Boycotts seem to be everywhere these days. Most recently, the April 2021 passage of Georgia’s new, restrictive voting law sparked significant backlash and boycotts – ranging from Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver to activists’ calls to boycott Georgia-based companies. In recent years, consumers have also used the boycott to oppose the policies and politics of corporations such as Amazon, Chick-fil-A, SoulCycle, and Goya, to name a few.
Politically and emotionally charged, these boycott campaigns often burst into view and fade just as quickly. As such, some have dismissed boycotts as insignificant, vengeful, or little more than performative activism. Many thus ask: are boycotts worth it? Can they work?
One example from the late 20th century – the Coors beer boycott – offers an affirmative, instructive answer. In the 1950s and 1960s, labor, Chicano, and progressive activists launched a series of boycotts against the Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company, motivated in part by allegations of anti-unionism and discrimination at the brewery. These efforts continued into the 1970s and 1980s, gaining supporters and momentum as Coors family members emerged as prominent leaders in the conservative movement. By the late 1980s, women and men on the American left could – and did – boycott Coors for many different reasons, ranging from union-busting to the family’s links to Reagan and the anti-gay Moral Majority. Noted one boycott organizer, Al Gauna, in November 1977, people were “actually anxious to boycott Coors because of [the family’s] politics.”
This boycott owed much of its longevity to persistent, creative organizers who forged wide, multiracial coalitions in support of the anti-Coors campaign. During a period of intense boycott activity in the mid-1980s, the coalition organized over one hundred marches, rallies, and letter-writing events, bringing together Chicano, queer, Black, labor, feminist, student, and Central American solidarity activists at events from San Francisco to Boston. These activists understood their struggles against Coors – though perhaps rooted in different personal reasons – as intertwined. “The boycott,” argued the Marxist-Leninist Workers’ World publication, “is a genuinely grassroots movement and it shows vividly that the people of this country do not support ultra-right-wing policies like those Coors wants.”
Their efforts produced successes as well as setbacks. Between 1984 and 1987, in response to boycott pressures, the company pledged over $650 million in scholarships and financial support to Latino and Black communities and signed a high-profile settlement with the leading labor organization in the country, the AFL-CIO. Into the 1990s, Coors generously supported AIDS research, as well as LGBT Pride events, gay softball leagues, and other minority-led organizations.
All this said, the most outspoken of boycotters rejected the company’s overtures, which they saw as “crude bribes,” and kept boycotting the beer. Yet while these corporate buyouts were disappointing to activists, they nevertheless viewed (and still view) the boycott as a success – for its persistence, vitality, and potential to build what they often called ‘unlikely’ alliances.
While not an all-or-nothing success, the campaign against Coors beer highlights the potential of the consumer boycott: it can wear down and change corporations and, perhaps more important for activists themselves, build far-reaching solidarity. Long-haul Coors boycotters would insist that their effort was well worth it.
Moreover, the boycott itself – as a tool of social movements – is remarkably adaptable and accessible. Through social media, a boycott call today can reach far more potential supporters and allies than the local marches and chain letters of the 1980s. With perseverance, creativity, and an openness to coalition building, twenty-first century boycotts can potentially do more than Coors boycotters could have even imagined.
Allyson P. Brantley is assistant professor of history and Director of Honors & Interdisciplinary Initiatives at the University of La Verne.
Because not all southern states amended their constitutions to prevent Asian Americans from owning property, resistance from Asian Americans against property rights violations assumed different forms from state to state. Sometimes the battles occurred in an official legal arena, while others were carried out on a day-to-day basis. The struggles of Asian Americans against restrictions on their property and, as a result, their economic rights and livelihood challenged these discriminatory measures.
In 1921, Texas became the first southern state to pass an anti-alien land law, but it was not entirely new and it was not directed against Asians. The Texas legislature amended its constitution in 1891 to completely prohibit alien-owned corporations from owning or leasing property and to limit to six years the amount of time that an alien or an alien-owned company could own or lease land. When the six years was up, the company was to surrender the land to either a buyer or the state government. The amendment was designed to prevent speculation in Texas land by foreign (namely Mexican) corporations, but in December 1891, the Texas Supreme Court declared the measure unconstitutional. Undeterred, the Texas legislature passed a new law one year later that placed no limitations on alien corporations and increased the number of years that alien or alien-owned companies could lease or own land from six to ten years. The 1892 law remained in effect until a new law was created in 1921 that returned to the 1891 provisions of prohibiting alien corporations from owning property in Texas and decreased the number of years that aliens or alien-owned companies could lease or own land from the original six years to five. There was no mention of aliens who were ineligible for citizenship; all aliens were considered equally undesirable when it came to property ownership in the eyes of Texas law at the time. Unlike in other southern states, the targets were not Asians but, rather, Mexican-owned mining corporations or speculators who attempted to make a profit from Texas land.80
There were, however, small communities of Chinese Americans throughout Texas at the time who were directly affected by these laws. Chinese Americans first appeared in Texas in 1869 when approximately 300 Chinese men from the West came to help build a railroad from Calvert in east Texas to Dallas. The Chinese laborers entered into three-year contracts with their employers for monthly pay, but only six months later, the employers terminated the contracts because of a labor dispute over wages. Many of the Chinese laborers returned to California, but about 100 remained and settled in El Paso, San Antonio, and Houston and eventually sent for their wives and families from China. Like their brethren elsewhere in the South, the Chinese Americans of Texas made a living running groceries or laundries, family-run businesses or sole proprietorships that helped them eke out a living in some cases or comfortably attain middle-class status in others. By 1920, there were 265 Chinese Americans living in Texas.81
Despite their small numbers, Chinese Americans frequently encountered problems when they attempted to purchase land or establish a business. Although there was no mention of “aliens ineligible for citizenship” in the 1921 law and all aliens were entitled to own or lease property for five years, many white Texans used the law to intimidate Chinese Americans and prevent them from settling in their towns and cities. Fred Wong, an American-born Chinese man who was twenty-one at the time, came to San Antonio with his wife and child and his immigrant father from California in 1927 in order to open a business. Wong’s father had heard that there was a small but thriving Chinese American community in San Antonio, and although he was correct, he did not take into consideration that his business opportunities would be limited as a result of his race. Wong suggested that perhaps they could do better if they went outside San Antonio, and they eventually found themselves two hours away in Corpus Christi. Once there, Wong learned of a storefront for rent that would be perfect and affordable for their grocery. Wong was appraising the building one day when local white residents heard of his intentions to open a business in their city. The locals were, to say the least, nonplussed and generally suspicious of the Wongs’ intentions. A group of Syrians had settled earlier in Corpus Christi and dominated the grocery business there, and whites “did not want Orientals to come and bring more of their kind” to create further unwanted competition. As in Louisiana and Florida, even a small number of Chinese Americans could induce alarm concerning a forthcoming Asiatic invasion. Before Wong could inquire about the property, a member of the local retail association “saw that there was a Chinese person looking around to open a store and they got wind of it, so they sent someone and contacted me if I were going to open a store there and I kind of said that I was intended to.” This did not sit well with the retail association, which replied by letting Wong know that “it was not a good idea for a Chinese to open a store in Corpus Christi.” Wong was a bit shocked but took them at their word and did not press the issue. Wong “was very green and naive” and did not realize that he had every legal right to own a store in Corpus Christi, and he signed a contract with the local retail association promising that he would not open a business in their town. Wong realized later that he “could have brought suit, but when you’re young . . . you don’t realize these things.” The Wongs relocated to Austin and were able to start a successful grocery and help the Chinese American population in the city blossom, but Texans in San Antonio were not pleased with the prospect of “Orientals” trying to establish their business nearby. Sam Handy, owner of a growing chain of local Handy Grocery Stores based in San Antonio, attempted to push the Texas legislature to pass an anti-alien land law that specifically targeted Chinese, but such a law never materialized.82
Although Wong and his family did not stay in Corpus Christi, they did continue to make their home in the state of Texas. While it was clear that in many towns and cities in Texas, Chinese Americans were tolerated at best or openly intimidated using illegal measures at worst, families like the Wongs did what they could to earn a living despite the hostility. Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans across the South often defied social or even legal discrimination and racism by remaining on their land or in their stores. They may not have fully understood that there were often no teeth in the constitutional amendments in Louisiana or Florida or that the Texas law did not prevent them from owning property, so they may not have been openly defiant. However, as with other racial groups in the South who were marginalized, the everyday and mundane acts of Asian Americans amidst racism were revolutionary in their own regard, whether they led to legal change or not.
Stephanie Hinnershitz is assistant professor of history at Cleveland State University.
The reason I wrote this book is because I was intrigued by the distance between differing definitions of Christian Science within academics. Over the decades, these have had varying degrees of alignment with one another and with key primary sources, and I wanted to know how this variation arose.
Scholars today agree on some core things about the Christian Science religion. For example, we know it has nothing to do with Scientology. This might sound obvious, but the myth that the two are connected is probably today’s leading public misconception about Christian Science. So it’s worth mentioning that the superficial likeness in part of their names starts and ends there. They are not connected in any other way, historical or theological.
