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  • Originally published 04/03/2014

    How David Brion Davis came to study slavery

    David Brion Davis, age eighty-six, has published the final volume in the trilogy he inaugurated with The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (PSWC) and continued with The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770–1823 (PSAR) in 1975.

  • Originally published 11/06/2013

    The Passion of Solomon Northrup

    If the film is “true” to anything in the book, it should be true to Northup’s voice, not his facts; that voice is what makes “12 Years a Slave” so enduring.

  • Originally published 09/24/2013

    Memento Mori

    The death of American Exceptionalism -- and of me.

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Was Bass Reeves — a former slave turned deputy U.S. marshal — the real Lone Ranger?

    Art Burton listened intently as the old man on the other end of the phone cleared his throat and began telling him a story. Burton had only been researching the life of Bass Reeves for a short while but that afternoon what Reverend Haskell James Shoeboot, the 98-year-old part-Cherokee Indian, was about to tell him would persuade Burton he had stumbled upon one of the greatest stories never told.Born in 1838, Bass Reeves was a former slave-turned-lawman who served with the U.S. Marshals Service for 32 years at the turn of the 20th century in part of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas known as Indian Territory. Though he was illiterate, Reeves became an expert tracker and detective – a man who, in Burton’s words, “walked in the valley of death every day for 35 years and brought in some of the worst outlaws from that period”....It reaffirmed what Burton had suspected: that (Armie Hammer’s caucasian portrayal aside in the movie The Lone Ranger) Bass Reeves — perhaps the first black commissioned deputy marshal west of the Mississippi — could well have been one of the greatest lawmen of the Wild West. But most people hadn’t heard of him. Over the next 20 years, Reeves would become an obsession for Burton, culminating in a very interesting hypothesis, which he puts forward in his book Black Gun, Silver Star....

  • Originally published 08/08/2013

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: Towards a Radical New Theory of Anglo-American Slavery, and Vindication of Free Markets

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is International Business Editor of The Daily Telegraph. He has covered world politics and economics for 30 years, based in Europe, the US, and Latin America. He joined the Telegraph in 1991, serving as Washington correspondent and later Europe correspondent in Brussels.With luck it will help to vindicate the fathers of liberal government and the free market in the 17th and 18th Centuries, falsely accused until now of abetting - or promoting - the great crime of race-based African slavery.For academic orthodoxy holds that John Locke and the great Whig thinkers of the Glorious Revolution (1688) helped to design and foster the economic system of hereditary slavery that shaped Atlantic capitalism for a century and a half.From that it is but a step to dismiss the moral claims of liberalism as so much humbug, to write off all the talk of justice, natural rights, inviolable contracts and government by consent as the self-interested catechism of oppressors. As Samuel Johnson said acidly: "How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?"

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    Slave Revolt Rides on Broken Down Railroad

    Tellin’ Man Midtown International Theater Festival Dorothy Strelsin Theater 312 W. 36th Street New York, N.Y. Each summer, the festival stages fifty or so plays of different varieties at the midtown theater complex.There were five well known slave revolts in America prior to the Civil War: in New York in 1712, along the Stono River, in South Carolina, in 1740, in Richmond, Virginia in 1800, the Denmark Vesey revolt in Charleston in 1822 and the Nat Turner revolt in Virginia in 1831. Paul Gray’s new play, Tellin’ Man seems to be based most closely on the rebellion led by Gabriel Prosser in Richmond, Virginia, in 1800. In Gray’s play, as in the Prosser revolt, other slaves secretly told the owners of the rebellion and the slave owners worked with law enforcement to quash it.The Tellin’ Man is the story of James, who betrayed his fellow slaves, and what happened to him, his family and his friends after the leaders of the revolt were arrested. It is a narrow focus play about slavery and the eternal hope of those in bondage that they could be free.

