Steven E. Nash: Who Was Virgil Lusk?

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. 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 a previous post, Nash addresses the vandalism of an Asheville, N.C. monument on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the context of the racial politics of Reconstruction-era Asheville. In today’s post, Nash tells the story of a former Confederate officer who took on a difficult task during the Reconstruction period.


It was a cold, rainy December afternoon when my wife finally asked the question: “Who was Virgil Lusk?” It was a fair question. After all, I had dragged her around Asheville’s historic Riverside Cemetery for well over an hour trying to locate his grave. With each grave adorned with a miniature Confederate battle flag, my frustration mounted. Lusk was a Confederate soldier. So why was my strategy of driving toward those flags not producing any results? Was his flag missing? Who was Virgil Lusk?

Let us start with the basic facts. Lusk was born in a section of Buncombe County later carved off to form part of Madison County. He was a lawyer, a Confederate cavalry officer, and a prisoner of war. So where was his battle flag? Maybe the answer lies after the war. Unlike many Confederate veterans, he surrendered both his sword and the cause in 1865. Lusk became a Republican. Nowadays, Republicans constitute a major part of the electorate in western North Carolina. During Reconstruction, however, many mountain whites viewed Republicans as akin to traitors. A sectional party built upon an adherence to a free labor ideology praising labor and middle class respectability, the “Party of Lincoln” carried the stain of defeat in the South. Tens of thousands of southerners—white and black—rallied to the Republican Party seeking a greater voice in local government after the war; those men like Lusk who did so after donning Confederate gray earned the enmity of their bitterly defeated former friends.

Lusk’s rise to prominence stemmed more from the oft-ignored Reconstruction period in the Carolina mountains. The state legislator appointed district solicitors in those days. The 12th District solicitor was David Coleman, a Confederate colonel with a not-so-secret drinking problem. His appointment dated from December 1865, and his short time in office was controversial. Although western North Carolina was predominantly pro-Confederate in its wartime sympathies, pockets of Unionism, growing wartime disaffection, and economic hardship strained mountaineers’ ties to the Confederacy. Coleman earned a reputation for unfairly prosecuting Unionists after the war, and the military removed him from office in 1868.

Lusk benefited from Coleman’s fall. Without a doubt, Lusk won no favor among the local Conservative Party leadership by taking the job. The historical record gives the distinct impression, however, that Lusk cared little about Conservatives’ feelings. The new solicitor used his office to fight against a growing Ku Klux Klan threat in his district. The Klan made its presence felt in western North Carolina in the spring of 1868. Threats against African Americans and federal agents announced its arrival as early as April. When Asheville erupted in violence on election day in November, at least one local observer blamed the Klan.

Prosecuting alleged Klansmen was no easy matter, but Lusk felt obligated to resist the lawlessness plaguing his community. It was an uphill battle. Continue reading ‘Steven E. Nash: Who Was Virgil Lusk?’ »

Catherine A. Stewart: Having an Honest Conversation about Slavery—Now and Then

Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers' Project, by Catherine A. StewartWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Catherine A. Stewart, author of Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers’ Project. From 1936 to 1939, the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project collected life stories from more than 2,300 former African American slaves. These narratives are now widely used as a source to understand the lived experience of those who made the transition from slavery to freedom. But in this examination of the project and its legacy, Stewart shows it was the product of competing visions of the past, as ex-slaves’ memories of bondage, emancipation, and life as freedpeople were used to craft arguments for and against full inclusion of African Americans in society. By shedding new light on a critically important episode in the history of race, remembrance, and the legacy of slavery in the United States, Stewart compels readers to rethink a prominent archive used to construct that history.

In today’s post, Stewart argues for the ongoing need for a much-avoided and uncomfortable conversation for many Americans today: the history of slavery in the United States.


Recent public conversations have revealed how ignorant most Americans remain about slavery, and also how resistant many are to hearing the truth about it. Reporting from the frontlines of this battle over Civil War memory are those doing public history: the educators, interpreters, and docents at historic sites, who engage a large number of visitors exhibiting a wide spectrum of assumptions and ideological perspectives—many of them mistaken—about the relationships of slaveholders and the enslaved.

Former tour guide Margaret Biser discusses the misconceptions that she encountered about slavery during her six years working at a historic site on Twitter as @AfAmHistFail. And, in the Web series “Ask a Slave,” which has become a cult phenomenon, actress Azie Dungey plays the role of a fictional house slave, Lizzie Mae, maid to first lady Martha Washington. Dungey created the series based on her own experiences portraying the life of Caroline Branham, one of the slaves owned by the Washingtons at Mount Vernon. The questions Lizzie Mae fields in the series are based on actual questions posed by tourists, and they suggest that the American public is largely clueless about the history and institution of slavery. As Dungey explains the show’s rationale, “I am not talking about slavery . . . I’m talking about modern racism, and I’m talking about modern ignorance.”

Yet despite Americans’ illiteracy about slavery, they clearly want to have a conversation about it, if the sold-out symposium this past September sponsored by Slate and GWU, “How to Talk Honestly About Slavery,” is any indication. Media attention to racial inequality and violence against black Americans and public awareness raised by Black Lives Matter and other social justice organizations have made race and the continuing legacy of slavery a topic of national conversation, one even political leaders have joined. In a much-discussed podcast interview in June 2015, President Obama observed that “the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, in almost every institution of our lives . . . casts a long shadow and that is still part of our DNA that is passed on and we are not cured of it.”

But this current conversation is not the first time Americans and political leaders have attempted to talk honestly about slavery. In the 1930s, the federal government began an unprecedented and revolutionary discussion of slavery and its legacy by hiring unemployed writers to interview the last living generation of African Americans to have experienced slavery. The Federal Writers’ Ex-Slave Project sparked conversations between direct descendants of Confederate slaveholders and former slaves. This project, with its radical objective of recovering and reclaiming African Americans’ experiences with slavery and freedom, along with its failings and limitations, has much to tell us about why conversations about the past of slavery remain so difficult for Americans today.

The FWP’s Ex-Slave Project marks a historic moment in which the federal government both invited and enabled African Americans (as informants, interviewers, and in one case, as a federal director of the Project) to talk about black identity, but it also created a space in which they could address Jim Crow. The Ex-Slave Project set in motion a series of profoundly earthshaking and revelatory encounters as black and white Americans from different regions, educational backgrounds, and economic classes spoke to each other across the racial divide.