Scholars also inevitably use three words to describe Christian Science: Christian, metaphysical, and healing. What we have meant by these words, though, has varied widely. In writing this book, I wanted to arrive at a single, cohesive historical definition of Christian Science identity—or the essence of how we can define and differentiate this religion from others as it developed in American culture.
What I find is that Christian Science is a distinctive expression of Christianity that emerged in the modern era with a restorationist, revelatory, healing rationale. It contains a radical, novel, practical or applied Christian metaphysics expressed in experiences deemed healing.
Some elements of this definition are new, or newly emphasized, but for the most part, scholars have been invoking them for years to describe Christian Science. What my book adds that is new is to define the terms within the terms. I do this by diving deeply into this religion’s foundational texts, historical reception, and vernacular or lived religion. What does Christian mean in this religion? What does metaphysical mean? What does healing mean?
As several scholars have noted, some Christian Science views are identical or close to traditional Christianity, while others are unorthodox, unusual, unexpected—or better, innovative, singular, distinctive (to use words that say what they are, rather than what they are not). We often group Christian Science with other American-generated innovators on the Christian spectrum: Shakers, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals. The outsider status of these minority religions, scholars argue, is paradoxically what makes them quintessentially American. These innovative religious expressions also have teachings and practices that scholars have not yet fully charted. This has made it difficult to locate them with precision on the map of American and global religions.
Building that map is a long-term process requiring the input of many sources and people. My book adds key pieces to the territory Christian Science inhabits. It examines its core views on salvation, communion, baptism, millennium, healing. I can’t encompass these teachings and practices from a religious viewpoint, or say all they might mean theologically, but I can show how they emerged historically as both familiar and distinctive in American culture, compared to other Christian denominations. In this manner, my book charts in detailed ways how Christian Science is at heart a new expression of Christianity, and what that means.
Large numbers of Christians, from Episcopals to Quakers to Baptists, became interested in Christian Science. They variously accepted or rejected its new tenets, joined the church or not, championed or criticized it, sympathized with it or not, or simply observed it. The range was truly broad, and each response made its way into a piece of the historiographic record, or how historians came to talk about Christian Science over time.
When we talk about Christian Science as a metaphysical system, we encounter different issues. “Metaphysics” generally means a few main things in the study of religions. One is a branch of philosophical inquiry related to being, time, space, matter, spirit, reality, ontology, and so on. Another is a loosely defined pantheon of eclectic, esoteric religiosity.
Yet the Christian Science founder, Mary Baker Eddy, engaged Christian metaphysics in an applied and innovative way, rather than in a way that was entirely traditional or purely philosophical. She charted new territory on our religious maps.
Esoteric or theosophical inquirers into Christian Science were initially attracted by its unorthodoxies, but they soon found themselves objecting to its exclusive use of the Bible, to Mary Baker Eddy’s exclusive focus on the Bible in her book Science and Health with key to the Scriptures, and very importantly, to the Christian Science acceptance of the doctrine of Christian revelation. Accounts of these rifts generally portray them as personal in nature, but I find that they were deeply theological. These esoteric inquirers pretty quickly left to innovate their own grouping of New Thought religions in the theosophical, enchanted, mesmeric, and ultimately psychological traditions that could accommodate their beliefs. They continued to invoke their own views about Christian Science in complex ways, which circulated its own set of hugely varied views about Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy. These affected media coverage at the time and also affected later historiography.
The early textual history of Christian Science has also raised questions for scholars about how to classify and define this religion. Works on Mary Baker Eddy have focused largely on her person, or on pieces of her writings and what people said about them after they were written. So focusing on how the totality of her writings developed in real time, as I do in my book, has been a new and revealing endeavor. What I find is surprising and interesting.
The tools of historical analysis can’t either prove or disprove religious experience. They can’t either exonerate or debunk. My book isn’t interested in these approaches. My goal is to delve into primary sources—texts, objects, images—to understand how Christian Science religious identity developed.
As I pondered this, I found myself thinking about American religions in terms of a massive field of networks with nodes handling greater or lesser amounts of traffic over time. I trace how Science and Health tracked across multiple nodes on the vast networks making up American religion and culture, conversing and interacting with many while retaining its own singular teachings and message. As a result, I call Christian Science both “multi-nodal” and distinctive. Those are not words Christian Scientists use to describe their religious practice, but it is one way historians can grasp them.
Whether or not we agree with the religious tenets of Christian Science, we can and should describe it in a way that is academically singular, historically cohesive, and basically recognizable to those who actively practice this religion. That is the purpose of my book.
I take my cues from William James, who noted that definitions of religion must depend on both internal and external data points, as both objective and subjective experience is critical to knowledge formation.
My book introduces a wide range of data points to show that in the aftermath of the American Civil War, Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science emerged to describe what she called the divine law or Christian Science that animated the healings of Jesus and could now be validated and proved in modernity via a new system of applied Christian metaphysics. It therefore represents a new Christian identity.
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and in order to highlight and bring recognition to the Asian/Pacific American communities that enrich American culture, we’ve created a recommended reading list featuring some of our latest Asian American Studies and Asian Studies titles.
In the Jim Crow South, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and, later, Vietnamese and Indian Americans faced obstacles similar to those experienced by African Americans in their fight for civil and human rights. Although they were not black, Asian Americans generally were not considered white and thus were subject to school segregation, antimiscegenation laws, and discriminatory business practices. As Asian Americans attempted to establish themselves in the South, they found that institutionalized racism thwarted their efforts time and again. However, this book tells the story of their resistance and documents how Asian American political actors and civil rights activists challenged existing definitions of rights and justice in the South.
As the enduring “last frontier,” Alaska proves an indispensable context for examining the form and function of American colonialism, particularly in the shift from western continental expansion to global empire. In this richly theorized work, Juliana Hu Pegues evaluates four key historical periods in U.S.-Alaskan history: the Alaskan purchase, the Gold Rush, the emergence of salmon canneries, and the World War II era. In each, Hu Pegues recognizes colonial and racial entanglements between Alaska Native peoples and Asian immigrants. In the midst of this complex interplay, the American colonial project advanced by differentially racializing and gendering Indigenous and Asian peoples, constructing Asian immigrants as “out of place” and Alaska Natives as “out of time.” Counter to this space-time colonialism, Native and Asian peoples created alternate modes of meaning and belonging through their literature, photography, political organizing, and sociality.
In 1942, Bill Manbo (1908-1992) and his family were forced from their Hollywood home into the Japanese American internment camp at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. While there, Manbo documented both the bleakness and beauty of his surroundings, using Kodachrome film, a technology then just seven years old, to capture community celebrations and to record his family’s struggle to maintain a normal life under the harsh conditions of racial imprisonment. Colors of Confinement showcases sixty-five stunning images from this extremely rare collection of color photographs, presented along with three interpretive essays by leading scholars and a reflective, personal essay by a former Heart Mountain internee.
The immigration station at New York’s Ellis Island opened in 1892 and remained the largest U.S. port for immigrant entry until World War I. In popular memory, Ellis Island is typically seen as a gateway for Europeans seeking to join the “great American melting pot.” But as this fresh examination of Ellis Island’s history reveals, it was also a major site of immigrant detention and exclusion, especially for Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian travelers and maritime laborers who reached New York City from Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, and even within the United States. And from 1924 to 1954, the station functioned as a detention camp and deportation center for a range of people deemed undesirable.
Over the course of less than a century, the U.S. transformed from a nation that excluded Asians from immigration and citizenship to one that receives more immigrants from Asia than from anywhere else in the world. Yet questions of how that dramatic shift took place have long gone unanswered. In this first comprehensive history of Asian exclusion repeal, Jane H. Hong unearths the transpacific movement that successfully ended restrictions on Asian immigration.
The premiere of Jason Berry’s City of A Million Dreams is virtual, so grab your popcorn and visit this link to view the film. (Note that the film is currently available to stream to viewers based in Florida.) Read a brief description of the film below:
Today, as they have for more than a century, New Orleans jazz funerals and Sunday second line parades absorb the pain of death and the legacy of racism, soaring to the transcendent joy of rebirth. A violent storm and a parade shooting plunge clarinetist Dr. Michael White and culture carrier Deb “Big Red” Cotton into a search for the city’s soul.
“Berry not only traces . . . overlaps of sound and spectacle; he uses overlapping narratives. . . . We see New Orleans, after another of its near-death experiences, still stubbornly not knowing how to die when it ought to.”—Garry Wills, New York Review of Books
Jason Berry is an independent writer, documentary film producer, and journalist living in New Orleans.
Check out this quick Q&A with our Flows, Migrations, and Exchanges Series Editors Mart Stewart and Harriet Rivo. Flows, Migrations, and Exchanges publishes works of environmental history that explore the cross-border movements of organisms and materials that have shaped the modern world, as well as the varied human attempts to understand, regulate, and manage these movements.
How do you think the field of environmental history has shifted since FME began? Are there any new developments that you are excited to see or that you’d like to see the series reflect?
Mart: I don’t think the field has shifted so much as expanded. The kinds of works that FME publishes – transnational or global, registering movements and cross-boundary exchanges and influences – has in general increased in number, too. I think the series is already on the edge of what is new in the field, but we hope to publish more works by scholars outside the U.S. and by senior scholars reflecting on the field.