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    New evidence contributes to unprecedented portrait of enslaved life at James Madison's Montpelier

    ORANGE, VA.- The Montpelier Foundation today announced findings from new archaeological excavations at the lifelong home of James Madison – Father of the Constitution, Architect of the Bill of Rights, and Fourth President of the United States. Discovered by teams of professional archaeology staff, students and visitors participating in special “Archaeology Expeditions,” two newly revealed subfloor pits provide an initial footprint for field slave quarters on the Montpelier landscape.“Montpelier is unique among archaeological sites in the United States with regards to our ability to recreate and visualize the experience of enslaved life,” said Matthew Reeves, Ph.D., Director of Archaeology and Landscape Restoration at James Madison’s Montpelier. “Because the fields have lain fallow since Madison’s time, the sites we are discovering are virtually undisturbed. We are meticulously documenting available evidence from the sites so we can begin to reconstruct the farm in a way that will authentically represent the complexity of life on the plantation.”...

  • Originally published 07/19/2013

    Stephen Kantrowitz, Sydney Nathans, and Brett Rushforth finalists for 2013 Douglass book prize

    The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition announced on Thursday the finalists for the $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, awarded to books dedicated to African American history.This year's finalists are Stephen Kantrowitz's More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889 (Penguin), Sydney Nathans's To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker (Harvard) , and Brett Rushforth's Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France (University of North Carolina).Stephen Kantrowitz is professor of history and director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nathans is professor emeritus of history at Duke, and Brett Rushforth is associate professor of history and director of graduate studies at William & Mary.The winner will be announced in the fall, and the award will be presented in New York City in February.

  • Originally published 07/03/2013

    Sean Coons: Frederick Douglass -- New Tea Party Hero?!

    Sean Coons is a writer and teacher in Los Angeles. Last week, Frederick Douglass — who escaped slavery at 20 years old and whose words would help bring an end to the institution — was honored with a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Emancipation Hall in Washington, D.C. In the 1960s and ’70s, far left activists like Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis of Communist Party USA incorporated Douglass’ call to agitation in their various causes’ platforms. Yet in a fascinating turnaround, the brilliant abolitionist, writer and orator is developing a new – and perhaps, unexpected – political identity: Tea Party hero.The recent rise in interest in Douglass by conservatives stems from their belief that his life epitomizes the self-reliance they champion, and his writings help provide justification for small government. It may be surprising to some that the fiery, black radical abolitionist of the 19th century, who once called Fourth of July celebrations “a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages,” could be inspiring to a Tea Party patriot. Or that social conservatives could find common cause with the man who bitterly attacked America’s Christianity as “a lie.” But that is exactly what is happening.

  • Originally published 07/02/2013

    The Terror of Being Black at Gettysburg

    For the unknown number of African Americans rounded up by the Confederate army, who called Gettysburg and the surrounding region home, Union victory mattered little. For them a new birth of freedom would have to wait just a little longer.

  • Originally published 06/27/2013

    Would We Have the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments If Lincoln Had Lived? Maybe Not.

    Credit: Wiki Commons.In recent weeks I have conducted a series of workshops with middle school and high school social studies and English teachers grappling with incorporating new Common Core literacy standards in their classrooms. Two things I have repeatedly stressed are the importance of understanding historical context before students can successfully interpret primary source documents and the role of the historian in providing a critical analysis of text and exploring multiple interpretations or perspectives on historical events.

  • Originally published 06/21/2013

    Slate: George W. Bush's ancestor a notorious slave trader

    BUNCE ISLAND, Sierra Leone—Twelve American presidents owned slaves, eight while serving in office, and at least 25 presidents count slave owners among their ancestors. But new historical evidence shows that a direct ancestor of George W. and George H.W. Bush was part of a much more appalling group: Thomas Walker was a notorious slave trader active in the late 18th century along the coast of West Africa.Walker, George H.W. Bush's great-great-great grandfather, was the captain of, master of, or investor in at least 11 slaving voyages to West Africa between 1784 and 1792....

  • Originally published 06/14/2013

    Chicago Maroon remembers Robert Fogel

    Economics professor Robert Fogel, who shared the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for applying economic analysis to history and taught for at the University for over 30 years, died Tuesday morning. He was 86.In an e-mail sent out over the listhost for economics majors on Wednesday, department chairman John List said that Fogel had died of pneumonia contracted after a mild heart attack.Fogel, along with Douglass North—with whom he shared the Nobel Prize—is considered a pioneer of “cliometrics”—the practice of using quantitative methods to analyze history. Called a “bomb thrower” by the New York Times after winning the Nobel Prize, Fogel’s economic approach to history often challenged conventional wisdom. His 1974 book Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery found that slavery was more economically efficient than free agriculture. Fogel’s analysis led him and co-author Stanley Engerman to conclude that because slaves were valuable economic assets, slaveowners were inclined to treat them well. While acknowledging that slaves were oppressed in ways that could not be represented through data, Fogel concluded that the demise of slavery was for political reasons, not economic ones....

