Montgomery comrades Rosa Parks and Virginia Durr come together in South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1981. Photo credit: Birmingham, Alabama Public Library Archives, Portrait Collection.
Today’s theme for University Press Week is Presses in Conversation with Authors. In our entry in the blog tour, our executive editor Gayatri Patnaik interviews Jeanne Theoharis, author of the 2014 NAACP Image Award-winning The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks. Theoharis is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Brooklyn College of CUNY and the author of numerous books and articles on the civil rights and Black Power movements, and the politics of race in contemporary America. She is also series editor for a new Beacon Press series, Stride Toward Justice: Confronting Race, Gender & Class in the United States. The series offers progressive voices writing on and at the intersection of race, gender and class and is an urgent response to the injustices of our times and the ideas that hide and sustain them. Theoharis’s coeditor for the series is Melissa Harris-Perry, Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs, the director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center at Wake Forest University, and host of Melissa Harris-Perry, which airs weekend mornings on MSNBC.
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
I wrote The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks to challenge the limited stories and troubled uses of Parks and the movement. There was nothing natural or passive about what Rosa Parks did but rather something fiercely determined. It was not a singular act but part of her larger lifelong history of activism, a string of acts of bus resistance in the years preceding her stand, and a collective uprising following her arrest that led to a mass movement in Montgomery. To the end of her life, Parks believed the struggle for racial justice was not over and she continued to press for more change in the United States.
Dan Wilkins, Director of Public Relations for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and Nicholas Hyndman, University of Toledo student double-majoring in Disability Studies and Business Administration. Photo credit: Kim E. Nielsen
“I’ve never been this excited about my education before,” my student said as we discussed his undergraduate B.A. degree in Disability Studies. Then he laughed at himself with astonishment. Because of his commitment to the topic, he also was working harder in his college coursework than he ever had before; and he’d never imagined that academic hard work and excitement could go together. This student, like all of our students, came to the University of Toledo’s Disability Studies Program seeking a future job (for himself) and justice (for all).
Members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons
On Monday, October 5th, I had the privilege to join Helene Atwan, our director, and Tom Hallock, our associate publisher and director of sales and marketing, at Boston Symphony Hall for the Terezín Music Foundation’s 2015 Gala, “Liberation: A Concert Honoring the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Nazi Camps.” This celebration perfectly timed with the release of Liberation: New Works on Freedom from Internationally Renowned Poets, a poetry anthology edited and introduced by Mark Ludwig, the executive director of the Terezín Music Foundation.
The concert, featuring works by composers commissioned to set poems from the collection to music, began with a candle lighting to honor the liberators and survivors with members of the Hawthorne String Quartet beautifully playing in the background. The Boston Children’s Chorus performed two pieces, “The Day of Light,” composed by David Post and dedicated to Hanka Krasa, and “The Song About the Child,” composed by Sivan Eldar.
The most frequent question readers ask about An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States is: "Why hasn't this book been written before?" I'm flattered by that question, because it's the one I ask about texts that deeply move me; at the same time the information, argument, or story is new to me, it seems that it was already hidden in the recesses of my brain or heart, a truth. I knew the story I wanted to tell when I set out to write the book, part of Beacon Press's ReVisioning American History series, but that didn't make it easier to transfer to paper. Writing and rewriting, I discovered the story, just as my readers do as they read it.
But why hasn't this book been written before? We believe we don't suffer censorship in the U.S., but we do. Rather than being mandated by the government, historians self-censor in response to institutionalized policing of the parameters of what's acceptable and what will be marginalized. William Burroughs's narrator in his 1984 novel, The Place of Dead Roads, observes that "people are not bribed to shut up about what they know. They are bribed not to find out...Now, Americans are told they should think. But just wait until your thinking is basically different...You will find out that you AREN'T supposed to think." This is particularly true in the writing of our history. It's not a free speech issue but one of asking questions that challenge the core of the scripted narrative. Historians are validated to the extent that they remain guardians of the United States origin myth.
Edith Barksdale Sloan speaking at the first national conference of household workers, in 1971. (Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site, National Archives for Black Women’s History)
I’d been following the domestic workers movement here in Massachusetts as they campaigned to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. In 2014, Massachusetts became the fourth state to approve the domestic workers bill of rights which guarantees basic work standards, such as meal and rest breaks, parental leave, protection from discrimination, sexual harassment, etc. I wanted to know more about the movement and this lead me to Premilla Nadasen, who was involved as an activist and historian.
