tags: Top Young Historians
Jason Sokol, 29
Teaching Position: Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University
Area of Research: U.S. Since 1945, Political History, Civil Rights Movement
Education: Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley, History, May 2006
Major Publications: Sokol is author of There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975 (Alfred A. Knopf, Aug. 2006). He is currently working on The Northern Mystique: Politics and Race From Boston to Brooklyn, 1960-2006, the following book chapter: "To Fulfill These Rights: Governors and the Politics of Race, North and South (1954-2006)," in David Shreve, ed., A More Perfect Union: Governors and American Public Policy, 1901-2008, (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming in 2008).
Awards: Sokol is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
There Goes My Everything selected as one of the 10 best books of 2006, Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World;
James Kettner Graduate Prize, For best dissertation, UC-Berkeley History Dept., 2006;
Jacob K. Javits Fellow, 2001-2005;
Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, UC-Berkeley, 2003;
Heller Grant, UC-Berkeley History Department, 2003;
Phi Beta Kappa and Highest Honors in History, Oberlin College, 1999;
Comfort Starr Prize, For excellence in history, Oberlin College, 1999;
George and Carrie Life Fund, For excellence in American history, Oberlin College, 1999;
Michael Magdoff Award, For best paper on civil rights in the U.S., Oberlin College, 1999;
Christopher Dahl Prize, For best essay in Philosophy, Oberlin College, 1998 and 1999;
Nancy Rhoden Prize, For best essay in Ethics, Oberlin College, 1998.
In 2005 Sokol served as a Non-Resident Fellow at Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. In that capacity, he worked on assorted television projects dealing with African- American History.
Sokol has appeared on the following Radio broadcasts; Weekend All Things Considered (NPR), Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC), Michaelangelo Signorile Show (Sirius), John Batchelor Show (ABC), Morning Edition (WMOT Nashville), Afternoon Magazine (WILL Urbana), Morning Show (WAOK Atlanta), Local All Things Considered (WFCR Amherst), Jon Rothman Show (KGO San Francisco), Alvin Jones Show (WCBQ Raleigh), Paul Edwards Program (WLQV Detroit), and has also appeared on Book TV (C-Span 2).
Additionally Sokol has a background in journaliam having worked as Editorial Intern, The Nation, New York, NY, Fall-Winter, 1999; Intern, New Haven Advocate, New Haven, CT, Summer 1998; and as a Staff Writer/Intern, Springfield Union-News, Springfield, MA, Summer 1995, Summer 1997.
In April 2001, Berkeley faculty members and graduate students strapped on their sneakers, goggles, and knee braces and hit the basketball court. I am proud to say that I co-founded the "Historians' Classic," and prouder still that the tradition persisted after I left the Bay Area. Days before the inaugural game, rumors flew about which historians would display their skills. Arguments flared over how to even out the teams. The event ultimately drew together professors from various fields - Waldo Martin, Jon Gjerde, Margaret Chowning, Peter Zinoman, and Bill Taylor among them - along with a gaggle of graduate students. After I passed along the leadership torch, the quality of the post-game barbecue improved - and so did the t-shirts. Because of the Classic, I now own a shirt that depicts Abraham Lincoln blocking George Washington's shot.
The whole idea was to lure historians out of their offices and into the Berkeley sunshine - to foster some departmental spirit and celebrate the school year's end. One other goal was just as plain. In organizing a basketball game among professional historians, I was attempting, however lamely, to join the wildest of my childhood fantasies with a fast approaching future.
I doubt very many of us can state that our original dream was to become a historian. Mine certainly was not; I wanted to be a basketball player. My hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts may possess several problems endemic to small Northeastern cities - poverty, a loss of jobs, escalating crime and racial tension - but it will always boast the Basketball Hall of Fame. My friends and I trumpeted that fact with both mockery and pride. In retrospect, I think that my childhood in Springfield's well-integrated schools - and basketball courts - sparked my interest in America?s racial past.
I am five-feet eight-inches tall (on a good day), and I did not confront the implications of this reality until early in high school. Even in college, I played briefly for Oberlin's basketball team. We won just a single game during my senior year. I warmed the bench for the worst team in the conference. I attended classes and practice by day, and wrote my honors thesis in the evening. As one career dream finally faded, another displaced it. I hurled myself into my new passion, and I feel as though I only recently came up for air.
The civil rights movement long captivated me with tales of inspiring heroes, austere racists, and prodigious feats. Entering graduate school, I assumed I would write a dissertation on one more local struggle or another unknown individual. But ultimately, I sought to craft a study that would rethink the black freedom struggle in light of its interracial impact and its influence on everyday life. I believed that only this added perspective enabled us to see the civil rights movement for the wide-ranging social and political revolution that it was. I explored how the plights of whites and blacks informed one another, and found the heart of the story in the tensions and ambiguities on both sides.
When I talked before southern audiences about my book, many inquired why someone with my background would write on white southerners. I explained that I had a deep interest in how race shaped politics and society, and that the history of the South was so rich in this area. I felt a deep connection to these southern stories. I also knew that they were national stories, not simply regional ones. And in the back of my mind, I always wanted to learn more about race and politics in the North ? to understand my own roots, as well.
My next project will begin in Massachusetts, whose voters elected Ed Brooke to the Senate in 1966. During that campaign, many white citizens (and 97 percent of the Bay State was white) pictured their politics as somehow beyond race. Of course, the Boston busing crisis of the 1970s soon exposed the opposite truth. In the years since, Massachusetts politicians have come to embody all of American liberalism's perceived faults - just as many of the Bay State's mid-sized cities, like Springfield, have struggled through the underside of the "urban crisis." From 1991 to 2006, this famously liberal bastion elected Republican governors. Deval Patrick now graces Beacon Hill. He holds the hopes of Northeastern liberals and African-Americans alike. This saga blends political history, urban history, and civil rights - and in a very real way, this history is my own.
While it is true that I never really aspired to become a scholar when I was younger, I think that all of us -- at some point -- decide to become historians. In the end, we all want to know where we come from.
By Jason Sokol
Most white southerners identified neither with the civil rights movement nor its violent resisters. They were fearful, silent, and often inert. The age of civil rights looked different through their eyes. Few white southerners ever forgot the day they first addressed blacks as "Mr." or "Mrs."; the times their maids showed up to work, suddenly shorn of the old deference; the day they dined in the same establishments as black people; the process by which their workplaces became integrated; the autumn a black man appeared on the ballot; or the morning white children attended school with black pupils. Taken together, these changes amounted to a revolution in a way of life.
Experiences overwhelmed words, events swallowed ideas, and a whole society struggled to catch up with the civil rights movement's rapid march. Some white southerners embraced the novel aspects of this world; others refused to accept the nascent social order; still more walked gingerly across its threshold. Jason Sokol in "There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975"
About Jason Sokol
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