But the compromising circumstances of the color line in 1930s America made it almost impossible for blacks and whites to speak to one another freely about slavery. At all levels of the project, white employees’ varied assumptions about black identity and the historical legacy of slavery came into contact, and often conflict, with African American perspectives. Although the project did employ a number of African Americans as interviewers—most notably in the states of Virginia, Louisiana, and Florida, all of which established racially segregated Negro Writers’ Units—the majority of FWP interviewers involved in collecting these oral histories were southern whites.

There were many factors that shaped these conversations and their primary outcome, the ex-slave narratives, but one of the most surprising discoveries I made in my research was Confederate involvement in the project. Continue reading ‘Catherine A. Stewart: Having an Honest Conversation about Slavery—Now and Then’ »

Robert G. Parkinson: The Shot Heard Round the World Revisited

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution, by Robert G. ParkinsonWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Robert G. Parkinson, author of The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolutionwhich is being published in association with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia. When the Revolutionary War began, the odds of a united, continental effort to resist the British seemed nearly impossible. Few on either side of the Atlantic expected thirteen colonies to stick together in a war against their cultural cousins. In this pathbreaking book, Parkinson argues that to unify the patriot side, political and communications leaders linked British tyranny to colonial prejudices, stereotypes, and fears about insurrectionary slaves and violent Indians. Manipulating newspaper networks, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and their fellow agitators broadcast stories of British agents inciting African Americans and Indians to take up arms against the American rebellion. Using rhetoric like “domestic insurrectionists” and “merciless savages,” the founding fathers rallied the people around a common enemy and made racial prejudice a cornerstone of the new Republic. 

In today’s post, Parkinson sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in U.S. history, focusing on how “the shot heard round the world” affected the racial tensions in America.


Sixty years after the battle, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a triumphant hymn to the “embattled farmers” of Concord, Massachusetts, who gathered at the “rude bridge that arched the flood” underneath “their flag to April’s breeze unfurled” and “fired the shot heard round the world.” Emerson solemnized the “spirit that made those heroes dare / to die, or leave their children free.” Emerson’s imagery added to the already thick layers of mythology surrounding the events of April 19, 1775, fusing together nature and nation to craft an American pastoral patriotism. Ever since, when Americans think about the start of the Revolution, it is Emerson’s chorus—of heroic white colonists fighting to preserve their liberty—that plays in the background of this nationalist legend.

But that wasn’t how some people thought about the events of that night. In fact, race played a role in how people reacted to the Lexington Alarm. Even in Massachusetts.

Josiah Temple, a native of Framingham, Massachusetts (about fifteen miles south of Concord), published a book in 1887 on the town’s history. His recounting of what people remembered about the night of the Alarm was so different from the legend that he found it impossible to believe.

For four generations, the local story of the night of April 19, 1775, was that, as soon as the town’s militia marched north toward Lexington Green, a “strange panic” spread through Framingham. But that’s not what surprised the town historian, nor should it us. But what they said next certainly seems odd: “The Negroes were coming to massacre them all!” Some in the town, Temple noted, “brought the axes and pitchforks and clubs into the house, and securely bolted the doors, and passed the day and night in anxious suspense.”

It wasn’t the redcoats that scared people in Framingham, apparently, but even more terrifying African Americans in their midst that were plotting to fall upon them. Temple himself dismissed this as impossible. But he was wrong. People in Framingham were afraid of what might happen to them with the astonishing news that they were at war with Britain.

How do we know? Continue reading ‘Robert G. Parkinson: The Shot Heard Round the World Revisited’ »

Stan Ulanski: Wanderers of the Pacific Ocean: Sea Turtles

The California Current: A Pacific Ecosystem and Its Fliers, Divers, and Swimmers, by Stan UlanskiWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Stan Ulanski, author of The California Current: A Pacific Ecosystem and Its Fliers, Divers, and Swimmers. The California Current—part of the large, swirling North Pacific gyre—flows slowly southward along the west coast of North America, stretching nearly 2,000 miles from southern British Columbia to the tip of Baja California in Mexico. To a casual observer standing on the shore, the vast current betrays no discernible signs, yet life abounds just over the horizon. Ulanski takes us into the water on a journey through this magnificent, unique marine ecosystem, illuminating the scientific and biological marvels and the astonishing array of flora and fauna streaming along our Pacific coast.

In today’s post, Ulanski shares a glimpse into the world of living dinosaurs of the sea: Pacific sea turtles. 


As I researched and studied the myriad organisms that swim in and fly over the California Current for my book on this unique ecosystem, none caught my attention more than Pacific sea turtles—living dinosaurs of the ocean. Theirs is an old story—one of long journeys and nesting rituals performed over the eons. The tale below chronicles the journey and trials of a determined sea turtle.

Travelling thousands of miles from her home waters in the California Current, a massive leatherback turtle weighing upwards of 400 pounds lumbers up a remote beach in the Indonesian archipelago. She is laser focused on only one goal: to lay her eggs in the soft beach sands—a ritual that has been played out over the ages by her ancestors. The probability is high that the beach she has chosen is the same one from which she was hatched more than thirty years ago.

Under the cover of darkness, she finds a suitable nesting site above the high tide line and diligently excavates a hole big enough to hold the dozens of eggs she will deposit. With the eggs carefully set in place, she begins the time-consuming task of covering them up, using her big flippers like paddles to shovel sand into the nest cavity. Satisfied that her nest is secure from predators, she returns to the sea, but only briefly. In ten days, she will return to the beach to deposit another clutch of eggs, a chore she may repeat as many as eleven times during the nesting season. But soon her instincts tell her it is time to leave and begin a long journey thousands of miles across the Pacific. Though a powerful, deliberate swimmer, she will take months to complete her arduous migration. She will most likely ride the great subtropical North Pacific gyre—a complex of ocean currents—to the California coast.

But her journey will not be without peril. She must survive a gauntlet of obstacles, primarily from commercial fisheries. She particularly runs the risk of Continue reading ‘Stan Ulanski: Wanderers of the Pacific Ocean: Sea Turtles’ »

Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Origins of Our “Numerical Neurosis”: Numbering Systems in American Life

Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life, by Tamara Plakins ThorntonWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Tamara Plakins Thornton, author of Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life. In this engagingly written biography, Thornton delves into the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a man Thomas Jefferson once called a “meteor in the hemisphere.” Bowditch was a mathematician, astronomer, navigator, seafarer, and business executive whose Enlightenment-inspired perspectives shaped nineteenth-century capitalism while transforming American life more broadly. By examining Bowditch’s pathbreaking approaches to institutions, as well as the political and social controversies they provoked, Thornton’s biography sheds new light on the rise of capitalism, American science, and social elites in the early republic.

In today’s post, Thornton recalls a world without Social Security numbers, ISBNs, and zip codes. Nathaniel Bowditch viewed this world and its existing organization systems as haphazard and offered a mathematician’s solution: numbers.


