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Back Home

Journeys through Mobile

After twenty years in New York City, a prize-winning writer takes
a "long look back" at his hometown of Mobile, Alabama.

In Back Home: Journeys through Mobile, Roy Hoffman
tells stories--through essays, feature articles, and memoir--of one of
the South's oldest and most colorful port cities. Many of the pieces here
grew out of Hoffman's work as Writer-in-Residence for his hometown newspaper,
the Mobile Register, a position he took after working in New York
City for twenty years as a journalist, fiction writer, book critic, teacher,
and speech writer. Other pieces were first published in the New York
Times
, Southern Living, Preservation, and other publications.
Together, this collection comprises a long, second look at the Mobile of
Hoffman's childhood and the city it has since become.
 

Like a photo album, Back Home presents close-up
portraits of everyday places and ordinary people. There are meditations
on downtown Mobile, where Hoffman's grandparents arrived as immigrants
a century ago; the waterfront where longshoremen labor and shrimpers work
their nets; the back roads leading to obscure but intriguing destinations.
Hoffman records local people telling their own tales of race relations,
sports, agriculture, and Mardi Gras celebrations. Fishermen, baseball players,
bakers, authors, political figures--a strikingly diverse population walks
across the stage of Back Home.

 

Throughout, Hoffman is concerned with stories and their
enduring nature. As he writes, "When buildings are leveled, when land is
developed, when money is spent, when our loved ones pass on, when we take
our places a little farther back every year on the historical time-line,
what we have still are stories."
 

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Backwater Blues

The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination

Richard M. Mizelle Jr.

The Mississippi River flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history, reshaping the social and cultural landscape as well as the physical environment. Often remembered as an event that altered flood control policy and elevated the stature of powerful politicians, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. examines the place of the flood within African American cultural memory and the profound ways it influenced migration patterns in the United States.

In Backwater Blues, Mizelle analyzes the disaster through the lenses of race and charity, blues music, and mobility and labor. The book’s title comes from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” perhaps the best-known song about the flood. Mizelle notes that the devastation produced the richest groundswell of blues recordings following any environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, with more than fifty songs by countless singers evoking the disruptive force of the flood and the precariousness of the levees originally constructed to protect citizens. Backwater Blues reveals larger relationships between social and environmental history. According to Mizelle, musicians, Harlem Renaissance artists, fraternal organizations, and Creole migrants all shared a sense of vulnerability in the face of both the Mississippi River and a white supremacist society. As a result, the Mississippi flood of 1927 was not just an environmental crisis but a racial event.

Challenging long-standing ideas of African American environmental complacency, Mizelle offers insights into the broader dynamics of human interactions with nature as well as ways in which nature is mediated through the social and political dynamics of race.Includes discography.

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Baptized in PCBs

Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town

Ellen Griffith Spears

In the mid-1990s, residents of Anniston, Alabama, began a legal fight against the agrochemical company Monsanto over the dumping of PCBs in the city's historically African American and white working-class west side. Simultaneously, Anniston environmentalists sought to safely eliminate chemical weaponry that had been secretly stockpiled near the city during the Cold War. In this probing work, Ellen Griffith Spears offers a compelling narrative of Anniston's battles for environmental justice, exposing how systemic racial and class inequalities reinforced during the Jim Crow era played out in these intense contemporary social movements.

Spears focuses attention on key figures who shaped Anniston--from Monsanto's founders, to white and African American activists, to the ordinary Anniston residents whose lives and health were deeply affected by the town's military-industrial history and the legacy of racism. Situating the personal struggles and triumphs of Anniston residents within a larger national story of regulatory regimes and legal strategies that have affected toxic towns across America, Spears unflinchingly explores the causes and implications of environmental inequalities, showing how civil rights movement activism undergirded Anniston's campaigns for redemption and justice.

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Battle of Stones River

The Forgotten Conflict between the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland

Larry J. Daniel

Three days of savage and bloody fighting between Confederate and Union troops at Stones River in Middle Tennessee ended with nearly 25,000 casualties but no clear victor. The staggering number of killed or wounded equaled the losses suffered in the well-known Battle of Shiloh. Using previously neglected sources, Larry J. Daniel rescues this important campaign from obscurity. The Battle of Stones River, fought between December 31, 1862, and January 2, 1863, was a tactical draw but proved to be a strategic northern victory. According to Daniel, Union defeats in late 1862—both at Chickasaw Bayou in Mississippi and at Fredericksburg, Virginia—transformed the clash in Tennessee into a much-needed morale booster for the North. Daniel’s study of the battle’s two antagonists, William S. Rosecrans for the Union Army of the Cumberland and Braxton Bragg for the Confederate Army of Tennessee, presents contrasts in leadership and a series of missteps. Union soldiers liked Rosecrans’s personable nature, whereas Bragg acquired a reputation as antisocial and suspicious. Rosecrans had won his previous battle at Corinth, and Bragg had failed at the recent Kentucky Campaign. But despite Rosecrans’s apparent advantage, both commanders made serious mistakes. With only a few hundred yards separating the lines, Rosecrans allowed Confederates to surprise and route his right ring. Eventually, Union pressure forced Bragg to launch a division-size attack, a disastrous move. Neither side could claim victory on the battlefield. In the aftermath of the bloody conflict, Union commanders and northern newspapers portrayed the stalemate as a victory, bolstering confidence in the Lincoln administration and dimming the prospects for the “peace wing” of the northern Democratic Party. In the South, the deadlock led to continued bickering in the Confederate western high command and scorn for Braxton Bragg.

