Emancipation, Slavery, and Violence in the Wake of Lee’s Surrender

The following is a guest blog post by Caroline E. Janney, author of Ends of War: The Unfinished Fight of Lee’s Army after Appomattox. In this dramatic new history of the weeks and months after Appomattox, Caroline E. Janney reveals that Lee’s surrender was less an ending than the start of an interregnum marked by military and political uncertainty, legal and logistical confusion, and continued outbursts of violence. Janney takes readers from the deliberations of government and military authorities to the ground-level experiences of common soldiers. 

Happy belated Book Birthday to Ends of War, officially on sale now!

One hundred and fifty-nine years ago, on September 22, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary emancipation proclamation. The final proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863, freeing enslaved people in the portions of the Confederacy not controlled by United States troops. But as Black men and women as well as historians have long understood, the Emancipation Proclamation was but one piece of the process of emancipation – a process that would extend well beyond the surrender of Lee’s Confederate army at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.

Emancipation had not been one of the terms of  surrender and had not yet been secured by the Thirteenth Amendment’s ratification. While most slave owners bitterly conceded they were no longer entitled to control the flesh of other humans, at least some Confederate soldiers remained intent on protecting their property. Only days after the surrender, cavalry adjutant Robert Hubard of Buckingham County, Virginia, attempted to hide both horses and “3 or 4 Negroes” from occupying Union troops. Maj. Henry Kyd Douglas, still fuming that his “boy, Buck,” had absconded from Appomattox with his horse and personal baggage, later wrote that his first purpose upon leaving the surrender field was “to go in search of my man and my properties.” Even in defeat, these men failed to acknowledge the Emancipation Proclamation. For them it had been a moot point.

While Confederate soldiers sought to protect their human property, the presence of United States Colored Troops served as a stark reminder of both slavery’s demise and the rise of a new social order for white southerners. The greatest nightmare of white southerners, slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike, had long been that of a slave uprising. For many Confederates, the USCT represented just this: armed Black men sent into the South with northern sanction to kill white men, a fear that had escalated after Confederates surrendered their weapons. Paroled Confederates clearly felt the reversal of antebellum power. Upon reaching Petersburg on April 17, chaplain William Wiatt asserted he had been “grossly insulted by a Negro soldier.” The next day at City Point, he was again “insulted again by a Negro soldier.” Such was not the deference white men expected from African Americans.

While some of Lee’s men complained about Black soldiers, others later claimed to have responded with deadly force. When Pvt. Hartwell Koon of Finegan’s Florida Brigade accused a USCT sentinel of kicking him while the parolees awaited an ocean transport at City Point, tensions quickly escalated. Another Floridian struck the Black soldier in retaliation before an officer, who had been allowed to retain his sidearms per the surrender terms, ran his sword clear through the Black guard. Such actions might have been overlooked by Confederate authorities, but the paroled soldiers realized that in a post-Appomattox world, they could be charged with war crimes by the U.S. government. They hurried back to a nearby ship to avoid getting caught, but escaping without penalty must have emboldened the band of Floridians. Still waiting for their ship to depart City Point on April 17, they ventured ashore, where they learned of Lincoln’s assassination. Seeing the rebels amid the mourning services, several African Americans minced no words, cursing the parolees “in a very vile language.” Again, the Floridians claimed to respond with deadly violence, David L. Geer of the 5th Florida recalling years later that “some of the boys strung up those coons on the pickets that made the fence around the park.” Evading punishment once more, they climbed aboard the U.S. transport Wilmington on April 22, bound for Savannah.

On its face, Geer’s account seems improbable. Even if the Confederate soldiers were armed, the enlisted men would not have been, whereas the Black soldier would have had a gun. Moreover, it is unlikely that such brutalities would not have been noticed by white Union soldiers. If Geer fabricated the account decades later, that is significant in itself. 

But evidence does exist of Confederate soldiers murdering Union soldiers. From Richmond in late April, Thomas Morris Chester reported that “rebel officers continue to strut about in the uniform in which they delighted to murder Union soldiers, in a spirit which is almost beyond the degree of loyal forbearance.” There were likewise several cases of white southerners tried by military commissions in the spring of 1865 for assaulting and murdering Black soldiers. 

Given the centrality of violence to slavery, it is little wonder that defeated white southern men resorted to deadly force in response to what they perceived as the slightest provocation from Black men who now held positions of authority—and guns. Yet these violent encounters also underscored the degree to which wartime atrocities by Confederates against the USCT continued after April 9, 1865.

Caroline E. Janney is the John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War and Director of the John L. Nau III Center for Civil War History at the University of Virginia. 

Recovering a Forgotten Massacre of Black People in Reconstruction

The following is a guest blog post by William A. Blair, author of The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction. Blair uses the accounts of far-flung Freedmen’s Bureau agents to ask questions about the early days of Reconstruction, which are surprisingly resonant with the present day: How do you prove something happened in a highly partisan atmosphere where the credibility of information is constantly challenged? And what form should that information take to be considered as fact?

Happy Book Birthday to The Record of Murders and Outrages, officially on sale today!

A century after the destruction of the African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ordinary Americans have learned how easily shameful chapters in our history can be forgotten. Historians of the early twentieth-century U.S. knew that racial tension and violence marked the era, with Tulsa a stark example of a larger problem. The horror of that action reemerged in public consciousness through the persistent efforts by scholars and the retelling of this important story in books, articles, documentaries, commemorations, and podcasts.

Americans, however, still have a limited knowledge of the shocking scale of racial violence in the post-Civil War South. Suppression of Black voting fueled the terrorism in 1868. The Ku Klux Klan represented only a portion of the brutality perpetrated by white southerners determined to maintain white supremacy as they faced both defeat and the emancipation of formerly enslaved people. 

This history can be reclaimed because of information in federal archives grouped under the provocative title of “The Records Relating to Murders and Outrages.” Military officers and agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau stationed in the South carefully gathered the voluminous evidence of atrocities committed against African Americans. Black witnesses who reported these stories often risked their lives in an attempt to seek justice. The material offers a glimpse into the racial violence occurring in rural, isolated regions that otherwise could have gone unnoticed.

One such massacre came in the fall of 1868 in Bossier and Caddo parishes, both located in an isolated corner of northwest Louisiana. A Union military officer supervising the region speculated that white Southerners had killed perhaps 100 Black people. The report mentioned that nine freedmen “were taken to [the] bank of Red River and told to swim for their lives, at which they plunged in and were shot as they rose to the surface.” Assailants also gunned down three freedmen making a coffin for a murdered friend. The officer believed perhaps another 70 freedpeople had been killed in other parts of Bossier Parrish. Gaining information remained difficult since terrorists threatened to kill investigators. 

The slayings had begun around October 1 as a white trader named Gibson stopped for corn at Shady Grove Plantation in Bossier Parish. Gibson saw a Black man sitting nearby and yelled, “You was all damned radicals.” Once he discerned the freedman would vote Republican in the presidential election, he leveled a weapon and fired, but missed. Black men captured and bound him but left him unharmed. News spread, as well as unsubstantiated rumors that two white men had been killed. By the next morning, white people seeking vengeance escalated the violence to unimaginable proportions.

White vigilantes streamed into Shady Grove to fire indiscriminately on freedpeople. They immediately shot down eight men and two women—both killed for pleading for the lives of their husbands. Raiders took seven men to a neighboring place, killing six. When they learned one survived, they went back to finish the job. White assailants came upon a Black man who refused to doff his hat. They put a chain around his neck, cut his throat, and hanged him on a tree where he stayed for three days. 

Mass executions were common. Terrorists seized thirty Black people from around Shreveport on October 1, tied them with ropes, and killed them from behind. On October 12, murderers burned down a building in which they had chained seven Black people. In a different instance, five Black men were taken from their work at a brickyard, marched to the Red River with hands tied, and then shot down.

Known primarily to local historians and scholars of the state’s reconstruction—but absent from much of the general scholarship of the period—the violence in Bossier and Caddo parishes in Louisiana constituted perhaps the worst death toll for Black people during early Reconstruction. One historian has documented 185 deaths in these two parishes, with government records estimating perhaps 200 slain.

Newspapers carried some accounts, but nineteenth-century Americans lived in a world of partisan journalism that effectively created news bubbles that allowed the opposition to dismiss what they did not want to believe. A toxic partisan and racial atmosphere contributed to the tendency among whites to overlook the atrocities. Like the Tulsa massacre, this tragic episode might have been lost were it not for the Freedmen’s Bureau officers and the freedpeople who risked their lives to bear witness to these atrocities.

