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’ »

Angela Pulley Hudson: The Myth of Historical Intimacy

hudson_real_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Angela Pulley Hudson, author of Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. Weaving together histories of slavery, Mormonism, popular culture, and American medicine, Hudson offers a fascinating tale of ingenuity, imposture, and identity. While illuminating the complex relationship between race, religion, and gender in nineteenth-century North America, Hudson reveals how the idea of the “Indian” influenced many of the era’s social movements. Through the remarkable lives of Tubbee and Ceil, Hudson uncovers both the complex and fluid nature of antebellum identities and the place of “Indianness” at the very heart of American culture.

In a previous post, Hudson compares the racial misrepresentation of Rachel Dolezal to that of Laah Ceil during the mid-19th century. In today’s post, Hudson makes an important distinction between writing someone’s story and writing about someone’s story.


One of my favorite essays to use in the classroom is Jill Lepore’s “Historians Who Love Too Much: Reflections on Microhistory and Biography.” The piece, published in the Journal of American History in 2001, considers the levels of intimacy a historian has or can have with her subject. In a graduate class, it is a helpful way to open a discussion about the merits of biography and microhistory as approaches to historical scholarship. Besides, Lepore is a masterful and entertaining writer, inviting us to play the voyeur while she strokes a lock of Noah Webster’s hair and ruminates on life-writing.

“Finding out and writing about people, living or dead, is tricky work,” Lepore rightly observes. It requires historians to “balance intimacy with distance,” a life skill as much as a scholarly one. As I delved into researching the man and woman at the center of my recent book, Real Native Genius, I often worried about that balance. At times, I began to feel a real connection with Okah Tubbee and Laah Ceil, a Mississippi man and a New York woman who invented American Indian identities for themselves as antebellum performers. I became somewhat obsessed with them, agonizing over details of their lives that were obscured from my view and lying awake wondering whether I really understood why they made the choices they did. I had to constantly remind myself that I was not writing a biography, but a microhistory that used their lives as a lens to understand the past. According to Lepore, biographers tend to fall in love with their subjects, whereas microhistorians often achieve more distance. Biographies hinge on the uniqueness of their subjects, whereas microhistories argue for the “exemplariness” of theirs. Again and again, I struggled to adjust my microhistorical glasses and find a more objective and emotionally distant frame of view.

And as much as I was fascinated by them, enthralled by their lives, their choices, and the outcomes, I realized nearly halfway through writing Real Native Genius that I did not know Okah Tubbee and Laah Ceil at all. What was worse, I didn’t respect them. This realization hit me with great force when I received feedback on a portion of the book dealing with Laah Ceil’s apparent decision to part with her three older children and go on the road with her new husband, Okah Tubbee. My indefatigable writing group held me accountable for my choice of words. I had written that Ceil “abandoned” her children, implicitly judging her for her actions.

It was quite a shock to see how easily I had betrayed my subjects. I’ve always been a bit sanctimonious about respecting the people we study. I encourage graduate students not to refer to people in the past as “actors” or “players.” They’re people, I insist, and they were no less complicated than people are today. Wary of presentism, I shudder to read the work of scholars who apply modern standards of behavior or decorum to past actions. Trained in ethnohistorical methods, I work hard not to transpose the values of one culture or society onto another. And yet, there it was. I had plainly judged Laah Ceil, imposing not only modern notions of maternal affection, but my own personal values as a parent.

As I grappled with why I’d made this choice, two things became clear. Continue reading ‘Angela Pulley Hudson: The Myth of Historical Intimacy’ »

Patricia Appelbaum: Protestant Blessings and Cultural Change

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 anticipation of the annual Feast of St. Francis and the blessing of the animals this Sunday, October 4, Appelbaum shares the history of giving blessings—a practice that began with Catholics and spread to Protestants.


It’s the season of blessings again. In many places there are blessings of backpacks for the new school year. Here and there, bicycles that were not blessed in spring will have another chance. On October 4, religious groups all over the country and around the world will hold “blessings of the animals” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What I find remarkable is how many of these ceremonies take place in Protestant churches.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was growing up, Protestants did not bless things. Events like the “blessing of the fleet” or the “blessing of the cars” were strictly Roman Catholic. We outsiders thought they were kind of quaint. There were exceptions, of course: many Protestants asked blessings on meals, and Methodists and Lutherans sometimes blessed houses. But these practices were small-scale and largely private, not large public events. Blessings were generally for people, not for things.

Protestant worship books confirm this absence. For example, the Book of Common Worship of 1932—an ecumenical collection of model services—has no blessing rites at all. The Congregational worship book for 1948 included only the blessing of a civil marriage. Presbyterians in 1966 provided for table grace, but not for services of blessing. Into the 1980s, the pattern was similar.

By contrast, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 says, “Inanimate things that subserve the equitable needs and conveniences of society may receive from the Church the stamp of her benediction.” Catholic clergy could bless seeds, working animals, mills, telegraphs, and steam engines, among other things. Today, American Catholic practice allows for an entire book of authorized blessing rites.

In the mid-1980s, though, things began to change for Protestants. Continue reading ‘Patricia Appelbaum: Protestant Blessings and Cultural Change’ »

UNC Press Fall 2015 Book Deals!


Back by popular demand: fall colors, pumpkin spice lattes, and our UNC Press book SALE! Enjoy the latest in religious studies books—like those featured here—for a whopping 40% off! Simply use discount code 01REL40 at checkout for BIG savings. But there’s more: book purchases of $75 or more are shipped FREE!

Visit out our sale page to feast your eyes on our entire religious studies collection. Plus, our 01REL40 code applies toward ANY UNC Press book, in any subject! (Warning: The viewing of our catalog may cause some book lovers to experience excessive amore, delight, and/or infatuation.)

Note: Forthcoming books will be shipped as soon as they are published. 

St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint, by Patricia AppelbaumThe Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, by Margaret BendrothMigrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century, by Daniel RamírezThe Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East, by Kishwar RizviStrangers Below: Primitive Baptists and American Culture, by Joshua GuthmanWho Is Allah? By Bruce B. LawrenceThe Long Shadow of Vatican II: Living Faith and Negotiating Authority since the Second Vatican Council, edited by Lucas Van Rompay, Sam Miglarese, and David MorganGuaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, by Timothy GloegeChristian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, by Michael J. McVicarReforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, by Heather R. WhiteSacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921, by Karine V. WaltherWhat Is a Madrasa? By Ebrahim MoosaHittin' the Prayer Bones: Materiality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South, by Anderson BlantonWhat Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America, by Erin A. Smith

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration

The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, by Elizabeth Hayes AlvarezWe welcome a guest blog post today from Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez, author of The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, which will be available in April 2016. (Click here to be notified when The Valiant Woman is published.) Nineteenth-century America was rife with Protestant-fueled anti-Catholicism. Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez reveals how Protestants nevertheless became surprisingly and deeply fascinated with the Virgin Mary, even as her role as a devotional figure who united Catholics grew. Documenting the vivid Marian imagery that suffused popular visual and literary culture, Alvarez argues that Mary became a potent, shared exemplar of Christian womanhood around which Christians of all stripes rallied during an era filled with anxiety about the emerging market economy and shifting gender roles.

