Brian P. Luskey: The Civil War’s Free Labor Crisis

Today we welcome a guest post from Brian P. Luskey, author of Men is Cheap: Exposing the Frauds of Free Labor in Civil War America, out now from UNC Press.

When a Civil War substitute broker told business associates that “Men is cheep here to Day,” he exposed an unsettling contradiction at the heart of the Union’s war effort. Despite Northerners’ devotion to the principles of free labor, the war produced rampant speculation and coercive labor arrangements that many Americans labeled fraudulent. Men Is Cheap shows that in the process of winning the war, Northerners were forced to grapple with the frauds of free labor. Labor brokers, by helping to staff the Union military and Yankee households, did indispensable work that helped the Northern state and Northern employers emerge victorious. They also gave rise to an economic and political system that enriched the managerial class at the expense of laborers—a reality that resonates to this day.a reality that resonates to this day.

Men is Cheap is now available in print and ebook editions.

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The Civil War’s Free Labor Crisis

For Henry Walker, a private in the 117th New York Infantry, the Civil War was an economic crisis. Walker’s household was imperiled by the demands the war placed upon it. While Henry and his only son Albert served in the army, his wife Persis and their six daughters struggled to pay the rent because neighbors reneged on promises to help them while the male breadwinners who risked their lives for the nation were absent. Persis requested assistance and demanded fair treatment from creditors and storekeepers, but she remained anxious about how long she and the girls could survive in his absence. Henry—far from home, earning low wages as an enlisted man, and despairing of obtaining the state bounty payment owed to him—found it difficult to help his family make ends meet.

Faced with the challenge of alleviating his family’s economic struggles on a soldier’s wage, Walker resolved to bet everything on the promise of free labor ideology for workers. He would work harder, dispense advice to his family, and envision a future in which he and his loved ones would be in control of their economic destiny. He bought shoemaker’s tools and earned additional money mending the soles of his comrades’ boots. He sent those funds home, accompanied by letters in which he instructed his wife and daughters to save their money. He echoed the spirit of “go-ahead” that was so prevalent in the nation during this era. Hard work and self-discipline were obligatory: “I wish you to prosper,” he told his family, “rem[em]ber your life is just what you make it.” Perseverance was also a must: “our coarse in life depends on our own energy. persevere their is nothing like try try agan.”

Continue Reading Brian P. Luskey: The Civil War’s Free Labor Crisis

Philip F. Rubio: The Great Postal Wildcat Strike Jubilee

Today we welcome a guest post from Philip F. Rubio, author of Undelivered: From the Great Postal Strike of 1970 to the Manufactured Crisis of the U.S. Postal Service, forthcoming in May 2020 from UNC Press.

For eight days in March 1970, over 200,000 postal workers staged an illegal “wildcat” strike—the largest in United States history—for better wages and working conditions. Picket lines started in New York and spread across the country like wildfire. Strikers defied court injunctions, threats of termination, and their own union leaders. In the negotiated aftermath, the U.S. Post Office became the U.S. Postal Service, and postal workers received full collective bargaining rights and wage increases, all the while continuing to fight for greater democracy within their unions. Using archives, periodicals, and oral histories, Philip Rubio shows how this strike, born of frustration and rising expectations and emerging as part of a larger 1960s-1970s global rank-and-file labor upsurge, transformed the post office and postal unions.

In this post, Dr. Rubio writes about the importance of commemorating the nationwide postal wildcat strike on the day of its fiftieth anniversary. You can read his 2015 blog post which includes a more detailed account of the strike here.

Undelivered will publish in May 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

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The Great Postal Wildcat Strike Jubilee

March 18, 1970 marks the day fifty years ago when postal workers walked off the job in New York City in what soon became the largest wildcat strike in U.S. labor history.  “Wildcats” are strikes not authorized by the unions, but this strike was also illegal, as a 1912 law bars federal government workers from striking.  Nevertheless, for eight days over 200,000 workers struck the U.S. Post Office Department across the country in a dozen states and hundreds of post offices.  They struck for a living wage and job dignity.  The strike forced passage of the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act (PRA) that transformed the post office into a self-supporting government/corporate hybrid called the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 1971.  President Richard Nixon and Congress ended further strike threats by extending pay raises and full collective bargaining rights to postal workers—the only federal employees who enjoy those rights to this day.  Their strike also initiated a process of greater democratization of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), and the new American Postal Workers Union (APWU, product of five unions merging in 1971).

Unfortunately, our society has largely forgotten the 1970 postal strike.  What historians choose to research and publish matters, and amazingly, this strike has so far gained little attention from labor historians.  It has fallen to strike veterans, the postal unions, and labor activists to keep that memory alive and mark that date in anticipation this year of the strike’s “jubilee” (also known as the fiftieth anniversary).

Continue Reading Philip F. Rubio: The Great Postal Wildcat Strike Jubilee

Author Interview: Jennifer L. Etnier on Coaching for the Love of the Game

In this Q&A, professor of kinesiology Jennifer L. Etnier discusses her new book Coaching for the Love of the Game: A Practical Guide for Working with Young Athletes, available now from UNC Press.

More than 45 million children play youth sports in the United States each year, and most are coached by parent volunteers with good intentions but little training. This lack of training and an overemphasis on winning often results in stress and frustration for coaches and players alike, which can discourage young athletes so much that they walk away from sports altogether. With this new guide for amateur parent coaches, Jennifer Etnier, author of Bring Your ‘A’ Game, aims to change that. Etnier offers a system of positive coaching that can be applied to any sport, from the beginner level to high school athletics, and explains that good coaching requires working with young athletes at their developmental level and providing feedback designed to keep children engaged and having fun.

Coaching for the Love of the Game is now available in print and ebook editions. Watch a promotional trailer for the book here.

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Q: Why did you write this book, and how do you hope it will be used?

