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"Dying never / ends for us. It only slowly rearranges us," writes Steve Scafidi in his poignant new collection. Inspired by his own work as a cabinetmaker -- defined by the peppery dust from the woodworker planing a walnut board, turning an oak spindle at the lathe, or honing chisels while gazing out a window -- Scafidi's poems reveal both the tenuous and the everlasting nature of existence.
The American Novel of Slavery since Gone with the Wind
In this comprehensive, groundbreaking study, Tim A. Ryan explores how American novelists since World War I have imagined the institution of slavery and the experience of those involved in it. Complicating the common assumption that authentic black-authored fiction about slavery is starkly opposed to the traditional, racist fiction (and history) created by whites, Ryan suggests that discourses about American slavery are—and have always been—defined by connections rather than disjunctions. Ryan contends that African American writers didn't merely reject and move beyond traditional portrayals of the black past but rather actively engaged in a dynamic dialogue with white-authored versions of slavery and existing historiographical debates. The result is an ongoing cultural conversation that transcends both racial and disciplinary boundaries and is akin to the call-and-response style of African American gospel music. Ryan addresses in detail more than a dozen major American novels of slavery, from the first significant modern fiction about the institution—Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind and Arna Bontemps's Black Thunder (both published in 1936)—to recent noteworthy novels on the topic—Edward P. Jones's The Known World and Valerie Martin's Property (both published in 2003). His insistence upon the necessity of interpreting novels about the past directly in relation to specific historical scholarship makes Calls and Responses especially compelling. He reads Toni Morrison's Beloved not in opposition to a monolithic orthodoxy about slavery but in relation to specific arguments of controversial historian Stanley Elkins. Similarly, he analyzes William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner in terms of its rhetorical echoes of Frederick Douglass's famous autobiographical narrative. Ryan shows throughout Calls and Responses how a variety of novelists—including Alex Haley, Octavia Butler, Ishmael Reed, Margaret Walker, and Frances Gaither—engage in a dynamic debate with each other and with such historians as Herbert Aptheker, Charles Joyner, Eugene and Elizabeth Genovese, and many others. A substantially new account of the development of American slavery fiction in the last century, Calls and Responses goes beyond merely exalting the expression of black voices and experiences and actually reconfigures the existing view of the American novel of slavery.
Though the phrase "Calvinist humor" may seem to be an oxymoron, Michael Dunne, in highly original and unfailingly interesting readings of major American fiction writers, uncovers and traces two recurrent strands of Calvinist humor descending from Puritan times far into the twentieth century. Calvinist doctrine views mankind as fallen, apt to engage in any number of imperfect behaviors. Calvinist humor, Dunne explains, consists in the perception of this imperfection. When we perceive that only others are imperfect, we participate in the form of Calvinist humor preferred by William Bradford and Nathanael West. When we perceive that others are imperfect, as we all are, we participate in the form preferred by Mark Twain and William Faulkner, for example. Either by noting their characters' inferiority or by observing ways in which we are all far from perfect, Dunne observes, American writers have found much to laugh about and many occasions for Calvinist humor. The two strains of Calvinist humor are alike in making the faults of others more important than their virtues. They differ in terms of what we might think of as the writer/perceiver's disposition: his or her willingness to recognize the same faults in him- or herself. In addition to Bradford, West, Twain and Faulkner, Dunne discovers Calvinist humor in the works of Flannery O'Connor, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, and many others. For these authors, the world—and thus their fiction—is populated with flawed creatures. Even after belief in orthodox Calvinism diminished in the twentieth century, Dunne discovers, American writers continued to mine these veins, irrespective of the authors' religious affiliations—or lack of them. Dunne notes that even when these writers fail to accept the Calvinist view wholeheartedly, they still have a tendency to see some version of Calvinism as more attractive than an optimistic, idealistic view of life. With an eye for the telling detail and a wry humor of his own, Dunne clearly demonstrates that the fundamental Calvinist assumption—that human beings are fallen from some putatively better state—has had a surprising, lingering presence in American literature.
How the College Board Desegregated SAT? Test Centers in the Deep South, 1960-1965
In 1960, the College Entrance Examination Board became an unexpected participant in the movement to desegregate education in the South. Working with its partner, Educational Testing Services, the College Board quietly integrated its Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) centers throughout the Deep South. Traveling from state to state, taking one school district and even one school at a time, two College Board staff members, both native southerners, waged "a campaign of quiet persuasion" and succeeded, establishing a roster of desegregated test centers within segregated school districts while the historic battle for civil rights raged around them. In the context of the larger struggle for equal opportunities for southern black students, their work addressed a small but critical barrier to higher education.