I tend to gravitate towards stories of fierce activists and agitators on the margins, so naturally I was fascinated by the history Premilla unearthed in Household Workers Unite. The women she writes about—Dorothy Bolden, Geraldine Roberts, Josephine Hulett—were all brilliant organizers who responded to the challenges that were unique to their profession, challenges that were so severe that mainstream labor regarded them as “unorganizable.” For instance, domestic workers were isolated in the home, they could have any number of employers at any given time, and perhaps most problematic, their work was categorically disregarded as work. They were excluded from basic state and federal labor rights; and were, to quote Geraldine Roberts, “invisible workers.”
In response, they recruited other domestics on buses and street corners, made alliances with black freedom movements and women’s rights groups. They sought to professionalize the occupation through technical training programs.
In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Junípero Serra, the first step to canonization. In the wake of the Red Power movement of the 1970s and the International Indigenous Movement that followed, there was a strong outcry from California Indigenous descendants of those who perished of overwork, starvation, and outright killing in the Franciscan missions that the hands-on Serra created. The Franciscans, not the Spanish state, were the actual first colonizers of California Indians, by forcibly relocating them from their traditional territories and villages to labor for the Franciscans in the missions, making the order wealthy from the products produced there. Indigenous peoples’ who are involved in UN human rights work raised a ruckus in the UN system, and friendly Human Rights NGOs and formerly colonized member-states and liberation movements lobbied the Vatican at the UN to not canonize a notorious colonizer. That was twenty-seven years ago, and Serra was not brought up for sainthood, such a notion being clearly unacceptable. Then, to the shock of the California descendants, in May 2015, the new and admired Pope Francis took Serra off the shelf where he was meant to stay, gathering dust, and announced canonization, trying to pass him off as a Latin American, or US American, apparently not having received the memo that the Spanish empire was overthrown by the Mexican people in a ten-year war to drive them out. California was a part of Mexico. One of the first acts of the independent Mexican government was to secularize society, sending the Franciscans packing, closing all the missions.
Photo credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Department of Homeland Security)
Dilley, a small Texas city eighty-three miles north of the Mexican border, greets visitors with a cheerful sign.
“Welcome to Dilley, Texas,” it reads. “A Slice of the Good Life.”
That good life extends only so far. Just west of town, nearly two thousand women and children are locked up inside the massive South Texas Family Residential Center. With a capacity of 2400, the brand-new Dilley is now the largest immigration prison in the United States. There are so many children at the camp that they sometimes outnumber the adults, the New York Times reports; their average age is nine years old.
I've lived in Interior Alaska for the past eleven years, about 100 miles, as the raven flies, from the highest mountain in North America. I have always called this formidable and beautiful summit "Denali," as do a majority of Alaska residents, including our three Republicans in Congress. Since President Obama just empowered Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to change the official name from Mt. McKinley to Denali, soon you'll be calling it Denali, too.
For the past few days, I've been glued to the national media coverage centered on my home, and I'm thrilled that the rest of the world will finally call the mountain Denali. Unfortunately, in the rush to cover the big news, the media has been getting small but important details wrong, especially those related to the rights and identities of Alaska Native people. So instead of retelling the strange story of an obsequious explorer, a presidential hopeful, and the gold standard, I want to dig deeper, finding a route through the context surrounding Alaska's iconic peak.
Nearly eighty years ago, Margaret Mitchell published what would become a best-selling novel, Gone with the Wind. More than thirty million copies have sold worldwide, and in 1939, the film adaptation was released. The novel tells the tale of a young white woman slaveholder, Scarlett O’Hara, who struggles to come to terms with her descent into poverty in the South during and after the Civil War. The story is hailed as a classic in American literature and beloved by audiences for its heroic portrayal of one headstrong woman’s journey for independence and self-discovery.
On September 4, 2005, eight years before the #BlackLivesMatter movement was born, officers of the New Orleans Police Department opened fire on two families crossing the Danziger Bridge. Hurricane Katrina had ravaged the city six days before. The officers were on site for an unrelated distress call. All the innocent victims were black and unarmed. A harrowing story of blue on black violence, author and investigative journalist Ronnie Greene’s Shots on the Bridge vividly recounts the crime and the ensuing case. With the anniversaries of Katrina and the crime coming up, we caught up with Ronnie Greene to ask him a few questions about his book.
I was first drawn to this story in August 2011, when I happened to read an AP account of the federal court conviction of officers with the New Orleans Police Department, who had fired upon two groups of people on a small bridge and then covered up their crimes.