A: I wrote this book because I have literally been losing sleep at night over coaches I’ve seen working with youth athletes. To give just a few examples: I wrote this book because of the coach I saw screaming at a team of 9-year-olds after a soccer game, the volleyball coach who only let his weaker players on the court for 2 points out of 3 entire games, the basketball coach who told his 11-year-olds to do push-ups until they were ready to pay attention, and the coach who spent the majority of his practice texting on his cell phone. I wrote this book with the hope of helping well-intentioned coaches remember what the top priority is in youth sports (i.e, the kids!) to help them have a positive influence on their athletes so that every athlete has fun, improves, and feels valued and respected.

Q: What was your own experience growing up as a young athlete and an avid lover of sports? How have those experiences influenced this book?

A: When I was playing sports, I had coaches who were focused on creating a fun atmosphere where athletes had an opportunity to improve. My coaches ran the gamut from volunteer parent coaches to full-time paid coaches, but most approached athletics as an environment for personal growth rather than a venue for winning at all costs. Of course, we cared about winning and I’m a very competitive person, but I also recognized early on that winning is not the most important thing. The most important things are to be competitive while having fun, focusing on improvement, and learning how to work hard to give winning your best chance. I learned to give full effort against a competitor, but to still cheer for her good shot. I learned to work hard in practices to improve, to try my hardest in competition, to persist against adversity, and to be a good sport.

Continue Reading Author Interview: Jennifer L. Etnier on Coaching for the Love of the Game

Jack Reid: Once Upon A Time…In the History of Hitchhiking

Today we welcome a guest post from Jack Reid, author of Roadside Americans: The Rise and Fall of Hitchhiking in a Changing Nation, out now from UNC Press.

Between the Great Depression and the mid-1970s, hitchhikers were a common sight for motorists, as American service members, students, and adventurers sought out the romance of the road in droves. Beats, hippies, feminists, and civil rights and antiwar activists saw “thumb tripping” as a vehicle for liberation, living out the counterculture’s rejection of traditional values. Yet, by the time Ronald Reagan, a former hitchhiker himself, was in the White House, the youthful faces on the road chasing the ghost of Jack Kerouac were largely gone—along with sympathetic portrayals of the practice in state legislatures and the media. In Roadside Americans, Jack Reid traces the rise and fall of hitchhiking, offering vivid accounts of life on the road and how the act of soliciting rides from strangers, and the attitude toward hitchhikers in American society, evolved over time in synch with broader economic, political, and cultural shifts. In doing so, Reid offers insight into significant changes in the United States amid the decline of liberalism and the rise of the Reagan Era.

In this post, Reid looks at the portrayal of hitchhiking in the Oscar-nominated film Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood.

Roadside Americans is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.

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Quentin Tarantino’s 9th studio film Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood pays careful attention to rendering a (largely) accurate depiction of life in Los Angeles circa 1969.  Although Tarantino takes creative liberties in some respects, most notably the film’s final act, the movie as a whole wonderfully captures the look and feel of L.A. at the height of the counterculture’s influence in American culture—whether it be costume design, driving scenes grooving to period-specific music, or the visual aesthetic of the city’s neon-drenched streets.  Beyond these historical points of reference, though, the film also highlights another oft-overlooked aspect in American culture: the once-popular act of hitchhiking.

Three youths hitchhike in 1966 on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives [Collection 1429], UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA)

Although common in the Depression and World War II eras, hitchhiking reached its height in popularity during the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially along the West Coast.  Much of this enthusiasm for soliciting rides grew out of the fact that the practice complimented the era’s countercultural sensibility—offering not only free transit, but also a way to breathe life into a vision of a more cooperative and spontaneous existence.  For a teenager or college student without a car, hitching a ride transformed what would otherwise be a mundane bus trip into a potentially memorable experience, often spurring a fleeting connection between two strangers.  While popular, the practice was also highly controversial.  Growing numbers of youths thumbing rides translated to increased criminality, inspiring concerns for the safety of those on the road, especially young women.  Indeed, news agencies reported in graphic detail a host of hitchhiking-related sexual assaults and shocking murders from across the country.

Continue Reading Jack Reid: Once Upon A Time…In the History of Hitchhiking

Announcement Regarding COVID-19 and UNC Press Exhibits and Travel

UNC Press has been monitoring closely developments with the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. Yesterday I notified the UNC Press staff that we will not be exhibiting at any conferences through the rest of the spring, including the American Society for Environmental History, the Organization of American Historians, the Society for Military History, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the American Association for the History of Medicine, and the Latin American Studies Association. We will continue to evaluate our participation in future conferences in the coming weeks.

UNC Press staff will restrict all business travel for the next two months. We are also reaching out to all of our authors who may be in various stages of promoting their books through in-person events to reconsider whether they should continue this work. We will unconditionally support our authors’ positions. We are also notifying scholarly organizations and other key partners of our decisions so they can plan accordingly as far in advance as possible.

These decisions are upending the plans of our staff, our authors, and members of communities that we consider to be vital partners to our mission. In many cases, years of work have gone into these plans. We deeply regret the disruption and disappointment caused by our decisions. We know that scholarly societies and bookstores rely on the engagement of our authors and staff for their continued success and we hope that this disruption will be for the briefest time possible.

We are working on ways to minimize and mitigate the impacts of these changes, and we are particularly working to enhance other forms of engagement with communities and individuals we will not be meeting in person. I’m very proud of the energy and creativity coming from our team and we look forward to sharing these plans as they develop.

Sincerely,

John Sherer
Spangler Family Director, University of North Carolina Press

Matthew Morse Booker: Who Should Be Responsible for Food Safety?

Today we welcome a guest post from Matthew Morse Booker, co-editor (with Charles C. Ludington) of Food Fights: How History Matters to Contemporary Food Debates, available now from UNC Press.

