling in America 1920 to the Present, by Bernard N. Jazzar and Harold B. NelsonCrabs and Oysters: a Savor the South® cookbook, by Bill SmithCold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. JanneyBeans and Field Peas: a Savor the South® cookbook, by Sandra A. GutierrezSt. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint, by Patricia AppelbaumThe Battle of Ezra Church and the Struggle for Atlanta, by Earl J. HessAmazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers, edited by Marianne GingherWaterfalls and Wildflowers in the Southern Appalachians: Thirty Great Hikes, by Timothy P. SpiraShrimp, a Savor the South® cookbook, by Jay PierceChesapeake Gardening and Landscaping, by Barbara Ellis

Patricia Appelbaum: Pope Francis and the 1967 Theologians

appelbaum_stFrancisWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint. How did a thirteenth-century Italian friar become one of the best-loved saints in America? Around the nation today, St. Francis of Assisi is embraced as the patron saint of animals, beneficently presiding over hundreds of Blessing of the Animals services on October 4, St. Francis’s Catholic feast day. Not only Catholics, however, but Protestants and other Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and nonreligious Americans commonly name him as one of their favorite spiritual figures. Drawing on a dazzling array of art, music, drama, film, hymns, and prayers, Appelbaum explains what happened to make St. Francis so familiar and meaningful to so many Americans.

In today’s post, Appelbaum discusses Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical, placing it within a larger conversation by theologians of the 1960s Christian ecology movement.


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.

In those areas, the encyclical is thoughtful and thorough. Pope Francis considers the interconnectedness of all things—in ecosystems and in social and spiritual life. He insists that creation belongs to God, not to us. He advocates human humility. He says that humans are part of a web of life and that every creature has value. He points out that the Bible has far more to say about the created world than the one famous commandment in Genesis—“have dominion over the earth and subdue it.” He challenges the idea that Christianity encourages environmental destruction. He attends to the economic and political systems that make such destruction possible. He describes the effects of pollution and climate change on the poor. He says that we need both individual transformation and collective public action. In all of this he invokes his namesake, Francis of Assisi.

I don’t know whether he knows it, but Pope Francis is reiterating religious themes that surfaced with the first “ecology” movement in the 1960s. Christian theological discussions began around the time that Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, in 1962. Roman Catholics took note of Carson, and some younger Protestant theologians formed a study group. No one was talking about climate change yet, but these theologians were concerned with humanity’s relationship to nature and with what the Bible and the church had to say about it.

The issue took on a much higher profile after 1967. Continue reading ‘Patricia Appelbaum: Pope Francis and the 1967 Theologians’ »

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 5

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University Press Week concludes with blog tour day 5’s theme of #PublishUP: Presses in Conversation with Authors. Today’s posts:

See links to posts from blog tour day 1, theme: Surprising!

See links to posts from blog tour day 2, theme: The Future of Scholarly Publishing (including our feature post from director John Sherer: The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press).

See links to posts from blog tour day 3, theme: Design in University Press and Scholarly Publishing.

See links to posts from blog tour day 4, theme: #TBT (Throwback Thursday).

See the complete University Press Week Blog Tour schedule. On Twitter, keep up with posts and events tagged #UPWeek and #ReadUP.

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 4

UPW banner 2015

University Press Week continues with blog tour day 4’s theme of #TBT (Throwback Thursday). Today’s posts:

See links to posts from blog tour day 1, theme: Surprising!

See links to posts from blog tour day 2, theme: The Future of Scholarly Publishing (including our feature post from director John Sherer: The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press).

See links to posts from blog tour day 3, theme: Design in University Press and Scholarly Publishing.

See the complete University Press Week Blog Tour schedule. On Twitter, keep up with posts and events tagged #UPWeek and #ReadUP.

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 3

UPW banner 2015

University Press Week continues with blog tour day 3’s theme of Design in University Press and Scholarly Publishing. Today’s posts:

See links to posts from blog tour day 1, theme: Surprising!

See links to posts from blog tour day 2, theme: The Future of Scholarly Publishing (including our feature post from director John Sherer: The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press).

See the complete University Press Week Blog Tour schedule. On Twitter, keep up with posts and events tagged #UPWeek and #ReadUP.

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 2: John Sherer: The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press

UPW banner 2015

University Press Week continues with blog tour day 2’s theme of The Future of Scholarly Communication. Today’s posts in the tour are all linked below our special feature, which comes from UNC Press director John Sherer.

The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press

by John Sherer

When universities are asked to be more entrepreneurial, when costs associated with the system of higher education are under greater scrutiny, and when publishers have access to new digital workflow and dissemination tools that make their work more efficient, it is an appropriate time to ask whether university presses should still be receiving subsidies from their parent institutions. And it is understandable that these questions would be particularly focused on public university presses, where subsidies are especially tied to taxpayer funds.

Of course most university presses already operate as one of the more business-like units within a university. At the University of North Carolina Press, our subsidy is at a historic low-point as a percentage of our costs. But there is a critical aspect of our work that market activity cannot—and should not—be supporting: the system of peer review that is an essential hallmark of university press publishing.

In the case of UNC Press, state financial support is not used to directly support individual titles, or even series of books. Rather, these funds are used to subsidize a crucial set of editorial activities that work to guarantee the exceptionally high quality of our publications. As a result, the Press is protected from an array of potential hazards regarding favoritism toward individual authors, disciplines, or modes of scholarship.

Here’s a glimpse of what that editorial process looks like.

