Come Celebrate NCpedia September 13

Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories found in NCPediaDid you know that Craven County was once home to a self-kicking machine? That Tarboro had a refrigerated outdoor pool in the 1930s? Or that the state laid claim to the world’s longest beard?

North Carolina’s history and more unusual stories will be celebrated at “Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories Found in NCpedia,” a free event at the North Carolina Museum of History, 5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh, on Saturday, Sept. 13, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Come learn more about NCpedia and talk with content partners. There will be something for the entire family, including children’s activities and hands-on crafts.

History enthusiasts will not want to miss the 1:30 p.m. presentation in Daniels Auditorium. A panel of experts will share lesser known, entertaining stories from North Carolina’s history. Panelists include:

  • Kelly Agan, Digital Media Librarian, Government & Heritage Library, State Library of North Carolina;
  • Robert Anthony, Curator, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill;
  • B. J. Davis, Education Section Chief, North Carolina Museum of History;
  • Michael Hill, Head, Research Branch, North Carolina Office of Archives and History;
  • Dr. William S. Price Jr., Former Director of the N.C. Division of Archives and History and Former Kenan Professor of History, Meredith College; and
  • Mark Simpson-Vos, Editorial Director, University of North Carolina Press

NCpedia is North Carolina’s online encyclopedia and highlights the state’s unique resources, people, and culture to enrich, educate, and inform. It is coordinated and managed by the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, a part of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

This event celebrates the expansion of NCpedia with publication of thousands of articles from the University of North Carolina Press’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina, Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, and North Carolina Gazetteer; the Research Branch of the N.C. Office of Archives and History; the Tar Heel Junior Historian magazine; UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries; and more!

NCpedia’s expansion with content from UNC Press has been funded through a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums.

For more information on the event please call (919) 807-7450 or email — and visit

For information about the N.C. Museum of History, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum, call 919-807-7900 or visit

SALE on new and recent books in Religious Studies

2014 religious studies sale

Our Religious Studies SALE is now underway! We especially want to highlight our new and recent books in religious studies, like those featured here. To see our full selection of books in religion, visit the sale page on the UNC Press website. Use discount code 01REL40 at checkout on the UNC Press website for savings, and if your book total is $75 or more, shipping costs are on us!

(Pssst! What’s more . . . you can use the 01REL40 code to save on ANY UNC Press book, in any subject!)

What Is Veiling?, by Sahar Amer  The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, by Claude Andrew Clegg III  The Call of Bilal: Islam in the African Diaspora, by Edward E. Curtis IV  The Art of Conversion: Christian Visual Culture in the Kingdom of Kongo, by Cecile Fromont

Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, by Brantley W. Gasaway  Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism  Choosing the Jesus Way: American Indian Pentecostals and the Fight for the Indiginous Principle  The Walking Qur'an: Islamic Education, Embodied Knowledge, and History in West Africa, by Rudolph T. Ware III

Bringing God to Men: American Military Chaplains and the Vietnam War  Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity, by Shabana Mir  Sister Thorn and Catholic Mysticism in Modern America by Paula M. Kane  The Formation of Candomble: Vodun History and Ritual in Brazil, by Luis Nicolau Pares

Excerpt: Island Queens and Mission Wives, by Jennifer Thigpen

Island Queens and Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai‘i’s Pacific World by Jennifer ThigpenIn the late eighteenth century, Hawai’i’s ruling elite employed sophisticated methods for resisting foreign intrusion. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, American missionaries had gained a foothold in the islands. Jennifer Thigpen explains this important shift by focusing on two groups of women: missionary wives and high-ranking Hawaiian women. Examining the enduring and personal exchange between these groups, Island Queens and Mission Wives: How Gender and Empire Remade Hawai‘i’s Pacific World argues that women’s relationships became vital to building and maintaining the diplomatic and political alliances that ultimately shaped the islands’ political future.

In the following excerpt (pp. 46-48), Thigpen describes the voyage of New England missionaries to Hawai’i and the political shifts occurring on the island that signaled the powerful role women would play in the cultural interactions that lay ahead.


