2022 Society of Civil War Historians Conference

UNC Press is excited to be exhibiting in-person at the 2022 Society of Civl War Historians Conference! We hope you’ll stop by our booth to say hello to editors Mark Simpson-Vos & Debbie Gershenowitz and to browse our recent titles in Civil War history. If you can’t join us in-person, please visit our virtual booth!


UNC Press is proud to publish The Journal of the Civil War Era. Be sure to stop by our booth on Friday, June 3 between 4:45 – 5:30 pm to meet with some of the JCWE editors – this is for past, current, and prospective contributors!


Stop by our virtual booth for more information and to browse all of our titles on display. Be sure to use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive our 40% conference discount. And if your order totals over $75, domestic U.S. shipping is FREE.

Pride 2022 Reading List

Happy Pride Month!

Celebrate and become more deeply informed about LGBTQ+ histories throughout the coming month with the following recommended reading list titles, and take 40% off using our centennial anniversary sale promo code 01DAH40 when purchasing direct from uncpress.org.


Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City
By Samantha Rosenthal

“A brilliantly blended book that, much like queerness itself, transcends genre and blurs boundaries. Using memoir to look outward and history to look inward, Rosenthal makes theory concrete, finds the past in the present, and brings Roanoke’s overlooked queer demimonde to beautiful life.”—Samantha Allen, author of Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States

Brewing a Boycott: How a Grassroots Coalition Fought Coors and Remade American Consumer Activism
By Allyson P. Brantley

“This impressive book sheds new light on the history of intersectional activism and conservative politics, as well as labor and business history. It is one of the most clarifying, empirically rich analyses of post-1960s activism ever written.” – Pacific Historical Review

Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism
By Taylor G. Petrey

Information-packed, with a forceful thesis and jargon-free prose, this is an important contribution to Mormon studies as well as a convincing consideration of the ways religions construct and maintain frameworks. Any academic studying the intersection of religious practice and progressive social change will want to pick this up.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

Pauli Murray: A Personal and Political Life
By Troy R. Saxby

“This detailed biography on an underrated social and political activist results in an ambitious undertaking by Saxby, whose emphasis on Murray’s private life tells a history of trials based on personal experiences and records.”—Library Journal

Semi Queer: Inside the World of Gay, Trans, and Black Truck Drivers
By Anne Balay

“Written in a lucid style punctuated by the language of truckers themselves, this is an engaging narrative that must be viewed as a major contribution to understanding the impact of (de)regulation, the trucking industry, and the lives of black, gay, female, indigenous, Mexican, and trans workers.”—Labor

Black. Queer. Southern. Women.: An Oral History
By E. Patrick Johnson

“Johnson lays the foundation for other scholars to engage a younger generation of black queer southern women. For scholars, students, and teachers in southern, African American, gender and sexuality, and oral and folklore studies, Johnson’s oral history will be indispensable for future interventions.”—Journal of Southern History

Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940
By Julio Capó Jr.

“Eschews the earlier scholarly impulse in lesbian and gay studies to produce histories of same-sex desire and community-building without grappling with how gender, race, and class inequities structured differential access to spaces of leisure and transgression where those formations might have emerged.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism
By J. Samaine Lockwood

“Lockwood deftly reveals how much ‘spectral fusions’ performed the most intimate historicism of all, as past women’s lives haunted and inhabited the very bodies of their unmarried subjects”—American Historical Review

Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Steelworkers
By Anne Balay

“Balay’s life-changing book is a compelling 192-page study exploring how sexuality and gender overlap in the sprawling steel mills of Northwest Indiana. . . . Groundbreaking.”—Chicago Post-Tribune

Celebrating a Century of Excellence: The University of North Carolina Press Turns 100, Part Two

2022 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the founding of the University of North Carolina Press.

This second blog post of a series of five is taken from an essay on the history of UNC Press written by Advancement Council member the Rev. David C. (Kirk) Brown, first delivered to the Pen and Plate Club of Asheville.

Read parts onethree, four, and five


In the United States, university presses were slow to appear. While some intramural publishing at universities was common, particularly of journals and reports for the learning community, it was not until the latter half of the 19th century that the institution of the university press came into its own. Earliest to be founded was Cornell (1869), which operated for a few years before closing. The prize for the university press in longest continuous operation goes to what is generally acknowledged as the first self- described research university, Johns Hopkins. In 1878 just two years after opening its doors, Johns Hopkins launched its press. The founding president, Daniel Coit Gilman, offered this rationale: “It is one of the noblest duties of a university to advance knowledge, and to diffuse it not merely among those who can attend the daily lectures— but far and wide.

Likewise, within a year of its founding in 1891, the University of Chicago had its own press. By the end of the century there were presses at Columbia and the University of California. In the first two decades of the twentieth century presses were established at Princeton, Fordham, Yale, the University of Washington, Harvard, New York University, Stanford and the University of Illinois.

But if the world of commercial publishing was thriving, why did these universities feel the need to establish their own presses? The driving force came from research universities, arising in the late 19th century, which understood their mission to include not only molding the character of society’s next generation of leaders, and passing along a knowledge of history and cultural traditions; but also to be centers for the discovery of new knowledge. As one historian has written, “this new knowledge would be the product of research carried out in university libraries and laboratories by scholars—and research, if the discovery of knowledge was to progress, had to be shared through some formal system of dissemination.” Given the highly competitive business of commercial publishing, universities quickly realized that their scholarly publications would hold little interest for the large publishing houses. There simply was no hope of profit in such narrow markets. Thus university presses began to emerge as an indispensable component of the modern research university.

Mid- 20th century UNC Press colophon

On March 13, 1922 the University of North Carolina Press convened its first meeting. So we find ourselves this evening quite literally at the centennial of its founding, the first secular press in the South, and one of the very first presses associated with a public university. But why the University of North Carolina? And why 1922? Little could the 13 men—and they were all men—present at that inaugural gathering have imagined what this fledgling Press would become. Ten were prominent members of the faculty, and three were members of the Board of Trustees and UNC alumni. In many ways it was a constellation of intellectual titans, in others a most unlikely assortment of personalities. How some of them could even have abided one another, let alone worked side by side, is hard to imagine. Among the trustees were a leading businessman; a prominent lawyer; and a generous benefactor. Among the faculty present were the new university president, Harry Woodburn Chase; the renowned university librarian, Louis Round Wilson; the brilliant professor of sociology, progressive author and founder of the Institute for Research in Social Science, Howard W. Odum; an irascible defender of the Lost Cause and builder of the university’s Southern Historical Collection, J.G. Roulhac Hamilton. Joining these were the university’s chief biologist; the university’s first professor of journalism; the Dean of the Graduate School; the Dean of the Law School; the Dean of the School of Education; and the Director of the Extension Division for the University. Their credentials were impressive, their achievements spectacular, and their collective vision historic. From their original charter they set the course: to publish periodicals devoted to the advancement of learning; to publish catalogues, bulletins, and other documents of the University; and “to promote generally, by publishing deserving books, the advancement of the arts and sciences, and the development of literature.”

Just what had brought them to this moment? Much has been written about the devastation in the South wrought by the post-Civil War years. In addition to the physical impoverishment of North Carolina, there was also the intellectual and spiritual poverty of the late 19th century. Some in the South sought refuge in the myth of a noble, if lost, cause. Others placed an overly naïve hope in a New South, emerging as the region reinvented itself economically and culturally. But another force was at work, too: the 1920s represented the transition from so-called Victorianism to Modernism. Southern intellectuals awakening to Modernism found this new lens both threatening and invigorating, Notes one historian: “Straddling two cultural eras, theirs was an unparalleled opportunity to see the South with fresh eyes, using the conceptual tools made possible by the social sciences and the perspectives afforded by Modernist literary culture in bringing to light facets of southern culture previously ignored.” All of this was reflected in what was happening at the University of North Carolina.


The Rev. David C. (Kirk) Brown is the recently retired chaplain of Christ School. Kirk received his A.B. from Davidson College, his M.A. from the University of Virginia, and his M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. He is a life-long educator. Having taught German and English for 12 years at Virginia Episcopal School, he then attended seminary and was ordained an Episcopal priest. After serving three years at St. John’s Church in Roanoke, VA, he returned to school work, serving 24 years as Chaplain at Christ School and teaching religion. Kirk lives with his wife, Shelley, on a farm in Fletcher, NC.

Let’s Stop Calling Him ‘Beast’

The following is a guest blog post by Elizabeth D. Leonard, author of Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life.

Benjamin Franklin Butler was one of the most important and controversial military and political leaders of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Remembered most often for his uncompromising administration of the Federal occupation of New Orleans during the war, Butler reemerges in this lively narrative as a man whose journey took him from childhood destitution to wealth and profound influence in state and national halls of power. Prize-winning biographer Elizabeth D. Leonard chronicles Butler’s successful career in the law defending the rights of the Lowell Mill girls and other workers, his achievements as one of Abraham Lincoln’s premier civilian generals, and his role in developing wartime policy in support of slavery’s fugitives as the nation advanced toward emancipation. Leonard also highlights Butler’s personal and political evolution, revealing how his limited understanding of racism and the horrors of slavery transformed over time, leading him into a postwar role as one of the nation’s foremost advocates for Black freedom and civil rights, and one of its notable opponents of white supremacy and neo-Confederate resurgence.

Butler himself claimed he was “always with the underdog in the fight.” Leonard’s nuanced portrait will help readers assess such claims, peeling away generations of previous assumptions and characterizations to provide a definitive life of a consequential man.

Happy Book Birthday to Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life, officially on sale today.


In 2013, when Colby College decided to restore to public view—in its new alumni center—the large portrait General Benjamin F. Butler had presented to the institution in 1889, I agreed to write the legend to hang nearby. In it, I explained why, even at his alma mater Butler’s memory had remained tangled with epithets like “Beast,” a nickname derived from his stern treatment of the local secessionists and their foreign allies during his army’s 1862 occupation of New Orleans; “Spoons,” for his often-alleged personal theft of valuable Confederate-owned material goods while in the Crescent City; “Bottled Up Butler,” encapsulating the various military blunders and mishaps for which he was (rightly or wrongly) assigned responsibility during the war; and so forth. 