  • Originally published 06/14/2013

    Robert W. Fogel, an innovative and Nobel Prize-winning economic historian, dies at 86

    Robert W. Fogel, a Nobel Prize-winning economic historian who used empirical data in innovative and iconoclastic ways, most notably to dispute longheld assumptions about why slavery collapsed as an institution in the United States, died June 11 at a rehabilitation facility in Oak Lawn, Ill. He was 86.The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter-in-law Suzanne Fogel. Dr. Fogel, a Chicago resident, spent much of his career at the University of Chicago and directed its Center for Population Economics.Dr. Fogel shared the 1993 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences with Douglass North, then of Washington University in St. Louis. Both winners were on the 1960s vanguard of a field known as cliometrics, which merges economic theory with statistical analysis of hard numbers raked from the past; Clio is the muse of history in Greek mythology....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Monument to Michelle Obama ancestor toppled in Georgia

    REX, Ga. –  Police in Georgia are investigating after a monument dedicated to one of first lady Michelle Obama's relatives was knocked over in suburban Atlanta.Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton tells WSB-TV that a stone monument to Michelle Obama's great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, was pushed over and will need to be inspected for cracks. The report was aired Monday.Officials say Shields was born into slavery in the mid-1800s and later settled in Rex, Ga., -- about 15 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta....

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    NH governor signs bill granting freedom request made by slaves in 1779

    PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — Fourteen slaves who petitioned the New Hampshire Legislature for their freedom during the Revolutionary War were granted posthumous emancipation Friday when the governor signed a largely symbolic bill that supporters hope will encourage future generations to pursue social justice.A group of 20 slaves who had fought in the war submitted a petition to the New Hampshire General Assembly on Nov. 12, 1779, while the war was still being fought. They argued that the freedom being sought by colonists should be extended to them, as well, and maintained that “public tyranny and slavery are alike detestable to minds conscious of the equal dignity of human nature.”...

  • Originally published 06/09/2013

    UPenn's Stephanie McCurry to Lead First MOOC on History of Slavery

    Credit: Wiki Commons/HNN staff.Stephanie McCurry, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and a distinguished scholar of the Civil War era, will be leading a new massive online open course this fall about the history of slavery in the United States. It will be based on her popular UPenn course, “The Rise and Fall of the Slave South,” a survey-level class.The course, which has yet to be officially titled, is the product of the partnership between UPenn and the popular MOOC provider Coursera.Professor McCurry says that she became interested in teaching a MOOC after spending three years as undergraduate chair at the university, during which she saw a decline in the number of enrollments in history classes.MOOCs offered an opportunity to shake up the field.“I became interested in pedagogical and curricular questions, and I'd already begun a series of initiatives within my department to move away from standard survey/AP-style courses.”

  • Originally published 06/02/2013

    The Real Uncle Tom and the Unknown South He Helped Create

    Illustration for 1853 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Credit: Wiki Commons.Today’s readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin have no idea that there was a real Uncle Tom. Neither did the readers of the 1850s. His name was Josiah Henson. He was born a slave in Maryland in 1789. Harriet Beecher Stowe admitted that his story was part of the inspiration for her novel. But she never adequately explained why her fictional Uncle Tom was so different from the real one.