Our mandate for scholarly excellence at UNC Press requires that we reject the vast majority of the submissions we receive. We use a rigorous in-house editorial review process that is paired with a blind external peer review. Often reviewers consider manuscripts in original and revised forms over the course of many months. The process then culminates in a third review by our Board of Governors. No marketplace can deliver an ROI on these multiple levels of review. And no outside business consultant would recommend that we perform these activities if we wanted to improve our bottom line.

So if we’re being asked to operate in a market-driven environment, why do we review manuscripts in this way? Continue reading ‘University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 2: John Sherer: The Case for Financial Support of Your University Press’ »

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 1

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This week, November 8-14, the Association of American University Presses (AAUP) and its constituent presses celebrate University Press Week. UNC Press and 50 other presses will unite for the AAUP’s annual blog tour to highlight “the extraordinary work of nonprofit scholarly publishers and their many contributions to culture, the academy, and an informed society.” Monday through Friday, several individual presses will post articles about a different theme each day, including: surprising aspects of university press publishing, the future of scholarly publishing, design in university press and scholarly publishing, #TBT (Throwback Thursday), and conversations with authors.

UNC Press blog will contribute to the tour on Tuesday, November 10, with a post from UNC Press director John Sherer on the future of scholarly publishing. On the other days this week, we’ll post links to the other articles appearing as part of the tour each day.

Today’s blog tour theme is Surprise! Today’s posts:

Check back each day this week for links to more great features from university presses. You can see the running blog tour roundups on the AAUP website. Follow along on Twitter with #UPWeek or #ReadUP.

Interview: Tanisha C. Ford on Black Women, Style, and Politics in the 1960s and ’70s

Author Tanisha C. Ford talks with Gina Mahalek about her new book, Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul.


Gina Mahalek: Very briefly, what is Liberated Threads about?

Tanisha C. Ford: Liberated Threads is about how everyday women turned getting dressed into a powerful political act that transformed the cultural and political landscape of the 1960s and ’70s around the world. Often, when we study the social movements of the mid-twentieth century, we focus on policy issues, the fight to integrate public spaces, and big events, such as marches and protests. But, in Liberated Threads, I argue that we need to focus on everyday acts such as getting dressed in order to understand how everyday people engaged in movement politics. Most people were not involved in formal political organizing. They were not members of Black Freedom movement organizations. But, they were engaged in the fashion culture of the time. I wanted to explore the various ways that fashion and style connected people to the global movement for black freedom.

GM: What does the title allude to?

TCF: The title is a play off of a colloquial term for hip clothing used within the black community. People in the 1970s would call their fine wear “threads” as a way to signify that they believed they were dressed sharp and that their clothes reflected their impeccable taste and upward mobility. By pairing the words “liberated” and “threads” I am acknowledging that there was a political language around dressing stylishly and that clothing was a key aspect of both personal and community freedom. Black people around the globe were invested in how they dressed because they understood that the clothes they wore communicated a powerful message. And they took great pleasure in dressing stylishly. The word “threads” also refers to the material culture aspect of the book. During the peak of the Black Freedom movement, the fashion industry put a premium on African-inspired prints. I’m interested in exploring how community-level political engagement affected global fashion trends. Lastly, I used Liberated Threads as a language for the African diaspora. I am invested in thinking through how people of African descent created these real and imagined ties based on their deployment of terms like “black” and “soul” that were coded through the clothes they wore.

GM: Your book begins in South Africa and is international in scope. Why is this important?

TCF: Soul was an international culture. It was the product of the intermixing of people of African descent from around the globe. I wanted to foreground its global dimensions by beginning the book in a non-U.S. context. South African singer Miriam Makeba’s career was in many ways emblematic of the international cultural ebbs and flows I discuss in the book. By centering on her, I could take the reader on this journey across the Atlantic to diverse, cosmopolitan cities. Places such as Johannesburg, London, and New York City have long, interesting histories of social movements and resistance. In many ways, these cities owe their popularity as global fashion capitals to the black folks who inspired the local fashions, though they are not often recognized for their style innovations. I wanted to explore how local movements and youth cultures influenced haute couture and ready-to-wear designers. But it was also important for me to examine these locales alongside cities such as Atlanta, Los Angeles, Bamako, Mali, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Port of Spain, Trinidad, to give a fuller picture of translocal and transnational fashion dynamics.

GM: How did soul become synonymous with black Americans? And what’s wrong with that picture?

TCF: One of my goals with Liberated Threads was to explain why black cultural forms become global phenomena. I wanted to challenge the idea that all styles, music, and political symbols we associate with the soul era originated in the United States and were circulated around the world. While this U.S.- centered story is popular, it is terribly overly simplistic. Yes, black American culture is highly influential, but there was much more cultural exchange than we have previously recognized. I use the imagery of a “soul circuit” to describe how black Americans and continental Africans borrowed from one another. International travel, print media, political broadsides, and technological innovations helped this growing soul culture gain more visibility, which in turn created a language around soul that was reflected in the advertisements, music, and films of the day. Because much of this content was produced in the United States, soul became synonymous with Black Americans, and the African and Caribbean influences became less apparent. Liberated Threads begins in South Africa to make these global cultural crosscurrents more visible.

ford_liberatedGM: What is your favorite story from the book?