In today’s post, Alvarez watches her hometown of Philadelphia welcome a visit from Pope Francis and places the current positive reception in the context of the city’s religious history.


storefront sign reading "We welcome the pope to Philadelphia"

photo by Marcus Alvarez

As I walk around Philadelphia this week, I marvel at the signs, merchandise, and promotions welcoming Pope Francis. There seem to be no limits—of religious affiliation or taste—to pope fever. From the Wawa convenience store to the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, to pope memorabilia pop-up shops, Philly businesses are enthusiastically embracing (or cashing in on) Francis’s popularity. It’s hard to believe that just over a century and a half ago, Catholics were the target of violence in this city.

In the Philadelphia “Bible Riots” of 1844, dozens of people—Catholics, anti-Catholic nativists, and militia—were killed, and over a hundred injured. The riots began when nativists held a rally in the heart of the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Kensington denouncing Bishop Francis Kenrick’s request that Catholic schoolchildren be allowed to use the Catholic Douay Reams version of the Bible instead of the Protestant King James version. This request, nativists claimed, was really an attempt to remove the Bible, and with it, “true” Christianity, from Philadelphia’s public schools. That rally set off events that culminated in twenty-five deaths and the destruction of Catholic homes, a firehouse, a market, two Catholic churches, and a convent. Two months later, riots resumed in another Philadelphia neighborhood, Southwark, resulting in fifteen more deaths.

How did we get from an anti-Catholicism so virulent that blood ran in the streets and churches were burned to the ground, to Philadelphia businesses competing to outdo each other in their enthusiastic welcome of the Catholic pope?

St. Augustine's Catholic Church, Philadelphia, set on fire by anti-Catholic nativists in riot May 8, 1844

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Philadelphia, set on fire in riot May 8, 1844

Just a few decades ago, people still called marriage between Protestants and Catholics “mixed marriage.” Underlying this sense of difference was a belief that clear boundaries divided these communities. And, in fact, cultural and institutional boundaries did exist to enforce the divide. After the riots, Philadelphia Catholics constructed their own “cradle-to-grave” institutions, from orphanages to schools, to hospitals, to convalescent homes. But it was not just institutions that separated Catholics and Protestants. Catholics also cultivated distinct cultural forms, combating the Protestant emphasis on individualism with a consistent counter-message emphasizing mutuality and the common good. In light of virulent anti-Catholicism, physical and cultural separation was not surprising. America’s religious communities form subcultures—and even countercultures—with distinctive characteristics and values. However, Americans are also shaped by the same dominant culture, face the same regional and national economic crises, and experience the same social shifts. In reality, the boundaries that divide Americans are never as clearly drawn as they imagine. Continue reading ‘Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration’ »

Bridgette A. Lacy: Sunday Dinner Traditions

lacy_sundayWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Bridgette A. Lacy, author of Sunday Dinner: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Lacy offers an ode to a meal that, notably in the Sabbath-minding South, is more than a meal. Sunday dinner, Lacy observes, is “a state of mind. It is about taking the time to be with the people who matter to you.” Describing her own childhood Sunday dinners, in which her beloved, culinary-minded grandfather played an indelible role, Lacy explores and celebrates the rhythms of Sunday food traditions. But Lacy knows that, today, many who grew up eating Sunday dinner surrounded by kin now dine alone in front of the television. Her Sunday Dinner provides remedy and delicious inspiration any day of the week.

In today’s post, Lacy reminisces on past Sunday dinners and shares a few tips on how to start your own Sunday dinner tradition.


Food tastes better shared. That’s what I learned at my grandparents’ table many years ago. Grandma and Papa seasoned their crispy fried chicken, buttered yeast rolls, fresh green beans, and potatoes with their unconditional love for me.

Sunday dinner was the place where I heard tales of family history. It’s often the place where one generation transfers knowledge and experiences to the next.

These are among the lessons I share in Sunday Dinner: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook.

When I left my parents’ home for good in 1986, the lure of Sunday dinner was never far from my heart. I have carried the tradition with me throughout my life’s journey.

For me, Sunday dinner is nourishment for the mind, body, and soul. As a single woman, I’ve had to reinvent the meal I used to share with three generations of family members. I have sought out friends and colleagues to join my culinary communion, especially on Sundays. Continue reading ‘Bridgette A. Lacy: Sunday Dinner Traditions’ »

April Merleaux: The Subtlety of the Sugar Babies

merleaux_sugar_PBWe welcome to the blog a post by April Merleaux, author of Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness. In the weeks and months after the end of the Spanish-American War, Americans celebrated their nation’s triumph by eating sugar. Each of the nation’s new imperial possessions, from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, had the potential for vastly expanding sugar production. As victory parties and commemorations prominently featured candy and other sweets, Americans saw sugar as the reward for their global ambitions. Merleaux demonstrates that trade policies and consumer cultures are as crucial to understanding U.S. empire as military or diplomatic interventions. Connecting the history of sugar to its producers, consumers, and policy makers, Merleaux shows that the modern American sugar habit took shape in the shadow of a growing empire.

In today’s post, Merleaux reflects on Kara Walker’s art installation, A Subtlety, presented in Brooklyn during the summer of 2014, in the context of the history of race, sugar, and childhood. (Warning: contains graphic images.)


Last summer, to celebrate finishing the manuscript of my book, Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness, I went to New York to see artist Kara Walker’s installation A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, in an old Domino sugar factory in Brooklyn. Walker is known for making bold art that calls on viewers to consider histories of racial violence in the United States, and A Subtlety did just that. Sugar, Walker points out, is historically tied to race in many and multiple ways.

With 160,000 pounds of sugar donated by the Domino company, Walker’s work attracted large crowds and a steady stream of media attention. Much of that attention focused on the giant mammy-sphinx with exposed genitals and the ridiculous selfies many people took with it, apparently oblivious to the narrative of racial and sexual violence to which it alluded. Lots of people who attended the exhibit behaved poorly, something which Walker secretly anticipated. Some activists organized to shift the racial dynamics in the room by inviting more people of color to attend (I was there on one such day). Others reacted not only to the racial politics among the viewers, but also to the apparent lack of engagement with very real issues of gentrification and labor in Brooklyn. The installation inspired teach-ins, rants, an endless stream of blog posts, and will no doubt be fodder for not a few dissertations.

When I was there in the Domino factory, A Subtlety made me cry. It was not the sphinx. It was not even the selfies.

