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In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother's suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In "Outgoing," the speaker erases his brother's answering machine message to save his family from "the shame of dead you / answering calls." In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, "a flower / of smoldering filaments." A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, "a tinfoil lake," "vegetables / dying in the crisper." Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.
Caribbean Braceros and Their Struggle for Power in the Cuban Sugar Industry
Early in the twentieth century, the Cuban sugarcane industry faced a labor crisis when Cuban and European workers balked at the inhumane conditions they endured in the cane fields. Rather than reforming their practices, sugar companies gained permission from the Cuban government to import thousands of black workers from other Caribbean colonies, primarily Haiti and Jamaica. Black Labor, White Sugar illuminates the story of these immigrants, their exploitation by the sugarcane companies, and the strategies they used to fight back.
Philip A. Howard traces the socioeconomic and political circumstances in Haiti and Jamaica that led men to leave their homelands to cut, load, and haul sugarcane in Cuba. Once there, the field workers, or braceros, were subject to marginalization and even violence from the sugar companies, which used structures of race, ethnicity, color, and class to subjugate these laborers. Howard argues that braceros drew on their cultural identities-from concepts of home and family to spiritual worldviews-to interpret and contest their experiences in Cuba. They also fought against their exploitation in more overt ways. As labor conditions worsened in response to falling sugar prices, the principles of anarcho-syndicalism converged with the Pan-African philosophy of Marcus Garvey to foster the evolution of a protest culture among black Caribbean laborers. By the mid-1920s, this identity encouraged many braceros to participate in strikes that sought to improve wages as well as living and working conditions.
The first full-length exploration of Haitian and Jamaican workers in the Cuban sugarcane industry, Black Labor, White Sugar examines the industry's abuse of thousands of black Caribbean immigrants, and the braceros' answering struggle for power and self-definition.
Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina
In Black Rage in New Orleans, Leonard N. Moore traces the shocking history of police corruption in the Crescent City from World War II to Hurricane Katrina and the concurrent rise of a large and energized black opposition to it. In New Orleans, crime, drug abuse, and murder were commonplace, and an underpaid, inadequately staffed, and poorly trained police force frequently resorted to brutality against African Americans. Endemic corruption among police officers increased as the city’s crime rate soared, generating anger and frustration among New Orleans’s black community. Rather than remain passive, African Americans in the city formed antibrutality organizations, staged marches, held sit-ins, waged boycotts, vocalized their concerns at city council meetings, and demanded equitable treatment. Moore explores a staggering array of NOPD abuses—police homicides, sexual violence against women, racial profiling, and complicity in drug deals, prostitution rings, burglaries, protection schemes, and gun smuggling—and the increasingly vociferous calls for reform by the city’s black community. Documenting the police harassment of civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s, Moore then examines the aggressive policing techniques of the 1970s, and the attempts of Ernest “Dutch” Morial—the first black mayor of New Orleans—to reform the force in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Even when the department hired more African American officers as part of that reform effort, Moore reveals, the corruption and brutality continued unabated in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Dramatic changes in departmental leadership, together with aid from federal grants, finally helped professionalize the force and achieved long-sought improvements within the New Orleans Police Department. Community policing practices, increased training, better pay, and a raft of other reform measures for a time seemed to signal real change in the department. The book’s epilogue, “Policing Katrina,” however, looks at how the NOPD’s ineffectiveness compromised its ability to handle the greatest natural disaster in American history, suggesting that the fruits of reform may have been more temporary than lasting. The first book-length study of police brutality and African American protest in a major American city, Black Rage in New Orleans will prove essential for anyone interested in race relations in America’s urban centers.
Race Relations and Southern Culture, 1940 to the Present
In "Black, White, and Southern," David R. Goldfield shows how the struggles of black southerners to lift the barriers that had historically separated them from their white counterparts not only brought about the demise of white supremacy but did so without destroying the South's unique culture. Indeed, it is Goldfield's contention that the civil rights crusade has strengthened the South's cultural heritage, making it possible for black southeners to embrace their region unfettered by fear and frustration and for whites to leave behind decades of guilt and condemnation. In support of his analysis Goldfield presents a sweeping examination of the evolution of southern race relations over the past fifty years. He provides moving accounts of the major moments of the civil rights era, and he looks at more recent efforts by blacks to achieve economic and class parity. This history of the crusade for black equality is in the end they story of the South itself and of the powerful forces of redemption that Goldfield attests are still working to shape the future of the region.
