Excerpt: Ku-Klux, by Elaine Frantz Parsons

Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction, Elaine Frantz ParsonsThe first comprehensive examination of the nineteenth-century Ku-Klux Klan since the 1970s, Ku-Klux pinpoints the group’s rise with startling acuity. Historians have traced the origins of the Klan to Pulaski, Tennessee, in 1866, but the details behind the group’s emergence have long remained shadowy. By parsing the earliest descriptions of the Klan, Elaine Frantz Parsons reveals that it was only as reports of the Tennessee Klan’s mysterious and menacing activities began circulating in northern newspapers that whites enthusiastically formed their own Klan groups throughout the South. The spread of the Klan was thus intimately connected with the politics and mass media of the North.

In the following excerpt from Ku-Klux: The Birth of the Klan during Reconstruction (pp. 27-34), Parsons shares the origins of the Ku-Klux Klan’s name and introduces its founding members.


I will only add that nearly all the BLOOD AND THUNDER proclamations and general orders issued in circular form or printed in the columns of THE CITIZEN when the order was in its incipient form and before it had assumed political significations, originated in the brain and were written by the Faber of the then editor of THE CITIZEN, solely for fun and sensational effect. What editor, pray tell me, imbued with the least journalistic enterprise, would have failed to take advantage of the circumstances and enlivened his cou[rse] with these sensational fulminations? Would you? This is my excuse and defense.

—From “Mr. Frank McCord Tells What He Knows about the Kuklux,” Pulaski Citizen, clipping dated December 18, 1892

The Ku-Klux began as a name. It was chosen by a group of young former Confederates in Pulaski, Tennessee, in May or June 1866.[1] Pulaski, the seat of Giles County, is seventy-four miles south of Nashville, connected to the city by the Nashville and Decatur Railroad. The war’s shadow fell heavily on the nation, but Pulaski bore a disproportionate share of suffering. While it was never itself a battlefield, Federal troops had occupied it, and it was in close proximity to some of the war’s most deadly fighting. Union troops camped in Pulaski in the days before the bloody Battle of Nashville, and were a frequent presence throughout the war.[2] These strains may have contributed to the area’s fraught postwar atmosphere.

Giles County saw more than its share of “the ordinary violence of emancipation.”[3] As early as 1866, Giles County experienced particularly heightened racial conflict and noteworthy resistance to federal control. A group of black leaders emerged in Giles during the war, including Dangerfield “Danger” Rhodes (a brickmason, aged fifty-three at the end of the war, who had been buying his time from his master for some years before the war and owned several horses and mules; he sharecropped with his sons during the war and would report $1,900 in property on the 1870 census), Henry Webb, Orange Jones, and others. These were, as one of their number was described, “active energetic m[e]n with good hard homade Sense,” who had won the respect not only of other black Giles Countians, but also of some Union officers (some of whom had stayed on Danger Rhodes’s place during the war).[4] They also worked to support less well-positioned freedpeople: Freedmen’s Bureau superintendent R. C. Caldwell described Danger Rhodes as “a very deserving colored man . . . who beyond his means has been alleviating the wants & necessities of the poor of his race. During the winter he has had under his roof one man (crushed in the tornado . . .), & a nurse for the same, a lying-in woman with three children; all of whom he had to feed & furnish fuel. They sought his house for refuge in their distress, and he would not turn them away from his door.”[5] They reported local problems to sympathetic federal officials. By early 1866, they sent a collective letter to Freedmen’s Bureau assistant commissioner Clinton Fisk: “There is a disposission on the part of the white Citizens some of them to impose and [sic] the colored citizens.”[6] They reported that whites refused to let them use the church basement that had been promised to them for their own church services (after allowing them to renovate it for the purpose), and also refused to allow a black-owned grocery to sell alcoholic beverages, despite its proper licensing.[7] They gave several compelling accounts of abuse. A black saloonkeeper in Pulaski hung a sign out that said “Equal Rights,” which whites immediately tore down. Pulaski was the kind of place where such a sign would have been pulled down, but it is perhaps even more significant that it was the kind of place where someone was going to put it up to begin with.[8]

Freedmen’s Bureau agents consistently identified whites in Giles as particularly oppressive of freedpeople. Superintendent Caldwell took the freedmen’s part, and they considered him well-meaning but complained that he was ineffective. Finding Caldwell unable to stop “gross outrages” in the county, the Bureau removed him in June 1866, and soon replaced him with Captain George E. Judd, a man of firmer mettle and backed by a cavalry.[9] Reporting to his commander Michael Walsh in December 1866, Judd was struck by the unreconstructed nature of Giles County whites, even compared to whites in nearby counties. “It can almost be said that there is no law in Giles County all do just as they see fit without regard to law or decency.”[10]

Freedmen’s Bureau officials could not agree on where to assign blame for aggression against freedpeople in Pulaski. Sometimes the perpetrators were clearly landowners. Prominent Confederate leader John C. Brown lived in Pulaski, and the local editor of the Democratic paper, the Pulaski Citizen, Frank McCord, was believed to be drumming up antiblack sentiment.[11] But those same Freedmen’s Bureau officials also pointed to lower-class whites, “roughs,” as the heart of the problem. Captain George E. Judd, soon after his arrival in Pulaski, fingered poor whites, “men who amount to nothing, have no property and no principle,” or “the low class of whites.”[12] The Pulaski Citizen agreed with the Freedmen’s Bureau that street violence by rowdies was a major problem. Their town was overtaken with the “horse-thieves, housebreakers, loafers and whisky-heads of this community” indulging “their propensities for committing depredations upon the public and reveling in their midnight orgies,” the paper said. It called for Pulaski’s more publicly inclined citizens to put an end to it: “Our citizens should take the matter in their own hands and endeavor to rid the country of such villains.”[13]

Events nearby contributed to the tension and disorder. The Memphis Riot in May 1866, followed by the New Orleans Riot in July, each left dozens of black people dead at the hands of white mobs: many more black urbanites suffered rape, beatings, arson, and theft during these sprees of intense racial violence. The urban race riot was a novel form of violence for the South, a response by whites to freedpeople’s new claims and practices, and it was hard not to notice that the federal government was unable or unwilling to protect freedpeople from such extreme violence, nor even to find and punish wrongdoers in its wake. As one black Pulaskian worried, “Those Memphis Riots are having their effect here.”[14] Organized white violence began to feel attractive and pragmatic to strong southern partisans, and unfortunately inevitable to many others. By the summer of 1867, some political leaders were calling quite publicly for organized resistance to black claims to political, social, and economic rights, and to federal authority. Influential former confederate general Albert Pike advised Tennessee’s conservative whites to form themselves into civic guard companies.[15]

The Ku-Klux Klan was created at this moment and in this place. Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Ku-Klux, by Elaine Frantz Parsons’ »