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The Battle Rages Higher

The Union's Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry

Kirk Jenkins

" The Battle Rages Higher tells, for the first time, the story of the Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry, a hard-fighting Union regiment raised largely from Louisville and the Knob Creek valley where Abraham Lincoln lived as a child. Although recruited in a slave state where Lincoln received only 0.9 percent of the 1860 presidential vote, the men of the Fifteenth Kentucky fought and died for the Union for over three years, participating in all the battles of the Atlanta campaign, as well as the battles of Perryville, Stones River and Chickamauga. Using primary research, including soldiers’ letters and diaries, hundreds of contemporary newspaper reports, official army records, and postwar memoirs, Kirk C. Jenkins vividly brings the Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry to life. The book also includes an extensive biographical roster summarizing the service record of each soldier in the thousand-member unit. Kirk C. Jenkins, a descendant of the Fifteenth Kentucky's Captain Smith Bayne, is a partner in a Chicago law firm. Click here for Kirk Jenkins' website and more information about the 15th Kentucky Infantry.

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The Battlefield and Beyond

Essays on the American Civil War

Clayton E. Jewett

In The Battlefield and Beyond leading Civil War historians explore a tragic part of our nation’s history though the lenses of race, gender, leadership, politics, and memory. The essays in this strong collection shed new light on the defining issues of the Civil War era. Orville Vernon Burton, Leonne M. Hudson, and Daniel E. Sutherland delve into the master-slave relationship, the role of blacks in the army, and the nature of southern violence. Herman Hattaway, Paul D. Escott, and Judith F. Gentry offer innovative perspectives on the influential leadership of President Jefferson Davis, Lieutenant-General Stephen D. Lee, and General Edmund Kirby Smith. Other contributors consider politicians and the public: Michael J. Connolly and Clayton E. Jewett investigate how despotism contributed to Confederate defeat; David E. Kyvig and Alan M. Kraut examine the war’s impact on the Constitution and racial relationships with Jews; and Bertram Wyatt-Brown, Kenneth Nivison, and Emory M. Thomas discuss the critical function of memory in our understanding of Lincoln’s assassination. The essays in The Battlefield and Beyond consider the fundamental issue of the Confederacy’s failure and military defeat but also expose our nation’s continuing struggles with race, individual rights, terrorism, and the economy. Collectively, this distinguished group of historians reveals that 150 years after the nation’s most defining conflict its consequences still resonate.

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Battling Nell

The Life of Southern Journalist Cornelia Battle Lewis, 1893–1956

Alexander S. Leidholdt

A longtime columnist for the Raleigh News and Observer, Cornelia Battle Lewis earned a national reputation in the 1920s and 1930s for her courageous advocacy on behalf of women’s rights, African Americans, children, and labor unions. Late in her life, however, after fighting mental illness, Lewis reversed many of her stances and railed against the liberalism she had spent her life advancing. In Battling Nell, Alexander S. Leidholdt tells the compelling and ultimately tragic life story of this groundbreaking journalist against the backdrop of the turbulent post-Reconstruction Jim Crow South and speculates about the cause of her extraordinary transformation. The daughter of North Carolina’s most prominent public health official, Lewis grew up in Raleigh, but her experiences at Smith College in Massachusetts, and later in France during World War I, led her to question the prevailing racial attitudes and gender roles of her native region. In 1920, Lewis began her storied career with the News and Observer. Inspired by H. L. Mencken’s scathing criticism of the South, she soon established herself as the region’s leading female liberal journalist. Her column, “Incidentally,” attacked the Ku Klux Klan, lobbied against the exploitation of mill workers, defended strikers during the notorious communist-organized Gastonia labor violence, mocked religious fundamentalists who fought the teaching of evolution, and decried lynch law. A suffragist and a feminist who saw women’s rights as inextricably linked to human rights, Lewis ran for state legislature in 1928 and was one of the first women in North Carolina to be admitted to the bar. In the 1930s, however, Lewis faced repeated institutionalizations for a debilitating bout of mental illness and sought treatment from Christian Science practitioners, spiritualists, and psychotherapists. As she aged, her views grew increasingly reactionary, and she insisted that she had served as a communist dupe during the Gastonia strike and trials, that communists had infiltrated the University of North Carolina, and that many of her former progressive allies had ties to communism. Finally, many of her opinions completely reversed, and in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board decision, she served as an influential spokesperson for the South’s massive resistance to public school desegregation. She continued to espouse these conservative beliefs until her death in 1956. In his detailed retelling of Lewis’s fascinating life, Leidholdt chronicles the turbulent history of North Carolina from the 1920s through the 1950s, as industrialization and racial integration began to tear at the region’s conservative fabric. He vividly explains the background and ramifications of Lewis’s many controversial stances and explores the possible reasons for her ideological about-face. Through the extraordinary story of “Battling Nell,” Leidholdt reveals how the complex issues of gender, labor, and race intertwined to influence the convulsive events that shaped the course of early twentieth-century southern history.

