On Wednesday, President Obama and a bipartisan collection of Congressional leaders paid tribute to the legacy of Rosa Parks by unveiling a statue of her at the Capitol. The 9-foot bronze figure of Parks desegregated Statuary Hall; hers is the first statue of a black woman to be installed at the Capitol and currently the only statue of a black person (a statue of Frederick Douglass is set to be moved there shortly).
Yet, the statue of Rosa Parks—seated and clutching her purse—turned her into a meek and redemptive figure. To the end of her life, Parks believed the United States had a long way to go in the struggle for social and racial justice. Yesterday’s ceremony, however, was largely an exercise in national self-congratulation and a demonstration of American pride and pageantry. It invoked the history of racial injustice to put that history in the past.
“The statue speaks for itself,” House Speaker John Boehner began, noting how its placement in the hall embodied “the vision of a more perfect union.” “What a story, what a legacy, what a country,” Senator Mitch McConnell extolled at the close of his remarks.
As these words were spoken, across the Washington Mall, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v Holder. Only one speaker at the dedication, Representative James Clyburn, made specific reference to the case, which threatens to undermine the gains that Parks helped bring about.
[Read the rest here]
Sarah Garland is a staff writer at the Hechinger Report. She has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, American Prospect, New York Sun, Newsweek, Washington Monthly, Newsday, New York, and Marie Claire, among other publications. She was a 2009 recipient of the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Garland grew up in a middle-class suburb and was bused to an inner-city elementary school in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2007, a case brought by African American parents in Louisville brought to a close the era of school desegregation, and Garland examines the circumstances around this case in her new book, Divided We Fail. We asked her three questions about the book for our blog.
In honor of Black History Month, you can purchase Divided We Fail along with many other Black History titles for 20% off and free shipping at Beacon.org. Use Promo Code FEB2013 at checkout. Buy two or more titles and get a free King Legacy tote bag.
The traditional narrative of desegregation paints a picture of heroic children like Ruby Bridges marching past angry whites opposed to integrated schools. We don't hear much beyond those first, contentious post-Brown v. Board of Education days. How does this simplification gloss over the achievements and problems of desegregation?
Desegregation of the schools was a major achievement—and one that was long fought. But in celebrating that history, the story of black civil rights heroes and their white antagonists often obscures what some in the black community saw as very unfortunate side effects: the closure of traditionally black schools, the firing of black teachers, and a loss of power for black communities in overseeing their schools. No one wanted to go back to the era of Jim Crow, but people were frustrated that in the process of desegregating schools, whites maintained the upper hand and black students still faced many inequities. That’s not to undermine what was achieved with Brown v. Board of Education, but to suggest that desegregation didn’t live up to the hopes many people had for it.
Are contemporary school reform movements—charter schools, Race to the Top, focusing on "accountability"—achieving better results than desegregation in closing the racial gap in education?
In a word, no. There is still not a lot of research on how new reform ideas like Race to the Top are impacting schools, and what research there is on charter suggests that while some charters are succeeding in closing the achievement gap, most are not. Desegregation, by contrast, corresponded with the most rapid shrinking of the achievement gap for black children yet. It was not the only factor contributing to those gains, but research suggests it had a hand, and also that diverse environments can be very positive for minority student achievement. That said, the gap didn’t fully close during desegregation (possibly because of the continued inequities perpetuated in the new systems).
I think reformers today can look back at what worked and what didn’t and learn something. Already some are. Recently, there’s been something of a resurgence of support for integration: Some charter operators are trying to create diverse student bodies and a handful of school superintendents are rethinking the role of racial and economic diversity in schools.
How did your experiences as a student bused to an integrated school inform your research and writing?
Busing was a formative experience for me. Probably for all of us who went through it. I loved my school, which was near downtown Louisville amid some of the poorest housing projects in the city. I had good teachers and great memories of frequent field trips—we would walk in a line through those inner city streets to get to the museums downtown. I think the experience made the persistence of poverty and inequality in our society vividly real to me. But even though my school was diverse and in this neighborhood very different from my own suburban enclave, my days were spent with classmates who looked just like me. We were divided inside the school into advanced, honors and regular classes, and all but a couple of students in the advanced classes were white and middle class. That disparity also stayed with me, and was one of the main reasons I decided to write the book.
The global Martin Luther King, Jr. has occupied my thinking for some two decades. I have often wondered how the man who, in his book The Trumpet of Conscience(1968), described himself as “a citizen of the world,” could be so ignored in terms of his international significance. Even King scholars have largely neglected King’s vision of what he variously termed “the world house,” “the new world order,” and “a new humanity.” Knowing that King’s birthday is recognized and/or celebrated in some one hundred countries, I set out to produce a volume of his writings and speeches on racism as a world problem, European colonialism, global poverty, war, the Middle East crisis, and religious bigotry and intolerance.
In a Single Garment of Destiny reclaims the global Martin Luther King, Jr. through the prism of his own words and activities on behalf of world peace and community. I have come to see that we cannot understand King if we limit him to a southern black preacher or an “American Gandhi.” We must view him as a leader who moved beyond the particularities of the African American and the American experiences to speak and act on behalf of a world fragmented by bigotry, injustice, intolerance, and war.
“The dreamer” is the title by which Martin Luther King, Jr. is known around the world. While he spoke optimistically of the coming realization of the “American dream,” we must never forget his larger vision of “a world made new.” This is why King, in his last two books, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?(1967) and The Trumpet of Conscience, focused so much on world problems, on racism, poverty, and war, and on the need for humans across the globe to move beyond a mere intellectual analysis of nonviolence to an experimentation with that method in every sphere of human conflict.
As a world figure, King transcends the past in terms of his meaning, authority, and inspiration. He still has meaning for the contemporary world, especially as we deal with environmental protection concerns, post-Cold War ethnic cleansings, global terrorism, genocide, religiously-based violence, political assassinations, and the mounting cycles of violence, repression, and reprisal in the Middle East. We need a new appreciation of King’s thought and legacy in the contemporary world.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Rosa Parks. To honor the day, we share these Ten Things You Didn't Know About Rosa Parks, compiled by Jeanne Theoharis, author of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
1. Parks had been thrown off the bus a decade earlier by the same bus driver -- for refusing to pay in the front and go around to the back to board. She had avoided that driver's bus for twelve years because she knew well the risks of angering drivers, all of whom were white and carried guns. Her own mother had been threatened with physical violence by a bus driver, in front of Parks who was a child at the time. Parks' neighbor had been killed for his bus stand, and teenage protester Claudette Colvin, among others, had recently been badly manhandled by the police.
2. Parks was a lifelong believer in self-defense. Malcolm X was her personal hero. Her family kept a gun in the house, including during the boycott, because of the daily terror of white violence. As a child, when pushed by a white boy, she pushed back. His mother threatened to kill her, but Parks stood her ground. Another time, she held a brick up to a white bully, daring him to follow through on his threat to hit her. He went away. When the Klu Klux Klan went on rampages through her childhood town, Pine Level, Ala., her grandfather would sit on the porch all night with his rifle. Rosa stayed awake some nights, keeping vigil with him.
3. Her husband was her political partner. Parks said Raymond was "the first real activist I ever met." Initially she wasn't romantically interested because Raymond was more light-skinned than she preferred, but she became impressed with his boldness and "that he refused to be intimidated by white people." When they met he was working to free the nine Scottsboro boys and she joined these efforts after they were married. At Raymond's urging, Parks, who had to drop out in the eleventh grade to care for her sick grandmother, returned to high school and got her diploma. Raymond's input was crucial to Parks' political development and their partnership sustained her political work over many decades.
4. Many of Parks' ancestors were Indians. She noted this to a friend who was surprised when in private Parks removed her hairpins and revealed thick braids of wavy hair that fell below her waist. Her husband, she said, liked her hair long and she kept it that way for many years after his death, although she never wore it down in public. Aware of the racial politics of hair and appearance, she tucked it away in a series of braids and buns -- maintaining a clear division between her public presentation and private person.
5. Parks' arrest had grave consequences for her family's health and economic well-being.After her arrest, Parks was continually threatened, such that her mother talked for hours on the phone to keep the line busy from constant death threats. Parks and her husband lost their jobs after her stand and didn't find full employment for nearly ten years. Even as she made fundraising appearances across the country, Parks and her family were at times nearly destitute. She developed painful stomach ulcers and a heart condition, and suffered from chronic insomnia. Raymond, unnerved by the relentless harassment and death threats, began drinking heavily and suffered two nervous breakdowns. The black press, culminating in JET magazine's July 1960 story on "the bus boycott's forgotten woman," exposed the depth of Parks' financial need, leading civil rights groups to finally provide some assistance.
6. Parks spent more than half of her life in the North. The Parks family had to leave Montgomery eight months after the boycott ended. She lived for most of that time in Detroit in the heart of the ghetto, just a mile from the epicenter of the 1967 Detroit riot. There, she spent nearly five decades organizing and protesting racial inequality in "the promised land that wasn't."
7. In 1965 Parks got her first paid political position, after over two decades of political work. After volunteering for Congressman John Conyers's long shot political campaign,
Parks helped secure his primary victory by convincing Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Detroit on Conyers's behalf. He later hired her to work with constituents as an administrative assistant in his Detroit office. For the first time since her bus stand, Parks finally had a salary, access to health insurance, and a pension -- and the restoration of dignity that a formal paid position allowed.
8. Parks was far more radical than has been understood. She worked alongside the Black Power movement, particularly around issues such as reparations, black history, anti-police brutality, freedom for black political prisoners, independent black political power, and economic justice. She attended the Black Political Convention in Gary and the Black Power conference in Philadelphia. She journeyed to Lowndes County, Alabama to support the movement there, spoke at the Poor People's Campaign, helped organize support committees on behalf of black political prisoners such as the Wilmington 10 and Imari Obadele of the Republic of New Africa, and paid a visit of support to the Black Panther school in Oakland, CA.
9. Parks was an internationalist. She was an early opponent of the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, a member of The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and a supporter of the Winter Soldier hearings in Detroit and the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest in D.C. In the 1980s, she protested apartheid and U.S. complicity, joining a picket outside the South African embassy and opposed U.S. policy in Central America. Eight days after 9/11, she joined other activists in a letter calling on the United States to work with the international community and no retaliation or war.