What we eat, where it is from, and how it is produced are vital questions in today’s America. We think seriously about food because it is freighted with the hopes, fears, and anxieties of modern life. Yet critiques of food and food systems all too often sprawl into jeremiads against modernity itself, while supporters of the status quo refuse to acknowledge the problems with today’s methods of food production and distribution. Food Fights sheds new light on these crucial debates, using a historical lens. Its essays take strong positions, even arguing with one another, as they explore the many themes and tensions that define how we understand our food—from the promises and failures of agricultural technology to the politics of taste.

In this post, Booker discusses the history of food safety regulations in the U.S.

Food Fights is now available in print and ebook editions.

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Who Should Be Responsible for Food Safety?

I love oysters. So much so that I grow my own with my co-editor Chad Ludington. And I love to eat oysters raw. I do so even though I understand oyster biology. Oysters are bottom feeders. They filter the water around them. Everything that was in that water, is in the oyster. Everything, including any human or animal waste!

Yet surprisingly few people get sick from eating oysters. They are among the safest foods you can buy in the United States. That is because oysters are one of the most heavily regulated foods you can buy. State and federal agencies constantly test oysters. They are watched over from the beginning of their lives to the moment they reach your plate. That regulation is a gift from the past century, when Congress and states created the first food safety regulations.

My chapter in Food Fights traces how Americans first regulated food. And it turns out that oysters are at the heart of that story. And so are college students.

Both came together in an 1894 Wesleyan University fraternity pledge dinner in Connecticut. After the dinner, a typhoid fever epidemic made twenty-five young men terribly sick and killed four. Wesleyan biology professor H.W. Conn linked the typhoid to raw oysters that the fraternity brothers ate that night, and the raw oysters to raw sewage from the oyster dealer’s own house. In fact, the oysterman’s wife died of typhoid at the same time as the fraternity brothers. This oyster-related disease epidemic indiscriminately struck down both the rich and the working poor.

Continue Reading Matthew Morse Booker: Who Should Be Responsible for Food Safety?

Kate Dossett: Women Upstage

Today we welcome a guest post by Kate Dossett, author of Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal, out now from UNC Press.

Between 1935 and 1939, the United States government paid out-of-work artists to write, act, and stage theatre as part of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a New Deal job relief program. In segregated “Negro Units” set up under the FTP, African American artists took on theatre work usually reserved for whites, staged black versions of “white” classics, and developed radical new dramas. In this fresh history of the FTP Negro Units, Kate Dossett examines what she calls the black performance community—a broad network of actors, dramatists, audiences, critics, and community activists—who made and remade black theatre manuscripts for the Negro Units and other theatre companies from New York to Seattle.

In this post, Dossett writes about the importance of acknowledging and understanding the role of black women as collaborators in developing black theatre manuscripts on the Federal Theatre Project.

Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal is now available in paper and ebook editions.

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Women Upstage: Black Performance Communities and the Federal Theatre Project

African American women were central to the development of black theatre during the four years of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). The FTP was one of four relief projects for unemployed artists established in 1935 as part of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Alongside the Federal Art Project for visual artists, Federal Music Project for musicians, and Federal Writers’ Project for writers, the FTP was tasked with putting unemployed cultural laborers back to work and encouraging creativity in the arts.  Between 1935 and 1939 the project established a range of drama units in towns and cities across the United States. These included seventeen ‘Negro Units.’ In theory, Negro Units could be established wherever there were sufficient numbers of unemployed black theatre professionals eligible to claim relief. In practice, Negro Units were usually set up where there was already a history of interracial collaboration between white producers and black theatre professionals. Negro Units in Harlem, Hartford, Newark, Boston, Chicago, and Seattle developed new dramas and maintained a regular production schedule through most of the four years of the project’s operation. Programming for Negro Units was a source of contention throughout the FTP. All dramas had to be cleared by the National Service Bureau headquartered in New York, while six regional production boards approved the programmes of individual units under their jurisdiction. Even so, individual Negro Unit directors and supervisors had considerable control over what would be staged, so it really mattered that of the Negro Units, only Boston had a black director for the full four years of the project.  However as the project progressed, African Americans would take on formal and informal leadership roles especially in the Harlem, Seattle, Chicago and Hartford Negro Units. In each of these units, black women played prominent roles as actors, activists and creators of black dramas, yet it is individual playwrights, all men, whose work lived beyond the Federal Theatre. New dramas and adaptations by Theodore Ward, Abram Hill, Theodore Browne, and Joe Staton centered black experiences, directly confronted white audiences, and helped to forge a radical black theatre tradition.

Like all black theatre makers, black federal theatre dramatists had to navigate white gate-keeping in order to get their theatre manuscripts from the page to the stage. Often they were held back, but sometimes their work was staged and even acclaimed. Black male theatre makers fared considerably better than women, receiving credit both at the time and later on, especially during and after the Black Arts Movement, when black dramatists began to be recognized through publication in anthologies and revivals of earlier work. While women wrote and staged plays before, during and after the Federal Theatre Project, playwriting on the FTP was understood as a masculine pursuit. Fewer than twenty percent of dramas staged by the project were written by women, and few women of color were given opportunities to develop new work. Shirley Graham Du Bois worked as a supervisor on the Chicago Negro Unit while the actor Rose McClendon had been an important leader of the Harlem Unit before her untimely death. Katherine Dunham, pioneer of modern dance, developed several new dance pieces and Zora Neale Hurston worked briefly as a drama coach for the FTP but the project did not stage any of her dramatic works.

Continue Reading Kate Dossett: Women Upstage

Jill D. Snider: A Macro-Micro Approach to Biography

Today we welcome a guest post from Jill D. Snider, author of Lucean Arthur Headen: The Making of a Black Inventor and Entrepreneur, out now from UNC Press.