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Battling the Plantation Mentality

Memphis and the Black Freedom Struggle

Laurie B. Green

African American freedom is often defined in terms of emancipation and civil rights legislation, but it did not arrive with the stroke of a pen or the rap of a gavel. No single event makes this more plain, Laurie Green argues, than the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike, which culminated in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exploring the notion of "freedom" in postwar Memphis, Green demonstrates that the civil rights movement was battling an ongoing "plantation mentality" based on race, gender, and power that permeated southern culture long before--and even after--the groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s. With its slogan "I AM a Man!" the Memphis strike provides a clarion example of how the movement fought for a black freedom that consisted of not only constitutional rights but also social and human rights. As the sharecropping system crumbled and migrants streamed to the cities during and after World War II, the struggle for black freedom touched all aspects of daily life. Green traces the movement to new locations, from protests against police brutality and racist movie censorship policies to innovations in mass culture, such as black-oriented radio stations. Incorporating scores of oral histories, Green demonstrates that the interplay of politics, culture, and consciousness is critical to truly understanding freedom and the black struggle for it. Green explores the notion of “freedom” among working-class African Americans in southern cities (specifically, Memphis) during the post-WWII Black Freedom Movement. She argues that although the meaning of freedom is often neglected outside the realm of slavery and emancipation, the civil rights movement indeed was still battling an ongoing “plantation mentality” based on race, gender, and power, which permeated southern culture even after the groudbreaking legislation of the mid 1960s. She examines the Memphis sanitation strike of 1968 (which took the slogan “I AM a Man!” and culminated in the assassination of MLK) as a clarion example of how the movement fought for a black freedom that consisted of not only constitutional rights, but also social and human rights. In her exploration of the “freedom” mentality in Memphis, she looks at aspects of daily life such as protests against police brutality and racist movie censorship policies and innovations in mass culture, such as black-oriented radio stations, that accompanied the crumbling of the sharecropping system and the rise of urban migration. Exploring the notion of African American “freedom” in postwar Memphis, Green demonstrates that the civil rights movement was battling an ongoing “plantation mentality” based on race, gender, and power that permeated southern culture long before--and even after--the groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s. She points to the Memphis sanitation workers strike as a clarion example of how the movement fought for a black freedom that consisted of not only constitutional rights but also social and human rights. African American freedom is often defined in terms of emancipation and civil rights legislation, but it did not arrive with the stroke of a pen or the rap of a gavel. No single event makes this more plain, Laurie Green argues, than the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike, which culminated in the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exploring the notion of "freedom" in postwar Memphis, Green demonstrates that the civil rights movement was battling an ongoing "plantation mentality" based on race, gender, and power that permeated southern culture long before--and even after--the groundbreaking legislation of the mid-1960s. With its slogan "I AM a Man!" the Memphis strike provides a clarion example of how the movement fought for a black freedom that consisted of not only constitutional rights but also social and human rights. As the sharecropping system crumbled and migrants streamed to the cities during and after World War II, the struggle for black freedom touched all aspects of daily life. Green traces the movement to new locations, from protests against police brutality and racist movie censorship policies to innovations in mass culture, such as black-oriented radio stations. Incorporating scores of oral histories, Green demonstrates that the interplay of politics, culture, and consciousness is critical to truly understanding freedom and the black struggle for it.

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Bayou-Diversity

Nature and People in the Louisiana Bayou Country

Kelby Ouchley

Louisiana’s bayous and their watersheds teem with cypress trees, alligators, crawfish, and many other life forms. From Bayou Tigre to Half Moon Bayou, these sluggish streams meander through lowlands, marshes, and even uplands to dominate the state’s landscape. In Bayou-Diversity, conservationist Kelby Ouchley reveals the bayou’s intricate web of flora and fauna. Through a collection of essays about Louisiana’s natural history, Ouchley details an amazing array of plants and animals found in the Bayou State. Baldcypress, orchids, feral hogs, eels, black bears, bald eagles, and cottonmouth snakes live in the well over a hundred bayous of the region. Collectively, Ouchley’s vignettes portray vibrant and complex habitats. But human interaction with the bayou and our role in its survival, Ouchley argues, will determine the future of these intricate ecosystems. Bayou-Diversity narrates the story of the bayou one flower, one creature at a time, in turn illustrating the bigger picture of this treasured and troubled Louisiana landscape.

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Bearing Witness

Memories of Arkansas Slavery Narratives from the 1930s WPA Collections

These oral histories were first published in the 1970s in a thirty-nine-volume series organized by state, and they transformed America's understanding of slavery. They have offered crucial evidence on a variety of other topics as well: the Civil War, Reconstruction, agricultural practices, everyday life, and oral history itself.

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