10. Parks was a lifelong activist and a hero to many, including Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison, he told her, "You sustained me while I was in prison all those years."
Baseball legend Jackie Robinson was born on this day in 1919. In honor of his birthday, we share this excerpt from Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston by sports journalist and author Howard Bryant. Bryant is also the author of The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron.
Jackie Robinson was already fatalistic about the
tryout. He didn’t believe the Red Sox were serious about integration and wasn’t
especially thrilled about his own situation. He had only played for the Negro
League’s Kansas City Monarchs for a few weeks and was already disappointed by
the league’s air of gambling and disorganization, the very type of lowbrow
behavior that made white baseball people hesitant about allowing blacks into
the big leagues. Robinson was fastidious in his adherence to his own personal
code, and seeing the chaos of the Negro leagues only frustrated him further. It
was the stereotypes of corruption and anarchy that not only plagued black
baseball, thought historian Edmund G. White, but also gave whites a secure
excuse to keep blacks out of the major leagues:
When the Negro
Leagues had come within the consciousness of those within organized baseball,
they had been seen as a reverse mirror image. If Organized baseball was free
from gambling and corruption, the Negro Leagues were run by racketeers. If
Organized baseball was premised on the roster stability of the reserve clause,
the Negro Leagues were the province of contract jumpers. If Organized baseball
was structured around the permanent franchise cities and regular schedules, the
Negro Leagues were a kaleidoscope of changing franchises and whimsical
scheduling. If Organized baseball was a clean, wholesome, upwardly mobile
sport, Negro League games were the scenes of rowdy, disorderly, vulgar
behavior. By being the opposite of Organized baseball’s idealized image, the
Negro Leagues served as their own justification for the exclusion of blacks
from the major leagues. They appeared to demonstrate just how “contaminated”
major league baseball would become if blacks were allowed to play it.
When Robinson arrived in Boston, the tryout was
delayed for two more days in the wake of Franklin Roosevelt’s death. He told
Smith of his disappointment during the days of delay. “Listen, Smith, it really
burns me up to come fifteen hundred miles for them to give me the runaround.”
Nearly fifty-five years after Cap Anson engineered
the removal of the last black major leaguers in the late nineteenth century,
the tryout finally took place at Fenway Park at eleven on the morning of April
16, 1945. Two above-average Negro leaguers, Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams,
joined Jackie Robinson. The Red Sox players were white and were mostly minor
league pitchers. Starting the season the following day in New York, the big
league roster was given the day off by Joe Cronin. The routine was mundane. The
players fielded, threw, and took batting practice. Hugh Duffy, the former great
Red Sox out- fielder, ran the tryout and took notes on index cards. Cronin sat,
according to one account, “stone-faced.” Another depicted Cronin barely
watching at all. Muchnick marveled at the hitting ability of Robinson, whose
mood apparently darkened. When it ended, he, Williams, and Jethroe received
platitudes from Duffy. Joe Cashman of the Boston Record sat with Cronin
that day and reported that the manager was impressed with Robinson. He wrote
cryptically, with virtually little comprehension, that he could have been
witnessing a historic moment. “Before departing, Joe and his coaches spent some
90 minutes in the stands at Fenway surveying three Negro candidates. . . . Why
they came from such distant spots to work out for the Red Sox was not learned.”
The Boston Globe did not cover the tryout.
Robinson himself was satisfied with his
performance, although by the time he left Fenway he was smoldering about what
he felt to be a humiliating charade. As the three players departed, Eddie
Collins told them they would hear from the Red Sox in the near future. None of
them ever heard from the Red Sox again.
Eighteen months later, the Dodgers signed Robinson,
who would begin a legendary career a year and half later. Jethroe, at age
thirty-three, integrated Boston pro baseball with
the Braves in 1950 and would become the National League Rookie of the Year.
Williams would stay in the Negro leagues, never again coming so close to the
The remaining details of that morning are
completely speculative. Robinson never spoke in real detail about the tryout.
Joe Cronin, who next to Collins and was the most powerful member of the Red Sox
next to Yawkey, also never offered a complete account about the tryout except
to say that he remem- bered that it occurred, although he and Robinson would
Thirty-four years later, Cronin would discuss the
tryout; he explained the Red Sox position as well as the game’s:
I remember the
tryout very well. But after it, we told them our only farm club available was
in Louisville, Kentucky, and we didn’t think they’d be interested in going
there because of the racial feelings at the time. Besides, this was after the season
had started and we didn’t sign players off tryouts in those days to play in the
big leagues. I was in no position to offer them a job. The general manager did
the hiring and there was an unwritten rule at that time against hiring black
players. I was just the manager.
It was a great
mistake by us. He [Robinson] turned out to be a great player. But no feeling
existed about it. We just accepted things the way they were. I recall talking
to some players and they felt that they didn’t want us to break up their
league. We all thought because of the times, it was good to have separate
Clif Keane would give the day its historical
significance. A reporter for the Globe, Keane said he heard a person
yell from the stands during the tryout. The words—“Get those niggers off the
field”—were never attributed to one person, but they have haunted the Red Sox
as much as Pinky Higgins’ proclamation a decade and a half later. Numerous Red
Sox officials, from Joe Cronin to Eddie Collins to Tom Yawkey himself, have
been credited with the taunt, if it was ever said at all. Keane has always
believed it was Yawkey.
What cannot be disputed about the events of that
April day are the final results and the consequences that followed. It was an
episode from which the reputation and perception of the franchise have never
Susie Bright, in addition to being a best-selling author, activist, and podcast host, is editor at large for Audible. Susie's blog, The Bright List, keeps readers and listeners apprised of new audiobooks.
Imagine a time when gay/lesbian couples weren't a hot-button issue— a time when same-sex celebrity couples flourished— what a novel idea!
In Outlaw Marriages, cultural historian Rodger Streitmatter reveals that gay marriage is not a 21st century idea— and that in fact, there have always been numerous well-known gay couples who lived an "outlaw" life together, despite conventional mores.
Some of the notables profiled are playwright Tennessee Williams, literary icon Gertrude Stein, and movie legend Greta Garbo.
Who had the long-lasting relationships— and who had a tumultuous love life? Whose lover ended up being their muse for their most famous work?
Outlaw Marriages gives a delicious look behind the curtain. You’ll be surprised at some of the answers!
Couples featured: Walt Whitman & Peter Doyle, Martha Carey Thomas & Mamie Gwinn, John Marshall & Ned Warren, Jane Addams & Mary Rozet Smith, Bessie Marbury & Elsie de Wolfe, J. C. Leyendecker & Charles Beach, Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas, Janet Flanner & Solita Solano, Greta Garbo & Mercedes de Acosta, Aaron Copland & Victor Kraft, Tennessee Williams & Frank Merlo, James Baldwin & Lucien Happersberger, Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg, James Ivory & Ismail Merchant, Audre Lorde & Frances Clayton
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement.
"In the first sweeping history of Parks's life, Theoharis shows us . . . [that] Parks not only sat down on the bus; she stood on the right side of justice for her entire life." —Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP
"At last, Jeanne Theoharis answers the question, who was Rosa Parks? The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks will undoubtedly be hailed as one of the most important scholarly contributions to Civil Rights history ever written. Theoharis details Parks as a radical, independent, careful and lifelong activist who has been unfairly frozen in a single time and place: 1955 Montgomery. Theoharis liberates Parks from this singular moment and finally asks the questions that previous journalists and scholars seemed insufficiently curious to ask. And the answers will surprise readers. I can't wait to assign this book in every class I teach.” —Melissa Harris-Perry, Host, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show
"Jeanne Theoharis brings all of her talents as a political scientist and historian of the Civil Rights Movement to bear on this illuminating biography of the great Rosa Parks, whose symbolic act in 1955 made her an icon of the movement and whose lifelong commitment to social justice made her something even more profound: a multidimensional political actor in the hard-fought (and ongoing) battle for equality and full citizenship." —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
"Charisma is not a word often used to describe Rosa Parks yet we have to recognize her star. The Rosa Parks challenge to the political system was deep and lasting even while she never raised her voice. The first female Speaker of the House of Representatives once said, 'You can get a lot done if you don't need to take credit for it.' She took a page from the book of Parks. Theoharis' scholarship brings forth a woman whom many followed without ever realizing they were. She was courageous and strong. She also had a wonderful sense of humor. And an awesome sense of responsibility. This is a much needed book on the woman who is, arguably, the most important person in the last half of the twentieth century. Just as the Lincoln Memorial needs a statue of Frederick Douglass gently bending over with a pen in his hand for Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. needs a statue of Rosa Parks just one or two steps ahead mouthing the words: 'Come on, Dr. King. We've got work to do.'" —Nikki Giovanni, Poet
When Rosa Parks died in October 2005, she became the first woman and second African American to lie in honor at the nation's capital. Yet much of the memorialization reduced her historical contribution to a single act on a bus on a long-ago December evening. In this revealing and comprehensive biography-the first critical treatment of Parks's life-historian Jeanne Theoharis shows that the standard portrayal of Rosa Parks as a quiet and demure accidental actor is far from true.
Presenting a powerful corrective to the popular iconography of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who with a single act birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis excavates Parks's political philosophy and six decades of political work to reveal a woman whose existence demonstrated-in her own words-a "life history of being rebellious." From her family's support of Marcus Garvey to her service with the NAACP in Alabama in the 1940s and 1950s, and from her courageous bus arrest and steadfast efforts on behalf of the Montgomery bus boycott to her work in Detroit challenging Northern racial inequality on behalf of a newly elected Congressman John Conyers and alongside Black Power advocates, Parks's contributions to the civil rights movement go far beyond a single day. Even as economic hardship and constant death threats exacted a steep toll on Rosa and her husband, Raymond, she remained committed to exposing and eradicating racial inequality in jobs, schools, public services, and the criminal justice system.
In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting American inequality and, in the process, resurrects an inspiring civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.
What Reviewers are saying about The Rebellious LIfe of Mrs. Rosa Parks:
Kirkus Reviews: “How Theoharis learned the true nature of this woman is a story in itself. Parks always stood in the background, never volunteered information about herself and eschewed fame. There were no letters to consult; even her autobiography exposed little of the woman’s personality. She hid her light under a bushel, and it has taken an astute author to find the real Parks. Even though her refusal to give up her bus seat sparked a revolution, Rosa Parks was no accidental heroine. She was born to it, and Theoharis ably shows us how and why.”
