UNC Press June 2021 Author Events

Carolyn Eastman
The Strange Genius of Mr. O
Sunday, June 6 | 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s Book Breaks

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | 5:00pm ET / 2:00pm PT
Post & Courier Food book club

James Smethurst
Behold the Land
Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | 6:00pm ET / 3:00pm PT
Flyleaf Books – Virtual event with Regina Bradley

Shanna Greene Benjamin
Half in Shadow
Wednesday, June 9 | 10:00am ET
Rofhiwa Book Café -Virtual event with Barbara Boswell

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 12:00pm ET / 9:00am PT
Virginia Festival of the Book – Virtual event with Leni Sorensen

Kathleen Sprows Cummings
A Saint of Our Own
Thursday, June 10, 2021 | 1:30pm ET / 12:30pm CT
Lumen Christi Institute

Van Gosse
The First Reconstruction
Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT
New Books Network

Michael Twitty
Rice
Friday, June 18, 2021 | 11:00am ET / 8:00am PT
New York Botanical Garden – Virtual event with JJ Johnson and Jessica B. Harris

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams
Run Home If You Don’t Want to Be Killed
Tuesday, June 22, 2021 | 6:00pm ET / 3:00pm PT
Detroit Public Library – virtual event!

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
Wednesday, June 23, 2021 | 7:00pm ET / 4:00pm PT
Atlanta History Center

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
Thursday, June 24, 2021 | 6:00pm ET / 3:00pm PT
Flyleaf Books – Virtual event with John Shelton Reed

Tamika Nunley
At the Threshold of Liberty
Sunday, June 27, 2021 | 2:00pm ET / 11:00am PT
Gilder Lehrman Book Breaks – Virtual event!

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
Monday, June 28, 2021 | 4:00pm PT / 7:00pm ET
Commonwealth Club – in person and virtual event with Justin Phillips

Author B. Brian Foster in Conversation with Author William Ferris, Hosted by Square Books

In late January, Oxford, MS-based indie bookstore Square Books hosted a virtual conversation between B. Brian Foster, author of I Don’t Like The Blues: Race, Black and Backbeat of Black Life, and William Ferris, author of Give My Poor Heart Ease: Voices of the Mississippi Blues. Watch as Foster and Ferris discuss a history of black people’s involvement in sociology, Foster’s book and a few other topics. Both books by these authors were featured here on our recent recommended reading list in celebration of Black Music Month.



B. Brian Foster is assistant professor of sociology and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. 

William Ferris is Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History and senior associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (full bio)

A Volcano in Asheville

Guest blog post by Jonathan Todd Hancock, author of Convulsed States: Earthquakes, Prophecy, and the Remaking of Early America


In December 1811, a volcano erupted in Asheville.  An eyewitness named John Edwards reported the disturbing details to the Raleigh newspaper The Star.  After an unusual earthquake, a mountain burned “with great violence,” and cooling lava had dammed up the French Broad River.  The din of the collapsing crater echoed across the Appalachian Mountains, and locals cowered at a preacher’s claim that the coursing lava turned into spirits and devils at night.  Readers beyond North Carolina soon read about the volcano as newspapers across the early United States reprinted Edwards’ account.  It fit in well among other stories about environmental and geopolitical instability at the end of 1811: the New Madrid earthquakes, the Great Comet of 1811, U.S.-Indian conflict at the Battle of Tippecanoe, and the threat of war with Great Britain.

Unlike the other stories, Edwards’ volcano account had a major problem: it was a hoax.  While some newspaper editors found it suspicious, it remained plausible because volcanoes were a popular explanation for the cause of earthquakes in the early nineteenth century.  Then, a North Carolina postmaster reported that a “John Edwards” did not exist in Asheville.  Washington City’s National Intelligencer lamented, “It is to be regretted, that this personage, whoever he may be, has no better employment.”

Then and now, tall tales about volcanoes cloud the real seismological risks faced by people living in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which encompasses eight U.S. states and cities like St. Louis, Memphis, and Little Rock.  But flows of earthquake misinformation offer insight into an early U.S. information landscape which, despite its distance from the present in terms of time and technology, seems eerily familiar to us as we scroll through waves of conflicting information, and sometimes outright fabrications, about broadly experienced events.

In early U.S. newspapers during the New Madrid earthquakes, the observations of experts and elites mingled with those of commoners.  Newspaper editors managed a flood of strange stories and competed with one another for readers.  Stories reflected American commitments to carve out a unique brand of inquiry into the natural world that favored empirical observations over what Americans perceived as European tendencies to theorize.  These print venues hosted an early version of “citizen science,” a more democratic form of inquiry in which people across social stations and education levels contribute their observations and ideas about the natural environment.  This practice was especially important for the early study of the earthquakes, whose mid-continent epicenters were far from sites of formal learning and major publishing in the early United States.

But the earthquakes tested the limits of this information landscape, as sifting fact from fiction about the shaking was no easy task.  If multiple accounts corroborated the fact that the Mississippi River flowed backwards during the earthquakes, why not entertain the possibility of a volcanic eruption in the southern Appalachians?  And purveyors of earthquake misinformation were not simply attention seekers.  Numerous Anglo Americans mentioned Native Americans as their sources of stories about distant volcanoes accompanying the shaking.  In an era of waning Native military opposition to U.S. expansion between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, Indigenous people still exerted geopolitical influence in a range of ways, including portraying western lands as dangerous and unpredictable.

In politics and pulpits, U.S. authority figures worried about the threat that earthquake misinformation posed to early national order.  Former President John Adams suspected “something very wicked at the bottom of those stories that falsis terroribus implet [falsely alarm] our good Ladies and innocent Children.”  Compounding his fears were the pronouncements of prophets like Nimrod Hughes, a Virginian who foretold the destruction of one-third of humanity on June 4, 1812, and Tenskwatawa, a Shawnee leader of inter-tribal militancy who actually predicted the earthquakes.  The earthquakes renewed national attention in their prophecies, which Adams cast as “unphilosophical and inconsistent with the political Safety of States and Nations.”  Adams and other established political and religious leaders in the United States sought to counter earthquake misinformation and fears generated by prophets with earthquake studies sanctioned by scholarly societies, published sermons, and denunciations of these rogue figures. 

The pace of misinformation has accelerated, but the circulation of John Edwards’ Asheville volcano story, among other observations and predictions in the momentous months of the New Madrid earthquakes, shows how readers in the early United States faced some of the same challenges that we confront when we scroll through screens for news and commentary.  Especially when disasters strike, whose observations and analysis do we trust?


Jonathan Todd Hancock is associate professor of history at Hendrix College. 

Happy Black Music Month: A Recommended Reading List

Fresh off the heels of our JuneTeenth reading lists (Part One and Part Two) , I’m back with another celebration of black culture; Black Music Month. “Created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, this month celebrates the African American musical influences that comprise an essential part of our nation’s treasured cultural heritage.” Black people have had a hand in basically every genre of music created, we are a very rhythmic people. This reading list focuses on the roots of southern Black music and the life of some great Black musicians from North Carolina.


PRINCESS NOIRE: THE TUMULTUOUS REIGN OF NINA SIMONE

BY NADINE COHODAS

Born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone (1933-2003) began her musical life playing classical piano. A child prodigy, she wanted a career on the concert stage, but when the Curtis Institute of Music rejected her, the devastating disappointment compelled her to change direction. She turned to popular music and jazz but never abandoned her classical roots or her intense ambition. By the age of twenty six, Simone had sung at New York City’s venerable Town Hall and was on her way. Tapping into newly unearthed material on Simone’s family and career, Nadine Cohodas paints a luminous portrait of the singer, highlighting her tumultuous life, her innovative compositions, and the prodigious talent that matched her ambition.

AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC TRAILS OF EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA

BY SARAH BRYAN, BEVERLY PATTERSON AND MICHELLE LANIER

PHOTOGRAPHS BY TITUS BROOKS HEAGINS AND CEDRIC N. CHATTERLEY

Distributed for the North Carolina Arts Council

Thelonius Monk, Billy Taylor, and Maceo Parker–famous jazz artists who have shared the unique sounds of North Carolina with the world–are but a few of the dynamic African American artists from eastern North Carolina featured in The African American Music Trails of Eastern North Carolina. This first-of-its-kind travel guide will take you on a fascinating journey to music venues, events, and museums that illuminate the lives of the musicians and reveal the deep ties between music and community. Interviews with more than 90 artists open doors to a world of music, especially jazz, rhythm and blues, funk, gospel and church music, blues, rap, marching band music, and beach music. New and historical photographs enliven the narrative, and maps and travel information help you plan your trip. Included is a CD with 17 recordings performed by some of the region’s outstanding artists.

GIVE MY POOR HEART EASE: VOICES OF THE MISSISSIPPI BLUES

BY WILLIAM FERRIS

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, folklorist William Ferris toured his home state of Mississippi, documenting the voices of African Americans as they spoke about and performed the diverse musical traditions that form the authentic roots of the blues. Now, Give My Poor Heart Ease puts front and center a searing selection of the artistically and emotionally rich voices from this invaluable documentary record. Illustrated with Ferris’s photographs of the musicians and their communities and including a CD of original music, the book features more than twenty interviews relating frank, dramatic, and engaging narratives about black life and blues music in the heart of the American South.

CHRONICLING STANKONIA: THE RISE OF THE HIP-HOP SOUTH

BY REGINA BRADLEY

This vibrant book pulses with the beats of a new American South, probing the ways music, literature, and film have remixed southern identities for a post–civil rights generation. For scholar and critic Regina N. Bradley, Outkast’s work is the touchstone, a blend of funk, gospel, and hip-hop developed in conjunction with the work of other culture creators—including T.I., Kiese Laymon, and Jesmyn Ward. This work, Bradley argues, helps define new cultural possibilities for black southerners who came of age in the 1980s and 1990s and have used hip-hop culture to buffer themselves from the historical narratives and expectations of the civil rights era. André 3000, Big Boi, and a wider community of creators emerge as founding theoreticians of the hip-hop South, framing a larger question of how the region fits into not only hip-hop culture but also contemporary American society as a whole.

I DON’T LIKE THE BLUES: RACE, PLACE AND THE BACKBEAT OF BLACK LIFE

BY B. BRIAN FOSTER

How do you love and not like the same thing at the same time? This was the riddle that met Mississippi writer B. Brian Foster when he returned to his home state to learn about Black culture and found himself hearing about the blues. One moment, Black Mississippians would say they knew and appreciated the blues. The next, they would say they didn’t like it. For five years, Foster listened and asked: “How?” “Why not?” “Will it ever change?” This is the story of the answers to his questions.

Deer Don’t Eat Camellias and Other Lies I’ve Told Myself

Happy National Pollinator Week! “Pollinator Week is an annual event celebrated internationally in support of pollinator health. “ Guest blog post by Roxann Ward, author of Color-Rich Gardening for the South: A Guide For all Seasons


There is nothing more heart-breaking than walking through your garden with a glass of wine at the end of a long workday, and realizing that all of those exotic-looking lilies you lovingly planted as bulbs in the fall are toast. Gone. Every bud and bloom devoured. It’s a common problem in the South, and as native habitats shrink, deer are present even in cities as large as Atlanta. These graceful creatures love nothing more than visiting your garden in the wee hours of the morning to see what delights you have planted for the season.

While deer grazing is discouraging for gardeners, there are a number of strategies that, if used consistently, can minimize damage.  Deer netting, granular and spray repellents, and fencing are all part of the game plan. Smart plant choices can work well, and if you have the patience to experiment with a deer-resistant plant palette, you may come up with some good choices for your area. Keep in mind that it may take more than one growing season to come up with a selection of plants that will both please the gardener and repel Bambi.

As frustrating as deer damage can be, I am determined to grow a good variety of plants in my own Georgia garden. Over time, I’ve learned to plant lots of herbs and plants with aromatic foliage such as rosemary, creeping thyme, germander, and chives, along with showier flowering plants such as salvias and asters, which deer typically avoid. I have experimented with small starts of ‘Sheffield’ chrysanthemums used as a groundcover under woodland plants that I’m determined to have in my garden. When planted at the base of shrubs such as oakleaf hydrangeas and beauty berry, the foliage seems to help turn the deer away, especially in summer when there is plenty of available food elsewhere. (There are open fields where deer graze less than a mile away from my home.) 

All that being said, there are times when deer will eat plant material they have ignored in the past, and this is when things can go sideways. In the past few years deer have nibbled on my abelias, camellias, and various other plants that are considered deer-proof. In my experience, this seems to happen more often in early fall when mating season begins and again in mid-winter, when food sources are low. Deer behavior can be unpredictable, and in my own Georgia garden I’ve come to expect damage from time to time, though I use all of the tools in  my deer-fighting arsenal, including a fenced area where I grow plants that would otherwise be eaten to the ground.

So what can be done? First, I decide what I will protect with stakes and fishing line in (in winter), and what I will treat with both spray and granular repellents. Fall-blooming camellias will bounce back, and branches stripped of some leaves will likely recover. Plants with buds, such as spring-blooming camellias, native azaleas, and rhododendrons must be protected before flowers form, and I do this by using wooden stakes and fishing line to stop the deer from moving through the area.  By stringing clear fishing line around the perimeter of an area, you can create a nearly invisible barrier the deer can’t see, and what they can’t see will startle them as they brush against it. You’ll need to check your lines every few days for a few weeks, as the deer will have to learn which areas are now off limits, and you may have to replace a few sections from time to time. In spring, when the deer have a wide variety of food available in the fields and woods outside my neighborhood, I remove the protection completely and use repellents on plants that might be tempting, such as oakleaf hydrangeas.

 As the seasons pass I’m also finding places to tuck in taller showy plants, such as Japanese anemones, behind or between shrubs so the deer either can’t reach them or won’t notice them peeking out of less desirable foliage. I often protect vulnerable or expensive plants by growing them in containers placed where the deer won’t be able to reach them, such as my raised deck and screened porch. 

Thankfully, one of my favorite perennials, the Lenten rose, is toxic to deer, so I can plant them wherever I have a bit of afternoon shade. Irises, euphorbias, daffodils, foxgloves, amaryllis, and alliums are also safe bets, due to their chemical makeup. Many ornamental shrubs are considered deer resistant and most have either leathery leaves (hollies, viburnums) or have strongly-scented leaves or stems (vitex, caryopteris).

With some creativity and experimentation, you can co-exist with deer and the other creatures who were here long before we arrived, with our lawns and fences. While I have moments of exasperation with my pansy-loving animal friends, I know that in spring all will be forgotten, in that magical moment when a tiny fawn or two will make their appearance at the edge of the woods.


Roxann Ward, owner of Roxann Ward Design in Senoia, Georgia, is a garden designer and consultant. 

Juneteenth, Our Newest National Holiday: A Recipe for Celebration

Happy Juneteenth! This recipe from Adrian Miller’s 2014 Beard Foundation Award winning Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time also appears in Southern Holidays: a Savor the South Cookbook by Debbie Moose, whose headnote from that book follows.