TCF: There are so many great stories in this book—it’s hard to choose a favorite. I will say, there is a particular story that taught me something new. Late in the writing process, I stumbled across an interview with a woman who was a student activist in South Africa. She shared how she and her peers would dress in hot pants and stiletto heels when they participated in protests and marches. Her revelation was interesting Continue reading ‘Interview: Tanisha C. Ford on Black Women, Style, and Politics in the 1960s and ’70s’ »

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

Corazon de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910, by Julie WeiseWhen 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. Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910 recounts the untold histories of Mexicanos’ migrations to New Orleans, Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina as far back as 1910. It follows Mexicanos into the heart of Dixie, where they navigated the Jim Crow system, cultivated community in the cotton fields, purposefully appealed for help to the Mexican government, shaped the southern conservative imagination in the wake of the civil rights movement, and embraced their own version of suburban living at the turn of the twenty-first century.

Rooted in U.S. and Mexican archival research, oral history interviews, and family photographs, Corazón de Dixie unearths not just the facts of Mexicanos’ long-standing presence in the U.S. South but also their own expectations, strategies, and dreams.

This video was produced by the Oregon Humanities Center at the University of Oregon.

Julie M. Weise is assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon. Her book, Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910, is now available. Follow her on Twitter @JulieWeise.

Tiya Miles: Ghosts ‘R Us

miles_talesWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Tiya Miles, author of Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. In this book Miles explores the popular yet troubling phenomenon of “ghost tours,” frequently promoted and experienced at plantations, urban manor homes, and cemeteries throughout the South. As a staple of the tours, guides entertain paying customers by routinely relying on stories of enslaved black specters. But who are these ghosts? Examining popular sites and stories from these tours, Miles shows that haunted tales routinely appropriate and skew African American history to produce representations of slavery for commercial gain.

“Dark tourism” often highlights the most sensationalist and macabre aspects of slavery, from salacious sexual ties between white masters and black women slaves to the physical abuse and torture of black bodies to the supposedly exotic nature of African spiritual practices. Because the realities of slavery are largely absent from these tours, Miles reveals how they continue to feed problematic “Old South” narratives and erase the hard truths of the Civil War era. In an incisive and engaging work, Miles uses these troubling cases to shine light on how we feel about the Civil War and race, and how the ghosts of the past are still with us.

In today’s post, Miles shares some of the slave ghost stories marketed at tourist sites around the South and argues for reverence, rather than caricature, of historic sites of slavery.


When comedian Wanda Sykes told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres that she had seen a black slave ghost in Richmond, Virginia’s Jefferson Hotel last summer, Sykes confessed that she didn’t want people to think she was “crazy.” But Sykes need not have fretted on that score. As sociologist Claude Fischer notes, citing Gallup surveys, over a third of Americans believe in spirits of the dead and nearly as many believe in haunted houses. Pew Research Center polling has found that 18% of Americans have seen or been near a ghost, and 29% have “felt in touch with someone who has died.” Among the multitude of Americans who believe in spectres, tens of thousands have visited historic sites in the Old South where the ghosts of black slaves are not only visible, but also marketed for a price.

The cultural phenomenon of ghost tourism, in which stories about supernatural encounters in the very places where they are said to have occurred, draws large enthusiastic crowds with wide-open wallets. According to those who lead these spectral experiences and the tourism scholars who study them, ghost tours are supposed to be “light” and “fun,” allowing participants to escape into a fantasy world, to experience a hidden and often forbidden side of history, and to feel the thrills of hearty frights and cultural taboos while resting assured that they are secure in the realm of the safe and the living. But this public frenzy for apparitional visitations has some historians concerned that in iconic American places, ghost tours have overtaken historical tours, replacing fact with fiction and trivializing consequential events. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is a prime example where ghost tours have gained in popularity and raised historians’ hackles. Critics feel that when ghost tours make a Civil War battlefield where approximately 50,000 men died seem like a romp with Casper, they undermine the ability of that place to teach us about the tragedy of a nation divided over the fate of an inhumane practice, and they belie the irreversible violence and extreme toll on humanity of this war, and all wars.

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. After experiencing several ghost tours in southern states as of late, I share other critics’ concern that ghost tours are crowding out critical engagement with the most difficult, most important moments of our collective past. Continue reading ‘Tiya Miles: Ghosts ‘R Us’ »

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

fischer_cattleWe welcome a guest post today from John Ryan Fischer, author of Cattle Colonialism: An Environmental History of the Conquest of California and Hawai’i. Environmental historians have too often overlooked California and Hawai’i, despite the roles the regions played in the colonial ranching frontiers of the Pacific World. In Cattle Colonialism, Fischer significantly enlarges the scope of the American West by examining the trans-Pacific transformations these animals wrought on local landscapes and native economies.

In today’s post, Fischer explains how recent disputes over the use of Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea landscape are part of a long history of colonial conflict on the islands.


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.

The elevation and relative isolation of the Big Island’s highest peaks make them valuable sites for atmospheric and astronomical observation, and several observatories already stand on the peak. The land is controlled by the state government, which has allowed these projects since the mid-twentieth century, but not without opposition. The current project, also the largest, is the Thirty-Meter Telescope. Environmental groups argue that the telescope is a threat to an endangered species on Mauna Kea, the palila bird, and Native Hawaiians and allies have protested this latest incursion on their sacred land.

Mauna Kea is an important site in the history of Hawaiian colonization. Not only is it an imposing landscape—more than 4,200 meters above sea level and sometimes capped by snow even in its tropical location, it is taller than Everest when measured from its base on the sea floor—but it has also been a central site of habitation and colonialism. Much of my book Cattle Colonialism on the role of introduced cattle in Hawaiian history takes place on the dormant volcano’s slopes. These gentle slopes provided some of the largest rangelands for introduced cattle to graze after the British explorer George Vancouver introduced them to the island in 1793.