Shedding light on this remarkable story for the first time, Jan Bates Wheeler tells how the College Board staff members -- Ben Cameron and Ben Gibson -- succeeded. Their candid and thoughtfully written records of conversations and confrontations, untouched for nearly fifty years, reveal the persistence required to reach a goal many thought unachievable and even foolhardy. Indeed, their task placed them in the unusual position of advocating for school desegregation on a day-to-day basis as part of their jobs. This positioned Cameron and Gibson squarely in opposition to prevailing laws, customs, and attitudes -- an ill-advised stance for any nascent business venture, particularly one experiencing competition from a new, rival testing organization purported to accommodate openly those same laws, customs, and attitudes.
Cameron and Gibson also accepted the personal danger involved in confrontations with racist school officials. The officials who cooperated with the pair assumed even greater risk, and in order to minimize that threat, Cameron and Gibson pledged not to publicize their efforts. Even years after their work had ended, the two men refused to write about their campaign for fear of compromising the people who had helped them. Their concerns, according to Wheeler, kept this remarkable story largely untold until now.
On April 24, 1862, Federal gunboats made their way past two Confederate forts to ascend the Mississippi River, and the Union navy captured New Orleans. News of the loss of the Crescent City came to Jefferson Davis as an absolute shock. In this exhaustive study, Chester G. Hearn examines the decisions, actions, individuals, and events to explain why. He directs his inquiry to the heart of government, both Union and Confederate, and takes a hard look at the selection of military and naval leaders, the use of natural and financial resources, and the performances of all personnel involved. His vivid, fast-paced narrative provides fascinating reading, as well as penetrating insight into this crucial campaign.
In this illuminating study, Gelien Matthews demonstrates how slave rebellions in the British West Indies influenced the tactics of abolitionists in England and how the rhetoric and actions of the abolitionists emboldened slaves. Moving between the world of the British Parliament and the realm of Caribbean plantations, Matthews reveals a transatlantic dialectic of antislavery agitation and slave insurrection that eventually influenced the dismantling of slavery in British-held territories. Focusing on slave revolts that took place in Barbados in 1816, in Demerara in 1823, and in Jamaica in 1831–32, Matthews identifies four key aspects in British abolitionist propaganda regarding Caribbean slavery: the denial that antislavery activism prompted slave revolts, the attempt to understand and recount slave uprisings from the slaves' perspectives, the portrayal of slave rebels as victims of armed suppressors and as agents of the antislavery movement, and the presentation of revolts as a rationale against the continuance of slavery. She makes shrewd use of previously overlooked publications of British abolitionists to prove that their language changed over time in response to slave uprisings. Historians previously have examined the economic, religious, and political bases for slavery's abolishment in the Caribbean, but Matthews here emphasizes the agency of slaves in the march toward freedom. Her compelling work is a valuable analytical tool in the interpretation of abolition in North America, uncovering the important connections between rebellious slaves on one side of the Atlantic and abolitionists on the other side.
Readings and Commentaries
Perhaps one of the most distinctive and studied geographers of the twentieth century, Carl O. Sauer (1889–1975) had influence that extends well beyond the confines of any one discipline. With a focus on historical and cultural geography, Sauer’s essays have garnered praise from poets, natural historians, and social scientists alike who continue to explore Sauer’s work. In Carl Sauer on Culture and Landscape, editors William M. Denevan and Kent Mathewson have compiled thirty-seven of Sauer’s original works, including rare early writings, articles in now largely inaccessible publications, and transcriptions of key oral presentations that remain little known. A student of the relationships between land and life, people and places, Sauer helped establish landscape studies in cultural geography and paved the way for paradigmatic shifts in the scholarly assessment of Native American history. By strongly advocating a land ethic, “a responsible stewardship of the sustaining earth,” for his own and for future generations, Carl Sauer supplied an esthetic rationale and a historical perspective to the environmental movement. The volume opens with two extended essays on Sauer’s critics and his works. Essays by prominent geographers and other authorities on Sauer introduce each section of the book, adding a contemporary element to the presentation and interpretation of Sauer’s life and scholarship in areas such as soil conservation, man in nature, and cultivated plants. A complete bibliography of his publications and an extensive compilation of commentaries on his life and work make this an indispensable reference. Carl Sauer on Culture and Landscape sheds new light on Sauer’s contributions to the history of geographic thought, sustainable land use, and the importance of biological and cultural diversity—all of which remain key issues today.