It was the children. The children, scattered throughout the factory, were molded from brown, caramelized sugar. Continue reading ‘April Merleaux: The Subtlety of the Sugar Babies’ »

Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

veit_modern_PBAmerican eating changed dramatically in the early twentieth century. As food production became more industrialized, nutritionists, home economists, and so-called racial scientists were all pointing Americans toward a newly scientific approach to diet. Food faddists were rewriting the most basic rules surrounding eating, while reformers were working to reshape the diets of immigrants and the poor. And by the time of World War I, the country’s first international aid program was bringing moral advice about food conservation into kitchens around the country. In Modern Food, Moral Food, Helen Zoe Veit argues that the twentieth-century food revolution was fueled by a powerful conviction that Americans had a moral obligation to use self-discipline and reason, rather than taste and tradition, in choosing what to eat.

In the following excerpt from Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century (pp. 157-163), Veit explores the ideas and events in American history that transformed American standards of beauty, desirability, diet, and success.


Sometime in the 1910s, a woman named Nina Putnam decided to go on a diet. She had been slim as a young bride, and for a few years she had stayed that way by cleaning her own house and doing all her marketing on foot. But as her husband’s salary increased, they acquired new things: a vacuum cleaner, an automobile, an apartment in a building with an elevator, and a maid to do the housework. Putnam grew much less active and much less slim, eventually coming to feel like a “hippopotamus” and worrying she was in danger of becoming a “mere wife, instead of a sort of standardized best girl as heretofore.” After finally deciding to lose weight, she saw ads for weight loss products everywhere and tried scheme after scheme, from a reducing corset to an electric massaging roller to special mail-order wheat buns to a dance regimen that involved wearing little but a small towel and a large rubber band. Eventually, seeing that nothing was getting smaller except her bank account, Putnam had a revelation. All those dieting companies were selling, she realized, was “nothing in the world but my own strength of mind” and “a visualization of the courage necessary to diet carefully.” Putnam decided to diet relying on nothing but willpower, and it was then that she really began to lose weight. She restricted herself severely, eating no potatoes, bread, pasta, cake, pie, pastries, ice cream, cheese, mayonnaise, nuts, olives, grapes, or bananas, and allowing herself only extremely small amounts of soup, sauces, milk, butter, cream, bacon, and sugar. She was always a little hungry, and she considered that a mark of her success.[1]

Nina Putnam eventually lost fifty pounds and was so delighted with the triumph of her will that she wrote a book about it. Tomorrow We Diet was published in 1922, and in it Putnam shared the secrets of her success, detailing her list of forbidden foods and stressing that readers could never have a lapse in dieting, any more than they could have a lapse “in ethics or true religion.” To get thin and stay that way, self-control was needed at every turn, at almost every moment. “You can get as slim as you want to,” Putnam wrote, but “two things are required of you—two little eenty weenty things. Self-control and intelligence.” Of course, she fully realized that there was nothing tiny about either, and she related her own desperate struggles with her appetites: “There have been times when the sight of a potato . . . has brought tears of longing to my eyes! Times, too, when I have reached out a trembling hand and surreptitiously patted the soft cheek of a Parker House Roll.” Her willpower won out over her passing desires, however, and she stressed that all her suffering was nothing compared to “the subsequent heavenly, sublime joy” of changing her body, feeling youthful and energetic, and throwing out old clothes that were too big.[2]

Putnam’s weight loss narrative touched upon many of the themes underlying Americans’ changing ideas about bodies and bodily mastery in the 1910s through the 1930s: the open deprecation of the overweight, the difficulties of dieting and the preeminent importance of willpower in doing so successfully, the joy in being thin, and the centrality of thinness to sex appeal and marital happiness, particularly for women. Weight loss testimonies were not new. They had appeared in the mid-nineteenth century in a few tracts aimed at men, most famously in William Banting’s popular Letter on Corpulence, first published in 1863 and then many times thereafter.[3] But it was only starting in the 1910s, as thinness became the dominant beauty ideal for both men and women, that weight loss narratives saw their full flowering as a popular new kind of success story, a kind of success obtainable by almost anybody, in theory. In these narratives, those people with enough determination not only changed their bodies for the better, but they transformed their entire lives. Weight loss supposedly led to greater beauty and personal appeal, prolonged youthfulness and improved health, more energy and efficiency, heightened intelligence and ambition, and subsequent benefits like success in business and pleasure in marriage.[4]

While the Great War had lasted, pronouncements about self-discipline and sacrifice as ends in themselves had been nearly ubiquitous. In fact, such pronouncements had been so commonplace and so potent that they nearly muffled associations between food conservation, weight loss, and a growing conviction that thinness was the physical ideal. Yet these associations existed, and they were gaining enormous cultural power during the era. The notion that wartime food restrictions might result in Americans becoming desirably thin was an idea unthinkable during Civil War food shortages. Its attractiveness in the 1910s shows Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit’ »

  1. [1] Putnam, Tomorrow We Diet, 7-8, 30, 34-35, 42-48, 52, 70-72.
  2. [2] Ibid., 79-80, 66, 74-75, 90.
  3. [3] See Vester, “Regime Change,” 39.
  4. [4] For more on the history of diet, weight reduction, and the thin ideal, see Schwartz, Never Satisfied; Vester, “Regime Change”; Bargielowska, “Culture of the Abdomen”; Forth and Carden-Coyne, Cultures of the Abdomen; Jou, Controlling Consumption; Stearns, Fat History; Seid, Never Too Thin; Gilman, Fat; and Lowe, “From Robust Appetite to Calorie Counting.”

Bob H. Reinhardt: Having the Vaccination Conversation

reinhardt_endWe welcome 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 today’s post, Reinhardt recommends that parents and vaccination experts approach vaccination with more holistic perspectives, placing the conversation in the context of past, present, and future.

This article was originally published in Willamette Magazine, Summer 2015, and is republished here with permission.


Parents sometimes hear about “routine childhood vaccinations,” but the current discussion about vaccines is anything but routine. In addition to pediatrician offices, the vaccination conversation is happening in unexpected places: the legislative halls of Oregon, California, and other states trying to stiffen childhood vaccination requirements; Twitter, where author Sherman Alexie invoked Native Americans’ historic experiences with deadly contagious diseases and railed against “superstitious, selfish anti-vaccination ***holes”; and late-night TV, where Jimmy Kimmel joked that parents in Los Angeles are “more scared of gluten than they are of smallpox.” Alexie’s vitriol and Kimmel’s barb invoke the history of smallpox and its eradication, a remarkable story that holds unexpected insights for today.