Born in Carthage, North Carolina, Lucean Arthur Headen (1879–1957) grew up amid former slave artisans. Inspired by his grandfather, a wheelwright, and great-uncle, a toolmaker, he dreamed as a child of becoming an inventor. His ambitions suffered the menace of Jim Crow and the reality of a new inventive landscape in which investment was shifting from lone inventors to the new “industrial scientists.” But determined and ambitious, Headen left the South, and after toiling for a decade as a Pullman porter, risked everything to pursue his dream. He eventually earned eleven patents, most for innovative engine designs and anti-icing methods for aircraft. An equally capable entrepreneur and sportsman, Headen learned to fly in 1911, manufactured his own “Pace Setter” and “Headen Special” cars in the early 1920s, and founded the first national black auto racing association in 1924, all establishing him as an important authority on transportation technologies among African Americans. Emigrating to England in 1931, Headen also proved a successful manufacturer, operating engineering firms in Surrey that distributed his motor and other products worldwide for twenty-five years. Though Headen left few personal records, Jill D. Snider recreates the life of this extraordinary man through historical detective work in newspapers, business and trade publications, genealogical databases, and scholarly works.

In this post, Snider writes about the process of crafting a biography when few primary sources from the subject are available.

Lucean Arthur Headen is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.

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A Macro-Micro Approach to Biography

As I prepared to write a biography of Lucean Arthur Headen, I faced the all-too-familiar dilemma encountered by historians who attempt to reclaim the stories of African Americans outside well-documented fields. Writers, ministers, entertainers, lawyers, and politicians leave behind manuscripts, correspondence, sermons, songs, speeches, and legal briefs. Individuals like Headen, an independent inventor and small businessman, often have less of an eye toward their legacies, and few archives preserve the remnants of their lives. Thus, despite the fact that Headen worked as a Pullman Porter for a decade, learned to fly, earned eleven patents, designed and manufactured his own automobiles, promoted and raced in dirt-track events, and operated an engineering firm in England for over twenty-five years, we have almost no business records or personal writings on which to base his story.

Without primary sources, I had to ask myself, how could I ascertain the facts of Headen’s life, make sense of his experiences, divine his thoughts?

I was inspired to believe the task possible by the 1983 biography Free Frank. Juliet E. K. Walker’s book told the story of Frank McWorter, a slave who purchased his own freedom and as a free man established an all-black town in Illinois. Having only a few items belonging to McWorter, Walker took a unique approach. She turned to the growing scholarship on slavery and the Illinois frontier to place those items into a larger context and to flesh out a clearer portrait of McWorter.

Continue Reading Jill D. Snider: A Macro-Micro Approach to Biography

Jessica Ingram: When Justice Will Never Come

Today we welcome a guest post from Jessica Ingram, author of Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorialavailable now from UNC Press.

At first glance, Jessica Ingram’s landscape photographs could have been made nearly anywhere in the American South: a fenced-in backyard, a dirt road lined by overgrowth, a field grooved with muddy tire prints. These seemingly ordinary places, however, were the sites of pivotal events during the civil rights era, though often there is not a plaque with dates and names to mark their importance. Many of these places are where the bodies of activists, mill workers, store owners, sharecroppers, children and teenagers were murdered or found, victims of racist violence. Images of these places are interspersed with oral histories from victims’ families and investigative journalists, as well as pages from newspapers and FBI files and other ephemera.

In this post, Ingram considers how we remember victims of racist violence when their killers have never been brought to justice.

Road Through Midnight is now available in print and ebook editions.

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When Justice Will Never Come

In 1966, Klan members firebombed civil rights leader Vernon Dahmer’s home in Kelly Settlement, near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, gravely injuring Dahmer and his wife (Dahmer died a few days later). Dahmer’s murderer, Samuel Bowers, was tried five times in the 1960s without a conviction; he was convicted in 1998 on new evidence gathered by investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. Though the delayed justice is at the least bittersweet, there may be some benefits in obtaining contemporary guilty verdicts. In a conversation I had with Vernon Dahmer Jr. in 2009, he said, “In a way, that may have been better, because if he had been convicted in the 1960s, he never would have served any time. He would have walked in the front door and right out the back door.”

Memorial for Vernon Dahmer Sr. erected by his wife, Ellie, at the sire of his store and home, Kelly Settlement, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 2009.                                                            

 

Over the years, several cases have been reopened and the perpetrators sentenced: the killer of Medgar Evers; the killers of Vernon Dahmer; of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner; and of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. Journalists and the Department of Justice turned back to cold cases that had the possibility of resulting in a conviction and often put aside the cases with murkier files, double-jeopardy restrictions, and murderers and witnesses who had died.

One such case that has little such hope is the 1964 murder of Frank Morris, the owner of a shoe repair shop in Ferriday, Louisiana. Stanley Nelson, an investigative journalist at Ferriday’s local paper, the Concordia Sentinel, writes about local victims of civil rights–era racial violence in an effort to keep their memories alive in the community. Nelson has written often about Frank Morris, specifically about who Morris was and his importance to the community. When I interviewed him for this project, he said, “I felt that it was important to put a real face on Frank Morris, because he was admirable. He was a kind of guy you are supposed to embrace in your communities and protect. We had not lifted a finger for Frank. So I wanted people to understand who he was, and you have to write about that a lot to get them over the nervousness of this race issue or anything involving civil rights.” He emphasized, “I also felt that if the newspaper, and at this newspaper, me, if we didn’t try to find out what happened, who would? Nobody else was in a position to do it . . . . I felt like it was our responsibility. It would have been immoral to walk away from it.” Nelson is now doing the same for Joseph “JoeEd” Edwards, a porter at the Shamrock Motor Hotel in Vidalia, Louisiana, who disappeared on the night of July 12, 1964, and whose body has never been found.