Booklist: “Historian Theoharis offers a complex portrait of a forceful, determined woman who had long been active before the boycott she inspired and who had an even longer career in civil rights afterward.”
Publishers Weekly: "Theoharis submits a lavishly well-documented study of Parks’s life and career as an activist.”
Library Journal: "Verdict: This meticulously researched book is for everyone; advanced middle school and beyond."
An unprecedented and timely collection that captures the global vision of Dr. King—in his own words
Too many people continue to think of Dr. King only as "a southern civil rights leader" or "an American Gandhi," thus ignoring his impact on poor and oppressed people around the world. "In a Single Garment of Destiny" is the first book to treat King's positions on global liberation struggles through the prism of his own words and activities.
From the pages of this extraordinary collection, King emerges not only as an advocate for global human rights but also as a towering figure who collaborated with Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert J. Luthuli, Thich Nhat Hanh, and other national and international figures in addressing a multitude of issues we still struggle with today-from racism, poverty, and war to religious bigotry and intolerance. Introduced and edited by distinguished King scholar Lewis Baldwin, this volume breaks new ground in our understanding of King.
"Baldwin's readable, thoughtful, and fresh compilation gives full voice to King's belief that "[a]ll inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors."—Publishers Weekly
Did you unwrap an e-reader this holiday season? Or did you treat yourself to one? (Don't worry, we won't judge.) Here are Beacon's most popular e-book titles for 2012 along with a few suggestions for titles sure to be on next year's bestseller list. Download one or two and see why they've inspired people to click and read.
At the time of Frankl's death in 1997, Man's Search for Meaning had sold more than 10 million copies in twenty-four languages. A 1991 reader survey for the Library of Congress that asked readers to name a "book that made a difference in your life" found Man's Search for Meaning among the ten most influential books in America.
"One of the great books of our time." —Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
"One of the outstanding contributions to psychological thought in the last fifty years." —Carl R. Rogers (1959)
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Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.
"Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare magical artifact . . . the novel one returns to, again and again." —Harlan Ellison
"One cannot finish Kindred without feeling changed. It is a shattering work of art with much to say about love, hate, slavery, and racial dilemmas, then and now." —Sam Frank, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner
"In Kindred, Octavia Butler creates a road for the impossible and a balm for the unbearable. It is everything the literature of science fiction can be." —Walter Mosley
In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercise as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness--being awake and fully aware. From washing the dishes to answering the phone to peeling an orange, he reminds us that each moment holds within it an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.
"Thich Nhat Hanh's ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity." -Martin Luther King, Jr.
"He has immense presence and both personal and Buddhist authority. If there is a candidate for 'Living Buddha' on earth today, it is Thich Nhat Hanh." -Roshi Richard Baker, author of Original Mind: The Practice of Zen in the West
All Souls by: A Family Story from Southie Michael Patrick MacDonald
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A breakaway bestseller since its first printing, All Souls takes us deep into Michael Patrick MacDonald's Southie, the proudly insular neighborhood with the highest concentration of white poverty in America. Rocked by Whitey Bulger's crime schemes and busing riots, MacDonald's Southie is populated by sharply hewn characters like his Ma, a miniskirted, accordion-playing single mother who endures the deaths of four of her eleven children. Nearly suffocated by his grief and his community's code of silence, MacDonald tells his family story here with gritty but moving honesty.
The Cure for Everything! Untangling Twisted Messages About Health, Fitness, and Happiness by Timothy Caulfield
In The Cure for Everything, health-policy expert and fitness enthusiast Timothy Caulfield debunks the mythologies of the one-step health crazes, reveals the truths behind misleading data, and discredits the charlatans in a quest to sort out real, reliable health advice. He takes us along as he navigates the maze of facts, findings, and fears associated with emerging health technologies, drugs, and disease-prevention strategies, and he presents an impressively researched, accessible take on the production and spread of information in the health sciences.
Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz, and Dr. Steven Woloshin
Drawing on twenty-five years of medical practice and research, Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and his colleagues, Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz and Dr. Steven Woloshin, have studied the effects of screenings and presumed preventative measures for disease and "pre-disease." Welch argues that while many Americans believe that more diagnosis is always better, the medical, social, and economic ramifications of unnecessary diagnoses are in fact seriously detrimental. Unnecessary surgeries, medication side effects, debilitating anxiety, and the overwhelming price tag on health care are only a few of the potential harms of overdiagnosis.
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels by Hella Winston
When Hella Winston began talking with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn for her doctoral dissertation in sociology, she was surprised to be covertly introduced to Hasidim unhappy with their highly restrictive way of life and sometimes desperately struggling to escape it. Unchosen tells the stories of these "rebel" Hasidim, serious questioners who long for greater personal and intellectual freedom than their communities allow. In her new Preface, Winston discusses the passionate reactions the book has elicited among Hasidim and non-Hasidim alike.
"Winston . . . builds fascinating case studies, inviting readers into her interviewees' conflicted, and often painful, lives . . . show[ing] us a Hasidic underworld where large families and a lack of secular education have resulted in extreme poverty and some serious at-risk behavior among youth. Her story of courage and intellectual rebellion will inspire anyone who has ever felt like a religious outcast." -Publishers Weekly, starred review
Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"
A 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses had just collapsed on Boston's waterfront, disgorging its contents as a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that at its outset traveled at 35 miles an hour. It demolished wooden homes, even the brick fire station. The number of dead wasn't known for days. It would be years before a landmark court battle determined who was responsible for the disaster.
Plain Secrets: An Outsider Among the Amish by Joe Mackall
Joe Mackall has lived surrounded by the Swartzentruber Amish community of Ashland County, Ohio, for over sixteen years. They are the most traditional and insular of all the Amish sects: the Swartzentrubers live without gas, electricity, or indoor plumbing; without lights on their buggies or cushioned chairs in their homes; and without rumspringa, the recently popularized "running-around time" that some Amish sects allow their sixteen-year-olds.
Over the years, Mackall has developed a steady relationship with the Shetler family (Samuel and Mary, their nine children, and their extended family). Plain Secrets tells the Shetlers' story over these years, using their lives to paint a portrait of Swartzentruber Amish life and mores. During this time, Samuel's nephew Jonas finally rejects the strictures of the Amish way of life for good, after two failed attempts to leave, and his bright young daughter reaches the end of school for Amish children: the eighth grade. But Plain Secrets is also the story of the unusual friendship between Samuel and Joe. Samuel is quietly bemused—and, one suspects, secretly delighted—at Joe's ignorance of crops and planting, carpentry and cattle. He knows Joe is planning to write a book about the family, and yet he allows him a glimpse of the tensions inside this intensely private community.
“I was born male and now I’ve got medical and government documents that say I’m female—but I don’t call myself a woman, and I know I’m not a man. . . .”
Scientologist, husband and father, tranny, sailor, slave, playwright, dyke, gender outlaw—these are just a few words which have defined Kate Bornstein during her extraordinary life. For the first time, it all comes together inA Queer and Pleasant Danger, Kate Bornstein’s stunningly original memoir that’s set to change lives and enrapture readers.
Wickedly funny and disarmingly honest, this is Bornstein’s most intimate book yet. With wisdom, wit, and an unwavering resolution to tell the truth (“I must not tell lies”), Bornstein shares her story: from a nice Jewish boy growing up in New Jersey to a strappingly handsome lieutenant of the Church of Scientology’s Sea flagship vessel, and later to 1990s Seattle, where she becomes a rising star in the lesbian community. In between there are wives and lovers, heartbreak and triumph, bridges mended and broken, and a journey of self-discovery that will mesmerize readers.
The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals by Lauren Slater
From the time she is nine years old, biking to the farmland outside her suburban home, where she discovers a disquieting world of sleeping cows and a "Private Way" full of the wondrous and creepy creatures of the wild-spiders, deer, moles, chipmunks, and foxes-Lauren Slater finds in animals a refuge from her troubled life. As she matures, her attraction to animals strengthens and grows more complex and compelling even as her family is falling to pieces around her. Slater spends a summer at horse camp, where she witnesses the alternating horrific and loving behavior of her instructor toward the animals in her charge and comes to question the bond that so often develops between females and their equines. Slater's questions follow her to a foster family, her own parents no longer able to care for her. A pet raccoon, rescued from a hole in the wall, teaches her how to feel at home away from home. The two Shiba Inu puppies Slater adopts years later, against her husband's will, grow increasingly important to her as she ages and her family begins to grow.
The $60,000 Dog is Lauren Slater's intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives. As a psychologist, a reporter, an amateur naturalist, and above all an enormously gifted writer, she draws us into the stories of her passion for animals that are so much more than pets. She describes her intense love for the animals in her life without apology and argues, finally, that the works of Darwin and other evolutionary biologists prove that, when it comes to worth, animals are equal, and in some senses even superior, to human beings.
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in "The Harlem Ghetto" to a sobering "Journey to Atlanta."
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright's work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin's voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
Melanie Hoffert longs for her North Dakota childhood home, with its grain trucks and empty main streets. A land where she imagines standing at the bottom of the ancient lake that preceded the prairie: crop rows become the patterned sand ripples of the lake floor; trees are the large alien plants reaching for the light; and the sky is the water’s vast surface, reflecting the sun. Like most rural kids, she followed the out-migration pattern to a better life. The prairie is a hard place to stay—particularly if you are gay, and your home state is the last to know. For Hoffert, returning home has not been easy. When the farmers ask if she’s found a “fella,” rather than explain that—actually—she dates women, she stops breathing and changes the subject. Meanwhile, as time passes, her hometown continues to lose more buildings to decay, growing to resemble the mouth of an old woman missing teeth. This loss prompts Hoffert to take a break from the city and spend a harvest season at her family’s farm. While home, working alongside her dad in the shop and listening to her mom warn, “Honey, you do not want to be a farmer,” Hoffert meets the people of the prairie. Her stories about returning home and exploring abandoned towns are woven into a coming-of-age tale about falling in love, making peace with faith, and belonging to a place where neighbors are as close as blood but are often unable to share their deepest truths.
In this evocative memoir, Hoffert offers a deeply personal and poignant meditation on land and community, taking readers on a journey of self-acceptance and reconciliation.
