Capitalism and Slavery: The Development Of The Negro Slave Trade

For our last bit of JuneTeenth celebration this month, I decided to pull an excerpt from one of the books featured in our two part commemorative JuneTeenth recommended reading list (Part One, Part Two). This excerpt is from Eric Williams and Colin A. Palmer’s Capitalism and Slavery, Third Edition.

 The negro slaves were “the strength and sinews of this western world.” Negro slavery demanded the Negro slave trade. Therefore the preservation and improvement of the trade to Africa was “a matter of very high importance to this kingdom and the plantations thereunto belonging.” And thus it remained, up to 1783, a cardinal object of British foreign policy.

The first English slave-trading expedition was that of Sir John Hawkins in 1562. Like so many Elizabethan ventures, it was a buccaneering expedition, encroaching on the papal arbitration of 1493 which made Africa a Portuguese monopoly. The slaves obtained were sold to the Spaniards in the West Indies. The English slave trade remained desultory and perfunctory in character until the establishment of British colonies in the Caribbean and the introduction of the sugar industry. When by 1660 the political and social upheavals of the Civil War period came to an end, England was ready to embark wholeheartedly on a branch of commerce whose importance to her sugar and her tobacco colonies in the New World was beginning to be fully appreciated.

In accordance with the economic policies of the Stuart monarchy, the slave trade was entrusted to a monopolistic company, the Company of Royal Adventurers trading to Africa, thirty incorporated in 1663 for a period of one thousand years. The Earl of Clarendon voiced the enthusiasm current at the time, that the company would “be found a model equally to advance the trade of England with that of any other company, even that of the East lndies.” The optimistic prediction was not realized, largely as a result of losses and dislocations caused by war with the Dutch, and in 1672 a new company, the Royal African Company, was created.

The policy of monopoly, however, remained unchanged and provoked determined resistance in two quarters—the merchants in the outports, struggling to break down the monopoly of the capital; and the planters in the colonies, demanding free trade in blacks as vociferously and with as much gusto as one hundred and fifty years later they opposed free trade in sugar. The mercantilist intelligentsia were divided on the question. Postlethwayt, most prolific of the mercantilist writers, wanted the company, the whole company and nothing but the company. Joshua Gee emphasized the frugality and good management of the private trader. Davenant, one of the ablest economists and financial experts of his day, at first opposed the monopoly, and then later changed his mind, arguing that other nations found organized companies necessary, and that the company would “stand in place of an academy, for training an indefinite number of people in the regular knowledge of all matters relating to the several branches of the African trade.”

The case against monopoly was succinctly stated by the free traders—or interlopers as they were then called—to the Board of Trade in 1711. The monopoly meant that the purchase of British manufactures for sale on the coast of Africa, control of ships employed in the slave trade, sale of Negroes to the plantations, importation of plantation produce—“this great circle of trade and navigation,” on which the livelihood, direct and indirect, of many thousands depended—would be under the control of a single company.” The planters in their tum complained of the quality, prices, and irregular deliveries, and refused to pay their debts to the company.

There was nothing unique in this opposition to the monopoly of the slave trade. Monopoly was an ugly word, which conjured up memories of the political tyranny of Charles I, though no “free trader” of the time could have had the slightest idea of the still uglier visions the word would conjure up one hundred and fifty years later when it was associated with the economic tyranny of the West Indian sugar planter. But in the last decade of the seventeenth century the economic current was flowing definitely against monopoly. In 1672 the Baltic trade was thrown open and the monopoly of the Eastland Company overthrown. One of the most important consequences of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the expulsion of the Stuarts was the impetus it gave to the principle of free trade. In 1698 the Royal African Company lost its monopoly and the right of a free trade in slaves was recognized as a fundamental and natural right of Englishmen. In the same year the Merchant Adventurers of London were deprived of their monopoly of the export trade in cloth, and a year later the monopoly of the Muscovy Company was abrogated and trade to Russia made free. Only in one particular did the freedom accorded in the slave trade differ from the freedom accorded in other trades—the commodity involved was man.

Eric Williams (1911-1981) served as the first prime minister of independent Trinidad and Tobago beginning in 1962 until his death. Prior to entering politics, he was a professor of social and political science at Howard University. 