Judge John Minor Wisdom
One of the least publicly recognized heroes of the civil rights movement in the United States, John Minor Wisdom served as a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1957 until his death in 1999 and wrote many of the landmark decisions instrumental in desegregating the American South. In this revealing biography, law professor Joel William Friedman explores Judge Wisdom's substantial legal contributions and political work at a critical time in the history of the South. In 1957, President Eisenhower appointed Wisdom to the Fifth Circuit, which included some of the most deeply segregated southern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In the tumultuous two decades following its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court issued only a few civil rights decisions, preferring instead to affirm Fifth Circuit Court opinions or let them stand without hearing an appeal. Judge Wisdom, therefore, authored many of the decisions that transformed the South and broke down barriers of all kinds for African Americans, including the desegregation of public schools. In preparing this first full-length biography of Judge Wisdom, Friedman had unrestricted access to Wisdom's voluminous repository of personal and professional papers. In addition, he draws on personal interviews with law clerks who served under Judge Wisdom, resulting in a unique, behind-the-scenes account of some of the nation's most important legal decisions: the admission of the first black student to the University of Mississippi, the initiation of contempt proceedings against Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett, and the destruction of obstacles that had previously kept black Americans from voting. Friedman also explores Wisdom's political life prior to joining the federal bench, including his pivotal role in resurrecting the Louisiana Republican Party and in securing the Republican presidential nomination for Eisenhower. A compelling account of how a child of privilege from one of America's most socially and racially stratified cities came to serve as the driving force behind the legal effort to end segregation, Champion of Civil Rights offers judicial biography at its best.
The Civil War Memoir of Levi H. Naron, as Recounted by R. W. Surby
A well-to-do planter and slave owner in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, Levi Holloway Naron was an unlikely supporter of the Union. And yet, at the outbreak of war in 1861, his agitation against the Confederacy so outraged his fellow Mississippians that they drove him from his home. Bent on retaliation, Naron headed North, contacted the Union army, and was ushered into the presence of General William T. Sherman, who quickly saw the possibilities for employing such a man. Thus began Levi Naron's career as "Chickasaw," Federal scout, spy, and raider. Dictated in 1865, when his memory of events was still fresh—as was his passion—Naron's memoir offers a rare and remarkably vivid firsthand account of a southerner loyal to the Union, operating behind Confederate lines. Active primarily in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee, Naron proved invaluable to Federal commanders in the West, not only Sherman but William Rosecrans, John Pope, Grenville Dodge, Benjamin Grierson, and others—leaders whose official testimony to that effect is included in an appendix here. Naron stood before Rebel commanders as well—Sterling Price, James Chalmers, and John C. Breckinridge—having bedeviled their security forces and intelligence agents. In these pages, he tells how he maneuvered under their noses, burning bridges and railcars full of supplies intended for Nathan Bedford Forrest and John Bell Hood, recruiting for the Union while clad in a Confederate uniform, chasing down Union deserters and Rebel spies, and, for diversion, suppressing guerrillas and bushwhackers. This long-forgotten historical document, newly edited and annotated, provides indispensable information about Confederate as well as Union espionage and counter-espionage activity. Naron's adventures illuminate this clandestine war in the West while allowing readers to experience with startling immediacy the agony, frustrations, and convictions of a pro-Union southerner trapped inside the Confederate States.
Free People of Color in Barbados in the Age of Emancipation
When a small group of free men of color gathered in 1838 to celebrate the end of apprenticeship in Barbados, they spoke of emancipation as the moment of freedom for all colored people, not just the former slaves. The fact that many of these men had owned slaves themselves gives a hollow ring to their lofty pronouncements. Yet in The Children of Africa in the Colonies, Melanie J. Newton demonstrates that simply dismissing these men as hypocrites ignores the complexity of their relationship to slavery. Exploring the role of free blacks in Barbados from 1790 to 1860, Newton argues that the emancipation process transformed social relations between Afro-Barbadians and slaves and ex-slaves. Free people of color in Barbados genuinely wanted slavery to end, Newton explains, a desire motivated in part by the realization that emancipation offered them significant political advantages. As a result, free people's goals for the civil rights struggle that began in Barbados in the 1790s often diverged from those of the slaves, and the tensions that formed along class, education, and gender lines severely weakened the movement. While the populist masses viewed emancipation as an opportunity to form a united community among all people of color, wealthy free people viewed it as a chance to better their position relative to white Europeans. To this end, free people of color refashioned their identities in relationship to Africa. Prior to the 1820s, Newton reveals, they downplayed their African descent, emphasizing instead their legal status as free people and their position as owners of property, including slaves. As the emancipation debate in the Atlantic world reached its zenith in the 1820s and 1830s and whites grew increasingly hostile and inflexible, elite free people allied themselves with the politics of the working class and the slaves, relying for the first time on their African heritage and the association of their skin color with slavery to openly challenge white supremacy. After emancipation, free people of color again redefined themselves, now as loyal British imperial subjects, casting themselves in the role of political protectors of their ex-slave brethren in an attempt to escape social and political disenfranchisement. While some wealthy men of color gained political influence as a result of emancipation, the absence of fundamental change in the distribution of land and wealth left most men and women of color with little hope of political independence or social mobility. Mining a rich vein of primary and secondary sources, Newton's study elegantly describes how class divisions and disagreements over labor and social policy among free and slave black Barbadians led to political unrest and devastated the hope for an entirely new social structure and a plebeian majority in the British Caribbean.