Plains Histories

John Smith, Will Wordsworth

Published by: Texas Tech University Press


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Plains Histories


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Free Radical

Ernest Chambers, Black Power, and the Politics of Race

Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson, with foreword by Quintard Taylor

Amid the deadly racial violence of the 1960s, an unassuming student from a fundamentalist Christian home in Omaha emerged as a leader and nationally recognized black activist. Ernest Chambers, elected to the Nebraska State Legislature in 1970, eventually became one of the most powerful legislators the state has ever known. As Chambers bids for reelection in 2012 to the office he held for thirty-eight years, Omaha native Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson illuminates his embattled career as a fiercely independent defender of the downtrodden.Tracing the growth of the Black Power Movement in Nebraska and throughout the U.S., Johnson discovers its unprecedented emphasis on electoral politics. For the first time since Reconstruction, voters catapulted hundreds of African American community leaders into state and national political arenas. Special-interest groups and political machines would curb the success of aspiring African American politicians, just as urban renewal would erode their geographical and political bases, compelling the majority to join the Democratic or Republican parties. Chambers was one of few not to capitulate.In her revealing study of one man and those he represented, Johnson portrays one intellectual’s struggle alongside other African Americans to actualize their latent political power.

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Route 66

A Road to America's Landscape, History, and Culture

When Markku Henriksson was growing up in Finland, the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” was one of only two he could recognize—in English or Finnish. It was not until 1989 that Henriksson would catch his first glimpse of the legendary highway. It was enough to lure Henriksson four years later to the second international Route 66 festival in Flagstaff. There he realized that Route 66 was the perfect basis for a multidisciplinary American Studies course, one that he has been teaching at the University of Helsinki ever since.
         Forming the soul of this work—and yielding a more holistic and complex picture than any previous study—are Henriksson’s 1996 (east to west) and 2002 (west to east) journeys along the full length of the Route and his mastery of the literature and film that illuminate the Route’s place in Americana. Not a history of the road itself and the towns along the way, Henriksson’s perspective offers insight into America and its culture as revealed in its peoples, their histories, cultures, and music as displayed along the Mother Road.

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Trail Sisters

Freedwomen in Indian Territory, 1850–1890

Linda Williams Reese, with foreword by John R. Wunder

African American women enslaved by the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Creek Nations led lives ranging from utter subjection to recognized kinship. Regardless of status, during Removal, they followed the Trail of Tears in the footsteps of their slaveholders, suffering the same life-threatening hardships and poverty.
            As if Removal to Indian Territory weren’t cataclysmic enough, the Civil War shattered the worlds of these slave women even more, scattering families, destroying property, and disrupting social and family relationships. Suddenly they were freed, but had nowhere to turn. Freedwomen found themselves negotiating new lives within a labyrinth of federal and tribal oversight, Indian resentment, and intruding entrepreneurs and settlers.
            Remarkably, they reconstructed their families and marshaled the skills to fashion livelihoods in a burgeoning capitalist environment. They sought education and forged new relationships with immigrant black women and men, managing to establish a foundation for survival.
            Linda Williams Reese is the first to trace the harsh and often bitter journey of these women from arrival in Indian Territory to free-citizen status in 1890. In doing so, she establishes them as no lesser pioneers of the American West than their Indian or other Plains sisters.

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Urban Villages and Local Identities

Germans from Russia, Omaha Indians, and Vietnamese in Lincoln, Nebraska

Urban Villages and Local Identities examines immigration to the Great Plains by surveying the experiences of three divergent ethnic groups—Volga Germans, Omaha Indians, and Vietnamese—that settled in enclaves in Lincoln, Nebraska, beginning in 1876, 1941, and 1975, respectively. These urban villages served as safe havens that protected new arrivals from a mainstream that often eschewed unfamiliar cultural practices.
        Lincoln’s large Volga German population was last fully discussed in 1918; Omahas are rarely studied as urban people although sixy-five percent of their population lives in cities; and the growing body of work on Vietnamese tends to be conducted by social scientists rather than historians, few of whom contrast Southeast Asian experiences with those of earlier waves of immigration.
        As a comparative study, Urban Villages and Local Identities is inspired, in part, by Reinventing Free Labor, by Gunther Peck. By focusing on the experiences of three populations over the course of 130 years, Urban Villages connects two distinct eras of international border crossing and broadens the field of immigration to include Native Americans. Ultimately, the work yields insights into the complexity, flexibility, and durability of cultural identities
among ethnic groups and the urban mainstream in one capital city.

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Where the West Begins

Debating Texas Identity

Glen Sample Ely, with foreword by Alwyn Barr

Unsure which of its legacies are true and which to embrace, Texas grapples with an identity crisis. One camp insists that the state’s roots in slavery, segregation, and cotton make it southern. Another argues that its Native and ranching history make it western. Outside Texas, southern and western historians who don’t know what to make of the state ignore it altogether. In his innovative settling of the question, Glen Sample Ely examines the state’s historical DNA, making sense of Lone Star identity west of the hundredth meridian and defining Texas’s place in the American West.Focusing on the motives that shape how Texans appropriate their past—from cashing in on tourism to avoiding historical realities—Ely reveals the inner workings of a multiplicity of Texas identities.


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