Colin A. Palmer was a leading historian of the Caribbean and the African diaspora. He chronicles the history of the Caribbean in the wake of British and U.S. imperialism in the trilogy comprised of Freedom’s ChildrenCheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power, and Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean

Gender and the Past and Future of Palm Oil

Guest blog post by Jonathan E. Robins, author of Oil Palm: A Global History

The modern palm oil industry has a masculine face. Visitors to plantations can see men wielding wobbly cutting tools as they slice fruit from palm trees, and heave the spiky bunches of fruit into trucks. Men drive the bulldozers and excavators clearing forest to make way for new plantations, and they still make up most of the faces in corporate boardrooms.

But recent investigations—like the one that triggered a US Customs and Border Protection ban on major palm oil exporters—have called attention to the conditions of women in the industry. In plantations, women perform less visible work: spreading fertilizer, culling weeds, tending seedlings, gathering loose fruit. They often do this for low pay, facing unsafe exposure to chemicals and physical and sexual abuse. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil identified gender inequity as one of the most pressing issues facing this big, fast-growing industry.

Women’s work has been vital to the palm oil industry for its entire history. And that history shows that women have also been at the forefront of struggles for a more just palm oil industry.

Women in the African palm oil industry

For centuries, communities cultivating the African oil palm tree practiced a gendered division of labor. Men climbed trees to cut palm fruit, while women engaged in the cooking work that produced oil—boiling fruit, pounding it, and squeezing oily juices out of the pulp.

Historically, women often retained ownership of a share of the finished oil, or claimed the oil-rich kernels inside as compensation for their work. Women dominated the markets where oil was sold—first to local consumers, and later to European agents buying it to feed Europe’s soap, candle, and margarine factories.

A man and two women making palm oil ca. 1900. The women are working in a large vessel built into the ground for crushing palm fruit and washing out the oil. J. Adam, Le Palmier à huile (1910), p. 152.

To meet growing demand for palm oil in the 1840s, producers in several regions adopted labor-saving processes that reduced or eliminated the need for women’s labor. By letting fruit ferment, young men without wives could dispense with women’s cooking work. The “hard oil” that resulted was foul-smelling and thoroughly rancid, but it served as a cheap substitute for tallow, whale oil, and other fats in Europe’s soap and candle factories.

After the “Scramble for Africa” in the 1880-1890s, colonial efforts to squeeze more palm oil out of Africa repeatedly foundered on gender issues. In Sierra Leone, for example, men refused to sell palm fruit to soap magnate William Lever’s new oil mills. As one official explained, their wives “would escape their share of the work.” (Men and women did the math: selling fruit would pay a lot less than making oil in the household.) 

Into the 1950s, women in Ghana, Benin, and Nigeria rallied against colonial mechanization projects—or rather against how mechanization excluded women from the industry. When men sold fruit to mills, their wives lost access to oil, kernels, and even kernel shells and exhausted fruit fiber, both of which had value as cooking fuel. 

A kernel cracking machine at work in Mensah the Oil Palm Farmer (1956), a colonial propaganda pamphlet aimed at convincing men to invest in machinery. Women were ready to use labor-saving machines—when they could keep ownership of the finished oil and kernels.

Women and the plantation system 

The oil palm plantation industry emerged in Southeast Asia after 1910, and it radically reshaped the social and environmental conditions of oil palm work. Plantation companies now owned the trees, and the workers were migrants with no rights to land and little recourse against abusive employers. While men still cut fruit on plantations, machines made the oil. Women were relegated to low-paid tasks like weeding, applying chemicals, and the vital work of hand-pollinating oil palms. (The oil palm’s relocation to Southeast Asia separated it from its natural pollinators.) On many plantations, women were also subject to sexual exploitation. 

Independence from colonial rule brought changes to the plantation system, but women were still disadvantaged. Technical innovations, including the introduction of a pollinating insect, tended to reduce or eliminate women’s employment. World Bank-funded settlement projects across the region only gave land titles to married men; women had no formal claims to palm trees or income, despite the labor they provided.