In reading that first story, I instantly felt these events were worthy of a book. I was struck in learning about the victims, including Ronald Madison, a forty-year-old with the mental development of a six-year-old. With Katrina coming, Ronald stayed back to be with the family dogs. His older brother Lance, a onetime professional football player, stayed to watch over him. Now I was reading that Ronald was killed—shot in the back—and his brother, his protector, had been falsely arrested for allegedly firing at officers. I read about the other family on the bridge, the Bartholomews, along with their nephew Jose Holmes Jr. and his friend James Brissette Jr. JJ, was killed, and several in the Bartholomew family were critically wounded. The mother, Susan Bartholomew, had to have her arm amputated. As the bullets were coming that morning, her daughter, Lesha, lay atop her mother to try to protect her.
In truth, each of the victims was unarmed, yet police hatched a cover-up to conceal their actions.
This Sunday is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Celebrated annually on August 9, the United Nations selected this date to recognize the accolades and contributions of the world’s indigenous peoples as well as to promote and protect their rights. In time for the paperback release of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s American Book Award-winning An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, we're sharing the following passage from her book to commemorate the occasion. In this passage, Dunbar-Ortiz gives the history of the day’s creation and the role our very own UUA played in repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery.
In 1982, the government of Spain and the Holy See (the Vatican, which is a nonvoting state member of the United Nations) proposed to the UN General Assembly that the year 1992 be celebrated in the United Nations as an “encounter” between Europe and the peoples of the Americas, with Europeans bearing the gifts of civilization and Christianity to the Indigenous peoples. To the shock of the North Atlantic states that supported Spain’s resolution (including the United States and Canada), the entire African delegation walked out of the meeting and returned with an impassioned statement condemning a proposal to celebrate colonialism in the United Nations, which was established for the purpose of ending colonialism.
The “Doctrine of Discovery” had reared its head in the wrong place. The resolution was dead, but it was not the end of efforts by Spain, the Vatican, and others in the West to make the Quincentennial a cause for celebration.
While July 26 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we need to recall that discrimination against people with disabilities is not over.
The ADA accomplished a lot. It banned employment discrimination, made public transportation accessible, opened places of public accommodation and added closed captioning so the Deaf could watch television, to name a few. But discrimination against people with disabilities remains.
There is economic discrimination. When we talk about the ninety-nine percent and the one percent, we may forget that within that ninety-nine percent there are some groups that suffer the most. There is no group in the US as badly off as people with disabilities who are the largest and poorest US minority.
In the last three months The Family and I have twice piled into the car for eight-plus-hour (one way!) road trips to Washington, D.C. As family road trips, the journeys necessarily included junk food, some nausea, lots of laughter, sunburn, bickering, loud music, crowded hotel rooms, and unscheduled bathroom breaks. Unlike the usual family road trips, however, it’s been the season of Civic Road Trips.
On April 28, with thousands of others, we cheered for marriage equality before the steps of the Supreme Court building as the justices heard oral arguments. Road trip preparations had included learning more about the multiple state cases, interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause, looking backwards to the 1968 case of Loving v. Virginiathat declared bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, and arguing about the purpose of dissenting opinions. We fell out of the DC Metro carrying our homemade signs and looking like the out-of-towners that we are. We cried as the plaintiffs emerged from the Supreme Court at the end of the day, weary, optimistic, and surrounded by the love of family. Two elderly men from Nebraska, who had been in love for decades, asked if we would adopt them because their own extended family had rejected them. In the midst of the profound we mundanely argued over who had to stay awake in order to drive home.
President Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act into law
This weekend, celebrations marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act will be in full swing. Members of our country’s largest minority will be at pride festivals honoring the history of fighting for the overdue rights that made the world more accessible to them. Published this month on the 14th, Enabling Acts by University of Illinois at Chicago professor Lennard J. Davis—whose mother and father are both deaf—traces the nearly twenty years of activism and legislation that gave rise to the ADA. They were, indeed, an intense twenty years. Here we present the opening of his book, and the forty-six words that changed history for those with disabilities.
Trying to find a moment when the ADA began is like trying to find the source of the Nile or the Amazon. So many tributaries flow into the making of the ADA that you cannot say if any single stream is the true source. But you can say that at some point, like a mighty river, the movement toward the ADA surged powerfully and in a sense became inevitable.