William A. Blair is the Walter L. and Helen P. Ferree Professor Emeritus of Middle American History at Penn State University. 

Wayfaring Strangers: Afterword for a New Second Edition

UNC Press is incredibly pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia by Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr, foreword by Dolly Parton, and with a new afterword by the authors that is excerpted below in its entirety.

The New York Times called Wayfaring Strangers upon its publication in 2014 “essential . . . a gorgeous gift book.”

Watch for a follow up blog post focused on the accompanying Spotify Wayfaring Strangers playlist that will feature music notes on tracks curated by Fiona Ritchie for this new edition.

Reflecting in 2021 on the passage of time since Wayfaring Strangers was first published in 2014, it helps to reach once again for the words of the late Scottish poet, songwriter, and collector Hamish Henderson. His metaphor of the carrying stream, the unknowable source of tradition and creativity, ever flowing and always replenished, is reassuring when performing arts have been stilled by a global pandemic. Whenever the carrying stream appears quiet on the surface, we take comfort in the knowledge that it is, in fact, never still. Onward it flows, meandering along a never-ending course. Henderson also wrote about injustice, dignity, equality, international solidarity, and harmony with the natural world. At this particular time, his poetry and activism speak to us, perhaps more than ever, and remind us of the power of words and music.

Much has changed since 2014. Against a backdrop of dramatic social and political reorganization, cultural dialogues across the Atlantic World have gained new momentum. The Transatlantic Sessions television series produced for BBC Scotland and RTÉ Ireland, featuring performances by Scottish, Irish,  English, and North American folk roots and country artists, is now critically acclaimed on all shores. Bluegrass and Americana music fuel the popularity of the growing I-Grass/Celtigrass genre (Irish-influenced bluegrass). In 2019, Carnegie Hall’s landmark festival, Migrations, the Making of America, held performances and events all across New York City. The celebration showed how American culture has always evolved through the movement of people who are often forced together by their circumstances. The musical legacies of transatlantic crossings from Scotland and Ireland provided a focal point for this ambitious festival.

Since we started our work on Wayfaring Strangers, a particular thread in the musical tapestry continues to galvanize conversation, as a generation of young Black artists retells the story of the banjo. It had originated in Black communities but was locked down as a white instrument by a fledgling recording industry only too keen to obscure its African origins. The members of Our Native Daughters and other artists continue to correct the banjo’s narrative. This work calls on us to honor all facets of the musical journey chronicled in this book and to recognize the diversity that created, and continues to enrich, American music. Today this quest encompasses the Black Banjo Reclamation Project and extends through storytelling and literature. Multidisciplinary Kentucky artist Frank X. Walker introduced the term “Affrilachia” in his writing on African American and Appalachian identity, and he is a founding member of the Affrilachian Poets. When all hues and textures are equally visible, Appalachia’s interwoven culture is at its most enthralling

Our journey since publication has made wayfarers of us, too. We exchanged amazed glances in August 2015 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the world’s largest public celebration of the written word, where Wayfaring Strangers opened the evening program. In 2019 we visited New York City, signing books at Carnegie Hall as part of Migrations: The Making of America, amazed again that the book had paved our way to such a storied location. We collaborated on a concert with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Berklee College of Music at Glasgow’s City Halls, as part of Celtic Connections, and with Peggy Seeger and Alan Reid at the Birnam Book Festival.

Our book tours and presentations included stops in Portobello, Belfast, the Ulster-American Folk Park, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Along the trail, people shared their stories with us, and the warmth, and sometimes the tears, of audience members who were moved to offer their own family histories and musical experiences has stayed with us. It reminds us that we might all try to carry on the important work of tradition-bearers, interviewing senior family members, friends, or companions so that their life experiences are captured and preserved. Among the more than three million recordings and radio broadcasts in the sound archives at the Library of Congress are many rare gems captured in family homes on wax cylinder, digital file, and every sound technology in between. It is precious stuff indeed. A favorite sign in a Big Stone Gap, Virginia, bookstore that reads “a good book has no ending” reminds us that new Voices of Tradition will continue the story. We will be forever grateful to our original voices, the forty-three tradition-bearers who shaped the book’s narrative, sharing their wisdom and anecdotes from locations across the map. Eight of these voices are now silent, a sad marker of the passing years, but their voices speak clearly from these pages, and their musical legacies will live on.

The three mainstay locations on our tour map—Scotland, Ulster, and Appalachia—have been cultural overachievers. The philosophers of the eighteenth- century Scottish Enlightenment greatly influenced America’s founding fathers, and their enlightenment culture reverberated globally through intellectual and scientific discovery. Major literary figures such as Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, and James Macpherson emerged during this era, and their works traveled across the Atlantic as part of the Scottish diaspora. From North to South, the island of Ireland nourished poets, writers, and troubadours honing their crafts by the hearths of their cottages and inns, among them Seamus Heaney, W. B. Yeats, and Joe Holmes. Amid the coves and hollows of Appalachia, despite relentless economic impoverishment, the “way back yonder” ballads and tunes became a wellspring for Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson, David Holt, the Seegers, and so many others, a songbook legacy that music historian Ron Pen calls “the music that America comes home to.”

Charting the musical voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia, one of history’s great migration sagas, and sharing stories at book presentations, we remain mindful of this: while some of these people traveled of their own volition in the hope of freedom from poverty and persecution, others did not travel of their own free will. Deportees from debtors prisons and indentured servants all faced ongoing restrictions and harsh conditions. Through the generations, their traits of resilience and tenacity drove these settlers to establish new communities in the New World. This was, of course, a landscape already long inhabited by Indigenous tribal nations who in turn became dis- placed in their own country.

We are all immigrants within some branch of our ancestral family tree, and the forces that compel human movement are unstoppable. A multicultural pluralistic society, for all its advantages, is still too often beleaguered by the suspicion of “otherness” that plagued earlier waves of migrants, and walls are raised, both literally and figuratively. Gathering together through music offers a space for compassion and understanding, a bridge across the barbed wire, transcend- ing the barriers of language and custom, as it did for Ulster fiddler Joe Holmes and the inclusive musical community he described in our book: “This sort of ceilidh with song, story and dance was common to many houses in County Antrim and other parts of Ulster irrespective of religious affiliation and background . . . fireside philosophers, rustic bards, storytellers, balladeers, traditional musicians and dancers . . . ordinary people with extraordinary skills and imaginations.”

The COVID-19 global pandemic created a void—no ceilidhs or concerts—and musicians, venues, and arts organizations suffered greatly, their incomes disappearing overnight. From the Mount Airy Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in North Carolina to the Niel Gow Festival in Perthshire, music festivals were canceled, and many moved to online platforms for remote performance and teaching. As musical life migrated to the internet, prospects for international collaboration expanded, and some artists voyaged far and wide to connect, exchange, and explore. Nowadays, rare vintage vinyl collections are uploaded, and the riches of field recordings, once tied to geographical locations, are accessible worldwide to researchers and sleuth- ing musicians. And so a generation of young Black woman artists discovers that the banjo really does be- long to them, for example, and young ballad singers everywhere access song and sound archives to learn from tradition-bearers now long gone. These online resources became a creative lifeline when the pandemic compelled most musicians to take indefinite down time. Online life also brought far-flung communities even closer together, including a Sister Cities/Twin Towns partnership between Asheville, North Carolina, and the villages of Dunkeld and Birnam in Scotland, formally established on location in 2017. With the advent of travel restrictions and the suspension of in-person gatherings during the pandemic, participants in celebrations, musical exchanges, and church services linked hands across the water to their twinned communities using streaming technologies to unite a fractured world. For all the enjoyment of online musical projects, however, providing performances free or by donation is not sustainable for most artists. The brightest creative sparks ignite when people are sitting shoulder to shoulder and sharing together. The community of music that flourished by the Ulster hearth of Joe Holmes, and thrives today in settings like the Swannanoa Gathering music camp at Warren Wilson College, will take its place once more at the heart of the traditional music scene.

Finally, as we add another chapter to this journey, we offer a wayfarers’ toast to our esteemed publisher, the University of North Carolina Press, always a source of undying and masterly support. UNC Press is one of the oldest and most highly respected university presses in the United States, a status richly earned, as we can attest, from our earliest book conversations to the publication of this new edition.

In 2022, our friends and colleagues at UNC Press mark their centennial. In celebration, we offer these lines from a poem by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s Makar (national poet laureate) from 2016 to 2021, commissioned by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay to mark the end of 2020. We dedicate it to UNC Press at 100 and to all of you who venture along the wayfaring path of discovery.