Nineteenth-Century Mississippi River Gambling Stories
In 1836 Benjamin Drake, a midwestern writer of popular sketches for newspapers of the day, introduced his readers to a new and distinctly American rascal who rode the steamboats up and down the Mississippi and other western waterways—the riverboat gambler. These men, he recorded, “dress with taste and elegance; carry gold chronometers in their pockets; and swear with the most genteel precision. . . . Every where throughout the valley, these mistletoe gentry are called by the original, if not altogether classic, cognomen of ‘Black-legs.’” In Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men, Thomas Ruys Smith collects nineteenth-century stories, sketches, and book excerpts by a gallery of authors to create a comprehensive collection of writings about the riverboat gambler. Long an iconic figure in American myth and popular culture but, strangely, one that has never until now received a book-length treatment, the Mississippi River gambler was a favorite character throughout the nineteenth century—one often rich with moral ambiguities that remain unresolved to this day. In the absorbing fictional and nonfictional accounts of high stakes and sudden reversals of fortune found in the pages of Smith’s book, the voices of canonized writers such as William Dean Howells, Herman Melville, and, of course, Mark Twain hold prominent positions. But they mingle seamlessly with lesser-known pieces such as an excerpt from Edward Willett’s sensationalistic dime novel Flush Fred’s Full Hand, raucous sketches by anonymous Old Southwestern humorists from the Spirit of the Times, and colorful accounts by now nearly forgotten authors such as Daniel R. Hundley and George W. Featherstonhaugh. Smith puts the twenty-eight selections in perspective with an Introduction that thoroughly explores the history and myth surrounding this endlessly fascinating American cultural icon. While the riverboat gambler may no longer ply his trade along the Mississippi, Blacklegs, Card Sharps, and Confidence Men makes clear the ways in which he still operates quite successfully in the American imagination.
The Constitutional Conventions of Radical Reconstruction
After the Civil War, Congress required ten former Confederate states to rewrite their constitutions before they could be readmitted to the Union. An electorate composed of newly enfranchised former slaves, native southern whites (minus significant numbers of disenfranchised former Confederate officials), and a small contingent of "carpetbaggers," or outside whites, sent delegates to ten constitutional conventions. Derogatorily labeled "black and tan" by their detractors, these assemblies wrote constitutions and submitted them to Congress and to the voters in their respective states for approval. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags offers a quantitative study of these decisive but little-understood assemblies—the first elected bodies in the United States to include a significant number of blacks.
Richard L. Hume and Jerry B. Gough scoured manuscript census returns to determine the age, occupation, property holdings, literacy, and slaveholdings of 839 of the conventions' 1,018 delegates. Carefully analyzing convention voting records on certain issues—including race, suffrage, and government structure—they correlate delegates' voting patterns with their racial and socioeconomic status. The authors then assign a "Republican support score" to each delegate who voted often enough to count, establishing the degree to which each delegate adhered to the Republican leaders' program at his convention. Using these scores, they divide the delegates into three groups—radicals, swing voters, and conservatives—and incorporate their quantitative findings into the narrative histories of each convention, providing, for the first time, a detailed analysis of these long-overlooked assemblies.
Hume and Gough's comprehensive study offers an objective look at the accomplishments and shortcomings of the conventions and humanizes the delegates who have until now been understood largely as stereotypes. Blacks, Carpetbaggers, and Scalawags provides an essential reference guide for anyone seeking a better understanding of the Reconstruction era.
David Huddle's latest collection, Blacksnake at the Family Reunion, shares intimate and amusing stories as if told by a quirky, usually reticent, great uncle. In "Boy Story," a teenage romantic meeting ends abruptly when the boy's sweetheart realizes they have parked near her grandmother's grave. The poem "Aloft" recalls a widowed mother's indignation after she receives a marriage proposal in a hot air balloon. Haunted by the words on his older sister's tombstone -- "born & died... then / a single date / in November" -- the speaker in one poem struggles to understand a tragic loss: "The ampersand / tells the whole truth / and nothing but, / so help me God, / whose divine shrug / is expressed so / eloquently / by that grave mark."