April 15: yet another occasion to provide your Social Security number. It’s just one of many numbers we use to identify ourselves, along with those found on our driver’s licenses, passports, and military ID’s. Being a number instead of a name has become a cliché, but the use of such numbers goes beyond reducing personal identity to a set of numerals. It’s part of a larger world of numbering systems that order people and things alike.

Take books. Since the late 1960s, every newly published volume has been assigned an International Standard Book Number. As it makes its way into libraries, the book is marked with a Library of Congress Classification or a Dewey Decimal System number, and placed on a correspondingly numbered shelf.

It wasn’t always so, and libraries are a good place to find traces of that lost world. Well into the nineteenth century, there were no card catalogs or call numbers. At Harvard, a bound volume listed holdings by author. Within the library, books were arranged by donor. It was all far too haphazard for Nathaniel Bowditch, the early republic’s premier mathematician, author of a best-selling navigation manual, and a Boston business executive known for his habits of “order, exactitude, and method.” Continue reading ‘Tamara Plakins Thornton: The Origins of Our “Numerical Neurosis”: Numbering Systems in American Life’ »

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Muslims in the Classroom

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

In a previous post, Alvarez wrote about Pope Francis’s 2015 visit to Philadelphia. In today’s post, she responds to anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail with a look inside her multi-religious classroom. 


Donald Trump’s suggested ban on Muslims entering the United States and the creation of a Muslim “registry” has been widely (and wisely) condemned. But from my perspective in the classroom, I see how the ideas are already affecting young people. Amid the rows of Catholics, Jews, agnostics, and evangelicals in my religion courses sit dozens of students hailing from the Middle East and South Asia. Their presence is a very good thing. Like most of my students, they are open, curious, and eager to learn. And they are baffled and intimidated by Trump’s rhetoric.

This past year American universities hosted 975,000 foreign students, with approximately 60,000 coming from Saudi Arabia, 9,000 from Kuwait, and 11,000 from Iran. Studying in the United States is both an opportunity and a challenge for them. All young people who travel to other parts of the world to attend college are brave. They are away from home, often for the first time, learning in a non-native language at an institution with different academic and cultural conventions. American education institutions have reassured them that they will be welcomed and supported.

It’s a privilege to watch young adults find their voices, ask questions, share experiences, and reason together. In a climate of increasing violence and fear, moments of understanding and mutual recognition matter. Like my other students, some of my international Muslim students are not religious, others are; some don’t want to talk about their own faith, others do. But over the last few years, these students have sat down for conversations with Reform rabbis and Catholic priests, posed for photos in front of altars and bimahs, and reminded their classmates again and again that they are “people of the book” who honor the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and his mother Mary. They make comparisons and try to build bridges of understanding. Maybe, they ask, Lent and Ramadan are both times of self-denial and penance? Maybe we all attend services for community support as well as to worship and pray? Continue reading ‘Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Muslims in the Classroom’ »

OAH Award-Winning History Books from UNC Press

logo- Annual Meeting of the Organization of American HistoriansOver the weekend at their annual meeting, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) honored seven of our authors with recognition of their outstanding books. Featured below are our five prize winners and two honorable mentions. We hope you’ll join us in celebrating these fine authors and the excellent historical work we have had the privilege to publish. Click the cover images or book titles to read a sample on the UNC Press website.

Darlene Clark Hine Award

Best book in African American women’s and gender history. See a list of previous Darlene Clark Hine Award winners.

2016 Winner! Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, by Talitha L. LeFlouria

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, by Talitha L. LeFlouria

2016 Honorable Mention: Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. Randolph

Florynce “Flo” Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. Randolph

Frederick Jackson Turner Award

For a first scholarly book dealing with some aspect of American history. See a list of previous Frederick Jackson Turner Award winners.

2016 Winner! Mark G. Hanna, author of Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia

Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740, by Mark G. Hanna

2016 Honorable Mention: Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850, by Andrew J. Torget

Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands, 1800-1850, by Andrew J. Torget

Liberty Legacy Foundation Award

Best book on the civil rights struggle from the beginnings of the nation to the present. See a list of previous Liberty Legacy Foundation Award winners.

2016 Winner! Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, by Tanisha C. Ford

Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul, by Tanisha C. Ford

Merle Curti Award

Best book in American social history. See a list of previous Merle Curti Award winners.

2016 Winner! Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910, by Julie M. Weise

Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910, by Julie M. Weise

Richard W. Leopold Prize

Best book on foreign policy, military affairs, historical activities of the federal government, documentary histories, or biography written by a U.S. government historian or federal contract historian. See a list of previous Richard W. Leopold Prize winners.

2016 Winner! Bringing God to Men: American Military Chaplains and the Vietnam War, by Jacqueline E. Whitt

Bringing God to Men: American Military Chaplains and the Vietnam War, by Jacqueline E. Whitt

Congratulations again to all of our authors!

John Shelton Reed: Busting a Barbecue Myth

Barbecue: a Savor the South® cookbook, by John Shelton ReedWe welcome to the blog a guest post by John Shelton Reed, author of Barbecue: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Reed’s Barbecue celebrates a southern culinary tradition forged in coals and smoke. Since colonial times southerners have held barbecues to mark homecomings, reunions, and political campaigns; today barbecue signifies celebration as much as ever. In a lively and amusing style, Reed traces the history of southern barbecue from its roots in the sixteenth-century Caribbean, showing how this technique of cooking meat established itself in the coastal South and spread inland from there. He discusses how choices of meat, sauce, and cooking methods came to vary from one place to another, reflecting local environments, farming practices, and history.

In a previous post, Reed shares a surprising cocktail recipe reminiscent of a Southern backyard barbecue. In today’s post, Reed shares the most important ingredient in barbecue and the myths surrounding it.


In 2013 Dan Levine and I founded the Campaign for Real Barbecue, to promote the Southern tradition of wood-cooked barbecue. We have been working to identify and applaud those barbecue places that still cook in the old-school way, to encourage new “artisanal” wood-cooking barbecue establishments, and to persuade gas-cookers to return to the True Faith. Our website,, asserts, “Good barbecue can’t be cooked entirely with gas or electricity. Wood smoke is what makes Real Barbecue. And good barbecue cooked entirely with wood is the gold standard by which all others are judged.”