But the lone piper fills the pipes with air;
our individual breaths blow oot in prayer,
wee church or secular, over these rooftops;
to travel endlessly and not to stop . . .

Till the hands wring the minutes out of the clock
and the new year turns its key in the old year’s

2021 National Women’s Studies Association Annual Meeting

It’s the first weekend of the National Women’s Studies Association virtual annual meeting. We hope you’ll visit our NWSA 2021 virtual booth to browse our new and recent titles, to connect with editor Mark Simpson-Vos, and to learn more about our Gender and American Culture series.

New Titles in Women and Gender History from UNC Press

Afropolitan Projects: Redefining Blackness, Sexualities, and Culture from Houston to Accra

Anima Adjepong

Half in Shadow: The Life and Legacy of Nellie Y. McKay

Shanna Greene Benjamin

Porn Work: Sex, Labor, and Late Capitalism

Heather Berg

Tainted Tap: Flint’s Journey from Crisis to Recovery

Katrinell M. Davis

The Streets Belong to Us: Sex, Race, and Police Power from Segregation to Gentrification

Anne Gray Fischer

Against Sex: Identities of Sexual Restraint in Early America

Kara M. French

Grotesque Touch: Women, Violence, and Contemporary Circum-Caribbean Narratives

Amy K. King

At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, and Shifting Identities in Washington, D.C.

Tamika Y. Nunley

Living Queer History: Remembrance and Belonging in a Southern City

Gregory Samantha Rosenthal

Her Cold War: Women in the U.S. Military, 1945–1980

Tanya L. Roth

Dancing with the Revolution: Power, Politics, and Privilege in Cuba

Elizabeth B. Schwall

Beyond the Boundaries of Childhood: African American Children in the Antebellum North

Crystal Lynn Webster

The Souls of Womenfolk: The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South

Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh

The Male Chauvinist Pig: A History

Julie Willett

Run Home If You Don’t Want to Be Killed: The Detroit Uprising of 1943

Rachel Marie-Crane Williams

Now in paperback (and perfect for course adoption)!

Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement

Cathleen D. Cahill

A Saint of Our Own: How the Quest for a Holy Hero Helped Catholics Become American

Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edited by Sara B. Franklin

To browse these titles and more, please be sure to visit our National Women’s Studies Association virtual booth. Use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive a 40% discount. And if your order totals over $75, domestic U.S. shipping is FREE.

Three Black Prisoners Who Refused to Be Forgotten

The following is a guest blog post by Lorien Foote, author of Rites of Retaliation: Civilization, Soldiers, and Campaigns in the American Civil War. Blending military and cultural history, Lorien Foote’s rich and insightful book sheds light on how Americans fought over what it meant to be civilized and who should be extended the protections of a civilized world.

Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day, a time when the United States remembers and honors those who are missing in action or who are being held as prisoners of war.  Currently, there are more than 81,600 Americans who are still missing: https://www.dpaa.mil/Our-Missing/Past-Conflicts/.  

This day is an appropriate time to tell the unknown story of three Black servicemen from the United States Navy who were prisoners during the American Civil War.  Their determination to be remembered and accounted for changed the fate of other Black captives held by the Confederate States of America.

Orin H. Brown, a barber by trade, William H. Johnson, an unskilled laborer, and William Wilson, a waiter, were born free in New York.  At different times, each enlisted in the United States Navy, and all three shipped from New York on September 26, 1862 on the gunboat Isaac Smith.  The vessel sailed to Charleston Harbor, where it was part of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron.  The Isaac Smith often patrolled the Stono River.

 On January 30, 1863, Confederates set a trap for the Isaac Smith and her crew.  They camouflaged artillery and sharpshooters behind bushes and trees, and when the vessel anchored opposite a plantation, opened fire.  The Federals were caught in tremendous crossfire and a bend in the river.  A shot through the engine stopped the vessel, and its commander surrendered the entire crew.  Confederates captured 11 officers, and 108 enlisted men, including Brown, Johnson, and Wilson.  They took the prisoners to the Charleston Jail.

 Confederates immediately paroled all of the white captives from the Isaac Smith.  U.S. naval authorities had no idea what happened to Brown, Johnson, and Wilson.  Confederate commanders in South Carolina refused inquiries on the subject.

Confederates considered all Black men in Federal uniform, even if they had been born free in northern states, to be slaves engaged in insurrection rather than legitimate combatants entitled to be treated as a prisoner of war.  On May 1, 1863, the Confederate Congress passed resolutions that required captured Black men who were citizens of northern states to be handed over to state authorities to be tried as felons.

Brown, Johnson, and Wilson were confined in a small cell in the Charleston Jail. They were fed nothing but a little cornbread and water.  They had sympathizers in the jail and in the city, however, who smuggled them paper and pencil, smuggled out the letter they wrote, and delivered it to the United States Consul in Nassau, the Bahamas.  

“Our sufferings are unspeakable,” the American prisoners wrote.  “In the name of God, are we to be protected and aided or are we to be left here to die?  We belong to the United States Navy and we ask for aid and protection.”

The consul forwarded the letter to Gideon Welles, the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, who gave it to Edwin Stanton, the U.S. Secretary of War, on August 3, 1863.  “From the walls of their prison they make themselves heard,” Welles said.  The U.S. War Department acted immediately.  Only four days earlier, the United States had demanded that the Confederacy treat Black men as prisoners of war and had issued an order announcing the intention to retaliate if the Confederacy tried and executed Black men who were born in northern states. 

Stanton placed three Confederate prisoners from South Carolina in a cell and informed the Confederate Secretary of War that the men were held as hostages to secure the safety of Brown, Johnson and Wilson.  If the Confederate government executed the Black New Yorkers, the United States would execute the white South Carolinians.

Internal correspondence within the Confederate War Department revealed that its officials believed the United States would retaliate in this case.  Additionally, they were deeply divided over the legality of trying and executing Black United States servicemen who were born free in northern states.

Confederate authorities decided to treat Black men who were citizens of northern states as prisoners of war.  In the aftermath of subsequent battles, they put captured Black soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts and the 8th U.S. Colored Troops (recruited in Philadelphia) in military prisons with white soldiers. 

Although Brown, Johnson, and Wilson endured fifteen more months of agonizing confinement, on October 18, 1864, Confederate officials released them.  All three men returned to New York and lived there for the rest of their lives.  They demanded that the United States account for every one of its prisoners, and on this day let us honor their memory by doing the same.

Lorien Foote is Patricia & Bookman Peters Professor of History at Texas A&M University, and author of The Yankee Plague: Escaped Union Prisoners and the Collapse of the Confederacy.

2021 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Annual Meeting

Throughout the rest of September, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is hosting their annual meeting virtually. We hope you’ll visit our ASALH 2021 virtual booth to browse our new and recent titles in African American history. 

Acquisitions editors Brandon Proia and Andrew Winters would love to connect with you if you have a project that you are working on.

Congratulations William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen! From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century won the 2021 Association for the Study of African American Life and History Book Prize.

Be sure to visit our virtual booth to browse our new titles in African American History. We wanted to be sure to highlight our new in paperback titles that are perfect for course adoption!

Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia

Karida L. Brown

Edna Lewis: At the Table with an American Original

Edited by Sara B. Franklin

Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

Pamela Grundy

The Wilmington Ten: Violence, Injustice, and the Rise of Black Politics in the 1970s

Kenneth Robert Janken

May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem

Imani Perry

Colored Travelers: Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War

Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor

Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement

Monica M. White

Voices of the Enslaved: Love, Labor, and Longing in French Louisiana

Sophie White

To browse these titles and more, please be sure to visit our Association for the Study of African American Life and History virtual booth. Use promo code 01DAH40 at checkout to receive a 40% discount. And if your order totals over $75, domestic U.S. shipping is FREE.

Sex, Lies, and Repentance

The following is a guest blog post by Rebecca L. Davis, author of Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions That Changed American Politics. Personal reinvention is a core part of the human condition. Yet in the mid-twentieth century, certain private religious choices became lightning rods for public outrage and debate. Public Confessions reveals the controversial religious conversions that shaped modern America. Rebecca L. Davis explains why the new faiths of notable figures including Clare Boothe Luce, Whittaker Chambers, Sammy Davis Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali, Chuck Colson, and others riveted the American public.

We have reached the season of repentance, for Jews, as the celebration of the Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah leads ten days later to Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement.” The period in between these two days is considered for seeking forgiveness, a sort of last chance to make amends with God and with fellow human beings, before God seals the “Book of Life” until next year’s reckoning. As I approach that season, I am struck both by how important repentance was to the people I write about in Public Confessions: The Religious Conversions that Changed American Politics and by how often fears of false belief motivated their religious transformations. And in the case of Chambers and some of the other figures in my book, I can’t help but note how important sex was to their narrative of spiritual redemption.

