Zachery A. Fry: A Political Scandal in the Union Army

Today we welcome a guest post from Zachery A. Fry, author of A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomacout now from UNC Press.

The Army of the Potomac was a hotbed of political activity during the Civil War. As a source of dissent widely understood as a frustration for Abraham Lincoln, its onetime commander, George B. McClellan, even secured the Democratic nomination for president in 1864. But in this comprehensive reassessment of the army’s politics, Zachery A. Fry argues that the war was an intense political education for its common soldiers. Fry examines several key crisis points to show how enlisted men developed political awareness that went beyond personal loyalties. By studying the struggle between Republicans and Democrats for political allegiance among the army’s rank and file, Fry reveals how captains, majors, and colonels spurred a pro-Republican political awakening among the enlisted men, culminating in the army’s resounding Republican voice in state and national elections in 1864.

A Republic in the Ranks is available in hardcover and ebook editions.


A Political Scandal in the Union Army

The name George B. McClellan often calls to mind a cautious, conniving, arrogant general who ran afoul of Abraham Lincoln. McClellan’s inaction as commander and frequent private attacks on Lincoln’s war policy made him a military and political liability for the administration. Undeniable, however, is that McClellan’s soldiers in the Army of the Potomac revered him for much of the war. His removal from command in November 1862 stunned and disheartened many in the ranks. They looked to “Little Mac” as the man who protected them from political machinations and trained them to fight Robert E. Lee’s vaunted Rebels to a standstill. The year 1863 changed that perception.

By September of that year, with McClellan long gone as commander and a Democratic antiwar presence menacing the home front, veteran Army of the Potomac soldiers had learned to approach the war with hard-hearted purpose. Their blood had stained southern battlefields, and their public words had spearheaded the outcry earlier that year toward “Copperhead” peace activists on the home front who refused to support the Lincoln administration.

Against this political backdrop, the Army of the Potomac high command, loyal as ever to McClellan’s legacy, embarked on an ill-fated attempt to honor their hero. Using funds raised from the ranks, the generals sought to present Little Mac with a “testimonial” to remind him of the esteem in which his old soldiers still held him. They expected every enlisted man in the army to contribute a certain amount. The problem for McClellan holdovers in the army was that Little Mac himself was a proud Democrat, and the war’s passions had blurred any distinction between moderate Democrats and traitorous Copperheads.

Continue Reading Zachery A. Fry: A Political Scandal in the Union Army

Ryan Hall: Blackfoot Country and the Case for a Vast Early America

Beneath the Backbone of the World: Blackfoot People and the North American Borderlands, 1720-1877, by Ryan Hall

Today we welcome a guest post from Ryan Hall, author of Beneath the Backbone of the World: Blackfoot People and the North American Borderlands, 1720-1877, out now from UNC Press.

For the better part of two centuries, between 1720 and 1877, the Blackfoot (Niitsitapi) people controlled a vast region of what is now the U.S. and Canadian Great Plains. As one of the most expansive and powerful Indigenous groups on the continent, they dominated the northern imperial borderlands of North America. The Blackfoot maintained their control even as their homeland became the site of intense competition between white fur traders, frequent warfare between Indigenous nations, and profound ecological transformation. In an era of violent and wrenching change, Blackfoot people relied on their mastery of their homelands’ unique geography to maintain their way of life. With extensive archival research from both the United States and Canada, Ryan Hall shows for the first time how the Blackfoot used their borderlands position to create one of North America’s most vibrant and lasting Indigenous homelands.

Beneath the Backbone of the World is part of our New Borderlands History series. It is available in paperback and ebook editions.


Who and what constitutes “early American” history? Answers vary depending on who you ask, but most people would probably conjure up a set of historical characters familiar to most Americans: Puritan pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans in Plymouth colony, English settlers and enslaved Africans in Virginia, or patriots and loyalists in the Revolutionary War. These diverse actors are all essential to the American story, but they represent only a geographical sliver of what became the United States. What about the rest of the continent—the vast majority of what became America that lay beyond the Appalachian Mountains? Generally, this vast region has been ignored by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century historians. As historian Claudio Saunt has demonstrated, the most prominent journals of early American history overwhelmingly publish studies of the east coast.[1] Academic hiring follows similar patterns. The underlying assumption seems to be that the parts of America that (Anglo) Europeans directly colonized during this era are the parts of America most worth studying.

This geographic pigeon-holing of early American history has obscured fundamental aspects of the American story during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This is particularly true of the Blackfoot people of what is now Montana and Alberta, who are the subjects of my book. While coastal colonies reckoned with their own challenges some two thousand miles east, Blackfoot homelands almost simultaneously experienced historical changes that were equally dramatic and transformative. Expanding our lens of focus for early American history to include places like Blackfoot country can open up our perspective in several ways.

Continue Reading Ryan Hall: Blackfoot Country and the Case for a Vast Early America

Michael E. Woods: Lincoln and Douglas–and Breese? Another Look at the 1858 Illinois Senate Race

Today we welcome a guest post from Michael E. Woods, author of Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy, out now from UNC Press.

As the sectional crisis gripped the United States, the rancor increasingly spread to the halls of Congress. Preston Brooks’s frenzied assault on Charles Sumner was perhaps the most notorious evidence of the dangerous divide between proslavery Democrats and the new antislavery Republican Party. But as disunion loomed, rifts within the majority Democratic Party were every bit as consequential. And nowhere was the fracture more apparent than in the raging debates between Illinois’s Stephen Douglas and Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis. As leaders of the Democrats’ northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas’s fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era.