The little band of missionaries found ample time to reflect on their new situation on board the Thaddeus, their home and “abode” for the foreseeable future. The first days at sea were rough. In November, one mission wife remarked that the weather was “boisterous” and the wind “contrary.”[1] Weather conditions not only threatened to hamper the pace of the journey; it also made the missionaries and their wives seasick. Moreover, some of the company began to realize just how far from home they were. Sybil Moseley Bingham confessed that three months into the journey she felt “truly like a pilgrim and a stranger” with no “abiding place.” As she lamented: “[A]ll the objects of my heart” seemed “far, far away.”[2] Bingham and her new mission family, however, did not give in to despair; instead, the journey seemed to provide new opportunities for the group to recommit itself to its evangelical project. In January, as the Thaddeus rounded Cape Horn and the mission band “gaze[d] upon” the region’s “rude coasts,” Bingham reflected on the work to be done in Hawai‘i. “Here, as there,” she wrote, “‘No gospel’s joyful sound’ is heard.” She regretted that the “poor souls” the missionaries passed knew “no other scepter than that of the Prince of darkness.” Yet Bingham was hopeful that “the day is hastening when they shall.”[3]

Bingham carried this confidence with her into the spring, when the Thaddeus sailed near the coast of Hawai‘i. On March 30, 1820, Bingham reported that Thomas Hopu, one of the mission’s Hawaiian assistants, called out to the slumbering missionaries: “Land appears!” After a trying sea journey, the mission band came into “full view” of Hawai‘i, “that dark pagan land so long the object” of missionaries’ “most interested thoughts.” The excitement on board the Thaddeus must have been nearly palpable. As Bingham wryly observed: “[T]here was but little sleep.” In the morning, a small crew went ashore to “inquire into the state of things.” They returned with news that stunned all those still gathered on board. “Kamehameha is dead!” they reported. “The government is settled in the hands of his son, Liholiho . . . the taboo system is no more . . . the idol gods are burned!” It took some time for the missionaries and their wives to absorb the astonishing news. They could only interpret the changes as a sign of God’s will. “The Lord,” it seemed, had “gone before” the missionaries, clearing a space for their work in the islands.[4]
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Island Queens and Mission Wives, by Jennifer Thigpen’ »

  1. [1] Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, November 8, 1819, Journals Collection, Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society Library, Honolulu, Hawai’i (HMCS). See also Sybil Moseley Bingham, journal, November 9, 1819, Journals Collection, HMCS.
  2. [2] Sybil Moseley Bingham, journal, January 6, 1820, Journals Collection, HMCS.
  3. [3] Sybil Moseley Bingham, journal, January 26, 1820, Journals Collection, HMCS. See also Samuel and Nancy Ruggles, journal, January 26, 1820, Journals Collection, HMCS.
  4. [4] Sybil Moseley Bingham, journal, March 30, 1820, Journals Collection, HMCS. See also Bingham, A Residence, 69–70; Anderson, History of the Sandwich Islands Mission, 18, 19; and Tracy, et al. History of American Missions to the Heathen, 91–92.

Claude Andrew Clegg III: Elijah Muhammad, Then and Now

The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad, by Claude Andrew Clegg IIIWe welcome a guest post today from Claude Andrew Clegg III, author of The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975) was one of the most significant and controversial black leaders of the twentieth century. His followers called him the Messenger of Allah, while his critics labeled him a teacher of hate. Southern by birth, Muhammad moved north, eventually serving as the influential head of the Nation of Islam for over forty years. In this authoritative biography, Clegg not only chronicles Muhammad’s life, but also examines the history of American black nationalists and the relationship between Islam and the African American experience.

In today’s post, Clegg considers Elijah Muhammad’s ideas of race and Islam in his own time and in ours.


In thinking again about the black separatism and racialized Islam that characterized Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, I am struck by both the continuities and disjunctions between his time and ours. Born in Georgia in 1897, Muhammad (then known as Elijah Poole) saw some of the worst predations of the postemancipation Jim Crow South, including debt peonage, labor abuses, and even lynchings. His move to Detroit in 1923 and subsequent membership in one of the many race-conscious, ideologically quixotic movements that emerged from the depths of the Great Depression reinforced his interpretation of his southern experiences, philosophically grounding him in an inverted racial ethos of African American superiority and religious chauvinism.