We are fortunate to live in a world without smallpox, a disease that once wrought terrible horror and death. Although some victims experienced only slight rashes, many more suffered greatly from fever, pustules, and hemorrhagic bleeding. Most people survived the experience with scars and sometimes blindness, but smallpox killed around 25 percent of its victims—an estimated 300 million deaths in the twentieth century. There was and is no cure for smallpox—only a preventative vaccine, which the U.S. Communicable Disease Center (now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) and the World Health Organization (WHO) used to wipe out the disease in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1980 the World Health Organization officially declared smallpox eradicated—the only human disease (so far) deliberately wiped off the face of the Earth.

Today’s vaccination defenders like to point to smallpox eradication as an example of the importance of vaccination. But they misunderstand how the way we talk about vaccination has changed. Continue reading ‘Bob H. Reinhardt: Having the Vaccination Conversation’ »

Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing

hudson_real_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Angela Pulley Hudson, author of Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. Weaving together histories of slavery, Mormonism, popular culture, and American medicine, Hudson offers a fascinating tale of ingenuity, imposture, and identity. While illuminating the complex relationship between race, religion, and gender in nineteenth-century North America, Hudson reveals how the idea of the “Indian” influenced many of the era’s social movements. Through the remarkable lives of Tubbee and Ceil, Hudson uncovers both the complex and fluid nature of antebellum identities and the place of “Indianness” at the very heart of American culture.

In today’s post, Hudson discusses racial shifting and cultural appropriation, comparing Rachel Dolezal’s controversial claims to a similar instance of misrepresentation by a white woman named Laah Ceil during the mid-1800s. 


“There’s nothing so certain to succeed as imposture, if boldly managed…” Buffalo Courier, 1851

Earlier this summer, the internet exploded with news about the racial imposture of Rachel Dolezal, an activist whose parents publicly denounced her claims to African American ancestry, asserting instead that she was and always had been a white woman. Social media hysteria led to national television coverage, and a wide range of writers and scholars weighed in on the controversy. Many critics were incensed that Dolezal had appropriated black culture to advance her own goals, achieving a leadership position in the Spokane NAACP and lecturing in African American studies at Eastern Washington University. Some observers noted the ways that her claims resembled other famous figures who have also been accused of cultural thievery. Others drew attention to Dolezal’s additional assertion that she is part Native American, linking her to a long history of indigenous appropriation in the United States. Her apparent ethnic fraud subsequently rekindled a long-simmering conversation within Native American and Indigenous Studies about scholars who claim American Indian ancestry despite not being claimed by American Indian communities.

Dolezal’s purported blackness (and Indianness) was not a temporary costume, but was more like the racial shifting that anthropologist Circe Sturm and a number of other writers have outlined and it is not uncommon in the history of the United States. In Real Native Genius, I examine this phenomenon through the lives of Okah Tubbee and Laah Ceil, two apparently non-Native people who remade themselves as Indians during the mid-19th century. Like Dolezal, Laah Ceil was raised as a white woman, and the two cases raise similar questions. Why would a white woman abandon the abundant privileges of whiteness to pass as a racial minority, particularly given the long and brutal histories of white supremacy and settler colonialism that did and do endanger people of color? What combination of fantasy and necessity enabled their transformation? What benefit(s) did/do they derive from their imposture? Continue reading ‘Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing’ »

Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir

bishir_crafting_PBFrom the colonial period onward, black artisans in southern cities—thousands of free and enslaved carpenters, coopers, dressmakers, blacksmiths, saddlers, shoemakers, bricklayers, shipwrights, cabinetmakers, tailors, and others—played vital roles in their communities. Yet only a very few black craftspeople have gained popular and scholarly attention. Catherine W. Bishir remedies this oversight by offering an in-depth portrayal of urban African American artisans in the small but important port city of New Bern. In so doing, she highlights the community’s often unrecognized importance in the history of nineteenth-century black life.

In the following excerpt from Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900 (pp. 38-43), Bishir highlights the life of artisan Donum Montford, a free black man in nineteenth-century New Bern who possessed land, trained his own apprentices, and even had the right to vote.


The notice in the New Bern newspaper described a small object in simple terms intended to restore it to its owner. The wording also implied much about the owner’s identity and the community in which he lived and worked. The specialized tool indicated that he cut and installed window panes as part of his trade. Its diamond head, for scoring precise lines, identified it as an implement of high quality, and its monogrammed handle suggested his attachment to it. The reward of $1.50—a day’s pay or more for a skilled worker—revealed his strong desire to regain the lost object and his financial capacity to offer such a sum. The laconic reference to the location where he had lost the glass cutter revealed that the community was small enough and Donum Montford and his place of residence so well known that newspaper readers would know where to look for it.[1]

At the time he placed the notice in 1810, plasterer and brickmason Donum Montford was about forty years old, a newly married head of household, and a master craftsman who had five local children as his apprentices. He and his wife, Hannah, made their home among white and black neighbors, and they became members of Christ Episcopal Church. He owned slaves and real estate, and as a male taxpayer he qualified to vote.

In 1810 Montford had been a free man for just over five years. It is easy to imagine that he had received his diamond glass cutter as a gift on the occasion of his manumission in 1804 or bought it himself as a token of his status. However he came to own it, he likely valued it for more than practical reasons. The possession of craft tools was an established symbol of artisan identity. During and after the American Revolution, urban white craftsmen in the North brandished the tools of their crafts as they marched in parades, trade by trade, to assert their patriotism or defend their economic position. Although such a scene was seldom replicated in North Carolina, artisans here, as elsewhere, understood the meaning as well as the utility of owning tools.[2] When a master artisan presented his graduating apprentice with tools to begin his trade, or a parent bequeathed tools to a child who followed in his or her craft, the transfer marked a life stage as well as meeting a practical need. Seldom did apprentice bonds specify the items to be given, though in one case in piedmont Rowan County in 1805 the county court bound Sam, a free boy of color, to Joseph Clarke to learn the blacksmith’s trade and ordered Clarke to give Sam “when of age an Anville, Sledge & Hammere Shoeing tools, & two pr. of Tongs.”[3] In contrast to a slave, who legally owned nothing, not even himself, a free artisan took pride in owning his tools. Whether Montford retrieved his glass cutter or not—which, as we shall see, he may have done—his initials on it, like his advertisement for its return, denoted his attachment to this emblematic possession of an artisan.[4]

Montford’s advertisement for his glass cutter also leads us into the complex world of black artisan life in early national–period New Bern. As a man who spent roughly half of his life in slavery and half in freedom, Montford shared many experiences with the thousands of enslaved and free black craftspeople who constituted much of the skilled workforce of the urban South. In slavery and in freedom, he participated in dimensions of black artisan life that New Bern had in common with other southern cities. But his experiences also reflected the city’s particular character and circumstances: during the decades following the American Revolution—later recalled as the town’s “golden age”—New Bern’s prosperity and especially the values and actions of its illustrious white and black leaders combined to create an era of unusual opportunity for artisans of color.[5]

