George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
We embarked upon a journey to test whether two people could come to grips with deep, traumatic, historic wounds and find healing. We had no idea where we would end up.
I burst into tears in the parking lot of the Lowndes County Interpretive Center in rural Alabama. Tom and I were five days into the 6,000-plus mile healing journey that informedGather at the Table, the book we wrote about healing the many wounds Americans inherited from the legacy of slavery. We had just crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where, in March 1965, John Lewis (now a 15-term U.S. congressman) and more than 600 protesters tried to begin a 54-mile march to Montgomery. On a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers confronted the peaceful marchers and viciously attacked them with billy clubs. I watched these events unfold on television as a 14-year-old child embraced in the warm comfort of my family home in Chicago.
My great-grandparents were enslaved in Lowndes County, Alabama, which is at the heart of the historic march route. They lived a lifetime of Bloody Sundays. My great-grandmother Rhoda Reeves Leslie was alive when I was a child. I knew her. I loved her. I had no concrete idea, until that very moment in the parking lot, what anguish she and other members of my family had suffered as slaves, and then as people who were terrorized by Jim Crow laws, disenfranchised from voting, and kept from becoming full citizens in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In 1965, there were zero black voters in Lowndes County because of voter suppression through poll taxes and intimidation. Even today, it is deeply impoverished. Tom's face morphed into a representation of all white people and everything they had done to people like me.
I didn't know what to say. So I said nothing. I sat in the passenger seat next to Sharon while she sobbed. Twenty minutes earlier, on the drive from the Voting Rights Museum, I had asked her, What would you do if you had lived here then?
I would kill them, she said, staring straight ahead as she drove, clutching the steering wheel in a death grip. I watched the first tear roll down her cheek.
I am often accused of being a Kumbaya kind of guy. I believe seriously in love and peace and want everybody to get along. I also believe that people are born with a basic sense of humanity that can enable them to changenot just themselves but the communities in which they live. I know Sharon shares that belief, but it is sometimes hard to keep the faith.
Whether your Thanksgiving dinner is a small affair or a feast of epic proportions, you probably have a favorite dish or two (or eight) that you look forward to eating this Thursday. I asked around the offices of Beacon Press for cherished Thanskgiving recipes and got several tasty replies. The most intriguing came from Crystal Paul in editorial, who teased me with: "I’ve got a killer sweet potato pie that I am the only one in my family who knows the recipe to (my grandma passed it down to only one lucky kitchen devotee). So I’d share it, but clearly, it’s a secret…" Thankfully, others weren't so mysterious.
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar (white)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup corn meal (yellow)
4 cups corn (whole kernel sweet, frozen)
1 tbs paprika
CREAM butter and sugar together
ADD eggs slowly & MIX well ADD creams & MIX well
ADD corn meal & MIX well
ADD corn & MIX well
TURN batter into a buttered cooking casserole
SPRINKLE with paprika
BAKE @ 325F for about one hour, until custard is set
Kate Noe in Production sent a newspaper clipping of this Harvest Bake, which she has adapted to be vegan by subsituting Earth Balance spread for the butter.
Harvest Bake (6 servings)
1 23-oz can sweet potatoes or yams, drained 8 TBSP unsalted butter 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed 1 TBSP flour 1/4 tsp ground cardamom 2 TBSP chopped pecans 1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
In 1-quart round casserole, mash sweet potatoes until smooth. Melt 7 tablespoons butter and stir into sweet potatoes.
Mix brown sugar, flour, and cardamom in small bowl. Cut 1 tablespoon cold butter into mixture. Stir in pecans and sprinkle 1/2 mixture over potatoes. Arrange apple slices on top. Sprinkle with remaining mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until apples are tender-crisp.
Rachael Marks in Editorial sends her recipe for Hummingbird Cake with this note: "The original recipe appeared in Southern Living in 1978 courtesy of a certain Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC (my hometown… yes, I’m clearly biased). I’ve always been a fan of Southern Living’s updated (read: less artery-clogging) version. It can be either 3-layers or 2-layers but should *never* be made in bundt pan (that would be ridiculous and borderline offensive)."
3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 large eggs, beaten 1 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained 1 cup chopped pecans 2 cups chopped bananas Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting (see below) 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.
Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.
Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.
Cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add powdered sugar, beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.
*I always double the frosting recipe because I simply won’t tolerate a lightly frosted cake.
Abby Mayer in Production sent us a link to this recipe for Apple Salad from Emeril Lagasse, about which she says, "I make this every year, and it is a HUGE hit. No one thinks salad on Thanksgiving… until you force them to with (gasp) blue cheese-encrusted croutons."
As for me, my responsibility at Thanksgiving is the stuffing, or really "dressing" since we never stuff the two Kosher turkeys my mother-in-law prepares for our two nights of feasting: Thanksgiving evening and Shabbat leftover night. Let us know if you try any of these recipes yourself, or share your favorites below. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving! --Jessie Bennett, Blog Editor
Challah Stuffing (serves a bunch of people)
1 large challah 2 TBSP olive oil 1 large sweet onion, diced 2 green bell peppers, diced 3 stalks of celery, diced 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried) 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried and crumbled) ½ tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried) 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots 1 cup of apple cider 2 or 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
Rip or cut the challah into small pieces and set aside. You can do this a day or so ahead of time.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until slightly carmelized. This will take a while. When the onions are nicely browned, add bell peppers, celery, and herbs and saute until softened.
Rub olive oil around the inside of a large baking pan. Add the challah pieces, sauteed vegetables, and apricots and mix. Mix the broth and the apple cider together and pour over the bread and vegetable mixture until all of the bread is completely saturated (use more than I indicate if you need it). Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is browned and crispy.
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
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.