Harriet: The FME list, when we look at all of it at the same time, is already an impressive expression of the best and freshest work out there. In addition to the kind of expansion that Mart has mentioned, it also includes excellent examples of environmental histories that incorporate the perspectives of related disciplines and subdisciplines, including history of science, agricultural history, and historical geography.
What are some of the key moments and/or changes in the field that you think the series has captured or reflected?
Mart: The larger field of “Crosby studies” has shifted in the last twenty years, and the series reflects this. Scholars who early worked out of the field that Alfred Crosby almost single-handedly developed with the publication of Ecological Imperialism in 1989 have mostly focused on what was missing in his study (itself a thoughtful and deeper revision of his earlier work), or on amplifying parts of this book. But those questions have receded far into the background of the study of migrations and exchanges in recent years. Scholars now are simply asking questions that are best answered by looking at the movement of organisms and of ideas about them.
Harriet: Although series includes work that focuses of the flow, migration and exchange of ideas and policies, most of the works it includes exemplify the increasing attention to organic components of environments, whether animal, plant, or microbial. It makes sense to track the history of ideas about organisms and the organisms themselves as both move from place to place, and what changes about both.
Given how not just the field but the world has changed over the past few years, are there any subjects or dynamics you’d like to see more of? Is there anything on your wish list for the series to publish in the future?
Mart: I’d like to see more studies that look at the convergence of the movement of creatures and ideas about them in particular locales, and how these then create something new in those places. Instead of simply following organisms from place to place or across boundaries. These kinds of studies can identify new meanings in the study of small places, and meanings that resonant back out into larger meanings.
Harriet: FME studies give us a new way to think about differences – especially across borders, whether political or other-–to study what changes as a result of such transitions and what does not. The range and quality of our list suggests the variety of future possibilities–I hope that prospective authors will take notice. We’re lucky to have such great partners at UNC Press, who produce books that are distinguished by their looks as well as their content.
Mart Stewart teaches courses in environmental and cultural history at Western Washington University, and is also an affiliate professor in Huxley College of the Environment. He is author of What Nature Suffers to Grow: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the Georgia Coast, 1680-1920 (Georgia, 1996; 2003) and many essays and articles, and co-editor of Environmental Change and Agricultural Sustainability in the Mekong Delta (Springer Scientific, 2011) and Water and Power: Environmental Governance and Strategies for Sustainability in the Lower Mekong Basin (Springer, 2019).
Harriet Ritvo is Arthur J. Conner Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She teaches courses in British history, environmental history, the history of human-animal relations, and the history of natural history. She is the author of The Dawn of Green: Manchester, Thirlmere, and Modern Environmentalism (Chicago, 2009), The Platypus and the Mermaid, and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Harvard, 1997), The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Harvard, 1987), and Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History (Virginia, 2010). Her articles and reviews on British cultural history, environmental history, and the history of human-animal relations have appeared in a wide range of periodicals, including The London Review of Books, Science, Daedalus, The American Scholar, Technology Review, and The New York Review of Books, as well as scholarly journals in several fields.
A little late to the party, but we would like to wish a happy national guitar month to all of you rockstar readers. We’ve created this reading list of some of our favorite guitar-related titles to hopefully inspire your next riff.
A compelling portrait of rock’s greatest guitarist at the moment of his ascendance, Stone Free is the first book to focus exclusively on the happiest and most productive period of Jimi Hendrix’s life. As it begins in the fall of 1966, he’s an under-sung, under-accomplished sideman struggling to survive in New York City. Nine months later, he’s the toast of Swinging London, a fashion icon, and the brightest star to step off the stage at the Monterey International Pop Festival. This momentum-building, day-by-day account of this extraordinary transformation offers new details into Jimi’s personality, relationships, songwriting, guitar innovations, studio sessions, and record releases. It explores the social changes sweeping the U.K., Hendrix’s role in the dawning of “flower power,” and the prejudice he faced while fronting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. In addition to featuring the voices of Jimi, his bandmates, and other eyewitnesses, Stone Free draws extensively from contemporary accounts published in English- and foreign-language newspapers and music magazines. This celebratory account is a must-read for Hendrix fans.
In this lively collection of interviews, storied music writer Jas Obrecht presents a celebration of the world’s most popular instrument as seen through the words, lives, and artistry of some of its most beloved players. Readers will read–and hear–accounts of the first guitarists on record, pioneering bluesmen, gospel greats, jazz innovators, country pickers, rocking rebels, psychedelic shape-shifters, singer-songwriters, and other movers and shakers. In their own words, these guitar players reveal how they found their inspirations, mastered their instruments, crafted classic songs, and created enduring solos. Also included is a CD of never-before-heard moments from Obrecht’s insightful interviews with these guitar greats.
Since the nineteenth century, the distinct tones of kīkā kila, the Hawaiian steel guitar, have defined the island sound. Here historian and steel guitarist John W. Troutman offers the instrument’s definitive history, from its discovery by a young Hawaiian royalist named Joseph Kekuku to its revolutionary influence on American and world music. During the early twentieth century, Hawaiian musicians traveled the globe, from tent shows in the Mississippi Delta, where they shaped the new sounds of country and the blues, to regal theaters and vaudeville stages in New York, Berlin, Kolkata, and beyond. In the process, Hawaiian guitarists recast the role of the guitar in modern life. But as Troutman explains, by the 1970s the instrument’s embrace and adoption overseas also worked to challenge its cultural legitimacy in the eyes of a new generation of Hawaiian musicians. As a consequence, the indigenous instrument nearly disappeared in its homeland.
We are thrilled that today marks the official on sale date for UNC Press’s third book authored by James Beard Award winner Adrian Miller, Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue. Black Smoke is the fourth book published in the Ferris & Ferris Imprint for high-profile, general-interest books about the American South.
You can preview Black Smoke by reading the following excerpts in the Daily Beast and Gravy, published by the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Adrian Miller is a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge and recipient of a James Beard Foundation Book Award for Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time. A consultant on Netflix’s Chef’s Table BBQ, Miller’s most recent book is The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas.
I was born and raised in California, but it wasn’t until I moved to Pennsylvania to begin my PhD that I learned about the history of slavery in my native state. The subject never came up when I was a student in California in the 1990s and early 2000s. Not because I didn’t have excellent teachers – I most certainly did – but because the history of slavery in the American West wasn’t really on anyone’s radar at that point. Fortunately, that’s beginning to change. And I hope West of Slavery can contribute to this growing awareness by shaping the way we think about the scope and scale of unfreedom in American history.
The book began as a dissertation at UPenn under Steve Hahn. Much of my early research sprang from a simple question: to what extent did the politics of slavery impact the development of antebellum California? The answer, I soon discovered, was: significantly. But the more I read, the clearer it became that this wasn’t just a California story. American slaveholders built a transcontinental sphere of influence in the 1850s, transforming the entire southwestern quarter of the country – New Mexico, Arizona, and parts of Utah, in addition to California – into a political client of the plantation states.
So how did they do it? And why has this important chapter in the history of American slavery remained obscured for so long?
Slaveholders extended their influence across the Far Southwest through an interlinked series of campaigns. They passed slave codes in New Mexico and Utah, sponsored separatist movements in Southern California and Arizona, orchestrated a territorial purchase from Mexico, built roads to facilitate the westward flow of southern migrants, monopolized patronage networks to empower proslavery allies, and even killed antislavery rivals. This was, wrote an observer in New Mexico, “a grand scheme of intercommunication and territorial expansion more vast and complicated than was ever dreamed of by Napoleon Bonaparte in his palmiestdays of pride and power.”
Some free-soil advocates spoke confidently about the so-called natural limits of slavery. The aridity of the Far Southwest, they argued, would preclude human bondage from ever taking root in the region. But slaveholders field-tested this theory and found it wanting. They imported somewhere between 500-1500 enslaved African Americans to Gold Rush California, about 100 to Utah, and another 100 to New Mexico and Arizona. To be sure, these figures are miniscule compared to the 4 million enslaved people laboring in the plantation South on the eve of the Civil War. But, considering the monetary value residing in each enslaved person and the logistical difficulties of forcing them west, these numbers are significant. Furthermore, enslaved African Americans weren’t the most common forms of human property in the Far West. Tens of thousands of Indigenous people were held in various forms of servitude across the region. Southern slaveholders fought within Congress and within territorial capitals to protect and enshrine systems of Indian slavery. Captives – whether African American, Native American, or mestizos of Spanish ancestry – could be found laboring across the length of the continent. Their road to freedom did not run west.
Despite some excellent new works by scholars like Stacey Smith, the standard narrative of the Civil War era still treats the Far West as a sideshow. California’s 1850 admission to the Union as a free state, some historians suggest, effectively banished proslavery intrigue to the east of the Sierra Nevada or even the Rocky Mountains. Yet American southerners never relinquished their claims on the West. In fact, the political history of the region is a long catalogue of their successes. The history of the Civil War era, therefore, requires reframing. As my book argues, the struggle over slavery was more than a feud between North and South. It was a continental crisis of the Union.
Kevin Waite is assistant professor of history at Durham University. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, he also co-directs a Collaborative Research Grant on the life and times of Biddy Mason, a Georgia slave turned California real estate entrepreneur.
Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Alaska is one of the most contested landscapes in all of North America: the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Considered sacred by Indigenous peoples in Alaska and Canada and treasured by environmentalists, the refuge provides life-sustaining habitat for caribou, polar bears, migratory birds, and other species. For decades, though, the fossil fuel industry and powerful politicians have sought to turn this unique ecosystem into an oil field. Defending the Arctic Refugetells the improbable story of how the people fought back. At the center of the story is the unlikely figure of Lenny Kohm (1939–2014), a former jazz drummer and aspiring photographer who passionately committed himself to Arctic Refuge activism. With the aid of a trusty slide show, Kohm and representatives of the Gwich’in Nation traveled across the United States to mobilize grassroots opposition to oil drilling. From Indigenous villages north of the Arctic Circle to Capitol Hill and many places in between, this book shows how Kohm and Gwich’in leaders and environmental activists helped build a political movement that transformed the debate into a struggle for environmental justice.
After a cascade of failures left residents of Flint, Michigan, without a reliable and affordable supply of safe drinking water, citizens spent years demanding action from their city and state officials. Complaints from the city’s predominantly African American residents were ignored until independent researchers confirmed dangerously elevated blood lead levels among Flint children and in the city’s tap water. Despite a 2017 federal court ruling in favor of Flint residents who had demanded mitigation, those efforts have been incomplete at best.
Florida has long been a beacon for retirees, but for many, the American dream of owning a home there was a fantasy. That changed in the 1950s, when the so-called “installment land sales industry” hawked billions of dollars of Florida residential property, sight unseen, to retiring northerners. For only $10 down and $10 a month, working-class pensioners could buy a piece of the Florida dream: a graded home site that would be waiting for them in a planned community when they were ready to build. The result was Cape Coral, Port St. Lucie, Deltona, Port Charlotte, Palm Coast, and Spring Hill, among many others—sprawling communities with no downtowns, little industry, and millions of residential lots.
Oil palms are ubiquitous—grown in nearly every tropical country, they supply the world with more edible fat than any other plant and play a role in scores of packaged products, from lipstick and soap to margarine and cookies. And as Jonathan E. Robins shows, sweeping social transformations carried the plant around the planet. First brought to the global stage in the holds of slave ships, palm oil became a quintessential commodity in the Industrial Revolution. Imperialists hungry for cheap fat subjugated Africa’s oil palm landscapes and the people who worked them. In the twentieth century, the World Bank promulgated oil palm agriculture as a panacea to rural development in Southeast Asia and across the tropics. As plantation companies tore into rainforests, evicting farmers in the name of progress, the oil palm continued its rise to dominance, sparking new controversies over trade, land and labor rights, human health, and the environment.
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The pandemic turned our lives and the world upside down. While the vaccination process is now underway, there has yet to be any strong evidence of a decline in the infection rate from the coronavirus. In fact, new variants of the virus are emerging that may be resistant to the available vaccines.
On January 6, 2021, a coup d’état was attempted at the Capitol, inspired by Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 Presidential election was stolen from him.
There also have been some major developments specific to the black reparations movement, particularly responses that followed the burst of outrage after George Floyd’s widely seen police murder. In particular, these include a number of private, local, and state initiatives labeled “reparations” and renewed activity to bring forward HR 40, legislation to establish a study commission to deliver proposals to Congress for African American reparations.
One of the innovative features of From Here to Equality is the presentation of a detailed reparations plan. We identify four central elements for true reparations.
The first element of the plan must designate black American descendants of persons enslaved in the United States (between 1776 and 1865) as recipients of reparations. This is the community, we argue, whose ancestors were denied the promised 40 acres land grants as restitution for the years of bondage. This is the community that has borne the burden of the cumulative, intergenerational effects of American racial injustice, spanning slavery, nearly a century of legal segregation (the Jim Crow period), and ongoing atrocities like mass incarceration, police executions of unarmed blacks, and persistent discrimination in housing, employment, and credit markets.
We contend that the most comprehensive economic indicator of the cumulative, intergenerational effects of American racial injustice is the gap in wealth between blacks and whites. Therefore, the second element of a reparations plan must be a procedure to eliminate America’s racial wealth gap. At present, the black American descendants of U.S. slavery constitute 12 percent of the nation’s population but possess less than 2 percent of the nation’s wealth. To bring the black share of American wealth into consistency with the black share of the population will require at least $11 trillion.
The third element must be a commitment to prioritize direct payment of reparations funds to eligible recipients. This is precisely how reparations were distributed to communities meriting compensation for grievous injustices in the past. Important examples are the German government’s payments to victims of the Holocaust, and the U.S. government’s payments to Japanese Americans who were subjected to mass incarceration during World War II. The principle here is to give eligible recipients full discretion over the use of the funds.
Finally, the fourth element is the requirement that the federal government, the culpable party, meet the bill. The federal government has maintained the legal and authority framework that upheld slavery, produced American apartheid, and ratifies ongoing discrimination. And the federal government has the demonstrated capacity to meet the bill, especially given the large, rapid expenditures made to cope with the COVID-19 crisis.
During the past year, we have written two opinion pieces making the case that the pandemic makes more glaring the need for black reparations. The key “pre-existing condition” that produces greater black vulnerability to the coronavirus is the lack of wealth. A recent study led by Harvard physician Eugene Richardson, to which we contributed, demonstrates had black reparations already been paid, not only would the black infection rate have been markedly lower, but the infection rate would have been significantly lower for all Americans.
One of the major themes of FHTE is the horrific consequences of the nation’s failure to de-Confederatize in the aftermath of the Civil War. Instead of treating the formation of the Confederacy as the traitorous act that it was, leaders of the secession still are venerated as persons of integrity and distinction who went to war to prevent “northern tyranny” and to preserve states’ rights.
In FHTE, we showmaintenance of a social order of enslavement was the unequivocal motive of going to war for major spokesmen for the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, John Henry Hammond, Judah P. Benjamin, and Robert E. Lee. Moreover, there can be no doubt “[t]he Confederate States Consitution made explicit the centrality and permanence of slavery to the secessionists’ agenda [since] Article 1, Section 9…included the following absolute provision: ‘No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.’’
The defense of slavery with its accompanying declaration of black inferiority is the sentiment underlying the continued celebration of the Confederacy (our “heritage”) in a large segment of the nation’s citizenry. It leads to a decided commitment to the primacy of minority rule and runs in a straight line from the 1860s to the events of January 6, 2021 in Washington D.C.
Reparations must incorporate a determined effort to achieve, at last, de-Confederatization of American society. Therefore, we emphasize an important role for an educational component to the reparations plan we outline in From Here to Equality.
Many other individuals, organizations, localities and states have expressed sentiments running counter to the Confederate tradition. They have voiced a desire to respond in a positive way to the call for reparations, especially in the aftermath of the exposure of systemic racism epitomized by George Floyd’s killing at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. This has led to piecemeal, so-called “reparations” projects by cities like Evanston, Illinois and Asheville, North Carolina and the creation of a state level reparations commission in California.
A critical problem with these projects is it is impossible for them, separately or in combination, to approach the $11 trillion minimum threshold for closing the racial wealth gap. All state and local government budgets amount to $3.1 trillion. If they all were to devote their entire budgets to a reparations fund adequate to erase black-white wealth differences, they could not provide any services to their citizens for upwards of four years.
Donations by private individuals and organizations do not hold greater promise for meeting the black reparations bill. Suppose they could generate a reparations fund that attracted $1 billion donations on a monthly basis. It would take eight and one-half centuries to the $11 trillion minimum threshold.
We prefer to reserve the term reparations for a Congressionally legislated, federally funded program that would eliminate the racial wealth gap within at most a decade. We welcome individuals and cities to engage in whatever creative steps they might take to enhance racial equity in their immediate communities and elsewhere, but the most valuable action they can take from the standpoint of true reparations is to lobby and petition Congress to adopt needed legislation. It is misleading and a diversion that these local initiatives are mislabeled as “reparations.”
What legislation related to reparations is under consideration in Congress at present? At the moment, the magnet for reparations activity at the federal level is HR 40, a bill that has been present in some form since it was first introduced by the late Congressman John Conyers in 1989. It is being brought forward for markup by the House Judiciary Committee on April 14, 2021.
The markup session is important because the bill is unsatisfactory in its present form. Either it should be revised substantially or replaced altogether. It will not lead to true reparations as currently written.
HR 40 does not direct the Commission it establishes to develop proposals for black reparations that ensure black American descendants of U.S. slavery are identified as the eligible recipients, that the racial wealth gap will be eliminated by raising black assets to a level sufficient to equalize average black and white wealth, nor that direct payments will be made to eligible recipients.
Leaving the Commission’s deliberations entirely open-ended could result in proposals that declare a more elaborate apology or educational scholarships or housing vouchers or the existing piecemeal plans at the local level as sufficient. This is a risk too great to take for a mission as sacred as healing the nation’s soul for its accrued history of white supremacy.
It may be an opportune time to leapfrog HR 40 altogether and design the essential true reparations plan. We already have the roadmap in the pages of From Here to Equality.
William A. Darity Jr. is the Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics at Duke University.