Unfortunately, many “barbecue” restaurants have stopped cooking with wood, or never did. This sorry condition seems to be especially advanced in North Carolina. Outsiders are starting to notice, and our state’s longstanding reputation for barbecue excellence has begun to suffer. Lolis Eric Elie, the author of Smokestack Lightning, remarked recently that “there are far more gas and electric pits [in the Carolinas] than in other parts of barbecue country,” and called it “a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed.” The late Bob Kantor, who cooked with wood on Haight Street in San Francisco at Memphis Minnie’s, professed himself “puzzled and deeply concerned at what appears to be a trend in North Carolina towards substituting gas and electric for wood.” And Jim Shahin, barbecue columnist for the Washington Post, has observed, “Gas has made many inroads into North Carolina barbecue and the authentic wood-only barbecue there is in some jeopardy.” I could go on.

It’s true that cooking with gas or electricity is cheaper and easier, and the product is more consistent (if not great). But when we ask gassers why they don’t cook with wood, they seldom mention those considerations. Instead, what we almost always hear is stuff like “The city won’t let us,” or “The inspector made us stop,” or “It’s against the Clean Air regulations.” In short, the government made them do it.

But this never comes with specifics. Continue reading ‘John Shelton Reed: Busting a Barbecue Myth’ »

UNC Press Receives Grant to Support System-Wide Publishing Initiatives

UNC Press News header

UNC Press contact: John McLeod, 919-962-8419,

UNC Press Receives Grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust to Support System-Wide Publishing Initiatives

In August 2015, with grant funds provided by the office of University of North Carolina president Thomas W. Ross, the University of North Carolina Press launched the Office of Scholarly Publishing Services (OSPS) with the purpose of providing sustainable, mission-driven publishing models and solutions to the campuses of the UNC system. Today, the Press announces a $50,000 one-to-one challenge grant from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust to support the work of the OSPS. Established in honor of President Ross for his vision and support of the OSPS, this eventual $100,000 expendable fund will provide small grants for publishing projects.

“This generous grant from the Kenan Trust will benefit institutions throughout the system as they begin to launch publishing initiatives with the OSPS,” commented Junius Gonzales, senior vice president for academic affairs for the University of North Carolina. “We are very appreciative of the opportunities this grant will provide.”

“Initial publishing costs are often barriers to institutions that want to publish the work of their faculty,” said John McLeod, director of the OSPS. “There are some exciting initiatives under way that just need a modest financial push to get off the ground, and we anticipate that these funds will really make an impact.”

The OSPS will issue a call for proposals early in the summer of 2016. Enabling the creation of Open Educational Resources and creating sustainable publishing initiatives that advance institutions’ missions will be two broad criteria that applicants will be asked to consider. Projects will be evaluated by a group composed of UNC Press staff, a representative from the University Library Advisory Council, and Matthew Rascoff, vice president for technology-based learning and innovation at the University of North Carolina.

“We are extremely grateful for the Kenan Trust’s support of this significant new effort,” said John Sherer, the Spangler Family Director of UNC Press. “It will allow the Press to create system-wide efficiencies and opportunities to lower costs to students, libraries, and other campus units.”

The OSPS offers an array of services in three broad areas: editorial, design, and production; sales, marketing, and distribution; and advising on copyright, publishing strategy, and business planning. By leveraging the expertise of UNC Press and its Longleaf Distribution Services platform, and by partnering with libraries, research centers, and other institutions, the OSPS seeks to offer high-level professional publishing support for people in the UNC System.

People interested in making a charitable gift in response to the Kenan Trust’s challenge should contact Joanna Ruth Marsland, director of development at UNC Press, at or 919-962-0924.


John Sherer: The Cost to Publish a Monograph Is Both Too Low and Too High

[This post was originally published at In the Open.]

Last Fall, consultants from Ithaka S&R visited the University of North Carolina Press to gather data they would use in writing a report on the costs of publishing a scholarly monograph. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the Press staff felt like they were being interviewed by the Bobs from “Office Space.” We were being asked how much time we spend on individual projects. How do we allocate our days? What work do we perform in-house versus outsourcing? And we were being told we would be given tools to measure our productivity and costs against our peers.

In February Ithaka released their study. No PC-Load Letter printers appear to have been harmed in the process.

Here’s what’s great about the report. It reveals in granular detail the amount of care and talent required to produce a high quality humanities monograph. And it isn’t cheap. The costs range from a baseline number of around $25,000 per book to figures three and four times that amount. By some estimates, American university presses produce upwards of several thousand monographs a year. A quick calculation suggests that UPs are covering a minimum of $50 million in expenses to make this scholarship available. I can make the argument it’s twice that amount.

But here’s what gives me pause about the report. Continue reading ‘John Sherer: The Cost to Publish a Monograph Is Both Too Low and Too High’ »

Obama Lands in Cuba

With his arrival in Cuba yesterday, President Barack Obama has become the first sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation since 1928. This three-day trip is just one step in the major shift under the Obama administration to begin to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba. For insightful historical perspective on what this trip means, we check in with some UNC Press authors who are providing helpful analysis.

William LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh are co-authors of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. Kornbluh, who is on location in Havana, appeared on Democracy Now! today and discussed the handling of protesters and the political and economic strategy of Obama bringing with him on this trip CEOs and entrepreneurs from the U.S.:

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana, Updated Edition, by William LeoGrande and Peter KornbluhLeoGrande writes at Huffington Post (in a piece originally published by the Cuban journal Revista Temas) that there are still hurdles yet ahead to fully normalizing relations between the countries. The first two hurdles:

The biggest hurdle to fully normal relations is the continuing U.S. economic embargo. In the 15 months since December 17, 2014, President Obama has licensed significant exceptions to the embargo, opening the door for more U.S. residents to travel to Cuba and more U.S. businesses to trade with Cuban enterprises. But the core of the embargo remains in place: Cuban state enterprises cannot export to the United States and most U.S. businesses cannot invest in Cuba or become joint enterprise partners with Cuban firms.

Since lifting the entire embargo requires that Congress repeal the 1996 Helms-Burton law (the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act), the embargo will not be lifted during Obama’s remaining time in office. In the middle of a heated presidential election campaign, Republicans controlling both the House of Representatives and the Senate will not take any action that makes Obama’s policy look like a success.

The second biggest obstacle to fully normal relations is the U.S. base at Guantánamo. The United States recognizes Guantánamo as sovereign Cuban territory, but it nevertheless refuses to return the base to Cuban control. For the foreseeable future, the top issue on the U.S. agenda regarding Guantánamo will not be how to return it to Cuba, but rather how to close the detention center that Obama pledged to close when he was elected. That has to come first.