  1. [1] Mrs. S. E. F. Rose, based on a letter from Major James R. Crowe reprinted in her text, places the beginning in the winter of 1865–66. Rose, Ku Klux Klan, 18. The May date is given in William Thomas Richardson, Historic Pulaski, Birthplace of the Ku-klux: Scene of Execution of Sam Davis (W. T. Richardson, 1913), 13, and in Lester and Wilson, Ku Klux Klan, 53. The date of “1867” is given in “Mr. Frank McCord Tells What He Knows about the Kuklux,” Pulaski Citizen, photocopy of a clipping of a December 18, 1892, letter from Frank McCord, Fayetteville, Tenn., Robert Wamble Personal Papers, Pulaski, Tenn.
  2. [2] “The fight was very desperate and sanguinary. The Confederate generals led their men in the repeated charges, and the loss among them was of unusual proportions.” Grant, Personal Memoirs, 535–36.
  3. [3] Kidada Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me, 26.
  4. [4] Letter from John A. Jackson to Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, December 25, 1865, J-56, Registered Letters Received, Series 3379, Office of the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee, Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, RG 105, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C. [BRFAL] (Freedmen and Southern Society Project, University of Maryland, College Park [FSSP] A6058).
  5. [5] Letter from John A. Jackson to Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, December 25, 1865.
  6. [6] Letter from Cornelius Brown and Other Citizens to Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, March 8, 1866, Box 5, B-84 (1866), Registered Letters Received, Series 3379, Office of the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee, BRFAL (FSSP A6230).
  7. [7] Resolution from Henry Webb and others, submitted to Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, March 26, 1866, filed as M-89 (1866), Registered Letters Received, Series 3379, Office of the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee, BRFAL (FSSP A6294).
  8. [8] Blight, Race and Reunion, 113.
  9. [9] Letter from Col. J. R. Lewis, Chief Superintendent of Nashville Sub-District, to Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk, July 24, 1866, L-91 (1866), Box 7, Registered Letters Received, Series 3379, Office of the Assistant Commissioner of Tennessee, BRFAL (FSSP A6285).
  10. [10] Monthly Report for Williamson and Giles Counties for December 1866 submitted by Captain George E. Judd (Superintendent) to Captain Michael Walsh (Chief Superintendent), December 31, 1866, J-63, Registered Letters Received, Series 3570, Subassistant Commissioner of the Subdistrict of Nashville, Tennessee, BRFAL (FSSP A6482).
  11. [11] Letter from Captain George E. Judd (Agent) to Captain Michael A. Walsh (Subassistant Commissioner), May 14, 1867, Box 88, No. 453, Registered Letters Received, July 1866–September 1868, Series 3570, Subassistant Commissioner of the Subdistrict of Nashville, Tennessee, BRFAL (FSSP A6488).
  12. [12] Blight, Race and Reunion, 113, includes a sound description of the racial situation in Pulaski at the time of the Klan’s emergence. Monthly Report for Williamson and Giles Counties for December 1866 submitted by Captain George E. Judd (Superintendent) to Captain Michael Walsh (Chief Superintendent), December 31, 1866.
  13. [13] “High-Handed Robbery,” Pulaski Citizen, January 17, 1867, 3.
  14. [14] John A. Jackson to Clinton B. Fisk, December 25, 1866.
  15. [15] Severance, Tennessee’s Radical Army, 87.

Graham T. Nessler: The Politics of Racial Difference: The View from Revolutionary Hispaniola

An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom: Revolution, Emancipation, and Reenslavement in Hispaniola, 1789-1809, by Graham T. NesslerWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Graham T. Nessler, author of An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom: Revolution, Emancipation, and Reenslavement in Hispaniola, 1789-1809. Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution as both an islandwide and a circum-Caribbean phenomenon, Nessler examines the intertwined histories of Saint-Domingue, the French colony that became Haiti, and Santo Domingo, the Spanish colony that became the Dominican Republic. Tracing conflicts over the terms and boundaries of territory, liberty, and citizenship that transpired in the two colonies that shared one island, Nessler argues that the territories’ borders and governance were often unclear and mutually influential during a tumultuous period that witnessed emancipation in Saint-Domingue and reenslavement in Santo Domingo.

In today’s post, Nessler draws parallels between racial tensions today and those in Hispaniola over two hundred years ago, calling attention to patterns of fear, violence, and political opportunism. 


As the Obama era nears its end, the politics of racial (and religious) difference seem to dominate the headlines. From the anti-Muslim violence and bigotry that have intensified following the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, to the heightening of the affirmative action debate to the festering controversies over racially charged criminal justice issues such as policing and mass incarceration, this appears to be a particularly polarized moment in America. As I finished my book this past fall, I often thought of parallels between these current events and my own area of historical expertise: the Haitian Revolution and the counterrevolutionary project that followed.

We in the United States are, after all, only several decades removed from legal racial apartheid, whose legacies still profoundly shape our politics and social life. In this light, it may be instructive to reflect upon the first large-scale effort to build a post-slave and “post-racial” society in the hemisphere: the political and military revolutions that transformed French Saint-Domingue, the world’s wealthiest slaveholding colony, into the independent and emancipationist nation of Haiti at the turn of the nineteenth century.

As I describe in An Islandwide Struggle for Freedom, multiple processes of emancipation and reenslavement transpired across two quite different yet interdependent colonies that shared the island of Hispaniola. Even as black and white French Republican officials sought to turn hundreds of thousands of former slaves in both colonies into French citizens in the wake of the passage of sweeping universal emancipation laws in 1793-94, race remained omnipresent as a social and political reality. This was true not only in the backlash to emancipation that gained steam in the second half of the 1790s but also in the very ways in which the events of the Haitian Revolution themselves were imagined by participants on the ground.

From the outbreak of the massive 1791 slave revolt in northern French Saint-Domingue, which forever transformed the island’s political trajectory, many resorted to the pervasive image of black-on-white violence to morally and intellectually explain the events that were transpiring. These racial anxieties, which were rooted in the ever-present fears of slave revolt and backlash against free-colored mobility in pre-1789 Saint-Domingue, suffuse extant accounts of the revolutionary violence in spite of the fact that only a small amount of the blood shed in the Haitian Revolution was that of whites at the hands of nonwhites.

Continue reading ‘Graham T. Nessler: The Politics of Racial Difference: The View from Revolutionary Hispaniola’ »

Margaret Bendroth: Disorganized Religion

bendroth_last_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Margaret Bendroth, author of The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past. Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England’s first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth’s critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

In today’s post, Bendroth traces the transformation of Protestant church denominations throughout U.S. history as they adopted and shed different organizational models. She suggests we may be witnessing a movement toward a new (old) model now. 


Nobody really likes organized religion. It all seems to have so little to do with actual faith—the endless acronyms of denominational programs and taglines, mind-bogglingly complex institutional reorganizations, and the blind impersonality of national synods and assemblies and conferences. It’s the cold wet blanket, the flat gray oatmeal that most people imagine when they say they are “spiritual but not religious.”

Organized religion just seems so unnecessary. Though American religiosity looks as varied and intense as ever, study after study has shown it drifting loose from the institutional structures that have defined the last two centuries of belief and practice. The story among Roman Catholics is the stuff of high drama, with church hierarchy caught in sex scandals and deep layers of financial intrigue. For the Protestant mainline, the opposite is true: if and when the end arrives it will be death by a thousand paper cuts. That much is obvious to anyone who has visited their denomination’s national headquarters and wondered what would happen if John Wesley or Martin Luther—or for that matter Jesus himself—popped out from one of the cubicles. My guess is that the bureaucracy would grind on without a hitch.