In this post, Woods recounts the 1858 Illinois senate contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas and highlights a lesser-known third candidate in the race. Today marks the anniversary of the first Lincoln–Douglas debate, held on August 21, 1858.

Arguing Until Doomsday is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.


Unique among nineteenth-century state elections, the 1858 Illinois senate contest between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas remains widely familiar and immensely compelling. The story seems simple: Lincoln, who ran best in heavily Republican northern Illinois, demanded slavery’s prohibition from all federal territories and denounced Douglas for catering to slaveholders. Douglas, strongest in devoutly Democratic southern Illinois, championed local decision-making on slavery, labeled Lincoln an abolitionist, and unleashed a torrent of racist rhetoric. Ultimately, pro-Lincoln candidates for the state legislature outpolled pro-Douglas candidates, but malapportionment enabled Democrats to retain a majority and return Douglas the Senate. Lincoln, of course, would recover to beat Douglas and two other rivals in the fateful presidential election of 1860.

This account contains considerable truth—and leaves out an awful lot. Notably, it omits a third candidate who is often neglected because he missed Lincoln and Douglas’s seven renowned debates. Attending to this shadowy figure can illuminate Lincoln and Douglas’s evolving campaign strategies and clarify the stakes of their legendary showdown.

The third candidate was Sidney Breese, a leading figure in Illinois Democratic politics since statehood in 1818. Breese had been retired for six years when, in the summer of 1858, he reentered public life at the behest of President James Buchanan and his allies. Outraged by Douglas’s recent opposition to Kansas’s admission as a state under the proslavery Lecompton Constitution, Buchanan’s predominantly southern wing of the splintering Democratic Party condemned Douglas as a traitor and vowed to unseat the “Little Giant,” even if it meant throwing the election to Lincoln. In Illinois, pro-Buchanan Democrats, known as Danites, rallied behind Breese’s long-shot campaign.

Continue Reading Michael E. Woods: Lincoln and Douglas–and Breese? Another Look at the 1858 Illinois Senate Race

Kate Douglas Torrey: Alan Trachtenberg (d. 8/18/2020)

UNC Press joins the many scholars and students of American Studies and American history in noting with sadness the loss of Alan Trachtenberg, Yale’s Neil Gray Jr. Professor of English and professor of American Studies emeritus. He was one of the pre-eminent scholars to establish the field of American Studies, a leading voice in demonstrating new ways of understanding the intersection of history and culture, and an authoritative interpreter of photography as an important cultural and historical source.

When I arrived at the Press in the summer of 1989, my predecessor as Editor-in-Chief, Iris Tillman Hill, had persuaded Trachtenberg to edit a new series for the Press, and together they had signed up several promising manuscripts to launch the series. Over the next 20+ years, Cultural Studies of the United States quickly earned a reputation as an important and influential publisher of work in that emerging field, thanks to Trachtenberg’s hands-on approach to reading, identifying, and encouraging, the work of young scholars.

Trachtenberg had a nearly limitless curiosity, a quick mind, and an enormous appetite for work. Along with many scholars of U.S. social history, labor history, and political economy, we will miss him. We are all in his debt.

Kate Douglas Torrey
UNC Press Editor-in-Chief, 1989-92; Director 1992-2012

John Sherer: Navigating a Strange Year

UNC Press began a new fiscal year last month and like most businesses, we honestly don’t know how to forecast what the next twelve months will bring. The last half year has been unlike anything in our history, which is saying a lot for this organization. In the past 100 years we have survived a depression, a world war, and our building even once burned to the ground. We know how to endure through precarious times, so even as we have concerns about the near future, we also have confidence that we will succeed, and even find opportunities to build a better scholarly publishing ecosystem. And not everything about the last six months has been bad. But let’s start with the bad.

In addition to the non-stop precarity associated with a global health crisis, we’ve had to adapt to working remotely and less collaboratively. I’ve worried that the migration of our workflows to purely digital engagements has left our authors feeling less connected with us. So much of publishing is about a human intervention (especially at university presses), and while we have seen some improvements in efficiency, there’s potentially a commensurate loss of connectivity and collaboration that we want our authors to feel when they work with us.

At the same time, our main commercial partners (academic libraries and bookstores) have been in a state of shock. One major wholesaler stopped paying their bills for three months. A number of academic libraries have already announced dramatic cuts to their purchasing budgets. Countless bookstores have had to take a business that was hard enough in good times, and adapt it to this new world. And we’re in a moment when we would normally be shipping significant orders to campus stores for the Fall semester. But is this Fall semester happening? Our fiscal year revenue tends to be slightly front-loaded, so we will know in the first months how deep some of the long-term challenges are.

But there has been some good news. We’ve managed to slash a lot of our costs as we eliminated travel and many other expenses. Salary freezes and cutbacks have helped us keep a viable bottom line. We have benefitted for decades from the generosity of a community of donors and supporters that provide a vital cushion in times like this. We’ve received several grants that have injected much-needed cash to support the Press. One of our books was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Continue Reading John Sherer: Navigating a Strange Year

Troy R. Saxby: What’s in a Name? Pauli Murray’s Many Identities

Today we welcome a guest post from Troy R. Saxby, author of Pauli Murray: A Personal and Political Life, out now from UNC Press.

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. In this intimate biography, Troy Saxby provides the most comprehensive account of Murray’s inner life to date, revealing her struggles in poignant detail and deepening our understanding and admiration of her numerous achievements in the face of pronounced racism, homophobia, transphobia, and political persecution.

In this post, Saxby examines some of Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray’s many identities as well as the challenges that arise when labeling Murray’s selfhood in the present.

Pauli Murray is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.