Whittaker Chambers reached middle age convinced that he needed to atone for his sins. As a younger man, in the 1920s, he had joined the Communist Party member, and he worked as a Soviet agent in the mid-1930s. He became the middle-man of an espionage network, ferrying classified documents from moles within federal agencies to the “handlers” who shuttled back and forth to the Soviet Union. 

News of the Soviet purges and rumors of the disappearances of disillusioned party members led Chambers to reconsider his loyalties. Sometime between 1937 and 1938 he deserted his post. He hid with his family in nondescript hotels and slept with a gun by his side, fearful that Soviet thugs would assault him at any moment. He had been led astray by the promises of a Communist utopia, he decided. He had betrayed his country, and in doing so, had abandoned the promise of democratic freedom.

The goon squad never showed up, and Chambers eventually settled on a farm in Maryland, traveling by train to New York City for appointments with his new bosses, the editors at Time magazine. He wrote about foreign affairs, but his submissions returned to the moral necessity of preserving democracy in a world tending toward authoritarianism. Everything hung in the balance, he warned his readers. And God was watching.

By the time Chambers sat before camera crews in a packed Congressional chamber in 1948, the humid August air leaving sweat stains on the back of his rumpled suit, he wanted to come clean in part because he had experienced a religious conversion. As he subsequently wrote in his memoir, Witness (1952), it was not only fear of Soviet agents but a revelation of God’s role in creation that inspired him to abandon the materialist philosophy of Communism. In the book, Chambers explained how awareness of God’s presence in human creation led him to see the lie of materialism. (He was baptized in the Episcopal Church but soon joined a meeting of the Society of Friends.)

Yet much like so many other former Soviet spies who went on to testify before Congress, Chambers laid most of the blame at the feet of other people. While Chambers testified to his own involvement in an “apparatus” that pilfered documents from federal agencies, he more consequentially said that Alger Hiss, a highly regarded State Department official, had belonged to that Washington, DC spy ring. When Hiss categorically denied even knowing who Chambers was, Hiss was charged with perjury. The “Hiss-Chambers” trials helped launch the home front of the American Cold War, in which the fear of Communist infiltration in every branch of government and private industry spurred furious attempts to root them out and expose anyone associated with Communism. 

It turns out that when Chambers confessed his sins in Witness—confessed what he believed to be his sins—he left out the sex. The details of those sins came to light years later when historians got their hands on a confidential statement that Chambers gave to his FBI handler in the late 1940s. While working in that Soviet apparatus, he explained, he had engaged in numerous sexual affairs with men in Washington, DC and along the highways that led him back and forth to his comrades in New York City. His new awareness of God—his religious conversion—meant for Chambers a rejection of homosexuality and infidelity. He renounced his sexual sins and committed himself to being the sort of devoted family man that he and others considered foundational to the preservation of American democracy. 

For Chambers as for the many other ex-Communists who embraced God, converted, and became FBI informants, the sin was false belief. He had allowed his mind to be led off course by wrong thoughts. Having sex with men was not an indication of submerged desires or an expression of an innate identity but rather another fruit of that poisoned tree. By becoming a vocal anti-Communist, he believed he had paid his debt. Fellow anti-Communist conservatives agreed. They celebrated Chambers as a heroic defender of American freedoms.

Religious conversions often originate in deeply personal reckonings with past actions and painful experiences. But they can also provide the impression of moral seriousness, particularly for individuals marking dramatic political shifts. Chambers helped popularize the idea that a religious conversion could prove the authenticity of a dramatic political transformation, even as his own confession played with the truth.

Rebecca L. Davis is Miller Family Early Career Professor of History at the University of Delaware. She is the author of More Perfect Unions: The American Search for Marital Bliss.

UNC Press author Michael Twitty speaks with Jessica B. Harris and JJ Johnson on New York Botanical Garden’s “The Food Dialogues” series

In June, Michael Twitty, author of Rice: a Savor the South cookbook, had a virtual conversation with award-winning scholar Jessica B. Harris and James Beard Award-winning chef JJ Johnson. The conversation was for New York Botanical Garden’s “The Food Dialogues”, a series of rich conversations with prominent authors, chefs, and food historians that re-examines and redefines our notions of heritage and identity through food. In this conversation, Twitty, Harris and Johnson cover the history of rice, the food traditions of Juneteenth passed down through the years and even the present-day importance of rice.

Michael Twitty is a culinary historian and author of the James Beard Award-winning The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South

Roanoke Island Area Historical Inlets: Confusion Created by Historical Hiatus after The Roanoke Voyages & The Lost Colony & before Permanent Settlement

The following is the last segment of a guest blog post series by Roger L. Payne, author of The Outer Banks Gazetteer: The History of Place Names from Carova to Emerald Isle. A book over twenty years in the making, The Outer Banks Gazetteer is a comprehensive reference guide to the region’s place names—over 3,000 entries in all. Click here to view Roger Payne’s entire guest blog series.

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There was a period of over 100 years between the Roanoke Voyages and settlement of the Roanoke Island area, which led to some confusion regarding the names and locations of these inlets. Each inlet reference has a separate entry in The Outer Banks Gazetteer. Port Ferdinando, about two miles north of Oregon Inlet was open from before 1585 to 1798, and from about 1700 to 1798 was known as Gunt Inlet because Port Ferdinando was rarely used and there was a hiatus of about 100 years. Port Lane was two or three miles north of Port Ferdinando and open before 1585 to around 1660 and became Roanoke Inlet or closed. Port Lane’s closed site was also what a few cartographers labeled as Old Roanoke Inlet. Port Lane then probably migrated north and became Roanoke Inlet, or a new inlet opened shortly after Port Lane closed. Trinety Harbor was open pre-1585 to around 1660. This summarizes the situation with inlet names in the Roanoke Island area from 1585 to approximately 1730. The first Roanoke voyage (Amadas and Barlowe 1584) includes no mention of inlet names, referring only to Hatrask an indigenous reference vaguely near what would be Port Ferdinando (Gunt Inlet) by 1585, and was likely just a reference to the area around the unnamed inlet. White published the first map of the Outer Banks (1585), on which no inlets are named. Port Ferdinando and Port Lane are shown correctly but not named. Hatrask is labeled at what is now Pea Island and not near enough to Port Ferdinando to indicate a named inlet. Trinety Harbor is not shown or named. A later version of White’s map (year unknown) appears with Port Ferdinando mysteriously labeled and added at that inlet, and Trinety Harbor added at the appropriate location, though the inlet itself is not shown. DeBry’s 1590 map, based on White’s 1585 map, shows the location of Port Ferdinando but with no name, which seems strange because the inlet had been named since at least 1585. The name Hatrask now appears opposite the inlet named Port Ferdinando, leading some authors to indicate the inlet as Hatrask. Hondius and Mercator (collaborated 1606, 1607, 1610, and 1630) show the locations of Port Ferdinando and Port Lane correctly but unnamed. However, Blaeu late as 1640 uses Hantaraske (sic) for the area south of Port Ferdinando (no longer an island). DeBry, Mercator, and Hondius all show and name Trinety Harbor. Blaeu’s 1640 map is one of the few that depicts and labels each of the inlets correctly. Blaeu’s map also offers a clue as to the probable relationship between closing Port Lane and newly developing Roanoke Inlet. Port Lane is shown at almost the future location of what would become Roanoke Inlet. Ogilby (1672) labels Roanoke Inlet at former Port Lane migrating or newly opened. Gascoyne’s 1682 map indicates Port Ferdinando (Gunt Inlet) is beginning to close, and labels the inlet Old Inlet, while what was once Port Lane had closed or migrated north. The latter is then labeled New Inlet, perhaps indicating a new inlet that would later be named Roanoke Inlet. Trinety Harbor is no longer shown, having closed in 1660. By 1685, Fisher et al, with Moll 1708, show Old Inlet incorrectly (corroborated by map expert Cumming 1969, page 23) at a location opposite Colington Island, prompting others to believe an inlet was here. There is no hard evidence to support that notion. Furthermore, New Inlet is labeled at the approximate location of former Trinety Harbor, which had closed 1660, or at Caffeys Inlet, which did not open until 1770. Occasionally, maps late as 1718 (DeLisle 1718) portray this incorrect information. So, inlets in the Roanoke Island area were Port Ferdinando, open from before 1585 until 1798 and rarely labeled on maps, before becoming Gunt Inlet by around 1700 and closing 1798. Gunt Inlet or Gun Inlet, first appeared on Bowen’s 1747 map, based on 1745 data, itself based on 1733 data, and Roanoke Inlet is depicted correctly. A smaller companion inlet to Port Ferdinando was Port Lane, open from before 1585, and this name was used sparingly until the mid-1600s, when the inlet migrated and became larger (Fisher 1962) or closed, while a new inlet opened slightly north of Port Lane’s location and became known as Roanoke Inlet.