I went on to explain, however, why Colby students should in fact be proud of the college’s most significant Civil War alumnus who, in my view, deserved at least as much veneration as the much celebrated antislavery and freedom-of-the-press martyr, Elijah P. Lovejoy, class of 1826. For one thing, I argued, the historical importance of Butler’s contraband policy, forged at Fort Monroe, Virginia, in late May 1861, should not be underestimated. Indeed, Butler’s decision to shelter the runaway bondsmen Sheppard Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend from the White southerners who claimed them as human property proved absolutely instrumental in shaping the North’s war aims, the federal government’s developing policies on slavery and Emancipation, and, ultimately, the nation’s future. 

Moreover, long before May 1861, Butler had already achieved a number of impressive accomplishments that deserved consideration. Born poor and raised by his widowed mother, Butler had become a highly successful lawyer who typically sided with the poor and downtrodden, who won numerous cases that benefited individual women factory operatives in his town of Lowell, Massachusetts, and who provided key leadership in the process that over time led to the ten-hour workday. Then, when the war came, and weeks before he was assigned to Fort Monroe, Butler—as an officer in the Massachusetts state militia—managed to deploy the first federal troops to Washington, D.C., to defend against Confederate invasion. Soon afterwards, he acted decisively to preserve border-state Maryland’s loyalty to the Union. Indeed, the lead article in Harper’s Weekly in early June 1861 clearly indicates how many northerners then believed that if anyone could save the Union, it would be Butler. Later, in New Orleans, Butler established the first regiments of black U.S. soldiers, pushing the federal government towards its 1863 creation of the United States Colored Troops, whose 180,000 black enlistees were essential to Union victory. And as commander of the Army of the James, which had more USCT regiments than any other Civil War army, Butler’s devotion to and support for his troops and their corresponding love and reverence for him, was profound. Decades after the war Butler still received affectionate letters from former USCT veterans, and when he died in 1893, Frederick Douglass was just one of many prominent Blacks who publicly mourned his passing, sending a massive floral display for the funeral.

From Appomattox to the time of his death, Butler strove valiantly to bring into reality the implications of the federal victory for racial justice in America. As a five-term U.S. representative in Congress, governor of Massachusetts, and simply as an engaged citizen, Butler consistently positioned himself as one of the most determined and outspoken advocates of Black Americans’ advancement toward full citizenship—including but hardly limited to suffrage—taking point on crucial milestones such as the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. At the same time, he remained a determined and vocal proponent of the rights of women and the working-class people and of greenback currency. 

In sum, I think it is well past time that we retire the derisive epithets that have pursued Benjamin Butler into the present. So let’s stop calling him “Beast,” unless we mean it in the way the Urban Dictionary defines the word, as “a person that is extremely talented at whatever they do and always display great determination, dedication, and resilience to always win or want to win.”


Elizabeth D. Leonard’s previous books include Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally: Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt of Kentucky, winner of the Lincoln Prize. 

Data Denial and America’s Epistemic Crisis

Guest blog post by Stephen Berry, author of Count the Dead: Coroners, Quants, and the Birth of Death as We Know It.

In Count the Dead, Stephen Berry shows how a network of coroners, court officials, and state and federal authorities developed methods to track and reveal patterns of dying. These officials harnessed these records to turn the collective dead into informants and in so doing allowed the dead to shape life and death as we know it today.


Resistance to data collection has been endemic to American history. The first-ever census of the United States, taken in 1790, is a list of (mostly) white men’s names—heads of households with their dependents and enslaved population enumerated and unnamed beneath them. This simple fact, the data structure of the census, tells you something critical about America in the period. The word ‘husband’ comes from the Old Norse hús (house) coupled to bóndi (tiller of the soil). In its very etymology, ‘husband’ is the center of the house, and the house is the center of economic activity. The etymology of ‘wife’ is very different—it simply means ‘woman.’ These etymologies lend context to the term ‘household,’ which encompassed a husband, a wife and children, and the (enslaved) servants that a husband’s hús protected (and exploited). The word ‘hold,’ like the word ‘keep,’ implied a place of physical protection, the penumbra of safety around an (ostensibly) powerful male. ‘Hold’ had other, equally relevant meanings: “to have or keep in the hand; keep fast; grasp; to keep in a specified state or relation.” In 1790 (and through 1840) the state treated the ‘household’ as the irreducible data unit of American life; it functioned as the atom before the discovery of subatomic particles.

In 1850, census superintendent Joseph C. J. Kennedy proposed to split the atom. He suggested that Congress collect names and information about every man, woman, and child in America (excepting the Native Americans, who would remain an exception for a very long time). Even so, the very enslavers who had declared slavery a ‘positive good’ were apoplectic. What might such data reveal about the massive dislocation of enslaved families or the true paternity of enslaved children? As soon as statisticians sought to gather the data that might prove them right or wrong about the benignity of enslavement, they kneecapped the statisticians and deep-sixed any effort to plumb the numbers.

This pattern has repeated itself throughout our history right up to the present day. In 1986, Arthur Kellermann published a modest study in the New England Journal of Medicine: For every time someone committed a gun-related homicide in self-defense, the same sample of guns produced 43 suicides, criminal homicides, or mortal accidents. Put another way, guns in the home were 43 times more likely to produce a sad and unintended outcome than an outcome the NRA would celebrate. Kellermann sought only to treat guns as a public health issue, but his findings threatened a central tenant of the NRA’s philosophy: the gun as a pure ‘good.’ In 1996 Republican Congressman Jay Dickey successfully introduced a rider into an omnibus spending bill stating that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” The result was a ‘chilling’ effect on research, and for twenty years, public health officials were effectively hamstrung from gathering data about gun-related homicides and suicides.

In 2020, testing for COVID-19 in the United States fell radically behind that of any comparable country. “Testing is a double-edged sword,” Trump told the crowd in Oklahoma. “Here’s the bad part: When you do testing to that extent, you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases [so] I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’” “Trump wants to keep people from getting tested so the official case load in the U.S. remains artificially low,” reported Amanda Marcotte for Salon. “There’s no need to tiptoe around the situation here. Trump … wants to artificially deflate a number he thinks makes him look bad.”

Data denial is not unique to the United States. Statistics are central to how a state sees (the words are etymologically related for a reason), but the corollary is that statistics are central to how a state un-sees. As COVID ravaged India, the Centre for Global Development challenged the official numbers being reported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, suggesting that the real figures were ten times higher. India is in “data denial,” lamented Bhramar Mukherjee, a professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “It’s a complete massacre of data.” When Rana Ayyub, a Mumbai-based investigative journalist, tweeted out the truth about India’s COVID statistics, her tweets were deleted. “The Indian government is hellbent on hiding real numbers,” she said. “Nothing has gone right here…. What I as a journalist am witnessing … it’s nothing less than a carnage.”

“I hope I am over wary,” said Abraham Lincoln in his 1838 Lyceum Address, but “there is, even now, something of ill-omen amongst us. I mean the … growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions in lieu of sober judgment.” Sober judgment was what Lincoln consistently found most wanting in his fellow Americans. Calling for 100,000 troops in June 1862, Lincoln lamented to Secretary of State William Henry Seward that the act would surely result in a “general panic and stampede” even though it was only what was logical and necessary to bring the war to a more rapid, successful close. “So hard is it,” Lincoln said, “to have a thing understood as it really is.” So hard, indeed.

Today’s resistance to datafication comes from the same place it always has: the recognition that good data exposes bad-faith arguments. This isn’t how science is supposed to work. If, as a society, we can somehow justify enslaving people or bearing the burden of first-grade gun slaughters or dying in droves rather than wear a mask, that may be our democratic right. But we do not get to not count the dead because death records have doubled the length of our lives, slayed smallpox, inoculated us against measles, mumps, and rubella, put niacin in our bread so we’d stop dying of pellagra, and put fluoride in our water so we’d have teeth beyond the age of forty. Caught in a cultural backwash of anti-masking, anti-vaxxing, ‘fake news,’ and ‘reality wars,’ America is in the midst of an epistemic, existential crisis. Having brought most major diseases to heel thanks to good data, we have weaponized a disease of our own making: ignorance.


Stephen Berry is Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era at University of Georgia.

World Bee Day: A Pollinator Gardening Reading List

Happy World Bee Day!

To raise awareness of the importance of pollinators, the threats they face, and their contribution to sustainable development, the United Nations designated 20 May as World Bee Day.

The following reading list features reference books that offer specific guidance on how to select and tend to plants that will attract more bees in southern and mid-Atlantic garden zones.


Pollinator Gardening for the South: Creating Sustainable Habitats
By Danesha Seth Carley & Anne M. Spafford

Everyday gardeners, along with farmers, scientists, and policy makers, share serious concerns about ongoing declines in bee and other pollinator populations, and here Spafford and Carley deliver great news: every thoughtfully designed garden, no matter how small, can play a huge role in providing the habitat, nourishment, and nesting places so needed by pollinators. This book explains all you need to be a pollinator champion.

North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook, Second Edition
Edited by Kathleen A. Moore & Lucy K. Bradley

This national award winning book, now in its second edition, was developed especially for Master Gardener volunteers and home gardeners and is a primary source for research-based information on gardening and landscaping successfully in North Carolina and the Southeast. It explains the “why and how” basics of gardening from soils and composting to vegetable gardening and wildlife management. Advice on garden design, preparation, and maintenance covers all types of plantings including lawns, ornamentals, fruits, trees, and containers.

Chesapeake Gardening and Landscaping: The Essential Green Guide
By Barbara W. Ellis

Barbara W. Ellis’s colorful, comprehensive guide shows homeowners, gardeners, garden designers, and landscapers how to make gardens and landscapes more eco-friendly in the Chesapeake Bay watershed region (Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and part of West Virginia). Here, mid-Atlantic gardeners, from beginners to advanced, will find the essential tools for taking steps to make their gardens part of the solution through long-term planning and planting.