For most black artisans in the antebellum South, being born into slavery placed clear limits on their future. No matter how skilled they might be, seldom could enslaved artisans expect to trace the customary path from apprentice to master that white artisans pursued. For Montford, as for a remarkable number of his fellows in New Bern, however, the timing and circumstances of his birth together with his skills, industry, ambition, and relationships enabled him to realize such hopes as he moved from slavery to freedom and became a master of apprentices and slaves, a property owner, and a voting citizen. Only as Montford’s life drew to its close in the 1830s did he and his fellow artisans of color witness Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir’ »

  1. [1] I have used a skilled worker’s day’s pay as the principal benchmark for comparison of monetary amounts. This has proved more accurate for New Bern than reference to current dollar amounts based on inflation over the years. Not only did relative values of specific items vary markedly from present-day values, but the inflation-based charts suggest overall cost multipliers much smaller than New Bern figures indicate. Inflation-rate sources generally indicate a multiplier of about 15 times between 1810 and 2010. However, comparison of actual costs of labor, property, and goods in ca. 1810 New Bern and those of 2010 show a multiplier of at least 100 and sometimes twice that. For example, in 1810–20 a skilled white or free black carpenter or brickmaker in New Bern made from $1 to $2 per day (typically upwards of 10 hours per day). Today a good carpenter or brickmason in a mid-level North Carolina city earns from $20 to $35 per hour. Costs of such items as real estate, tools, clothing, and food rose at various rates. A modestly priced town lot sold for $50–$80 in 1820 and a prime one for perhaps $500 to $1,000. A custom-tailored “great coat” for a rich lawyer cost $6.25 in 1834. Comparable items cost at least 100 times as much in 2010, and land runs higher.
  2. [2] On the significance of artisans’ tools, see Sidbury, “Slave Artisans in Richmond,” in Rock, Gilje, and Asher, American Artisans, 49, 55, and Gilje, “Introduction,” in ibid. For a rare instance of such artisan displays in North Carolina, see Bishir, Brown, Lounsbury, and Wood, Architects and Builders in North Carolina, 187–88, on the activities of craftsmen constructing the State Capitol in Raleigh in the 1830s.
  3. [3] Minutes, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, vol. 7 (1800–1807), p. 299, May 7, 1805, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  4. [4] Donum Montford, Estates Papers, Craven County Estates Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  5. [5] “A Citizen,” New Bern Spectator, December 9, 1831, on New Bern’s “golden age.”

Sandra A. Gutierrez: An Ode to Beans and Field Peas

gutierrez_beansWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Sandra A. Gutierrez, author of Beans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Robust and delicious, beans and field peas have graced the tables of southerners for generations, making daily appearances on vegetable plates, sideboards, and lunch counters throughout the region. Indeed, all over the world, people rich, poor, or in between rely on legumes, the comforting “culinary equalizer,” as Gutierrez succinctly puts it. Her collection of fifty-one recipes shines a fresh light on this sustaining and infinitely varied staple of ordinary life, featuring classic southern, contemporary, and international dishes.

In today’s post, Gutierrez shares a delicious selection from her cookbook—perfect for a hot day!—along with anecdotes about her yearlong obsession with beans and field peas.


I was thrilled to have been invited to write this book, Beans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook published by the University of North Carolina Press. I seldom get the chance to immerse myself into the study of a single subject for a long period of time. In this case, legumes in the form of beans, field peas, and green beans offered me an opportunity to investigate and retrieve their historical origins, extoll on their cultural importance in the foodways of an entire region, and put them into a global perspective.

For over a year, beans and field peas became my obsession. I sought them in farmers’ markets all over the South, bought them at farm stands by the roadsides as I traveled, and cooked them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I read about them, talked about them, wrote about them, ate them, and even dreamed of them.

I jokingly like to say that it took a Latina to write about the importance of beans in the South. After all, beans have been part of my life since childhood, from the little black beans that made it to my family’s table every week, all the way to the beautiful, thin, and crispy haricot verts that I learned to julienne and cook in butter as a young girl.

However, that’s only part of the reason why I was happy to take on this project. Truth be told, the subject of field peas really clinched the deal for me. Field peas in all of their glory were, for the most part, unknown to me when I moved to North Carolina thirty years ago. Surely, I had enjoyed plenty of bowls of rice and pigeon peas (which I knew as arroz y gandúles), and certainly gobbled down platefuls of black-eyed peas and lima beans in my lifetime. However, the gargantuan array of southern field peas was a discovery to me.

Field peas at market. (Photo by Sandra A. Gutierrez.)

Field peas at market. (Photo by Sandra A. Gutierrez.)

I marveled at the different colors of the field peas, from lime-green butter beans and purple peas with white specks, to golden yellow-eyed peas. I rejoiced in the textural differences between a creamer and a crowder pea, one velvety when cooked, and the other retaining a slightly more toothsome quality. Finally, I delighted in the varying pot likkers that each kind produced.

Then of course, there was the matter of exposing true southern green beans that get better the longer they’re cooked. I don’t mean the dark green, bean-less, and hollow variety of Blue Lakes that we find in modern supermarkets today. I mean those that grow in the gardens of southerners, on poles or in bushes: greasy beans, Kentucky wonders, white or green half runners, and other pods. I mean the kind that bulge with immature seeds inside and that rupture when cooked long and slow, allowing said little beans to escape into the likker while yielding a good dose of protein and delightful textural contrast.

It is my hope that you too will delight in the world of southern beans and field peas and that you learn to cook them the southern way, the new-southern way, and the international way, so that your table is always brimming full of healthy and succulent goodness.

Here’s a recipe to get you started:

Butter Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad

Continue reading ‘Sandra A. Gutierrez: An Ode to Beans and Field Peas’ »

Victoria E. Bynum: A New Glimpse of the Cinematic Free State of Jones

bynum_freeWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. Across a century, Bynum reinterprets the cultural, social, and political meaning of Mississippi’s longest civil war, waged in the Free State of Jones, the southeastern Mississippi county that was home to a Unionist stronghold during the Civil War and home to a large and complex mixed-race community in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Featured below is a crosspost from Bynum’s blog, Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners. In her post, Bynum shares behind-the-scene photos from the movie The Free State of Jones, which is scheduled for release early next year.


The movie The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey as Newt Knight and Gugu MBatha-Raw as Rachel Knight, is scheduled for release on March 11, 2016. Almost a year previous to that day of projected release, the following photos were taken on the movie’s set in Covington, Louisiana. You’ll likely recognize the director, Gary Ross, of Hunger Games and Seabiscuit fame. Perhaps you’ll recognize the Confederate officer and nurse too!

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of “The Free State of Jones”). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of “The Free State of Jones”). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment


Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

And for your listening pleasure, I give you “Jones County Jubilee,” a musical version of the Free State of Jones by Doctor G and the Mudcats.

Victoria E. Bynum is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Texas State University, San Marcos. She is author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies and Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South. Her book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War is now available.

Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America

Cecelia Tichi, author of Jack London: A Writer’s Fight for a Better America, talks with Gina Mahalek about the novelist’s role as a public intellectual.


Gina Mahalek: Jack London is well known for his adventure novels, like The Call of the Wild. But apart from tales such as the one about a dog in the Yukon, who was he? And why does he matter today?

READ poster campaign portraits Various people posing with their favorite books for a poster campaign for the library. (Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois) Professor Celia Tichi READ poster campaign portraits Various people posing with their favorite books for a poster campaign for the library. (Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois) Professor Celia Tichi

(Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois)

Cecelia Tichi: Jack London (1876-1916) was the most popular U.S. writer of the early 20th century, the first to earn $1 million. In a career spanning twenty years, he published fifty books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays. His books sold well internationally and have been translated into several languages. He continues to be one of the most famous and esteemed writers in the world—arguably better known and respected abroad than here in the United States.

GM: So is his longstanding popularity the main reason to revisit his career?

CT: The deeper reasons for that popularity, yes. Appreciation for literary skill is, of course, a given. But Jack London’s importance today concerns the sociopolitical influence he had at a critical time in U.S. history, a time that is very much like our own.

GM: Meaning—?

CT: Meaning that the United States is experiencing conditions that mirror those of London’s lifetime: vast disparities of wealth, high unemployment and underemployment. Add to these our record-breaking levels of incarceration, the blight of factory farming, and other sociopolitical and economic problems. London’s career speaks directly to these issues. His lifetime spanned the post-Civil War Gilded Age to the Progressive Era of the 1910s, and his incredible output of fiction and nonfiction supported efforts that helped eliminate child labor, promote safe workplaces, raise wages, and shine the spotlight on other inhumane conditions in urgent need of correction.

GM: So are you saying that Jack London was writing in the tradition of the exposé? That he was somehow allied with the journalists we call muckrakers?

CT: To be clear: London’s output, with his self-imposed production quota of 1,000 words daily—fiction and nonfiction—was a vivid lifetime report from his many American “lives” as a child laborer, a jobless hobo, a prison convict, a sailor. When he became financially successful, he continued to report on troubling socioeconomic and cultural conditions that he faced as an adventurer, an undercover journalist, a war correspondent, travel writer, sports reporter, photographer, rancher, and lecturer.

GM: In this roll call of identities, didn’t he spread himself thin?

CT: Jack London’s career borders on the incredible. To capsule it here, in brief: his failed quest to discover gold in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897-98 netted him plots and quirky characters for popular novels and stories. And his seafaring adventures as a crew member and, later on, as master of his own custom yacht yielded a treasury of material for fiction about Hawaii and the South Sea islands where he sailed. That sea voyage was a marine comedy of errors, and he wrote about it with good humor, making himself the butt of many jokes.

London also covered the 1904 Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst newspapers (and the Mexican war in 1914). As a journalist, he went undercover in 1903, disguising himself as a luckless American sailor in order to expose the shameful London slums of imperial Britain, supposedly the most civilized people on earth. Some have criticized him as a racist, but London’s stories show support for underdogs of every race. When he covered the racially charged 1904 championship prizefight between white Jim Jeffries v. the black Jack Johnson, he hailed the winning Johnson outright as the superior boxer. Realizing that he had become dependent on alcohol, London penned a much-admired autobiography, John Barleycorn. His superb eye for a good photograph is evident in his hundreds of photos, many recently published in a large-format volume, Jack London: Photographer. To this day, his Beauty Ranch in California’s Sonoma (today a state park) is a testament to Jack London’s determination to raise crops and livestock without chemicals. Ahead of his time, he was committed to sustainable agriculture.

In all of these endeavors, let’s not forget, London exposed social ills and championed progressive reform. With direct relevance for the twenty-first century, he speaks to us today as an American public intellectual.

GM: The Jack London resume leaves one breathless. But was he really a public intellectual? Can that label fit somebody who’s best known as a writer of fiction?

CT: Yes, indeed. Consider the American benchmark novels and authors who fall into this category: Harriet Beecher Stowe with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle with its revelations about the horrible meatpacking conditions in Chicago. In recent decades, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have been highly influential in the conservative political movement. So we can think of a public intellectual as a figure who can reach a broad public on matters that have political or ideological weight, and do so by speaking in terms that people understand, terms that are easily accessible. Jack London fits that definition.

tichi_jackGM: Doesn’t he also fit the classic rags-to-riches American story? You say the rich and famous author started life as a child laborer. How did that all come about? Continue reading ‘Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America’ »

Sam Miglarese: Looking Ahead to the Visit of Pope Francis

vanRompay_long_PBWe welcome a guest post today by Sam Miglarese, coeditor, with Lucas Van Rompay and David Morgan, of The Long Shadow of Vatican II: Living Faith and Negotiating Authority since the Second Vatican Council. With the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the Roman Catholic Church for the first time took a positive stance on modernity. Its impact on the thought, worship, and actions of Catholics worldwide was enormous. Benefiting from a half century of insights gained since Vatican II ended, this volume focuses squarely on the ongoing aftermath and reinterpretation of the Council in the twenty-first century. In five penetrating essays, contributors examine crucial issues at the heart of Catholic life and identity, primarily but not exclusively within North American contexts. On a broader level, the volume as a whole illuminates the effects of the radical changes made at Vatican II on the lived religion of everyday Catholics.

In today’s post Miglarese anticipates Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to the United States, forecasting a message from the Pontiff that may ruffle the feathers of some observers and bring comfort to others. 


Ever since Pope Paul VI initiated international papal travel with his ecumenical visit to Jerusalem in 1964 and to the United Nations in 1965, every subsequent Pope has followed suit and embraced pastoral visits as a means of staying connected with the People of God and promoting their agenda of core Christian values. These groundbreaking papal visits to all parts of the world are now an integral part of the role of the Pope as pastor of the Roman Catholic flock.

Each papal visit to the United States is unique and is very much tied to the personality and agenda of the particular Pope visiting. The same will be true for Pope Francis’s upcoming visit. It will carry the stamp of his charismatic personality and pastoral agenda. Make no mistake about it, he is a political activist as his latest encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”) on the care for mother earth shows dramatically. He calls for action by means of political engagement at all levels. He wants us to hear and act upon “the cries of the earth as well as the cry of the poor.”

There is a great deal of anticipation for the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September. He intends to participate in the closing ceremonies of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, whose theme is “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” This event is held every three years and for the first time in the United States. But this is not just another visit of the Bishop of Rome in an age of international Papal travel. It is appropriate to ask, What is it about this visit among all the other papal visits that will be unique?