Michel Foucault famously declared, “Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.” Foucault was alluding to the inevitability that our identities are changeable, contextual, and subjective, and yet discourses of power seek to make them appear fixed, immutable, and objective. Our identities are rigorously policed in many ways, including by the state, social mores, and by the language that we use.

Foucault’s statement and others like it occupied my mind with growing regularity while I completed a biography of Pauli Murray. Murray lived a trailblazing life, making contributions to furthering civil and women’s rights, literature, and theology while she also grappled with the socially constructed categories of race, gender, and sexuality. Writing Murray’s biography requires placing oneself at the center of Foucault’s statement, caught between her multifaceted life that defied easy categorizations, and how to convey that to a readership using language that inevitably carries with it the heavy weights of history and power.

From her earliest life, Murray’s name itself signaled a shifting self-concept: Murray’s parents named her Anna, though her baptism certificate stated her name as Anni. Regardless, her family used her middle name, Pauline, often shortening it to the nickname Lenie. In early adulthood Murray began using the other half of her middle name, Pauli. On her college record she used a different name again, Agnes Murray, in honor of her deceased mother. The certificate from a marriage that lasted only a few weeks created yet another name, Anna Pauline Wynn. She also referred to herself as “the dude,” “the vagabond,” “Pete,” and once told police her name was “Oliver Fleming.” In later life, Murray’s academic achievements and religious vocation earned her the titles Doctor and Reverend.

Continue Reading Troy R. Saxby: What’s in a Name? Pauli Murray’s Many Identities

Amanda Brickell Bellows–Slavery: Past and Present

Today we welcome a guest post from Amanda Brickell Bellows, author of American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination, out now from UNC Press.

The abolition of Russian serfdom in 1861 and American slavery in 1865 transformed both nations as Russian peasants and African Americans gained new rights as subjects and citizens. During the second half of the long nineteenth century, Americans and Russians responded to these societal transformations through a fascinating array of new cultural productions. Analyzing portrayals of African Americans and Russian serfs in oil paintings, advertisements, fiction, poetry, and ephemera housed in American and Russian archives, Amanda Brickell Bellows argues that these widely circulated depictions shaped collective memory of slavery and serfdom, affected the development of national consciousness, and influenced public opinion as peasants and freedpeople strove to exercise their newfound rights.

American Slavery and Russian Serfdom in the Post-Emancipation Imagination is available in paperback and ebook editions.


Slavery: Past and Present

It is a tragic fact that slavery has long been a part of human civilization. Systems of bonded labor have existed in societies ranging from ancient Sumer to Rome and from medieval Europe to colonial America. Its forms have evolved over the centuries in response to changing political, economic, and social conditions. Across space and time, man has shown his willingness to dehumanize others for personal gain.

In 1755, the French scholar Louis de Jaucourt reflected on the presence of slavery in the past and in the present. Writing about slavery in Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie, he lamented that

“slavery was introduced by the law of the strongest, that law of war in offense of nature, and by ambition, thirst for conquest, love of      domination and apathy. To the shame of humanity, it has been accepted by almost all of the world’s peoples. Indeed, we could hardly cast our eyes on sacred History without discovering the horrors of servitude . . . . across the face of the world, in all times, places, and nations.”[1]

Continue Reading Amanda Brickell Bellows–Slavery: Past and Present

Zachery A. Fry: Union Soldiers and the Press in the Civil War

Today we welcome a guest post from Zachery A. Fry, author of A Republic in the Ranks: Loyalty and Dissent in the Army of the Potomacout now from UNC Press.

The Army of the Potomac was a hotbed of political activity during the Civil War. As a source of dissent widely understood as a frustration for Abraham Lincoln, its onetime commander, George B. McClellan, even secured the Democratic nomination for president in 1864. But in this comprehensive reassessment of the army’s politics, Zachery A. Fry argues that the war was an intense political education for its common soldiers. Fry examines several key crisis points to show how enlisted men developed political awareness that went beyond personal loyalties. By studying the struggle between Republicans and Democrats for political allegiance among the army’s rank and file, Fry reveals how captains, majors, and colonels spurred a pro-Republican political awakening among the enlisted men, culminating in the army’s resounding Republican voice in state and national elections in 1864.

A Republic in the Ranks is available in hardcover and ebook editions.


Union Soldiers and the Press in the Civil War

The thought of American soldiers somehow being ineligible to vote is an alarming one. Yet during the Civil War, thousands of men had abdicated the franchise, their state legislatures insisted, by donning the blue Union uniform and marching beyond their home state’s borders to fight on southern battlefields. Not surprisingly, these soldiers fumed at the home front politicians who had deprived them of the vote and improvised with other ways to declare their politics. One of these substitute voting methods was writing opinion pieces for home front newspapers.

Soldier-correspondents were common in the Union Army of the Potomac, the main field army serving in the Virginia theater of the war. Often they were prewar writers, students, or clerks who knew how to turn a good phrase and keep the folks at home entertained. The writings of 1861 and 1862 show a focus on the drudgery of marching and the boredom of camp life punctuated by the occasional drama of the battlefield. Politics was not a main concern, even after Lincoln’s Democratic opponents made gains in the 1862 midterm elections. By March 1863, however, a full two years into the conflict, Union policy had shifted dramatically with the adoption of emancipation and conscription, giving rise to a vocal set of pro-peace “Copperhead” Democrats at home who assailed the Lincoln administration. In response, the army rallied to the newspaper opinion piece to channel a rhetoric of violence against peace agitators.