Site of Frank Morris’s shoe shop, Ferriday, Louisiana, 2018.

For individuals who lost their lives to racist violence and resistance to that violence whose cases cannot be brought to justice, the imperative is how do we remember them as a society and within communities. I was always amazed that family members of those murdered during the civil rights era would share their stories with me and open up these wounds. What stays with me still is their generosity in sharing what they experienced. There is a continued sense of urgency to share this knowledge. While the urgency to convict the killers from civil rights–era cases has lessened over the last decade as so many have now died, the need to visit archives, talk to people, and share knowledge lives on.

The violence must be named and the systematic elements of that violence must be understood if we are to understand how these legacies persist today and work against them. We must do the work of remembering. The last line on Vernon Dahmer’s memorial program inspires me and runs through Road Through Midnight like a road: His sacrifice on the altar of freedom should inspire us to finish the task.

“Memorial Reflections” from Vernon Dahmer’s funeral program.

 

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Jessica Ingram is assistant professor of art at Florida State University. Visit her website.

 

 

 

Kate Dossett: Making Theatre Dangerous Again

Today we welcome a guest post by Kate Dossett, author of Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal, out now from UNC Press.

Between 1935 and 1939, the United States government paid out-of-work artists to write, act, and stage theatre as part of the Federal Theatre Project (FTP), a New Deal job relief program. In segregated “Negro Units” set up under the FTP, African American artists took on theatre work usually reserved for whites, staged black versions of “white” classics, and developed radical new dramas. In this fresh history of the FTP Negro Units, Kate Dossett examines what she calls the black performance community—a broad network of actors, dramatists, audiences, critics, and community activists—who made and remade black theatre manuscripts for the Negro Units and other theatre companies from New York to Seattle.

Radical Black Theatre in the New Deal is now available in paper and ebook editions.

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Making Theatre Dangerous Again

In November 2016 the vice president-elect was accosted at the theatre by the ghost of presidents past. Following the curtain call of the Broadway musical Hamilton, the actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who was playing the role of Vice President Aaron Burr, addressed Mike Pence directly from the stage. Urging Pence “to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us,” he expressed the concerns of minorities who feared “your new administration will not protect us.”

By 6 a.m. the next morning Donald Trump had taken to Twitter to denounce the cast. Demanding an apology, the president-elect cast himself as the guardian of American theatre, tweeting: “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.”

If Hamilton appeared unsafe to Trump and associates, for some theatre scholars the Broadway blockbuster is “too safe.” For Donatella Galella the musical stages a mythical, “multiracial utopia.”  Mobilizing “performances of color,” it suggests all Americans have “a fair chance to compete for access to “The Room Where it Happens.” It has become, she argues, a “commodity of resistance,” one that reminds us that “patriotic pluralism continues to sell.” [i]  The attendance of Mike Pence, and of both the Obamas and Dick Cheney before that, attests to the idea that Hamilton’s success relies on it offering a safe space for political theatre. In this context then, Trump’s exhortation that theatre must be made safe—just as America should be made great again—hints at a different theatrical past.

Continue Reading Kate Dossett: Making Theatre Dangerous Again

Mary J. Henold: The Most Extraordinary (Catholic) Fashion Show of 1970

Today we welcome a guest post from Mary J. Henold, author of The Laywoman Project: Remaking Catholic Womanhood in the Vatican II Era, out today from UNC Press.

Summoning everyday Catholic laywomen to the forefront of twentieth-century Catholic history, Mary J. Henold considers how these committed parishioners experienced their religion in the wake of Vatican II (1962–1965). This era saw major changes within the heavily patriarchal religious faith—at the same time as an American feminist revolution caught fire. Who was the Catholic woman for a new era? Henold uncovers a vast archive of writing, both intimate and public facing, by hundreds of rank-and-file American laywomen active in national laywomen’s groups, including the National Council of Catholic Women, the Catholic Daughters of America, and the Daughters of Isabella. These records evoke a formative period when laywomen played publicly with a surprising variety of ideas about their own position in the Catholic Church.

In this post, Henold explains what an unorthodox 1970 fashion show can tell us about the relationship between Catholic sisters and laywomen at the time.

The Laywoman Project is now available in paperback and ebook editions.

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The Most Extraordinary (Catholic) Fashion Show of 1970

In 1970, Houston, Texas, played host to a most unusual fashion show. The designs were current, the fabrics polyester, the audience was amused if unlikely to purchase anything, and the models were, well…unorthodox. This show took place not at a fashion house, but at the national conference of the Theresians of America, and walking its runway were a group of Catholic sisters.

The Houston chapter of the Theresians planned this fashion show as a stand-out event for its national gathering in 1970, and while it might not be high fashion, it can tell us quite a lot about Catholic women, both lay and religious, at the turn of this most tumultuous decade.

Continue Reading Mary J. Henold: The Most Extraordinary (Catholic) Fashion Show of 1970

Author Interview: Thomas W. Hanchett on Sorting Out the New South City

In this Q&A, Thomas W. Hanchett discusses Sorting Out the New South City, Second Edition: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875–1975, available now from UNC Press. This updated edition includes a new preface by the author.

One of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the South, Charlotte, North Carolina, came of age in the New South decades after the Civil War, transforming itself from a colonial courthouse village to a thriving textile and banking center. In this deeply researched and updated edition, Thomas W. Hanchett explores the interplay of national trends and local forces that shaped Charlotte and, by extension, other New South urban centers. A new preface by the author examines issues of race, immigration, gentrification, and more in the last half century, bringing this groundbreaking study—now more relevant than ever—up to the present.

Sorting Out the New South City, Second Edition is now available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Q: Sorting Out the New South City was first published in 1998. Why is the time right for a new edition?

A: To my surprise, the story that Sorting Out the New South City tells is even more relevant today than it was in the 1990s.