The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution tells the story of George Robert Twelves Hewes, a Boston shoemaker who participated in such key events of the American Revolution as the Boston Massacre and the Tea Party. Hewes story might have been lost to history if not for his longevity and the historical mood of the 1830's. When the Tea Party became a leading symbol of the Revolutionary era fifty years after the actual event, this 'common man' in his nineties was 'discovered' and celebrated in Boston as a national hero. Hewes story continues to inspire and instruct today, thanks to the work of one historian.
Alfred F. Young, author of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party as well as many other works, died on November 6. He was a man beloved for his warmth and good nature and respected for his scholarship. When his wife, Marilyn, sent an email to her late husband's contact list, including Beacon editor Gayatri Patnaik, many responded to the news with memories of the man and his work. Gayatri sent an email to Marilyn:
"I’ve been an executive editor at Beacon Press for ten years and had the very good fortune to know Al. I’ve been reading all the emails from his friends and colleagues over the past few days and am struck, though not surprised, at the many people he touched. I myself was always humbled when I interacted with him, not because of his legacy as a historian but also by his generosity and kindness."
Thinking that the thoughts of his colleagues and friends would be a fitting tribute to a man much admired here at Beacon Press, we've asked their permission to share what we publish here today.
We'll begin with an email Young received before his death but never read, as it arrived in the final days of his illness. It is from Geoffrey Charles Peart, a descendent of George Robert Twelves Hewes, the subject of The Shoemaker and the Tea Party.
Dear Dr. Young, In doing some research on my family history, I came across your book on George Robert Twelves Hewes. I am a direct descendant of his by way of his son George Robert Twelves Fifteen Hewes. I was fascinated to read your account, and see in print the same stories my grandmother (born 1907) told me as a child.
While all letters and documentation I have are in relation to his descendants living in Michigan, we do have a portrait at home that family tradition holds is of G. R. T. Hewes. Below I have attached a scanned version. Should you have any questions, I would be more than happy to share what I have.
Thank you for the wonderful book!
Geoffrey Charles Peart
Portrait of George Robert Twelve Hewes
It has been deeply moving to read the tributes about Al Young so many historians and comrades--especially from the many younger scholars for whom he was an inspiration and to whom he gave encouragement and support. He and I were roughly of the same generation--he was a few years older than I--and our work on popular and artisanal resistance movements and their connection with festivity took place at the same time: his in revolutionary America, mine in early modern France. We didn't know each other then, but I recognized him as a co-conspirator, and I'm sure he felt the same about me. It was thrilling to meet him in later years. And also so get to know his daughter Liz Young, who has carried on his tradition in another field. His legacy is a rich one.
This is incredibly sad news. Al was ahead of his time in so many ways, showing us how to mobilize the new social history to uncover political dynamics, how to get at the politics of memory--and above all, how to do our work with generosity, as part of a collective. I will miss him.
Reeve Huston, Associate Professor of History, Duke University
Al leaves a grand legacy as an inspired scholar, a person of principles, and a prince of a man. He took history seriously and presenting it to the public even more seriously.
Terry J. Fife (co-author with Alfred Young and Mary E. Janzen of We the People)
As an NIU colleague for years I can add that there was no truer friend, no stauncher fighter for what was right, no better model of what a senior colleague should be and stand for, or forhow a committed scholar, sensing the right moment, could literally change the way man, many thousands of others understood their citizenship, their country, and their world.
Very sad. He was a great scholar and elegant stylist but also a model of modesty. I counted him as a friend and mentor and mourn his passing. The world's a much smaller place.
Bruce Laurie, Professor Emeritus, UMass Amherst Department of History
Al was hugely important to my own development, from when he first noticed me in 1973 onwards. We all stood in his shadow one way or another. He was a scholar, a gentleman, and a total mensch.
Ed Countryman, University Distinguished Professor, Southern Methodist University Department of History
Al befriended me when I was working as an administrative assistant in the Newberry Library. He took me seriously, although I was a young graduate student, and he has been a mentor, ally, and friend ever since. I admired his work tremendously. But I admired him as a person even more. And I will miss him.
From Ray Raphael, author of A People’s History of the American Revolution: How Common People Shaped the Fight for Independence and Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past and coeditor of Revolutionary Founders: Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the Making of the Nation.
About six years ago, Al approached me with an idea: since people love to digest history in the form of biography, shouldn't there be a book featuring biographical essays of radicals of the Revolutionary Era?
Good idea, I responded. Then I continued to pump him with questions for my own work-in-progress.
A few weeks later, he mentioned his idea again, then again and again for perhaps a year, until he finally asked outright if I would be interested in working with him on such a project. I had been blind, I realized; he had been asking me all along, but I hadn't taken his hints. At a younger age, he would have charged into this on his own, but now he sought company.
I had two books in the works, but I could hardly say no. Gary Nash signed on as well, and for three years or so, the three of us tried to fulfill Al's vision. Truly, Revolutionary Founders was his book.
Al was my teacher years before he knew I existed. When I started studying people's history of the American Revolution in the mid-90s, I gleaned onto the classic collection of essays he had published in 1976 that gave the field definition, and I used the long historiographic essay he had just published as my starting roadmap. I didn't yet know him when he blurbed my first Am Rev book, The People's History of the American Revolution, but after that I introduced myself by email and phone, and from that moment onward, he was my constant advisor. Whenever I had any question, I turned to Al first, and he would rattle off, from the top of his head, a readings list I should pursue.
And now I would be working side-by-side with a mentor! It was a thrilling prospect, but Al proved to be a tough taskmaster. Email followed email, five or six per day at times, and in the course of the project, a thousand at least. He was direct and spoke his mind, relentless and demanding in his pursuit of historical truth, but he could be curt. Intermittently we quibbled over this or that. At one low ebb, when the tone seemed to turn a bit sour, I headed East with a mission: to meet Al in person. Never have I lived with someone so long and so intensely without meeting him first.
Durham, NC, the fall of 2009: Al and I hit it off famously, working together for three days, tidying up this essay and that, jamming on the intro, talking shop. Through work was how Al related most deeply, as musicians do with their music. I was face to face with a dedicated, highly effective, rigorous historian and a truly wonderful man; these went hand-in-hand. That visit was a gift; especially now, I am thankful for it. In point of fact, who among us does not owe Al great thanks? He defined who we are, collectively and to some extent individually.
Staughton, in his Nov. 9 email tribute, says Al was "a product of the Popular Front atmosphere of the late 1930s," and he suggests that Al was somehow locked within that framework, promoting "the people" without fully embracing the African American and Native American experiences. That's not how I saw him. Al grew with the times and in fact he helped the times grow with him. He saw the Revolution as a complex affair in which there were many renditions of "the people." In our book, he insisted on including women, blacks, and Native Americans and felt uncomfortable to the end with not featuring such groups more; unfortunately, a central essay on the black experience was never completed.
Al was a true scholar, open to fully honest discussion. Once, on the phone, I confessed that in two footnotes to People's History, I had taken him to task on points in his Hewes essay. Had he noticed these? "Of course," he responded. "That's what most attracted me to you. You took me seriously."
And he took me seriously, critiquing my work as only a master can. In an early draft for Revolutionary Founders, I had presented a tolerably good essay on Timothy Bigelow, a radical leader from Worcester who happened to be a blacksmith. Not strong enough, said Al. You need to bring out the blacksmith thing, that is crucial. Here, in fact, is an email on the subject I just retrieved from June 25, 2009, when Al was 84 and still, as you see, at the top of his game. I'll let him have the last word so we can see him in process, tireless, determined, and exacting. It’s a primary source, presented exactly as written. This was vintage Al as I knew him: supreme clarity of mind but working quickly, with his typing fingers not always up to the pace.
To explain why a blacksmith might have a following: Of all the artisans he is the one most essential to farmers and townspeople. They need him to shoe their oxen and horses, to mend their tools. He might make other household ironware too.
He is the one artisans who people would visit and have to stay a while while he shod their horses or repaired a pitchfork.
Only other comparable figure might be the miller but farmers would bring him their grains at infrequent intervals.
He is also a craftstmen whose work you could evaluate yourself and know whether he was a good man.
So it not just men talked as men will do as you say. He was familiar to many people; they knew him; they had confidence in him.
Would the Brit iron policies have been a felt grievance. Interesting question. Do you have a source saying it was.
The iron act of 1750 forbade colonists to erect any new slitting mills.[ not quite sure distinction from a forge]
And the importation of raw iron from the colopnies was encouraged. But says Merrill Jensen"the act did not serve either puroose. There was a staedy increase in iron production, but mostof it was used in the colony where it was produced... or shipped to other colonies where it was made into finished iron products by locval artisans'... colonial governors closed their eyes to the the fact of 'local slitting mills]
Jensen ed Colonial Engkish Histirical D ocuments ed Jensen NY Ocford 1955. Jensen is even handed about these matters.
Do you have any other evidence? My guess is the average blacksmith had all he could do managing the damnds of local farmers.
BUT the boycot movement was accompanied by a buy American movement, big in Mass. with a long list of p;ropducts colonists were encouraged to buy from amer manufacturers. I wrote in my mechanics essay as I recall that the prospect of of increasing Amer manufactures was an appeal to artisans rather than saying the restrictions were a felt grievance. A distinction. The visio of the prospects for Amer manufactures was an appeal ti many artisans. Wteher you can say this for Bigelow.I dont know
Two people—a black woman and a white man—confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on.
Thomas DeWolf—a descendent of slaveholders—and Sharon Morgan—a descendent of slaves—come together to openly discuss how the legacy of slavery and racism has impacted their lives. Together, they disclose the various difficulties and rewards they experience as individuals striving to heal. Gather at the Table is a timely, candid, and deeply relevant book that offers an engaging model of restorative justice.