A. Kirsten Mullen is a writer, folklorist, museum consultant, and lecturer whose work focuses on race, art, history, and politics.
In early April 2021, to honor the U.S. Senate’s “Small Business of the Week,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was in Tampa touring Fresco Foods, Inc., a family-run pre-packaged meals company that had survived the COVID-19 pandemic and kept its employees working through the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, a program which Rubio had helped to devise. The focus should have been on Fresco, but at that moment, across Tampa Bay in Manatee County, the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack was leaking. A phosphogypsum stack? Most Floridians had never heard of a phosphogypsum stack, but, as Rubio spoke at Fresco, some 200 million gallons of nitrogen-rich waste water were pouring, untreated, from a hole in a retaining pond on the top of the stack and into Tampa Bay.
Although famed for its beaches, Florida is also an agricultural state that produces not only oranges and sugar, but a quarter of the world’s phosphate, a key component in the production of fertilizer. It’s a nasty business, in which large and powerful corporations strip-mine phosphate-rich lands to the east of Tampa, and pile the waste product, a powdery-white and slightly-radioactive compound called phosphogypsum, into mountain-sized stacks. Today, Florida has 24 stacks. They are hundreds of feet high and more than a mile long each, and together contain a billion tons of phosphogypsum. Too expensive to move and having no practical use whatsoever, the stacks each have a retaining pond with hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater on top. They rupture occasionally, and one in 2016 in Mulberry developed a sinkhole under it that sucked 215 million gallons into the aquifer.
At a press conference at Fresco, Rubio expressed his concern. “There’s going to be a negative impact” from this, he said. Because with each new leak, “you’re putting nutrients, contaminated water, into a sensitive wildlife area, [so] we could see some really bad stuff. Algae blooms, fish kills. It’s not good.” To Rubio, Florida’s phosphogypsum stacks were a “ticking time bomb,” because no one knows what to do with them. They come from an earlier age, from the post-World War II-period through, say, 1970, when, in Florida, environmental regulations and commonsense planning restrictions were unknown. Consider this: prior to 1970, only municipalities, meaning cities and towns, had the blanket legal authority, under Florida law, to insist on building codes or basic rules regarding planning and zoning.
Therefore, big industrial concerns who operated outside of municipalities could do whatever they wanted to do. They could build what they build, and largely dump what they wanted to dump, and no one could tell them not to. So in Manatee County, we get a phosphate processing plant and phosphogypsum stack less than 1,000 yards from the water. In 1966, building them there made sense to the Borden Chemical Company, which saved money by processing phosphate near the port where it shipped it. Now Borden is gone and its successor company went bankrupt in 2011. There’s a mountain of phosphogypsum just sitting there, leaking, and taxpayers are left holding the bag.
But what’s new? In Florida, taxpayers are always left holding the bag, forking out millions, perhaps billions, now and in the future for a lack of business regulation 60 and sometimes 70 years in the past. And it’s not just phosphate that’s a problem. In the early post-war period, land developers built whole communities in Florida with little regulatory input at all. Take Cape Coral, for example, a city of 180,000 on the Caloosahatchee River near Fort Myers. Built in 1957 by brothers Jack and Leonard Rosen, two mail-order shampoo salesmen from Baltimore, Cape Coral was a low-lying bit of swamp and timberland that the Rosens dredged and filled to create over 100,000 home sites and more than 400 miles of canals—more canals than any other city in the world.
Without needing so much as a building permit, the Rosens bulldozed a wetland; bad enough, but their gargantuan canal network, the purpose of which was to maximize land sales, brought billions of gallons of saltwater up and into the river where it will never leave. And, since the Rosens weren’t required by the government to provide a water treatment plant, early residents used wells, so in time, saltwater ate through the well casings and into the aquifer.
Therefore, today, Cape Coral has to purify its water through an uber-expensive reverse osmosis system, and the Army Corps of Engineers must balance the inflow of saltwater into the Caloosahatchee by periodically releasing nutrient-polluted freshwater from locks upriver on Lake Okeechobee.
This exacerbates red tide, which kills fish and fouls beaches, and costs the state billions of dollars in business—all because of unchecked development in the 1950s. The fact is, many of Florida’s environmental problems can be traced to this era, from its “ticking time bomb” phosphogypsum stacks to its dredged estuaries to its leaking septic tanks to its invasive species to its endless exurban sprawl. Is there a solution for this? Short of moving people out of Florida’s watersheds and away from its estuaries, no. But there’s a lesson here: unchecked development has a price, and failing to plan now or to even respect planning and zoning laws as necessary to Florida life, will cost the state and those who live there for decades to come.
Jason Vuic is the author of The Yucks!: Two Years in Tampa with the Losingest Team in NFL History and The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History.
Fifty years ago, on April 20, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education. The case authorized federal judges to require reluctant school districts to fully desegregate their schools, even if it meant busing students across town. It was the last major pro-desegregation ruling the Court would make, culminating a process that began with Sweatt v. Painter in 1950 and continued through Brown v. Board in 1954 and Green v. County School Board in 1968.
The ruling transformed Charlotte and the nation.
Persuaded by now-legendary civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, the Court unanimously upheld federal judge James McMillan’s order that Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) institute the nation’s first comprehensive busing plan, with the goal of fully desegregating every school in Mecklenburg County. Charlotte’s segregated housing patterns meant that desegregating schools would require massive cross-town busing. But the issue was results: “Substance, not semantics, must govern,” the Court wrote.
The ruling changed Charlotte forever.
Like their counterparts across the South, members of the then-all white CMS school board had met the Brown desegregation decision with fifteen years of foot-dragging and resistance.
But with a judge’s order and a Supreme Court ruling in play, the community’s white leadership finally faced the facts. If they resisted the order, unrest and uncertainty would taint their ambitious city’s reputation as a good place to do business. The result: community members came together to create a busing plan that would make CMS the most desegregated major school system in the nation for the next quarter-century. This accomplishment became a cornerstone of Charlotte’s identity and a major source of civic pride.
It also helped the area boom. Mecklenburg County grew from just over 350,000 residents in 1970 to just under 700,000 in 2000. Going to school together created lasting bonds among generations of whites and Blacks, and African Americans rose to positions of prominence across the city. Two notable examples: Harvey Gantt was elected Charlotte’s first Black mayor in 1984, one of the first Black mayors in the nation to run a majority-white city. Anthony Foxx became mayor in 2009, and then rose to serve as U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President Barack Obama.
But the reconfiguring city did not reflect the desegregated schools. As farmland filled with shiny new subdivisions, their new residents were predominantly white. Black families stayed concentrated in the center city. Gaps between the two groups grew, and tensions over busing rose.
In 1997, a group of CMS parents joined a national movement to end busing for desegregation by filing a new lawsuit, Cappachione v. Board, that challenged the busing plan. Two years later, federal judge Robert Potter ordered CMS to stop using race in school assignment. Schools resegregated with remarkable rapidity. The shift shook the community and raised hard questions about the depth of its commitment to desegregation and to racial equity.
Charlotte’s progressive self-image suffered another reality check in 2014, when a Harvard-Berkeley study led by scholar Raj Chetty ranked 50 metro areas across America in terms of social mobility. Booming Charlotte came in 50th–in other words, dead last.
Chetty’s team identified geographic separation – the spatial mis-match between economic opportunities and the people who need them – as a major barrier to mobility. They also pointed to the persistent legacies of segregated education. Nearly all the cities at the bottom of Chetty’s list were in Southern states, where separate and deliberately unequal schools had been public policy for more than half a century.
* * *
Today, as the nation looks back at Swann and contemplates its legacy, what can this history tell us?
We’ve been pondering that for quite a while. We first met in the fall of 1988, in a graduate seminar on urban history at UNC Chapel Hill. We both studied Charlotte and we both ended up here. Our families became deeply involved in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools: Tom’s daughter, Lydia, completed high school in 2010; Pam’s son, Parker, graduated in 2019. Tom’s wife, Carol Sawyer, was elected to the CMS Board of Education in 2017.
As historians, and especially as white historians, we had – and still have – a lot to learn about race in American history. We’ve set down some of our thoughts about the relationship of race to development and education here in Charlotte in two books published by UNC Press. Tom’s Sorting Out the New South City (now in a new edition!) tells the race-inflected history of Charlotte’s urban development from 1875 to 1975. Pam’s Color and Character examines West Charlotte High School, a beloved, historically Black school that in its more than eight decades of educating Charlotte children has weathered multiple shifts in local, state and national education policy.
When I wrote Sorting in the early 1990s, I hoped it might seem obsolete a quarter-century later. Unfortunately, its exploration of Charlotte’s residential segregation, by race and by income, seems more relevant today than it did then
In the book I identified the late 1890s as a “hinge in history,” a time when the economic stress of a major depression and a desire to wrest political power from the biracial coalition that ran North Carolina’s state government led elite white men to organize what they proudly dubbed a “White Supremacy Campaign.”
The campaign and its violent aftermath – which included the Wilmington Massacre, the first and still the only successful coup in American history – pushed African Americans out of politics. It also led to a sharp upsurge in urban segregation. From newly segregated mass transit to restrictive covenants that kept Blacks out of newly built suburbia, North Carolina cities such as Charlotte sorted out dramatically.