Adrian Miller’s book Soul Food is a detailed and fascinating exploration of the history and culture of African American food. Miller writes that there is a long tradition of holding fish fries for community celebrations such as church events, Juneteenth, and the Fourth of July. Miller says this recipe originally appeared in a publication called The Chesapeake Bay through Ebony Eyes and that Nanticoke was the name of a Native American tribe in the area.

Nanticoke Catfish

Makes 8 servings

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon rubbed sage

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 large eggs

8 catfish fillets

Vegetable oil

Lemon wedges

Mix the flour, cornmeal, sage, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl or pie plate. In another shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk the eggs until well beaten.

Rinse the catfish fillets under cold running water and pat them dry.

Preheat the oven to 250°. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels.

Pour vegetable oil to a depth of ½ inch in a large, deep skillet. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering hot but not smoking.

Dip the fillets into the eggs and let the excess drip off. Dredge them in the flour mixture and gently shake off the excess.

Working in batches to avoid overfilling the skillet, slip the fillets into the hot oil. Fry the fillets, turning once, about 4 minutes on each side, until the coating is crisp and golden brown and the fish is opaque in the center. Transfer the cooked fillets to the wire rack and keep them warm in the oven until all of the fish is fried.

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

Happy (early) Juneteenth! A Reading List, Part Two

Happy early JuneTeenth again! I’m back with part two of the recommended reading list in celebration of JuneTeenth, “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.” Part one of the recommended reading list focused on the experiences of black American slaves whose labor helped shape the fabric of America. Part two of the reading list focuses on the celebration of black resistance and freedom. As black people, we have a strong history of very successful resistance and I hope that history can empower us and those around us even further.


BLACK MARXISM, REVISED AND UPDATED THIRD EDITION: THE MAKING OF THE BLACK RADICAL TRADITION

BY CEDRIC J. ROBINSON

In this ambitious work, first published in 1983, Cedric Robinson demonstrates that efforts to understand Black people’s history of resistance solely through the prism of Marxist theory are incomplete and inaccurate. Marxist analyses tend to presuppose European models of history and experience that downplay the significance of Black people and Black communities as agents of change and resistance. Black radicalism, Robinson argues, must be linked to the traditions of Africa and the unique experiences of Blacks on Western continents, and any analyses of African American history need to acknowledge this.

THE EARLIEST AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURES: A CRITICAL READER

EDITED BY CASSANDER L. SMITH AND ZACHARY MCLEOD HUTCHINS

With the publication of the 1619 Project by The New York Times in 2019, a growing number of Americans have become aware that Africans arrived in North America before the Pilgrims. Yet the stories of these Africans and their first descendants remain ephemeral and inaccessible for both the general public and educators. This groundbreaking collection of thirty-eight biographical and autobiographical texts chronicles the lives of literary black Africans in British colonial America from 1643 to 1760 and offers new strategies for identifying and interpreting the presence of black Africans in this early period. Brief introductions preceding each text provide historical context and genre-specific interpretive prompts to foreground their significance. Included here are transcriptions from manuscript sources and colonial newspapers as well as forgotten texts. The Earliest African American Literatures will change the way that students and scholars conceive of early American literature and the role of black Africans in the formation of that literature.

FREEDOM FARMERS: AGRICULTURAL RESISTANCE AND THE BLACK FREEDOM MOVEMENT

BY MONICA M. WHITE

Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern Black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans.

MAY WE FOREVER STAND: A HISTORY OF THE BLACK NATIONAL ANTHEM

BY IMANI PERRY

The twin acts of singing and fighting for freedom have been inseparable in African American history. May We Forever Stand tells an essential part of that story. With lyrics penned by James Weldon Johnson and music composed by his brother Rosamond, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was embraced almost immediately as an anthem that captured the story and the aspirations of black Americans. Since the song’s creation, it has been adopted by the NAACP and performed by countless artists in times of both crisis and celebration, cementing its place in African American life up through the present day.

AT THE THRESHOLD OF LIBERTY: WOMEN, SLAVERY, AND SHIFTING IDENTITIES IN WASHINGTON, D.C.

BY TAMIKA Y. NUNLEY

The capital city of a nation founded on the premise of liberty, nineteenth-century Washington, D.C., was both an entrepôt of urban slavery and the target of abolitionist ferment. The growing slave trade and the enactment of Black codes placed the city’s Black women within the rigid confines of a social hierarchy ordered by race and gender. At the Threshold of Liberty reveals how these women–enslaved, fugitive, and free–imagined new identities and lives beyond the oppressive restrictions intended to prevent them from ever experiencing liberty, self-respect, and power.

THE COLORED CONVENTIONS MOVEMENT: BLACK ORGANIZING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

EDITED BY P. GABRIELLE FOREMAN, JIM CASEY, AND SARAH LYNN PATTERSON

This volume of essays is the first to focus on the Colored Conventions movement, the nineteenth century’s longest campaign for Black civil rights. Well before the founding of the NAACP and other twentieth-century pillars of the civil rights movement, tens of thousands of Black leaders organized state and national conventions across North America. Over seven decades, they advocated for social justice and against slavery, protesting state-sanctioned and mob violence while demanding voting, legal, labor, and educational rights. While Black-led activism in this era is often overshadowed by the attention paid to the abolition movement, this collection centers Black activist networks, influence, and institution building. Collectively, these essays highlight the vital role of the Colored Conventions in the lives of thousands of early organizers, including many of the most famous writers, ministers, politicians, and entrepreneurs in the long history of Black activism.

“Religions, Nation States, and Politics in Vast Early America” The Omohundro Institute’s Conversation with Authors Katherine Carté and Julia Gaffield

Watch below as Katherine Carté, author of Religion and the American Revolution: An Imperial History, and Julia Gaffield, author of Haitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution, speak with the Omohundro Institute for their latest author conversation. The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture is the oldest organization in the United States exclusively dedicated to the advancement of study, research, and publications bearing on the history and culture of early America. Visit this link to see some of the books published through UNC Press’s partnership with the OI.



Katherine Carté (who previously published as Katherine Carté Engel) is associate professor of history at Southern Methodist University, with affiliations in the Religious Studies department. 

Julia Gaffield is assistant professor of history at Georgia State University. 

African American Children: Some of the Last Recipients of Emancipation

Guest blog post by Crystal Lynn Webster, author of Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North

This author’s book was also featured in part one of our JuneTeenth recommended reading list.


Juneteenth is day in which we celebrate freedom. But it is also a recognition that for many African Americans freedom was delayed and unfulfilled. This is especially true for Black children—a group that whites often did not emancipated and continued in systems akin to slavery for many years to come. Yet Black children’s unique experiences with slavery and freedom are often unrecognized. 

In the North and the South, African Americans children were some of the last recipients of emancipation. In both settings, the legal, economic, and social process of emancipation delayed freedom for Black children. Many places used age (adulthood) is a marker for freedom. In the North, the first emancipation law, Pennsylvania’s gradual emancipation law of 1780 freed African Americans after age twenty-eight. Other northern states enacted similar measures using age and entrance into adulthood as a marker for freedom including Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. These measures prolonged legal slavery in the North, especially for Black children, until the end of the Civil War. Northern Black children were also vulnerable to kidnapping and sale into southern Slavery. 

Black children’s lives existed at the boundaries between slavery and freedom as they were considered dependents and appropriate subjects of adult intervention in ways that intervened on full emancipation. The first orphanages which admitted Black children began in the antebellum North in cities of Philadelphia and New York. These orphanages were part of reform movements led by white women who sought to care and educate Black children in ways that were often paternalistic and racialized. White reformers admitted African American children even if they had living parents because they believed their parents were unable to care for them. While these spaces were sometimes sites of care and refuge, they also impeded upon the full experiences of freedom that many African Americans sought— reuniting with family in the wake of slavery and emancipation. Orphanages and reform schools indentured Black children to perform labor akin to slavery. These experiences were precursors to the end of slavery in the South. 