Protestant aversion to organized religion is everywhere, even on the sign on the front lawns of churches. Smart congregations are dropping the Baptist or Methodist or Presbyterian label and replacing it with soft generic names like Willow Grove or Saddleback. They are becoming nonspecific “communities” and “fellowships” associating themselves with some broad spiritual aspiration, like “resurrection” or “hope” or “reconciliation.”

I can’t say I’d mourn the demise of denominational bureaucracies (and I don’t think Jesus would either), but I would deeply regret the loss of words like Presbyterian or Baptist or Methodist, proper nouns with layers of cultural meaning. Yes, they’ve merged into sameness over the years, and few outsiders, let alone most church members, can distinguish one from the other. Not all that far back, though, many people still knew what made a Congregationalist different from a Lutheran or a Baptist, and the distinctions carried meaning, a conviction that came home to me in writing The Last Puritans. Denominations were not just different ways of organizing church business. As I saw so clearly with my Congregationalists, each one also had its ethos, a distinct personality built up over years of worship services and church meetings, there if you knew how to look for it, in the subtle cues of architecture, the style of the minister’s suit, and even the kinds of food at potluck dinners.

The problems of organized religion have been two hundred years in the making, back to when the religious freedom clause in the Constitution cut churches loose from state support, ending an alliance between church and state first cemented by the Emperor Constantine, in the fading years of the Roman Empire. In the early-nineteenth-century United States, for the first time in western history, churchgoing was fully voluntary.

The old guard shuddered a bit, but most Americans recognized the opportunity for what it was, the chance to build a religious infrastructure from the ground up, one that reflected the hopes and needs of ordinary people. The organizations we now recognize as denominations played a mostly backseat role in all that activity, bringing order where they could. This was where the clergy did business, in regional gatherings where ministers handled disputes too big for local congregations to handle or certifying each other’s theological and moral soundness.

Everything else was outsourced, in an enormous “benevolent empire” of voluntary societies formed to raise money, recruit and support missionaries, train and equip Sunday school teachers, and publish and distribute tracts, Bibles, and hymnbooks by the millions. The sprawling infrastructure was notoriously inefficient but it was effective, enlisting thousands of laypeople—most of them women—in a grassroots effort that over time has made American religiosity so durable and pervasive.

All this changed after the Civil War. Continue reading ‘Margaret Bendroth: Disorganized Religion’ »

Steven E. Nash: Riot, Reconstruction, and Racial Politics in Asheville

Reconstruction's Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains, by Steven E. NashWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Steven E. Nash, author of Reconstruction’s Ragged Edge: The Politics of Postwar Life in the Southern Mountains (April 2016). In the book Nash chronicles the history of Reconstruction as it unfolded in the mountains of western North Carolina. He presents a complex story of the region’s grappling with the war’s aftermath, examining the persistent wartime loyalties that informed bitter power struggles between factions of white mountaineers determined to rule. For a brief period, an influx of federal governmental power enabled white anti-Confederates to ally with former slaves in order to lift the Republican Party to power locally and in the state as a whole. Republican success led to a violent response from a transformed class of elites, however, who claimed legitimacy from the antebellum period while pushing for greater integration into the market-oriented New South.

In today’s post, after a second incidence of vandalism of the Zebulon B. Vance monument in Asheville, N.C., occurred on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday yesterday, Nash considers the contemporary racial politics of this Confederate memorial in the context of the racial politics of Reconstruction-era Asheville. 


A roughly seventy-foot tall obelisk honors North Carolina’s Civil War Governor Zebulon B. Vance in Asheville’s Pack Square. At the monument’s cornerstone dedication in 1897, the featured speaker praised Vance’s wit, character, and statesmanship. Almost 118 years later, a rededication of the Vance Monument showed how historical memory evolved in this Appalachian town. Several themes permeated both ceremonies. But in the 2015 rededication ceremony, one speaker directly acknowledged Vance’s legacy as a slaveholder and white supremacist within a larger plea to “look at the whole picture” of history in order to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Although the 1897 keynote speaker did not directly address race, both ceremonies occurred amidst significant racial strife. After a decade of class and racial unrest within the state, North Carolina approved a state constitutional amendment greatly restricting African Americans’ voting rights in 1900. In 2015, violent clashes between police and African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, and other sections of the nation have forced Americans to confront their racial history. Controversies surrounding historical landmarks, school and university names, and street names have arisen. These issues became visible in Asheville when someone painted “Black Lives Matter” on the base of the Vance Monument just weeks after its rededication in 2015 and again on the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Still, the picture remains far from whole. Through centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow segregation, white Americans have claimed public spaces—like Pack Square—through naming or regulated access. But those claims were never complete or total. Perhaps that is one reason why the commemorations and memories—such as those surrounding Vance—neglect the region’s complicated Reconstruction history. After all, the war may have ended slavery, but the struggle for freedom intensified after the soldiers stacked arms in 1865.

Too often, people ignore Reconstruction or dismiss it as an aberration in American history best forgotten. This historical amnesia is especially acute in the Appalachian South where the popular misconceptions remain that whites were overwhelmingly Unionist and that black highlanders are rarely seen and seldom heard. For that reason, it may seem odd that the most influential governmental organization in western North Carolina’s post-Civil War reconstruction was one created by Congress to aid the South’s transition from slavery to free labor: the Freedmen’s Bureau. Continue reading ‘Steven E. Nash: Riot, Reconstruction, and Racial Politics in Asheville’ »

The Free State of Jones movie trailer is here!

The Free State of Jones: Mississippi's Longest Civil War (Movie Edition), by Victoria E. BynumThe previews for The Free State of Jones are screening in theaters now, and the movie will be released in May. So there’s plenty of time between now and then to read the full history in Victoria E. Bynum’s book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. (And now you can picture Matthew McConaughey in the role of Newt Knight and Gugu MBatha-Raw as Rachel Knight while you read. . . . )

Piercing through the myths that have shrouded the “Free State of Jones,” Victoria Bynum uncovers the fascinating true history of this Mississippi Unionist stronghold, widely believed to have seceded from the Confederacy, and the mixed-race community that evolved there. She shows how the legend—what was told, what was embellished, and what was left out—reveals a great deal about the South’s transition from slavery to segregation; the racial, gender, and class politics of the period; and the contingent nature of history and memory. In a new afterword, Bynum updates readers on the recent scholarship, the current issues of race and Southern heritage, and the coming movie that make this Civil War story essential reading.

For all the details on the movie, visit the film’s website. You may recall that Bynum was on set during filming. If not, check out the pictures of the historian in costume!

Interview: Kenneth Robert Janken on The Wilmington Ten

Author Kenneth Robert Janken talks with Hannah Lohr-Pearson about his new book, The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s.


Hannah Lohr-Pearson: Who are the Wilmington Ten and why are they important?