Discovering the violence and its aftermath took me by surprise.
We as a society have now become much more aware of the ways that white supremacy has been woven throughout urban life across the country. In Charlotte, I was able to chart how a century of deed restrictions, red-lining, New Deal projects, zoning, urban renewal, highway construction, and other developments added layer upon layer of inequality. Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law has recently brought that message to a national audience.
Many other voices have added corroborating evidence. Anthony Foxx grew up near West Charlotte High School in a Black neighborhood hemmed in by three major highways. As Secretary of Transportation, he made a point of highlighting the unequal burden that interstate highway construction, which was planned at a time when disfranchisement silenced most Black voices, placed on African American neighborhoods. Voices such as his have helped carry that approach over into the Biden administration.
As I look back at Swann from today’s vantage point, I now recognize that racial inequality is more deeply embedded in policies and in habits of thinking than I and many others had imagined. Swann attacked the most visible inequities in education policy. Both its successes and its unfinished business challenge us to keep up the work of building a society with “liberty and justice for all.”
In studying segregation, desegregation and resegregation at West Charlotte High School I learned how profoundly the issues that Tom describes – spatial segregation, inequitable public policy, white supremacy – affected schools. I also learned how a school system’s progress can be undermined by developments outside school walls.
Historically Black West Charlotte High has an extraordinary story. Opened as Charlotte’s second Black high school in 1938, it was a a beacon of hope and achievement for Charlotte’s west side neighborhoods. Then, through a remarkable series of decisions and events, it became the proud flagship of Charlotte’s busing plan, beloved by both Black and white students and held up as a shining example of community accomplishment.
When I started studying the school in the late 1990s, it still had that lofty reputation. But Charlotte’s desegregation program was under fire, and some anti-busing activists were attempting to rewrite history, to claim that busing of which the city was so proud had been a failure. I envisioned a book that told the inspiring story of a great segregated school that became a great integrated school, one that honored the past and that reminded readers of what it was possible to accomplish.
But there was much more to the story than that.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the destruction of Black communities by urban renewal and highway construction had upended families’ and students’ lives, breaking many of the community ties that had sustained them during segregation. Even as many in CMS strove mightily – and often successfully – to integrate Mecklenburg County schools, political and economic shifts meant that physical and financial gaps widened between whites and Blacks, between haves and have nots.
Shortly after I recorded my first interviews, these developments pressed to the fore. Busing ended, schools resegregated, and my story fell apart. The end of busing had especially profound effects on West Charlotte High. Neglect and disinvestment meant that the west side neighborhoods that surrounded the school faced profound challenges. The year after a new assignment system went into place, West Charlotte became the poorest, least integrated high school in the entire system. The dramatic shift and the concentration of poverty sent academic performance plummeting. So much for my inspiring story line.
Resegregation also raised hard questions. How should we assess a sweeping social change – along with the sacrifices that created it – if in the end it didn’t last? If it represented not a permanent shift, but rather a passing phase?
I did not know the answers to these questions. Neither did I know where to start looking. So I turned to other writing projects. I also worked to help improve our neighborhood elementary school, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, which had become a textbook example of the way that resegregation had burdened high-poverty, high-minority schools with limited resources, staff instability and low academic performance.
Fifteen years later, when I returned to the West Charlotte project, some things had become clearer. First and most obvious, despite promises to pour resources into high-poverty schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s resegregated system was profoundly inequitable. Nationwide, discussions of the appalling opportunity gaps between predominantly white suburban schools and predominantly Black urban schools often focus on the mismatch in resources between the urban and suburban school systems. In Charlotte, we saw dramatic gaps open up within a single system.
This development reaffirmed one of Julius Chambers’ fundamental calculations. He had not pursued desegregation with such zeal because he thought that Black children needed to sit next to white children to learn. He did it because he believed that school systems would only treat all schools equally if all schools contained children that mattered to those in power. In the late 1960s, when whites dominated almost all of Charlotte’s political and economic institutions, that meant white children.
“I don’t think that those who are now in power would provide the facilities and services that would be necessary in order to accomplish equal educational programs,” Chambers told the U.S. Senate in the spring of 1971. “As I view it, the only way that we can obtain quality education for all children, black and white, is to accomplish racial mixing of students in the various schools.”
Half a century later, Charlotte’s resegregated schools have underscored the sad reality of that assessment – and the persisting and resurging injustices that Tom describes so well. What we live with now is not the complete segregation of the past – a number of CMS schools, including several of those attended by Tom’s daughter and my son, mix different kinds of students. But the huge gaps in opportunity between the predominantly Black and brown schools in the inner city and the predominantly white and Asian schools in the wealthiest suburbs in some ways seems even greater than it was in the era of Jim Crow.
* * *
So what does it all mean? As we historians often note, it’s far easier to look backward than forward, far easier to chart the accomplishments and failures of the past than to predict what strategies will work in the future. But a few things are clear. Dramatic change is possible. Progress cannot be taken for granted. Deep-seated cultural institutions such as white supremacy permeate our lives, and they die hard. We need to stay alert, keep reading, and push forward, always.
Dr. Tom Hanchett is a community historian in Charlotte, consulting with community groups and with Levine Museum of the New South. He first came to Charlotte in 1981, and recently retired from the position of Staff Historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. While there, he curated the permanent exhibition Cotton Fields to Skyscrapers (named best in the Southeast by the South East Museums Conference), and a string of national-award-winning exhibitions that included COURAGE: The Carolina Story that Changed America, which explored the Carolina roots of Brown v. Board, and received a 2005 National Award for Museum and Library Service, the federal government’s highest honor for community service provided by museums and libraries. Learn more about his work at historysouth.org.
Dr. Pamela Grundy has been a historian, writer and activist in Charlotte since 1992. In addition to studying desegregation, she helped reintegrate her neighborhood elementary school, Shamrock Gardens Elementary, which her son attended from 2006-2012. In 2009 she curated the Levine Museum exhibit Changing Places: From Black and White to Technicolor, which examined Charlotte’s changing demographics and which in 2010 was awarded the Excellence in Exhibition Award: Special Achievement in Community Engagement from the American Association of Museums. Her latest project is the ongoing Black History of Charlotte, published by the good folks at Charlotte’s Queen City Nerve.
The Organization of American Historians honored three of our authors with seven awards. Congratulations to all!Visit our OAH 2021 virtual exhibit to get these books (and more) at our 40% conference discount.
You can view the OAH’s 2021 Meeting Awards Ceremony here.
2021 Civil War and Reconstruction Book for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, the Civil War years, or the Era of Reconstruction.
2021 Darlene Clark Hine Award for the best book in African American women’s and gender history.
2021 Mary Nickliss Prize for the most original book in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History.
About the OAH: Founded in 1907, the Organization of American Historians (OAH) is the largest professional society dedicated to the teaching and study of American history. The mission of the organization is to promote excellence in the scholarship, teaching, and presentation of American history, and to encourage wide discussion of historical questions and the equitable treatment of all practitioners of history.
As a leading publisher of American and Latin American history, UNC Press is delighted to announce the launch of Latinx Histories, a book series premised on the view that understanding Latinx history is essential to a more complete and complex understanding of the history of the United States, the Americas, and the world. The series editors and advisory board welcome book proposals that examine and offer a historical framework for the experiences of Latinx people ranging from earliest indigenous settlement in what is now known as the United States through the present-day transnational U.S. and beyond, resulting in a collection of innovative historical works that push the boundaries of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, migration, and nationalism within and around Latinx communities.
Lori Flores, Stony Brook University
Michael Innis-Jiménez, University of Alabama
Editorial Advisory Board:
Llana Barber, SUNY Old Westbury
Adrian Burgos, University of Illinois
Geraldo Cadava, Northwestern University
Julio Capó, Jr., Florida International University
Miroslava Chavez-Garcia, University of California, Santa Barbara
Earlier this month, Wilber Shirley, a true legend in North Carolina’s barbecue world, passed. In honor of his legacy, we have chosen to post his interview from John Shelton Reed, Dale Volberg Reed and William McKinney’s co-authored Holy Smoke: The Big Book of North Carolina Barbecue.
“That grease hitting those coals makes the smoked flavor. You can’t spray it on there, paint it on there, put it on there—that’s the natural way to cook it to get the smoke taste.”
Wilber Shirley opened his restaurant (it’s too nice to be called a joint) on Highway 70 in Goldsboro in 1962. Since then it has become a regular stop for flyers from nearby Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and so much a part of many people’s beach trips that you wouldn’t be surprised to see patrons in bathing suits. Mr. Shirley cooks split halves of whole hogs over oak coals in closed pits, and serves his barbecue with a simple Eastern-style sauce.
The first thing I remember about barbecue was my dad used to cook for family reunions, and we’d dig a hole out under a shelter and take a piece of wire and put across it and cook the pig down in the hole. That’s just an old tradition that we’ve had as long back as time, I reckon since they first started cooking a pig. You know, there wasn’t a lot of commercial barbecue places around.
Later I came to Goldsboro. I went to work at a place called Griffin’s Barbecue. They had a pit, of course, a cooking house, and they had rods [they put across the pit]. That’s how I first learned to cook it and that’s just the only way I know to cook it, really. It’s the most expensive way you can cook it.