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Hearing set on Fredericksburg’s attempt to force the sale of proposed slavery museum site

    FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Attorneys for L. Douglas Wilder are due in court to respond to the city of Fredericksburg’s plan to sell 38 acres where the former governor wants to build the National Slavery Museum.A hearing is set for Tuesday morning in Fredericksburg Circuit Court. It’s the latest development in Wilder’s quest to build a museum telling the nation’s history of slavery. Before he can do that, he must settle a large tax bill and get fundraising back on track....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    First lady lauds preservation of slave quarters

    WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama said Wednesday that stories of toil and sweat by slaves once held at a historic home within sight of the White House are an important part of U.S. history, including her own personal story, and are “as vital to our national memory as any other.”The first lady commented as American Express announced its donation of $1 million to the White House Historical Association to preserve Decatur House and pay for education programs for children. The nearly 200-year-old house is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and operated by the association.Most of the money will be spent to preserve the building’s former slave quarters, where about 20 men and women “spent their days serving those who came and went from this house” and their nights “jammed together on the second floor of the slave quarters, all the while holding onto a quiet hope, a quiet prayer that they, too, and perhaps their children, would someday be free,” Mrs. Obama said....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Va. GOP nominee: Three-fifths clause "anti-slavery"

    The Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in Virginia has called the Constitution’s original clause to count blacks as three-fifths of a person an “anti-slavery amendment.”In an April 28, 2011 statement while he was a Senate candidate, conservative minister and lawyer E.W. Jackson held up the three-fifths clause as an “anti-slavery” measure. The context of his statement was to attack President Obama after a pastor at a church service he attended referred to the three-fifths clause as a historical marker of racism.“Rev. [Charles Wallace] Smith must not have understood the 3/5ths clause was an anti-slavery amendment. Its purpose was to limit the voting power of slave holding states,” Jackson, an African-American, said in his statement....The clause was demanded by Southern proponents of slavery as a way of enhancing their congressional representation. They wanted slaves to be counted as full persons but settled on three-fifths. People of African descent would have had no real rights either way. The inclusion of the clause greatly enhanced the South’s political power and made it harder to abolish slavery. The clause was effectively eliminated after the Civil War by the Thirteenth Amendment....

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Monticello works to include slavery

    Monticello is one of the region's most popular landmarks, bringing in tourists from around the country to view the mansion and garden of Thomas Jefferson.But it's also a former plantation with deep racial history that's often been overlooked on tours and in public dialogue.Monticello opened in 1923, and for the first 50 or so years there was little, if any, mention of slavery."For a long time it wasn't a topic that was talked about," said Gary Sandling, the vice president of visitor programs and services for Monticello. "There would have been talk of servants, or field hands, or a skilled workforce," he said....

  • Originally published 05/15/2013

    Slave cabin in SC to be restored

    Curators at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture are working with restoration experts to dismantle an antebellum slave cabin on Point of Pines Plantation in Edisto Island, S.C. The cabin was donated to the museum last month by the Edisto Island Historical Society. The two-room cabin, which measures 16 by 20 feet, is believed to be in its original location and will become part of the “Slavery and Freedom” exhibition in Washington when the museum opens its doors in 2015.“Slavery is one of the last great unmentionables in public discourse,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum. “The cabin allows us to humanize slavery, to personalize the life of the enslaved, and frame this story as one that has shaped us all. [Slavery] is not just an African American story.”The museum had been searching for a slave cabin to display for its permanent collection. The cabin will be displayed prominently in the museum, visible from three levels. Although the cabin will be reconstructed on-site, visitors will not be able to enter or touch the cabin because of its fragility....

  • Originally published 05/12/2013

    Thomas Jefferson's Nightmare

    Incendie de la Plaine du Cap. - Massacre des Blancs par les Noirs, 1833.This article is adapted from Thomas Fleming’s new book, A Disease In the Public Mind – A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War. Part two of a three-part series (read part one here).

  • Originally published 05/05/2013

    George Washington: The Forgotten Emancipator

    George Washington at Yorktown, by Auguste Couder. P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; } This article is adapted from Thomas Fleming’s new book, A Disease In the Public Mind – A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War.