Blacksnake at the Family Reunion continues Huddle's poetic inquiry into the power of early childhood and family to infuse adulthood with sadness and despair -- an inquiry conducted with profound empathy for the fragility of humankind.
Race, Gender, and Violence in Pre-Civil War Kansas
In Bleeding Borders, Kristen Tegtmeier Oertel offers a fresh, multifaceted interpretation of the quintessential sectional conflict in pre–Civil War Kansas. Instead of focusing on the white, male politicians and settlers who vied for control of the Kansas territorial legislature, Oertel explores the crucial roles Native Americans, African Americans, and white women played in the literal and rhetorical battle between proslavery and antislavery settlers in the region. She brings attention to the local debates and the diverse peoples who participated in them during that contentious period. Oertel begins by detailing the settlement of eastern Kansas by emigrant Indian tribes and explores their interaction with the growing number of white settlers in the region. She analyzes the attempts by southerners to plant slavery in Kansas and the ultimately successful resistance of slaves and abolitionists. Oertel then considers how crude frontier living conditions, Indian conflict, political upheaval, and sectional violence reshaped traditional Victorian gender roles in Kansas and explores women’s participation in the political and physical conflicts between proslavery and antislavery settlers. Oertel goes on to examine northern and southern definitions of “true manhood” and how competing ideas of masculinity infused political and sectional tensions. She concludes with an analysis of miscegenation—not only how racial mixing between Indians, slaves, and whites influenced events in territorial Kansas, but more importantly, how the fear of miscegenation fueled both proslavery and antislavery arguments about the need for civil war. As Oertel demonstrates, the players in Bleeding Kansas used weapons other than their Sharpes rifles and Bowie knives to wage war over the extension of slavery: they attacked each other’s cultural values and struggled to assert their own political wills. They jealously guarded ideals of manhood, womanhood, and whiteness even as the presence of Indians and blacks and the debate over slavery raised serious questions about the efficacy of these principles. Oertel argues that, ultimately, many Native Americans, blacks, and women shaped the political and cultural terrain in ways that ensured the destruction of slavery, but they, along with their white male counterparts, failed to defeat the resilient power of white supremacy. Moving beyond a conventional political history of Bleeding Kansas, Bleeding Borders breaks new ground by revealing how the struggles of this highly diverse region contributed to the national move toward disunion and how the ideologies that governed race and gender relations were challenged as North, South, and West converged on the border between slavery and freedom.
Turner Ashby in the Civil War and the Southern Mind
With Blood Image, Paul Anderson shows that the symbol of a man can be just as important as the man himself. Turner Ashby was one of the most famous fighting men of the Civil War. Rising to colonel of the 7th Virginia Cavalry, Ashby fought brilliantly under Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign until he died in battle. Anderson demonstrates that Ashby's image—a catalytic, mesmerizing, and often contradictory combination of southern antebellum cultural ideals and wartime hopes and fears—emerged during his own lifetime and was not a later creation of the Lost Cause. The stylistic synergy of Anderson's startling narrative design fuels a poignant irony: men like Ashby—a chivalrous, charismatic "knight" who had difficulty complying with Stonewall Jackson's authority—become trapped by the desire to have their real lives reflect their imagined ones.
Imagining Race in American Literature, 1890--1940
The invocation of blood-as both an image and a concept-has long been critical in the formation of American racism. In Blood Work, Shawn Salvant mines works from the American literary canon to explore the multitude of associations that race and blood held in the consciousness of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Americans.
Drawing upon race and metaphor theory, Salvant provides readings of four classic novels featuring themes of racial identity: Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894); Pauline Hopkins's Of One Blood (1902); Frances Harper's Iola Leroy (1892); and William Faulkner's Light in August (1932). His expansive analysis of blood imagery uncovers far more than the merely biological connotations that dominate many studies of blood rhetoric: the racial discourses of blood in these novels encompass the anthropological and the legal, the violent and the religious. Penetrating and insightful, Blood Work illuminates the broad-ranging power of the blood metaphor to script distinctly American plots-real and literary-of racial identity.