On one level, the book is a case study of how a city grows. Today Charlotte is twice as big and much more nationally visible than in 1998, with people flocking here by the hundreds every week—which raises the curiosity level about the city’s history generally. How did Charlotte become a major U.S. metro?

On another level, the book explores what scholars now call “the geography of opportunity.” Charlotte’s growth has come with problems, especially in economic mobility and affordable housing. Sorting Out the New South City digs into the processes by which Charlotte became segregated by economic class and by race over the course of the twentieth century. That’s a history that is not unique to Charlotte, so this book is of interest to anyone here or elsewhere who wants to understand and re-shape patterns of inequality in America’s cities.

Continue Reading Author Interview: Thomas W. Hanchett on Sorting Out the New South City

Taylor Petrey: Are Mormons Feminists Now?

Today we welcome a guest post from Taylor G. Petrey, author of Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism, forthcoming from UNC Press.

Taylor G. Petrey’s trenchant history takes a landmark step forward in documenting and theorizing about Latter-day Saints (LDS) teachings on gender, sexual difference, and marriage. Drawing on deep archival research, Petrey situates LDS doctrines in gender theory and American religious history since World War II. His challenging conclusion is that Mormonism is conflicted between ontologies of gender essentialism and gender fluidity, illustrating a broader tension in the history of sexuality in modernity itself.

Tabernacles of Clay will publish in June 2020 and is available for preorder now on our website.

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Are Mormons Feminists Now?

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published a very brief statement in their magazine aimed at teenagers, “What is the Church’s Stance on Feminism?” There wasn’t anything particularly new about it, but the statement articulated a tension that the church has navigated over the last several decades on women’s issues. How can the church both accommodate to changing values and stay faithful to its roots?

This statement made the case that some forms of feminism are compatible with the church’s teachings, including those that “ensure basic human rights and basic fairness for women, as well as efforts to encourage women to obtain an education, develop their talents, and serve humankind in any field they choose.” Yet it warns against “extreme ideas,” such as those that “lead people to become distracted from (or even work against) the ideals of marriage and family.”

Like most conservative churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spent most of the decades since World War II opposing women’s rights in family planning, working outside the home, and church leadership roles—each time insisting that such advances for women would come at the expense of families or pervert their natural roles in society.

Continue Reading Taylor Petrey: Are Mormons Feminists Now?

Author Interview: Jill D. Snider on Lucean Arthur Headen

In this Q&A, Jill D. Snider discusses her book Lucean Arthur Headen: The Making of a Black Inventor and Entrepreneur, out now from UNC Press.

Born in Carthage, North Carolina, Lucean Arthur Headen (1879–1957) grew up amid former slave artisans. Inspired by his grandfather, a wheelwright, and great-uncle, a toolmaker, he dreamed as a child of becoming an inventor. His ambitions suffered the menace of Jim Crow and the reality of a new inventive landscape in which investment was shifting from lone inventors to the new “industrial scientists.” But determined and ambitious, Headen left the South, and after toiling for a decade as a Pullman porter, risked everything to pursue his dream. He eventually earned eleven patents, most for innovative engine designs and anti-icing methods for aircraft. An equally capable entrepreneur and sportsman, Headen learned to fly in 1911, manufactured his own “Pace Setter” and “Headen Special” cars in the early 1920s, and founded the first national black auto racing association in 1924, all establishing him as an important authority on transportation technologies among African Americans. Emigrating to England in 1931, Headen also proved a successful manufacturer, operating engineering firms in Surrey that distributed his motor and other products worldwide for twenty-five years. Though Headen left few personal records, Jill D. Snider recreates the life of this extraordinary man through historical detective work in newspapers, business and trade publications, genealogical databases, and scholarly works.

Lucean Arthur Headen is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.

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Q: Can you give us a brief summary of Headen’s life and what made him an interesting figure?

A: Part of what made Headen interesting to me was the diversity of his experiences. He wore many hats in his lifetime. He spent a decade as a Pullman porter and dining car waiter for the Erie Railroad; learned to fly in 1911; served as chauffeur to Robert McCormick, publisher of the Chicago Tribune; established a prosperous auto garage in Chicago and turned it, in 1921, into the Headen Motor Company to manufacture his own cars; established the first national-scale auto association for African Americans; organized and raced his Headen Special racer in dirt-track competitions up and down the East Coast; and, after receiving his first patent, emigrated to England, where he started an engineering firm to manufacture products based on the eleven patents he eventually earned. He also served in the British Home Guard in World War II. Headen died in England in 1957.

Q: What kind of difficulties did Headen face?

A: Headen packed a lot into his seventy-six years, and he did it at a time when Jim Crow became codified, limiting his access to advanced training and excluding him from skilled employment, and in an age when inventors like Headen, black and white, were facing shrinking opportunities. The nineteenth century had been the golden age of the independent inventor, but by the 1910s, the growth of corporations and research laboratories was gradually replacing the independents with what many have called “industrial scientists”—men trained in top technical schools, who worked together in teams, and were connected through professional networks. This shift meant independent inventors had to work harder to find financing and to stay abreast of technical knowledge, as companies closely guarded their research results.

Continue Reading Author Interview: Jill D. Snider on Lucean Arthur Headen

Jessica Ingram: On the Importance of Historical Markers as a Community Acknowledgment of History

Today we welcome a guest post from Jessica Ingram, author of Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorialavailable now from UNC Press.

At first glance, Jessica Ingram’s landscape photographs could have been made nearly anywhere in the American South: a fenced-in backyard, a dirt road lined by overgrowth, a field grooved with muddy tire prints. These seemingly ordinary places, however, were the sites of pivotal events during the civil rights era, though often there is not a plaque with dates and names to mark their importance. Many of these places are where the bodies of activists, mill workers, store owners, sharecroppers, children and teenagers were murdered or found, victims of racist violence. Images of these places are interspersed with oral histories from victims’ families and investigative journalists, as well as pages from newspapers and FBI files and other ephemera.