The Bees of North Carolina: An Identification Guide
By Hannah Levenson & Elsa Youngsteadt

The Bees of North Carolina is a beginner’s resource designed to help quickly and generally identify native bees in North Carolina. Developed by experts at NC State Extension, it provides an overview of some of the most common groups of bees in the state. The guide will help users learn to recognize bees according to key characteristics and, eventually, according to their overall appearance.

Climate Change Gardening for the South: Planet-Friendly Solutions for Thriving Gardens
By Barbara J. Sullivan

(Coming September 2022, available now for preorder)

Barbara J. Sullivan offers an essential, easy-to-use resource for adapting to the new realities of climate change, which will empower southerners to grow beautiful gardens while using gardening practices that contribute to solutions for our shared environment. It covers key topics of interest to gardeners today including how to design a climate-friendly garden that will attract songbirds and pollinators.

South Writ Large: Recognizing Lumbee History through Land

Distributed for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center for the Study of the American South, South Writ Large: Stories from the Global South is an anthology of articles published over the past ten years in the online magazine South Writ Large, featuring personal essays, articles, poetry, and artwork that explores the culture of the U.S. South and its extensive connections to other regions of the world.

The following excerpted essay featured in the anthology is by Malinda Maynor Mowery.


Recognizing Lumbee History through Land

Lumbee history begins with the stories we tell about family and land. Those stories cannot be told apart from one another, for each gives the other meaning. Even as these elements reinforce each other, our history is also infused with contradictions, opposing forces that we must hold together in a tender kind of tension. Lumbees have built our nation to withstand these contradictions; we have learned that trying to erase them only reinforces the power of some at the expense of others.

Actually, land is hardly the right term for the Lumbees’ home place—it is water and soil, two perfect opposites flowing together since ancient times. There are dense swamps where the water runs southwest, fingerlike, toward the river. But the river is not the wide Shenandoah or roaring Colorado; the Lumber River meanders slowly, twisting and turning an intricate design that changes periodically as her waters forge new paths.

In the Indian section of the county, seen from above, the Lumber River looks like a great snake, twisting and turning, swelling and breathing with the spring and summer rains. Snakes, in fact, have found a comfortable home there. Between the swamps there are wide, shallow basins that never dry out, called pocosins. European newcomers retained the word from our Algonquian ancestors; it translates to “swamp-on-a-hill.” Pocosins are home to the Venus flytrap, the carnivorous threat to unwitting insects and a precious specimen to mystified humans. An equally charming, sweet-smelling vine, the Carolina jessamine, also makes its home there, entwining human hearts in its scent. But don’t suck its nectar or eat its flower; you’ll lose control of your muscles, your speech, convulse, and stop breathing—essentially the same symptoms of a poisonous love. Yet in the hands of particularly skilled healers, the vine’s underground stem can cure the pains of love, especially migraines, fever, and menstrual problems.

Pocosin soil is peat, the vegetative material that becomes coal under proper conditions. Peat began forming 360 million years ago.1 Like Lumbee women who will cry as they laugh, peat itself can burn when it’s wet—burning peat is probably why one of our swamps is called Burnt Swamp. Our ancestors gazed at that peat fire, which burned indefinitely, beneath flowing water. Water would never put out that fire, so long as the peat was there to fuel it.

What spirits inhabit land where fire and water coexist, neither extinguishing the other? No wonder they dubbed one of these places a burning swamp; the name is a contradiction, and contradictions are reminders of how our history affects us. The land and its spirits have history too. We used to place our cemeteries at the edge of pocosins, perhaps because of the spiritual power we recognized there. We also planted a cedar tree, as cedar is the herb that heals—death, and its partner, eternal life, ultimately heal the body’s frailties.

Centuries ago, our pine trees became partners with the swamps. Although the longleaf pine is mostly gone from our landscape today, we can remember a time in which it dominated. In 1524, Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano described “immense forests of trees, more or less dense, too various in colors … too delightful and charming in appearance to be described.”2 The sandy well-drained soil in which longleaf pine grows best accompanied our rich peat: perfect opposites. The longleaf is an evergreen, like the cedar, and from a distance its needles look furry, soft, touchable. They are long and naturally curled, like a child’s eyelashes; many Lumbee men retain those long, curly eyelashes into adulthood, making women mad for them and madly jealous at the same time.

All was forest and swamp, except for footpaths used to navigate through the dry places. The Lowry Road, also called the Mulatto Road, was one of the first of these paths to appear on English maps. Local Indians and Natives from other places carved the Lowry Road. It runs from the Cape Fear River in Cumberland County into South Carolina. In the 1600s, Seneca hunters from Upstate New York may have traveled the Lowry Road as part of their search for beaver and their warfare against Catawbas and other communities in Piedmont Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. While the road became a place for migrants to travel, it was also a place for us to protect as a boundary that connected our family settlements and kept them hidden from view.

Like so many parts of Lumbee life, the road’s contradictions made our power invisible and at the same time secured it. Just as our Lumbee and American history is a group of stories that we tell, it’s also a collection of silences that we hide behind. The name Mulatto Road is but one example of such concealment. “Mulatto” is how outsiders described us, and it’s a label that speaks to racial ancestry (Indian, Black, and white). But that label is not necessarily how we described ourselves because it does not represent kinship. “Lowry” represents people and relationships, not race, and so that is the name we have upheld, just as we uphold family.

Knowledge of family networks is another way we know who we are, encapsulated in the simple question a Lumbee will often ask when meeting another Lumbee, both at home and when the two have traveled to a far-off place: “Who’s your people?” Southerners of all backgrounds use that phrase to narrow the distance between two people, but in the non-Lumbee world, it is often a test of social class, as if to say, “Is your family the same status as mine?” In other words, how powerful is your family compared to mine? Economics and politics are invested in that question. For Lumbees, the phrase tests a different kind of knowledge—an understanding of history. Often, we might find common ancestors three or four generations past, and then we usually ask another question: “Where do you stay at?” Often the answer is a community like Deep Branch or Union Chapel, one of the communities that has been central to our nation’s structure since before the formation of the United States. This information yields another layer of knowledge, which informs relationships among people but also between people and places. Lumbees are a people because of our attachments to places, and our power is in our history.

The main roads, like the Lowry Road, took our ancestors in and out of our present-day homeland of southeastern North Carolina, and some of them were not from this particular place. Instead, many of our ancestors came from places all the way north to the James River in Virginia and south to the Santee River in South Carolina, east to the Atlantic Ocean and west to the Great Pee Dee and Catawba Rivers, an area of about seven thousand square miles. That territory is not ours today, but we are products of it nonetheless.


Malinda Maynor Lowery (Lumbee) is Cahoon Family Professor in American History at Emory College. She is the author of Lumbee Indians in the Jim Crow South.

Russia’s War in Ukraine Undermines the Real Meaning behind the 9th of May Anniversary Celebrations

Guest blog post by Natalia Telepneva, author of Cold War Liberation: The Soviet Union and the Collapse of the Portuguese Empire in Africa, 1961–1975.

We are proud to offer Cold War Liberation in our usual print and ebook formats, plus as an open-access edition available through the Sustainable History Monograph Project.


‘My greatest wish for my children and grandchildren is that they never experience war’, my grandfather used to say, especially as the topic of war came up during yearly celebrations of the Soviet Victory over Nazi Germany on the 9th of May. For me, a Russian teenager growing up in St. Petersburg of the 1990s, the 9th of May commemorations always revolved around my grandfather, a Soviet Jew and a first-year university student who had volunteered for the Red army in July 1941 and my grandmother, who was lucky enough to survive the siege of Leningrad.  To WW2 veterans like my grandfather, war was a brutalising experience that could never be allowed to recur.

The Soviet leadership also knew the real meaning of the 9th of May too well. After the first famous military parade on the Red Square in 1945, state-sanctioned celebrations of the day were muted. In 1947, the Soviet government made the 9th of May a regular working day and there would be no military parades. Major state sanctioned celebrations of the 9th of May recommenced only in 1965 under General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. Himself a decorated war time veteran, Brezhnev ramped up the celebrations since he saw the potential for the WW2 to act as a unifying ideology of patriotism for a new generation of Soviet citizens who had never experienced the October revolution.

This is not to say that the Soviet leadership didn’t use violence to achieve foreign policy goals. Joseph Stalin was more than willing to use intimidation for his imperialist goals in East-Central Europe after the war, installing local Communists with the support of the Red Army. Stalin’s successors also used military force — notably in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 — to maintain hold of Empire in Eastern Europe. Although these interventions had highly damaging long-term consequences for the legitimacy of the Soviet system, these were not ‘wars’ in a common sense of the term since Soviet tanks were dispatched to intimidate civilians and local elites, rather than fight professional armies. The Soviets used the false rhetoric of fighting ‘right-wing’ forces during their intervention in Czechoslovakia. However, Moscow usually reserved the wrath of their propaganda for the ‘other side’ of the Iron Curtain. Socialism was supposed to have cleansed the countries of East-Central Europe from ‘Nazis’-real of imaginary. 

Elsewhere, the Soviets tried to avoid getting directly involved in military conflict. Starting from the 1950s onwards, Moscow was increasingly willing to support what Nikita Khrushchev termed as ‘sacred wars’ of national liberation in Africa, Asia and Latin America in line with principles of ‘socialist internationalism’. In Sub-Saharan Africa, demand for Soviet weapons and training grew exponentially as struggles against white minority rule in South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), South Africa and Portuguese colonial rule in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau intensified in the 1960s. The peak of Soviet interventionism in Africa came in the mid-1970s when the Soviets armed and trained a local ally, the MPLA, during a Civil War that turned into a Cold War ‘hotspot’ in Angola and supported a revolutionary regime in Ethiopia during its war with Somalia. However, as my most recent book, Cold War Liberation shows, the Soviets were reluctant to intervene. In fact, they preferred an ‘African solution’ to local conflicts and significantly stepped-up support only at the request of local allies and the Cubans, who did most of the fighting.