Kenneth Robert Janken: The Wilmington Ten were Ben Chavis, Reginald Epps, Jerry Jacobs, James McKoy, Wayne Moore, Marvin Patrick, Ann Shepard, Connie Tindall, Willie Earl Vereen, and Joe Wright. They were nine black men in their teens and early twenties, many of them still in high school, and a white woman in her thirties, who participated in conflict and protests over the desegregation of the public schools in Wilmington, North Carolina, and were punished with the full force of the law for standing against discrimination. The case of the Wilmington Ten amounts to one of the most egregious instances of injustice and political repression from the post–World War II black freedom struggle. It took legions of people working over the course of the 1970s to right the wrong. Like the political killings of George Jackson and Fred Hampton, the legal frame-up of Angela Davis, and the suppression of the Attica Prison rebellion, the Wilmington Ten was a high-profile attempt by federal and North Carolina authorities to stanch the increasingly radical African American freedom movement. The facts of the callous, corrupt, and abusive prosecution of the Wilmington Ten have lost none of their power to shock more than forty years after the fact, even given today’s epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct. Less understood, but just as important, the efforts to free the Wilmington Ten helped define an important moment in African American politics in which an increasingly variegated movement coordinated its efforts under the leadership of a vital radical Left.

HLP: What was the order of events?

KRJ: In the first week of February 1971, African American high school students in the newly desegregated school system in Wilmington, North Carolina, staged a school boycott to protest systematic mistreatment by the city’s education authorities, teachers, police who were called to campus, and white adult thugs who harassed them on school grounds. The students issued a list of demands and established a boycott headquarters at a church in town.

As news of the boycott was disseminated through the local media, the homegrown paramilitary Rights of White People (ROWP) organization launched violent attacks on the church and the students gathered there. Enduring drive-by shootings and receiving no police protection, the boycotters and their supporters fought back. They established an armed guard around the church’s perimeter. Some supporters, to this day unknown, burned a number of some nearby white-owned businesses, including a mom-and-pop store called Mike’s Grocery close to the church. (In the chaos, other instances of arson apparently were committed by business owners eager to collect insurance money.) At the same time Mike’s was going up in flames, police shot and killed a student leader who many claim was unarmed. The next morning, an armed white vigilante was shot and killed as he prepared to attack the church.

While city officials had greeted the massive violence against blacks with a yawning indifference, the death of a provocateur-cum-terrorist who was white stimulated a swift response. Wilmington’s mayor finally declared a curfew and the governor mobilized the National Guard, which raided and took control of the boycott headquarters. The authorities’ show of force reduced the level of violence in the city, but what calm did return felt sullen, as none of the black students’ and parents’ grievances had been addressed.

After the rebellion was suppressed, local white officials and the press called the police to task for not being aggressive enough against the boycott. One judge stated from the bench that he would have treated protesters as Lt. William Calley had treated the villagers of My Lai, who were slaughtered in their homes by American troops in Vietnam. The daily newspaper called protesters hoodlums. There were a few letters to the editor from sympathetic whites who called for understanding, but the loudest voices issued full-throated howls for retribution.

HLP: How was the case brought to trial?

janken_wilmingtonKRJ: A year later, in March 1972, smarting still from the uprising and wishing to exact payment for it, local and state authorities arrested seventeen persons on charges related to the week of violence—all of them involved with the protest, none from the ROWP. In September 1972, ten of them—the Wilmington Ten—were put on trial for burning Mike’s and conspiring to shoot at the police and firefighters who responded to the blaze. (An eleventh person, George Kirby, was to have been tried with the others, but he jumped bail and the trial proceeded without him.) During the trial, the judge bulldozed the defense, and the prosecutor produced witnesses who he knew would implicate the Ten by lying. With the judge’s active assent, the prosecutor illegally excluded most blacks from the jury. Given the legal machinations, after a few hours of deliberation, the Wilmington Ten, not surprisingly, were convicted on all counts and sentenced to a total of more than 280 years in prison.

HLP: Then what happened?
Continue reading ‘Interview: Kenneth Robert Janken on The Wilmington Ten’ »

Excerpt: Jack London, by Cecelia Tichi

Jack London: A Writer's Fight for a Better America, by Cecelia TichiJack London (1876–1916) found fame with his wolf-dog tales and sagas of the frozen North, but Cecelia Tichi challenges the long-standing view of London as merely a mass-market producer of potboilers. A onetime child laborer, London led a life of poverty in the Gilded Age before rising to worldwide acclaim for stories, novels, and essays designed to hasten the social, economic, and political advance of America. In this major reinterpretation of London’s career, Tichi examines how the beloved writer leveraged his written words as a force for the future.

Tracing the arc of London’s work from the late 1800s through the 1910s, Tichi profiles the writer’s allies and adversaries in the cities, on the factory floor, inside prison walls, and in the farmlands. Thoroughly exploring London’s importance as an artist and as a political and public figure, Tichi brings to life a man who merits recognition as one of America’s foremost public intellectuals. 

In the following excerpt from Jack London: A Writer’s Fight for a Better America (pp. 37-43), Tichi recounts how London went beyond the pen to fight the wretched conditions of the American working class.


To stand up is the point of the game, to stay on one’s feet, to not lie down, to not run away. This is the point of it, and the spirit.
—Jack London, “The Jeffries-Ruhlin Fight,” 1901

The “springlike” break in the mid-January weather in early 1906 did not fool Jack London. To the Californian, New York was always cold, even on that “scorching” hot summer day back in the depression year of 1894 when he first ventured into the city to sightsee as a jobless teenage tramp and got cracked on the skull by a bull cop’s billy club. No matter how much money poured in from his writing or how great his fame, the cop’s blow never faded into from memory. London saw the billy club, along with the batons and guns of the Pinkertons and the state militias, as versions of the overseers’ whips in this era of industrial slavery. Its overthrow was his life’s mission, and public support was vital to success. The stakes of the game were never higher than on this January evening, when four thousand New Yorkers gathered in the midtown Grand Central Palace Exhibition Hall to hear a rousing political speech by the famous author of The Call of the Wild.