Next week in New York City, Ingram will be joined by fellow photographer Deborah Willis for a book talk at Strand Books on Tuesday, February 18 at at 7:30PM. More information here.

In this post, Ingram writes about the historical marker that sparked the creation of Road Through Midnight, and the importance of such markers to family members and communities affected by racist violence.

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On the Importance of Historical Markers as a Community Acknowledgment of History

I used to approach historical markers to learn something but I rarely felt something. This changed for me when I was in Montgomery, Alabama in 2002, and found myself downtown in Court Square facing a historical marker. The marker, erected in 2001, read:

The city’s slave market was at the Artesian Basin (Court Square). Slaves of all ages were auctioned, along with land and livestock, standing in line to be inspected. Public posters advertised sales and included gender, approximate age, first name (slaves did not have last names), skill, price, complexion and owner’s name. In the 1850s, able field hands brought $1,500; skilled artisans $3,000. In 1859, the city had seven auctioneers and four slave de-pots: one at Market Street (Dexter Avenue) and Lawrence, another at the corner of Perry and Monroe, and two on Market between Lawrence and McDonough.

When I was in front of that Court Square marker, I was struck with the understanding of what it means to erase histories, and curious about what it then means for those histories to reemerge in a collective consciousness through historical markers. This marker was new. Had it not been there I would not have known that I was standing on the site where enslaved people were once sold and traded. This experience began a decade long process of researching lesser known histories from the civil rights era which became my book Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial.

Continue Reading Jessica Ingram: On the Importance of Historical Markers as a Community Acknowledgment of History

Maddalena Marinari: The Fight for Immigration Reform Then and Now

Today we welcome a guest post from Maddalena Marinari, author of Unwanted: Italian and Jewish Mobilization against Restrictive Immigration Laws, 1882-1965, available now from UNC Press.

In the late nineteenth century, Italians and Eastern European Jews joined millions of migrants around the globe who left their countries to take advantage of the demand for unskilled labor in rapidly industrializing nations, including the United States. Many Americans of northern and western European ancestry regarded these newcomers as biologically and culturally inferior—unassimilable—and by 1924, the United States had instituted national origins quotas to curtail immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Weaving together political, social, and transnational history, Maddalena Marinari examines how, from 1882 to 1965, Italian and Jewish reformers profoundly influenced the country’s immigration policy as they mobilized against the immigration laws that marked them as undesirable.

In this post, Marinari describes how the obstacles faced by immigration reform activists in the early to mid twentieth century are similar to those faced by their counterparts today.

Unwanted is now available in paper and ebook editions.

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The Fight for Immigration Reform Then and Now: The Strength and Limitations of Interethnic Alliances

Activists pushing for more humane immigration reform today are deploying remarkably similar tactics to those that Italian and Jewish activists used to challenge the draconian immigration system Congress created in 1924. Then, like now, activists put pressure on their elected officials, went to court to challenge unfair provisions of the law and harsh enforcement practices, and kept the need for immigration reform in the public eye. In the face of continuing rebuke, Italian Americans and Jewish Americans waged one educational campaign after another in the hope of persuading their fellow Americans to support immigration reform. They emphasized the contributions immigrants made to U.S. society and highlighted the country’s long history of welcoming immigrants and refugees. When all else failed, they took to the streets to protest.

Then, like now, immigration reform activists faced the same challenge. Italian and Jewish reformers struggled to create successful interethnic alliances. While both groups succeeded in recruiting support from outside their communities, including legislators, prominent Americans in business, culture, and religion, and even the White House, presenting a united front with advocates representing other immigrant groups proved elusive. Structural racism and a legislative structure that favored insiders made it difficult for them to conceive of an inclusive immigration agenda and build strong alliances with groups with different bargaining positions.

Continue Reading Maddalena Marinari: The Fight for Immigration Reform Then and Now

D. H. Dilbeck: Did Union Armies Really Wage a Just War? The Lieber Code and Sherman’s March to the Sea

A More Civil War cover imageToday we welcome a guest post from D.H. Dilbeck, author of A More Civil War: How the Union Waged A Just War, now available in paperback from UNC Press.

During the Civil War, Americans confronted profound moral problems about how to fight in the conflict. In his innovative book, D. H. Dilbeck reveals how the Union sought to wage a just war against the Confederacy. He shows that northerners fought according to a distinct “moral vision of war,” an array of ideas about the nature of a truly just and humane military effort. Dilbeck explores how Union soldiers abided by official just-war policies as they battled guerrillas, occupied cities, retaliated against enemy soldiers, and came into contact with Confederate civilians.

In today’s post, Dilbeck explores how effective Lieber’s code for the Union Army really was, paying special attention to Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea.”

A More Civil War is available now in paperback, and as an ebook.

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In a previous post, I briefly considered how the Union’s Lieber code defined a justly waged war. According to that pioneering code of military conduct, a truly just war effort is a “vigorous” one that does nearly whatever is necessary to end a war victoriously as quickly as possible. Yet Francis Lieber’s code also adamantly insisted that a people at war must not abandon all their peacetime moral obligations, so certain constraints should always remain on an army. The Lieber code’s 157 articles tried—with specificity and comprehensiveness—to define those constraints for officers and soldiers alike.

It’s one thing for an official code of conduct to triumphantly proclaim, as Lieber’s code did, “Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God.” It’s another thing entirely for an army to actually abide by such a sentiment.

President Abraham Lincoln officially issued the Lieber code to Union armies in May 1863. When he did, the Civil War was only half finished. For the two remaining years of the war, did Union armies adhere to the vision of just warfare contained in the Lieber code?