European explorers and missionaries often noted the animals’ effects on the crops of native commoners, some of whom were forced to abandon traditional ways of life to work in the burgeoning beef provisions, hides, and tallow industry. The Great Māhele land reform in 1850 allowed Americans and Europeans to buy up native Hawaiian lands, and before the era of sugar plantations, many of these accumulated lands became cattle ranches. It was in this same land reform that native Hawaiians lost control of most of their land, including much of the sacred territory of Mauna Kea. Even today, the slopes of Mauna Kea look more like western ranching lands than the beaches that Hawaiʻi usually evokes.

Astronomical research has value, and the Big Island’s peaks have played a notable role in the history of science. Continue reading ‘John Ryan Fischer: Land on Hawai’i’s Mauna Kea’ »

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

Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison, 1815-1845, by Kim TolleyWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Kim Tolley, author of Heading South to Teach: The World of Susan Nye Hutchison, 1815-1845. Susan Nye Hutchison (1790-1867) was one of many teachers to venture south across the Mason-Dixon line in the Second Great Awakening. From 1815 to 1841, she kept journals about her career, family life, and encounters with slavery. Drawing on these journals and hundreds of other documents, Tolley uses Hutchison’s life to explore the significance of education in transforming American society in the early national period. Tolley examines the roles of ambitious, educated women like Hutchison who became teachers for economic, spiritual, and professional reasons.

In a previous post, Tolley asked the question: What if there had never been a Confederate battle flag? In the following post, as debates about the gender wage gap continue to make headlines today, Tolley addresses a common myth about the wage gap of the antebellum era and how it differed from that of the twenty-first century.


Equal pay and greater opportunities for women in the workplace are hot topics today. The most recent U.S. Census statistics show that among full-time, year-round workers, the average female earns 78 cents to the average male’s dollar. Several presidential candidates have made the wage gap a key issue in the 2016 campaign.

Modern commentators often assume that earnings inequality has persisted throughout history and improved only recently, but this isn’t the case. During the antebellum era, women who established their own schools in the South could often earn as much as men. With access to education, a free woman could start out as a teaching assistant and eventually move up in position to become a teacher, head of a female department, and even the principal of an all-female school. Census data indicates that though a significant wage gap existed in northern schools, the gap was much smaller in southern schools, where women’s wages were typically 85-100 percent of men’s. And if a woman had enough ambition to open and operate her own school, that gap could disappear.

Susan Nye Hutchison’s story illustrates this kind of career trajectory. Starting in 1815 she taught for thirty years in North Carolina and Georgia, both as a single and a married woman. She became a very successful educational entrepreneur during her last dozen years in North Carolina, founding several schools and eventually helming all-female academies in Salisbury and Charlotte. Nor is her case particularly exceptional. Over the years, she educated hundreds of young southern women, and some of them went on to become teachers and heads of their own schools.

Teachers like Hutchison have been nearly invisible in histories of the South, Continue reading ‘Kim Tolley: (Nearly) Equal Pay for Women in the Antebellum South’ »

Video: The Life and Legacy of Bill Neal

The Southern Foodways Alliance has produced a wonderful video honoring the work and legacy of chef Bill Neal (1950-1991), founder of La Residence and Crook’s Corner restaurants in Chapel Hill and author of numerous books, including Bill Neal’s Southern Cooking and Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie.

We’re delighted to see his contributions honored and preserved with this short film. Even if you already know him as a legendary southern chef and restaurateur, you might just learn something new here about Bill Neal, the man, from some of those who knew and loved him.

Want to know more? These books will help: Continue reading ‘Video: The Life and Legacy of Bill Neal’ »

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

karibo_sin_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Holly M. Karibo, author of Sin City North: Sex, Drugs, and Citizenship in the Detroit-Windsor Borderland. The early decades of the twentieth century sparked the Detroit–Windsor region’s ascendancy as the busiest crossing point between Canada and the United States, setting the stage for socioeconomic developments that would link the border cities for years to come. As Karibo shows, this border fostered the emergence of illegal industries alongside legal trade, rapid industrial development, and tourism. Tracing the growth of the two cities’ cross-border prostitution and heroin markets in the late 1940s and the 1950s, Sin City North explores the social, legal, and national boundaries that emerged there and their ramifications.

In today’s post, Karibo recounts a largely forgotten event that took place on the northern U.S. border, tying it into current conversations about riots, race, and borders.


It was a warm August in 1960 as residents of the border cities of Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit, Michigan, prepared to celebrate the annual Emancipation Day festival on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. The festival was established to commemorate the 1843 passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in Upper Canada, a move that freed slaves in the country and encouraged thousands of African Americans to escape slavery north. For decades, the festival had been run as a transnational event designed to celebrate this shared history among border residents. By 1960, the event had grown to several days long and included sporting events, a midway, Sunday sunrise services, a Miss Sepia pageant, and performances by top musicians.

It was the latter that sparked controversy on August 1. That evening, more than 4,500 people, many of whom were African Americans from Detroit, attended the headlining jazz show. In the middle of the performance, local papers reported, a fight broke out between African American gangs from Detroit. One man was stabbed in the chest and at least fifty others injured. Local Emancipation Day organizers were horrified by the incident, and worked hard to separate their celebration from the violence that took place. Walter L. Perry, Windsor’s “Mr. Emancipation,” accused Detroit “syndicates” of exploiting the festivities for their own personal gains and consequently giving Emancipation Celebration a bad reputation. For Perry, the fight only confirmed his fears—that Detroit criminals would reinforce negative racial stereotypes during the very festivities meant to celebrate racial equality and promote racial harmony.