The most notable exception was the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in 1979. The decision began with what was supposed to be a quick ‘special military operation’ to install a preferred local leader, but it quickly turned into a military quagmire, as Soviet troops were forced to stay in the country and fight a bloody war against an elusive and motivated adversary, supplied with US weapons and supported by neighbouring Pakistan. By the mid-1980, it was obvious to the majority of the Soviet leadership that Afghanistan had been a blunder, with Mikhail Gorbachev trying to figure out how to extricate the Soviet Union without ‘losing face’ or betraying their local ally. The task proved exceedingly difficult, as the Soviet army bled and real news about the war started to seep through the cracks of increasingly weak censorship during perestroika. 

It seems that now both the lessons of Afghanistan and the real meaning of the 9th of May have been forgotten. In 2012, the public-march known as the ‘Immortal Regiment’ became widely popular in Russia and among the diaspora since it offered a way for ordinary people to commemorate the war veterans—their relatives who didn’t survive WW2, but also those who did and died of natural causes. At the same time, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 saw increasing militarisation of WW2 memory, with ordinary citizens decorating their cars with stickers calling ‘To Berlin’ and ‘We can repeat it’. Since then, state propaganda has only inflated such sentiment, often using the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region as a reminder of the injustice inflicted upon a Russian-speaking population, whilst ignoring the Kremlin’s role in instigating the conflict in the first place.

As Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on the 24th of February, the authorities have cynically used the memory of WW2 to claim so-called ‘de-Nazification’ as one of the goals. So far, a combination of toxic propaganda, the elimination of alternative sourced of information and state repression of dissent have at least partially worked to ensure a degree of popular support for the ‘special operation’ in Russia. However, that outcome is not assured to last. In 1942/43, the tide of Soviet war against Germany turned in part because Soviet citizens experienced the gruesome reality of Nazi occupation policy, turning the war into an existential struggle for survival. It remains to be seen when the tide of Russia’s public opinion turns against the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, but it will be inevitably linked to the dissipation of the ‘de-Nazification’ myth. In the meantime, struggles around the meanings of the 9th of May will continue. 


Natalia Telepneva is lecturer of international history at the University of Strathclyde.

Celebrating a Century of Excellence: The University of North Carolina Press Turns 100, Part One

2022 marks the one hundred year anniversary of the founding of the University of North Carolina Press.

This first blog post of a series of five is taken from an essay on the history of UNC Press written by Advancement Council member the Rev. David C. (Kirk) Brown, first delivered to the Pen and Plate Club of Asheville.

Read parts two, three, four, and five


The exercise seemed innocent enough: what new books might we add to our reading list? My wife Shelley and I were in Denver with a couple of hours of free time before dinner with her college roommate. We had wandered into Tattered Cover, one of the nation’s largest independent bookstores. Surrounded by wonderful displays of books, including “Staff picks,” New York Times bestsellers, etc., and eager to remember the titles, we began jotting notes to ourselves on our smart phones. We couldn’t wait to report our discoveries to Shelley’s college friend, an executive with Tattered Cover. But midway through our report, she held up her hand and said: “Stop right there. What you are telling me is a stab in the heart to independent bookstores. When you found those titles, were you going to have the decency to go outside before ordering on Amazon, or did you order them as you stood at the display?” Not what we had expected to hear, but what ensued was an engrossing conversation about the future of publishing, the future availability of books. Cathy’s point was that if we succumb to the convenience of Amazon, we are going to find that the choices available to us are increasingly limited to the books that sell, or to the books Amazon thinks will sell. And by extension, the books that are published will be increasingly limited to what is commercially profitable. It was an important reminder that in our haste to find the least expensive version, we may well be relinquishing options we do not yet imagine.

What I had yet to learn was the value of other publishing options, most notably the university press. And as I have become more familiar with one such press, the University of North Carolina Press, I am realizing what a treasure I have too often taken for granted. I suspect I am not alone. So I invite you to join me in a brief excursus, and a closer look at this precious jewel in our own state. A couple of disclaimers: first, this is anything but exhaustive. There is not time enough in an evening’s presentation to do justice to the topic. And second, many of you are much more knowledgeable than I about UNC Press. I suspect that over the years there have been many ties between the Press and our Club.

Early 20th century UNC Press colophon

In order to appreciate the UNC Press, we need to understand just what a university press is, and how it differs from other commercial publishing enterprises. Despite its name, a university press rarely has its own printing press; rather it is a publisher, the scholarly publishing arm of a college or university. Unlike its commercial counterpart, profitability is not its chief aim. The Association of University Presses exists to advance “the essential role of a global community of publishers whose mission is to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge.” At one level, of course, that means providing a forum for ongoing scholarly discourse and debate. But another way of advancing knowledge is to take the conversation that might have been confined to scholars outside the academy for interested readers in the public sphere. When it was founded in 1937 as the Association of American University Presses there were just 21 charter members, of which UNC Press was one. Today the Association includes 159 members from 17 countries. In addition to serving the scholarly community— researchers, teachers, students, librarians, etc.—university presses reach out to broader readerships throughout the world that depend on “informed and engaged peer- reviewed scholarship.” Each press has its own catalog (or list) of books, its own distinctive ethos and vision, defined in part by the relationship with its parent university. But all such presses are guided by a set of core values—integrity, diversity, stewardship, and intellectual freedom. So university presses seek first to foster an ongoing conversation, driven not by opinion, but by argument and extended discourse. Often the enterprise is anything but profitable—in a financial sense—but utterly invaluable to the advancement of learning and the ongoing pursuit of the truth.

Central to the process is the integrity that comes through peer review, a critical component of all university presses. It is said that “the core mission of any university press is to publish high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship under its imprint.” Before a manuscript of interest goes to print, it is first read by at least two independent and anonymous reviewers, experts in their field, who offer the author and the press constructive feedback and criticism. This can be a lengthy process, sometimes taking years, but it speaks to the ongoing conversation typical of university press publishing. This is true for scholarly monographs; but it is equally true for trade books about cooking, travel, wildflowers, or folklore. In an age of fleeting opinion passing for fact, or internet searches that can turn up any number of competing claims to the truth, the university press stands for more deliberate and argument-based writing.

The oldest university presses are Cambridge and Oxford, both founded in the 16th century. The impetus for such presses was very different from what we understand university presses to be now. From its inception the promise of the printing press was to help democratize learning and literacy. No longer would knowledge be limited to the few scholars who had access to books; now virtually everyone had such access. But without appropriate guardrails, there was no way of ensuring the quality of books available. So amidst the flood of books being published in the decades following the advent of the printing press, and especially given their close ties to the Church, Cambridge and Oxford realized the danger of heretical and unauthorized texts finding their way into the academy. Originally, then, the university press stood not so much for “freedom of the press” that we hold so sacred today; instead it was a kind of licensing agent for the university, a gatekeeper for the parent institution. Only later would the press as publisher begin to emerge.


The Rev. David C. (Kirk) Brown is the recently retired chaplain of Christ School. Kirk received his A.B. from Davidson College, his M.A. from the University of Virginia, and his M.Div. from Virginia Theological Seminary. He is a life-long educator. Having taught German and English for 12 years at Virginia Episcopal School, he then attended seminary and was ordained an Episcopal priest. After serving three years at St. John’s Church in Roanoke, VA, he returned to school work, serving 24 years as Chaplain at Christ School and teaching religion. Kirk lives with his wife, Shelley, on a farm in Fletcher, NC.

AAPI Heritage Month 2022 Reading List

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!

The following reading list highlights titles covering a broad array of Asian American and Pacific Islander histories and topics, ranging from immigration and politics, to the performing arts, and the impact of climate change on the AAPI community.


Arise, Africa! Roar, China!:
Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century

by Yunxiang Gao

This book explores the close relationships between three of the most famous twentieth-century African Americans, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, and Langston Hughes, and their little-known Chinese allies during World War II and the Cold War—journalist, musician, and Christian activist Liu Liangmo, and Sino-Caribbean dancer-choreographer Sylvia Si-lan Chen. Charting a new path in the study of Sino-American relations, Gao foregrounds African Americans, combining the study of Black internationalism and the experiences of Chinese Americans with a transpacific narrative and an understanding of the global remaking of China’s modern popular culture and politics.

Planetary Specters:
Race, Migration, and Climate Change in the Twenty-First Century

By Neel Ahuja

Drawing on the work of Cedric Robinson and theories of racial capitalism, Planetary Specters considers how the oil industry transformed the economic and geopolitical processes that lead to displacement. From South Asia to the Persian Gulf, Europe, and North America, Ahuja studies how Asian trade, finance, and labor connections have changed the nature of race, borders, warfare, and capitalism since the 1970s.

Closing the Golden Door:
Asian Migration and the Hidden History of Exclusion at Ellis Island

By Anna Pegler-Gordon

In popular memory, Ellis Island is typically seen as a gateway for Europeans seeking to join the “great American melting pot.” But as this fresh examination of Ellis Island’s history reveals, it was also a major site of immigrant detention and exclusion, especially for Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian travelers and maritime laborers who reached New York City from Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean, and even within the United States.

Converging Empires:
Citizens and Subjects in the North Pacific Borderlands, 1867–1945

By Andrea Geiger

Making a vital contribution to our understanding of North American borderlands history through its examination of the northernmost stretches of the U.S.-Canada border, Andrea Geiger highlights the role that the North Pacific borderlands played in the construction of race and citizenship on both sides of the international border from 1867, when the United States acquired Russia’s interests in Alaska, through the end of World War II. Adventurers, prospectors, laborers, and settlers from Europe, Canada, the United States, Latin America, and Asia made and remade themselves as they crossed from one jurisdiction to another.

Transpacific Convergences:
Race, Migration, and Japanese American Film Culture before World War II

By Denise Khor

Drawing from a fascinating multilingual archive including the films themselves, movie industry trade press, Japanese American newspapers, oral histories, and more, this book reveals  the experiences of Japanese Americans at the cinema and traces an alternative network of film production, exhibition, and spectatorship. In doing so, Khor  recovers previously unknown films and illuminates the global circulations that have always constituted the multifaceted history of American cinema. 