Spirits ran high as the 8:15 P.M. hour of London’s speech approached. A reporter in the audience noted the many “red dresses or red hats or red ribbons” of the women, each one a political hurrah for the revolutionary spirit that enveloped the name Jack London. Women naturally flocked to him, and from the newspapers many of them knew of his controversial recent divorce and remarriage to a woman named Charmian Kittredge—both headlines conveying the hint of scandal, especially since the papers repeatedly published rumors of his illicit amours. His publicity photographs fed those notions. They showed a rakish figure in various soft wool caps, loose neckties, and silk crepe shirts. His “burning eyes” were boyish and smoldering, alluring and a bit dangerous. One observer thought him “all sweetness and ferocity.”[1]

The audience eagerly anticipated a larger-than-life figure, a novelist, journalist, sailor, war correspondent, exponent of modern marriage, sportswriter, and, most recently, a gentleman farmer-rancher. His audience reached from the workers with “hard hands and strong arms” to the affluent bourgeoisie of “placid . . . sedentary existence.” Awaiting his appearance in the hall, many in the audience opened purses or dug into trouser pockets to snap up the ten-cent “‘genuine’ blood red flags, the ‘Jack London souvenirs of a great and momentous occasion.’” The fiery female union organizer from the coalfields, Mother Jones, was in the hall, and her shout-out later in the evening was to be memorable for its typical “crisp” and “clipped speech.” The atmosphere was amiable, though the speaker was overdue because his train was late. When London finally took the stage at 9:15 P.M., no one in the audience (not even the New York Times reporter) guessed that the celebrated Jack London was half-sick from lingering effects of the flulike grippe. This was America’s epicenter of capitalism, and Gotham could flatten a man who didn’t show himself fit in body and mind. Such a man wouldn’t last one round.[2]

London held forth this January night with a fiery lecture titled “The Coming Crisis.” Slightly edited, it was the speech he’d delivered all over the Midwest these past weeks, a reprise of a talk entitled “Revolution” that he had first delivered to students at the University of California in Berkeley last April. In New York’s Grand Central Palace, the famous author embodied entrepreneurial success but spoke on behalf of growing numbers of Americans who knew to the bone that the captains of industry and finance had failed millions with their exploitative economic system. The titans’ names were American bywords of the era: Rockefeller, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, J. P. Morgan, Collis P. Huntington, and others. Historians later called them “The Tycoons” and the “American Colossus.” But many Americans, including Jack London, agreed with the caustic economist Thorstein Veblen, whose best-selling Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) profiled them in terms of their “outlawry,” “barbarian temperament,” and “spectacular quasi-predatory careers of fraud.” Their success in a “pecuniary culture,” Veblen wrote, depended on their “freedom from scruple, from sympathy, honesty and regard for life.”[3]

An admirer of Veblen, London had brought the economist’s words to life in his popular recent novel, The Sea-Wolf (1904). Audience members in the Grand Central Palace doubtless linked the “blind and greedy” capitalists London denounced in his speech with the amoral, monstrous ship captain in the novel. The tycoons were flesh-and-blood versions of the fictional Wolf Larson, a lone predator who ravaged others and was motivated solely by self-interest.

It was not the tycoons’ wealth as such that rankled, London insisted in his speech, but their spectacular failure at managing the social world they had made. They had “organized the machinery of life and made possible a wonderful era for all mankind,” an era that ought to provide plentiful food, opportunities for “education, for intellectual and spiritual uplift,” an era “wherein no creature should cry aloud because it had not enough to eat.”[4]

Instead, London charged, their system produced shocking periods of Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Jack London, by Cecelia Tichi’ »

  1. [1] New York Tribune, January 20, 1906 (“springlike”). Jack London [JL], The Road, 152 (“scorching”). New York Tribune, January 20, 1906 (“red . . . ribbons”). JL, Martin Eden, 40 (“burning eyes”). Charmian Kittredge London [CKL], The Book of Jack London, 2:221 (“all . . . ferocity”).
  2. [2] “They All Wear Red to Hear Jack London,” New York Times, January 20, 1906 (“hard . . . arms”). JL, The Sea-Wolf, 34 (“placid . . . existence”). “They All Wear Red to Hear Jack London” (“genuine . . . occasion”). Johns, “Who the Hell Is Cloudesley Johns?: An Autobiography,” 232–33 (“crisp . . . speech”) (Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, California [HL] HM42387).
  3. [3] See Morris, The Tycoons. See also Brands, Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism, 1865–1900 (2010). Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, 373 (“outlawry,” “barbarian temperament,” “spectacular . . . fraud”), 223 (“pecuniary culture,” “freedom . . . life”). Cloudesley Johns remarks in his unpublished autobiography, “Who the Hell Is Cloudsley Johns?,” that he and London read one another passages from The Theory of the Leisure Class while sailing on London’s boat Spray (294) (HL HM42387).
  4. [4] JL, “Revolution,” in Raskin, The Radical Jack London, 145 (“organized . . . mankind”), 146 (“education . . . uplift”), 145–46 (“wherein . . . eat”).

Holly M. Karibo: Cutting the Cancer of Drug Use Out of the Nation? Reflections on the History of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the United States

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

In a previous post, Karibo writes about how a historical event on the northern U.S. borderline ties into current conversations about riots, race, and borders. In today’s post, Karibo explores the influence that the Narcotic Control Act of 1956 still holds today and argues for a more nuanced approach.


This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the passage of the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, a law that dramatically reshaped American drug policies. While the precedent for mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses had been established four years earlier, the Narcotic Control Act greatly expanded the scope of these sentences. Among its many clauses, the act raised the minimum sentence on some drug offenses to five years and allowed the imposition of the death penalty on anyone over the age of eighteen convicted of trafficking heroin to minors. This made the Narcotics Control Act the strictest drug law in the nation’s history—one that treated addiction as a plague that needed to be addressed through punitive measures.

The 1956 law did not arise in a vacuum. For a decade Americans had been reading sensational news stories that claimed that the rate of drug addiction in the country had grown exponentially since the close of the Second World War. Newspapers were especially focused on the issue of addiction among teenagers, framing it as a symptom of juvenile delinquency, urban disorder, and a general sense of chaos in the Atomic Age. Reports had readers believe that teens were shooting heroin and smoking marijuana at school, at home, even at soda shops. If left unchecked, papers warned, young people would join the ranks of the addict populations infecting the nation’s urban neighborhoods.

By 1955, politicians felt that public outrage was strong enough to justify a large-scale federal investigation. That year, the U.S. Senate formed a subcommittee in order to analyze the issues of drug use and addiction. It would travel to over twelve major U.S. cities in order to ascertain the extent of the drug problem and how best to deal with it. The committee, chaired by Senator Price Daniel of Texas, claimed it would provide an objective, factual, and “sober” investigation into addiction in the country. What resulted, though, was anything but a balanced approach. Continue reading ‘Holly M. Karibo: Cutting the Cancer of Drug Use Out of the Nation? Reflections on the History of Mandatory Minimum Sentences in the United States’ »

Interview: Patricia Appelbaum on St. Francis of America

Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint, talks with Gina Mahalek about St. Francis of Assisi’s influence on American culture.


Gina Mahalek: Why did you want to write about St. Francis?

Patricia Appelbaum author photoPatricia Appelbaum: He is everywhere in American culture. People who are not otherwise interested in saints often know about St. Francis and admire him. You can buy a statue of him at Walmart or at a garden center. You can download songs about him from iTunes. Mainline Protestants, evangelicals, and Roman Catholics all sing hymns by or about him, and some Eastern Orthodox honor him. The Blessing of the Animals on St. Francis day is a public phenomenon in New York and has spread across the nation. We don’t see this kind of multidimensional popularity and creative expression with, let’s say, St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Catherine of Siena.

GM: Did Pope Francis have anything to do with this?

PA: I started the book before Pope Francis was elected, but I find him a very striking figure. A famous Roman Catholic theologian remarked that no previous pope has dared to take the name of Francis. The saint’s example is a very challenging one—a call to radical but joyful poverty. I think the Pope is doing a remarkable job of balancing this call with the complex demands of the papacy.