In both the North and the South, whites indentured Black children for decades after emancipation and into the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Following the Civil War, southern Black children were also categorized as dependents, vagrants, convicts, or orphans.

Sometimes they labored for their former enslavers, at other times they were separated from their families and sold into “apprentices,” but deprived them of learning any skilled trades. In the North and South, Black children were also criminalized and imprisoned in adult penitentiaries. Black children were kidnapped and sold into the convict leasing systems which simultaneously criminalized them and exploited their labor into the twentieth century. 

Black children’s historical experiences challenge the ways we define and celebrate emancipation. When we remember Juneteenth this year we should pay special attention to the historical conditions of slavery and freedom for African American children. Age and freedom were bound together and African American children did not experience full emancipation for decades after that significant day on June 19th, 1865. 


Crystal Lynn Webster is assistant professor of history at The University of Texas, San Antonio. 

Committed: Remembering Native Kinship in and beyond Institutions

Guest blog post by Susan Burch, author of Committed: Remembering Native Kinship in and beyond Institutions


“It is said to be the only institution of its kind,” announced the New York Daily Tribune, lauding the opening of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians in South Dakota in 1902. The appreciation of its exceptionality that the Tribune expressed to its readers was not shared by the Native people locked within the Asylum and their kin on the outside. 

Institutionalization played a profound role in the lives of many Native people long before this federal psychiatric facility opened. As is fundamental to all systems for managing people, its operations were fed by other institutions and its influence continued long past its brick-and-mortar existence. Canton Asylum was simply another way to incarcerate people who had already experienced—either in person or vicariously through a family member—detention in a boarding school, a jail, a local psychiatric facility. 

For the last century, the primary stories told about Canton have centered the white people who created, managed, and staffed the institution. Exceptionalism defines these accounts. In them, the Indian Asylum emerges as a remarkable achievement of medicine and psychiatry. 

Disease outbreaks, high mortality, staff abuses, filthy conditions, and tyrannical management appear as unfortunate and isolated occurrences. Those were problems impacting individual people and caused by individual people. 

What’s missing, despite being the reason for its founding and the core of its activities,—what should be at the forefront and should always have been at the forefront of remembrance and study—is the actual “care” experience of the Indigenous peoples incarcerated in such facilities. For decades, Lakota journalist Harold Iron Shield called attention to Canton Asylum’s cemetery and the degrading presence of the golf course surrounding it. Others before and since have investigated mass graves at settler boarding schools, orphanages, and reformatories. Indigenous activists, scholars, and everyday people have insisted on remembering histories that have otherwise long been distorted and buried.

Remembering—repopulating the past—changes how we understand institutionalization, then and now. Centering Native people’s lived experiences generates stories of kinship, refusals, adaptations, loss, and continuance. Institutional interventions are familiar and acceptable because it is usually explained by those who benefit from or were trained in its logic. Yet dispossessing people from their land, families, and memories in the name of education, civilization, assimilation is destruction, not care. Canton Asylum was but one part of a vast network of settler institutions in which Indigenous people were trapped.

In December 1933, newspapers across America celebrated and derided the closing of “the only institution of its kind.” 

That’s far from the end of the story.

After decades of damage to forcibly detained Native people and their families and irrefutable exposures of the abuse, the solution was no better than in 1902. Sixty-nine people were loaded onto Pullman train cars and transported to another federal psychiatric facility: St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. Over the next twenty years, many from this institutionalized group would be shuttled between other facilities, including Narcotic Prison Farm-Hospitals in Fort Worth, Texas, and Lexington, Kentucky. The few who outlived those detentions were eventually returned to St. Elizabeths. Painful and unresolved histories such as this can only be accurately told when historians and community members work shoulder to shoulder, pen to pen, to not just restore the past but use it as a regenerative methodology.


Susan Burch is professor of American studies at Middlebury College. 

Happy (early) Juneteenth! A Reading List, Part One

Happy early Juneteenth! If you don’t know, June 19th is “the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. From its Galveston, Texas origin in 1865, the observance of June 19th as the African American Emancipation Day has spread across the United States and beyond. Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement.” While there is a lot more work to be done in reference to true liberation, knowing our history and celebrating moments of black resistance and freedom are true and much needed, in my eyes, forms of healing. Today’s recommended reading list is focused on the experiences of those enslaved. As mentioned in the title, this is part one of the reading list, but part two will be published on the 18th and focuses on honoring the powerful tradition of black resistance. Don’t end your celebration and support of Juneteenth at this post, look for black-owned organizations to donate to and also look for black-owned businesses to purchase from.


CAPITALISM AND SLAVERY, THIRD EDITION

BY ERIC WILLIAMS

Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide. Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944. Years ahead of its time, his profound critique became the foundation for studies of imperialism and economic development. Binding an economic view of history with strong moral argument, Williams’s study of the role of slavery in financing the Industrial Revolution refuted traditional ideas of economic and moral progress and firmly established the centrality of the African slave trade in European economic development. He also showed that mature industrial capitalism in turn helped destroy the slave system. Establishing the exploitation of commercial capitalism and its link to racial attitudes, Williams employed a historicist vision that set the tone for future studies.

THE SOULS OF WOMENFOLK: THE RELIGIOUS CULTURES OF ENSLAVED WOMEN IN THE LOWER SOUTH

BY ALEXIS WELLS-OGHOGHOMEH

Beginning on the shores of West Africa in the sixteenth century and ending in the U.S. Lower South on the eve of the Civil War, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh traces a bold history of the interior lives of bondwomen as they carved out an existence for themselves and their families amid the horrors of American slavery. With particular attention to maternity, sex, and other gendered aspects of women’s lives, she documents how bondwomen crafted female-centered cultures that shaped the religious consciousness and practices of entire enslaved communities. Indeed, gender as well as race co-constituted the Black religious subject, she argues—requiring a shift away from understandings of “slave religion” as a gender-amorphous category.

BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF CHILDHOOD: AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN IN THE ANTEBELLUM NORTH

BY CRYSTAL LYNN WEBSTER

For all that is known about the depth and breadth of African American history, we still understand surprisingly little about the lives of African American children, particularly those affected by northern emancipation. But hidden in institutional records, school primers and penmanship books, biographical sketches, and unpublished documents is a rich archive that reveals the social and affective worlds of northern Black children. Drawing evidence from the urban centers of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, Crystal Webster’s innovative research yields a powerful new history of African American childhood before the Civil War. Webster argues that young African Americans were frequently left outside the nineteenth century’s emerging constructions of both race and childhood. They were marginalized in the development of schooling, ignored in debates over child labor, and presumed to lack the inherent innocence ascribed to white children. But Webster shows that Black children nevertheless carved out physical and social space for play, for learning, and for their own aspirations.

Not Straight, Not White: Untangling Black Pathology

To further celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Pride Month, the following is an excerpt from Kevin Mumford’s Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS CrisisThis book is one of five titles from a reading list we created in commemoration of Pride Month; view the entire reading list here.


The men that James Baldwin imagined into life—Go Tell It On the Mountain’s John Grimes, David of Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country’s Rufus Scott—together presented a recognizable repertoire of traits and affects, relationships and fates, with which to assemble a black gay identity: ambivalent and deviant, singular and suicidal, confused and tragic, hustling to survive and lost in a sea of forbidden desire. In this period of definitional transition, new etiologies of black homosexuality issued from the overlap of fiction, social science expertise, and public controversies, evolving along a trajectory of multiple sites of exposure and changing locations of production. Between the 1950s and 1960s, familiar signs of the sexual invert (a man performing the role of a woman to signify to others his homosexual desire) or the hustler (a putatively straight man who traded sexual acts for remuneration) intermingled with new theories about the effects of overbearing mothers and absent fathers on the increasing incidence of overt homosexuality.