Colors of Confinement:
Rare Kodachrome Photographs of Japanese American Incarceration in World War II

Edited by Eric L. Muller
With photographs by Bill Manbo
New in paperback

“This is a testament to the incredible power of photography. Even one frame can change the tide of public opinion because photography has the power to add layers to our understanding of how events transpired and how people were affected.”—Washington Post

“A provocative and noteworthy collection. . . . [with] unquestionable cultural and historical significance.”—Publishers Weekly

Curator Conversations: Berkley Hudson on Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town

Thanks to Curatorial for allowing us to reblog the following Q&A with Berkley Hudson that originally appeared on their website. Hudson describes how a recent exhibition of O.N. Pruitt’s photography, along with its companion book published by UNC Press in partnership with Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, O.N. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Photographing Trouble and Resilience in the American South, came into being.

A small town photographer, O.N. Pruitt captured the goings on of Columbus, Mississippi between 1916–1960, amassing an extensive archive highlighting the customs, lives, joys, and sorrows of small-town America. By showing us the intimate details of a life in the town, Pruitt’s photographs offer a look at a nation in transition, revealing a history that is at the same time painful and uplifting in the racially-segregated South.

Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town: Trouble and Resilience in the American South, a National Endowment for Humanities sponsored exhibition, was first on display at Columbus Arts Council from February 3 – April 23, 2022. For more information, visit the Curatorial exhibition webpage:


Young Person and Baby
Courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries

Curatorial: How did you come across the O.N. Pruitt estate and what in particular initially caught your eye?

Berkley Hudson (BH): First, you need to understand that Pruitt was a “picture man” for our region and our town, Columbus, Mississippi. I knew him because he took my picture as a boy in the 1950s and made photographs of my extended family and friends.

After Pruitt retired in 1960, he sold his commercial and studio photography business to his assistant, Calvin Shanks. Later, in the early 1970s, when I was in college and making pictures and writing journalistic stories, two of my friends took me to Mr. Shanks’ second-floor studio to see a possible treasure trove: wooden and pasteboard boxes with thousands of Pruitt’s negatives, including glass plate ones from the 1920s. The negatives were off gassing, smelling to high heaven.

Flabbergasted, we looked at prints and negatives. Even then, before seeing many, we realized this was the history of our part of the American South, in visual form. It took more than a decade but eventually myself and four boyhood white friends who grew up in the town acquired the collection. As we waded into the images, prints and negatives, we realized this was a photobiography of a place called Mississippi.

We discovered that Pruitt, as a white man during Jim Crow racial segregation, somewhat unusually photographed aspects of not only white community life but also Black life. He photographed Black and white alike in his studio. He traveled into the streets and neighborhoods and surrounding farmlands and communities to document family reunions, river baptisms, carnivals, floods of biblical proportion, and the Tupelo tornado that’s considered the second deadliest in American history—although Death spared toddler Elvis Presley’s life. 

The 88,000 remaining negatives testify to Pruitt’s competency in creating images from the sublime to the sacred and to the profane.

Curatorial: Historically, in the fields of American studies/art/photography, scholars tend to refer to the work of famous photographers, the likes of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. O.N. Pruitt’s photographs are considered those of a “small town photographer.” What importance does the “photo eye” of a small-town photographer hold in conveying an important and larger understanding of the time?

BH: For his postage stamp of soil of Lowndes County, Mississippi, where race, class, and gender mattered greatly, Pruitt was a de facto documentarian. He took pictures throughout Mississippi and nearby Alabama, but he focused on the crossroads town of Columbus, the county seat. His studio, in the words of his advertising brochure, “pictured many phases of the life of Co­lumbus and Columbians.” 

Pruitt shows us a range of community life filtered through his perspective, that of a white man in a highly segregated society made up primarily of Anglo-Americans and African Americans. In doing so, his work connects with a broader sweep of the American South as it moved in the twentieth century from an agrarian society into modernity, eventually becoming a place where cities of the “New South” soon would dominate the region.

Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s historians focused more on ordi­nary folk and culture of a local place and people. Only in recent decades have scholars begun to consider small-town photogra­phers such as Pruitt. Photographic studies, like other disciplines, moved away from an emphasis on the “great men” approach to embrace oral history and cultural, social, and labor history as well as feminist and ethnic studies.

That has resulted in bringing somewhat to the forefront more modest practitioners—when compared to Evans or Lange—for example, Mike Disfarmer, Arkansas; Jno. Trlica, Texas; Florence Mars, Mississippi; Richard Samuel Roberts, South Carolina; P.H. Polk, Alabama, and lately, Vivian Maier, Illinois. As with those photographers, the aesthetics of their work—and the Pruitt images, too—reveal finely tuned visions. Above all, how­ever, often is the content. In Pruitt’s case, he was in the right place at the right time. 

Curatorial: A prominent thread in Mr. Pruitt’s Possum Town is the documentation of Jim Crow life, exposing the anxieties and insecurities of a nation in transition following the Civil War. How does showing both the “horrific and sublime contours of the American South” that O.N. Pruitt recorded improve our understanding of the history of slavery and its impact?

BH: Providing a visual history of inequality and the legacy of slavery, the Pruitt images depict the joys and sorrows along with community celebrations and traditions of everyday folk—Black and white. One critical element in Pruitt’s photographs is the potent reality of the racial divide. During the time he photographed, Mississippi was at the center of what historian Joel Williamson calls a “crucible of race,” formed there in the early 19th Century by the enslavement of Blacks and the creation of the culture of King Cotton. 

Substantial remnants of that culture can be seen in Pruitt’s photographs dating from 1920 to 1960: 

In one Pruitt panorama, Black individuals pick cotton by hand. They include an old man with a thick white mustache, and middle-aged adults and children spread across a field. A mule-drawn wagon is ladened with woven wooden baskets, overflowing with white bolls. In another image, seventeen white school children, adorned in the blackface of minstrels, pose as a troupe of cotton pickers. Before them, bolls spill from a basket, and a galvanized washtub calls forth a harsh reality. In tubs like those, Black people and poor whites, too—women, men, and children—scrubbed clothes by hand to make a living.

Courtesy of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries

The complexity of Black-white relation­ships appears in concrete ways, in how Pruitt staged his photographs, including placement of subjects according to race, gender, and social status, and in how the subjects presented themselves before the camera. As a white man Pruitt easily could move in both worlds, unlike African American photographers of the time. For many of his subjects, Pruitt’s camera was the first one they had ever seen up close; his were the first photographs made of many of them. So far, this project found a broader representation of lives of white citizenry than Black life. African Americans are depicted in formal church portraits or baptisms, as subservient to white employers, or in street scenes where racial segregation is manifest. Yet Pruitt also photographed them in his studio or in their homes, and these settings might have offered Black subjects a greater degree of autonomy in how they were photographed.

His photographs capture scenes of the ordinary graces of everyday life, eth­nic identity, and race relations as well as brutal power, full of excruciating suffering. The images strongly illuminate the tensions then in the American South, but also speak to racial realities of the twenty-first century. His photo­graph of a 1935 mob lynching of two Black farmers served the purposes of both white radicals when it was made into a postcard and Black communities when it was published on the front page of The Chicago Defender, a prominent Black newspaper. In the mid-1960s, during the civil rights era, the image was used on a poster to foster support for those advocating voting rights for Black people in Mississippi. Since then, the photograph has appeared in doc­umentary films and television news broadcasts about racial violence and Black history.

Beyond the lynching image, Pruitt’s unflinching camera’s eye recorded two of the last judicial hangings by rope in the 1930s at the local courthouse. And, circa 1922 along Columbus’ Main Street, he documented a Ku Klux Klan parade on horseback. In that era, intriguingly, Pruitt’s images also confound what we may know about the American South. His photographs of separate but equal baptisms of Black and white Christians on the banks of the Tombigbee River, for example, show a Black group and a white group with their adherents, taking turns to pose for the camera, initiates immersing into the Tombigbee and arising anew from the muddy waters. This profound imagery amongst the horrors that then plagued not only the American South but also the nation offer a measure of remission as we strive today for deeper understandings of the role of culture and history.

Curatorial: You’ve had an incredible career as well-published journalist, scholar of race relations, and archival sleuth, leading you to your current position as associate professor emeritus at the University of Missouri. What part of your career has surprised you the most?

BH: Perhaps the surprise is that the Pruitt photographs serve as a through-line in my career, whether as a journalist working for The Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, the Providence Journal or the Los Angeles Times. Or as an undergraduate at University of Mississippi, a grad student at Columbia University and finally as a late-bloomed doctoral student at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Or as a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. As we might puzzle over rings on an ancient tree sawed clean with a stump left behind in a forest, I have discovered via the Pruitt photographs layers upon layers about my Mississippi home and about myself and the world around me. The images reflect not only the exquisite inherent beauty of a people and a landscape, but also what William Faulkner called the “human heart in conflict with itself.”


Berkley Hudson, PhD is an emeritus associate professor of journalism studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. Hudson grew up in Columbus, Mississippi and was photographed by O.N. Pruitt as a child. In the early 1970s, Hudson and four of his boyhood friends discovered a collection of Pruitt’s work in their hometown. They purchased the collection of 142,000 negatives, including those from Pruitt’s assistant Calvin Shanks, in 1987 and spent the next 30 years archiving, researching and preserving the work. Then in 2005, they transferred the photographic collection to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination

Happy publication day to Glenda Gilmore’s Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination, a Ferris and Ferris Book.

Romare Bearden (1911–1988), one of the most prolific, original, and acclaimed American artists of the twentieth century, richly depicted scenes and figures rooted in the American South and the Black experience. Bearden hailed from North Carolina but was forced to relocate to the North when a white mob harassed his family in the 1910s. His family story is a compelling, complicated saga of Black middle-class achievement in the face of relentless waves of white supremacy. It is also a narrative of the generational trauma that slavery and racism inflicted over decades. But as Glenda Gilmore reveals in this trenchant reappraisal of Bearden’s life and art, his work reveals his deep imagination, extensive training, and rich knowledge of art history.