Continue Reading Zachery A. Fry: Union Soldiers and the Press in the Civil War

Siobhan Barco: New Talking Legal History Interview with Robert Chase

The final episode in the yearlong Talking Legal History podcast series featuring UNC Press is online. In this timely episode, I interview Robert Chase about his book We Are Not Slaves: State Violence, Coerced Labor, and Prisoners’ Rights in Postwar America (University of North Carolina Press, 2020). Our conversation underscores the important role academic presses play cultivating and disseminating the material Americans must draw from to solve today’s urgent issues. I’m eager to continue talking legal history with UNC Press authors in the years to come.


2019-2020 UNC Press Podcast Series Episode List:










This Talking Legal History Podcast Series was produced by Siobhan Barco with support from the Versatile Humanists at Duke program. Follow Siobhan on Twitter.

Brian P. Luskey: Mary Lincoln, Labor Broker

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.

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


Mary Lincoln, Labor Broker

In May 1861, Mary Lincoln arrived in New York City’s retail district, ready to spend $20,000 of the American people’s money to refurbish the White House. She also sought credit in her husband’s name for personal items such as the “black point lace shawl” she bought at A. T. Stewart’s fashionable dry goods emporium for $650. Lincoln’s purchases for the White House, she reasoned, were necessary to upgrade the character of the president’s residence for foreign dignitaries and to foster pride in the Union during its time of crisis. Her personal purchases had national significance, too. Determined to overcome the disdain of elite politicians and their wives that she and her husband were uncultured westerners, Lincoln believed that refined appearance was an absolute necessity if the American people were to respect her. The Philadelphia Sunday Dispatch, in enumerating her purchases, condemned Lincoln for “expending thousands and thousands of dollars for articles of luxurious taste in the household way that it would be very preposterous for her to use out in her rural home in Illinois.” Ideas about consumption simply would not allow her to win favor. She was an unrefined rube who could not meet the expectations of the nation’s elite consumers. But her attempts to answer this criticism exposed her to the charge that her move to the nation’s capital gave her license to exchange small-town frugality for costly urban extravagance that was particularly inappropriate in a time of war when threats to the nation called for personal sacrifice.

Continue Reading Brian P. Luskey: Mary Lincoln, Labor Broker

April C. Smith: Discovering Science and Nature Through Outdoor Exploration

Today we welcome a guest post by April C. Smith and Sarah J. Carrier, editor and assistant editor of Thirty Great North Carolina Science Adventures: From Underground Wonderlands to Islands in the Sky and Everything in Between, out now from UNC Press.

North Carolina possesses an astonishingly rich array of natural wonders. Building on this abundance, April C. Smith passionately seeks to open the world of nature to everyone. Her popular science guidebook features thirty sites across North Carolina that are perfect for exploration and hands-on learning about the Earth and the environment. A stellar group of naturalists and educators narrate each adventure, explaining key scientific concepts by showing you exactly where and how to look. This guidebook is for anyone—teens, kids, families, hikers, teachers, students, and tourists alike—who loves to be outside while learning.

Thirty Great North Carolina Science Adventures is now available in paperback and ebook editions.

You can also check out a new series of videos related to the book on the UNC Press Youtube channel. April C. Smith explains what you can learn and do at Jockeys Ridge State Park and in the Sandhills of North Carolina.


Discovering Science and Nature Through Outdoor Exploration

Recall, if you will, ten of the most memorable childhood experiences that made you who you are today. These could be experiences with others, or perhaps when you were alone. Can you recall a feeling of excitement, wonder, or awe from your experiences? Were they things that captured your imagination and made you want to dig a little deeper? Were they things that you wanted to share with your best friend, knowing that he or she would feel just as excited as you?

I have images of myself walking through cypress swamps, closely observing the cypress knees, noting the amount of water that they were standing in, and looking for snakes. I remember countless hours spent barefoot on oyster reefs in the inlet near my grandparent’s house. I remember my favorite place to camp on the river, and I remember shortly after learning to scuba dive, sitting on the bow of a friend’s boat on a calm summer day, looking out over the horizon when a giant manta ray breached the ocean’s surface. These are the moments that pull at a child’s heartstrings, and they are the ones that called me to be an environmental scientist.

When I asked my assistant editor, Sarah Carrier, to recall her early experiences of exploration, she described them to me this way:

As a child, I spent most of my free time exploring outdoors, wading in creeks and hiking in woods. Whether I examined the exoskeleton of a cicada, classified features of rocks, or compared the fluidity of streams with those in cirrus clouds, I began to learn about the patterns and beauty in nature. These experiences instilled in me a life-long love for both learning and for the outdoors.

Continue Reading April C. Smith: Discovering Science and Nature Through Outdoor Exploration

Claire Whitlinger–The Money in Memory: Commodifying Civil Rights Memory

Today we welcome a guest post from Claire Whitlinger, author of Between Remembrance and Repair: Commemorating Racial Violence in Philadelphia, Mississippi, out now from UNC Press.

Few places are more notorious for civil rights–era violence than Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders. Yet in a striking turn of events, Philadelphia has become a beacon in Mississippi’s racial reckoning in the decades since. Claire Whitlinger investigates how this community came to acknowledge its past, offering significant insight into the social impacts of commemoration. Whitlinger expands our understanding of how commemorations both emerge out of and catalyze associated memory movements.

Between Remembrance and Repair is now available in paperback and ebook editions.


The Money in Memory: Commodifying Civil Rights Memory

Mississippi has become a tourist destination. Nearly sixty years after Jim Crow violence repelled residents and would-be visitors, the memory of the civil rights movement is drawing activists, students, and other interested citizens back to the state. In its first year, the recently-opened Mississippi Civil Rights Museum received over 250,000 visitors, far exceeding expectations.