But as inevitable as the act now seems in retrospect, Congress might very well have failed to act sufficiently to create a meaningful bill rather than a document simply expressing general platitudes. Certainly, an ADA could not pass Congress today. In fact, ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was defeated in the Senate in 2012. Bob Dole, who was instrumental in getting the ADA through Congress, arrived on the Senate floor in 2013 to argue emotionally that the convention should be ratified. At eighty-nine, he’d been in and out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center for two years and appeared drawn and fragile. Despite his dramatic appearance, the convention ratification was defeated. Dole, Harkin, and Hoyer all have asserted that if the ADA came up for a vote in 2015, it would be defeated.
Our 2015 reissue of Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s classic, Thousand Pieces of Gold, is on sale! First published in 1981, McCunn's novel was adapted to film a decade later with actors Chris Cooper and Rosalind Chao. It's been a star of the Beacon backlist for all these years, being adopted by book groups and used in classrooms (middle school, high school, and college). For this new edition, we've reissued it with new historical material. McCunn has written a new essay, taking readers through the challenges she encountered while researching Polly Bemis’s life. Readers will note how her discoveries and the documents she found outline the hardships Polly endured as a legendary pioneer fighting for independence and dignity in Gold-Rush America.
Lalu Nathoy/Polly Bemis left no written records. Neither did the person closest to her: Charlie Bemis. So I looked for the two in pioneers’ recollections, newspapers, photographs, and documents. Sifting through my findings, examining, reexamining each fragment for value, I always feel like a miner panning for gold.
From the start, Polly’s Certificate of Residence and marriage certificate shone bright. These papers, having survived a devastating fire, must have been important to Polly and Charlie. Why?
The 1892 Geary Act required each Chinese laborer living in the United States to register and apply for a Certificate of Residence within the year. Those who did not would be presumed to be in the country unlawfully and, therefore, subject to arrest and deportation—unless a white witness swore that the failure to register had been due to illness or accident. Protests and legal challenges by Chinese failed to overturn this law but did extend the period for registration.
The tragic shooting in South Carolina offers another painful reminder of American Christianity's troubled relationship with race and segregation. While it is true that most of the great abolitionists were inspired by their Christian faith, it is also true that their opponents were inspired by their Christian faith. As a result, much contemporary racism is rooted in Christianity.
Unfortunately, the Bible is not very helpful when it comes to race issues. Many have found within its pages justifications for slavery, abuse of African-Americans and segregation. Unfortunately, the divisions between the races are exacerbated, not diminished, by Christianity.
This weekend will see the flourish of red, white, and blue return as Independence Day festivities fill the streets. No other symbol has been more emblematic of our country’s independence than the American flag. Unfurled and waving in the breeze, the primary colors usually invoke national pride and liberation. The American flag had an altogether different meaning for Samuel Battle, the New York Police Department’s first black cop, during the beginning of his career as in 1911. In a working environment where his fellow white officers wanted him gone, it meant isolation, as Arthur Browne shows in his biography,One Righteous Man: Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York:
Battle’s work chart scheduled his first reserve duty for midnight to 8 a.m. on the Thursday after he started patrol. Finishing a four-to-twelve night shift, he was to sleep in the stationhouse with a platoon on call in the event of an emergency. A dormitory was outfitted with a couple dozen bunks and was draped in the odors of overworked men, discarded shoes, soiled linens, and tobacco smoke.
Fetid air and all, the officers of the Sixty-Eighth Street stationhouse resolved that this was a whites-only domain. Cops carried a cot upstairs to a room on the second floor, where the precinct stored the American flag, and left the mattress and springs under Old Glory as the black man’s accommodations.
Equating science with atheism is one of the most dangerous byproducts of America's culture wars. This strange polarization portends disaster, as the country divides into factions that cannot find common ground on the way the world operates. And it goes without saying that there will be no agreement on what should be done when scientifically significant issues need political action.
In the book I show how Adam evolved from an obscure character in Jewish literature to the "Central Myth of the West," and now stands as an almost impenetrable barrier to millions of Christians accepting modern science.
Many Christians, unfortunately, believe their faith requires a "first man" who sinned and brought trouble on the world (feminists can thank two millennia of patriarchy for getting the "first woman" off the hook). The central Christian theme is "Creation-Fall-Redemption": God creates a perfect world; Adam "falls" by sinning, wrecks everything, and God curses the creation with death and suffering; and Christ redeems the world. In this picture Adam and Christ function as symmetrical "bookends": Adam breaks everything and Christ fixes it.