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Did African-American Slaves Rebel?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter. One of the most pernicious allegations made against the African-American people was that our slave ancestors were either exceptionally "docile" or "content and loyal," thus explaining their purported failure to rebel extensively. Some even compare enslaved Americans to their brothers and sisters in Brazil, Cuba, Suriname and Haiti, the last of whom defeated the most powerful army in the world, Napoleon's army, becoming the first slaves in history to successfully strike a blow for their own freedom.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Escaping Slavery in Washington Territory

    When we think of the cruel legacy of slavery and the bloody Civil War that ended this vile institution, it’s unlikely that images of the verdant, sparsely populated Washington Territory soon come to mind. But settlers brought the seeds of the war with them, and issues of slavery, race, secession, and civil rights divided communities and loyalties in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle public historian Dr. Lorraine McConaghy and co-author Judy Bentley uncover and detail a fascinating story of this era in Washington Territory in their new book Free Boy: A True Story of Slave and Master (University of Washington Press). Based on extensive research, they chronicle the odyssey of a young slave, Charles Mitchell, who escaped from slavery in Olympia to freedom in Victoria, Canada.

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Who Really Ran the Underground Railroad?

    One of the genuine pleasures of teaching African-American Studies today is the satisfaction of being able to restore to the historical record "lost" events and the individuals whose sacrifices and bravery created those events, never to be lost again. Few institutions from the black past have attracted more attention recently from teachers, students, museum curators and the tourism industry than the Underground Railroad, one of the most venerable and philanthropic innovations in our ancestors' long and dreadful history in human bondage. But in the zeal to tell the story of this great institution, legend and lore have sometimes overwhelmed historical facts. Separating fact from fiction -- always an essential part of telling it like it really was -- has required a great deal of effort from a number of scholars. Doing so only makes the sacrifices and heroism of our ancestors and their allies all the more noble, heroic and impressive....

  • Originally published 03/25/2013

    Slavery, Holocaust never OK as political fodder, but Cuccinelli’s history on faith was right

    RICHMOND, Va. — Ken Cuccinelli learned last week that it’s foolhardy to invoke slavery to make a political point.The presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee set off a furor when Democratic Party video surfaced of him comparing the 19th century abolition struggle that triggered the nation’s deadliest war with today’s anti-abortion movement.In remarks made in June 2012 to a Family Foundation gathering of Christian conservatives in Williamsburg, Cuccinelli connected the dots between the role of churches in the early 19th century played in fomenting the movement to contain and eradicate slavery to that of evangelicals in today’s moral crusade against abortion....

  • Originally published 03/17/2013

    Tracy Thompson: The South Still Lies About the Civil War

    Tracy Thompson is the author of "The New Mind of the South." This excerpt comes from a longer excerpt of her book posted at Salon.In the course of our conversation, Yacine Kout mentioned something else—an incident that had happened the previous spring at Eastern Randolph High School just outside Asheboro. On Cinco de Mayo, the annual celebration of Mexico’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, a lot of Hispanic students brought Mexican flags to school. The next day, Kout said, white students brought Confederate flags to school as a message: This is our heritage.

  • Originally published 03/14/2013

    Slavery tough role at Colonial Williamsburg

    Before Erica Hubbard could portray an enslaved housekeeper, which she’ll do this weekend at Colonial Williamsburg, she had to learn some things about life in revolutionary times — including how slaves interacted with their masters circa 1776.These lessons are so painful that some African American actors simply can’t bear to learn them. Even as Colonial Williamsburg and other historic sites have tried to do justice to the story of slavery and attract more minority visitors, they’ve sometimes had difficulty persuading black actors to take jobs interpreting enslaved figures.It was easy to see why as Hubbard was being schooled on slavery in 18th-century Virginia one recent Sunday by two men from Colonial Williamsburg’s theatrical division....

  • Originally published 03/11/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: How Did Harriet Tubman Become a Legend?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter. In 1849, a young woman hurried along a path cutting through a marsh in Poplar Neck, Md., near the town of Preston. She was a slave, barely 5 feet tall. She was scarred from several beatings.  She alternated between walking and running, like thousands of other slaves had before her, desperately hoping to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to the get to the North, to freedom in Philadelphia. With a great deal of luck and skill, she made it. And what did she do once she was free? Unlike virtually any other person before her or after, this fugitive slave turned around and walked back into slavery, counterintuitively, in order to free other slaves. And for this, she would become a legend. 