In fact, Perry and the festival organizers had good reason to be worried. Continue reading ‘Holly M. Karibo: Race and Violence on the Northern Borderline: The Case of the Windsor “Jazz Riot”’ »

Bob H. Reinhardt: The Fascinating Puzzlement over Smallpox Eradication

reinhardt_endWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Bob H. Reinhardt, author of The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era. By the mid-twentieth century, smallpox had vanished from North America and Europe but continued to persist throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. In 1965, the United States joined an international effort to eradicate the disease, and after fifteen years of steady progress, the effort succeeded. Reinhardt demonstrates that the fight against smallpox drew American liberals into new and complex relationships in the global Cold War, as he narrates the history of the only cooperative international effort to successfully eliminate a disease.

In a previous post, Reinhardt argues for vaccination discussions that consider the past, present, and future. In today’s post, he discusses the phenomenon of smallpox eradication and the uneasiness created by the possibility of such a disease vacuum.


Whenever I mention that I have written a book about the eradication of smallpox, people usually look at me with equal parts fascination—“Wow, that’s a great story to tell!”—and puzzlement—“Wait a second . . . smallpox? Eradicated? Really?” I love seeing this reaction. After more than six years of working on the topic, I sometimes forget that that’s exactly where I started. My initial reaction of familiarity with smallpox quickly gave way to confusion about the disease’s past and present. That led to years of reading, research, and writing, and I’d like to think that the book that came out of it all addresses some of that puzzled fascination.

That fascination often starts with a vague sense of familiarity with smallpox. Despite the fact that the global smallpox eradication campaign—led by the World Health Organization (WHO) working in cooperation with the Communicable Disease Center (CDC, now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and dozens of other national health authorities—achieved success in 1980, smallpox seems oddly present. That presence comes partially from the repeated appearance of smallpox in pop culture—my favorite show, The X-Files, featured the smallpox eradication program as the tool of a vast global conspiracy preparing for alien invasion.

Smallpox also appears in the news media; my Google news feed for “smallpox” provides at least three new articles a week, ranging from alleged reappearances of the disease to the latest efforts to develop a smallpox drug, a millennia-old chimera. Smallpox has also developed a prominent, almost mythical, role in North American history, particularly the devastating role it played in decimating Native American populations. In these and other ways, smallpox—a disease that hasn’t been seen in more than thirty years—seems strangely present and familiar.

At the same time, people are also vaguely aware that smallpox no longer exists . . . maybe. Continue reading ‘Bob H. Reinhardt: The Fascinating Puzzlement over Smallpox Eradication’ »

Julia Gaffield: Dessalines Day, October 17

gaffield_haitian_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Julia Gaffield, author of Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution. On January 1, 1804, Haiti shocked the world by declaring independence. Historians have long portrayed Haiti’s postrevolutionary period as one during which the international community rejected Haiti’s Declaration of Independence and adopted a policy of isolation designed to contain the impact of the world’s only successful slave revolution. Gaffield, however, anchors a fresh vision of Haiti’s first tentative years of independence to its relationships with other nations and empires and reveals the surprising limits of the country’s supposed isolation.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a man enslaved under French rule who played an important role in Haiti’s independence, became Emperor Jacques 1er of Haiti. His rule ended with his death during a military revolt in October of 1806, the anniversary of which is celebrated in Haiti as Dessalines Day, October 17. In today’s post, Gaffield argues that although Haitians mark the day as a celebration of the death of a tyrant, Dessalines’ legacy is actually more complex than that.



Otsego Herald, Cooperstown, New York, 29 March 1804, Vol. IX, Issue 470, Page 2.

Tomorrow, 209 years ago, generals of the Haitian army murdered Emperor Jacques 1er of Haiti. The military rebels then hacked his body to pieces before parading the corpse around the streets of Port-au-Prince. The emperor, one general reported, “believed that the art of government consisted of nothing but his tyrannical will and he indulged in the most villainous debauchery.”

Like his enemies on October 17, 1806, history has not been kind to Dessalines. Beginning with his ascent to power and continuing into the twenty-first century, Dessalines has been criticized for his use of violence during and after the Revolution as well as for his alleged political incompetence. Much of the criticism is a product of racist beliefs about his “African” character despite the fact that we do not know with certainty whether he was born in Saint-Domingue or in West Africa. His “Africanness” is almost always pitted against the “civility” and “moderation” of the earlier revolutionary leader Toussaint Louverture.

Dessalines’s abilities and successes have been “silenced in order to cast him as a bad apple in the (now) celebrated Haitian Revolution that changed the course of modern history. This oversimplified version of Dessalines as a revolutionary and state leader ignores his political achievements and reduces the Haitian Revolution to a palatable and whitewashed event during the Age of Revolution. It mirrors a reluctance to study the years after the Declaration of Independence. The revolution did not produce a democratic republic based on universalist principles of freedom and equality.

But we cannot pick and chose which parts of the revolution we remember. Continue reading ‘Julia Gaffield: Dessalines Day, October 17’ »

Interview: Sherie M. Randolph on Black Feminist Radical Florynce “Flo” Kennedy

Author Sherie M. Randolph talks with Taylor Humin about her new biography, Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical.


Taylor Humin: Who was Florynce Kennedy?

Sherie Randolph author photoSherie M. Randolph: Flo Kennedy (1916-2000) was a media-savvy black feminist lawyer who understood the necessity of broad-based political alliances and utilized street theater in her protests during the 1960s and 1970s.