Continue reading ‘Obama Lands in Cuba’ »

Excerpt: Chained in Silence, by Talitha L. LeFlouria

Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South, by Talitha L. LeFlouriaIn 1868, the state of Georgia began to make its rapidly growing population of prisoners available for hire. The resulting convict leasing system ensnared not only men but also African American women, who were forced to labor in camps and factories to make profits for private investors. In this vivid work of history, Talitha L. LeFlouria draws from a rich array of primary sources to piece together the stories of these women, recounting what they endured in Georgia’s prison system and what their labor accomplished.

In the following excerpt from Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South (pp. 85-88), LeFlouria investigates how black females imprisoned in Georgia during the late nineteenth century sought to resist disguised versions of postbellum “slavery.”  


Rawhide Whips and Resistance

For many Americans, Independence Day of 1884 was an occasion for merriment. Sunrise gun salutes, picnics, orations, wheelbarrow races, greased-pig-catching contests, and pulsating fireworks that blistered the sky were popular scenes implanted in America’s nineteenth-century viewfinder. But for fourteen-year-old Mollie White, July 4, 1884, signified the closing of her innocence and the suspension of her liberty and bodily sovereignty; it was the day that marked her dreadful passage into Georgia’s itinerant state penitentiary system. Convicted of larceny, White was leased to the B. G. Lockett brickyard to serve out a two-year sentence. Upon entry, her pubescent five-foot, 100-pound body was inspected by a camp authority who decided that, based on her frail physique, she would be most useful as a cook and gardener.

At the B. G. Lockett brickyard, Mollie White prepared meals, dished up prisoners’ feed, and cleaned the soiled shovels and buckets used to serve the nauseating fodder. One year into her sentence, she was moved from the Lockett camp to the Chattahoochee brick plant, where she served out the remainder of her term as a cook. Even supposing the youngster’s work assignments were less rigorous when compared with other female inmates’, youth or labor leniency had little effect on her susceptibility to violence. Mollie White recouped in the area of physical cruelty what she was spared in hard labor.

The Chattahoochee brickyard hosted a series of violent episodes starring “Captain” James T. Casey, overseer for the brick plant. The whipping boss excelled in his role as a disciplinarian and enforcer of white supremacy. He practiced his part by beating fifteen to twenty convicts, daily, often until they “begged and screamed,” fell dead on the ground, or toppled over from exhaustion, heatstroke, of the effects of fiendish brutality. Casey was loyal to the antebellum ethos of plantation management, and he replicated the processes of terror and brutality perfected by slave drivers who used excessive violence to intimidate black captives. He supplemented the old formula with fresh rage, exercising immense cruelty to extract as much labor as possible and to create a docile workforce.

When it came to black female convicts, the whip was Casey’s preferred instrument of torture. An assiduous note taker, the “boss” documented his volatile rage in a series of monthly “whipping reports.” On November 3, 1885, Kate Clarke and Susan Hill experienced one of Casey’s fits. Both women were given twenty-five lashes apiece for “fighting.”[1] Whether Clarke and Hill quarreled with one another or formed a joint attack against Casey is unspecified. Yet, given the collective nature of resistance that sometimes surfaced among female offenders, in addition to Casey’s heavy-handed response to these prisoners’ indiscipline, it is conceivable that this incident involved direct action against the temperamental whipping boss.

Like violence, resistance was a universal outcome of captivity. Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Chained in Silence, by Talitha L. LeFlouria’ »

  1. [1] “Whipping Report at Chattahoochee Camp,” 1885, GA.

Excerpt: The Ashley Cooper Plan, by Thomas D. Wilson

The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture, by Thomas D. WilsonThomas D. Wilson offers surprising new insights into the origins of the political storms we witness today. Wilson connects the Ashley Cooper Plan—a seventeenth-century model for a well-ordered society imagined by Anthony Ashley Cooper (1st Earl of Shaftesbury) and his protégé John Locke—to current debates about views on climate change, sustainable development, urbanism, and professional expertise in general. In doing so, he examines the ways that the city design, political culture, ideology, and governing structures of the Province of Carolina have shaped political acts and public policy even in the present.

In the following excerpt from The Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture (pp. 184-186), Wilson describes the philosophy behind Cooper’s plan for cities in the American South and shows how the city planning model shifted after the Enlightenment.


Ashley Cooper’s Grand Model was the ultimate product of English colonial policy, political philosophy, and city planning prior to the Enlightenment. The Fundamental Constitutions and “instructions,” products of both Ashley Cooper and Locke, formed a body of law and policy written by two of the most astute minds of the time, tempered to be sure by the diverse opinions of the remaining seven Carolina proprietors. Within those documents, city planning (in the broad sense of the term used throughout) held an essential place in the overall design of the colony’s social structure, economy, and government.

Cities of Ashley Cooper’s time were necessary for government, commerce, and the cultural pursuits of aristocracy. City planning was essential to those purposes. But cities were not yet seen as great engines of prosperity and democracy, and they were not yet perceived as a medium capable of leveling class structure, providing education and upward mobility, or fostering creativity among the talented whether poor or wealthy. Urban democracy was still seen as mob rule, and it would continue to be seen that way until the Enlightenment, when the premise that all men are created equal became axiomatic.

When Carolina was founded in the predawn of the Enlightenment, an ordinary English citizen was expected to live in a village where life was well ordered and the lord of the manor or other person of authority looked after his people and represented them in London’s halls of power. It was a society descended from an ancient Gothic framework, one from which Ashley Cooper and Locke saw an opportunity to perfect the English ideals of balanced government, noblesse oblige, and class reciprocity on the blank slate of American wilderness.[1]

The new cities of America envisioned by the Grand Model were planned to be healthier, more efficient, and more civilized, yet reserved for the few who had some purpose to live there. Cities were to be located on rivers at points that would be healthful and central for regional development; they were to be designed with a geometry that would provide for efficient growth; they were to have public squares and river frontage set aside for civic and commercial uses; they were to have aesthetic merit; and they were to be laid out to ensure health and public safety, benefiting from the lessons of the Great Plague and the Great Fire of 1666. Cities were designed to serve a hinterland of estates and villages where most people would find fulfillment in life within their stratum in the social hierarchy. As the colony grew, it would proceed in an orderly and efficient manner, establishing economies of scale before extending into adjacent, newly formed jurisdictions; unplanned growth would not be permitted to leapfrog into new areas until services and infrastructure were in place. In today’s terminology, the model was consistent with principles of “sustainable development” and “smart growth.” Yet the plan was devised by Ashley Cooper and John Locke, fathers of republicanism and classical liberalism—the foundations of modern conservatism and libertarianism, traditions that have now turned against the planning model their idols invented.