GM: Who was St. Francis?

PA: Francis of Assisi was born in 1181 or 1182 and died in 1226. We have some good historical evidence about him and a lot of stories that may or may not be true. It seems clear that he grew up in a well-off merchant family and was lighthearted and extravagant as a young man. In his early twenties, following experiences of war and illness, he moved gradually toward religious commitment within his Roman Catholic context. Especially, he embraced absolute poverty and mendicancy—that is, not staying in one settled place. He gathered a small community of men who traveled, preached, worked as day laborers, begged, and served the poor and sick. Toward the end of his life Francis composed the “Canticle of the Sun,” a sort of chant or psalm that praises God through “Brother Sun,” “Sister Water,” and other features of the natural world. Many of the stories about him dwell on his closeness to birds and animals. Other narratives recount miracles and visions, fasting and self-mortification.

But it is not always easy to tell where historical evidence ends and legend begins. That’s one reason there have been so many interpretations of him.

GM: So are you going to tell us what’s really true about St. Francis?

PA: No. That’s not my agenda. What I wanted to do is to look at the ways he has been interpreted and presented—especially by non-Catholics, who don’t have a long tradition around sainthood.

I’m interested in how people relate to St. Francis, how they make pictures of him, and what they do in response to his example, for instance. I believe that many of these ideas and practices are historically conditioned. That is, they have arisen or evolved in response to the culture and circumstances of a particular time.

But there’s a paradox here. Continue reading ‘Interview: Patricia Appelbaum on St. Francis of America’ »

April Merleaux: The Mexican Soda Tax Debate

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 a previous post, Merleaux reflected on how sugar is historically tied to race, violence, and childhood. In today’s post, Merleaux describes the effects a Mexican soda tax may have on both the Mexican economy and consumer autonomy.


Last year Mexico became the first nation in the world to impose a surtax on sweetened soft drinks. Policymakers justified the move by pointing out that people in Mexico consume more soda per capita than anywhere else in the world, a trend they argue fosters the nation’s high rates of obesity and diet-related disease. While governments around the world have also used economic incentives—or, in this case, disincentives—as a means of bolstering public health, Mexico’s soda tax does so on a much grander scale. A year later, in July 2015, public health researchers reported that consumption of soft drinks in Mexico fell by more than five percent. Many people hope for similar measures in the United States. California and New York are considering similar policies. New York City tried something similar a few years ago, before a judge overturned it, and the Navajo Nation just passed a junk food tax.

But the great Mexican soda tax debate can be viewed in a wider context than public health policy. It is, after all, also about the politics of capitalism and global trade. Continue reading ‘April Merleaux: The Mexican Soda Tax Debate’ »

Excerpt: Gulf Stream Chronicles, by David S. Lee

lee_gulf_frontOff the shore of Hatteras Island, where the inner edge of the Gulf Stream flows northward over the outer continental shelf, the marine life is unlike that of any other area in the Atlantic. Here the powerful ocean river helps foster an extraordinarily rich diversity of life, including Sargassum mats concealing strange creatures and exotic sea beans, whales and sea turtles, sunfish and flying fish, and shearwaters and Bermuda petrels. During his long career as a research scientist, David S. Lee made more than 300 visits to this area off the North Carolina coast, documenting its extraordinary biodiversity. In this collection of twenty linked essays, Lee draws on his personal observations and knowledge of the North Atlantic marine environment to introduce us to the natural wonders of an offshore treasure.

In the following excerpt from Gulf Stream Chronicles: A Naturalist Explores Life in an Ocean River (pp. 37-41), Lee examines the life, anatomy, and flight patterns of the Hirundichthys affinis, a four-winged flying fish found in the Gulf Stream.


I looked up in time to see a flying fish sailing past at eye level, 15 feet above the water. Turning to Captain Harry Baum, I asked whether any had ever landed in this boat. While he was telling me that in 26 years of fishing in the Gulf Stream, that had never happened, an 11-inch-long flying fish crash-landed on the deck below. I rushed down, secured my prize, and hurried back to the bridge to ask Captain Baum if his boat had ever been struck by lightning. What I thought was the best one-liner of the day was not appreciated. The captain proceeded to recount the times his boat had been struck, how insurance companies refused to insure electrical navigational equipment, and how, when . . . well, you get the idea.

During the warm months, flying fish are commonly seen in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina. So at times when there is not much going on aboard ship, and when other creatures of the open sea are scarce, I watch fish fly. It’s sort of a mindless pastime, but always interesting. The movement of the boat, or perhaps the sound of the engine, seems to make them take flight. Usually they take to the air when we are 10 or 20 yards away. Occasionally whole schools of 50 or more launch themselves simultaneously, but normally there is simply one here or two here and there. In the course of an hour it is not uncommon to see several hundred take flight. Sometimes I try to estimate flight distance or duration, the sole scorekeeper in the outer continental shelf fish Olympics. Watching flying fish I was reminded of the lines from Kipling’s poem “Mandalay”: “Where the flyin’-fishes play, / An’ the dawn comes up like thunder . . . ,” wishing I could recall more of the verses and wondering about the real order of the ones I remember.

After my earliest excursions to the Gulf Stream, I combed libraries for information on flying fish. Information was scattered, mostly repetitive trivia, but in combination, an interesting dossier was pieced together. Much of the literature contained only summaries of the family Exocoetidae in general, keys to species occurring in various oceans and things like that. Of the 25 species known to live in U.S. waters, 17 occur in the Atlantic, including 2 species shared with the Pacific. As best I could figure, about 15 of these species have been found off North Carolina, but these numbers include flying-fish relatives like ballyhoos, halfbeaks, and flying halfbeaks—fishes that think flight simply involves jumping out of the water. Still, there are at least 12 species of flying fish that I might be seeing in the Gulf Stream. I could recognize five, perhaps six, different types, but really I had no way of knowing what species I was seeing. This predicament was somewhat alleviated by the fact that flying fish come in two basic models, two winged and four winged. The four-winged types have large pectoral and pelvic fins and look a lot like little biplanes.

Steve Ross, a friend who specializes in marine fishes, identified the specimen that crashed onto the deck of Captain Baum’s charter boat as Hirundichthys affinis, one of the four-winged fishes flying about. Was this the species I was regularly seeing, or were there several types of large, silvery, blunt-nosed, four-winged fishes in the area? The solution was to get more specimens. I had read that people in the Caribbean capture flying fish at night by placing a lantern next to a sail. The fish fly into the light, hitting the sail and flopping into the boat. I considered variations on this theme and then went out and purchased several boxes of No. 9 shotgun shells for my 12-gauge. It took almost one box of shells for me to see that I constantly shot well behind the fish, often missing them by several yards. Gad, sometimes I wasn’t even that close. There was no speculating about the miss; the shot pattern clearly sprayed the water. My failed attempts provided the captain with great amusement and he delighted in announcing my score over the radio to the rest of the charter-fishing fleet. The fish flew faster than I thought and it took a number of shells from a second box before I learned how to lead them. Altogether I hit six or eight fish using two boxes of shells. We retrieved four specimens, the others sank. All were the same large, silver-colored, four-winged flying fish.