Kennedy worked in the civil rights, New Left, Black Power, and women’s movements. She was among the small circle of northern women who supported grassroots organizers in Mississippi’s voter registration campaign, was an early member of the National Organization for Women, and helped to organize the first National Black Power Conference and numerous black feminist organizations. Moving fluidly between these movements and organizations, she extended what she deemed the most comprehensive theories and effective strategies of each movement to the others. Respected—and sometimes disliked—for her intellect, coarse rhetoric, and compelling charisma, she allied with, debated, and influenced many more well-known radicals: singer Billie Holiday, recognized for the anti-lynching ballad “Strange Fruit”; New York City’s longtime congressional representatives Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Shirley Chisholm; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee leader H. Rap Brown; civil liberties lawyer William Kunstler; and NOW’s Betty Friedan.

TH: What made you want to write about her?

SMR: Close to twenty years ago, I stumbled upon Kennedy when I was sitting on my sofa, flipping through TV channels, and old footage flashed across the screen of her arguing that we will know that sexism is worse than racism when we find feminists shot in bed like Black Panthers Mark Clark and Fred Hampton. As a black feminist, she was committed to Black Power. The fact that Kennedy’s central references were to Black Panthers who had been killed by the Chicago police illustrated that the women’s movement had not yet posed such a threat to the establishment. A friend watching with me who had worked at Ms. magazine was familiar with Kennedy’s name and knew that she had been active as a black feminist in the 1960s and 1970s, but she knew little else. So there started my fascination with collecting information on Flo Kennedy. Who was this radical black woman? And why had I never heard of her?

Until I began my research on Flo, I did not know black feminists had a history that reached into the 1960s. Flo exposed me to a world of black feminist thinkers, writers, and organizers.

TH: This is the first full-length work written about Flo Kennedy; meanwhile, Gloria Steinem, her contemporary and fellow activist, is a household name. Why isn’t Kennedy better known?

SMR: Despite Kennedy’s willingness to seek the media’s spotlight, the media often ignored her leadership in the women’s movement. She was black and middle-aged, and her image did not fit neatly with the media’s fascination with the “young,” “hip” new women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The media had a bias toward stereotypically attractive women (read white and young) and often preferred to center or elevate in the press those women who fit this category (Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson, for example).

Often the media coverage of Kennedy’s actions did not mention that she was even a member (or an early or founding member) of organizations such as NOW or that she was a feminist. Instead, Kennedy was often portrayed as an organizer who was working alongside NOW or other feminist groups, but not as a leader of these organizations and actions. Some scholars have repeated this bias by ignoring or under-analyzing black feminism and Flo Kennedy.

Kennedy was well known to most radical activists during the 1960s and 1970s because she was a lawyer, fundraiser, and very skilled at drawing media attention to her causes. As a media-savvy activist, she was skillful in gaining the media’s attention for her actions, which ranged from pee-ins to protest Harvard Law School’s lack of bathroom facilities for women to marches down Fifth Avenue to protest the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She relied on street theater to draw the notice of the media (and therefore advertisers, etc.) and potential organizers. Yet, until my book, history has forgotten her.

TH: You explore the intersections of Black Power and feminism throughout. Why do these movements continue to be seen as separate from one another? How was Kennedy able to foster these intersections?

SMR: My main argument is that Flo Kennedy helped to connect white feminists to the radical politics and methods of the Black Power movement. She wanted the mostly white feminist movement to be successful and success meant that the new women’s movement had to be antiracist and antisexist. She attempted to foster these connections through mentoring younger white feminists in the movement.

In very real ways, these struggles of the 1960s were separate, with rigid boundaries around race and political ideology. But most Black Power organizations worked to build and sustain political alliances between whites and blacks and other movements (especially the student movement, the New Left, etc.). The efforts of organizers like Kennedy to foster these political alliances become lost in the conversations that view Black Power as primarily about black separatism and armed self-defense. Equally problematic are conversations that equate the feminist movement with man hating.

randolph_florynceTH: There was no existing archive of Kennedy’s work before you began your research. What were some of the challenges of pulling together so many of her personal and professional papers?

SMR: I conducted most of my research in the private collections of her family, friends, media producers, and allies. I spent several years tracking down every bit of surviving material on Kennedy’s long life. Fortunately, family and friends had their own archives and were excited to share their crates of material with me. Sadly, a great deal of the material had not been well preserved and was in total disarray. For more than a year, I sat on the living room floor in the home of Kennedy’s sister, sifting through, organizing, and cataloging seventeen boxes of Flo’s belongings. Typically, most historians conduct their research in university or government archives where the material is already cataloged and properly organized. The vast majority of work on black feminists and black women radicals has not been archived in traditional repositories. So I had to literally organize and create the archive; that is part of the challenge of conducting work on African American women in general.

I started by placing disjointed pieces of paper together and reconstructing the labyrinth of Kennedy’s life from her pamphlets; posters; notes scribbled on cigarette pack liners; meeting minutes scrawled on aged, long yellow sheets; telephone bills; legal briefs placed next to white fur coats; “Run Jesse Run!” T-shirts; and an array of silver whistles and political buttons. After I finished my work, I helped the family donate Kennedy’s archive to Harvard’s Schlesinger Library.

TH: You also conducted a great deal of oral research. What was it like to speak to those who actually knew Flo?