Francis in his young papacy has already tipped his hand about a clear pastoral approach to issues that have driven his flock into divisive camps of confrontation on marriage and sexuality: contraception, abortion, premarital sex, homosexual unions. Even though he remarked, “Who am I to judge?” in an interview on issues of homosexuality in the first months of his papacy, we should not look for any significant change in the moral teachings or canonical discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. What Francis will likely offer is Continue reading ‘Sam Miglarese: Looking Ahead to the Visit of Pope Francis’ »

Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers

rivers_radical_PBIn Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II, Daniel Winunwe Rivers offers a previously untold story of the American family: the first history of lesbian and gay parents and their children in the United States. Beginning in the postwar era, a period marked by both intense repression and dynamic change for lesbians and gay men, Rivers argues that by forging new kinds of family and childrearing relations, gay and lesbian parents have successfully challenged legal and cultural definitions of family as heterosexual. These efforts have paved the way for the contemporary focus on family and domestic rights in lesbian and gay political movements.

In the following excerpt from Radical Relations (pp. 153-157), Rivers shares the stories of children who grew up in lesbian feminist families in the United States during the 1970s, exploring some of the particular challenges faced by those living in rural, conservative areas.


The Experiences of Children in Lesbian Feminist Households: A Generation of Bridge Workers

As the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers had in previous eras, the children of lesbian feminist families often acted as mediators between their families and a larger society that saw their homes as deviant. Unlike in previous eras, however, the children of lesbian feminist families in the 1970s negotiated the distance between radically open lesbian families and a dominant heterosexual society. Whereas in earlier decades, children of lesbian mothers had moved between their families and mainstream heterosexual society tacitly, the children of lesbian households in the 1970s were much more visible because their families demanded the right to openly exist. These children were bicultural in that they belonged to a vocal oppositional minority culture but also had to operate within the dominant culture that questioned the viability of their families. These children grew up in lesbian households that were more assertive than those of earlier decades, but compared to children of the later lesbian and gay baby boom, they still found their home and family lives to be very separate from mainstream society.

Children who attended public schools in rural, often conservative areas were often on the frontlines of cultural change, negotiating the unmitigated homophobia they encountered at school or elsewhere and the radical lesbian feminist principles they learned at home. Many of them had been uprooted from a more anonymous urban environment into a rural one where all eyes were on their families. For some children, these conflicts proved stressful. Adrian Hood and her mother, Alix Dobkin, moved from New York City to Schoharie, New York, when Adrian was almost five. Alix and her partner, Liza, were out lesbians, and Adrian remembers that older children called her “lezzie” while other children teased her on the school bus, saying that her mother and Liza “looked like boys.” Eventually Adrian returned to Manhattan to live with her father.[1]

Similarly, an eleven-year-old child growing up in the rural area around the Northern California town of Willits in 1977 later described the tenuous acceptance and fear that characterized the school experience of many children living on lesbian land: “When I first moved to the land I was very scared. The next day Sage enrolled me in school. That year was fine. . . . The next year wasn’t as good as the first.” Her explanation of what happened that second year reflects the lack of safety these children often felt in their relationships with their peers: “I had made friends with Chris, who was in the 6th grade. . . . I told her about Sage and the other women I live with and that they were lesbians. She promised that she would not tell a soul. And she didn’t until one day we got into a fight. Then she told her friend and it got around school.” She went on to describe her mother’s efforts to mitigate the stigma the child was suffering at school: “It was very bad until Sage told my teacher, who is a man, that she wanted me to have a woman at school to talk to. Now I see Mrs. Norman, the school nurse. She is a big help to me. Now it is not so bad. Maybe they will get bored and stop.”[2]

What was true for women and children transplanted from urban areas to rural communes was also true for individual lesbian feminist families living in more rural, conservative areas. A self-identified radical feminist lesbian mother, speaking anonymously in 1983, described her daughter’s decisions to be open or not about their home life in the public schools of a “small Southern town” in the 1970s as “extremely tricky.”[3] Children of lesbian households also had to mediate between hostile, and often homophobic, local authorities and their families. Kate Alfaro, who lived with her mother in Searsburg, in rural upstate New York, remembers the police coming to her house after she wrecked her car in 1986. Alfaro told her mother and her mother’s lover to stay in bed because she was terrified of the reaction of the small-town police to her mother’s lesbianism. Alfaro, who felt isolated in the rural community, remembers finding solace in relationships with teenagers from heterosexual counterculture families who did not care that her mother was a lesbian and who also felt like misfits in the rural, conservative setting.[4]

Although children of urban lesbian households often enjoyed larger support networks that might include other children growing up in lesbian families, they nonetheless faced Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ »

  1. [1] Adrian Hood and Alix Dobkin, interview with author, New York, NY, April 12, 2005. See also Majoie Canton and Rogi Rubyfruit, “Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan on Money, Motherhood, and Mutes,” Lesbian Tide, July/August 1977, 12.
  2. [2] Lesbian Connection, March 1977, 11.
  3. [3] “A Lesbian Tells Her Daughters to Forget Labels,” Poughkeepsie Journal, March 27, 1983, 28.
  4. [4] Kate Alfaro, interview with author, Ithaca, NY, July 29, 2005.

New Books for Fall 2015

We’ve got loads of great new books scheduled for publication this fall! To see what’s in store, scroll through the interactive catalog above or visit our website to see what’s new in subject areas that interest you. All fall books are now available for pre-order. Most books will be available as e-books, too, at the time of print publication. If you want to stay on top of what’s new each month in your favorite subject area, sign up for our monthly eNews announcements.

Here’s a sample of what’s in store. Browse the catalog for more great reads to look forward to.

St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint, by Patricia AppelbaumLittle Rivers and Waterway Tales: A Carolinian's Eastern Streams, by Bland SimpsonFlorynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. RandolphCold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. JanneyAbortion after Roe, by Johanna SchoenHaitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution, by Julia GaffieldBeans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, by Sandra A. Gutierrez

Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello

manganiello_southernWhy has the American South—a place with abundant rainfall—become embroiled in intrastate wars over water? Why did unpredictable flooding come to characterize southern waterways, and how did a region that seemed so rich in this all-important resource become derailed by drought and the regional squabbling that has tormented the arid American West? To answer these questions, policy expert and historian Christopher J. Manganiello moves beyond the well-known accounts of flooding in the Mississippi Valley and irrigation in the West to reveal the contested history of southern water.

In the following excerpt from Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region (pp. 47-50), Manganiello tells the story of a southern power company that did not wait for the demand for hydropower to emerge, but instead created their own market.