The Nation of Islam, which Muhammad would lead for forty years until his death in 1975, did not come into its own until the late 1950s, when sensationalized stories about “black supremacists” thrust him and his followers, including Malcolm X, onto the national stage. Still, even with the landmark legislation and social changes that resulted from the black freedom movement of that period, Muhammad remained remarkably consistent regarding his views on race, his heterodox brand of Islam, and his apocalyptic vision of a coming reordering of black-white relations.

From our contemporary perch in the twenty-first century with its benefit of historical hindsight, many of Muhammad’s beliefs and goals appear, at best, anachronistic. There has been much progress in various realms of American life in regard to race, whether one considers African American access to the ballot box, gains in the workplace and the professions, educational attainments, or social mobility in general. Some have mused that we now live in a “postracial” society in which one’s demographic background and identity no longer serve as discernible barriers to entry into the circles of power, influence, and opportunity in American society.

As a corollary to this view, the election and re-election of Barack Obama as the first African American president are often cited as the quintessential testament of U.S. progress in the area of civil rights and racial equality. To a substantial degree, this position holds some merit against the broader backdrop of American race relations. Undoubtedly, Elijah Muhammad could scarcely have imagined an America as open to black participation and inclusion as the one in existence today, much less an African American chief executive. In other words, the possibility of a Barack Obama would have challenged foundational elements of Muhammad’s understanding of the country, as well as how he viewed white Americans.

Notwithstanding these historical ruptures in expectations and experiences, our America is a product of Muhammad’s America and to know our times is to appreciate the era in which he lived.  Continue reading ‘Claude Andrew Clegg III: Elijah Muhammad, Then and Now’ »

Gregory F. Domber: What Putin Misunderstands about American Power

Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War, by Gregory F. DomberWe welcome a guest post today from Gregory F. Domber, author of Empowering Revolution: America, Poland, and the End of the Cold War (October 2014). During the 1980s, both the United States and the Soviet Union vied for influence over Poland’s politically tumultuous steps toward democratic revolution. In Empowering Revolution, Domber examines American policy toward Poland and its promotion of moderate voices within the opposition, while simultaneously addressing the Soviet and European influences on Poland’s revolution in 1989.

In today’s post, Domber counters Vladimir Putin’s current denouncements of American manipulation of regime changes throughout the world with an account of America’s backseat approach to revolution in Poland 25 years ago.


This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the revolutions that brought an end to Soviet-dominated Communist governments in Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. And while these countries have all successfully rejoined Europe, the mythology of the revolutions of 1989 is now echoing further to the east—in the Ukrainian crisis—where Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview is informed by a skewed vision of America’s central role in undermining the Soviet Union’s empire. As numerous commentators have noted, Putin is pushing a new nationalist conservatism with a strong strain of anti-Americanism, promoting a vision of the United States as the primary conspirator pulling strings to foster international chaos and regime change.

As former Ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul noted recently in the New Yorker, “Putin has a theory of American power that has some empirical basis.” The CIA overthrew governments in Iran and Guatemala, the United States bombed Belgrade to remove a dictator, and there is, of course, Iraq. However, a close examination of American policy toward Poland—the country the United States pushed hardest to break from the Soviet sphere in the 1980s—brings to the fore just how far the Russian president’s views are removed from reality. The United States is not nearly the revolutionary mastermind Putin seems to think it is.

From the birth of the Solidarity trade union in 1980, the U.S. government understood the movement’s potential to overturn the status quo; it was an independent trade union in a country where the government’s legitimacy grew out of an ideology based on defending workers. But the Carter and early Reagan administrations initially restrained their direct contacts with the movement because Solidarity distanced itself from foreign governments and only accepted things like fax machines, office supplies, and printing equipment from other trade unions.

After General Wojciech Jaruzelski declared martial law in December 1981 and Solidarity leaders were either jailed or forced into the underground, the United States took a more provocative line. Continue reading ‘Gregory F. Domber: What Putin Misunderstands about American Power’ »

Excerpt: Framing Chief Leschi, by Lisa Blee

Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice by Lisa BleeIn 1855 in the South Puget Sound, war broke out between Washington settlers and Nisqually Indians. A party of militiamen traveling through Nisqually country was ambushed, and two men were shot from behind and fatally wounded. After the war, Chief Leschi, a Nisqually leader, was found guilty of murder by a jury of settlers and hanged in the territory’s first judicial execution. But some 150 years later, in 2004, the Historical Court of Justice, a symbolic tribunal that convened in a Tacoma museum, reexamined Leschi’s murder conviction and posthumously exonerated him. In Framing Chief Leschi: Narratives and the Politics of Historical Justice, Lisa Blee uses this fascinating case to uncover the powerful, lasting implications of the United States’ colonial past.

