By Stefan Bechtel“In March, 1886, I received a severe shock, as if by a blow on the head with a well-placed mallet. I awoke, dazed and stunned, to a sudden realization of the fact that the buffalo hide-hunters of the United States had practically finished their work.” The writer was William Temple Hornaday, then a thirty-two-year-old taxidermist at the U.S. National Museum (later the Smithsonian). He’d been asked by his boss to put together a mounted display of the museum’s collection of Bison americanus, only to discover that “the people’s official museum was absolutely destitute of good bison specimens of any kind.” These great shambling creatures, with their magnificent prehistoric silhouettes, in their unimaginable numbers, symbolized the wildness and grandeur of America better than any other animal, perhaps even the bald eagle.
By Bernardine DohrnIn 1970, we received a “Letter from the Underground” from Father Daniel Berrigan, printed in the New York Review of Books. It was a note from a comrade, for Dan too was a “most wanted” fugitive from the FBI and federal law enforcement officials at that time. A Jesuit priest, an acclaimed poet, a committed anti-war activist, his “Letter” was delivered, as was much communication then, not by mail or (landline) telephone, but via the media.
By Melinda ChateauvertOver the last week and before the print edition appeared, Emily Bazelon’s cover story “Should Prostitution be a Crime?” for the New York Times Magazine, sex workers and their allies were sharing and discussing it widely through Facebook, Twitter, and their blogs. I was thrilled to see people I know, activists I’ve admired and worked with, being given a national platform to have their say. This was and is a phenomenal media moment for the sex workers’ rights movement.
By Artemis JoukowskyIt was 1976, and I was a freshman attending the Allen-Stevenson School in New York City. My history and social studies teacher, John Pariseau, assigned a class report on the subject of moral courage. Pariseau further instructed us to build our papers around a personal interview.
A Q&A with Margaret ReganStarting in the 1980s, we began to have a policy of detaining immigrants. We didn’t really have detention centers ever since we shut down Ellis Island and Angel Island in the 1950s. 1980s policy changed. We were going to do detention centers. So, what do you do? You suddenly start needing prisons. You go to the private sector because they’re agile, they can do things. Corrections Corporation of America began around 1983. Their first project was an immigration detention center in Houston, Texas. And they quickly moved into the regular prison sector also. So they are a for-profit corporation.
A Q&A with Erika JanikHappy publication day to Erika Janik and her new book Pistols and Petticoats: 175 Years of Lady Detectives in Fact and Fiction! Pistols and Petticoats is a lively exploration of the struggles women have faced in law enforcement and in mystery fiction since the late nineteenth century. Working in a profession considered to be strictly a man’s domain, investigating women were nearly always at odds with society. These sleuths and detectives refused to let that stop them, and paved the way to a modern professional life for women on the force and in popular culture. We caught up with Janik to ask her about the social implications of women joining the police force, “murder as entertainment,” and how the reality of policewomen compares with the stories told in the crime genre.
By Alondra NelsonGenetic genealogy testing aligns with an enduring human desire: the search for roots and identity. The appeal of genetic ancestry testing cannot be understood without also understanding the backdrop of the specific example author Alex Haley provided about how this should be accomplished and what effects it might produce. Roots, for which Haley received a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of Haley’s colorful family genealogy, which he traces back to The Gambia. The story is framed as the author’s “epic quest”: his prodigious efforts across years and continents to uncover his family’s past. In 1977, when Haley’s work was transformed into a television miniseries, the story of his ancestors’ trials, tribulations, and resilience held the country in rapt attention for eight days.
By Stephen KendrickFounded in 1831, Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of the Boston area’s most famous attractions. This urban wildlife habitat and nationally recognized hotspot for migratory birds continues to connect visitors with nature and serves as a model for sustainable landscape practices and conservation. Author and Unitarian minister Stephen Kendrick takes us on a tour of the cemetery in his latest book The Lively Place: Mount Auburn, America’s First Garden Cemetery, and Its Revolutionary and Literary Residents, which was released earlier this month. In honor of Earth Day and its theme this year of Trees for the Earth, we’re sharing this excerpt in which Kendrick writes about how he learned to appreciate the cemetery’s trees as social creatures putting together a complex environment.
By Dina Gilio-WhitakerIndigenous peoples have long fought for meaningful inclusion in international political fora, beginning at least as far back as 1923 with the League of Nations, the United Nations’ precursor. Despite the fact that Indigenous peoples (IPs) have always practiced the art of international diplomacy with each other and outsiders who invaded their territories—and the fact that their existences as nations typically far predate today’s modern states—they have been largely shut out from the contemporary world’s political processes.