Roger L. Payne is executive secretary emeritus of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. 

In memoriam: Julian Pleasants

We are saddened to learn that Julian Pleasants, a key historian of 20th century North Carolina and two-time UNC Press author, has died.

Pleasants was the acclaimed author of Frank Porter Graham and the 1950 Senate Race in North Carolina (1990; “One of the great tales of postwar American politics, now told for the first time at book length”—Washington Post), and Buncombe Bob: The Life and Times of Robert Rice Reynolds (2000; “What Pleasants has delivered is a meticulously researched, carefully delivered and thoughtfully crafted assessment of Richard Rice Reynolds and his place in North Carolina history”Charlotte Observer).

He also published books with the University Press of Florida, the University of Kentucky Press, and the University of Georgia Press.

Julian taught for many years at the University of Florida, where he was director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program (one of the pioneering oral history programs in the country), and read manuscripts for UNC Press occasionally in that capacity.

We send our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues.

Executive Editor Debbie Gershenowitz’s interview with John Bodnar, author of Divided By Terror: American Patriotism after 9/11

In light of the 20th anniversary of the dramatic, world changing events that took place on September 11th, 2001, Executive Editor Debbie Gershenowitz interviewed John Bodnar, the author of Divided By Terror: American Patriotism after 9/11. Americans responded to the deadly terrorist attacks on 9/11 with an outpouring of patriotism, though all were not united in their expression. Bodnar’s compelling history shifts the focus on America’s War on Terror from the battlefield to the arena of political and cultural conflict, revealing how fierce debates over the war are inseparable from debates about the meaning of patriotism itself. Bodnar probes how honor, brutality, trauma, and suffering have become highly contested in commemorations, congressional correspondence, films, soldier memoirs, and works of art. Read below as Debbie and John discuss Bodnar’s approach to the research behind Divided By Terror, the riot at the Capitol, our recent presidential administrations’ stance on patriotism and how living in a college town can impact different experiences during times like 9/11.

Debbie: John, you’ve written extensively about war, patriotism, culture, and memory in the modern era, but Divided By Terror published while US troops were actively on the ground in Afghanistan in a seemingly “forever war,” which has just taken a drastic turn with their removal a couple of weeks ago. How did researching and writing this book differ from your work on World War II, a “good war,” with a definitive beginning and end, where the US emerged unambiguously victorious?

John: Although World War II had a clear beginning and end point for Americans, it shared many similarities with the Global War on Terror. The public celebration of the world war and the “greatest generation” that fought it should not obscure the fact that both conflicts produced fierce debates over meaning, memory and the painful realities of trauma. Soldier memoirs from both wars contained a heavy dose of regret over the loss of brothers-in-arms and a critique of all the violence. I would say there was a slightly stronger effort on the part of vets from the War on Terror to recall their war in traditional patriotic terms which meant downplaying the trauma. Yet, the best novels from these wars written by men who fought–Norman Mailer’s, The Naked and the Dead, and Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (on Iraq) were essentially meditations on the brutal and painful realities they experienced.  The popular account of Iraq by Chris Kyle, American Sniper, is a highly patriotic view of Iraq and downplays its brutality and any culpability on our part for the carnage as does Audie Murphy’s, To Hell and Back for World War II. Interestingly, Hollywood made popular films based on our heroism and not our culpability from the last two titles but the not the first two.

Both World War II and the War on Terror were born in a climate of anger and revenge–Pearl Harbor and 9/11.  Americans criticized the messy departure from Afghanistan more than they did the  final stages of World War II in Japan. Yet, the world war ended in a much bloodier fashion with atomic bombings of Japan that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. It’s ironic we welcomed an end that was so brutal and grew upset over the chaos in Kabul. Perhaps we are simply more politicized now than we were in 1945. I thought the news coverage over Kabul was not only critical of Biden’s mistakes but –less recognized–unwilling to scan back over the all the damage we did in Afghanistan. It was as if the real problem was Biden’s planning and not the 150,000 Afghans who died from our invasions. Trauma is a something Americans have a difficult time confronting in any war. 

Debbie: Your book was already in production when the attacks on the Capitol occurred on 1/6/21. Had you still been writing, how would this be incorporated into the history, memory, culture, and politics of 9/11?

John: I thought the attackers who broke through police lines on January 6th to assault the U.S. Capitol were, in part, products of the far-right political stream that was rejuvenated after 9/11. The terror attacks unleashed brutal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a wave of violence in the homeland that led to round ups of people who looked like the men who flew the planes on 9/11, unlawful detentions, and physical violence. I suspect as the foreign wars dragged on with no end in sight, belligerent patriots turned even more attention to other forms of violence and intolerance by joining political campaigns against immigrants and even racial minorities. This far-right/ anti-democratic agenda was also furthered by a rhetoric of false claims. For instance: Obama was not born in the United States, Trump’s inaugural crowd was larger than we saw in photos, the Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, we have nothing to fear from the pandemic and it will disappear, and–the key one for January 6th–the 2020 election was rigged and by implication only Democrats can do the rigging.  

Donald Trump both benefited and help shape this political movement. At its core it was anti-democratic and contemptuous of democracy itself with its insistence of equality before the law and the dignity of all humans. This is implied in the wars we started after 9/11 and the right we reserved for ourselves to determine who might die due to our anger. Like World War II we were also embarrassed by the fact that we were successfully attacked by people we considered to be inferior to us. That was certainly the feeling of many about the Japanese after 1941 and about Islamic terrorists in 2001. This assault on non-white people continued in the politics of the Trump era not only against immigrants but against Black Lives Matter protestors and really anyone seen as a political opponent.  Democracy and tolerance did not die with 9/11. People pushed back to protest racism, the harsh treatment of newcomers at border and voted Trump out of office. I think the growing disregard for others, however, resulted not only in the deaths of innocents in Afghanistan and Iraq but in the indifference to human suffering during the pandemic and the resistance to vaccines and masks. 

Debbie: Divided By Terror incorporates 3 presidential administrations’ reactions to both the 9/11 attacks and public opinions of those events. If you were to write an epilogue today about the Biden Administration’s stance on war-based and emphatic patriotism, what might some of your quick-take observations be?

John: I believe Biden seems torn between the tenets of a belligerent patriotism dependent upon an insensitivity to the violence we wage and a more empathic patriotism rooted in a concern for the fate and needs of others. He did support the authorization to allow Bush to go to Iraq and  then disavowed his decision when ran for the presidency.  In 2002 he felt we needed to have a tough foreign policy. I don’t believe he withdrew from Afghanistan over all the carnage–not that he wasn’t affected by it. He left because it was no longer a foreign policy priority. But still the empathy he does display for the needs of others is not another false tale for a politician. His liberalism and his life experience does depend on a capacity to see in others what he sees in himself. He’s not beyond reproach (as Trump thinks he is) but I think he would agree with Lincoln at Gettysburg. When the sixteenth president thought about the reality of human carnage that had just taken place on the field of his speech, he insisted that the only justification for all the death and suffering was that we recommit to the project to see that a government of the people should not perish from the earth. Trump might say there was not as much death as you think. I can’t believe he would recommit to saving a government by the people. 

Debbie: You live in a college town where the “town and gown” divide can be pronounced – I witnessed this myself while living in Bloomington during the First Gulf War, where demonstrations of and debates over empathic and war-based patriotism were on full display. What was that experience like on 9/11?

John: Unfortunately, I was in California on 9/11–spending a year at the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford. I know there was some violence toward people thought to be Muslim, p. 218 in my book, in Bloomington but I was not there.  In the Palo Alto area I was struck by the fact that people would light candles and gather on corners in the days after 9/11. Their response was mournful but not warlike. 

Debbie Gershenowitz is an Executive Editor at UNC Press.

John Bodnar is the Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University. 

“New Approaches to the Revolutionary Era”, The Library of Virginia’s Virtual Virginia Forum series featuring Author Carolyn Eastman

In late July, Carolyn Eastman, author of Omohundro Institute and UNC Press-published The Strange Genius of Mr. O: The World of the United States’ First Forgotten Celebrity, was featured in The Library of Virginia’s Virtual Virginia Forum series alongside historians Kyle Rogers and David Hayter. In this discussion, Eastman and her fellow historians examine the ways in which their own generation of scholars work around having so few original documents relating to the Revolutionary Era and working creatively with the rare resources they do come across.