James Oglethorpe’s plan for Georgia was a sequel to the Grand Model, consistent with it in many respects but updated with one great departure—the application of the premise that all men are created equal. The plan reveals how a new idea of the city emerged as the ideals of the Enlightenment supplanted those of Ashley Cooper’s age. The philosophy of the city that guided Oglethorpe remained fundamentally that of Ashley Cooper: it aimed to create well-designed places to support essential regional functions, but not places that would attract the multitudes and grow indefinitely. However, the now famous Oglethorpe Plan differed from the Ashley Cooper Plan in another fundamental way Continue reading ‘Excerpt: The Ashley Cooper Plan, by Thomas D. Wilson’ »

  1. [1] Campbell, Mildred. The English Yeoman under Elizabeth and the Early Stuarts. 1942. London: Merlin Press, 1983, pp. 315, 32. Mobility in the countryside was limited.

John Shelton Reed: The Pig Picker: A Barbecue Cocktail

Barbecue: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, by John Shelton ReedWe welcome to the blog a guest post by John Shelton Reed, author of Barbecue: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Reed’s Barbecue celebrates a southern culinary tradition forged in coals and smoke. Since colonial times southerners have held barbecues to mark homecomings, reunions, and political campaigns; today barbecue signifies celebration as much as ever. In a lively and amusing style, Reed traces the history of southern barbecue from its roots in the sixteenth-century Caribbean, showing how this technique of cooking meat established itself in the coastal South and spread inland from there. He discusses how choices of meat, sauce, and cooking methods came to vary from one place to another, reflecting local environments, farming practices, and history.

In today’s post, Reed shares a new spin on cocktails and barbecue sauce that is sure to transport you to a smoky backyard gathering in the South. 


We North Carolinians love our vinegar-based barbecue sauces. In fact, we love them so much we don’t just splash them on barbecue: East of Raleigh we boil potatoes in sauce-spiked water; west of Raleigh sauce goes in slaw. So why not a cocktail with sauce in it?

Well, you got it. Susannah Brinkley, a graphic designer in Charlotte, asked Amanda Fisher and Paul Bright, compilers of The Great NC BBQ Map, to come up with one for her Feast+West food blog, and Amanda and Paul delivered, with the Southern Islander Shrub. Shrubs, if you didn’t know (I didn’t), are drinks made with vinegar, sugar, and fruit; this one uses Eastern-style barbecue sauce, honey, and pineapple juice (that’s the “Islander” part).  Continuing the barbecue theme, the drink is served in a glass rimmed with smoked sea salt.

Amanda and Paul’s recipe is really good (try it), but my wife and co-author Dale doesn’t much like pineapple juice.  So I started fooling around with alternatives and came up with one that substitutes peach nectar and uses cane sugar syrup instead of honey. Peaches and cane sugar make this drink even more Southern, don’t you think?

I call the drink a Pig Picker. Here’s how to make it.

Pig Picker Continue reading ‘John Shelton Reed: The Pig Picker: A Barbecue Cocktail’ »

Help Celebrate an Appalachian Icon: Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, by Randy JohnsonDo you remember Mildred the Bear? Have you attended the Highland Games? Or walked across the Mile High Swinging Bridge? With its prominent profile recognizable for miles around and featuring beloved Appalachian vistas, North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain is many things to many people: an easily recognized landmark along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a popular tourist destination, a site of annual Highland Games, and an internationally recognized nature preserve.

With your help, we can publish Randy Johnson’s unique and personal telling of Grandfather Mountain: The History and Guide to an Appalachian Icon, which includes more than 200 historical and contemporary photographs, maps, and a practical guide to hiking the extensive trails, appreciating key plant and animal species, and photographing the natural wonder that is Grandfather.

In this definitive book on Grandfather Mountain, Johnson guides readers on a journey through the mountain’s history, from its geological beginnings millennia ago and the early days of exploration, to its role in regional development, and eventual establishment as a North Carolina state park. Johnson draws not only on historical sources but on his rich personal experience working closely on the mountain alongside former owner Hugh Morton and others.

Join us in memorializing this cultural icon of lasting significance. It’s your Grandfather, too.

Your gift will underwrite the considerable production costs for 5,000 copies of this lushly illustrated volume, with 206 images spread throughout 304 pages.

Now through March 31, 2016, a generous friend of UNC Press will contribute $1 for every $1 you donate through our initiative, up to $6,000! And, all gifts are charitable contributions, so donate today.

Awesome benefits are available to donors:

  • Donate $25: Your donation will cover the costs of including 1 of 206 images in the book. You will receive a thank-you note from UNC Press.
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  • Donate $250: Your donation will cover the costs of including 10 of 206 images in the book. You will receive a thank you note from UNC Press and an invitation to an exclusive guided tour on Grandfather Mountain with author Randy Johnson.
  • Donate $500: Your donation will cover the costs of including 20 of 206 images in the book. You will receive a thank you note from UNC Press, an invitation to an exclusive guided tour on Grandfather Mountain with author Randy Johnson, and an exclusive copy of “the bonus chapter” of text and images not included in the book.

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Excerpt: Native American Whalemen and the World, by Nancy Shoemaker

shoemaker_nativeIn the nineteenth century, nearly all Native American men living along the southern New England coast made their living traveling the world’s oceans on whaleships. Many were career whalemen, spending twenty years or more at sea. Highlighting the shifting racial ideologies that shaped the lives of these whalemen, Nancy Shoemaker shows how the category of “Indian” was as fluid as the whalemen were mobile.

In the following excerpt from Native American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race (pp. 40-44), Shoemaker explores the racial profiling and “glass ceilings” that affected Native American and African American whalemen in the 1800s.


Native Americans were one small constituency in a diverse whaling workforce brought together by ship owners for one purpose only—to cooperate in gathering whale products from the world’s oceans.[1] The merchant investors, who did the initial hiring, sought trustworthy, skilled officers and cheap, hardy, and obedient laborers. With profit as their objective, they were open to hiring any man who could do the job but not if the crew’s social composition threatened orderly collaboration. From the top down, federal laws and industry standards applied measures to enhance productivity by dampening the volatility such diversity produced: they privileged rank over race and regulated the number of foreigners serving on American ships. From the bottom up, seamen brought prejudices on board with them. The color of one’s skin, the land of one’s birth, and the language one spoke inflected how shipmates interacted with each other and at any time could combust in conflict. Even though race had no formal role in how the ship operated, it loitered beneath the surface to bear on who was hired to do what job and shadowed shipboard relations with unspoken assumptions. Cultural differences rooted in national origins, though more institutionalized in industry policies than race, created another kind of divisive social hierarchy informing shipboard relations. Gender had the capacity to ease tensions rooted in race and ethnicity by giving whalemen a means to construct a more unified shipboard culture around a common identity as men.