This state-of-the-art museum, located in downtown Jackson, represents a notable change in the state’s cultural landscape. Once described by historian James Silver as the “closed society” for the state’s ill-treatment of outsiders and unwavering defense of race-based segregation, Mississippi now hosts dozens of civil rights monuments, celebrating the state’s pivotal role in the movement, including acts of racial terror that sparked the movement itself.

No community has been more central to this cultural transformation than Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Figure 1. State-sponsored historical marker in Neshoba County

Notorious as the site of the infamous 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders where local Klansman conspired to kill civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, Philadelphia and its surrounding county (Neshoba) has long sustained a reputation as the worst of the worst in racial hatred for its white citizens’ silence, denial, and obstruction of justice surrounding the case—a reputation that endured long after the murders became memory.

Yet when I visited Mississippi for the first time in 2009, Philadelphia seemed to represent a touchstone for racial progress. Everywhere I went, people were talking about Philadelphia.

Continue Reading Claire Whitlinger–The Money in Memory: Commodifying Civil Rights Memory

Douglas J. Flowe: “Uncontrollable Blackness” in Context

Today we welcome a guest post from Douglas J. Flowe, author of Uncontrollable Blackness: African American Men and Criminality in Jim Crow New Yorkout now from UNC Press.

In the wake of emancipation, black men in northern urban centers like New York faced economic isolation, marginalization, and racial violence. In response, some of those men opted to participate in underground economies, to protect themselves when law enforcement failed to do so, and to exert control over public space through force. Douglas J. Flowe traces how public racial violence, segregation in housing and leisure, and criminal stigmatization in popular culture and media fostered a sense of distress, isolation, and nihilism that made crime and violence seem like viable recourses in the face of white supremacy. He examines self-defense against state violence, crimes committed within black social spaces and intimate relationships, and the contest of white and black masculinity.

In this post, Flowe introduces and contextualizes the historical study presented in Uncontrollable Blackness. The book is now available in hardcover and ebook formats.


Uncontrollable Blackness in Context

In the summer of 1915 New York City police arrested Sonny Wilks in Midtown Manhattan and charged him with murder. As Wilks told the story, he recently had a falling out with his girlfriend, Ada Wright, and she returned to a former lover, Jasper Diamond. Because Diamond blamed Wilks for the lapse in his relationship with Wright, he confronted him on West 61st street on a warm summer evening and things became violent. “[Diamond] tried to shoot me about a girl, and I save myself by shooting him first,” Wilks later told police in a written statement.

Wilks was “idle” at the time of his arrest, he explained, having lost his job as a cigar maker, and he was away from his wife and child, trying to figure out how to make money to support them. In the photo of Wilks, on the cover of Uncontrollable Blackness, you can almost see the mixture of shock, anger, and fear he may have experienced in the moment of his arrest and booking. He had come to New York City from Honduras in 1900 and after fifteen years of working and surviving the crucible of Jim Crow, he was finally ensnared in the net of American law. The certainty that he would not see the streets, or his own family, in the context of freedom for quite some time, furrowed his brow. His bowtie sat crooked, likely because of being jostled by police when they dragged him away from the scene of the shooting. In the photo he was in a claustrophobic, smoky police stationhouse, deep within the notorious Tenderloin district; a precinct well-known for the chorus of cries to be heard from its windows as police applied the torturous “third degree” to those unlucky enough to see its innards. He was motionless for the instant of the photo, trying to follow the directions of the policemen surrounding him, and attempting to comprehend the profundity of his situation. And he had no way of knowing that in that moment he was not only looking at a camera controlled by a white officer in a dingy, musty room, but he was also staring more than 100 years into the future, on the cover of a book he would never get to read, but one that he would live every moment of. Wilks convinced a judge that he was in fact defending himself from Diamond during the conflict but he still received an indeterminate sentence of up to 16 years at Auburn Prison for first-degree manslaughter.

 Sonny Wilks’s inmate photo, Auburn Prison. Courtesy of New York State Archives.


Sonny Wilks’s story, and those of countless other men like him, provide an important opportunity to dissect the meaning of illegal, or criminalized, exploits of black men. Seizing this opportunity, Uncontrollable Blackness is not in any way meant to condemn their actions, nor is it meant to romanticize them. Whether petty crimes such as theft and vandalism, or heinous crimes like rape or murder, criminality can strike at the core of a community and rip the fabric of collective purpose. However, as a historian, I am primarily concerned with understanding the confluence of circumstances that placed Wilks on West 61st Street on that day that changed his life, the conditions that made his assailant approach him as he did, and those that made it so Wilks was armed with a gun and ready to use it, as he was. I am interested in the society they lived in, the ways that society had a part in their decision-making processes, and the crucibles uniquely customized for them. One of the greatest powers of the historian should be the ability to objectively observe and understand the past, and derive meaning that can contextualize the present; like comprehending the leaves of a tree by studying its roots, its seed, and the terra firma it is planted in. While judgement and bias might color all human perspectives, to some extent, historical study might provide a clear scope of an unseen past, and hold up a looking glass for us to observe ourselves. After all, our lives are intrinsically connected to what has come before us.

As such, Uncontrollable Blackness is an attempt to understand the societal, legal, economic, and gendered factors that may have made illegality attractive, necessary, or unavoidable for African American men in the early twentieth century, with an eye toward comprehending current issues of crime in black communities, and contextualizing continued police violence and mass incarceration. It comes to grips with how breaking the law can also be seen as resistance for those whom the legal process has turned against. It is meant to register the profound sense of dread one might feel when they realize societal inequalities tailormade for them are upheld by a body of laws that simultaneously restrict their options for recourse. How can anyone expect to address issues of crime and violence without seeking first to understand where they come from?