As oil palm plantations expand in Africa and Latin America, they risk bringing the same gendered injustices seen in Southeast Asian plantation systems. But gender inequity isn’t an inevitable part of the oil palm business. In Ghana, for example, women machine-owners now lead a vibrant artisanal oil industry. Women have also been at the forefront of campaigns against plantation land-grabs

Plantation companies are recognizing the importance of women’s work, too. After seeing how men argued with their wives over the collection of loose palm fruit around harvesting sites, one company in Papua New Guinea began buying loose fruit directly from women. The company got more fruit, women got their own cash incomes, and conflicts over the blurry division between “household” and “economic” work diminished. It’s a clear example of how important women remain in the oil palm industry—and of the injustices that come when women are ignored.

Jonathan E. Robins is associate professor of history at Michigan Technological University. 

Princess Noire: We Knew She Was a Genius

With a few more days left to celebrate Black Music Month, we chose to post this excerpt from Nadine Cohodas’ Princess Noire: The Tumultuous Reign of Nina Simone. This book and a few other titles were featured on a recommended reading list commemorating some of the incredible things black people have brought to music as a whole.

John Irvin sang in a St. Luke quartet and played guitar with his father; Lucille, Carrol, Harold, and Dorothy sang in the church choir, but even before their baby sister could walk, they realized she had more musical talent than all of them. “When she was eight months old, my daughter hummed ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘Jesus Loves Me,’ ” Kate said. “I had a quilt that I had on the floor for her, and she wanted to look at magazines. Every time she saw a musical note, she tried to sing.”

Parishioners at St. Luke commented, when they saw little Eunice at church, that she clapped in time to the hymns. She must be blessed, they told her parents. By the time she was two and a half, Eunice could hoist herself onto the stool in front of the organ, sit at the keyboard, and make sounds come out, and not just any sounds. One time she played her mother’s favorite hymn, “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” without a mistake.

“We knew she was a genius by the time she was three,” her brother Carrol declared, and it is a tribute to her parents that Eunice’s brothers and sisters did not begrudge the attention and opportunities that came her way. “She was preserved,” Dorothy remembered, exempted from the typical chores, washing dishes and the like. “Her fingers were protected. She was always special in that way. Nobody was jealous,” Dorothy added. “We adored her.”

Eunice took this special status in stride because her parents insisted on it. She didn’t dare get a swelled head. Yes, she had talent, her parents told her, but the talent was God-given, and she should be grateful. Eunice didn’t know what a “prodigy” was when people called her that, and no one at home explained it to her either. All she knew was that she absorbed the music she heard, especially the religious songs her mother sang around the house, “I’ll Fly Away” and “If You Pray Right (Heaven Belongs to You).” Kate sang when she cleaned and when she baked, and Eunice loved it when her mother, rarely missing a beat, sat her on the countertop, gave her an empty jam jar, and let her cut out shapes from the biscuit dough about to go in the oven.

As a full-fledged minister now, Kate traveled through the surrounding counties preaching and leading services. When Eunice turned four, Kate took her out on the road to open her events. Most of the time Eunice could barely reach the pedals on the church piano, which made the sight of this little girl dressed in her Sunday best even more arresting. The audience was primed to be impressed before she struck the first note, and Eunice didn’t disappoint. Though it might have seemed inappropriate, even cruel, to put a toddler to work, even the Lord’s work, Eunice liked the adventure of seeing new places and visiting new churches. If she was tired at the end of these services, she slept in the back seat of the car on the way back to Tryon, undisturbed by the occasional jostling on the bumpy rural roads.

J.D.’S JOB in the federal recovery program ended just as Kate’s preaching duties began to consume more of her time. At some point in this period, probably 1935 or 1936, he also closed the dry cleaning shop and took a new job cooking at a Boy Scout camp on Lake Lanier, the large man-made lake just south of town. Created in 1924 by damming one of the creeks, the lake now served the dual purposes of recreation for well-heeled white residents and a reservoir for the surrounding area. An ad to induce the sale of lots promised “They Rise Together—Land Values—Water Values,” with a barometer for illustration. The fringe benefits of J.D.’s new job included the extra food he brought home from camp and the chance to take his oldest son with him.

Nadine Cohodas is the author of, among other books, Queen: The Life and Music of Dinah Washington

Pauli Murray: A Child of Destiny or A Nobody Without Identity, 1910–1926

To further celebrate Pride Month, the following is an excerpt from Troy R. Saxby’s Pauli Murray: A Personal And Political Life. This book is one of five titles from a reading list we created in commemoration of Pride Month; view the entire reading list here.