In the influential 1962 monograph Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, the social psychologist Erving Goffman presented an array of deviant subjects who concealed their stigmatized background—the ex-convict, the alcoholic, the divorcée—and in particular compared the situation of a closeted homosexual with that of an inpatient at a mental institution who “comes out” by admitting his or her status to a visiting outsider. In a footnote Goffman explained that “comparable coming out occurs in the homosexual world, when a person finally comes frankly to present himself to a ‘gay’ gathering,” and he pointed to Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room as a “good fictionalized treatment” of this process (seemingly in error, since the novel ends in tragedy). Baldwin wrote so powerfully, and voluminously, on a subject that still remained shrouded in secrecy and shame that his novels served as a reference point even for leading academics.1 By the mid-1950s, some experts and moral authorities held a more liberal view of men and women who sought sexual pleasure outside of marriage, but even the most liberal voices rarely exonerated same-sex desire or relationships. A major exception to homosexuality’s invisibility was the sensational reporting by the black newspaper and magazine editors, but these types of stories again left the impression that gay men were deviant, criminal, or crazy. By the mid-1960s, shocks of the urban crisis—northern segregation, deepening income inequality and unemployment, and recurrent race riots—caused a veritable avalanche of social science on ghettos, race problems, and a so-called culture of poverty. In turn, this scholarship introduced (often inadvertently) new ideas about the causes and consequences of homosexuality among black men.

Brag and Drag

Mobilization for World War II had transformed conceptions of not only masculinity but also sexuality across the nation. In this period, many black men signed on for active duty and presented themselves as a new model minority, expecting the rewards of full citizenship in return for proud service, and yet for some their induction into the armed services involved new classification procedures that scrutinized effeminacy in men, queried homosexual tendencies, and assigned racial meanings to sexual difference. As a result, some percentage of black men recognized previously unnamed desires as a homosexual condition that might be shared with large numbers of other men, whether or not they chose to hide their identities. Meanwhile, as a form of recreation, many troops put on musical shows that required female parts, usually played by men in female attire, including black men who later identified themselves as gay. Stateside after the war, black nightlife featured interracial dancing and spectacular cross-dressing or female impersonation balls, as well as bars and clubs that catered to a variety of homosexual tastes. As Allan Bérubé eloquently characterized the impact of mobilization, “The military, ironically, encouraged gay veterans to assume a stronger gay identity when it began to identify and manage so many people as homosexual persons rather than focus narrowly on the act of sodomy.” After the war, historians such as Bérubé, John D’Emilio, and David Johnson documented how gay veterans struggled to make sense of their identity, protested non-honorable, blue discharges for homosexuality, and forged new sexual communities and networks in major U.S. cities.

At the same time, African American protests against wartime discrimination, lobbying to desegregate the armed services, and postwar efforts to overturn legal segregation signaled the beginning of the modern civil rights revolution. In his study of the “unsettled meanings” of black citizenship in postwar black Chicago, Adam Green examines how an emergent middle class engaged in “cultural entrepreneurship” that undergirded its social position while fabricating a “collective racial imagination.” Here Green maps shifts in the politics of respectability by examining middle-class navigation of urban pleasures, working-class consumption, and political mobilization, in particular documenting the extraordinary rise and impact of the Johnson Publishing Company empire that produced both Jet and Ebony magazines. According to Green, “Though Ebony did not seek to dispense entirely with respectability as a cornerstone of reputation, it is clear that the magazine was willing to play up controversy or even disrepute for public notice.” In this new era of the commercialization of racial identification, the black magazines both addressed and constructed a black readership poised to join the postwar landscape of consumption and personal pleasure.


Kevin Mumford is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

UNC Press authors Regina N. Bradley & Imani Perry speak at IASPM’s Popular Music Books in Process Series

In April, author of Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South Regina Bradley and Imani Perry, author of May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem (available in paperback October 2021), spoke during one of the sessions for IASPM’s Popular Music Books in Process Series. The series started in June 2020 and “offer writers and scholars with books on all kinds of popular music, whether recently published or still in progress, a chance to connect with a deeply interested community of readers“. Watch below as Regina and Imani discuss Chronicling Stankonia, the freedom derived from southern hiphop and the hard work black women have done within the sub-genre. IASPM’s Popular Music Books in Process Series is going on until July, so feel free to visit this link and see what other sessions they have coming up!



Regina N. Bradley is an alumna Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow at Harvard University and an assistant professor of English and African diaspora studies at Kennesaw State University. 

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American studies at Princeton University. 

Giving Up the Blue Stuff: A First Step Toward Organic Gardening

Guest blog post by Roxann Ward, author of Color-Rich Gardening For the South: A Guide for All Seasons


The organic gardening discussion has been going on for decades, and in 2021 the availability of organically-grown food is something we take for granted. While it is easy to pick up that container of organic strawberries to add to your morning yogurt, I wonder how many home gardeners have embraced organic practices as the best way to grow produce in their own backyards? Now that we’re paying more attention to the food we buy for our families, do we still reach for the old standbys when it’s time to fertilize the tomatoes growing in the backyard?

In my early days of gardening, like many people, I reached for that well-known container of blue crystals that is mixed with water to feed vegetables and summer bedding plants. I grabbed that familiar box each spring at the garden center because it was what everyone else seemed to be using, and that was good enough for me.

I began decreasing my use of traditional fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides about thirty years ago. At the time, I had three small children and we spent almost every day outside in the back yard. They practiced cartwheels on the lawn and piled collections of sticks, rocks, flowers, and pinecones on our deck. I didn’t want to use fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides in my garden or lawn that would undoubtedly end up on their shoes, and possibly on their skin. I wanted to keep their small world as safe as possible.

All those years ago, I decided to focus on feeding the soil, so that it would provide all the nutrients and minerals needed to help my grass and plants thrive. I pulled weeds by hand, as much as possible, and if I had a problem with a garden plant, I looked for the least toxic solution. Back then, I depended on books to guide me into the world of organics, but today there is a vast amount of information available to help you begin.

A quick web search will yield plenty of information to answer any questions you may have about going organic. If you want to hear from people committed to this way of gardening, I encourage you to find a podcast to listen to, or a YouTube channel to watch. For a glimpse into the organic gardening mindset, follow the weekly podcasts of Margaret Roach, a talented writer, who gardens in upstate New York. Her latest book, A Way to Garden, is a wise and witty commentary on both gardening and nature.

If you want the view from across the pond, spend a rainy spring afternoon watching Gardener’s World on Brit Box or YouTube. I’m inspired by how the British people (truly a nation of gardeners) are working to protect and restore natural habitats, by building healthy soil and rethinking what they plant in their own backyards.

Here in Georgia, I focus on composting anything I can get my hands on, including kitchen scraps, paper egg cartons, newspaper, and spent garden plants. I spread finished compost in the fenced garden where I grow vegetables and fruit, along with perennial flowers. I buy earthworm castings bagged up for sale at a farm near my home, and buy spent logs from a mushroom farm in the area, which makes fantastic mulch for my evergreen shrubs.

I use native plants, such as coneflowers, to bring pollinators into my garden, along with a diverse mix of blueberry shrubs, fruit trees, herbs, perennials, annuals, bulbs, and flowering shrubs. I try to put the right plant in the right place, so that I minimize problems with disease or insects, and I also rotate crops such as potatoes and tomatoes. I remove pests, like slugs, by hand when I see them, or I find the least toxic way to treat the problem. And yes, I pull lots of weeds. Most of all, I have stopped expecting perfection. Weeds, slugs, and Japanese beetles are part of gardening life, and I don’t stress about them too much these days. I’m not trying to grow the biggest strawberries or the tallest cosmos. I’m just along for the ride.