In the following excerpt (pp. 70-72), Blee examines how the war in Iraq informed the Historical Court of Justice’s decision to exonerate Chief Leschi 150 years later.


[Ezra] Meeker wrote in the introduction to Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and the Tragedy of Leschi: “To tell the truth about [Indians] is no more than justice.” Although Meeker intended the “truth” to rescue the honor of the “pioneers,” one hundred years later the petitioners also equated truth and justice to argue for Leschi’s exoneration in the Historical Court.[1] The expert witnesses relied upon a mix of nineteenth-century documents to build their case: government reports, settlers’ letters, newspaper reports, public meeting minutes, journals, accounts of the legal proceedings, and other publications. They also used settlers’ memoirs penned in the 1890s, because those writings held information about Leschi that was especially helpful to the petitioners’ case. Meeker, for example, laid the blame for Leschi’s death upon territorial officials, which helped the petitioners build a tidy legal argument but obscured the fact that non-Indians benefited for generations from federal aid and the use of military force against indigenous peoples. The petitioners seemed to accept Meeker’s depictions of settlers’ innocence as long as the judges admitted that a mistake had been made. In 2007, one of the petitioners’ legal advisers said: “It doesn’t matter if it’s a binding decision or not. Leschi’s still dead . . . [but at least] Stevens is discredited.”[2] The petitioners used settlers’ writings to build an argument in a narrowly defined legalistic case, but the continuities in colonial ideology expressed in these documents remained largely outside of this specific framing.

The Committee to Exonerate Chief Leschi and its legal counsel used the documentary record to develop an argument advocating for the legal status of combatants in U.S. wars, an approach that seemed especially tailored to engage with an on-going debate in the early twenty-first century. In 2003 and 2004, a flurry of books and films from across the political spectrum questioned the so-called War on Terror, especially the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the Bush administration’s efforts to justify it.[3] Much like the Puget Sound War in the mid-nineteenth century, U.S. overseas conflicts in the early twenty-first century were arguably an outward manifestation of domestic economic, political, and cultural crisis—“an attempt to manage or defer coming to terms with contradictions besetting the American way of life,” as Andrew Bacevich puts it.[4] This context of war and public debate about its righteousness shaped the petitioners’ legal arguments and the judges’ interpretations of the documentary record related to Leschi. Although the military law experts who testified in the Historical Court did not mention the current wars, one judge recalled afterward that “all of us were aware of what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan” as they deliberated Leschi’s case.[5] Leschi’s exoneration offered the judges the opportunity to confirm America’s commitment to liberal values of equality and freedom in the midst of an increasingly unpopular war. The judges’ decision could help Americans declare the United States as both powerful and good.
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Framing Chief Leschi, by Lisa Blee’ »

  1. [1] Meeker held a paternalistic view of Indians, which was typical for the period. See Meeker, Pioneer Reminiscences of Puget Sound and the Tragedy of Leschi, 222–25. [Tribal historian Cecelia] Carpenter used quotes from Meeker’s book for her testimony, especially pp. 206–11. Ironically, Meeker’s legal and political perspectives could also undercut the petitioners’ legal case in 2004. Meeker described Indian nationhood and land title as fictional, and, although he characterized Leschi as a principled combatant, he denied that Nisquallies had reason to resist land loss and that they had the right to commence war. Meeker, Seventy Years of Progress in Washington, 349. The writings produced at the turn of the twentieth century had various results. On the one hand, older non-Indians taught a younger generation of Washingtonians negative stereotypes about their indigenous neighbors and dismissed the legal force of Indian treaties. On the other hand, Meeker’s sympathy for Leschi heavily influenced twentieth-century historians. In the second half of the century, writers used Meeker’s work to create romantic depictions of preservation Indian life and exalt Leschi as a tragic victim. By the close of the century, Leschi had been used to promote a variety of liberal critiques of American culture, from capitalism and environmental destruction to racism and militarism. See Binns, Mighty Mountain; Chaplin, “Only the Drums Remembered”; Emmon, Leschi of the Nisquallies; Vaughn, Puget Sound Invasion; and Eckrom, Remembered Drums.
  2. [2] Interview with Thor Hoyte.
  3. [3] Bacevich, New American Militarism, 4–5. Michael Moore’s documentary Farenheit 9/11 opened at number one in U.S. theaters in the summer of 2004. Dawson and Schueller, Exceptional State, 13.
  4. [4] Bacevich argues that Americans’ tendency to conflate liberty with consumerism leads to imperialist wars justified as a defense of Americans’ freedom. Bacevich, Limits of Power, 5–11.
  5. [5] Kluger, Bitter Waters of Medicine Creek, 282.