Race generalized to create distance between white men and men of color but also particularized to produce myriad, divergent experiences. That Native American and African American men were both racial minorities within the United States or that Native Americans and Pacific Islanders were both indigenous peoples confronting colonization suggests that bonds might have formed along these lines, but if any one ethnic group felt a special allegiance to another aboard ship, it is not apparent in whaling records. Even New England natives showed the strongest attachment to their own local communities, and Mashpee Wampanoags, Gay Head Wampanoags, and Shinnecocks often shipped in groups but did not usually intermingle. Five or six Shinnecocks on the same voyage was especially common. But the rare instances of Long Island natives and Wampanoags or Wampanoags from Mashpee and Martha’s Vineyard working on the same vessel appear to have happened only by chance.[2] All whalemen recognized a connection as occupants of a small, floating social community, but their heterogeneity could often pull them apart.

Race was one of the most divisive elements even though it had no official function in how the whaling industry operated. Beginning with the first nationwide census in 1790, the U.S. Census Bureau highlighted race as a vital social characteristic for understanding the makeup of the American populace, but federal maritime law downplayed race. The U.S. Customs Bureau’s paperwork for overseas voyages—seamen’s certificates of protection, crew lists, and shipping articles—had no category for race. The certificate of protection acted like a passport. Issued by a port authority, it gave a seaman’s name, birthplace, place of residence, age, and height and described his complexion and hair for purposes of personal identification. As the early American republic’s response to Barbary pirates, French and British privateers, and British impressment of American sailors, the protection vaguely hinted at diplomatic relief for sailors captured by pirates or foreign governments.[3] Inside the United States, federal and state laws left ambiguous the citizenship status of free blacks and did not consider Indians U.S. citizens, but as American-born seamen of color on overseas voyages, they were entitled to the same protection afforded white native-born and naturalized Americans.[4]

Information from protections was transferred to crew lists, which therefore had columns for height, complexion, and hair but still no category for race. One port authority in New London in the 1840s must have thought race important because, after filling in the complexion column with “black” or “Col’d,” the official added in the margins “A Negro,” “An Indian,” or “Mulatto,” but the form itself did not ask for racial designations.[5] The absence of a racial category on crew lists has confounded historians investigating race in maritime history. Some have attempted to treat complexion and hair as a proxy for race.[6] However, the plethora of complexion labels defies easy synthesis. Men who probably thought of themselves as white appear on crew lists with fair, light, dark, brown, sandy, ruddy, freckled, and occasionally swarthy complexions. Men of color were all over the map, too—rarely brown or dark, but instead black, African, negro, Indian, native, Kanaka (from the Hawaiian word for “man” and referring to a Pacific Islander), mulatto, colored, yellow, copper, and occasionally swarthy. Hair color, or “quality” as on some printed forms, added racial content. “Wooly” on a man with a yellow or colored complexion implied African descent, whereas a man with a yellow or colored complexion but “black strait” hair suggested Indian ancestry. That “brown” and “dark” rarely described the complexions of men known to be of Indian or African descent in a time when dark and brown had racial inferences, in phrases such as “darkies” or “brown people,” is one of crew lists’ peculiarities.

Another is how a man’s complexion might change over several voyages. Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Native American Whalemen and the World, by Nancy Shoemaker’ »

  1. [1] On crew diversity, see Busch, “Whaling Will Never Do for Me,” ch. 3; Schell, “A Bold and Hardy Race of Men,” ch. 6.
  2. [2] Examples include six Mashpee men (Isaac F. Hendrick, Walter R. Mingo, Watson F. T. Hammond, Kilbourn Webquish, and Grafton and Nicholas Pocknett), Departure crew list. U.S. Customs Office list of men departing on overseas voyages (DPT), ship Liverpool II of New Bedford, 1851–1853; seven Gay Head men (George and William Belain, Jonathan Cuff, Zaccheus Cooper, Joel Jared, William Weeks, and Thomas Jeffers), DPT, ship Adeline of New Bedford, 1843–1846; and ten Shinnecocks (Andrew, Wickham, Elias, and two James Cuffees, David and Alonzo Eleazer, Russell and William Bunn, and Milton Lee), ship Panama of Sag Harbor, 1847–1850, departure crew list at New Bedford Whaling Museum (NBW).
  3. [3] Stein, American Maritime Documents, 50–58, 145–48, 154; Sherman, Voice of the Whaleman, 59–65; Dana, Seaman’s Friend, 177–78.
  4. [4] Bradburn, Citizenship Revolution, ch. 7; Kettner, Development of American Citizenship, ch. 10.
  5. [5] For example, Departure crew list. U.S. Customs Office list of men returning from an overseas voyage (RTN), ship Jason of New London, 1842–1844, and ship Robert Browne of New London, 1842–1845.
  6. [6] Silverman, Faith and Boundaries, appendix B. Bolster, Black Jacks, 234–39, divides complexions into two categories, black and white; Putney’s Black Sailors similarly treats those with “yellow,” “coloured,” “mulatto,” and “black” complexions as African American.

Books in American History now 40% off!

2016 Early American History Sale

Last week, in honor of African American History Month, we shared a list of our newest African American history books here at UNC Press. Now, to accompany our reading list, we’re offering 40% off our entire American History collection!

Enter the code 01DAH40 at checkout to save 40% on any UNC Press book. Plus, all orders of $75.00 or more will be shipped FREE.

Browse the books below for a preview of what’s hot off the press in early American history. To see other Spring 2016 titles and more, visit our website.

The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution , by Robert G. ParkinsonAtlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean, 1570-1640, by David WheatBuilding the British Atlantic World: Spaces, Places, and Material Culture, 1600-1850, edited by Daniel Maudlin and Bernard L. HermanNathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life, by Tamara Plakins ThorntonBoy Soldiers of the American Revolution, by Caroline CoxThe Ashley Cooper Plan: The Founding of Carolina and the Origins of Southern Political Culture, by Thomas D. WilsonSelling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830, by Jonathan EacottThe Short Life of Free Georgia: Class and Slavery in the Colonial South. by Noeleen McIlvennaAdventurism and Empire: The Struggle for Mastery in the Louisiana-Florida Borderlands, 1762-1803, by David NarrettFinal Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807, by Gregory E. O'Malley

Crystal R. Sanders: The 1966 Preschool March on Washington

A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi's Black Freedom Struggle, by Crystal R. SandersWe welcome a guest post by Crystal R. Sanders, author of A Chance for Change: Head Start and Mississippi’s Black Freedom Struggle. In this innovative study, Sanders explores how working-class black women, in collaboration with the federal government, created the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) in 1965, a Head Start program that not only gave poor black children access to early childhood education but also provided black women with greater opportunities for political activism during a crucial time in the unfolding of the civil rights movement.