We can all understand Sonny Wilks because he is human, and the choices he made were set in a context that might force unwelcomed decisions for anyone who is navigating a crucible that threatens their livelihood, freedom, and life at every step. If he was telling the truth about defending himself, then he never actually broke the law, but lived the next six years of his life as prisoner number 34772 simply for trying to survive on the streets of his neighborhood. He was released for good behavior in the fall of 1921 but not before his wife passed away and he lost most of his connection with his child, who continued to live with Wilks’s aunt somewhere in New York. Ultimately, Wilks’s trials represent how the city itself got in the way of the lives black men tried to forge in the city. Whether by choice or by happenstance, they might find themselves compelled into violent situations, saddled with economic circumstances that made illegality alluring or vital, and entangled with the criminal justice system in ways that ravaged their lives. But, in the process, some used crime to gain distinct advantages. Uncontrollable Blackness tells these stories, finally, from their perspectives.


Photo by Sean Garcia

Douglas J. Flowe is assistant professor of history at Washington University in St. Louis. Follow him on Twitter.

Michael E. Woods: Remembering the Davis-Douglas Debates

Today we welcome a guest post from Michael E. Woods, author of Arguing Until Doomsday: Stephen Douglas, Jefferson Davis, and the Struggle for American Democracy, out now from UNC Press.

As the sectional crisis gripped the United States, the rancor increasingly spread to the halls of Congress. Preston Brooks’s frenzied assault on Charles Sumner was perhaps the most notorious evidence of the dangerous divide between proslavery Democrats and the new antislavery Republican Party. But as disunion loomed, rifts within the majority Democratic Party were every bit as consequential. And nowhere was the fracture more apparent than in the raging debates between Illinois’s Stephen Douglas and Mississippi’s Jefferson Davis. As leaders of the Democrats’ northern and southern factions before the Civil War, their passionate conflict of words and ideas has been overshadowed by their opposition to Abraham Lincoln. But here, weaving together biography and political history, Michael E. Woods restores Davis and Douglas’s fatefully entwined lives and careers to the center of the Civil War era.

In this post, Woods writes about the significance of the May 1860 clash between Democratic senators Jefferson Davis and Stephen A. Douglas.

Arguing Until Doomsday is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.


Remembering the Davis-Douglas Debates

After nearly half a century, C.S. Wooten vividly recalled one of antebellum America’s most momentous political debates. In a long article penned for a local newspaper, the North Carolinian described the “two great combatants” whose rhetorical duel had captivated their badly divided country. One was “short and fat,” but also “active, quick, sprightly in his movements, and a man of wonderful magnetism” whose oratorical prowess “could fascinate men and hold them under his magic spell.” The other was tall, lean, and projected “a stateliness and majesty of bearing, a loftiness of dignity, a certain hauteur of spirit that indicated a man accustomed to authority.” Erupting just months before the pivotal 1860 presidential election, these skilled debaters’ noisy clash over slavery’s westward expansion riled up northerners and southerners alike. As an eighteen-year-old, Wooten was too young to vote in that contest, but he recognized the massive stakes involved in what he called “The Davis-Douglas Debate.”[1]

Modern Americans are far more familiar with the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, and historians have profitably compared and contrasted the lives of Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, the executives who squared off in the Civil War. But Wooten’s article reminds us of what antebellum Americans understood quite clearly: the May 1860 clash between Senator Douglas of Illinois and Senator Davis of Mississippi was profoundly important and ominously divisive. Northerners and southerners followed the Congressional slugfest with rapt attention and responded with their own fiery rhetoric. A Georgian cheered on Davis and accused Douglas of making a “declaration of war against the South,” while from Maine came praise for Douglas’s “last great effort” which had “almost annihilated the Mississippian.”[2] Journalist Murat Halstead, who was scrambling from one city to the next to cover the ongoing presidential nominating conventions, stopped in Washington to watch part of the Davis-Douglas showdown, a highly anticipated event that filled the Senate galleries with eager spectators. And whether they watched in person or followed the debates through the newspapers, onlookers recognized the gravity of the rhetorical duel between two of the country’s most powerful senators. The debate portended both a rupture in their Democratic Party and trouble for the Union. As Davis himself predicted in early 1860, “a division of the Democracy must be the forerunner of a division of the States.”[3]

Continue Reading Michael E. Woods: Remembering the Davis-Douglas Debates

Jack Reid: Hitchhiking and Kinship Practices in the Navajo Nation

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, author Jack Reid explores the practice of hitchhiking among people of the Navajo Nation.

Roadside Americans is now available in hardcover and ebook editions.


Hitchhiking and Kinship Practices in the Navajo Nation

Within mainstream American culture, hitchhiking is often considered an abandoned past time.  Once common between the Great Depression and the mid-1970s—when many saw it as a thrifty and at times romanticized form of spontaneous transit—the practice eventually lost favor.  To this day most Americans associate ride solicitation with sensational crime stories.  Despite this national trend, however, the practice is more common among indigenous societies, particularly along the desert highways and sweeping vistas of the Navajo Nation.

Although most Navajo do not rely on hitchhiking, the practice is nevertheless a regular feature of day-to-day life.  The reservation’s leading news source, the Navajo Times, for instance, periodically runs articles in an ongoing series called “The Hitchhiker Diaries,” which highlight compelling human interest stories as told by individuals picked up by one of the paper’s journalists.  Likewise, hitchhikers are a common motif in the work of Shonto Begay, a well-known Navajo artist.  Whether a painting of a young man thumbing to nearby Flagstaff, Arizona, or a collection of individuals telling stories in a truck bed barreling down the highway, Begay’s work situates hitchhiking as a meaningful part of Navajo mobility. All this begs the question, why is hitchhiking still viable when it has largely disappeared elsewhere in the United States?