Gather at the Tableis an extraordinary story of an honest, meaningful conversation across the racial divide. At times it hurts to read. And well it should. Centuries of injustice and trauma that face us every day in this country have no place for half-truths. Sharon and Tom took the harder road-searching for healing, they literally walked together into painful histories and found authentic friendship.”—John Paul Lederach, co-author of When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation
“Sharon and Tom take us on a heart-opening journey of awakening. As a nation, we owe them a deep bow of gratitude as they help us navigate the deep divides of race and otherness.”—Belvie Rooks, Co-Founder, Growing A Global Heart
“Gather at the Table is an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice, as the authors work through their own prejudices in search of reconciliation–and ultimately find friendship.” —Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
“What a courageous journey—communicated in an engaging, readable style, with candor, humor, and deep feeling. This book shed light on the thoughts, questions, and feelings I have about race, society, culture, historical, generational and structurally-induced trauma—and the human ability to transcend. In reading it, I realized there are questions I'm still afraid to ask about race, things I'm afraid to say, and yet I realized anew the power of acknowledgment, mercy, justice, and conflict transformation. I'm grateful to DeWolf and Morgan for not just taking the journey, but for sharing their story with us.”—Carolyn Yoder, Founding Director of STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience and author of The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community is Threatened
“The authors’ accomplishment stands on its own, but their book also serves as a great introduction to a shared past that ought to be better known.”—Kirkus Reviews
Today is Indigenous Peoples Day, which is a reimagination of Columbus Day that "changes a celebration of colonialism into an opportunity to reveal historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas, to organize against current injustices, and to celebrate indigenous resistance" (from the UUA). In honor of the holiday, we interviewed author Kim E. Nielsen, author of A Disability History of the United States, about the history of disability in North American Indigenous culture.
You said to me that the first chapter—about Indigenous peoples in North America before European colonization—was the hardest for you to write. Why was that?
I think that there were two reasons. One was that, as a historian, I'm used to dealing with traditional historical evidence, like letters and court records and maps and tombstones—the tangible things. And they don't really exist for the period prior to European arrival. So the evidence was all the kind of stuff I'm not used to dealing with. I had to look to archaeologists, linguists, contemporary oral culture, elder memory, elder knowledge. It was so different from the types of material I am used to that I didn't even know how to do the research at the beginning. So that was hard, but I also think it was the hardest because it was the furthest away from the reality we live in in 2012. If I argue that disability is impacted by culture—experiences, definitions, are impacted by culture. Of course, it's logical that it will be different in different time periods and different cultures, but the period prior to European arrival is so different from what I am accustomed to that I think it was both really important but also harder for me to understand.
In the first chapter, you say that there's a history of disability among Native Americans but that disability also really doesn't have a history among North American indigenous peoples before European arrival.
I thought it was really funny to do a history of something that in some ways didn't exist because the cultural understandings were so different. If you had no concept of disability as we understand it, how are you going to do that in a history? But I also think it's important in that we're showing that it does change over time, radically. I think that we consider disability to be a certain set of bodily, intellectual, emotional differences, and we think we know what that means. "I know it when I hear it, or see it, or whatever." And people have always had bodily differences, we've always had different skill sets. Some of those we don't pay any attention to, some are highly stigmatized, some are sort of "charming" and "cute." But how we understand disability today didn't exist. I'm coming to the conclusion that disability in most of those indigenous contexts meant someone who was lacking social connections and relationships of reciprocity, that was considered the difference that was most stigmatized. That was most remarked upon, that most put you outside of the larger community.
So people who were born without the full use of a limb, or somebody that was born with what we might now consider a psychological impairment to their fully functioning in our society might not necessarily be set aside as being different or as not being part of their community.
I think they would have been integrated far more into the community, and there would have been efforts to figure out what they could do, how they fit in. But also, simply, there was so much greater bodily differences and intellectual differences that were expected and simply part of the community and what people were. Part of that was simply medical and terrain differences and what it meant to live then. I live in Ohio and I have heating and air conditioning and that has an impact on my skin. And I have antibiotics to help me when I fell down yesterday and scraped my knee. When you live in cultures where that doesn't exist, it impacts your body. So there would simply be greater bodily differences—that would be the norm, that would be expected.
Can you talk about the ideas of integration of body, mind, and spirit? Do you think that affected how people affected these bodily differences.
The words that I kept running across were words like "unwell" or "unbalanced." In many indigenous cultures, they didn't separate out mind, body, spirit the way that Western cultures have, and so the idea was to have an overall wellness. But I could have significant bodily differences and cognitive differences and still be considered balanced and well. And the ideal goal would be to reach a state where one was balanced and well. My bodily differences or mental differences still could exist and be significant, but we would want to return to the wellness or achieve the wellness that may have been upset by a conflict or going near a tree that had been hit by lightning—something that was considered stigmatized or a sign of evil or a sign of an evil spirit or violating a taboo.
The members of the community would be more concerned, then, with helping someone achieve that balance than with "fixing" this thing that happened to them.
Yes—the ill health or the unease was not grounded in the body in the way that we tend to do this in Western medicine, but instead was dependent upon relationships with other people and with the world—the general overall balance of using my gifts, respecting others' gifts.
We have these ideas—these weird ideas of what Native Americas are and were like—that are shaped by popular culture. And I remember watching movies with offensive and unrealistic portrayals of Native Americans where they would speak with their hands. But people really did speak with their hands! And that was a real advantage, wasn't it?
It was! Not in the awkward gestures of old Hollywood movies by any means. But with a relatively sophisticated language. When we think of Indians with a capital "I" as one group, but there were something like 2,500 languages in North America. North America is a big place. And there were lots of different communities and they spoke different languages, and thus it was to their economic advantage, their social advantage, flirting advantage, to have a kind of shared signed language. Linguists have figured out that there was a commonly shared signed language across much of North America that people who spoke different verbal languages could use in trading, or whatever they needed to do. That meant that for anyone who had hearing loss or became deaf, people in their communities knew how to sign. Hearing loss or being deaf did not set you apart as it has historically in Western cultures.
Speaking to those differences between groups... Did you encounter differences that made you think that in certain groups people would have had it easier to integrate with differences in physical abilities?
Yes. I think in cultures that emphasize the warrior role, I think it would have been harder to have certain physical differences. Or cultures that may have been highly mobile, it would have been harder. In some ways, it varied from impairment to impairment, and then it varied by community. In cultures due to the terrain or due to spiritual expression—it's fascinating how many cultures there are.
In the book you discuss the Hopi, and how if you were living according to the Hopi way of life, then you should be perfect. You should have perfect health.
And there's a recognition that no one can do that, and that our bodies change over time, and that's simply the way it is. But yet, one should try to seek the ideal.
I really struggled in this chapter about not wanting to romanticize indigenous cultures too much, and to think about what ideas were versus the reality, and I think that fits in with the understandings of balance. Trying to recognize ideals, trying to recognize people's daily efforts to live up to those ideals. I think that there is in most indigenous cultures an effort to recognize people's skills. I may not be able to speak well, but if I can make baskets that hold water, that is something that can be of immense use to the community. In some ways disability was defined as lacking or still seeking out what those skills were.
European contact obviously disrupted life in numerous ways. Can you talk about how this might have created problems for people living with bodily differences?
I think it's impossible to exaggerate how much of an impact European diseases had. For one, the astronomically high death rate. In some places, a sixty to one hundred percent death rate. If you're left with ten percent, five percent, thirty percent of your community alive, you've disrupted all of those social relationships, those relationships of reciprocity and skill sets. So, I think that what we consider disability today had much more impact after European contact because of the limited communities, but also because people who survived things like small pox, chicken pox, some of the influenza waves, they were more likely to have significantly weakened bodies, to have a loss of sight that was not there before. And they wouldn't have had the community there to rely on that they had before.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the stigmatization of mental illness and an increased governmental push to assimilate Native Americans into white culture combined harrowingly into the Hiawatha Asylum for Insane Indians. Can you talk about this institution?
The U.S. created a lot of institutions at the turn of the twentieth century. Native boarding schools were one, but then there was also a federal asylum for the "insane Indians," as it was called, in Canton, South Dakota. And just as at Indian boarding schools, people were highly discouraged from speaking their indigenous languages, "insanity" was defined in a way that was pretty complicated. That is, historians are beginning to figure out that people who steadfastly maintained their own traditional religious practices were more likely to be institutionalized as insane. People who resisted the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs agents, who frustrated the agents, were more likely to be interred as insane. People who maintained traditional gender roles within indigenous cultures were more likely to be determined insane. And institutionalization was a way to threaten and push people into European modes of thinking.
The Hiawatha Asylum was just a horrendous place to be as well, away from family, sometimes with few people who spoke your language. There was not good traditional food, it was a very unpleasant place. The cemetery was right near the asylum, as it was at other institutions and asylums across the United States, but for many indigenous cultures, being so close to one's dead was very taboo, and it was also taboo to not provide them with the proper burial practices so that they could go on their way in their lives happily. So being so close to that and not being able to do death properly was profoundly disturbing to the people institutionalized there.
There are records of European community members considering them to make "insane" noises that proved their insanity. Well, we look back at that and that may have been death mourning practices. They were trying to say goodbye to people properly.
Available in hardcover and ebook wherever books are sold.
"This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the historical reality of the slave experiences. Carbado and Weise have diligently selected narratives that will challenge readers' presumptions and cut against the mythology that slaves were passive, that mostly men (and not women) ran away, that slaves typically ran North (not South), and that gender and racial passing were rare occurrences. A landmark achievement, The Long Walk to Freedom allows fugitive slaves to speak for themselves—on their own terms and in their own voices." —Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania
"The editors step aside and let these remarkable men and women tell their own stories." —Kirkus Reviews
In this groundbreaking compilation of first-person accounts of the runaway slave phenomenon, editors Devon W. Carbado and Donald Weise have recovered twelve narratives spanning eight decades-more than half of which have been long out of print. Told in the voices of the runaway slaves themselves, these narratives reveal the extraordinary and often innovative ways that these men and women sought freedom and demanded citizenship. Also included is an essay by UCLA history professor Brenda Stevenson that contextualizes these narratives, providing a brief yet comprehensive history of slavery, as well as a look into the daily life of a slave. Divided into four categories-running away for family, running inspired by religion, running by any means necessary, and running to be free-these stories are a testament to the indelible spirit of these remarkable survivors.
The Long Walk to Freedom presents excerpts from the narratives of well-known runaway slaves, like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, as well as from the narratives of lesser-known and virtually unknown people. Several of these excerpts have not been published for more than a hundred years. But they all portray the courageous and sometimes shocking ways that these men and women sought their freedom and asserted power, often challenging many of the common assumptions about slaves' lack of agency.
Among the remarkable and inspiring stories is the tense but triumphant tale of Henry Box Brown, who, with a white abolitionist's help, shipped himself in a box-over a twenty-seven-hour train ride, part of which he spent standing on his head-to freedom in Philadelphia. And there's the story of William and Ellen Craft, who fled across thousands of miles, with Ellen, who was light-skinned, disguised as a white male slave-owner so she and her husband could achieve their dream of raising their children as free people.