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

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

It is one thing to skim, in a few distracted seconds, an online chronology of the war and think, for example, That’s right, spring and summer 1864, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, the Crater, check, check, check, check, check. It is another to observe, in any way one chooses to observe it, the anniversary of Cold Harbor on June 3, and then to discover that June 8 was the 150th anniversary of the nomination of Lincoln, at the convention of the National Union Party in Baltimore, for a second term as president. Merely to list the two events one after the other in a bare-bones chronology is to risk missing altogether what a long, overshadowed, dispiriting interval the five days between the two events must have been—for the eventual nominee, for the delegates who nominated him, for the people they represented. Yet this silent, fretful interval remains invisible amidst a procession of bigger anniversaries that sail past like parade floats.

Overshadowed, dispiriting, fretful intervals have their anniversaries, too, but they rarely get much attention, even though they took up most of the 1500 days of the war for one side or the other. For one thing, such intervals do not offer us the stuff of spectacular reenactments. How do we stage public reenactments of the epidemic tightness in the chest or roiling in the stomach, the insomnia or melancholy or panic experienced by millions after First Manassas–Bull Run or the fall of Vicksburg? For another, anxious, doubtful intervals rarely come neatly packaged in single moments or artifacts we can point to and date and commemorate on their anniversaries. But there is at least one, and its memorable form came from Lincoln’s pen.

So far in the sesquicentennial we have observed anniversaries of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg address, and early in March 2015 we will be observing the anniversary of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. But it is quite likely that Saturday, August 23, 2014, will come and go for most of us without our pausing to think about two sentences written by Lincoln 150 years earlier, on a busy Tuesday on which he also thanked the 147th Ohio Regiment for its services, recognized a new consul of Peru at San Francisco, and signed the order for the sale of valuable land in “the late Winnebago Indian Reservation, in Minnesota.” Lincoln’s two sentences, memorized and recited by very few, go this way: “This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this Administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect, as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”

Read Cushman’s full post, “The 150th Anniversary of Probable Failure,” at


Chantal Norrgard: The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission: Tribal Sovereignty in Action

Seasons of Change: Labor, Treaty Rights, and Ojibwe Nationhood, by Chantal NorrgardWe welcome a guest post today from Chantal Norrgard, author of Seasons of Change: Labor, Treaty Rights, and Ojibwe Nationhood. From the 1870s to the 1930s, the Lake Superior Ojibwes of Minnesota and Wisconsin faced dramatic economic, political, and social changes. Examining a period that began with the tribe’s removal to reservations and closed with the Indian New Deal, Norrgard explores the critical link between Ojibwes’ efforts to maintain their tribal sovereignty and their labor traditions and practices. Norrgard shows how the tribe strategically used treaty rights claims over time to uphold its right to work and to maintain the rhythm and texture of traditional Ojibwe life.

In the following post, Norrgard explains what tribal sovereignty means and one way that the Ojibwe exercise it.


Sovereignty is a contested term in Native American and Indigenous Studies, but as political scientist David Wilkins has asserted, tribal sovereignty is not the same as Western concepts of sovereignty. It exists as a “spiritual, moral, and cultural force” that propels a tribal community towards political economic and cultural integrity and “mature relationships” with itself, with other groups, and with the environment. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) exemplifies this definition and shows how tribal sovereignty applies to the complex process of decolonization among Lake Superior Ojibwe.