Gilmore explores four generations of Bearden’s family and highlights his experiences in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Harlem. She engages deeply with Bearden’s art and considers it as an alternative archive that offers a unique perspective on the history, memory, and collective imagination of Black southerners who migrated to the North. In doing so, she revises and deepens our appreciation of Bearden’s place in the artistic canon and our understanding of his relationship to southern, African American, and American cultural and social history.

Advance praise for Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination:

“Inspiring . . . an insightful biography of one of the twentieth century’s most preeminent artists, whose powerful, intimate work illuminates the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.”—Foreword Reviews

“A thoughtful, illuminating investigation of Bearden’s place in—and shaping of—20th-century American art . . . incisive.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Like Bearden’s art, Gilmore’s biography pulses with energy and will resonate with readers of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.“—Library Journal

“Glenda Gilmore has given us a miracle of scholarship and insight: the historical Romare Bearden, in place(s), ancestry, and varied influence. The depth of research here is devotional, revealing a profound understanding of the artist’s imagination as it emerges from—and riffs on—his lived experience and that of the people he comes from. Gilmore has given us the gift of deeper understanding of how Bearden’s origins manifest in his work, spark his invention, and complicate his genius.”—Elizabeth Alexander, President, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

“This book tells of two lives in one. One life is Bearden’s, which Glenda Gilmore tells in sublime detail. The other is the one that exists purely on the page, the work of Gilmore’s historical art—a rare blend of archival curiosity and ethical commitment.”—Alexander Nemerov, author of Fierce Poise: Helen Frankenthaler and 1950s New York

“Glenda Gilmore’s brilliant juxtaposition of history, memory, and visual art shows us—literally—the tensions, even the contradictions, between the facts of Romare Bearden’s lived history and his evocations of Black history in and around the South. Comprehensively illustrated with images of people, history, and Bearden’s art, This book rewards the viewer as well as the reader.”—Nell Irvin Painter, author of Creating Black Americans: African American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present


Glenda Gilmore is the Peter V. and C. Vann Woodward Professor of History Emerita at Yale University. Gilmore is also the author of Gender and Jim Crow, published by UNC Press.

UNC Press 100th Anniversary Celebration Remarks by John Sherer

On March 25th, UNC Press held its first in-person, public celebration of the anniversary of our centennial year at the Chapel Hill Public Library. The following is an edited version of the speech given by Spangler Family Director John Sherer that evening.


I try to keep up on trends in university presses, so I do a lot of reading. I recently found a quote from the UNC Press Annual Report I want to read to you.

“The market for specialized, scholarly monographs by all university presses declined precipitously during the past 12 months. . . . Obviously no university press can expect to continue to publish such books, in conventional form, without courting bankruptcy.” That was not something I wrote. Nor was it written by my predecessor, Kate Torrey. It was written by Matt Hodgson, her predecessor, in 1981.

And then I read this in an issue of Scholarly Publishing: A Journal for Authors & Publishers:
“Never in the history of publishing has the technology moved so swiftly, or held greater potential benefits for the art of communication.” That sounds like something I would have written. But it was from October 1969.

We always think we live in exceptional times and that our problems are the thorniest. But I find writings like this to be comforting. What we do is not supposed to be easy. It never has been and it probably never will be.

The founding of UNC Press in the spring of 1922 was a visionary act that was part of a series of investments made by the state and campus leadership to transform UNC from a sleepy southern university into the center of gravity for the study of the South. This includes the dramatic growth of the library and the Southern Historical Collection. And a significant expansion of the curriculum and faculty. But it’s fascinating to me that publishing was seen as a key pillar in this new architecture of change and progress.

There was no secular publishing in North Carolina in 1922. Not even in the entire South. The perception was that the South was not a region that was worthy of study. The UNC Press legitimized the study of the South and shared the southern way of life with the world.

From the beginning, the press identified voices of the region whose stories were not being told or explained. Some were stories that were just overlooked: stories from Appalachia or about women or agrarian life. Some were stories that made people uncomfortable: books about racial injustices, or about poverty, or about lynching.

In his classic book The War Within, the historian Dan Singal wrote about William Couch’s stewardship of the Press, saying that Couch made it “the single most influential institution in launching Modernist thought in the South.”

While we’re here to celebrate this legacy and acknowledge the boldness of these founders—men like Louis Round Wilson, Harry Chase, William Coker, Howard Odum, JG de Roulhac Hamilton—we have to acknowledge that they were very much men of their time. For example, recent research reveals that Hamilton—who was a founding member of our board, built the Southern Historical Collection with views about white supremacy that should make us all wince.

Our legacy needs to be reckoned with. While we’ve published voluminously about race and justice from the beginning, we must acknowledge that there are books in our back catalog that have reinforced racial and social hierarchies. For much of our history, there were few people of color working at the Press. Even today, we have to work hard to have a staff that mirrors the rich diversity of this community. Understanding and acknowledging this legacy can be uncomfortable, but it helps us be better publishers now.

And yet we can still appreciate what our predecessors had to overcome. We’ve had a recent run of success that wouldn’t have been possible without the labors of our predecessors. I want to take a minute to highlight some of the accomplishments in recent years as well as some initiatives we’re trying to move forward on.

• We’re acquiring and publishing more now than we ever have before. More books, more journals. Offering more publishing services.

• Our sales have never been higher.

• Our income streams have never been more diverse. It’s not just sales and services, but grants, and licenses and fundraising

• Our books are winning more awards than ever.

Longleaf Services continues its explosive growth as a vital service partner for almost 20 university presses.

The Office of Scholarly Publishing Services—the division of the press that works exclusively with the UNC System—is helping almost every campus identify and execute on their own publishing goals including the creation of Open Educational Resources—which is saving UNC System students thousands of dollars annually.

• Our marketing team is on the leading edge of building communities of readers—that’s everything from the social media tool kit to virtual exhibits and campaigns that take advantage of the unique affordances of the digital age.

• And between the Press and Longleaf, our business and finance office is managing our almost $10mm in expenses with a level of skill and professionalism that is remarkable.

• We’re publishing more books in open digital editions, which means we’re seeing explosions in readership and use around the globe.

• We received a $1 MM grant from the Mellon Foundation to create a digital-first workflow that could be used by multiple presses—18 in all—to produce Open Access monographs more quickly and less expensively than ever before.

• Longleaf is a participant in a multimillion-dollar grant from the Arcadia Fund to build what’s to be called, the Next Generation Library Publishing program. It’s a suite of open-sourced journal tools aiming to wrest back control of journal publishing away from predatory commercial conglomerates.

• We’re experimenting with audio to expand access and enhance the reader experience.

• We are deeply committed to equity work, identifying the many areas where we’ve projected our own views of meritocracy without understanding the fraught legacies those projections were founded upon.

As we build on our recent success, we have an obligation to continue that tradition of leading through innovation. In the future,

• We need to continue to tell the stories that mainstream publishing overlooks—and in particular, identify the voices in our state and region that are often neglected.

• We need to amplify the idea of the global south, by highlighting the impact of global influences; but at the same time, continue to share the stories of the South to the world.

• We need to expand our title count in order to more broadly support the advancement of scholarship in the humanities and social sciences.

• We need to support new modes of publishing that are originating throughout the UNC System, with a particular focus on lowering costs of course materials for students.

• We need to expand access more generally as part of century-long mission to disseminate our works as broadly as possible.

I want to say a few words about the whole team here and the past few years. These incredible accomplishments I was enumerating—they made them happen. I’m standing here leading this celebration because they made sure that even during the darkest and most ungrateful days and hours of the past two years, that the press would endure.

But it has come at a cost. I know this. I’ve listened to the stories from each of you—and I’m talking to you, staff members of the Press and Longleaf. I’ve heard the stories of loss, and sickness, and pain, and grief, and fear, and insecurity. And those of you who love the Press need to understand how difficult this has been for each of them. And that we owe them our gratitude.

The Great Depression. The World War. Countless recessions. The fire. And now the pandemic. This is a great Press, but 100 years didn’t come easily. The last two years sometimes felt like 100 years by themselves.

But despite this, I am confident that the Press’s best years are to come. Despite the pain of the pandemic, we’ve learned to do some remarkable things. We need some time to heal, but we can come out of this stronger than ever.

Building on the previous generations of innovators and on the enormous success of the team today, the Press will endure through the whatever the next calamity is that the fates throw at us. We’re doing the hard work now to ensure the University of North Carolina Press remains an essential and progressive force for the university, the state, the region, and world.

Thank you for being here to celebrate this historic moment.

John Sherer
Spangler Family Director

2022 Latin American Studies Association Annual Meeting

UNC Press is excited to be exhibiting virtually at the 2022 LASA annual meeting! We hope you’ll stop by our virtual booth on our website to browse our recent titles, to learn more about our Envisioning Cuba, Latin America in Translation, and Latinx Histories Series, and to connect with editors Debbie Gershenowitz and Andreina Fernandez.


New Books in our Envisioning Cuba Series
New Books in our Latin America in Translation Series

And be sure to check out our new series, Latinx Histories!

As a leading publisher of American and Latin American history, UNC Press is delighted to announce the launch of Latinx Histories, a book series premised on the view that understanding Latinx history is essential to a more complete and complex understanding of the history of the United States, the Americas, and the world. The series editors and advisory board welcome book proposals that examine and offer a historical framework for the experiences of Latinx people ranging from earliest indigenous settlement in what is now known as the United States through the present-day transnational U.S. and beyond, resulting in a collection of innovative historical works that push the boundaries of race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, migration, and nationalism within and around Latinx communities.

Series Editors: Lori Flores & Michael Innis-Jiménez


Stop by our virtual booth to browse these titles & more. Be sure to use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive our 40% conference discount. And if your order totals over $75, domestic U.S. shipping is FREE.