Gripping, inspiring, and captivating, The Long Walk to Freedom is a remarkable collection that celebrates those who risked their lives in pursuit of basic human rights.
About the Editors Devon W. Carbado is professor of law and African American studies at the University of California at Los Angeles and the coeditor of several books, including Race Law Stories (with Rachel Moran) and Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin (with Donald Weise). Donald Weise is an independent scholar in African American history and coeditor of The Huey Newton Reader (with David Hilliard). He lives in New York.
Last week a silly “debate” over Olympic champion gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair dominated social media. Fortunately, by the weekend, the same social media network that so often exasperates me coughed up an unexpected jewel:
A Facebook friend, Darryl Cox, put the link on my Wall after I’d posted a story on gang violence in SF that I’d read in The San Francisco Chronicle. Cox, who had worked in city government in San Francisco decades ago, is an excellent source of contemporary black history on “the Paris of the West.”
Cox told me that Take This Hammer had only aired once in San Francisco, in 1963, and that it had upset the powers that be in my hometown. I watched it for the first time last week, on August 3—coincidentally, one day after what would have been Baldwin’s 88th birthday. It was produced by KQED on behalf of National Education Television, predecessor of WNET in New York.
In it, Baldwin is an expert interrogator of his subjects, black residents of San Francisco. He is physically small but armed with an alarmingly direct gaze, a fearsome intellect, and a sharp way of drawing out his subjects. The producer or director also made the wise decision to cut in excerpts of Baldwin talking directly to the camera, seated in what appears to be a tidy apartment, smoking, wearing a natty white shirt and neck-kerchief, and succinctly, somewhat dispassionately deconstructing his findings.
Among several pungent comments and observations by Baldwin, during the 44-minute long documentary:
—”There will be a Negro president of this country, but he won’t be president of the same nation we are sitting in now.”
—”The Liberal can’t be safe and heroic too.”
—“You cannot pretend you’re not despised if you are.”
I am greatly moved by this documentary. For starters, Baldwin is a literary and journalistic hero of mine. Second, as anyone who has read my opinion-writing during the past decade probably knows, I was born in San Francisco in 1963.
Growing up there, I felt a thrill of endless possibilities—much as the techie-hipsters and financiers who currently throng its streets likely experience—a pervasive sense of optimism aided in no small part by the city’s spectacular vistas, cozy layout, sophisticated understatement. (Though a journalist friend, Tim Golden, once told me that he found the city and some of its denizens a mite ‘precious’ for his liking.)
My family was middle-class, we lived for a time in subsidized housing on Potrero Hill, then Bernal Heights, then in a tidy house on the West or ‘ocean’ side of the city, which my Mom bought. I attended well-funded public schools in the Sunset District and went to church camp in Sonoma County every summer. Only when I reached my mid-20s and entered the workforce in earnest did it occur to me that my race or gender might be features that could slow my professional development and possibly dampen my chances for a successful career. As a 1963 resident tells Baldwin in “Take this Hammer,” no blacks had to fear a Bull Connor or a Klansman chasing them down the city’s hilly inclines. But one might just be “killed with a pencil,” instead, in the city’s corporate or retail workforce. My adult family-members all worked in government agencies, which offered job security and enforced meritocracy. There were few immediate role models for me as I made my entree to private industry—the news business—during and after college.
I outline that dynamic in greater detail in my current book, and acknowledge that the media business in the Bay Area—such as it was in the 1980s when I came of age—was and is a unique animal within the overall workforce in San Francisco. And now, of course, the media industry has been all but subsumed by the tech industry, and the population of black residents has been diminishing steadily since the early 1980s. Are native blacks who remain being employed at these shiny new enterprises? What do you think?
The sentiments expressed by the city’s black residents who were interviewed by Baldwin in ‘63—particularly the young adult males who are frustrated over being shut out of the workforce—are devastating... and familiar. I have watched this documentary three times since Darryl Cox shared it with me.
I am still processing Take this Hammer and will probably write about it again.
For now, I hope you find the time to watch it in full: I love my hometown but I hope you can forgive me if I am also a bit cynical about its legendary reputation as a citadel of social and economic egalitarianism.
Take This Hammer lives, by the way, at the San Francisco Bay Area Television Archive, which is housed at my alma mater, San Francisco State University. I believe it deserves a home, too, at the Paley Center in New York. Then again, as a black SF native and a Baldwin adherent, I am not exactly impartial about its historic significance.
(Oh, and a viewing tip: Unless you need them, disable the captioning feature before watching.)
Nancy Rubin Stuart is an award-winning author, journalist and writer-producer who specializes in women and social history. Her next book, Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary–Era Women and the Radical Men They Married, examines the lives of Lucy Knox (wife of Revolutinary War hero General Henry Knox) and Peggy Shippen Arnold (wife of the infamous turncoat Benedict Arnold). It will be published by Beacon Press in 2013.
We asked Stuart for her thoughts on what she'll be celebrating this July 4th, and she offered this response:
"At the time of the American Revolution, nearly two hundred and forty years ago, women were expected to remain mute about worldly affairs. While seldom punished as severely as are foreign political activists today, any woman who publicly expressed her views about politics was considered an outrage. Thankfully, American women have long since been granted the vote, they now openly write about politics, and today hold key positions in government. As fireworks cascade overhead on July 4th both women and men have just cause to celebrate our nation’s birthday. "
Independence Day celebrations began this past weekend, with picnics, parades, and fireworks displays all around the country. In honor of the holiday, we asked several of our authors to share their feelings about Independence Day and what it means to them-- good and bad. Three authors who grapple with the complex history associated with the holiday quoted Frederick Douglass from his speech, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" We've grouped their responses for today's post.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a long-time racial-justice, labor, and international activist, scholar, and author. He has served in leadership positions with many prominent union and labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Fletcher is currently the director of field services for the American Federation of Government Employees. He is the author of the forthcoming book "They're Bankrupting Us!" And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.
The 4th of July is always a complicated holiday for me. That is largely because it has a complicated historical significance. When I think of July 4th I immediately think about how my African ancestors were largely ignored-- except with regard to labor power and some soldiering--in the course of the events that were transpiring at that moment, and particularly ignored in the context of great minds thinking about the future of the new nation that they wished to create. I also think about how the War of Independence was in part ignited by the indignation of the settlers over restrictions imposed on them by the British regarding going further West-- into the lands of my Shawnee ancestors and other Native American nations.
As a result, I cannot uncritically celebrate July 4th. I consider, of course, the ideal that is contained in the Declaration of Independence, and am aware of those among the colonial settlers who may have had a more egalitarian vision of the future. I am equally aware of the ideal that July 4th is supposed to represent. But I am saddened each year that there is little historical examination of the contradictory nature of the War of Independence, and that for entire populations the War of Independence came to represent yet another stage on the road to their annihilation.
In the 19th century the great Frederick Douglass posed a question in a now famous speech "What to a slave is the fourth of July?" I would expand that and pose the question that today needs to be asked and answered: For those of us who believe in democracy, justice and equality, how do we disentangle the web of myth that surrounds the Fourth of July?"
We live in fearful times. War, racism, social, economic, employment, environmental, energy, health and food security issues are on the long list of things to be worried about. And I do. Worry.
On July 4, 1776, the day America declared its independence, one fifth of the population was in a state of bondage. Seventy-six years later, in 1852, abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, articulated, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Although legal freedom came in 1865, when four million people were released from slavery, evidence of true emancipation did not come until 143 years later, when Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States. In his inaugural July 4th address, he extolled, “That unyielding spirit [that] defines us as American... It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America’s destiny.”
This July 4th, I will be thinking about history and destiny... And celebrating my commitment to be an agent of change in the world independence has wrought.
Celebration of Independence Day ain’t what it used to be for me. What I’ve learned along the road I’ve traveled the past decade-- much of which is horrible, shameful and has been deeply buried or glossed over in America’s collective psyche-- has led me to reevaluate how I view myself and my country. On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass said, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” The deep wound of racism-– the legacy of slavery-– about which Douglass spoke has never been fully acknowledged and healed. I no longer celebrate “independence” that resulted in the annihilation of millions of indigenous people and the enslavement of millions of Africans. I don’t celebrate drone strikes in the name of freedom. I celebrate truth-tellers and peacebuilders. I celebrate the progress we have made and continue to make in the face of strong resistance. Mostly, I celebrate hope – the hope that one day we will live up to the ideals upon which this great country was founded.
"I don't see how I can live any longer without having a friend near me, I mean a male friend. Yes, James, I must come; we will yoke together again; your little bed is just wide enough; we will practice at the same bar, and be as friendly a pair of single fellows as ever cracked a nut. We perhaps shall never be rich; no matter, we can supply our own personal necessities. By the time we are thirty, we shall put on the dress of old bachelors, a mourning suit, and having sown all our wild oats, with a round hat and a hickory staff, we will march on till the end of life, whistling as merry as robins, and I hope as innocent." —Daniel Webster, letter to James Bingham, April 3, 1804
My dear general—From those happy ties of friendship by which you were pleased to unite yourself with me, from the promises you so tenderly made me when we parted at Fishkill, gave me such expectations of hearing often from you, that complaints ought to be permitted to my affectionate heart. Not a line from you, my dear general, has yet arrived into my hands, and though several ships from America, several despatches from congress or the French minister, are safely brought to France, my ardent hopes of getting at length a letter from General Washington have ever been unhappily disappointed: I cannot in any way account for that bad luck, and when I remember that in those little separations where I was but some days from you, the most friendly letters, the most minute account of your circumstances, were kindly written to me, I am convinced you have not neglected and almost forgotten me for so long a time. I have, therefore, to complain of fortune, of some mistake or neglect in acquainting you that there was an opportunity, of anything; indeed, but what could injure the sense I have of your affection for me. Let me beseech you, my dear general, by that mutual, tender, and experienced friendship in which, I have put an immense portion of my happiness, to be very exact in inquiring for occasions, and never to miss those which may convey to me letters that I shall be so much pleased to receive.— Marquis de Lafayette to George Washington, 1799
A man of deep and noble nature had seized me in this seclusion. . . . The soft ravishments of the man spun me round about in a web of dreams. . . . But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further and further shoots his strong New England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul. — Herman Melville, review of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Mosses and the Old Manse, August 1850
If the Marquis de Lafayette were around today, he might have signed his letters to George Washington, "Love you bro. No Homo."