I have seen other types that are quite distinctive in coloration, but to date I have been unable to collect or identify them. Except for Hirundichthys, most of these seem to live in Sargassum. One is an inch-long species with tan, blotched wings that has a maximum flight distance of several yards as it scoots from one Sargassum patch to another. A second, biplane type, with velvet black wings, also lives in the Sargassum. It grows to six or eight inches, but also seems limited to short flights. I have not seen flying fish of any type in the winter months. Their seasonality suggests that they are migratory and are not simply being passively transported by the Gulf Stream.

Though flying fish are scattered widely throughout the warm oceans of the world, and I knew there were a number of local species I could watch, I really only had one identified. I limited my note taking to Hirundichthys affinis. I estimated the longest flights to be between 100 and 125 yards and they lasted for 10–20 seconds. (One Pacific species has been reported to fly a quarter of a mile.) Usually the fish flew less than a few feet or so above the surface, but in strong winds they were sometimes lifted 6 to 10 feet into the air. Based on the forward trolling speed of the charter boats, I estimated flight speeds to be about 35 mph, partly explaining my difficulty in collecting specimens with a shotgun. (Researchers with high-tech equipment have since documented top speeds of up to 40 mph.) The fish would typically fly out at angles of 20° or so from their presumed predator or charter boats, but if we got too close, the direction of flight would often shift to near 45°. In flight, the fish angle upward, so on takeoff and landing the tail always touches the water last and first. With their sculling tail movement they sometimes made two or three composite flights in succession, at times ricocheting from the top of a wave and continuing their flight. Successive flights tended to be shorter in time and distance—the fish simply ran out of gas. Unlike the two-winged species, four-winged flying fishes exhibit a controlled flight even in strong winds. While the two-winged varieties waffle about erratically in the air, I observed that Hirundichthys flew straight, or even banked and changed direction. On calm days, the ripples of their lopsided, lobed tail fins left trails on the surface runways.

The specimens I collected ranged in size from 10–12 inches long and weighed 97 to 258 grams. Pectoral fin lengths ranged from 5 to 6 inches, making the total wingspan somewhat greater than the length of the fish. By tracing out the wings on a piece of paper and calculating the area, I ascertained that the wing-loading ratio (combined surface area of both pectoral and pelvic fins divided by the weight of the fish) was about the same as that of a Cessna. When the dimensional relationships of various species of flying fishes are compared to each other, and to flying insects, birds, and bats, the ratios of weight-to-wing area and wing length all show logarithmic coordinates producing a line whose slope is three. OK, that’s enough math.

These fish were spawning off the Carolina coast in August. Dissecting the specimens showed that about half of the females had recently laid eggs and the others soon would. While not a shocking piece of biological information, documentation of such tidbits eventually adds up to understanding the biology of poorly understood species such as flying fish. I was impressed with the large swim bladders of my specimens. The same device that provided buoyancy for surface-scooting oceanic fish allowed the ones I collected to float long enough for me to scoop them from the sea.

For years, the mechanism by which flying fish were able to fly was the focus of much debate. Did they flap their enlarged pectoral fins as birds and insects flap their wings? Careful observation and high-speed photographic images eventually showed that flying fish Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Gulf Stream Chronicles, by David S. Lee’ »

Video: Kishwar Rizvi on Islamic Architecture and Historical Memory

The Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East, by Kishwar RizviIn The Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East, Kishwar Rizvi draws on the multifaceted history of the Middle East to offer a richly illustrated analysis of the role of transnational mosques in the construction of contemporary Muslim identity. As Rizvi explains, transnational mosques are structures built through the support of both government sponsorship, whether in the home country or abroad, and diverse transnational networks. By concentrating on mosques—especially those built at the turn of the twenty-first century—as the epitome of Islamic architecture, Rizvi elucidates their significance as sites for both the validation of religious praxis and the construction of national and religious ideologies.

In the following video, Rizvi talks with Marilyn Wilkes about The Transnational Mosque in an episode of The MacMillan Report, produced by the MacMillan Center at Yale University. (Running time 22:24)

Kishwar Rizvi is an architect and associate professor of the history of art at Yale University. The Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East is now available. Her previous books include The Safavid Dynastic Shrine: Architecture, Religion and Power in Early Modern Iran and Modernism and the Middle East: Architecture and Politics in the Twentieth Century.

J. Samaine Lockwood: Nineteenth-Century New England’s Queer Thanksgivings

Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism, by J. Samaine LockwoodWe welcome a guest post today from J. Samaine Lockwood, author of Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism. A thought-provoking study of nineteenth-century America, Archives of Desireoffers an important new interpretation of the literary movement known as American regionalism. Lockwood argues that regionalism in New England was part of a widespread woman-dominated effort to rewrite history. Lockwood demonstrates that New England regionalism was an intellectual endeavor that overlapped with colonial revivalism and included fiction and history writing, antique collecting, colonial home restoration, and photography. The cohort of writers and artists leading this movement included Sarah Orne Jewett, Alice Morse Earle, and C. Alice Baker, and their project was taken up by women of a younger generation, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Pauline Elizabeth Hopkins, who extended regionalism through the modernist moment.

In the following post, Lockwood explores the history of Thanksgiving as shaped by nineteenth-century regional, social, sexual, and political imperatives.

This week many Americans will be on the move. By plane, bus, car, and train, they will return to the place they call “home” to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families. Of those already at home, many will be crafting a meal for family and/or community members. And there will be other articulations of belonging such as the Indigenous Peoples Sunrise Ceremony on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay to protest the celebration of Thanksgiving and honor the American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz of the late 1960s and early 1970s. For, of course, the notion of home, including who has the right to call the land that comprises the United States home, is far from simple; condensed in the notion of home are contested ideas about individual, familial, collective, racial, and national identity. We experience such contestations especially during holidays such as Thanksgiving, which, premised on the idea of a return home, can be not only joyous but variously mournful, painful, and awkward, an idea well captured and leveraged in GLAAD’s 2011 campaign for members of the LGBT community, “I’m Letting Aunt Betty Feel Awkward This Thanksgiving,” which involved individuals committing to bring up LGBT issues at the Thanksgiving table. Gathering with family at home, defining home in the first place, can be particularly vexed for anyone who understands herself as outside mainstream forms of belonging.