  • Originally published 03/07/2013

    New Hampshire to consider honoring a 233-year-old petition from slaves seeking freedom

    CONCORD, N.H. — When 20 slaves petitioned New Hampshire two centuries ago seeking their freedom, lawmakers decided the time wasn’t right and delayed action.Now, 233 years later, legislators in one of the nation’s whitest states have decided the time is right to consider the request. A Senate committee on Wednesday unanimously recommended the full body posthumously emancipate the 14 petitioners who never were granted freedom.Woullard Lett, a member of the Manchester NAACP, said it’s never too late to right a wrong....

  • Originally published 03/05/2013

    Author and historian Walt Bachman uncovers the story of Minnesota slavery

    In the annals of emancipation, Minnesota is recognized as one of the “free states.”But when author and historian Walt Bachman began digging into his family history, he uncovered substantial evidence that as late as the 1850s, slaves were kept by officers at Fort Snelling and Fort Ridgely, in full knowledge of — and even subsidized by — the government.When these slaves were sold to civilians, they continued to live in Minnesota under the bonds of slavery, and their children were born into slavery.“Slavery in the North was not tied to agriculture or industry, as it was in the South. They typically worked as house servants,” said Bachman.“In Minnesota, there were never large gangs of farm workers, or auction blocks. There weren’t those trappings of the worst forms of slavery,” he said. “But there is ample evidence of brutality towards slaves in Minnesota, including a slave who was whipped to death by her Army officer master. Slavery, wherever it was practiced, was a pernicious institution, and Minnesota was no exception.”...

  • Originally published 02/27/2013

    Database lets Britons find slave-owning ancestors

    A new database launched Wednesday lets Britons curious about their family history uncover some potentially uncomfortable information - whether their ancestors owned slaves.Researchers at University College London spent three years compiling a searchable listing of thousands of people who received compensation for loss of their "possessions" when slave ownership was outlawed by Britain in 1833.About 46,000 people were paid a total of 20 million pounds - the equivalent of 40 percent of all annual government spending at the time - after the freeing of slaves in British colonies in the Caribbean, Mauritius and southern Africa."This is a huge bailout," said Keith McClelland, a research associate on the project. "Relatively speaking, it is bigger than the bailout of the bankers in recent years."Compensation for slave-owners was opposed by some abolitionists, who argued it was immoral, but it was approved as the political price of getting the 1833 abolition bill passed.

  • Originally published 02/25/2013

    Jonathan Zimmerman: What's Wrong With the Slavery Math Lesson?

    Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”In 1941, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People released a report condemning racist school textbooks in New York City. Music books routinely referred to blacks as "darkeys," while literature anthologies called them "coons" or "Sambos." Worst of all, American history textbooks depicted slavery as a genteel institution developed by benevolent white Southerners to "civilize" savage, ignorant Africans.All of these books were profoundly offensive to the city's African-American population, of course. But they were also full of lies, as NAACP secretary Walter White emphasized. "This study was made not on a basis of racial sensitiveness or pride," White wrote, describing the NAACP's textbook report, "but on the highest plane of historical accuracy and objectivity." Indeed, the report drew on research by pioneering black historian Carter G. Woodson to refute the textbooks' cheery portrait of life under slavery.

  • Originally published 02/14/2013

    How Do I Decode Slave Records?

    For many African Americans the paper trail back to your ancestral origins hits a wall once you reach the slavery era. During the hunt for information about my great-great grandmother, Jane Gates, who was born into slavery in 1819, we were able to find her in the 1870 census, the oldest census to list all African Americans by name. Before then, few counties listed slaves by name, so we shifted gears and searched the "slave schedules" for the 1860 and 1850 census information for slave owners named Gates. However, we weren't able to find anyone under that name who owned a slave that was around her age. This means that she was owned by someone with a surname other than Gates, and the only way to find her by using records would be to undertake a systematic search of the estate papers, wills and tax records, and other documents of every slave holder in Allegany County, Md....

  • Originally published 02/12/2013

    VA Historical Society's slave name database

    CHESTERFIELD, Va. — The Virginia Historical Society is going on the road to spread the word about its database of slave names.Historical society staff will hold the first of five presentations Monday in Chesterfield on the project, which helps scholars and family historians examine the state’s slave-holding past. Called “Unknown No Longer,” the database now includes more than 10,000 names and 1,500 digital images of documents....