How do we understand this language, from one military hero to another, which sounds to the modern ear more like a lover's whining than one general having missed contact with a fellow military leader? And the letter from Daniel Webster to James Bigham reminds me of the controversy about Abraham Lincoln that he shared bed with his law partner. Neither Lafayette, Washington, Webster, nor Lincoln was gay or homosexual. Those words didn't exist in their lifetimes. Men slept in the same bed as other men--it was the practice. Yet the feeling in Lafayette's letter and the strength of Webster's attachment to Bingham are undeniable. Are these the "bromances" and "man dates" of the 19th century?
I think that's an excellent question. When we read these letters now-- and I've actually taught these letters and these journal entries in my classes and students are quite perplexed and often try to come up with reasons why they are not love letters-- I think it's difficult to put these in context using anything in our contemporary society, because they have nothing to do with that. What I do think stands out with each of these, thinking particularly of the second Lafayette letter, is that they contain enormous amounts of sentiment. Sentiment as it was known in the late eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century is not as we might think of it today, as sloppy sentimentalism, but as a deep, sincere, honest, and, above all, ethical feeling for one's fellow man, the emphasis on "man," although it could be applied to human beings in general. And I'd like to make a distinction about the Washington/Lafayette correspondence as opposed to the Daniel Webster note--what we're seeing here is men who are valuing one another not only as men-- in all the complexity it might entail for the time-- but actually as patriots. When we look at Washington and Lafayette and we know the history, these are two men who just fought the American Revolution. Lafayette's gone back to France to fight the French Revolution. They are actually putting the Enlightenment ideals of equality, fraternity, and democracy above all else. So that's the context we have to view these in. I'm not arguing that they may not have had a sexual affair-- we have no evidence that they did, nor do we have any evidence that they did not. Certainly the intensity here of emotion and of sheer emotional investment in one another is very, very clear.
It's interesting, Michael, that the expression of that kind of sentiment and emotion today between two men--pick two generals, General Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell--would be completely unheard of and impossible to imagine. What happened in the intervening almost two hundred years?
I think what's happened is that we've lost the notion of sentiment between men, of honest, real, deep emotional feeling that can be expressed. Certainly, men today can feel deeply for one another, can work together. We hear wonderful stories in horrible situations of soldiers and their intense relationships in war time in Iraq or in Afghanistan. But the expression of these is completely different now. Certainly if General Schwarzkopf wrote a letter like this to General Powell--probably on email or texting him because he would not have time to write the entire letter out by hand--he'd have to add what the younger people these days say at the end of the letter: "No Homo." Clearly, he would not write this letter to begin with. I think what we've lost here is the ability of men to actually express their feelings, and maybe their feelings for women as well, but certainly for one another as men.
When we read the Herman Melville quote--and there are certainly others that would be very similar--it's impossible to come to the "No Homo" conclusion. The reading from Melville is really a different matter altogether from the Lafayette and Webster letters. He clearly formed a strong sexual attraction to his neighbor, Hawthorne. And in A Queer History of the United States, you put this in context with a number of homoerotic sentiments expressed in literature and letters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Thoreau, by Emily Dickinson, by Margaret Fuller. Some of those sentiments, and certainly Melville's, expressed far more than romantic friendship. And in Melville's work, the homoerotic is a clear theme, and the relationships, like Ishmael and Queequeg in Moby Dick, almost always cross racial lines. Talk to us about the interaction and intersection of the racial and the homoerotic, starting with Melville, but as a theme in A Queer History.
I think one thing to keep in mind here is that when we're looking at this notion of sentiment, it really is in the context of the Enlightenment and in the concept of equality between men and ostensibly among women as well, although that doesn't play out as well until later on when we come into the suffrage movement. But I think that when we're looking at some of the writings by Herman Melville, say, in Moby Dick, or Charles Warren Stoddard in his South Sea Idyls, we're looking at two things. First, we're looking at this early bromance, this early version of the buddy movie between a white man and, as Leslie Fiedler puts it, a "colored" man. But we're looking at this, because it is the Enlightenment and we're looking at equality among men, as a form of racial justice. Keep in mind that at this time the races are completely separated, we have slavery, we have essentially a system of white supremacy across the world. And yet these men, in this case Herman Melville and Charles Warren Stoddard, are able to imagine relationships-- possibly sexual, certainly love relationships, and certainly intimate relationships-- between white men and men of different races. So when we're looking at these, I think it's important to focus on the sexual aspects, of course, but also on the aspect that this is the roots of what I would think of as being a movement, or an imagining, of coexistence between the races, which would bring us to a new level of equality that we had never even imagined before.
In a future podcast, we're definitely going to talk about the contrast between social purity, persecuting society and social control movements and of movements for racial liberation and sexual liberation. I think that you describe in some detail and very clearly the relationship between the racial and the sexual in that contrast of movements.
What I find fascinating is that when we look at the history of race struggles, the struggle for racial equality within American culture, one of the earliest places that we can find it is in these homoerotic writings of Melville and of Stoddard. So in some ways, there's a very deep connection between sexual liberation, sexual equality, sexual desire, and the desire for equality among men.
In this by-place of nature there abode, in a remote period of American history, that is to say, some thirty years since, a worthy wight of the name of Ichabod Crane, who sojourned, or, as he expressed it, “tarried,” in Sleepy Hollow, for the purpose of instructing the children of the vicinity... He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together.
The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning only to the parson... Our man of letters, therefore, was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
From his half-itinerant life, also, he was a kind of traveling gazette, carrying the whole budget of local gossip from house to house, so that his appearance was always greeted with satisfaction.
Among these [country swains], the most formidable was a burly, roaring, roystering blade, of the name of Abraham, or, according to the Dutch abbreviation, Brom Van Brunt, the hero of the country round which rang with his feats of strength and hardihood. He was broad-shouldered and double-jointed, with short curly black hair, and a bluff but not unpleasant countenance, having a mingled air of fun and arrogance. From his Herculean frame and great powers of limb he had received the nickname of BROM BONES, by which he was universally known. He was famed for great knowledge and skill in horsemanship, being as dexterous on horseback as a Tartar... He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of waggish good humor at bottom. He had three or four boon companions, who regarded him as their model, and at the head of whom he scoured the country, attending every scene of feud or merriment for miles round... Sometimes his crew would be heard dashing along past the farmhouses at midnight, with whoop and halloo, like a troop of Don Cossacks; and the old dames, startled out of their sleep, would listen for a moment till the hurry-scurry had clattered by, and then exclaim, "Ay, there goes Brom Bones and his gang!" The neighbors looked upon him with a mixture of awe, admiration, and good-will; and, when any madcap prank or rustic brawl occurred in the vicinity, always shook their heads, and warranted Brom Bones was at the bottom of it.
America's definition of itself has been tightly connected to our definition of manliness and masculinity. There's a contrast between the British fop and the self-reliant Colonial; the educated and rather girly Ichabod Crane, as we've just heard read, and the manly Brom Bones; the Eastern intellectual and the cowboy; finally, from the invert and homosexual to a new heterosexual man at the start of the 21st century. Would you take these in turn, starting with the earliest definition of the American Man? How and where does that definition come into being?
The American Man has a very odd history, the remnants of which are still with us today, maybe even magnified in some ways. Certainly, we see the first American Man as a reaction to the English fop, as we see in the Washington Irving story. But even before the Washington Irving story, which was written in the 1820s, we see the American Colonialist really fighting against the notion of the effeminate Englishman, an odd notion since in fact George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and those other people all wore powdered wigs, had large libraries, and were actually rather dandified. One of the first American plays ever written is called The Contrast by Royall Tyler. It features two main characters: the effeminized English sympathizer-- also an American-- named Billy Dimple; and his opponent in love-- they're both after the same girl-- whose name is Colonel Manly. So from the very beginning, we see this dichotomy, and we see it play out again and again.
I think the Brom Bones/Ichabod Crane story is simply one early aspect of this, but one which is really formative for American culture, even now, since most school children have to read this story which is at heart a story about a queer bashing.
Say some more--remind us of how this story ends.
In the story, which I'm sure most people know, Ichabod Crane is the effeminized school teacher who comes into this small town, who teaches children but hangs out with the women, who does knitting with them, who is part of the women's sewing circle. His opponent is Brom Bones, who is a bully. At the height of the story, relying on the legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is that the headless horseman rides at night, Ichabod Crane is very fearfully riding home one night with this legend in mind. Suddenly, from across the bridge and chasing him is, indeed the headless horseman, who we know is actually-- probably-- Brom Bones with a lighted pumpkin on his shoulder. Ichabod Crane runs off-- is bullied-- out of town, essentially, and never is seen again. Presumably, he's moved, although there's always the possibility that he's actually dead. What I think is most interesting, and most people don't realize this about the story now, although certainly it would have been true back in Washington Irving's time, is that the first line in the story says that the action takes place next to "Major Andre's tree." This is a reference to the tree upon which Major Andre, the man who worked with Benedict Arnold against the American forces, was hanged for treason. Now, people would have realized this in 1820, not now, but Major Andre was generally thought to be a homosexual or certainly a man who was in love with other men. So, even Washington Irving back in 1820 was quite aware of the homosexual subtext for the story.
So there's a link right in 1820 between the girly-man and betrayal, betrayal of your country.
Completely. And I think what's interesting is that we see this played out again and again and again, in increasingly more complicated ways, when we come to World War II, but certainly as far back as 1820 and even before that we see this dichotomy between men who are learned, men who teach, men who like women versus who want to have sex with women, men who work with children, and the more "manly" American man.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, we do begin to have these other American legends coming up. Ultimately, by the early to mid-19th century, the legends of Davy Crockett and of Daniel Boone, which are quite distinct legends, but both really show American men in this new light as frontiersman, as men going out to the West, as men who can conquer nature. A man who can-- in the case of Davy Crockett-- kill huge amounts of animals to prove his manhood. The Daniel Boone story is slightly different. He's somebody who actually seems to be taming nature versus killing it.
So the distinction that you write about in James Fenimore Cooper--the additional complexity in his work--involves that these are settlers and Native Americans in his stories.