What sacrifices does a Pakistani wife have to make while living under a military dictatorship? Why are there still so few women working in the hard sciences? Which historically misunderstood workforce forged alliances with activists in the women’s rights and black freedom movements? The answers lie in the books we are featuring this year during Women’s History Month, which explore and applaud the contributions women have made—through survival, activism, trailblazing—to history. Ranging from the individual voice of memoir to the joint voices of the collective biography, their narratives ring out with equal intensity.
By Premilla NadasenWelcome to the third entry in our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. Domestic worker Georgia Gilmore was one of the little-known organizers and activists in the boycott, which is why, during Women’s History Month, we are putting the spotlight on her. Gilmore raised money for the boycott and founded the organization Club from Nowhere so that black donators could give money to the cause anonymously without drawing unwanted attention from their white employers and losing their jobs. She cooked out of her own home for people involved in the boycott after she was fired from her own job because of her activism. As this excerpt from Premilla Nadasen's Household Workers Unite shows, Dr. King would not have become the leading civil rights leader he was without the behind-the-scenes work of people like Gilmore who kept the cause afloat.
By Jeanne TheoharisOn Friday, the news broke of MSNBC’s silencing of Melissa Harris-Perry’s show and the dismantling of her editorial control. In her courageous letter to staff, she wrote why she was not willing to read the news and “provide cover” for MSNBC this weekend: “Our show was taken—without comment or discussion or notice—in the midst of an election season…I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head…I love our show. I want it back.” MSNBC executives later in the weekend called Harris-Perry “brilliant, intelligent, but challenging and unpredictable” and confirmed they were “parting ways.”
By Lennard DavisIt is a very tight Republican primary and the front-runners are winning in some states and losing in others. In the general election, it will be even tighter with the fate of the nation hanging in the balance. The election might come down to a single demographic casting the deciding vote.
Black History Month is as much about rediscovery as it is about celebration and commemoration. At Beacon Press, the books we publish that cover black history reintroduce us to long-forgotten or hidden historical figures, unearth information previously unknown about prominent black leaders, bring us closer to the struggles and triumphs of African ancestors. In the current age of #BlackLivesMatter and other movements that compel us to evaluate our country’s progress in racial justice, it’s important to get reacquainted with the steps black forerunners have taken—and their history—so we can see how to step forward. For this year's Black History Month, we're recommending a list of new and older titles offering biographies, histories, memoir, and more.
By Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jeanne TheoharisThis is the second entry of our Montgomery Bus Boycott Turns 60 Series. About two months into the Montgomery Bus Boycott, times start to become dangerous for Martin Luther King, Jr. and his family. Death threats over the phone are coming in daily to King’s home, most of which Coretta Scott King answers. Aware of his role as a leader, Dr. King turns to his faith for strength and resolve in the face of danger. Sixty years ago today, the danger arrives on his porch in the form of a bomb. This excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom brings us close to the reality of fear Dr. King lived with, and the resilience of the King family.
By Cornel WestThe FBI transcript of a June 27, 1964, phone conversation reveals Malcolm X receiving a message from Martin Luther King, Jr. This message supported the idea of getting the human rights declaration of the United Nations to expose the unfair, vicious treatment of black people in America. Malcolm X replied that he was eager to meet Martin Luther King, Jr.—as soon as the next afternoon. If they had met that day and worked together, the radical King would be well known.
By Deborah ChasmanI’ll never forget meeting Sid Mintz, who passed away last month. I was a young(ish) book editor at Beacon Press, hoping to develop our anthropology list. Why not start at the top? Years earlier, Sid had transformed the fields of both history and anthropology with the publication of Sweetness and Power, which was no less than a retelling of the rise of capitalism through the story of sugar. Sid invited me to lunch at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I was nervous.
By Roxanne Dunbar-OrtizTwo polarized positions mark the ongoing debate in the United States over gun violence, mass killings, and armed citizen militias, such as the militias that seized federal land in Oregon on January 2. These positions rest on the text and interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The gun lobby and its constituency argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every citizen to bear arms, while gun control advocates maintain that the Second Amendment is about states having a militia, emphasizing the language of “well regulated,” and that this is manifest in the existing National Guard.
On December 1, 1955, an attractive Negro seamstress, Mrs. Rosa Parks, boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. She was returning home after her regular day’s work in the Montgomery Fair, a leading department store. Tired from long hours on her feet, Mrs. Parks sat down in the first seat behind the section reserved for whites. Not long after she took her seat, the bus operator ordered her, along with three other Negro passengers, to move back in order to accommodate boarding white passengers. By this time every seat in the bus was taken. This meant that if Mrs. Parks followed the driver’s command she would have to stand while a white male passenger, who had just boarded the bus, would sit. The other three Negro passengers immediately complied with the driver’s request. But Mrs. Parks quietly refused. The result was her arrest.
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.