Carolyn Eastman is associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of the prizewinning A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution

New and Recently Released UNC Press Audiobooks

We are pleased to announce the availability of the following UNC Press titles in audiobook format (sample audio excerpts are available via the links below):

Closer to Freedom: Enslaved Women and Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South by Stephanie M. H. Camp, published by Tantor Media

“Wonderfully evocative. . . . A provocative book full of astonishing, sometimes unforgettable moments.”—Virginia Magazine

The Ballad of Robert Charles: Searching for the New Orleans Riot of 1900 by K. Stephen Prince, published by Audible

“Prince meticulously recovers the history of Robert Charles, whose rebellion against police brutality, white terror, and the retreat from Reconstruction inspired a ‘song too dangerous to sing’ in the wake of the New Orleans Riot of 1900. The Ballad of Robert Charles is an engaging, accessible, must-read book that offers insights for our present national reckoning over race and policing.”—Hilary Green, University of Alabama

The Swamp Peddlers: How Lot Sellers, Land Scammers, and Retirees Built Modern Florida and Transformed the American Dream by Jason Vuic, published by Tantor Media

“A detailed saga of Florida development, county by county, year by year. While some parts read like a satire of capitalistic greed, it is an honest examination of history that evolves into a cautionary tale of the human capacity for self-interest and acquisitiveness. The author’s research is unassailable. The Swamp Peddlers is an exceptional account of legal loopholes, egotistical hubris, environmental annihilation, and the mindless development of land at any cost.”Los Angeles Review of Books

Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue by Adrian Miller, published by Audible

“A trailblazing new volume that catalogues the contributions of Black men and women to American barbecue . . . rigorous scholarship . . . Miller is creating a lexicon to ensure that these Black contributions to American culture can’t be written out of history.”—Washington Post

The Haitians: The Persistence of the Vocabulary of the Slavers

The following excerpt is from “The Persistence of the Vocabulary of the Slavers” in Jean Casimir’s book The Haitians: A Decolonial History. In this sweeping history, leading Haitian intellectual Jean Casimir argues that the story of Haiti should not begin with the usual image of Saint-Domingue as the richest colony of the eighteenth century. Rather, it begins with a reconstruction of how individuals from Africa, in the midst of the golden age of imperialism, created a sovereign society based on political imagination and a radical rejection of the colonial order, persisting even through the U.S. occupation in 1915. Casimir’s book was also featured on our recent “Understanding Haiti’s Past” reading list.

There is no analytical justification in seeking to explain the history of Haitians on the basis of the concepts brought to the island by the slave traders. The categories white, emancipated, mulatto, black, and slave were key tools of the slave trade and the slave system. From the beginning they signaled what the captives—the future Haitians—were not. But they also pointed to what their enemies wanted to make sure they would never be. They were names for the very things the captives courageously resisted being. They were the product of a process of sociogenesis that our research must unapologetically seek to overturn. I take it as truth that the tools of thought inherited from the slave system can only perpetuate slavery.

In defining the nature of the state in Haiti, my goal is not to point out the evolution or transformation of the French colonial state into a state that was—in principle—national, 

modern, and independent, like all the similar entities of the period. That would mean basing my reflections on something that I in fact have to prove first. I also don’t want to simply offer a description of the transformation of a colonial state built on slavery into an administrative structure whose vocation was to protect the interests of a nation that did not necessarily exist. For if I did that, I would exit the terrain of empirical observation and turn myself into the spokesperson for those oligarchs who wish to impose their nation building on reality.

The plantation economy disappeared from Saint-Domingue nearly a century before it did from the other islands of the region. In observing the behavior of the workers reduced to slavery and of the cultivateurs or inhabitants that succeeded them, I show that life in Haiti was built on an economic model that is less celebrated but just as real as that of the commodity-producing plantation (Casimir 1981). Indeed, it is historically more resilient. Nevertheless, the leaders of the country have persistently reproduced the modes of perception that were so useful to the slave traders, the very authors of the invisibility that has made it so difficult to see the contributions of the captives to their own survival. These leaders have always claimed that they knew what was good for the unfortunate people, better than the population knew themselves. In their opinion, the rural population’s pursuit of a society centered on itself, and governed by itself, has been the cause of their poverty. They have held on to this opinion despite all the proof to the contrary offered by the comparison between this new Haitian life and the life experienced in colonial times, or that of the enslaved in neighboring colonies. This consistent contradiction between the orientation of the near totality of the population and the ideology of the governing authorities produces the impression of a disjointed political system, incapable of mastering the national situation or of orienting it in any particular direction.

In Europe, the modern state was organized during the same period when the world economy was being constructed. In the colony, in contrast, a power structure that was already established and structured in Europe created the local society and built its economy. The state as it existed in France was introduced through the intermediary of the colonial administration. It was as an already constituted entity whose irruption into the new context needed to be managed. It did not conceive of itself as a creation or an arrangement of local political forces working to accommodate one another in an international environment. The modern Eurocentric state that existed in Haiti after 1804 continued this pattern, and saw itself as penetrating into milieu it considered vulnerable and archaic. The modern state had to implant itself in Haiti, a place that was dependent on Europe and had to remain subject to it, because it was backwards and traditional. The splendors of Versailles and the ports of France were never seen as being linked directly to the crucifixion of their Pearl of the Antilles. Instead, they were held up as destinations to travel toward on the path to the production of material wealth and well-being.

The inhabitants of this third of an island had the knowledge and ability necessary to oppose this continuation of colonialism. They refused the reimplantation of the very mercantilist capitalism that had subjected them during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The key, then, is not to study how a modern colonial state might implant itself in an archaic milieu, but rather to ask how these captives developed their alternative to colonial power. Given that the modern state put them in chains with the goal of consuming every last bit of their laboring energy, it makes little sense to assume that they based their struggle to liberate themselves and break their chains on the deceptive promises of the very institutions they were fighting. To carry out their struggle within imperial political structures would have been a last resort, a last plank of wood floating in the water that they might reach for only after admitting their project had shipwrecked. What seems clear is that, instead, their immediate objective was to create their own modern state, and not to reproduce the colonial and imperial, Eurocentric, and racist state that had existed before.

Jean Casimir, who served as Haitian ambassador to the United States and as a United Nations official, is professor of humanities at the University of Haiti; his most recent book is Haïti et ses élites

Workers’ Rights: A Reading List

Yesterday was Labor Day, “a federal holiday that recognize the American labor movement and the works and contributions of laborers to the development and achievements of the United States.” The very first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, but, as many of you may know, we’re still fighting for a living wage for all, better working conditions and effective, well-protected workers’ rights. Below are some recommended titles that touch on the history of labor rights and how they affect different communities. For those who may have never had to work a job that doesn’t pay you enough to survive, remember there are others who are not as fortunate. The next time you hear about a union forming or employees going on strike, remember they’re only fighting for fair treatment and the right to survive from the compensation of their labor.



For many African Americans, getting a public sector job has historically been one of the few paths to the financial stability of the middle class, and in New York City, few such jobs were as sought-after as positions in the fire department (FDNY). For over a century, generations of Black New Yorkers have fought to gain access to and equal opportunity within the FDNY. Tracing this struggle for jobs and justice from 1898 to the present, David Goldberg details the ways each generation of firefighters confronted overt and institutionalized racism. An important chapter in the histories of both Black social movements and independent workplace organizing, this book demonstrates how Black firefighters in New York helped to create affirmative action from the “bottom up,” while simultaneously revealing how white resistance to these efforts shaped white working-class conservatism and myths of American meritocracy.



Over twenty years after its initial publication, Annelise Orleck’s Common Sense and a Little Fire continues to resonate with its harrowing story of activism, labor, and women’s history. Orleck traces the personal and public lives of four immigrant women activists who left a lasting imprint on American politics. Though they have rarely made more than cameo appearances in previous histories, Rose Schneiderman, Fannia Cohn, Clara Lemlich Shavelson, and Pauline Newman played important roles in the emergence of organized labor, the New Deal welfare state, adult education, and the modern women’s movement. Orleck takes her four subjects from turbulent, turn-of-the-century Eastern Europe to the radical ferment of New York’s Lower East Side and the gaslit tenements where young workers studied together. Orleck paints a compelling picture of housewives’ food and rent protests, of grim conditions in the garment shops, of factory-floor friendships that laid the basis for a mass uprising of young women garment workers, and of the impassioned rallies working women organized for suffrage. 