Yes. I think if you look at Washington Irving, the paradigm here is the American Man is praised for being the bully against the effeminized Ichabod Crane. Shortly after this, we have James Fenimore Cooper, who is spinning out a different legend, which is that the white American man who is conquering the continent becomes friends with the Native American. In fact, they become very intimate friends. So in the five Leatherstocking novels by Cooper, we have Natty Bumppo becoming best of friends with Chingachgook. And the writing is quite erotic, the relationship is quite erotic. They have female love interests, but the center of the novels is this evolving male companionship and friendship, where they leave civilization, they leave the city, they leave the fort, and they go into the forest to bond together. I don't think Cooper intended for us to see them as being physical lovers, but the paradigm of the white man and the nonwhite man, or what Leslie Fiedler in his essay "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey" would call "the colored man," is st up as an American paradigm. It begins back in the 1840s and we see it play out again and again. We see it with Cooper, and we see it in a slightly different way in Moby Dick, where we have the intense relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg. Melville is quite clear that they are a couple, since there is a chapter called, "The Wedding Night." We see it again even in Mark Twain, and this is what the reference is to the Fiedler essay-- we see it in the relationship of Huck to Jim, who's a runaway slave. I think that we can trace this from the 1820s throughout the 19th century.
And we see it today in movies such as Lethal Weapon with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. And there are a spate of these movies in the 1980s with black and white cop teams. So one way of looking at these books-- be it James Fenimore Cooper or Mark Twain or Herman Melville-- is these are really the early template for what we now understand to be the buddy movie. The buddy movie as it exists now could either be Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with two white guys, but more recently-- in the '80s and we see this today in a more advanced, complicated way-- all those cop buddy movies. The newest spate of these is with an African-American actor and Jackie Chan, so we do have the biracial tension and the biracial loving relationship, only now it's an Asian man who has replaced the white man.
"Among Mamitarees if a boy shows any symptoms of effeminacy or girlish inclinations he is put among the girls, dressed in their way, brought up with them, and sometimes married to men." Nicholas Biddle, original journals of the Lewis and Clark expeditions
"Their garments consist only of skins; the women are always clad very modestly and very becomingly, while the men do not take the trouble to Cover themselves. I know not through what superstition some Ilinois, as well as some Nadouessi, while still young, assume the garb of women, and retain it throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this. For they never marry and glory in demeaning themselves to do everything that the women do. They go to war, however, but can use only clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They are present at all the juggleries, and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet; at these they sing, but must not dance. They are summoned to the Councils, and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an Extraordinary life, they pass for Manitous, — That is to say, for Spirits, — or persons of Consequence." From the journals of Jacques Marquette, 1673-1677
"Among the women I saw some men dressed like women, with whom they go about regularly, never joining the men. . . . From this I inferred they must be hermaphrodites, but from what I learned later I understood that they were sodomites, dedicated to nefarious practices. From all the foregoing I conclude that in this matter of incontinence there will be much to do when the Holy Faith and the Christian religion are established among them." Franciscan Pedro Font's diary
The use of the word "gay" really arose in the 1920s or '30s, but there was all sorts of different language in the previous four hundred years. Take us back to some of the earliest descriptions and usages of terms to describe queer people in the Americas.
Language can be very tricky, so when we're looking at language and how it's describing people, we have to realize that sometimes other people do the describing. So, before the Europeans even came here, we had many Native tribes and groups of people who exhibited behavior such as cross-dressing, same-sex relationships for both women and for men. Each of the tribes had their own language for this. When the Europeans came here, they used the French word berdache--which was a pejorative word essentially meaning a pedophile--for these people, completely inaccurately. Yet it's a word that continues to be used by anthropologists even today.
There's a mix in the behaviors and attitudes that you're talking about among the Native Americans, around both same-sex sexual behavior but also around breaking gender boundaries.
Certainly breaking gender boundaries for the Europeans, who were quite shocked when they came here. So the language that we have, which is used to some degree now, is the European terminology. Which I think we find repeatedly throughout the history of America. America was here before the Europeans came, they brought over the language, another word that they brought with them was "sodomite." Which is a theological term, meaning a person who has committed a sin of sodomy. Used rather broadly about anybody who transgressed accepted gender or sexual behaviors. And yet, a word that's used today, even in the general sense of the sodomy laws which are defined in various different ways. So from the earliest Colonial times, we did not have "homosexuals," we did not have "gay people," we had people who were accused of committing the sin of "sodomy" and were "sodomites."
And so both of those terms--"berdache" and "sodomite"--were really pejorative.
Completely pejorative. The first, by social implication, although considered a sin. The second explicitly, theologically, a sin. So it's important to realize that most of our laws emanate to a large degree from canon law in Europe, and were translated from the church into the state.
What's the difference between a "Queer History" and a "regular" history?
As I was writing the book and as the book was being edited, we decided that actually that was a little bit too literal, and that what we wanted to do was a Queer History, which would be rather a history of a sensibility rather than a history of what certain people did or didn't do. I think that a Queer sensibility would be a sensibility that would be from the outside. So whereas LGBT people may have lived to a large degree on the outside--although not always since many of these people were in fact not openly gay at the time--what the book does is that it looks at American History from the point of view of an outsider. So in this sense, it's not that different than, say, a black sensibility or a Latino sensibility.
One of the things that always comes up is the terminology, and you discuss this in the Introduction and the first chapter. The language used even in the last one hundred and twenty years--gay, homosexual, invert, Sapphist--none of that existed of course when the Mayflower landed or in the first hundred or two hundred years of US History. So, how do you write a "Queer" history of the United States given that the terms and the identity and the social meanings have changed really radically over five hundred years?
I think one of the reasons we were attracted to the word "Queer" is its non-specificity. So, by "Queer," it's being used generally, meaning a point of view an outsider or a "deviant"-- non-normative experience. But you are completely right. Certainly words such as "gay" and "lesbian," "homosexual" were not used two hundred years ago in many cases. I think that none of these words were used for the first four hundred years of American history--my book begins in 1492. It is a tricky feat to actually use contemporary words to describe the activities, the emotions, the feelings, the sensibilities of people who lived five hundred years ago, or three hundred years ago. I tried for the most part not to use those words, and simply to let the people speak in their own words, and to evaluate what they were saying and what they were doing without putting our modern sensibilities onto them.
The core argument in your book is that American History is Queer History. Lay out the argument for us if you would.
Since the 1960s, there have been movements to include those people who have been "left out" of American history. So we see Women's History, African-American history, Latino history, Native American history. And certainly when we think about Gay and Lesbian or GLBT history, that's the same impulse--to bring Gay and Lesbian people back into American history. When I began writing the book, it struck me that the more research I did, that while this project was well-intentioned, it was rather unnecessary. That in fact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people, African-American people, Latino people, women have always been in American history. So the very process of separating people out in order to put them back in seemed to me to be shortsighted. So the purpose of the book as I began writing it became clearer and clearer--it was simply to identify and find the LGBT people that are in American history already. The more I did this, what I discovered was that there were so many people, so many events, people's lives, people's personalities were so intertwined with what we think of as American history that there was no separation at all.
Can you give us one or two examples that would connect what we all learned in elementary and high school about American History to the idea that the queers were here all along?
There are a multitude of examples. Two that come to mind immediately are, in the 19th Century, the 1850s, we have an intense relationship between Charles Sumner, a senator from Massachusetts who was one of the leading abolitionists, who had an intimate, passionate relationship with Samuel Gridley Howe, one of the major reformers of American culture back then. This is the man who started Perkins School for the Blind and completely reformed our notion of dealing with different physical disabilities. The letters between the two men are quite striking, and even though both of them were married--Samuel Howe actually was married to Julia Ward Howe, who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic--their relationship was sustaining to both of them. When Howe was on his honeymoon with Julia Ward Howe, he received word that Charles Sumner was very upset and wrote him a passionate note saying that he wished that he was there with them. Interestingly, Sumner himself married later. They have complicated relationships. Julia Ward Howe, although this was only discovered about ten years ago, wrote a novel about a hermaphrodite--a man/woman who loves both men and women--that most critics now think was her own meditation on her husband's bisexuality.
I recall hearing about Charles Sumner in high school. There was a famous fistfight in the Senate that he was involved in. Obviously, we all know the Battle Hymn of the Republic. And your purpose is to connect their queer lives into American History in a way that has not been done before.
Right. And I think there are two ways of looking at it. One way of looking at it is to say, "This is sort of interesting. This is some extra stuff we didn't know before." And we can actually prove it. We have letters, we have diaries, we have unpublished novels. But I think that's a simplistic way of looking at it. I think a more complicated way is to ask, "What did this have to do with their relationships? What did Sumner's queerness have to do with his abolition stand? What did Howe's queerness have to do with his drivenness to reform society? What did Julia Ward Howe's realtionship to her husband have to do with her impulses to the early suffrage movement and for liberation of women?" So, I think that when we look at the larger picture, the queerness, the sexuality, the really complicated sexual relationships, are integral to these people's desire to change the world and make it better.
And you said you have an example from the twentieth century as well.
I think we see a very similar situation, and similar also in the sense that these are people involved in a heterosexual marriage, when we look at the career and life of Eleanor Roosevelt. We know now, thanks to historian Blanche Weisen Cook, that Eleanor had a very complicated, intimate, most-probably sexual relationship with Lorena Hickok, who was a journalist. At one point, Eleanor moved her into the White House with her. And that Hickok's reporting upon Eleanor Roosevelt was integral to Eleanor Roosevelt's promotion of herself as a social reformer. Along with this, we do know that Eleanor Roosevelt had a wide, wide circle of female friends, many of whom were lesbians, many of whom were involved with social work. These women as an aggregate were called "Roosevelt's Brain Trust." And, in fact, Eleanor brought them to Washington and they were instrumental in forming the New Deal. Francis Perkins, one of Eleanor's intimate friends, was the first woman to head the Labor Department. So I think when we're looking at Eleanor Roosevelt's life, it's not just interesting that she had this affair with a woman-- she also apparently had an affair with her chauffer, named Earl Miller, as well, so Eleanor's life was complicated-- but what is really amazing that there is this circle of friends--which, again, Blanche Weisen Cook calls "female support networks"--that literally changed our very notions of how social work functions in American society and how reform functions. All again based upon lesbian--or women being intimate with women--relationships.