SMR: I conducted dozens of interviews with a range of people (friends, family, producers, critics, activists, lawyers). From them, I learned more about Kennedy’s personality and how Flo operated in her day-to-day relationships, especially as it related to the men and women she mentored. This information was not fully available in the documents. For example, feminists like Gloria Steinem and Ti-Grace Atkinson described how Flo helped them to remain active and to enjoy organizing even when they were facing harsh criticism or felt burnt out by the movement. Most organizers described how Flo’s advice and ability to find pleasure and humor in organizing and protests helped them stay sane and committed to organizing.

TH: How did her childhood lead to her life of activism?

SMR: Flo grew up in Kansas City, Missouri (with two years in Los Angeles, CA), during the 1920s and 1930s. Kennedy’s parents taught their daughter to stand up to both black and white authority. Flo’s mother also encouraged her to rebuff gender dictates that hemmed women in to marriage, motherhood, and domesticity. Flo was allowed freedom to make her own choices. Sexual freedom was also not punished in the Kennedy home. I argue that this type of freedom for young black girls translated into an adult Flo who valued freedom in all ways, personally and politically.

TH: You emphasize the Kennedy family motto: “Never take any shit.” How did Flo exemplify this motto in her life and work?

SMR: For Kennedy, this motto was reflected in her political battles against all forms of oppression. Flo was on a mission to live a full life and for others to, as well. Hence, she fought against boundaries that pushed her into any inferior position. We see this in her battle against Columbia Law School to gain admission after being denied admission because she was a black woman, against NOW’s executive committee for failing to work to end racism along with sexism and even against the NYPD for stopping her from walking to her apartment in an all-white, middle-class neighborhood in Manhattan.

TH: Kennedy was an African American woman attorney at a time when this was all but unheard of. Talk about her struggle to get into Columbia Law School.

SMR: Kennedy was rejected from Columbia Law School in 1948. Having earned excellent grades as a Columbia undergraduate, she was surprised by the law school’s refusal to offer her admission. Determined to find out the reason for this decision, she requested a meeting with the administration. During their meeting, Kennedy accused the university of discriminating against qualified black women and men in favor of white male applicants. She described the merits of her application, asked how a Columbia College student with an excellent GPA could be overlooked, and contended that it must be because “I was a negro.” Kennedy remembered the dean’s attempt to reassure her with his explanation that “they had rejected me because of my sex and not because of my race.” This did nothing to pacify Flo. As soon as she left his office she wrote him a letter declaring that the university’s rationale did not matter and asserting, “If you have admitted any white man with lower grades than mine then I want to get in too.”

Reminding the assistant dean that other radicals stood behind her, she claimed, “Some of my cynical friends believe I’m being discriminated against because of my race. You say I can’t go to Columbia because I am a woman. Either way it feels the same.” It was all discrimination. The administration no doubt understood her as making a specifically legal threat. Shortly after this meeting and letter, Kennedy received notice that the law school had reevaluated its decision and accepted her into the first-year class. She was the only black woman in her class. There were very few women of any race at the university and very few black men.

TH: Was she the first woman graduate of Columbia Law?

SMR: No, Flo was not the first woman to graduate from Columbia Law School. Black women like Constance Baker Motley and white women like Bella Abzug graduated a few years before.

Columbia Law School first opened its doors to women in 1927, but it was not until WWII (when men were away at war) that the law school began to seek out women applicants to fill the seats left by men. Once the war was over, Columbia Law School, like other colleges and universities, attempted to abandon its interest in women applicants. Motley and Abzug both graduated during the WWII years.

TH: What were some of the highlights of her legal career?

SMR: Well, to list a few:

Kennedy was a lawyer for Billie Holiday and other jazz musicians during the 1950s and early 1960s.

Kennedy brought her legal expertise and political knowledge to the campaign to repeal New York State’s restrictive abortion laws. She served as counsel for Abramowicz v. Lefkowitz, the first class-action suit in which women themselves insisted on their right to be heard. Coupling speak-outs and demonstrations with constitutional arguments, the case helped to convince the legislature to amend the law before it was settled in court. Indeed, the tactics developed in the Abramowicz case—most notably the use of women as expert witnesses—would later be used in Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 federal case that overturned restrictive abortion laws. Although by the late 1960s she was one of the country’s best-known black feminists, Kennedy’s role in helping to legalize abortion has long since been forgotten.

The trial of H. Rap Brown (Chairman of SNCC and later a member of the Black Panther Party) was one of the Black Power movement’s first legal battles, and Kennedy’s spirited defense of him became a model for radical lawyers’ defense of Black Power leaders both inside and outside the courtroom. From 1967-1968, Kennedy worked as an attorney (with William Kunstler) and organizer for H. Rap Brown against charges that he had incited a riot.

In 1968, Kennedy served as feminist Valerie Solanas’s legal advisor in her defense against charges of shooting the artist Andy Warhol. Kennedy worked both inside and outside the court to bring the political import of Solanas’s crime to the public’s attention. In the Solanas case, she attempted to force the courts to see Solanas’s actions as those of a political actor who was defrauded by a male-dominated industry.

TH: What role did Kennedy play in the major feminist organizations that still exist today?

SMR: Kennedy attended the first meeting of the New York chapter of NOW in 1967 when the organization was in its nascent months. She helped to nurture leadership and organizing skills for many of the younger members of NOW.

TH: What surprised you most in your research?

SMR: I originally started this book thinking I would write about autonomous black feminist organizations like the National Black Feminist Organization. This became a much smaller part of the book. I was surprised that Kennedy’s activism focused on Black Power and building broad strategic and political alliances in addition to creating an independent black feminist movement. Feminism and Black Power are typically seen as working in tension with each other. Through Flo’s story, we see that this tension is overstated and that these movements and theories were profoundly interconnected.