Writing the History of Legal Abortion

The following is an excerpt from 2015’s Abortion after Roe by Johanna Schoen, recipient of the William H. Welch Medal from the American Association for the History of Medicine. Schoen sheds light on the little-studied experience of performing and receiving abortion care from the 1970s–a period of optimism–to the rise of the antiabortion movement and the escalation of antiabortion tactics in the 1980s to the 1990s and beyond, when violent attacks on clinics and abortion providers led to a new articulation of abortion care as moral work.


The topic of abortion has captivated writers for decades. Given that it touches on questions of sex, life, death, and morality, this attention is not surprising. Scholars tracing the history of women’s health activism have chronicled the history of feminist challenges to illegal abortion, the emergence of the women’s health movement, and the establishment of feminist clinics which emerged as a result. Others have traced the roots of antiabortion activism, the escalation of violence, and the impact on the pro-choice movement. A third group of scholars have analyzed the impact of policies limiting women’s access to abortion. They have charted changes to abortion funding, tracked policies that regulate access to abortion, and analyzed the impact of legal decisions. But despite the fact that policy approaches to abortion and the cultural climate surrounding abortion care underwent a fundamental shift over the past four decades, we lack a comprehensive study of the events that have changed the experiences of abortion care since 1973 and of the impact that these events have had on the abortion experience. For the pre-Roe period, the history of abortion is well documented.

Contrary to popular belief, abortion was not always illegal. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, abortion was largely unregulated. Historians have illustrated that anxieties about women’s changing roles and declining birth rates, coupled with the desire of ob-gyns to establish themselves as the primary health care providers for women’s reproductive needs, led to a public campaign that culminated in the criminalization of abortion by the late nineteenth century. Although abortion remained criminalized until the early 1970s, women continued to seek the procedure. As the twentieth century progressed and law enforcement cracked down on illegal abortion, women obtained illegal abortions at increasingly higher risks to their life and health.

Feminist scholars have noted that changes in medical technology, in particular the widespread dissemination of ultrasound images, significantly shaped the social meaning of pregnancy—and by extension the meaning and experience of pregnancy termination. How abortion providers and their patients understood the provision of abortion care shifted as larger cultural understandings about pregnancy and the fetus changed. If many viewed abortion in the 1970s as central to women’s emancipation and a right that women should have, this view began to change in the 1980s as the proliferation of fetal images began to contribute to a reshaping of the public understanding of the fetus. As fetal images gained in prominence, antiabortion activists began to articulate fetal interests and rights and to advance the notion that a fetus might have interests that stand in opposition to the interests of the woman carrying the fetus. Much has been said about the rhetoric and stigma attached to abortion resulting from these changes. But we know little about the impact that this debate has had on the experience of those delivering and receiving abortion care: abortion providers and their patients.

Indeed, anyone researching the history of legal abortion will find the record curiously silent on positive depictions of the abortion experience. The silence surrounding the abortion experience—having one and performing them—has been “a productive taboo,” reinforcing myths that abortion is never easy and positive but at best hard, at worst harmful to women. Since the early days of legalization, writers discussing legal abortion have repeated pre-Roe tropes that characterized women seeking abortions as mentally deranged and physicians performing abortions as immoral and greedy. Legalization did not remove the shame that came with having an abortion. While women spoke and wrote more openly about their illegal abortions in the years after legalization, they were silent about their legal abortions. In addition, feminists, most likely to break the silence surrounding abortion, were also most critical of the male medical professionals who performed abortions. By the late 1980s, antiabortion writers had begun to dramatize the abortion experience from an antiabortion perspective, and accounts of abortion ranged from ambivalent to hostile. Gory descriptions of abortion procedures successfully pushed women and providers into the defensive, silencing an already taciturn community and leaving abortion providers and their supporters unprepared to defend the integrity and independence of medical practice as it relates to the performance of abortions particularly after the first trimester. Looking back at the rhetoric surrounding legal abortion, one observer noted in 2003 that conservatives, not liberals, had won the struggle around abortion rights.

Given the sensitive nature of this topic, where and how I collected material shaped my personal editorial decisions and determined whether or not I could write about the information I found. While I decided not to shy away from sensitive topics inside the abortion provider community, I was careful—when addressing sensitive issues—to use only information from public records accessible to anybody. Although research in archival records and oral history interviews with abortion providers generally yielded material I could actually draw on, attendance at the annual meetings of NAF or research at its offices could only inform my understanding of events and experiences. And because my interest in the experience of abortion care is both politically sensitive and very personal to those narrating their experiences, it is by nature anecdotal and individual. Still, writing about the experience of abortion care and the impact that the abortion conflict has had on women and abortion providers is a pressing theme. It exposes how all abortion is marshaled into the single groove of morality, successfully excluding any consideration that places women’s control over their lives at the center of the debate.

Abortion is—and always has been—a key arena for contesting power relations between women and men. Feminists argued with male medical professionals about who should be in charge of performing abortions and how abortions should best be performed. In addition, the belief that women are incapable of acting as moral agents and cannot be trusted with the decision whether or not to end a pregnancy remains pervasive after forty years of legal abortion. Women’s ability to control their own lives and bodies, however, depends on their ability to control the most private and personal aspects of their lives: whether and when to bear children. As this book will illustrate, while the legalization of abortion made abortion accessible to most women, abortion became highly politicized and stigmatized as antiabortion activists and legislators challenged women’s ability and right to decide on abortion.


Johanna Schoen is professor of history at Rutgers University and author of Choice and Coercion: Birth Control, Sterilization, and Abortion in Public Health and Welfare.

An Edible North Carolina History

Available today wherever ebooks and books are sold, Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor edited by Marcie Cohen Ferris shows how culinary excellence, entrepreneurship, and the struggle for racial justice converge in shaping food equity, not only for North Carolinians, but for all Americans.

Starting with Vivian Howard, star of PBS’s A Chef’s Life, who wrote the foreword, the contributors include Shorlette Ammons, Karen Amspacher, Victoria Bouloubasis, Katy Clune, Gabe Cumming, Marcie Cohen Ferris, Sandra Gutierrez, Tom Hanchett, Michelle King, Cheetie Kumar, Courtney Lewis, Malinda Maynor Lowery, Ronni Lundy, Keia Mastrianni, April McGreger, Baxter Miller, Ricky Moore, Carla Norwood, Kathleen Purvis, Andrea Reusing, Bill Smith, Maia Surdam, and Andrea Weigl.

Following is an excerpt from the introduction written by Marcie Cohen Ferris.


Edible North Carolina: A Journey across a State of Flavor is the story of the contemporary food landscape in a state deeply tied to its rural heritage and, most important, to the flavor of its distinctive regions—the outer coastal plain, the inner coastal plain or what most folks call eastern North Carolina, the Piedmont, and the mountains. What sets North Carolina’s food movement apart from others is its historic food heritage—a complex language of core ingredients and the interrelations of racism, land, and labor—the proximity of farm to table, the comradery of the present-day food community, and the powerful edible point of view expressed across the state. North Carolina’s culinary inventiveness is fostered by the state’s biodiversity (its unusual range of climate, soil, water, altitude, and year-round growing season), varied food economies, tourism, new and shifting populations, and expansive academic resources. Rural and metropolitan regions are close by, creating both challenges and opportunities for the state’s many small, diversified farms and their farmers. Dynamic as the present-day food economy appears, we witness its fragility as global forces affect our daily lives and tables. The COVID pandemic, the immigration crisis, the nation’s political rifts, and the strong storms spawned by a warming climate threaten the daily food supply and economic livelihoods of thousands of North Carolinians in ways unimaginable in the past.

“This week in North Carolina is what the menu is going to be.”

AARON VANDERMARK, chef/owner, Pancuito, Hillsborough, North Carolina, June 4, 2019

Now more than ever we viscerally understand what it means to lose local farms, entrepreneurs, food markets, food banks, school cafeterias, beloved neighborhood restaurants, and landmark food venues. In this book, twenty diverse individuals across North Carolina take us on a journey to explore this changing state of flavor and its meaning for generations to come. Through their stories, we collectively examine how North Carolinians—despite these challenging times and, for many, because of these very challenges—are passionately reengaging with, reinventing, and reclaiming the vibrant food that is theirs and ours.

A generation of small-scale farmers, sustainable food system activists, food entrepreneurs, aggregators, and chef founders of what has been called New Southern cuisine in the 1980s inspired and laid the foundations of North Carolina’s contemporary local food movement. Today that food movement is led by the next generation of young and midcareer people, some native to the state, others recently arrived from other states and countries. The movement is noteworthy for the number of women among its leaders. If the movement had a manifesto, it would proclaim a commitment to healthy, local, sustainable food for all that honors the great diversity of our people; protects our land, animals, plants, air, and water; fosters joy and flavor; tells a story of place through ingredients; and secures the right of all North Carolinians to food sovereignty, food equity, and food justice.

Agriculture and fisheries are the foundation of North Carolina’s foodways, and both sectors face contemporary obstacles. Structural racism, sexual harassment, and inequity exist from field to processing plants to restaurants. Our state’s local food systems—the sustainable, regional processes involved in feeding people, from growing to consuming, defined by place and people—have been diminished by a national diet bound to industrial agriculture and its production of refined and processed foods. North Carolina is losing farmland and aging farmers and fishers to debt and financial loss, increased regulation, globalization, industrial consolidation, and issues related to climate change and environmental pollution. Urban areas in North Carolina have prospered as rural counties have experienced economic and population decline—a “political-economic divide” reflected in the 2020 presidential election. Land loss is much worse for Black North Carolinians. From the late 1970s to the early 2000s, the number of African American–owned farms in the state declined by 70 percent. Thousands of food-insecure North Carolinians experience daily hunger and food insecurity.


Marcie Cohen Ferris, author of The Edible South: The Power of Food and the Making of an American Region and Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South, is professor emerita of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Glenda Gilmore Discusses “Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination”

The last of Spring 2022’s UNC-Chapel Hill and UNC Press’s ongoing Off the Shelf speaker series featured Glenda Gilmore discussing her new book, Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination: An Artist’s Reckoning with the South (on sale May 10, 2022).