Continue Reading Jack Reid: Hitchhiking and Kinship Practices in the Navajo Nation

Thomas J. Brown: Rumors of War in Richmond

Today we welcome a guest post from Thomas J. Brown, author of Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America, out now from UNC Press.

This sweeping new assessment of Civil War monuments unveiled in the United States between the 1860s and 1930s argues that they were pivotal to a national embrace of military values. Americans’ wariness of standing armies limited construction of war memorials in the early republic, Thomas J. Brown explains, and continued to influence commemoration after the Civil War. Brown shows that distrust of standing armies gave way to broader enthusiasm for soldiers in the Gilded Age. Some important projects challenged the trend, but many Civil War monuments proposed new norms of discipline and vigor that lifted veterans to a favored political status and modeled racial and class hierarchies. A half century of Civil War commemoration reshaped remembrance of the American Revolution and guided American responses to World War I.

Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America is now available in print and ebook formats. The book has recently been named the winner of the 2020 Tom Watson Book Award by the Society of Civil War Historians.


Rumors of War in Richmond

Recently announced plans to remove memorials on Monument Avenue in Richmond mark a climax in the critique of Confederate monuments that gained traction after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and accelerated after the Charleston massacre of 2015 and Charlottesville bloodshed of 2017. Ironically, this event comes shortly after a well-publicized attempt to leverage rather than clear the Confederate landscape of Richmond, the December 2019 installation of Kehinde Wiley’s equestrian statue Rumors of War. Wiley’s work reanimates as it mocks the equestrian statues on nearby Monument Avenue, particularly the statue of J. E. B. Stuart on which Wiley based his composition. Rumors of War certainly draws meaning from its location, but it is also the capstone of a series on which the artist has been engaged since an early stage of his meteoric career, long before Confederate monuments stirred wide controversy. The overall project suggests important aspects of its extension to Richmond.

Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War in Richmond (2019). Steve Helber / AP

Continue Reading Thomas J. Brown: Rumors of War in Richmond

Extending the open-to-read book collection at JSTOR

In the closing weeks of March UNC Press was approached by a number of online platforms who host digital versions of our academic books. Because of the abrupt transition students and scholars were making to online learning and research, these platforms requested we permit unlimited, free access to our books through the end of June. While we rely on the revenue these channels provide to support our authors and staff, it was clear we needed to open our books. A crisis is precisely when it’s more important than ever to show your values. Limiting access would have been completely contrary to our mission of disseminating scholarship as broadly as possible.

At the same time, budgeting for the coming year has been a sobering process. We are predicting a six-figure deficit meaning we will be forced to make a number of difficult choices in the coming months. So, when JSTOR approached us again last week asking us to extend the unlimited, free access through the end of August, we had to view that through the hard reality of this looming concern. But JSTOR told us something else when they made this new request. They said use of our books had increased 75% during the past months. We have agreed to this extension.

We are facing unprecedented economic challenges at the same moment that our books are being discovered, read, and cited more than ever. Many of our recent titles on race and social justice are becoming cornerstones in the urgent conversations our country is having. There will be a time in the near future for us to make the case for financial support for the Press, but for now we encourage everyone to explore our books in hopes you see the value of the scholarship we so proudly publish.

John Sherer
Spangler Family Director, UNC Press

Association of University Presses Releases Equity and Anti-Racism Statement

Today our trade group, the Association of University Presses, released a statement on Equity and Anti-Racism. We proudly support this statement.


June 2, 2020 (New York, NY; Washington, DC)—The Association of University Presses (AUPresses) holds among our core values diversity and inclusion. As an organization and as a community, we mourn the lost lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, stolen by the systemic racism at work in the US. We condemn police brutality and other forms of socially sanctioned racist violence. And we stand in solidarity with all who continue to seek justice, to imagine equity, and to enact a different world.

Many of our member presses put the values of diversity and inclusion into the world in a tangible way, playing major roles over the last few decades in amplifying the voices of scholars who originated African American Studies, Native Studies, and LGBTQ studies, among other groundbreaking fields. These works are readily available to provide insights and are frequently cited as resources in response to police brutality or white supremacist violence.

But we have only to look to evidence such as that found in the Lee & Low Diversity Baseline Survey, indicating in 2019 that our ranks are 76% white, to know that holding a value is not sufficient. Every day our professional community—just as our personal communities—must work towards equity, towards inclusion, and towards justice.

Today we issue the AUPresses Statement on Equity and Anti-Racism, declaring that upholding these core values requires “introspection, honesty, and reform of our current practices, the interests they serve, and the people and perspectives they exclude.” Drafted by our Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, taken through a rigorous review process by our Equity, Justice, and Inclusion (EJI) Committee, and approved by the AUPresses Board of Directors, this statement points a way forward:

“Only with systems of accountability in place to protect and lift up those who have been historically harmed and silenced by our collective inaction will we succeed in dismantling the white supremacist structure upon which so many of our presses and parent institutions were built. How to support these efforts sustainably across the industry must be considered a priority for the Association, its members, and its executive board as well as the main focus of the Equity, Justice, and Inclusion Committee.”

We acknowledge with gratitude the volunteer efforts of our EJI Committee, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, and Gender, Equity, and Cultures of Respect Task Force in calling us to this work. Download a PDF of the Statement on Equity and Anti-Racism.