Pauli Murray long believed that she was born on November 20, 1910, and named Anna Pauline Murray. It came as a shock to discover, then, when she began research for an autobiography, that her birth certificate said her birth occurred a day later and her baptism certificate listed her name as Annie, not Anna. The sudden confusion around the basic elements of her personal identity illustrate a more general uncertainty that appeared at different points in Murray’s life: uncertainty as to whether what she believed of herself was true, or whether what society said about her was true. Had her parents remained in her life for longer, Pauli might have asked them for confirmation, but instead their early absence created further uncertainty. As a child Pauli “fed voraciously” on other people’s memories of her parents—these reminiscences had a profound influence on her development. In the opening paragraphs of her autobiography she explained, “Their striving to achieve filled me with pride and incentive, while their misfortunes left a legacy of mournfulness hovering like a gray mist over my early childhood.” Through the gray mist of tragic events and unreliable evidence, Pauli looked back to fashion a coherent, encouraging story of her own beginning. The story shifted over time, but her final autobiographical account went along the following lines.

Pauli Murray believed that she inherited an energetic nature from her father. William Murray liked to hunt and fish, play baseball and basketball, compose poetry and music, and play the piano and flute. Despite severely limited education and employment opportunities for African Americans—William’s mother washed clothes, while his father waited tables—“Will” showed tremendous grit to graduate in 1899, at age twenty-seven, from Howard University’s college preparatory department. He gained employment as a teacher in Baltimore’s segregated school system and married another teacher, but the marriage soon ended in tragedy when he lost both his wife and their first child during labor. Grief didn’t slow William down for long. Soon after his first wife’s death, Will attended a summer school in Hampton, Virginia, where he met Agnes Fitzgerald.

Pauli Murray believed that she inherited a fiery temperament from her mother. Those who knew “Aggie” well described her as quick-tempered, though her rage subsided equally quickly and she didn’t hold grudges. Six years younger than William Murray, Agnes was born on Christmas night 1878 and grew up participating in all the manual work required to keep the family’s North Carolina farm going, yet when she decided that she wanted to be a nurse, her parents said no. Like many at the time, her parents believed a nursing career would be too physically demanding and too likely to expose their daughter to indignities. Her three older sisters chose more acceptable careers—two went into teaching, and the other became a dressmaker—but Agnes wanted to be a nurse and would not be deterred. Through a combination of persuasion and stubbornness Agnes gained her parents’ permission, if not their blessing, to attend Hampton Training School for Nurses, where she met William Murray in 1901.

He noticed her at a dance. Agnes was hard not to notice—her expressive eyes and mass of curly hair were especially striking. On this night she wore her hair pulled back and tied with a pink ribbon that matched the pink dotted dress she had made for the occasion; Agnes only realized when she got home that evening that she had worn the dress inside out. If William noticed, he didn’t care. His eyes followed her all evening, but he dared not approach her. Will had escorted Aggie’s cousin Sadie to the dance and, as the campus YMCA president, he did not want to appear frivolous. Nevertheless, he made sure he left the dance at the same time as Agnes, then maneuvered Cousin Sadie through a crowded streetcar to gain an introduction. Agnes and William began courting immediately. People who saw the handsome pair together thought they could be siblings—both were lean, with expressive eyes, dark wavy hair, and coppery-colored skin. The courtship continued through correspondence after the summer ended and William returned to Baltimore.

Troy R. Saxby is an academic and research officer at the University of Newcastle. 

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

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

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

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

A Volcano in Asheville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Black Music Month: A Recommended Reading List

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



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




Distributed for the North Carolina Arts Council

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juneteenth, Our Newest National Holiday: A Recipe for Celebration

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

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

Nanticoke Catfish

Makes 8 servings

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cornmeal

1 tablespoon rubbed sage

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

4 large eggs

8 catfish fillets

Vegetable oil

Lemon wedges

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve hot with lemon wedges.

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

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



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



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



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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

African American Children: Some of the Last Recipients of Emancipation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Committed: Remembering Native Kinship in and beyond Institutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s far from the end of the story.

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

Susan Burch is professor of American studies at Middlebury College. 

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

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



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



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



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

Not Straight, Not White: Untangling Black Pathology

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

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

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

Brag and Drag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay On God’s Campus: The Context of Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communing with Golf and Nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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