Thanksgiving was institutionalized in the nineteenth century and primarily involved the reinscription of mainstream forms of belonging, including belonging to a heteronormative family. Thanksgiving began to be celebrated more regularly in the early national period as many white New Englanders left their home region to seek new opportunities within expanding imperial frameworks: on the western frontier, abroad, and in expanding urban centers.[1] A sense of identification with the culture of New England, particularly a sense of its historical import, shaped the spread of Thanksgiving across the nation. As Harriet Beecher Stowe represents in her novel Oldtown Folks, Thanksgiving was a significant holiday in early national Massachusetts, requiring culinary preparations that spanned weeks.[2] By 1817, Thanksgiving was celebrated as an annual event in New York and by 1824 the same was true of Michigan.[3] It continued to spread across states during the 1850s and was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, during the Civil War.[4] Like Christmas, Thanksgiving became increasingly standardized in the late nineteenth century, losing some of its important, contestatory aspects such as the tradition of poor children begging for money and the masquerading of the Fantastics, groups of cross-dressed men going door to door to ask for treats from the upper classes.[5] (The tradition of the Fantastics appears to have morphed into a ball thrown and attended by gay men in early twentieth-century Greenwich Village.)[6]

Depictions of Thanksgiving in the nineteenth century featured a family patriarch at the head of the table, but the holiday was deeply linked to the home as a physical and symbolic space associated with women. Much of the effort to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday came from Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of the Godey’s Lady’s Book, who well understood the powerful connection between the domestic sphere, women’s influence, and ideas about national belonging. Lincoln’s proclamation of Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, like other of Lincoln’s proclamations, had much to do with regional power, particularly the Union’s assertion of a cultural power to match its military might. Thanksgiving was part of the North’s effort to instantiate itself, and New England in particular, as the center of a dominant historical narrative of the United States. It makes sense, then, that New England regionalist literature, which blossomed in the last half of the nineteenth century and was part of the same sectionally driven project, included among its types of short stories the Thanksgiving tale.

In the Thanksgiving tale as rendered by New England regionalists, an implicit claim is made to the centrality of New England to national history and the primacy of New England as the national home. At the same time, and perhaps surprisingly, these Thanksgiving tales often sought to put pressure on an institution central to the established Thanksgiving mythos: the heteronormative nuclear family. As I argue in my book Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism, New England regionalism had at its heart a queerly historical sensibility. The fiction writers who wrote regionalist literature were predominantly women: Rose Terry Cooke, Mary Wilkins Freeman, Annie Trumbull Slosson, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Alice Brown. Across their works unmarried women are the protagonists, engaging their late-nineteenth-century worlds with the grit and independence associated with colonial and Revolutionary male precursors. In the Thanksgiving tale we see not only the sectionalist investments of the New England colonial revivalist historical imagination, but the ways in which traditional notions about gender, history, sexuality, and belonging were being renegotiated by women writers of the period.

The conventional Thanksgiving tale involves a young, rural New England man leaving the women he loves (mother, sister, betrothed or wife) to seek his fortune elsewhere, and he eventually returns for Thanksgiving. In that return, in coming back to the home place associate with women, he is transformed. Such is the case in Rose Terry Cooke’s stories “Home Again” and “A Double Thanksgiving.”[7] Yet, significantly, the absence of the man often opens a space for the remaking of women’s lives, too. In Cooke’s “An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving,” set in Revolutionary-Era New England, the mother, Hannah, must transform her labor and assume family leadership when her husband and oldest sons go to war. The transformation of Hannah’s labor makes her like General Washington himself: “There was no father to superintend the outdoor work; so Hannah took to the field, and marshaled her forces . . . much as the commander-in-chief was doing on a larger scale elsewhere.”[8] Similarly, in Cooke’s first-person narrative “My Thanksgiving,” the narrator, Annie, shares how the absence of her fiancé, Jo, who is serving in the Civil War, requires a transformation of her character. When the family patriarch becomes nonresponsive because he believes Jo is dead, Annie chooses to continue on, forging deeper familial ties with her extended family and moving from self-loathing to assertive self-loving.[9]

Emergent in the New England regionalists’ Thanksgiving stories, however, is an idea of the reconfiguration of family and identity, what we might fairly call a representation of queer family formations understood as part of New England and New England history. Continue reading ‘J. Samaine Lockwood: Nineteenth-Century New England’s Queer Thanksgivings’ »

  1. [1] James W. Baker, Thanksgiving: The Biography of an American Holiday. (Lebanon, NH: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009), 62-63.
  2. [2] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Oldtown Folks. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 284-85.
  3. [3] Ibid., 69.
  4. [4] Ibid., 69, 71.
  5. [5] Elizabeth Pleck, “The Making of the Domestic Occasion: The History of Thanksgiving in the United States,” Journal of Social History 32, no. 4 (1999): 776.
  6. [6] Ibid., 778.
  7. [7] “An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving,” “A Double Thanksgiving,” “Home Again,” and “How Celia Changed Her Mind” are all from Rose Terry Cooke, Huckleberries Gathered from New England Hills. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892).
  8. [8] Cooke, Huckleberries Gathered from New England Hills, 128.
  9. [9] Rose Terry Cooke, The Sphinx’s Children and Other People’s. (Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1886), 257-289.

John Ryan Fischer: Indian Cowboys in California

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

In a previous post, Fischer connects recent disputes over the Mauna Kea landscape to a long history of colonial conflict on the islands. In today’s post, Fisher examines the little-known history of California’s Indian cowboys, or vaqueros.


As I researched the spread of cattle into Pacific regions and the reactions of indigenous people to the new animals in those regions for my book Cattle Colonialism, I was struck by one modern difference between the two main regions of my research, California and Hawaiʻi. The traditions and history of Hawaiian cowboys, known as paniolo, are widely celebrated in Hawaiʻi today. This indigenous cattle culture began in the 1830s when Spanish-speaking vaqueros from the North American mainland trained native Hawaiians to harvest the longhorn cattle that roamed wild on the islands after explorers had brought a small breeding population. On my research trips to Hawai’i, I would often see paniolo in parades, I could eat a beef “paniolo pizza” at a brewery, and there were tourist sites dedicated to the tradition. The Paniolo Preservation Society helps to keep the history of the tradition alive and visible.

In contrast, the important history of California Indian cowboys is far less visible in California. While California does celebrate an often romanticized past of the Spanish missions and ranchos, Indians often take a background role in favor of Spanish missionaries and colonists. In my own experience touring several of the missions, I noted that few concentrated on Indian life, and even fewer on Indian labor. The stories of Indian laborers often feel secondary to the spaces and stories of the Franciscan fathers, despite the fact that the missions were primarily centers of Indian work. The fathers hoped that productivity would lead to a surer conversion while they also made a profit, especially from the products of cattle in the form of hides and tallow that they sold to British and American ships along the Pacific coast. There are certainly signs of this work throughout the missions—from tallow vats to tanneries—and La Purisma stands out to me as a site that focuses on the type of work that its mostly Chumash inhabitants did on a daily basis. Beyond the missions, Indians as workers are even less visible in public presentations of California’s historical memory. Vaquero parades, rodeos, and festivals are rare, and the role of Indians in those festivals is small to nonexistent.

There are a few likely reasons for this omission. Continue reading ‘John Ryan Fischer: Indian Cowboys in California’ »

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Sale!

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

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

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

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

Happy holidays, happy shopping, happy gifting!

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

Patricia Appelbaum: Pope Francis and the 1967 Theologians

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

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


This past summer, Pope Francis released his very welcome encyclical on climate change. Supporters and opponents have both noted his attention to science. What I find more interesting is his attention to theology and religion.

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

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

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

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 5

UPW banner 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

University Press Week 2015: Blog Tour Day 4

UPW banner 2015

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

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

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

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

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