I wonder if gardeners in this country will ever be willing to give up the quick fixes, like the iconic blue fertilizer of my childhood? I hope so. I’m encouraged by the next generation of gardeners, who seem to understand that as individuals we can make a difference, and maybe one place to start is in the garden.


Roxann Ward, owner of Roxann Ward Design in Senoia, Georgia, is a garden designer and consultant. 

Gay On God’s Campus: The Context of Change

In honor of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Pride Month, the following is an excerpt from Jonathan S. Coley’ Gay on God’s Campus: Mobilizing for LGBT Equality at Christian Colleges and Universities. This book is one of five titles from a reading list we created in celebration of Pride Month; view the entire reading list here.


LGBT activists at Christian colleges and universities do not mobilize in a vacuum. Although they followed a variety of paths into LGBT activist groups, the students whom I profile in this book all mobilized at a similar historical moment and amidst common sets of structural conditions that made LGBT activism at Christian colleges and universities possible.

In this chapter, I examine the question of why LGBT activist groups began to emerge on Christian college and university campuses at least since the 1980s—but especially by the 1990s and 2000s—from two angles. First, I provide a historical perspective, considering how changes in the political climate for LGBT rights have created a general opportunity for LGBT students and their allies to band together to form LGBT groups and advocate for inclusive nondiscrimination policies at Christian colleges and universities. The goal is not to provide a comprehensive account of the LGBT movement in the United States but rather to highlight key developments in the LGBT rights struggle and to assess how religious communities’ responses to those developments either enabled or constrained LGBT activism at Christian colleges and universities.

Second, I provide important statistics bearing on the question of LGBT activist group emergence, explaining why, even at this moment in history, when the political climate for LGBT rights in the United States has never been more favorable, some Christian colleges and universities embrace their LGBT student populations while other Christian schools do not. I especially focus on how certain religious characteristics of each Christian college or university, such as their religious affiliations, have made it more or less likely that a school will approve LGBT groups and adopt inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

My central argument throughout the chapter is that, although the LGBT movement’s political gains were necessary for the emergence of LGBT activism on Christian campuses, it was only when an increasing number of religious denominations began to endorse LGBT rights that students at Christian colleges and universities had the cover they needed to seek full inclusion on their campuses.

LGBT activism in the United States, and LGBT student organizing on Christian campuses in particular, has arguably been most visible since activists began mobilizing in favor of same-sex marriage during the 1990s and 2000s.1 Yet LGBT people have been mobilizing in the United States since at least World War II, and many of the battle lines that people took for granted during the same-sex marriage campaigns—between LGBT people on one side and religious people on the other side—were far from predetermined. To illustrate the historical changes that shaped opportunities for LGBT activism at Christian colleges and universities, then, I begin by reviewing accounts of some of the earliest activism around LGBT issues in the United States.

Following World War II, large cities on the West Coast (such as Los Angeles and San Francisco) and the East Coast (particularly New York City) became notable for their growing gay and lesbian populations and, consequently, became home to some of the earliest gay and lesbian advocacy organizations, which were known as homophile organizations. For example, in 1950, the Mattachine Society, one of the country’s first homophile organizations dedicated to promoting the rights of gay men, was founded in Los Angeles,2 and in 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis, the first homophile organization devoted to lesbian rights, was founded in San Francisco (Armstrong 2002, ch. 2). In the following decade, in 1967, college students formed the first gay rights group on a college campus, the Student Homophile League, at Columbia University in New York City, and in 1968, students established Student Homophile League chapters at Cornell University and New York University (Beemyn 2003).3 The earliest homophile organizations emphasized discretion and virtue. Few members of these homophile organizations were willing to publicly out themselves, and they often went to great lengths to maintain their secrecy; in the case of the student organizations, gay and lesbian students counted on heterosexual students to sign initial applications and provide cover for closeted students (Beemyn 2003; D’Emilio 1983). Although they approached gay and lesbian advocacy differently than LGBT organizations do today, such organizations provided important foundations for subsequent LGBT organizing in the United States.


Jonathan S. Coley is assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University. 

Dr. Monica White, Author of Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, on the Healthy Food Movement’s Spilt Milk: The Food Trust Podcast

In February, author of Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement Dr. Monica M. White was featured on the first episode of the Healthy Food Movement’s new podcast called Spilt Milk: The Food Trust podcast. Spilt Milk helps consumers make sense of our food system by intersecting food with our mental, physical and environmental health. Dr. White and Spilt Milk discussed everything from black people’s deep rooted connection to agriculture to food issues that still exist today and even some solutions to those issues.



Monica M. White is assistant professor of environmental justice at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

Communing with Golf and Nature

Guest blog post by Lee Pace, author of Good Walks: Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at Eighteen of the Carolinas’ Best Courses


Howard Lee was an administrator in Governor Jim Hunt’s administration in 1977 when he initiated what would become a walking trail of some 1,200 miles from the North Carolina mountains to the Outer Banks. “To be able to get out here and see the trees and the flowers and to be able to see the animals and the natural areas is just so relaxing and so soothing,” Lee said upon the 40th anniversary of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail in 2017. 

Lee finds exercise and solace on another trail—that of a golf course. 

One April afternoon in 2019, Lee and I are walking the fifth fairway at Old Chatham Golf Club just east of Chapel Hill, with the green complex set amid a hillside resplendent in white and pink azalea bushes at full bloom. “If you can’t be relaxed looking at this kind of beauty, I don’t know,” said Lee, 84 at the time.  “And that’s the beauty of walking, whether it’s a trail or the golf course, you learn so much when you can commune with nature. There’s always something to appreciate, a bird or flower or something in nature.”

Over four hours and six miles you come to understand how Lee, the former mayor of Chapel Hill and N.C. State Senator, is a poster boy for playing golf the old-fashioned way—on foot. Slinging the bag over his shoulder after one tee shot: “I enjoy carrying the bag, so I just think as long as someone my age can walk, it would be a sin not to do it.”

Strolling up to another shot: “I’ve been struck by the number of young people who are riders. They just jump in the cart and off they go. I hate to see that.” And on his surprise at seeing newfangled golf carts equipped with a means to power up a cell phone: “For what good reason would you put a USB port in a golf cart? Isn’t the whole point of golf to get away from your cell phone for a few hours?” 

Howard Lee and I sing from the same hymnal—with choruses abounding on the joys of walking the golf course and avoiding at all costs planting your bum in an artificial contraption. And I found over the last three years there are many more of our ilk. 

Which is why I’m delighted this month with the release of my book, Good Walks—Rediscovering the Soul of Golf at 18 Top Carolinas Courses. The coffee-table format volume was published by University of North Carolina Press and is built around essays, photographs and historic artifacts from a blend of private, resort and daily-fee courses around the Carolinas. The goal was to weave the architecture, ambiance and culture into an essay about each of the courses, tipping the cap to those already in the choir of the walking golfer and offering a welcoming gesture to those on the outside.

That there is even a hook for a volume like this is a sad commentary on the state of golf in America. Walking golf? What’s the angle? Of course you walk when you play golf. I played Mid Pines in Southern Pines one afternoon in June 2019 with Ran Morrissett, an avowed walker and traditionalist and co-founder of the Golf Club Atlas website built around stories, photos and conversation about golf architecture. We arrived at the golf shop, checked in and were on the way to the first tee when a young attendant approached and offered to put our bags on a cart. 