GLIFWC was born out of Ojibwe struggles to exercise their treaty rights in the 1980s. In 1837 and 1842 treaties, Ojibwe Bands in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan collectively reserved the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights in territory they ceded to the United States. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Ojibwe people struggled to exercise these rights in the face of federal Indian policy restricting their mobility and livelihoods. State conservation laws targeted Indians and arrested them for exercising the rights reserved in treaties to hunt, fish, and gather.

This changed in 1983, when the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit affirmed that Ojibwes in Wisconsin had the right to hunt, fish, and gather off-reservation in what is known as the Voigt Decision. Following the Decision, tribes and the state hashed out the nature and scope of these rights in a series of tense litigation that lasted until 1991.

In order to counter state regulation of treaty rights, Ojibwe leaders from communities around Lake Superior sought to create a governing body that would enable them to reaffirm their treaty rights and to co-manage natural resources and  communicate with nontribal governments. In 1984, 11 tribal governments of Ojibwe Bands from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan met and asserted that they had the authority to organize themselves. They decided that they would use their tribal sovereignty to create a self-regulatory, inter-tribal agency: GLIFWC.

GLIFWC has been instrumental in uniting Ojibwe communities in the midst of their continual struggles to exercise treaty rights. In 1990, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe filed suit against the State of Minnesota because it refused to recognize the Voigt Decision. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. Not only did GLIFWC play an active role in supporting the litigation, but it also brought together Ojibwe people to address one of the darkest events in their history on which the case hinged. Continue reading ‘Chantal Norrgard: The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission: Tribal Sovereignty in Action’ »

Excerpt: Common Threads, by Sally Dwyer-McNulty

Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American CatholicismA well-illustrated cultural history of the apparel worn by American Catholics, Sally Dwyer-McNulty’s Common Threads: A Cultural History of Clothing in American Catholicism reveals the transnational origins and homegrown significance of clothing in developing identity, unity, and a sense of respectability for a major religious group that had long struggled for its footing in a Protestant-dominated society often openly hostile to Catholics. Focusing on those who wore the most visually distinct clothes—priests, women religious, and schoolchildren—Dwyer-McNulty tracks and analyzes changes in Catholic clothing all the way through the twentieth century and into the present, which finds the new Pope Francis choosing to wear plain black shoes rather than ornate red ones.

In the following excerpt (pp. 60-63), Dwyer-McNulty reveals how nuns’ attire in the nineteenth century could lead to ill health and harassment. Adaptation of attire became a necessity for the well being of women religious.


Adaptation and Anti-Catholicism

Similar to early-nineteenth-century Catholic priests, sisters believed that a certain amount of adaptation was necessary if they were to successfully settle in the new United States. The hierarchy concurred. Bishop Rese of Detroit wrote to Rome in 1835, “Every religious order in America must unite the active life to the contemplative; otherwise the Americans would reject them, and we do not have means to support them in any other way.”[1] Without a tradition of Catholicism, monasteries, or nuns bringing dowries, the United States presented nuns and sisters with a unique set of challenges. The sisters would have to devise reliable methods of sustaining themselves. Begging was a temporary solution, but sisters found teaching and hospital work monetarily more reliable.