TH: How is Florynce Kennedy’s life and work still relevant today?

SMR: We see clear continuity between Kennedy’s shock tactics and the recent #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations being waged by black and brown youth across the country. Flo stressed attention-grabbing public disruptions to gain the public’s notice and to change the dialogue in one’s favor. From Ferguson activists disrupting the symphony to protestors chanting “Black Lives Matter” at a presidential town hall meeting and Bree Newsome taking down the confederate flag in South Carolina to naked black women marching down a San Francisco Street chanting “Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women,” this generation of activists have helped draw media attention, organizers, etc., to their cause. Flo Kennedy’s activism during the 1960s and 1970s serves as a perfect model that predates the importance of guerilla theater activism and she serves as an example of its value.

TH: You quote Kennedy as saying that she believed “politics should be fun.” What can modern activists learn from Kennedy’s theatrical style of activism?

SMR: For years, Kennedy has been dismissed by some white feminist critics as an “entertainer” and “not a real feminist” because of her reliance on street theater protests. Kennedy’s street theater demonstrates that her savvy performances were strategically deployed to attract media attention to often-ignored issues, and were also a way to make fighting for justice irresistibly pleasurable for would-be activists, as well as those already hooked. Flo expected “politics to be fun,” so she sang loudly, laughed frequently, and recruited and sustained others with her excitement for challenging one’s own fears by confronting their enemies.

Kennedy was not deterred by critics who claimed that having fun meant that she was not serious and therefore couldn’t gain valuable results. Having fun for Flo was a priority and helped her to continue organizing over five decades. Hence, Kennedy encouraged organizers to work with people they liked and to cultivate and enjoy humorous actions. She insisted that organizers not let those who were critical of them steal their enjoyment/excitement. This is great advice for current activists who want to sustain themselves and their efforts during a protracted life of activism.


Sherie M. Randolph is associate professor of history and African American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her book Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical is now available. Follow her on Twitter @sherandolph.

John Weber: Immigration Reform, Guest Workers, and Poorly Understood History

weber_fromWe welcome a guest post by John Weber, author of From South Texas to the Nation: The Exploitation of Mexican Labor in the Twentieth Century. In the early years of the twentieth century, newcomer farmers and migrant Mexicans forged a new world in South Texas. In just a decade, this vast region, previously considered too isolated and desolate for large-scale agriculture, became one of the United States’ most lucrative farming regions and one of its worst places to work. By encouraging mass migration from Mexico, paying low wages, selectively enforcing immigration restrictions, toppling older political arrangements, and periodically immobilizing the workforce, growers created a system of labor controls unique in its levels of exploitation.

Ethnic Mexican residents of South Texas fought back by organizing and by leaving, migrating to destinations around the United States where employers eagerly hired them—and continued to exploit them. In From South Texas to the Nation, Weber reinterprets the United States’ record on human and labor rights. This important book illuminates the way in which South Texas pioneered the low-wage, insecure, migration-dependent labor system on which so many industries continue to depend.

In today’s post, Weber cautions against the flawed arguments of those who wish to reinstate guest worker programs like the Bracero Program as a means of immigration reform.


As the next presidential election looms on the horizon, the familiar screeching of immigration alarmists has started to grow in volume (if not in coherence). Public dialogue about immigration issues rarely rises above the race-baiting dispatches from the lunatic fringe of Donald Trump, Pat Buchanan, and Ann Coulter (or their slightly more respectable brethren, Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Krikorian, and the late Samuel Huntington).

While little oxygen remains for useful discussions on immigration reform, some self-styled “serious” thinkers have sought to take a different path toward solving the “immigration crisis,” a phrase which is often invoked but never actually explained. William McGurn, a writer for the Wall Street Journal and former speechwriter in the George W. Bush White House, provided one example of this line of argument in an op-ed in the WSJ from March 23, 2015, entitled “Bring on the Guestworkers.” In many ways, McGurn’s essay is a predictable one coming from the WSJ, eschewing the extreme cultural conservatism of Rupert Murdoch’s other media properties for a seemingly more moderate, business-friendly solution to immigration reform. McGurn argues that no Republican politician can support legislation that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants without incurring the wrath of Republican voters. The solution, he explains, is simple: “So if citizenship is the sticking point, why not start with something that by definition is not about citizenship: guest workers?” This strategy would allow Republicans to blunt the most xenophobic wing of their own party while also providing the credible fiction of managed migration that they could use as a bludgeon against reform initiatives like the DREAM Act or deferred prosecution of illegal entry (cue screams of “amnesty”).

McGurn turns to history as one justification for this plan. He lauds the Bracero Program, the two-decade-long guest worker program that brought Mexican agricultural laborers to the United States starting during World War II, as “one of the most successful programs of all time,” though he provides no explanation of what this means. It ended in 1964, he argues, because of unjustified complaints from labor unions that the program was abusive. McGurn points at the decision to end the Bracero Program as the moment that the United States lost control of immigration, as “the Mexicans who had worked under it legally kept coming to the U.S. to do the work that needed to be done—but now illegally.” Simply resuscitate the Bracero Program, he argues, and the “immigration crisis” will disappear.

This enthusiasm for guest workers—temporary laborers stripped of the right to choose employers, bargain for higher wages, or remain within the United States past the expiration date of their labor contract—ignores a few basic problems. Continue reading ‘John Weber: Immigration Reform, Guest Workers, and Poorly Understood History’ »