  • Originally published 02/05/2013

    Emancipation Proclamation Sesquicentennial Events Offer a Window into Current Historiography Debate

    Vanessa Varin is Assistant Editor, Web and Social Media at the American Historical Association.January 1, 2013, marked the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the general historical consensus is that slavery was at the root of the conflict, questions about the role of the proclamation in defining the Civil War and 19th century race relations continue to dominate the field. In the past few weeks, Washington, D.C., has hosted two events on the topic: A panel discussion at the National Archives (NARA), chaired by Annette Gordon-Reed and featuring James Oakes, Eric Foner, James McPherson, and Ed Ayers, and a more intimate lecture led by Foner at the Wilson Center and sponsored by the National History Center. The well-attended events were an opportunity to promote this history to the public, and a window into the current state of the debate over how we should understand the document and its centrality to the Civil War.  

  • Originally published 01/31/2013

    History-rich Georgia island wins second look on taxes

    DARIEN, Ga. — Residents of a tiny barrier island in Georgia on Tuesday won a temporary reprieve from property tax increases that they feared would drive them from their historic community.Taxes rose by as much as 1,000 percent last year on Sapelo Island, where the country’s largest population of Geechees lives. Sometimes called the Gullahs, the Creole-speaking descendants of African slaves have lived on the island and along the coast of the Southeast for more than two centuries.McIntosh County officials say their land has long been undervalued. But on Tuesday, the county’s Board of Equalization sided with the residents and ordered a reassessment of their property....

  • Originally published 01/28/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: What Was the 2nd Middle Passage?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.(The Root) -- 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro No. 16: What was the second Middle Passage?Thanks to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by David Eltis and David Richardson, we know that about 388,000 Africans were transported directly to the United States over the course of the slave trade, which ended officially in 1808. This brutally cruel and disruptive phase of the trade, as all American schoolchildren should be taught, is known as "the Middle Passage." But what is often left out of many survey courses is the second Middle Passage, and that dark chapter in American history involved far more black people than were taken from Africa to the United States. It was also uniquely cruel and brutally destructive. And it unfolded during the era when cotton was "king."

  • Originally published 01/23/2013

    "Django Unchained's" White Abolitionist Vision

    Jamie Foxx as Django Freeman in Django Unchained.No one could possibly mistake Quentin Tarantino for William Lloyd Garrison, but the director's Django Unchained nevertheless belongs to the tradition of antebellum white abolitionism. The film powerfully evokes a South, and a people, entirely under the sway of slaveholders' sadistic passions. This intellectual lineage explains why its depiction of slavery is so potent, and so wrong.

  • Originally published 05/26/2012

    Who Invented Memorial Day?

    "Contrabands at Headquarters of General Lafayette," by Mathew Brady, 1862.As Americans enjoy the holiday weekend, does anyone know how Memorial Day originated?On May 1, 1865, freed slaves gathered in Charleston, South Carolina to commemorate the death of Union soldiers and the end of the American Civil War. Three years later, General John Logan issued a special order that May 30, 1868 be observed as Decoration Day, the first Memorial Day -- a day set aside "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land."

  • Originally published 02/07/2011

    On Going Viral: Reflections on Why the South Really Seceded

    1865 cartoon.On Sunday, January 9 [2011], the Washington Post published my op-ed article, "5 Myths about Why the South Seceded."  Even before it appeared in print, I knew it had touched a nerve. At its website, the Post dates the article at the stroke of midnight Saturday, but by 7:00pm that evening I had received at least thirty emails about it, a portent of the torrent to come. By Monday, the piece had received more than half a million hits, more than any other Post story. During the next week, almost four thousand other sites, from Forbes to The Times of India, linked to it or discussed it. Still other sites simply reprinted the article, which now appears at, for example, the Black Pride Network and the South Carolina Agricultural Trade News. 

  • Originally published 06/20/2014

    Abraham Lincoln and the Corwin Amendment

    Most serious historical overviews of the Civil War contain at least a brief mention of the Corwin Amendment, the last-ditch compromise effort to protect slavery where it existed by enshrining it in the Constitution. They also do so tepidly and seldom acknowledge it as anything more than a historical footnote.

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