Other bishops agreed with Rese, arguing that flexibility was the key to the sisters’ survival. Bishop Rosati believed that the austerity that some orders observed, for instance, was not conducive to life in America. In the case of the Sisters of Loretto, their founder, Belgian priest Father Nerinckx, established severe rules that did not account for frontier conditions. Referring to the Sisters of Loretto in an 1823 letter to Bishop Dubourg, Bishop Rosati of St. Louis commented, “They go barefooted, have no other dresses but what they make themselves, of dyed linen in Summer and of wool in Winter, and they sleep upon a straw tick, spread on the bare floor. Their fare is no more delicate: no coffee, tea, or sugar. It is true pleasure to witness their fervor, which equals that of the strictest communities of Europe in the palmist days of their first establishment.”[2] While Rosati praised the band of hard-working Sisters of Loretto, other clerics became concerned, concluding that such extreme deprivation and arduous labor endangered the sisters’ lives. Eleven Lorettines perished during the first seven years of a mission in Bethania, North Carolina, due to the austerity and exposure.[3] Bishop Benedict Flaget of Louisville, Kentucky, lamented that “going barefoot, and sleeping with their clothes on and then praying in oratories open to the wind . . . made the sisters prone to contract tuberculosis.” Flaget wrote to Bishop Rosati, “In the space of eleven years we have lost twenty-four religious, and not one of them had yet reached the age of thirty years. Besides, of the eighty religious of the same family, that we have in Kentucky, there are at present thirty-eight who have bad health and who are perhaps not yet four years in vows. I learned that in your convent you have five or six whose health is almost ruined. All these deaths and other illnesses so multiplied, do not prove . . . that the rules are too austere?”[4] Flaget, with Rome’s endorsement, saw to it that the rule of the Sisters of Loretto changed. Thereafter the rule required behaviors less destructive to the sisters’ health.[5]
Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Common Threads, by Sally Dwyer-McNulty’ »

  1. [1] Robert Trisco, The Holy See and the Nascent Church in the Middle Western States (Rome: Gregorian University, 1962), 308, quoted in Ewen, Role of the Nun, 135.
  2. [2] Maes, Life of Rev. Charles Nerinckx, 508, consulted and quoted in Ewen, Role of the Nun, 51.
  3. [3] Ewen, Role of the Nun, 53.
  4. [4] Flaget to Rosati, 11 September 1824, St. Louis Archdiocesan Archive, quoted in ibid., 54.
  5. [5] Ibid.

Luther Adams: Claiming the South as Home: African Americans and Southern Identity

Way Up North in Louisville: African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970, by Luther Adams We welcome a guest post today from Luther Adams, author of Way Up North in Louisville: African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970. In the wake of World War II, when roughly half the black population left the South seeking greater opportunity and freedom in the North and West, the same desire often anchored African Americans to the South. Adams offers a powerful reinterpretation of the modern civil rights movement and of the transformations in black urban life within the contexts of migration, work, and urban renewal. While acknowledging the destructive downside of emerging post-industrialism for African Americans in the Jim Crow South, Adams concludes that persistent patterns of economic and racial inequality did not rob black people of their capacity to act in their own interests.

In the following post, Adams considers how African Americans have claimed the South as Home—on their own terms.


As I sat down to write about Louisville, Kentucky, I thought of Tennessee. Not the place, but the song. In 1992 Arrested Development recorded “Tennessee,” a prayer to the Lord for guidance. God said, “go back from whence you came.” Tennessee. Home.

Arrested Development’s song meditates on the power of returning to the place from “whence you came.” As home the South is a site of oppression and the place where African American people and culture was born. Through repetition “Tennessee” insists the South is home and that being rooted in history and the earth where your ancestors lived, worked, and died can heal black people suffering from life in urban ghettos. For African Americans, defining the South as home demands an acknowledgement of slavery, Jim Crow, and ongoing racial violence. It demands the value of black lives and families be recognized. Go home, the MC Speech implores, to “walk the roads my forefathers walked/ climb the trees where my forefathers hung from.” Home, the place of “my family tree, my family name.”

In “Tennessee,” Arrested Development left us a jam that added to a rich body of black political thought conceptualizing and acknowledging the South as Home. More than a hundred years before, in 1864, a black church leader from Port Royal, South Carolina, crystallized African Americans’ connection to the South, saying, “[T]his very land is rich with the sweat of we face and the blood of we back. We born here, we parents’ grave here; this here our home.” The phrasing “we face,” “we back,” “we born,” and “our home,” expresses a collective basis of identification among African Americans in Port Royal. Well aware of the wealth generated by their labor and blood, African Americans looked to the past, their shared experiences in slavery, and understanding of themselves as a people to shape their sense of the Home.

Similarly, in her incisive Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Angela Davis points to the role of collective memory in African Americans’ view of the South as Home. The South was not only a place of oppression but for Davis, “Home is evocatively and metaphorically represented as the South, conceptualized as the territorial location of historical sites of resistance to white supremacy.”

Home is not just about the past but also the present and future. Continue reading ‘Luther Adams: Claiming the South as Home: African Americans and Southern Identity’ »