Timothy Minchin is one of the most prolific and insightful historians researching U.S. labor in the era since World War II. His books have helped illuminate the darker corners of labor’s story neglected by his contemporaries in the field. In Labor Under Fire, Minchin does it again, bringing shrewd judgment to bear as he frames organized labor’s recent history as a tale of struggle, resiliency, and hope.

Joseph A. McCartin, Georgetown University



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



For decades, the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it had become a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses in search of cheap labor and almost no oversight. Imperial Food Products was one of those businesses. The company set up shop in Hamlet in the 1980s. Workers who complained about low pay and hazardous working conditions at the plant were silenced or fired. But jobs were scarce in town, so workers kept coming back, and the company continued to operate with impunity. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991, the never-inspected chicken-processing plant a stone’s throw from Hamlet’s city hall burst into flames. Twenty-five people perished that day behind the plant’s locked and bolted doors. It remains one of the deadliest accidents ever in the history of the modern American food industry.



Anyone who cares about work and workers in today’s America should read this book. Overturning myths that are widely believed, Windham arouses both hope and outrage as she makes fresh sense of the staggering rise of inequality since the 1970s.

Nancy MacLean, author of Freedom Is Not Enough



Every porn scene is a record of people at work. But on-camera labor is only the beginning of the story. Porn Work takes readers behind the scenes to explore what porn performers think of their work and how they intervene to hack it. Blending extensive fieldwork with feminist and antiwork theorizing, Porn Workdetails entrepreneurial labor on the boundaries between pleasure and tedium. Rejecting any notion that sex work is an aberration from straight work, it reveals porn workers’ creative strategies as prophetic of a working landscape in crisis. In the end, it looks to what porn has to tell us about what’s wrong with work, and what it might look like to build something better.



In the late twentieth century, nothing united union members, progressive students, Black and Chicano activists, Native Americans, feminists, and members of the LGBTQ+ community quite as well as Coors beer. They came together not in praise of the ice cold beverage but rather to fight a common enemy: the Colorado-based Coors Brewing Company. Wielding the consumer boycott as their weapon of choice, activists targeted Coors for allegations of antiunionism, discrimination, and conservative political ties. Over decades of organizing and coalition-building from the 1950s to the 1990s, anti-Coors activists molded the boycott into a powerful means of political protest.

The Roanoke Voyages (1584-1590), Inlets Open and Inlets Used Affecting the Voyages

The following is the eighth segment of a guest blog post series by Roger L. Payne, author of The Outer Banks Gazetteer: The History of Place Names from Carova to Emerald Isle. A book over twenty years in the making, The Outer Banks Gazetteer is a comprehensive reference guide to the region’s place names—over 3,000 entries in all. Click here to view Roger Payne’s entire guest blog series.

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The following inlets, from south to north, were reportedly open and depicted with mixed applications on later maps (see entries in The Outer Banks Gazetteer). There were other inlets opening and closing in the area from Ocracoke to Roanoke Island, but were not open during the Roanoke Voyages.

Wokokon Inlet – No real evidence exists indicating this inlet existed other than shown on small scale or partially contrived maps in the early 1600s, with Wokokon variously placed and presumed since the area vaguely marked the southern limit of Wokokon, which defined vaguely most of now Ocracoke Island and northern Portsmouth Island. Some authors speculate that this might be the initial passage used by Grenville (1585 2nd Vayage), but not likely since if there was an inlet here it was small, shallow, and probably just awash. Grenville used Ocracoke Inlet. Could have been in the breach prone zone where High Hills Inlet was located 10 miles southwest of Ocracoke (village) (last closed 1961).

Ocracoke Inlet – opened prior to 1585 and is still open, having been open continuously since before 1585, though at that time one to two miles or so northeast in 1585 of its present location. This inlet was not mentioned by Amadas and Barlowe (1st Voyage – see First Voyage Part 2) but was noted specifically by Grenville (2nd Voyage) as the location where a blunder by the pilot Fernándes caused the ship Tyger to wreck and spoil supplies. Also, during the second voyage about two weeks were spent in this area before proceeding toward Roanoke Island. No doubt, subsequent voyages might have stopped at or at least noted this inlet as they passed.

Chacandepeco Inlet – opened before 1585 and closed in 1672 (Cape Hatteras area just east of Buxton). The inlet is not mentioned in any of the voyages until indirectly by White in 1590 in his rescue (Fift [sic] Voyage – Hakluyt 1590). This is probably the inlet “at the northeast point of the barrier island Croatoan” which White noted at 35 degrees and one-half (off slightly) while sailing for Roanoke. The actual location of the inlet being described might have been about 15 miles north at southern Salvo. 

Keneckid Inlet – Sporadic references and probably three miles south of Salvo in No Ache Bay area. Perhaps a temporary inlet, in early references and a few early deeds, but location uncertain. Though specific open and close dates are unknown, it might be the “fret” (breach) to which John White refers as where the ship anchored when searching for Lost Colonists (Fifth Voyage 1590) though not likely it was open until early 1600s. White refers to anchoring at extreme northeast point of Croatoan, which could have extended farther north than the later cartographic application. White specifically states the breach or water passage was “35 degr. & a half,” which is in the No Ache area just south of Salvo. However, if his calculations were off by about 15 minutes of latitude, he would have been anchored at former Chacandepeco Inlet (near Buxton) open 1590 when White arrived. 

Port Ferdinando (Hatarask, Gunt, Gun, or Gant) Inlet – opened before 1585 and closed in 1798. This inlet was known to be open and located due east from the southern tip of Roanoke Island. The inlet was just north of the barrier island known as Hatarask by the indigenous peoples and as recorded and applied by White in 1585 and DeBry (based on White) in 1590. Some authors have applied Hatarask as the name of the inlet, but it was named, Port Ferdinando, in 1585 (most concur) for Simon Fernándes, expedition Pilot on the first two voyages and the Lost Colony Voyage (Voyage 4). Also, the term Hatarask was probably more aptly applied to the island than the inlet; for example, in 1590 White indicates “we came to an anker at Hatarask,” and while possibly referring to the inlet, he was most likely using indigenous peoples’ reference to the area. On a later version (date unknown) of White’s 1585 map, the name Port Ferdinando had been added as well as Trinety Harbor. 

Port Lane (possibly later Roanoke Inlet) – open before 1585 and closed 1660s or is most likely what later was named or renamed Roanoke Inlet after migration (late 1600s or early 1700s) or closing just before Roanoke Inlet opened just to the north. This inlet was most likely used only incidentally because the much better Port Ferdinando was just south, and this inlet was shallow and unreliable. This inlet most likely became Roanoke Inlet, and was the companion channel just north of Port Ferdinando (Hatarask, Gunt Inlet). Old Roanoke Inlet was the former Port Lane used on some maps and charts in the early to mid-1800s.

Trinety Harbor (Trinitie) – opened prior to 1585 and closed by 1660. There are some who do not believe this inlet existed, and that it was even a cartographic invention based upon hearsay. While not labeled on White’s original 1585 map (added to a later version), it was labeled on DeBry’s 1590 map, and so it clearly existed. The inlet was named on numerous later maps though most likely had simply been copied from DeBry’s 1590 map. Its location has been placed by various authors and researchers from Kitty Hawk Bay north to Beasley Bay, (almost 20 miles), but was really just north of Duck. It is likely the inlet through which Amadas and Barlowe passed on the First Voyage. Curiously, most occurrences are without the English spelling, Harbour – only Keulen (1690) and Hondius (1606) use that spelling.

Roger L. Payne is executive secretary emeritus of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. 

“The Asian American Movement and the Church”, UNC Press author Dr. Jane Hong’s lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2021 Asian American Theology Conference

In May, Dr. Jane Hong, author of Opening the Gates to Asia: A Transpacific History of How America Repealed Asian Exclusion, held a lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2021 Asian American Theology Conference. During her lecture, she discussed the Asian American movement in the late 1960’s and 70’s, followers of Christianity’s role in that movement and its influence on the U.S. church.

In celebration of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May, we included Dr. Hong’s book in a recommended reading list centering Asian/Pacific American communities that enrich American culture. Click here to check out some of the other titles in the reading list.

Jane H. Hong is associate professor of history at Occidental College. 

Reproductive Rights, Abortion, and the State of Texas

The following recommended reading list provides deep analysis and historical insight regarding the Texas abortion law ruling (and the ongoing challenges to Roe v. Wade) that has gone into effect as of September 1, 2021.

Take 40% off when purchasing these titles direct from uncpress.org using discount promo code 01DAH40 at checkout.