After 1900, New South energy companies invigorated the process of mill and town building that William Church Whitner contributed to in the 1890s in the upper reaches of the Savannah River valley. Numerous companies—including the independent Tennessee River Power, Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Duke Power, and other smaller companies—planned and developed multiple-dam and sometimes multiple-purpose projects across the region to redirect river energy to factory hands and machines. “Water power,” Rupert Vance declared in Human Geography, was “the one unifying force underlaying industrial development” in the southern Piedmont.[1] Vance observed this development through North Carolina’s James B. Duke (1856–1925), and Duke Power Company was among the first and most successful corporate enterprises to couple waterpower and industrial development. Dr. Walker Gill Wylie (1849–1923), a South Carolina native, New York City physician, president of the Catawba Power Company, and Whitner’s former business partner, presented the self-made American Tobacco Company king with the idea of developing a series of hydroelectric dams and reservoirs on the Catawba River.[2] Together, Wylie and Duke tapped William States Lee (1872–1934), a Citadel graduate and engineer who had previously worked alongside Whitner at Portman Shoals and who had completed Wylie’s Rock Hill (S.C.) Catawba Power Company hydroelectric project in 1904, to provide the technical know-how.[3] Not unlike other company founders who merged technical skill, river knowledge, and financial resources, the Duke trio started building a system in 1905 and within six years had linked four hydroelectric plants (three on the Catawba River) and two auxiliary coal-fired steam plants in the Carolina’s Piedmont.[4] By then, Duke Power Company’s Catawba (Lake Wylie) and Great Falls projects stored water behind dams before turning falling river water into energy for distribution over 700 miles of transmission lines to reach more than 100 cotton mills.[5]

James B. Duke did not wait for markets to emerge to justify massive capital investments in hydropower; he cultivated industrial consumers.  Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello’ »

  1. [1] Rupert B. Vance, Human Geography of the South: A Study in Regional Resources and Human Adequacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932), chap. 12 (“Piedmont Crescent of Industry”), esp. 281.
  2. [2] Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham, 1865–1929 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975), 177–83.
  3. [3] “A Hydro-electric Power Development on the Catawba River, near Rock Hill, S.C.,” Electrical World and Engineer 44, no. 4 (July 23, 1904): 129–32; Augustus Kohn, The Water Powers of South Carolina (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1911), 82–83.
  4. [4] Robert F. Durden, Electrifying the Piedmont Carolinas: The Duke Power Company, 1904–1997 (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2001), ix–x, chap. 1. The companies I will call Alabama Power, Duke Power, and Georgia Power throughout this chapter changed names though consolidation, new ownership, incorporation, or holding company transfers throughout the twentieth century. These names will be used for simplicity and to illustrate the current corporations’ histories. Today, Georgia Power is one of four companies—including Alabama Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power—under the umbrella of the Southern Company (established in 1945). Duke Power was initially known as the Southern Power Company (established in 1904 and having no affiliation with the current Southern Company), became Duke Power in 1924, merged with Progress Energy in 2012, and is currently known as Duke Energy. For corporate histories, see Wade H. Wright, History of the Georgia Power Company, 1855–1956 (Atlanta: Georgia Power Company, 1957); Jack Riley, Carolina Power and Light Company, 1908–1958: A Corporate Biography, Tracing the Origin and Development of Electric Service in Much of the Carolinas (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1958); Durden, Electrifying the Piedmont Carolinas; Martha Elrod and Julie Groce, Energizing Georgia: The History of Georgia Power, 1883–2004 (Macon, Ga.: Indigo Custom Publishing, 2004); Leah Rawls Atkins, “Developed for the Service of Alabama”: The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company, 1906–2006 (Birmingham: Alabama Power Co., 2006); and Dub Taft and Sam Heys, Big Bets: Decisions and Leaders That Shaped Southern Company (Atlanta: Southern Company, 2011). Duke did not invent the term “white coal,” which was already in global circulation. David Blackbourn charts a history of water, energy, and nationalism in Germany during the 1890s, where “‘white coal’ was cheap, clean, hygienic, and modern, not like smoky, sooty coal.” See chapter 4, “Dam-Building and Modern Times,” in Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany (New York: Norton, 2006), esp. 201 and 219.
  5. [5] C. A. Mees, “Development of the Rocky Creek Station of the Southern Power Company,” Engineering Record, Building Record, and Sanitary Engineer 59, no. 14 (April 3, 1909): 462–69, esp. 462.

Daniel J. Tortora: The Grant-Middleton Duel and the Aftermath of the Anglo-Cherokee War

tortora_carolina_PBWe welcome a guest post today from Daniel J. Tortora, author of Carolina in Crisis: Cherokees, Colonists, and Slaves in the American Southeast, 1756-1763. In his engaging book, Tortora explores how the Anglo-Cherokee War reshaped the political and cultural landscape of the colonial South. He chronicles the series of clashes that erupted from 1758 to 1761 between Cherokees, settlers, and British troops. The conflict, no insignificant sideshow to the French and Indian War, eventually led to the regeneration of a British-Cherokee alliance. Tortora reveals how the war destabilized the South Carolina colony and threatened the white coastal elite, arguing that the political and military success of the Cherokees led colonists to a greater fear of slave resistance and revolt and ultimately nurtured South Carolinians’ rising interest in the movement for independence.

In today’s post, Tortora shares the important but unfamiliar account of the feud between a South Carolina provincial troop commander and a British colonel during the Anglo-Cherokee War.

No one knows for sure what happened on the morning of December 23, 1761, in a field on the outskirts of Charles Town (today Charleston), South Carolina.

An obscure letter, one of many manuscripts cited for the first time in Carolina in Crisis, offers a brief clue. In it, Henry Laurens writes that the friends of South Carolina’s provincial commander, Colonel Thomas Middleton, were soon “alledging & industriously insinuating” that “a G”—British Colonel James Grant—“at 12 ¼ Yards distance . . . fired over an M’s Calabash.”

The Grant-Middleton duel took place just five days after South Carolina and the Cherokee Indians had signed the Treaty of Charles Town. Chapter 10 details the making of both the duel and the treaty. Let’s take a closer look at the duel and its significance.

In June of 1761 Grant marched a British and South Carolina army to the Cherokee Country and defeated a massive Cherokee army. Then he burned and destroyed fifteen Indian towns in a matter of weeks. The provincial commander, Middleton, resigned in a huff and returned to his Charles Town residence. Months of accusations and emotion-laden correspondence ensued between Grant and his supporters, and Middleton and his supporters. In Middleton’s corner was the fiery assemblyman Christopher Gadsden, who emerged as a spokesperson for colonial rights and privileges.

The dispute was highly personal.

In a series of lengthy letters, Grant called Middleton a fair-weather soldier, and a poor one at that. Middleton and his supporters called Grant a condescending, petulant, and inept officer. Grant embodied what many colonists had come to resent about British authorities. A Scottish aristocrat, he had a penchant for fine wine, the latest fashions, and expensive haircuts. He shunned democracy and saw others’ advice as “not worth a shilling.” Middleton, on the other hand, symbolized to many colonial elites the heroic colonial public servant slighted by British authorities. Continue reading ‘Daniel J. Tortora: The Grant-Middleton Duel and the Aftermath of the Anglo-Cherokee War’ »