Our inaugural EJI Community Read is another piece of this witness and work, and many member presses are organizing their staffs to read these essential selections: White Fragility by Robin D’Angelo (Beacon, 2018) and Invisible People by Alex Tizon (Temple, 2019). Our community’s full list of nominations for the Community Read project provides a wider lens through which to understand current events across the US as people protest and seek to right the wrongs of systematic racism and the long injustices of white supremacy.

As a community of publishers we are called to discuss and absorb what these authors have to say and to act on our colleagues’ specific recommendations—such as explicitly anti-racist training for managers, amelioration of the no- and low-wage entry points to our industry, and new recruitment and promotion strategies—with a goal of making equity a lived experience.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Michael Brown. The devastating list goes on and on. Yes, say their names. Yes, do the reading. But we must also live and work as though we have listened.


UNC Press Signs Anne C. Bailey, Randall Balmer, and Anthea D. Butler to Ferris & Ferris Books Imprint

UNC Press announced today the signing of three important additions to its new Marcie Cohen Ferris and William R. Ferris Imprint for high-profile, general interest books about the American South.

Executive editor Debbie Gershenowitz bought world rights from Faith Childs at Faith Childs Literary Agency to historian and contributor to the New York Times’ 1619 Project Anne C. Bailey’s follow up to her 2017 book, The Weeping Time. In the new work, to be published in fall 2023, Bailey is continuing and expanding her research into how descendants of the enslaved people sold at the largest slave auction in U.S. history have experienced processes of trauma, memory, and redemption, while applying a wider lens to the topic.

“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to work again with Anne Bailey, a gifted historian and eloquent storyteller. Anne’s tireless detective work in tracing the descendants of the African slave trade and allowing them to honor their ancestors via their own traumas, memories, commemorations, and activism offers lessons to all of us on finding resilience and empowerment in the face of oppression and tragedy,” Gershenowitz said.

Executive editor Elaine Maisner bought world rights from Carol Mann at the Carol Mann Agency to Randall Balmer’s To Everything a Season: How Team Sports Became America’s New Religion, to be published in 2022.  A leading historian of American religion, Balmer became addicted to sports radio—and was inspired to look deeply into North American history to figure out why team sports invoke such peculiarly devotional passions among sports fans.

“This book will bring together both of Randall Balmer’s passions, and with publication arriving around the time that spectator sports will likely roar back after the COVID-19 crisis, Balmer will be proven to be astonishingly astute,” Maisner said.

Maisner also bought world rights to historian and popular opinion writer Anthea D. Butler’s hard-hitting, clear-eyed, and unsettling chronicle of the racism that has consistently operated through the course of American history at the core of conservative white evangelical politics. It continues to fester today in an evangelical blind spot. The book, titled White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, is scheduled to be published in Spring 2021.

“Anthea Butler brings her vibrant and ultimately compassionate voice to the tough story chronicled in White Evangelical Racism: how America’s racial history underlies the connection between religion and electoral politics today. This is a reality that bears on every American, no matter one’s religion or ethos, so we’d better open our eyes to it,” Maisner said.

The Marcie Cohen Ferris and William R. Ferris Imprint is supported by a multimillion-dollar endowment created in honor of the Ferrises at the Press. Its inaugural volume, Grace Elizabeth Hale’s Cool Town: How Athens, Georgia, Launched Alternative Music and Changed American Culture, was published in March 2020, and other authors under contract include Karen Cox, Adrian Miller, and a major new multi-authored history of the South edited by W. Fitzhugh Brundage.

The Press intends to publish two to three books annually under the Ferris & Ferris Books imprint.

Founded in 1922, UNC Press is the oldest university press in the South and one of the oldest in the United States. It is an affiliate of the University of North Carolina System.


Noeleen McIlvenna: The Long History of Public Protest

Today we welcome a guest post from Noeleen McIlvenna, author of Early American Rebels: Pursuing Democracy from Maryland to Carolina, 1640–1700, out now from UNC Press.

During the half century after 1650 that saw the gradual imposition of a slave society in England’s North American colonies, poor white settlers in the Chesapeake sought a republic of equals. Demanding a say in their own destinies, rebels moved around the region looking for a place to build a democratic political system. This book crosses colonial boundaries to show how Ingle’s Rebellion, Fendall’s Rebellion, Bacon’s Rebellion, Culpeper’s Rebellion, Parson Waugh’s Tumult, and the colonial Glorious Revolution were episodes in a single struggle because they were organized by one connected group of people.

Early American Rebels is now available in print and ebook editions.


We live in a time of renewed public protest here in the United States: Black Lives Matter rallies, the Women’s March on Washington, Families Belong Together demonstrations, Puerto Rican resistance. Such scenes provoke memories of the 1960s, when the marches of the Civil Rights Movement changed the nation. But Civil Rights was not the first major American social movement. Suffragists organized mass demonstrations one hundred years ago. And we can keep going back. The Lowell Mill workers ‘paraded’ about low wages in the 1830s. Stamp Act ‘rioters’ carefully organized public protest in the 1760s. Truth is, Americans have been protesting against state and corporate power at least since the 1600s.

We don’t know too much about political dissent within Native American communities in North America in the era before European colonization. There was active warfare between societies and tribute owed to powerful chiefs. But internal dissent did not require mass mobilization. Societies without courts and police operated on very democratic principles. Leaders had to build consensus, because there was little obedience to power within a tribe.

European and African arrivals, however, have been protesting since they got off the boats. The Stono Rebellion of 1739 saw enslaved Kongolese lead a liberty march south from the Charleston area, gathering more people as they moved towards the border with Spanish Florida.

Continue Reading Noeleen McIlvenna: The Long History of Public Protest