[Our pigs weigh] between 90 and 100 pounds. We used to raise pigs in the country and they’d be two years old before you got them to weigh 100 pounds dressed. Now they’re grown so fast, a pig that will dress out at 100 pounds is probably not as half as old as when they grew so slow. These pigs here, they’re grown just like you would raise a baby in a nursery at Chapel Hill. They get dietary food; they’ve got medication. These mills have formulas where they feed them, and it cuts down the fat content. If you’ve got one that’s grown fast and it’s a younger pig, he’ll cook better than one that’s real old. If you’re talking about a pig eight months old or less, he’ll cook faster than one that’s a year and a half old, like back when we first started. And the skin looks different and the meat texture looks different.
This time of the year [summer] we’re running probably 100 to 125 pigs a week. Wood-wise, it’s supposed to be a cord and a half or something, anywhere from twelve to fourteen loads a week. We try to keep it not piled up. If you get too much ahead and it dries out, when you burn it to make the coals you got ashes, so you got to have it kind of green.
I’ve got a man that’s been cutting wood for me for thirty years and I don’t know what I’ll do when he retires or dies. I don’t know a thing about cutting wood. We use oak. That’s predominantly what you find around here. You can use any kind of hardwood, but predominantly in this area it’s oak. You’ll find a little hickory, but I could burn all the hickory in this county in a year’s time. Some years ago [my wood buyer] got to buying behind the timber buyers. You know how these timber buyers go in and they cut the pine and all that, and we go behind them and cut the hardwood. So there’s been a supply of wood. That’s not a real problem.
I think it’s a better product [with wood]. See, you cook it with gas and electricity, your cooking process starts out different. In most cases you have the flame at the top, so you put [the pig] with the skin down and the ribs and meat up. As a result that skin holds the grease and it sits there and boils. If you cook them like we do, with the skin up and the meat down and you fire coals underneath, it drips. And when it does that it’s doing two things. One, it’s getting the grease out and it’s not sitting there boiling in the meat. The second thing, is that grease hitting those coals makes the smoked flavor that you won’t get any other way. You can’t spray it on there, paint it on there, put it on there—that’s the natural way to cook it to get the smoke taste. And it’s what people in this area grew up accustomed to. [Our sauce] is just a recipe we had down there that we use—just vinegar and pepper and hot water and boil it
[Changing to gas] goes through my mind sometimes because of the cost and the labor. They can take a thermostat and they can put their pigs on there, and if it takes seven or eight hours they can go home and go to bed. Ours, you stay there with them from the time you put them on until the time you get done. [Putting more coals on is] not a clock thing. You really kind of go by when it goes to dying down, but you kind of gauge that—it’s about every thirty minutes. It gets cooked, but there’s a tremendous cost of the wood, the labor, and all. As I get older and I look at what may happen to the place—I don’t know. I don’t plan to [switch] as long as I’m able but I don’t know what will happen in the future. I don’t know whether anybody [else] would be willing to put into it what it takes.
We do most of our cooking at night. We put them on and try to get them started by 9:30 or 10:00 and they’re through the next morning about 9:30 or 10:00. We’ve got three different guys: one of them works four nights and one of them works two and one works one—seven days a week. And then we have other people come in the morning, take them over.
Start out every morning, we open the door at 6:00. There’s a crowd here that’s got to go to work, but they come at 6:00 and they get out probably about 7:00. And then there’s another crowd that starts drifting in of those that are retired or whatever, and they sit here and shoot the breeze from then until 9:00 or 9:30. Then it clears out, and then starts over again about 11:00. It’s a gathering place, I guess.
Of course over the years we’ve added on some stuff. When I was at Griffin’s literally all we sold down there was barbecued chicken and barbecued pork. We have a lot of people that eat here several times a week, so we have a daily special, and we have seafood and hamburger steak and fried chicken and things like that. We have a barbecued chicken we cook one day a week on the pit, but the rest of the time it’s the barbecued chicken that I brought the recipe [for] from Griffin’s. It’s cooked in the oven.
We cook beef on Wednesday night for Thursday. Cook briskets. A fellow came here and opened a barbecue beef thing down on the highway and I decided I’d try [to cook] some of it, too. And everybody asks, “Is that Texas beef?” and I say, “I have no idea.” I’ve never been to Texas, so I don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like. We chop ours; you’re probably used to slicing. It didn’t take long [to learn to cook beef]. I gave it away the first three or four times I cooked it. I tried it because it was entirely different than what people normally around here would think of. We’ve had good success with it. We’ll cook about—raw beef – 700 or 800 pounds.
When you get started in something, I think there’s a certain amount of challenge to it. But I can take the deed to this place and go down to the mall and I could ask 100 people to take it if I give it to them, with the stipulation that they had to put the number of hours that I did, and I doubt if I would get one taker. [I work] seven days a week. [Laughs] Some weeks I come in eight days a week. It’s not hard if you’ve been doing it for forty years.
The hardest part is the help, employees. With ninety employees I’ve got ninety different opinions. [Laughs] I’ve got one waitress who has been here over thirty years, waitressing. I’ve got a cook in the kitchen that was here when I bought this place. (See, this place was built and another fellow bought it and he got out after six months. He was used to making fast money. This is slow.) I’ve got one son-in-law that works [here]. He’s not as committed as I am. [Laughs] Nobody is committed as I am. The boy behind the counter has been here almost twenty-five years, and there’s another one that has been here like twenty years. He came in high school. As a matter of fact, my son-in-law came here in high school. He came to work here and then, you know, married my daughter. We still work high school students, but usually they come and go. That’s been one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had personally is just having high school students come and work, and we help them while they’re in school, and they go on and lead successful lives.
We don’t do a lot of advertising. It’s mostly word of mouth, and we have become more involved in helping churches and schools and the [Air Force] base—a couple times they’ve come home and we’ll have a pig-picking. I sponsored a softball team for twenty years. We played in New York; we played in Florida and Tennessee and South Carolina and various places, Detroit. It was Wilber’s Barbecue Softball Team. So people would see the name. And then I’ve been involved in state politics and I got known pretty much statewide. And I was involved in the [North Carolina State University] Wolfpack Club for 25 or 26 years, and that gave more exposure. So it’s just been one thing or another. People see you here and there, at tournaments and ballgames and stuff, and when they come by they stop and eat.
A woman in here the other day said her grandson went to Disney World and more people at Disney World saw that Wilber’s shirt and stopped him—she said he was amazed. He’d be walking around in Disney World and people were coming up to him. I had a similar thing happen several years ago. I went to Disney World and my wife wanted to check in her coat and all, so I walked up to the boy and I had on a Wilber’s Barbecue cap and he said, “You know Wilber’s Barbecue?” I said, “Well, I am Wilber.” He said, “I used to eat there all the time.” He was in the service and was stationed here, and he got out of the service and he’d gone to work at Disney World.
We’ve been written up in right many magazines over the years—Southern Living and what have you. This past weekend there was a couple here from New Jersey, and they had seen it on the Food Network. There was a girl who interviewed me from a radio station from England. I said, “Who in England do you think is going to listen to you?” What she was going to do was take it back and use it on her radio show, you know—that she had been to the States and all. A girl from New York on ABC Talk Radio called up and asked [an employee] to talk and he said, “You don’t need to talk to me; you need to talk to the man that’s got forty-one years in his head and see if you can get it out of his head.” And I guess that’s the bad part about me because so much of this mess is in my head and nobody don’t know where it is or what it is.
Depending on how my health holds out, I’ve got no plans to retire.
John Shelton Reed and Dale Volberg Reed live in Chapel Hill, NC. Both are members of the Southern Foodways Alliance. John Shelton Reed is author of Barbecue: A Savor the South Cookbook, and he is co-founder of The Campaign for Real Barbecue and one of the moving spirits of the Carolina Barbecue Society.
William McKinney founded the Carolina BBQ Society while a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He now lives in Virginia.
Black historian and activist Lawrence Reddick (1910-1995), the subject of my new UNC book, died over a quarter century ago, but his legacy lives on in innumerable ways. The latest involves helping the American Historical Association (AHA) and the Organization of American Historians (OAH) reckon with the past and present racism of the American historical profession.
In the February edition of its newsmagazine, Perspectives on History, the AHA announced the launch of a new initiative to investigate its past racism. In that same edition, it made an article of mine—“Diversity Demands Struggle: Lessons from Lawrence Reddick’s Crusade for Black History”—the cover story. The pairing was effective in underlining why the initiative is so important: Reddick critiqued institutional racism in the profession in powerful and compelling ways, but because his critiques were often marginalized, the profession failed to make the progress it needed to. Now a systematic effort is underway to rectify that, and perspectives like Reddick’s will be indispensable.
Meanwhile, the OAH’s magazine, The American Historian, published another article of mine, “Those We Honor, and Those We Don’t: The Case for Renaming an OAH Book Award,” which advocated removing a Lost Cause scholar, Avery O. Craven, as the namesake of its book award in Civil War and Reconstruction history and replacing him with Reddick. Reddick had been Craven’s PhD student at the University of Chicago in the 1930s, and he experienced Craven’s racism firsthand. I have since learned that the OAH has indeed removed Craven’s name from the award, and has appointed a committee that has now rewritten the guidelines for establishing and naming prizes, all to ensure that the person is up to the organization’s present standards. Reddick’s direct testimony about Craven’s classroom behavior, in addition to Craven’s racist scholarship, was central to pushing the OAH to make the changes.