Today, February 11, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the CDGM Head Start program’s march on Capitol Hill. Sanders details the history here.


Fifty years ago today, 48 preschoolers from Mississippi and their chaperones took over the ornate United States House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee hearing room in Washington, D.C. The youngsters came to Capitol Hill seeking refunding of the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) Head Start program. Head Start began in 1965 as a War on Poverty initiative that provided low-income children and their families with early childhood education, nutritious meals, healthcare, and social services. CDGM stood out because it was one of the largest inaugural Head Start programs nationwide and because it was so closely aligned with Mississippi’s civil rights movement. Many of the Magnolia State’s black citizens who had lost their jobs because of their proximity to the movement, including Pap Hamer (husband of Fannie Lou Hamer) and Roxie Meredith (mother of James Meredith), secured CDGM employment. These well-paying jobs outside of the local white power structure disrupted the state’s racial and political status quo and provoked the ire of segregationists including United States Senator John C. Stennis (D-MS).

Sanders image for blog - Feb 12 1966 Wash Post

Black children as young as four and five years of age journeyed to the nation’s capitol to defend the merits of their Head Start program against allegations of fiscal mismanagement and black militancy. The preschoolers serenaded members of Congress with a rendition of “Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?” They also demonstrated their arts-and-crafts skills with paintings and drawings created while sitting on the hearing room floor. The simulated Head Start classroom offered lawmakers a glimpse into the everyday instruction and importance of CDGM’s program.

Not one single member of Mississippi’s congressional delegation met with the group, but representatives from other states, including New York and Hawaii, did. Representative Joseph Resnick (D-NY) promised to get to the bottom of why CDGM had been without federal funds for five months. Two weeks after the preschool March on Washington, CDGM received a grant for $5.6 million to continue its statewide program. The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the federal agency that oversaw War on Poverty programs, approved the funds after finding no major problems in CDGM’s operation.

CDGM was about much more than cookies and crayons. Continue reading ‘Crystal R. Sanders: The 1966 Preschool March on Washington’ »

Excerpt: The Wilmington Ten, by Kenneth Robert Janken

janken_wilmingtonIn February 1971, racial tension surrounding school desegregation in Wilmington, North Carolina, culminated in four days of violence and skirmishes between white vigilantes and black residents. The turmoil resulted in two deaths, six injuries, more than $500,000 in damage, and the firebombing of a white-owned store, before the National Guard restored uneasy peace. Despite glaring irregularities in the subsequent trial, ten young persons were convicted of arson and conspiracy and then sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. They became known internationally as the Wilmington Ten. A powerful movement arose within North Carolina and beyond to demand their freedom, and after several witnesses admitted to perjury, a federal appeals court, also citing prosecutorial misconduct, overturned the convictions in 1980.  Kenneth Janken narrates the dramatic story of the Ten, connecting their story to a larger arc of Black Power and the transformation of post–Civil Rights era political organizing.

In the following excerpt from The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s (pp. 11-14), Janken examines the sequence of interracial conflicts that kick-started a decade-long struggle between ten individuals and the powerful structures of racial and political injustice in Wilmington, North Carolina during the 1970s. 


The events surrounding what would become known as the Wilmington Ten began on Monday, 25 January 1971. A fight between black and white students from New Hanover High School in Wilmington, North Carolina, broke out during school hours at the Wildcat, a student hangout about a block from campus. It spilled over to the campus before being broken up by the police. Several students were injured, including Barbara Swain, an African American tenth grader who was cut with a knife by an unidentified white male student. But when Swain reported her injury to the school principal, he showed no interest in identifying the assailant, instead suspending her and four other black students. This incident capped a month of interracial conflict in Wilmington’s high schools. Three days later, one hundred African American students from the city’s two high schools assembled at Gregory Congregational Church to discuss their grievances. For instance, school administrators punished black students for fighting while letting whites go scot-free. The principal permitted adult-age white toughs to loiter on campus and assault black students. White male teachers harassed black students, and in one case a coach beat a black student over the head. They also demanded the establishment of a black studies curriculum and the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. Connie Tindall, one of the student leaders, declared Friday, 29 January, “Liberation Day” and announced a boycott of school until the school board addressed their grievances. “We’re not getting an education anyway,” said another student, “so why shouldn’t we stay out?”[1]

The boycott, which continued through the first week of February, was met with white Wilmington’s iron fist. The school board clamped down with suspensions and expulsions. The paramilitary Rights of White People group, aided and abetted by the police and the mayor, attacked the boycotters’ headquarters at Gregory Congregational Church in nighttime drive-by shootings. In response, students and community members, many of them veterans or active-duty soldiers from nearby military bases, established an armed defense of the church. Other blacks in Wilmington retaliated with arson, and property damage over the week of violence was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars. The violence culminated during the overnight hours of 6–7 February, when Mike’s, a grocery store near Gregory Church, was burned: the police shot and killed student leader Steve Mitchell, who had gone to check on it, and church defenders shot and killed Harvey Cumber, a white man who made it through police lines, parked his truck in front of the church, and pulled out a gun. On Sunday, 7 February, the North Carolina National Guard occupied Wilmington and imposed some level of order, though racial clashes persisted in the schools and struggles for justice continued in the streets.

The case of the Wilmington Ten emerged out of the events of February 1971. In an effort to lay blame for the violence and remove the effective and popular organizer Benjamin Chavis, the Wilmington police and state prosecutor—assisted by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF)—concocted a case against Chavis, eight other black men (five of them high school students), and one white woman. Arrested more than a year after the disturbances, they were charged with conspiracy, burning Mike’s Grocery, and shooting at the firefighters and police who responded to the fire. (Ann Shepard was charged only with conspiracy.) The prosecutor, with the assent of the presiding judge, illegally excluded blacks from the jury. He solicited perjured testimony from his main witnesses to convict the Ten, who were sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. Their convictions sparked Continue reading ‘Excerpt: The Wilmington Ten, by Kenneth Robert Janken’ »

  1. [1] “5 Students Suspended for Fight,” Wilmington Morning Star, 26 January 1971, 20; “Black Student Group to Boycott Schools,” ibid., 29 January 1971, 2; Eugene Templeton, “Five Questions about Gregory’s Involvement in the New Hanover School Crisis—1971” [before June 1971], Heyward C. Bellamy Papers, box 16, folder 1, William M. Randall Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Wilmington.