“It’s a walking sport,” Morrissett told him in a pleasant but direct and matter-of-fact tone and never broke stride walking toward the first tee. Later we were striding down one fairway, enjoying the day. “I get nothing out of riding through corridors of condos or houses. That will not lift my spirit. Walking will.”

The book is built around essays examining the history, course architecture and walking culture of eighteen of the best courses in the Carolinas. There is certainly a “preaching to choir” element of the book, as the golfers who’ll best appreciate it are those like me who sling the bag on their shoulder and set off down the first fairway. But it’s also intended as invitation to those who customarily ride a cart. 

As Henry David Thoreau “I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Especially when the woods are lined with golf holes. 


Lee Pace is a writer, editor, and publisher with more than thirty years of experience writing about golf. He lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Reckoning with our past means commemorating violent histories

Reblogged with permission from Washington Post; Blog Post by K. Stephen Prince, author of The Ballad of Robert Charles: Searching For The New Orleans Riot


On a gray afternoon in December, a small group gathered in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. They came together to dedicate a historical marker to the events of late July 1900, when a confrontation between a Black man named Robert Charles and members of the New Orleans Police Department sparked a week of horrific racial violence.

In a city that is highly conscious of its own history, the marker represents the first official, public commemoration of this event. What happened in New Orleans in 1900 offers a powerful reminder of the centrality of violence to the history of race relations in the United States. What makes the story distinctive, however, is the figure of Charles, an ordinary man who waged a war on white supremacy and Jim Crow.

On July 23, 1900, Charles was relaxing on a stoop with a friend when three members of the New Orleans Police Department approached. The officers probably intended to arrest the two men as vagrants or “dangerous and suspicious characters,” a common fate for Black people found occupying the public spaces of segregated New Orleans. The confrontation grew heated. One of the officers drew a pistol, as did Charles. In the ensuing firefight, both men were wounded, and Charles disappeared into the night. When the police located him at his apartment several hours later, Charles opened fire, killing two officers. In the confusion, he escaped once more, knowing his capture would be a death sentence. He would not be seen for three days.

Charles was born in Mississippi in 1865 or 1866. He lived the first decade of his life during Reconstruction, a moment of remarkable possibility, during which formerly enslaved African Americans gained citizenship and the right to vote. By the time a 30-year-old Charles moved to New Orleans in the mid-1890s, however, White Southerners were constructing the system of racial domination known as Jim Crow. Stripping Black men of the right to vote and drawing the “color line” through the public spaces of the region, white supremacists dismantled the advances of Reconstruction. They built Jim Crow upon a foundation of racial terrorism: Each year, White mobs lynched dozens of African Americans, often with the cooperation and complicity of local police departments.

Though he spent most of his life as a common laborer, Charles was well-read and politically engaged. By the time of his run-in with the police, he was making his living selling newspapers promoting Black immigration to Liberia. Charles may have imagined a new life in Africa, but in the meantime, he was determined to defend himself. Acquaintances reported that Charles was habitually armed and freely expressed his antipathy for the police and the white-supremacist justice system, vowing that he “never would be arrested” without a fight.

When Charles drew his gun on that July night, therefore, he was not just doing battle with the police. He was striking back at Jim Crow.

After Charles killed two police officers, White residents of New Orleans did not pause to consider his motivations. Instead, they took vengeance on the city’s Black population. On July 25, 1900, thousands of angry White New Orleanians formed a mob that roamed across the city. Though they were ostensibly searching for Charles, violence quickly became an end in and of itself. Over the next two days, they attacked dozens of Black men and women, murdering at least six.

On July 27, detectives tracked Charles to a house on Saratoga Street, where he killed two more officers. Within minutes, a heavily armed crowd gathered. During a shootout that lasted several hours, Charles killed three more people. Finally, city authorities set fire to his hideout. Charles was shot and killed as he attempted to escape the burning building.

During the last week of his life, Charles killed seven White people, including four members of the police department. According to the city’s official tallies, White mobs killed seven African Americans, including Charles. The true death toll was probably higher.

Though White Southerners regularly relied on violence to enforce their will, a Black man who fought back was a dangerous aberration. His story had to be erased, and White New Orleanians did their best to forget the events of July 1900.

But African Americans within and beyond New Orleans did the opposite. In fact, they frequently invoked the event, turning Charles into a folk hero and praising him for his acts of righteous violence. In 1901, two women caused a stir in Baton Rouge when they claimed that “what white people most needed in this town was a Robert Charles affair and it would teach them how to behave themselves.” In 1938, Jelly Roll Morton, the self-styled “inventor of jazz,” offered a detailed account of the riots and claimed to have performed a song about Charles. As jazz legend Danny Barker put it, “There’s a helluva story behind that day when he was shooting policemen.” Multiple narrators even insisted that Charles had somehow survived the climactic shootout on Saratoga Street. “He got away,” one claimed. “He got away ever since.”

Today, the United States finds itself in the midst of a long-overdue reckoning with the past. Confederate-themed memorials have come down across the country, including in New Orleans. Communities have engaged in critical dialogue about other historical sites, reflecting on the relationship between past and present.

As we work to remove statues that distort the past, we should also recognize histories that have never been commemorated officially. This includes stories of resistance — even armed, violent resistance — to racial oppression. A true reckoning with the past must be expansive and democratic. It must work to give voice to forgotten stories and to remedy silences, recovering events and figures that challenge simplistic narratives of the past.

In the end, the story of Robert Charles is useful precisely because it is such a challenging one. A full accounting of Charles’s actions must grapple with the violence and indignities of Black life in the Jim Crow South. From this perspective, it is almost impossible not to sympathize with his attack on an unjust racial regime.

At the same time, one cannot overlook the fact that Charles killed seven people. Was he a hero or a villain? A murderer or a martyr?

These moral ambiguities make the story of the 1900 riot a particularly valuable one for students of history, forcing us to ask ourselves what we believe and why we believe it. Given the continuing challenges of racism, policing, violence and incarceration in the contemporary United States, such considerations are especially valuable. The tale of Robert Charles still has many lessons to teach.


K. Stephen Prince is an associate professor of history at the University of South Florida. He is also author of Stories of the South: Race and the Reconstruction of Southern Identity, 1865-1915

How the Controversy Over Confederate Monuments is Linked to Voter Suppression

Guest blog post by Karen L. Cox, author of No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice


Last summer, in the days following the murder of George Floyd, Americans watched as Black Lives Matter protests in the South turned on Confederate monuments, vandalizing them, tearing them down, spraying them with graffiti with messages to end police brutality or to call out the racism that is tearing our country apart.

As a result, several municipalities across the South began to take local action to remove their monuments, often located on courthouse lawns or along public thoroughfares. Doing so was a direct challenge to state monument laws or “heritage protection” acts, several of which were passed in the aftermath of the Charleston Massacre of nine parishioners of Emmanuel AME Church in 2015.

Today voter suppression in several states, made worse by gerrymandered districts like in my home state of North Carolina, makes it difficult to near impossible to elect officials who will change laws, including those intended to preserve Confederate monuments. In fact, the history of Confederate monuments is tied directly to the disenfranchisement of black voters and has been since the 1890s.

When the monument to Robert E. Lee was unveiled in Richmond in 1890, African Americans in that city recognized it as a symbol of their own oppression and its links to suppressing their right to vote.  Barely a week after unveiling of the Lee Monument, John Mitchell, Jr. the editor of the black newspaper the Richmond Planet, penned an editorial in which he warned readers that the rights blacks had won during Reconstruction were being rolled back, especially the right to vote. “No species of political crimes has been worse than that which wiped the names of thousands of bona-fideColored Republican voters from the Registration books of this state,” Mitchell wrote. He claimed, rightly, that refusing to allow black men to vote was a “direct violation of the law,” and blamed state officials sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution for illegally scrubbing the names of men from voter rolls, marking them “dead” or having moved to another state, when neither was true. 