Before trying to answer that question—by looking to William T. Sherman’s infamous “March to the Sea” in 1864—a few disclaimers are in order. First, it is not hard to find plenty of examples of Union armies acting contrary to what the code commanded. The war occasioned no shortage of true atrocities, a fact that’s best never to forget. On top of that, it’s a quite tricky matter to determine how completely Lieber’s code actually shaped the behavior of Union soldiers. Even when soldiers acted in consonance with the code, it’s not always clear that they were deliberately trying to do so—that is, that they were fully aware of the demands of the code’s articles and working to abide by them.

Even so, it’s clear that the code was widely circulated among Union officers and soldiers after the spring of 1863, and that the conduct of Union armies for the remainder of the war, more often than not, cohered with the code.

Continue Reading D. H. Dilbeck: Did Union Armies Really Wage a Just War? The Lieber Code and Sherman’s March to the Sea

Interview with Gregory P. Downs about The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic

The sixth episode in the Talking Legal History podcast’s series featuring UNC Press is live! Siobhan Barco talks with Gregory P. Downs about his book The Second American Revolution: The Civil War-Era Struggle over Cuba and the Rebirth of the American Republic. Downs is professor of history at the University of California, Davis where he studies the political and cultural history of the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

New episodes in this series will be released monthly. For updates, keep your eye on the UNC Press Blog and follow @SiobhanBarco on twitter.

Tiffany A. Sippial: Are U.S. Citizens Still Allowed to Travel to Cuba?

Today we welcome a guest post from Tiffany A. Sippial, author of Celia Sánchez Manduley: The Life and Legacy of a Cuban Revolutionary, out now from UNC Press.

Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920–1980) is famous for her role in the Cuban revolution. Clad in her military fatigues, this “first female guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra” is seen in many photographs alongside Fidel Castro. Sánchez joined the movement in her early thirties, initially as an arms runner and later as a combatant. She was one of Castro’s closest confidants, perhaps lover, and went on to serve as a high-ranking government official and international ambassador. Since her death, Sánchez has been revered as a national icon, cultivated and guarded by the Cuban government. With almost unprecedented access to Sánchez’s papers, including a personal diary, and firsthand interviews with family members, Tiffany A. Sippial presents the first critical study of a notoriously private and self-abnegating woman who yet exists as an enduring symbol of revolutionary ideals.

Celia Sánchez Manduley is now available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Are U.S. Citizens Still Allowed to Travel to Cuba?

As a specialist in the history of Cuba, the number one question I receive from colleagues and friends is: Are U.S. citizens still allowed to travel to Cuba?

I encourage everyone to take the time to study all of the facets of recent Cuba travel policy changes. President Trump announced on June 4 that, effective immediately, U.S. cruise companies would no longer be permitted to sail to the island. The new restriction cut off the most popular mode of travel to the island for U.S. citizens since Obama gave the green light to cruise companies in 2016. The last U.S. cruise liner to dock in Havana, the Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas, sailed out of Havana Bay with its upper decks full of passengers waving to onlookers standing along the capital city’s seawall. While trips to Cuba account for only a small percentage of U.S. cruise company business, the allure of the island allowed those companies to charge rates as much as 20 percent higher for Cuban itineraries than other Caribbean destinations. Shares of Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival all took a hit in the wake of the new restrictions.

Furthermore, an estimated 800,000 cruise travelers were impacted by the new policy. Cruise ships already on route to the island at the time of the announcement were forced to shift their trajectory mid-course and head toward Cozumel, Cancun, or another Caribbean destination. Cruise companies scrambled to offer ship credit or partial refunds to their angry and confused passengers, who immediately began venting on social media. All upcoming cruises will have to bypass the island in favor of alternative itineraries and several have offered full refunds to their customers. The Associated Press estimates that Cuba could lose as much as $130 million in revenue due to the new restrictions on cruises from the United States.

Continue Reading Tiffany A. Sippial: Are U.S. Citizens Still Allowed to Travel to Cuba?

Anne Balay: Trucking Gets Queerer

Semi Queer by Anne BalayToday we welcome a guest post from Anne Balay, author of Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Driversoriginally published in 2018 by UNC Press.

Long-haul trucking is linked to almost every industry in America, yet somehow the working-class drivers behind big rigs remain largely hidden from public view. Gritty, inspiring, and often devastating oral histories of gay, transsexual, and minority truck drivers allow award-winning author Anne Balay to shed new light on the harsh realities of truckers’ lives behind the wheel. A licensed commercial truck driver herself, Balay discovers that, for people routinely subjected to prejudice, hatred, and violence in their hometowns and in the job market, trucking can provide an opportunity for safety, welcome isolation, and a chance to be themselves—even as the low-wage work is fraught with tightening regulations, constant surveillance, danger, and exploitation. The narratives of minority and queer truckers underscore the working-class struggle to earn a living while preserving one’s safety, dignity, and selfhood.

Semi Queer is now available in paperback for the first time.

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Trucking Gets Queerer

Though the trucking industry is a consistent, stable backbone of America, and 18-wheelers continue to crisscross the country transporting everything we eat and wear and use much as they have for generations, at the same time trucking is experiencing a dizzying rate of change in the 21st century. My book Semi Queer takes pains to describe the web of regulations that shape a trucker’s day, including those of the Department of Transportation, the Megacarriers, the insurance industry, individual states. . . and these have continued to mount since the book was published. For example, in December of 2017 the ELD mandate went into effect. This is a Federal Rule imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that requires almost all trucks to switch from paper logs to an Electronic Logging Device to record their working hours. Many truck drivers fought this new rule, and protests were organized preceding its roll out . . . many drivers who had supported President Trump because of his stated opposition to government overstepping pressed him to intervene on their behalf . . . but none of this advocacy mattered and the new rule went into effect.

Continue Reading Anne Balay: Trucking Gets Queerer