Watch the archived virtual discussion between Gilmore and Aaron Smithers, UNC-Chapel Hill Special Collections R&IS Librarian:

In Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination, Gilmore explores four generations of Bearden’s family and highlights his experiences in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Harlem. She engages deeply with Bearden’s art and considers it as an alternative archive that offers a unique perspective on the history, memory, and collective imagination of Black southerners who migrated to the North. In doing so, she revises and deepens our appreciation of Bearden’s place in the artistic canon and our understanding of his relationship to southern, African American, and American cultural and social history.

2022 Society for Military History Annual Meeting

UNC Press is excited to be exhibiting in-person at SMH 2022—we hope you’ll stop by booth 207 and say hello to Debbie Gershenowitz! And if you can’t join us in-person, please visit our virtual booth!


Forthcoming

The Whartons’ War: The Civil War Correspondence of General Gabriel C. Wharton and Anne Radford Wharton, 1863–1865 Edited by William C. Davis and Sue Heth Bell

Feeding Washington’s Army: Surviving the Valley Forge Winter of 1778 by Ricardo A. Herrera

The Heart of Hell: The Soldiers’ Struggle for Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle by Jeffry D. Wert

Other Recent Military History Titles

The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction by William A. Blair

Divided by Terror: American Patriotism after 9/11 by John Bodnar

Twice Forgotten: African Americans and the Korean War, an Oral History by David P. Cline

The Generals’ Civil War: What Their Memoirs Can Teach Us Today by Stephen Cushman

Love and Duty: Confederate Widows and the Emotional Politics of Loss by Angela Esco Elder

Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War by Lorien Foote

Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox by Caroline E. Janney

Benjamin Franklin Butler: A Noisy, Fearless Life by Elizabeth D. Leonard

Her Cold War: Women in the U.S. Military, 1945–1980 by Tanya L. Roth

Choctaw Confederates: The American Civil War in Indian Country by Fay A. Yarbrough


Stop by our virtual booth for more information or to browse our military history titles on display. Be sure to use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive our 40% conference discount. And if your order totals over $75, domestic U.S. shipping is FREE.

Congratulations to 2022 Carnegie Fellows George Derek Musgrove and Monica M. White

Hearty congratulations to UNC Press authors Monica M. White, author of Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement, and George Derek Musgrove, co-author of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital, both part of the 2022 cohort of Andrew Carnegie Fellows.

About the Carnegie Fellows:

The Andrew Carnegie Fellows Program provides philanthropic support for scholarship in the humanities and social sciences that addresses important and enduring issues confronting our society. The award is for a period of up to two years and its anticipated result is a book or major study. The criteria prioritize the originality and promise of the research, its potential impact on the field, and the scholar’s plans for communicating the findings to a broad audience. This year’s fellows will advance research on U.S. democracy, the environment, polarization and inequality, technological and cultural evolution, and international relations, among other subjects.

Praise for Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M. White:

“Writing consciously with an eye on the uses of the past for understanding the present and influencing the future, White recovers the lost stories of Black activists who worked to ensure access to adequate and nutritious food for low-income communities, promoted alternatives to capitalist economic exploitation, and demanded a voice in the decisions affecting their lives. Scholars of African American history, agricultural history, and urban history will find much value in this book.”—Journal of Southern History

Praise for Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital by George Derek Musgrove and Chris Myers Asch:

“An ambitious, comprehensive chronicle of the civic experience of blacks, whites and other races over more than two centuries in Washington. . . . [It] succeeds in being both scholarly and accessible to the general reader.”—Washington Post

Detroit and Toxic Debt

Today marks eight years since the beginning of the ongoing Flint water contamination crisis.

The following is an excerpt from Toxic Debt: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit by Josiah Rector, officially on sale tomorrow wherever ebooks and books are sold.


Between 2014 and 2019, the City of Detroit shut off water for over 141,000 residential accounts, denying more than a quarter million people access to a basic survival necessity. Over this five-year period, members of the People’s Water Board Coalition and other activist groups were arrested for civil disobedience, filed lawsuits, lobbied for legislation at all levels of government, and even petitioned the United Nations, but the City of Detroit continued its policy of mass water shutoffs. It was only the arrival of the global COVID-19 pandemic in the late winter and early spring of 2020 that compelled the State of Michigan to order a temporary water shutoff moratorium. How could a city that one historian calls the “capital of the twentieth century” force hundreds of thousands of residents to live without running water in the twenty-first century? And how could such large-scale deprivation of water occur in a state surrounded by the Great Lakes? This book seeks to answer those questions—and a series of related ones about racism, capitalism, and unequal access to the means of human survival—by examining the history of Detroit since the late nineteenth century through the lens of environmental justice.

In 2019, the population of Detroit was 78.3 percent African American, 35 percent of residents lived below the federal poverty line, and per capita incomes were $18,621. Detroit’s water shutoffs were overwhelmingly concentrated among impoverished African Americans and disproportionately impacted the disabled, single mothers and their children, and elderly people living on fixed incomes. Water service disconnections forced the residents who were most likely to be unemployed, medically underserved, and lack a motor vehicle to live without running water for days, weeks, months, and in some cases years at a time.

By the end of April 2021, Detroit had confirmed 2,008 COVID-19 deaths and 133 probable deaths, along with over 46,000 cases. As in other states, the death toll from COVID-19 in Michigan reflected the egregious racial and economic inequalities that existed before the pandemic. Whereas African Americans made up 14 percent of Michigan’s population, they made up over 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in the first six months of the pandemic. According to the Michigan Disease Surveillance System, between March and July 2020 African Americans in Michigan died of COVID-19 at 6.7 times the rate of whites, while Latinx Americans died at twice the rate of whites. Some commentators, such as the sociologist Sabrina Strings, have emphasized the long-term historical roots of Black-white disparities in COVID-19 deaths, attributing them to intergenerational patterns of racism and oppression dating back to slavery. As Strings wrote in a New York Times op-ed, these disparities “are rooted in a shameful era of American history that took place hundreds of years before this pandemic.”

In the case of Detroit, the origins of these disparities were historically multilayered, and in important respects were directly connected to the legacies of racial slavery and segregation in both the North and the South. However, such transhistorical analyses can also falsely imply that they have changed little over the centuries while obscuring more recent culprits and potential solutions. Race, class, and gender inequalities in exposure to environmental hazards in Detroit (including microbes, industrial air and water pollutants, and toxic lead paint) have risen and fallen in different historical periods as a result of changes in political economy and public policy. For instance, racial disparities in tuberculosis deaths in Detroit rose dramatically in the 1920s, gradually declined in the 1930s and 1940s, and then increased again in the 1950s and 1960s even as overall tuberculosis deaths fell sharply.  Lead poisoning disparities declined in the late twentieth century and then increased again in the twenty-first. Perhaps most strikingly, water shutoffs in Detroit occurred only sporadically between 1934 and 2002 and then escalated to crisis proportions, widening racial disparities in vulnerability to infectious disease. These fluctuations cannot be explained transhistorically.

In addition to the unsanitary conditions created by water deprivation, industrial pollution and dilapidated public infrastructure contributed to underlying health conditions that exacerbated the risks of COVID-19 in Detroit. According to a 2017 study by Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments, a research partnership sponsored by the University of Michigan School of Public Health, air pollution caused an average of 690 excess deaths, 1,800 hospitalizations, and 3,400 asthma-related doctor’s visits in Detroit every year. Indeed, the study estimated that “ambient air pollution represents 7 percent of deaths in the city,” more than all the lives lost to homicide. Industrial facilities and motor vehicles spewing fine particulate matter, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and other air contaminants killed more Detroiters annually than the perpetrators of gun violence.

Moreover, early twenty-first-century Detroit was experiencing a lead poisoning epidemic even worse than the more widely publicized case of Flint, Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder’s policies of environmental deregulation, including the weakening of air pollution permit conditions, contributed directly to the problem. So too did the elimination of Detroit’s lead abatement program in 2012, partly due to Governor Snyder’s cuts in state revenue sharing, and a recklessly executed municipal “blight removal” program that blanketed Detroit neighborhoods with lead dust from demolition debris. As a result, rates of child lead poisoning in Detroit increased from 6.9 percent to 8.8 percent between 2015 and 2016, a rate over twice as high as in Flint in the aftermath of that city’s water disaster. These toxic and unsanitary conditions in too many Detroit neighborhoods made residents more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 For anyone familiar with the environmental justice movement and the interdisciplinary field of research it has inspired over the past three decades, the concentration of industrial pollutants and other health hazards in poor communities of color will come as no surprise. Toxic Debt pushes beyond some of the limits of the field, however. Most early environmental justice studies focused on contemporary manifestations of race and class inequalities in spatial proximity to toxic waste dumps and air pollution sources such as refineries, factories, and trash incinerators. With increasing sophistication, scholars have analyzed what sociologist David N. Pellow calls processes of “environmental inequality formation” over time. We now have a burgeoning historical literature on the making of urban environmental inequalities in every region of the United States.

Nevertheless, the standard narratives of environmental justice studies, including historical studies of urban environmental inequality, cannot fully explain the human-engineered public health disasters in twenty-first century Detroit and Flint. While most environmental justice studies examine communities on the “fence line” of billowing smokestacks and toxic waste dumps, finance and real estate have been no less historically implicated in racialized environmental injustice than heavy industry. Those who have profited from municipal bonds, mortgage loans, and land speculation have played a critical role in the unequal distribution of environmental health hazards. Over the past forty years, I argue, debt and the politics of austerity have become increasingly central to the struggle for environmental justice in the city. Banks, bond rating agencies, and state-appointed emergency finance managers have imposed austerity policies that turned environmental risks into humanitarian disasters in Detroit, Flint, and other Black-majority cities in Michigan. I use the concept of toxic debt to theorize this trend of environmental load displacement by financial capitalists and the state onto urban communities of color, as exemplified by Flint’s poisoned water and Detroit’s mass water shutoffs.


Josiah Rector is assistant professor of history at the University of Houston.