All of this is a reminder that we historians are also products of the deeply unequal society in which we live, and that we must be scrupulous in interrogating our own profession. We do this not to tear down our discipline nor to erode the public’s confidence in us. It’s precisely the opposite. We will only enhance our credibility by owning up to our own mistakes, and by using them to create a better, more equitable discipline that is up to the task of writing the complex, painful, but also empowering histories that our country so desperately needs.
The OAH and AHA exist to bolster the work of history, to celebrate the best contributions, and to support historians themselves, especially through this polarized and divided time. For these reasons, I hope that Craven’s name is not replaced with another traditional scholar, nor by someone wealthy enough to endow the award. The renaming of this prize has the potential to aid in prompting a larger reckoning. We need to deal with the fact that it is only the most privileged academics, ensconced at research universities, who are fully supported in generating a significant corpus of scholarship and having their work widely read, reviewed, and assigned. The majority of us now labor away as contingent faculty members with dismal pay, few benefits, dim career prospects, and little time to do the writing we were trained to do.
In these prizes, therefore, let us seek to acknowledge scholarly excellence while also accounting for the myriad obstacles confronting less-advantaged historians, with an eye toward the non-traditional contributions they often make.
This is why Reddick would make such a powerful symbol as the new namesake of the OAH award. Not only was he denied the privileges that bolstered the careers of white scholars like Craven, but he also—even more impressively—at times conscientiously set aside scholarship to be a productive citizen and activist. He used his historical knowledge to communicate to Black and white publics, to develop archives for future generations to write Black people back into history, to directly mentor activists like Martin Luther King Jr., and to steer activist organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And he still managed to write a dissertation about the runup to the Civil War that was far superior to Craven’s scholarship, as well as a young adult’s book about the Civil War and Reconstruction that captured more about this history—namely, about the essential role of African Americans—than Craven was ever able or willing to comprehend.
How better to inaugurate a new era of naming prizes than to honor Lawrence Reddick, a figure more than worthy and too long ignored?
David A. Varel is an affiliate faculty member at Metropolitan State University–Denver, and author of The Lost Black Scholar: Resurrecting Allison Davis in American Social Thought.
Aari McDonald stares out of her WNBA draft photo, arms folded, biceps sculpted, looking ahead. On April 15, when the draft kicks off the WNBA’s silver anniversary season, McDonald will go high. She has just come off a stellar NCAA tournament, where she led third-seeded Arizona to the championship game – a heartstopping contest with Stanford that was watched by more than 4 million viewers and decided by a single point.
Women’s basketball has come a long way from the days when players donned long skirts and long-sleeved blouses, when men were barred from watching, and when observers waxed enthusiastic over the thrills of a “snappy” game that ended with a score of 2 to 1.
As the sport pauses for a moment between the drama of the Final Four and the opening tosses of the WNBA, we suggest taking time to explore the lives of the women who built the game to where it is today – women such as Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer, longtime Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer, Tennessee phenomenon Pat Summitt, and star-players-turned-star-coaches Anne Donovan and Dawn Staley and. Their many stories offer inspiring portraits of human determination. They also sketch out a roadmap for creating social change – the kind of transformation our nation needs so much today.
On the eve of the 2021 Final Four, Vivian Stringer sent a brief note to coaches Dawn Staley and Adia Barnes. It was the first time that two Black head coaches had reached this pinnacle of their sport. Springer was overjoyed.
“Congratulations,” she wrote. “I am so proud of you both for representing Black Women! I dreamed of this day. I am filled with great pride & happiness. I salute you! Continue to inspire all young women!”
In 1966, when Stringer was a teenager, her high school had no basketball for girls. She was a stellar athlete, a sought-after teammate in the neighborhood boys’ pickup games. But the closest she could get to high school play was as a cheerleader. As a Black woman she faced hurdles even there – she was the first Black cheerleader at the predominantly white school, and it took action by the local NAACP to get her on the squad. Once there, she took advantage of her position on the sidelines to scrutinize the games, whispering advice to her male friends as they moved on and off the court.
Half a Shoestring
In 1971, when Stringer got her first coaching job at historically black Cheney State University, she ran her program on less than half a shoestring. She spent her own money on recruiting and drove her players to their games in an old prison bus. When she approached an intersection, she later explained, she would “slow down but not enough to stop because we weren’t sure we were going to start again, so my assistant would crane her neck out the window and yell, ‘Vivian, keep going, no one’s coming.’”
She drove on. Others did as well. This year’s NCAA tournament showcased how far the sport has come – nationally televised games packed with talent, drama and great play, heightened by the resolve to speak out against injustice.
Men as well as women have contributed to this growth, including Harley Redin, who coached the legendary Flying Queens from Wayland Baptist College; Leon Barmore, who
led his Louisiana Tech teams to 20 straight NCAA tournaments; and Geno Auriemma, who built a still-thriving dynasty at UConn. But the women stand out as pioneers.
Building a sport
They faced multiple barriers to participating in the sport they loved. They competed in dilapidated gyms, wore faded uniforms, and often endured criticism from neighbors and family members who thought sports were for boys. When Title IX forced colleges to start women’s teams, they built programs from scratch, often fighting each step of the way. They negotiated with administrators. They filed lawsuits. They dealt with an NCAA takeover of their once-independent programs. Over time, they helped change an American sporting culture that lionized male athletes and viewed women — especially those playing high-energy contact sports — with suspicion.
In the mid-1990s, many people thought the women’s game was on the verge of a breakthrough. With strong backing from USA Basketball, Tara VanDerveer coached an all-star U.S. women’s team to a resounding, high-profile Olympic training run and a gold medal in the 1996 Games. Out of that accomplishment came the WNBA and the American Basketball League, two newly organized professional leagues competing for players and attention.
Progress came slower than many had hoped. A decade later, when we were writing Shattering the Glass, plenty of questions remained. The ABL had faded quickly. The WNBA was finding it hard to expand its audience beyond a loyal group of hardcore supporters. The sport had yet to come to terms with its lesbian players, coaches and fans. As the women’s sport grew in prestige, men had begun to apply for and receive many of the scarce head college coaching positions. African American women made up a growing share of the game’s stars, but few were tapped for head coaching or top administrative jobs.
But the game kept moving forward – pushed by the fortitude that comes with struggle. Since Shattering the Glass was published, issues of sexuality have largely fallen by the wayside, with teams and leagues actively marketing to the LGBTQ+ community. Players and coaches are out of the closet in significant numbers, among them such superstars as Sheryl Swoopes, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi. Audiences
have grown dramatically. The game has found ways to embrace working motherhood – Adia Barnes coached her team to the NCAA championship game while pumping breast milk at halftime for her 6-month-old daughter.
Advancement has also gone well beyond the court. When the Black Lives Matter movement took off this past summer, WNBA players stood at the forefront of professional athletes’ response – to the point where members of the Atlanta Dream endorsed Black minister Raphael Warnock in his Georgia Senate race against Kelly Loeffler, who was a part owner of the Dream and who had criticized Dream players for their Black Lives Matter activism (in part as a result of that player discontent, the Dream was sold in February to an investment group that includes former Dream player Renee Montgomery, the first retired player to own part of a team). When players and coaches discovered the dramatic differences between conditions at the men’s and women’s Final Four, they took to social media to spotlight the inequalities. National media took notice and called out the NCAA.
Passing the torch
Time moves on. Many of the game’s early stalwarts have passed the torch to others. Longtime LSU coach Sue Gunter died from lung disease in August 2005, and N.C. State coach Kay Yow succumbed to breast cancer in early 2009. Legendary Tennessee coach Pat Summitt died in mid-2016, after a heartbreaking battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Anne Donovan, an early superstar who became the first female coach to win a WNBA title passed away in 2018, at the young age of 56.
But the rising generation has been well prepared to keep building the sport, setting lofty goals and helping each other reach them. In 1999, Purdue coach Carolyn Peck became the first Black head coach to win the NCAA women’s title. In 2015, she passed a piece of her championship net to Dawn Staley, who had coached the University of South Carolina to the first Final Four of her head coaching career. Staley’s Gamecocks took the crown in 2017, and she now plans to keep building the tradition by passing part of her 2017 net to Adia Barnes.
It has been a job well done. Back in December, Tara VanDerveer — who began her head coaching career at Idaho in 1978 — won her 1,099th game, passing Pat Summitt to reach the top of the all-time win list in Division I college women’s basketball. Vivian Stringer posted a congratulatory tweet:
“Congrats, Tara,” she wrote. “You are class, dignity and grace personified. I know Pat is smiling down looking over all of us. Enjoy this moment, you’ve earned it.”
So have they all.
Pamela Grundy is an independent scholar and author of the award-winning Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina (from the University of North Carolina Press).
Susan Shackelford has written about sports for the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer and now runs a freelance writing and editing business. Both authors live in Charlotte, North Carolina.