Mitchell’s words were prophetic as he identified what was essentially a backlash against black progress.

John Mitchell, Jr.

In the decade following the Lee Monument’s unveiling, one southern state after another passed laws disfranchising black men, a right that was guaranteed by the Fifteenth Amendment. The elimination of black male voters, not only by law but through violent white supremacy, and the creation of Jim Crow legislation that limited black freedom, all occurred during the very same years that the hundreds of Confederate monuments now at issue were built across the South.  And black southerners did not have a say in the matter, because their rights as citizens had been obliterated. Even in towns where they represented the majority of the population, they could not vote to prevent them from being built in the center of towns where they lived, they could not petition to have them removed, and they could not protest them publicly out of fear of reprisal, although they found ways of doing so out of the view of southern whites.

Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and especially the Voting Rights Act of 1965, black southerners not only voted, but elected people to office who looked like them. Local city councils increasingly had black representation and over the course of the next few decades African Americans throughout the region challenged the existence of Confederate symbols on the grounds of local and state government, which were supposed to be democratic public spaces that represented all citizens.

But in the 1990s, as in the 1890s, Republicans found another way to constrict black political power via majority/minority districts. This form of gerrymandering, sometimes called affirmative gerrymandering, did not violate Voting Rights Act regulations. Rather, it consolidated the minority vote, limiting a black majority to one district. As political scientist Angie Maxwell explains, while these new lines ensured minority representation, “it bleached the other districts white, allowing the GOP to pick up seats fast in the South.” The result in 1994 was the Republican takeover of the House.

This model of Republican-favored gerrymandering grew worse in the South in the early twentieth-first century, and its implementation not only guaranteed more GOP seats in Congress, it led to a similar plan that ensured GOP majorities at the state level. And these are the very state legislatures that passed monument laws designed to preserve Confederate monuments in publicly owned spaces.

The statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham lies beside its base in Monroe Park. Photo by Andrew Ringle. Courtesy of The Commonwealth Times

The gutting of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the context of Confederate monument removal is critical to our understanding of this moment of protests.  By suppressing the rights of black voters, as well as a plurality of voters who support this movement, GOP controlled state legislatures have not only prevented these voters from exercising their rights as citizens, they have taken away local control to remove monuments legally. In essence, they have forced community organizers to engage in street protests or, in some cases, to hire attorneys to challenge these draconian laws in court.  

Monuments are ultimately local objects and what becomes of them should be determined by the local communities in which they reside, but state laws remain a barrier to removal.

There also exists a very real concern that once GOP-led southern legislatures will seek to close any existing loopholes in monument legislation, or add additional penalties as the Florida legislature did recently, which will represent yet another backlash to progress. And given voter suppression, it removes the possibility of electing officials to amend laws that allow local communities to decide the fate of Confederate monuments.

Under those circumstances, the cycle of protest will likely begin again.


Karen L. Cox is professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her other books include Dreaming of Dixie: How the South Was Created in American Popular Culture and Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture

Happy LGBTQIA+ Pride Month: A Reading List

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA+) Pride Month and we are here to celebrate with the community! Pride month began in 1970 and happens in June to commemorate the Stonewall Uprising on June 28th, 1969. A black trans woman named Marsha P. Johnson was a true leader and very important piece to that uprising. To aid in the celebration of Marsha, pride month and LGBTQIA+ people all around the world, we’ve created a recommended reading list that touches on some of the positive and negative realities of some shared experiences within the LGBTQIA+ community. Last month, we created a recommended reading list in celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia, May 17th, with some great titles as well; click here to check it out!


WELCOME TO FAIRYLAND: QUEER MIAMI BEFORE 1940

BY JULIO CAPÓ JR.

Poised on the edge of the United States and at the center of a wider Caribbean world, today’s Miami is marketed as an international tourist hub that embraces gender and sexual difference. As Julio Capó Jr. shows in this fascinating history, Miami’s transnational connections reveal that the city has been a queer borderland for over a century. In chronicling Miami’s queer past from its 1896 founding through 1940, Capó shows the multifaceted ways gender and sexual renegades made the city their own.

NOT STRAIGHT, NOT WHITE: BLACK GAY MEN FROM THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON TO THE AIDS CRISIS

BY KEVIN MUMFORD

This compelling book recounts the history of black gay men from the 1950s to the 1990s, tracing how the major movements of the times—from civil rights to black power to gay liberation to AIDS activism—helped shape the cultural stigmas that surrounded race and homosexuality. In locating the rise of black gay identities in historical context, Kevin Mumford explores how activists, performers, and writers rebutted negative stereotypes and refused sexual objectification. Examining the lives of both famous and little-known black gay activists—from James Baldwin and Bayard Rustin to Joseph Beam and Brother Grant-Michael Fitzgerald—Mumford analyzes the ways in which movements for social change both inspired and marginalized black gay men.

GAY ON GOD’S CAMPUS: MOBILIZING FOR LGBT EQUALITY AT CHRISTIAN COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

BY JONATHAN S. COLEY

Although the LGBT movement has made rapid gains in the United States, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in faith communities. In this book, sociologist Jonathan S. Coley documents why and how student activists mobilize for greater inclusion at Christian colleges and universities. Drawing on interviews with student activists at a range of Christian institutions of higher learning, Coley shows that students, initially drawn to activism because of their own political, religious, or LGBT identities, are forming direct action groups that transform university policies, educational groups that open up campus dialogue, and solidarity groups that facilitate their members’ personal growth. He also shows how these LGBT activists apply their skills and values after graduation in subsequent political campaigns, careers, and family lives, potentially serving as change agents in their faith communities for years to come. Coley’s findings shed light on a new frontier of LGBT activism and challenge prevailing wisdom about the characteristics of activists, the purpose of activist groups, and ultimately the nature of activism itself. For more information about this project’s research methodology and theoretical grounding, please visit http://jonathancoley.com/book

PAULI MURRAY: A PERSONAL AND POLITICAL LIFE

BY TROY R. SAXBY

The Rev. Dr. Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910–1985) was a trailblazing social activist, writer, lawyer, civil rights organizer, and campaigner for gender rights. In the 1930s and 1940s, she was active in radical left-wing political groups and helped innovate nonviolent protest strategies against segregation that would become iconic in later decades, and in the 1960s, she cofounded the National Organization for Women (NOW). In addition, Murray became the first African American to receive a Yale law doctorate and the first black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. Yet, behind her great public successes, Murray battled many personal demons, including bouts of poor physical and mental health, conflicts over her gender and sexual identities, family traumas, and financial difficulties.

TO MAKE THE WOUNDED WHOLE: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN STRUGGLE AGAINST HIV/AIDS

BY DAN ROYLES

In the decades since it was identified in 1981, HIV/AIDS has devastated African American communities. Members of those communities mobilized to fight the epidemic and its consequences from the beginning of the AIDS activist movement. They struggled not only to overcome the stigma and denial surrounding a “white gay disease” in Black America, but also to bring resources to struggling communities that were often dismissed as too “hard to reach.” To Make the Wounded Whole offers the first history of African American AIDS activism in all of its depth and breadth. Dan Royles introduces a diverse constellation of activists, including medical professionals, Black gay intellectuals, church pastors, Nation of Islam leaders, recovering drug users, and Black feminists who pursued a wide array of grassroots approaches to slow the epidemic’s spread and address its impacts. Through interlinked stories from Philadelphia and Atlanta to South Africa and back again, Royles documents the diverse, creative, and global work of African American activists in the decades-long battle against HIV/AIDS.