Abortion after Roe
By Johanna Schoen

“Schoen fills an important gap in historical scholarship that until now has focused on the pre-Roe era. . . . Skillfully incorporates the legal, political, and social history of abortion care in the United States since the 1970s.”—Journal of the History of Medicine

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America
By Anthea Butler

“Show[s] how evangelicals’ contemporary embrace of right-wing politics is rooted in its centuries-long problem with race. This scathing takedown of evangelicalism’s ‘racism problem’ will challenge evangelicals to confront and reject racism within church communities.”Publishers Weekly

Blue Texas: The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Rights Era
By Max Krochmal

“It would be hard to find a more timely book about Texas political history than this dive into the coalition-building that brought together African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Anglo progressives and labor activists.”Austin American-Statesman

Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe
By Marc Stein

“Offers a sophisticated understanding of the narrow outlook of the Court on issues of sexual rights. . . . An important contribution to the history of law, sexuality, immigration, and citizenship. . . . In addition to his brilliant interpretation of these cases, Stein also presents a beautiful discussion of his approach and methodology as well as a remarkable transparency in his use of potentially difficult sources.”H-Net Reviews

The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader
Edited by N. E. H. Hull, Williamjames Hoffer, and Peter Charles Hoffer

“A rich collection that will be well received by legal historians, professors who teach in the area of women and law, and undergraduate students and general readers who are interested in the history of abortion rights.”Law and Politics Book Review

The Supreme Court and Legal Change: Abortion and the Death Penalty
By Lee Epstein and Joseph F. Kobylka

“Provides a rich collection that will be well received by legal historians, professors who teach in the area of women and law, and undergraduate students and general readers who are interested in the history of abortion rights.”Law and Politics Book Review

“Absorbing and well-written . . . encourages social scientists who are interested in the legal process to construct their own examinations of legal change beyond the authors’ focus on the Supreme Court and into other contentious areas beyond their comparative case studies of abortion and capital punishment. . . . Epstein and Kobylka provide an equally perceptive treatment of Roe and its progeny.”Legal Studies Forum

“Fake News” and Racial Violence after the Civil War

The following is a guest blog post by William A. Blair, author of The Record of Murders and Outrages: Racial Violence and the Fight over Truth at the Dawn of Reconstruction. Blair uses the accounts of far-flung Freedmen’s Bureau agents to ask questions about the early days of Reconstruction, which are surprisingly resonant with the present day: How do you prove something happened in a highly partisan atmosphere where the credibility of information is constantly challenged? And what form should that information take to be considered as fact?

Donald Trump has not been the only president to downplay racial violence. Nor is our current situation unique in featuring hyper-charged partisanship that reinforces information bubbles in which people mistrust information from the other side. Immediately after the Civil War, a toxic partisan climate caused information itself to become politicized, with the usual sources of reporting—eyewitness and newspaper accounts—dismissed by opponents as fictions created to mask a political agenda. An under-appreciated conflict in the Reconstruction era occurred over what constituted trustworthy information about lawlessness committed against African Americans in the South.

The term “fake news” was not used then, but Democrats led by President Andrew Johnson chastised Radical Republicans (those favoring more expansive Black rights) for allegedly fabricating reports of racial atrocities to mandate federal intervention on behalf of Black people. Resembling current controversies in which conservatives accuse liberals of allegedly fostering racial antagonism, even the New York Times—generally supportive of the Republican party then—criticized Radicals for fostering “anger and estrangement” between the North and South so they could “ride into power on the strength of pretended sympathy with the negro.” Conservatives also claimed that Senator Charles Sumner, a leading Republican, fabricated his so-called eyewitness testimony, which he offered to Congress in the form of anonymous accounts, just as reporters today protect identities of sources to prevent repercussions for exchanges of information. 

Yet as violence raged in the South, with massacres in 1866 at places such as Memphis and New Orleans, the issue became how to produce evidence of racial atrocities that held greater credibility than individual letters or partisan newspapers. The answer to this dilemma featured a moment in which military leaders like General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant broke from the president, their commander, to side with Republicans in Congress on a fact-finding mission that undercut Johnson’s plan for Reconstruction. The desire of these officers to protect civil rights overrode constitutional norms.

Republicans in Congress turned to the Freedmen’s Bureau to document these atrocities to prove to the country that military intervention was needed to establish governments in the South that enforced equal justice. Bureau officers became aware of racial strife almost immediately after the war and sent missives to Washington outlying their general concerns. But by September 1866, these military officers received orders to begin a more systematic accounting of racial violence to demonstrate that atrocities committed against freedpeople and white loyalists in the South demanded a greater military presence. 

The results created an accounting of racial violence organized under the provocative title of “Records Relating to Murders and Outrages.” The record changed the way that white and Black activists presented information on violence. No longer did congressmen rely only on anonymous accounts from people in the South or the partisan press. They used eyewitness testimony collected by Union officers on the ground who presented specific information on victims, assailants, dates of crimes, locations, and resolution of cases (minimal justice). The record they compiled between 1865 and 1868 contains nearly 4,000 incident reports detailing the terrible fates of more than 5,000 innocent people killed, assaulted, raped, burned, hanged, or otherwise harmed.

Radical senators first deployed this information in February 1867 as Congress debated whether to send troops into the South to oversee what became known as Military Reconstruction. The action represented an unprecedented expansion of federal power by nullifying state governments, creating military districts that registered Black men to vote, and disenfranchising a number of former Confederates. The information on outrages supported enactment of these policy measures. As officers continued to collect data on racial violence, they exposed the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as attempts at voter suppression by terrorists who targeted Black people who for the first time cast ballots in a presidential campaign.  

Military officers stationed in the South had become the trusted messengers who worked with freedpeople to ensure that contemporaries could see the extent of racial violence. They left behind an invaluable record that has aided historians in their efforts to prevent the public from losing memory of these violent episodes in our past.

William A. Blair is the Walter L. and Helen P. Ferree Professor Emeritus of Middle American History at Penn State University. 

UNC Press September 2021 Author Events

Regina Bradley
Chronicling Stankonia
September 2, 2021 | 5:30 pm ET
Morehouse College

Van Gosse
The First Reconstruction
September 9, 2021 | 6 pm ET
New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Local History Guild

Wyatt Williams
Springer Mountain
September 11-12 (presentation: Sunday 9/12, 5pm CT, C-SPAN/731 Plymouth Court Stage)
Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, IL

Kristy Nabhan-Warren
Meatpacking America
September 11-12 (presentation: Saturday 9/11, 5pm CT, C-SPAN/731 Plymouth Court Stage)
Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, IL

Tamika Nunley
At the Threshold of Liberty
September 11-12 (presentation: Sunday 9/12, 12pm CT, C-SPAN/731 Plymouth Court Stage)
Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, IL

Rachel Williams
Run Home If You Don’t Want to Be Killed
September 11-12 (presentation: Sunday 9/12, 2pm CT, C-SPAN/731 Plymouth Court Stage)
Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago, IL

Karen Cox
No Common Ground
September 14, 2021 | 6 pm ET
The Library of Virginia

Katherine Carté 
Religion and the American Revolution
September 14, 2021 | 6:30 pm ET
The American Revolution Institute – virtual talk

Van Gosse
The First Reconstruction
September 16, 2021 | 7 pm ET
Lancaster County Historical Society

Shanna Benjamin
Half in Shadow
September 21, 2021 | 4pm ET
Harvard University’s Hutchins Center – virtual event

Allyson Brantley
Brewing a Boycott
September 21, 2021 | 5:30 pm MT
Denver Public Library

Marcie Cohen
The Edible South
September 21, 2021 | 7:30pm ET
Thomasville History Center, Thomasville, GA

Kristy Nabhan-Warren
Meatpacking America
September 23, 2021 | 12pm ET
Off the Shelf – virtual discussion

Juliana Hu Pegues
Space-Time Colonialism
September 24, 2021 | 12:25pm ET
Cornell’s AIIS Speaker Series (in-person)

Adrian Miller
Black Smoke
September 25, 2021 | Time TK
Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors, Winston NC

Wyatt Williams
Springer Mountain
September 26, 2021 | 7 pm ET
A Capella Books in Atlanta, GA (in-person event)

Alison Parker
Unceasing Militant
September 30, 2021 | 5 pm ET (virtual)
History Book Festival and Lewes Public Library

Caroline Janney
Ends of War
September 28, 2021 | 6:30 pm ET
American Civil War Museum (Virtual)

Caroline Janney
Ends of War
September 30, 2021 | 3:30 pm CT (virtual)
Abraham Lincoln Book Shop