20
Feb 17

3 Things I Learned from The Photojournalism of Del Hall

One of the pleasures of working for a university press is the perpetual discovery of pockets of knowledge that I never knew existed before. The Photojournalism of Del Hall is a passion project for geographer Richard Campanella, who found himself entranced by Hall’s stories of growing up in New Orleans, the son of a Mexican immigrant, and ultimately becoming a pioneer in the world of photojournalism.

This February, take 30% off (plus free shipping) The Photojournalism of Del Hall and many more of LSU Press’s most beautiful books. Shop our CURATE sale today!

In addition to being an absolutely gorgeous collection of photos covering five decades of American history, The Photojournalism of Del Hall taught me plenty about

Civil Rights Protestors Weren’t the Only Ones Arrested in Sit-Ins

Woolworth’s and other major establishments were pressured into changing their segregationist policies by teams of black activists staging sit-ins. Arrests on charges of disturbing the peace were common. As Campanella reveals, one of the things that deeply worried the management at Woolworth’s was the presence of TV media. Del Hall and his fellow cameraman Roddy Mims were arrested at a 1961 sit-in that spanned several shops along Canal Street. They were charged with “disturbing the peace by creating a scene” and even blamed by one police officer for the protestors’ presence at the stores.

Neither Mims nor Del Hall was convicted. Participants in the sit-ins were, and often served jail time, as well as facing job loss, death threats, and other forms of retaliation from the community.

Del Hall Worked on a CBS Series Inspired by John Steinbeck

As a poodle owner myself, I’ve always been fond of John Steinbeck’s book Travels with Charley, which details a cross-country road trip Steinbeck took with his standard poodle, Charley. Charles Kuralt hired Del Hall for his famed CBS series On the Road, which was inspired by John Steinbeck’s travelogue.

Filming “On the Road” with Charles Kuralt. Del films from top of ladder while Kuralt walks by below. Del Hall Collection / CBS News

Del Hall’s work on On the Road would earn him an Emmy for Best Cinematography for News and Documentary Programming, in 1974.

Del Hall Low-Key Set Michael Jordan’s House on Fire

Okay, he didn’t set the house all the way on fire, but the lighting set-up was so hot that it melted parts of a plastic doorframe in Michael Jordan’s Chicago mansion. As you would probably expect, Michael Jordan was very cool about it.

Michael Jordan demonstrates a slam dunk for 60 Minutes’s Diane Sawyer. Del Hall Collection / Del Hall Video

Over the course of his career, Del filmed celebrities from the Beatles (he sat down at Ringo’s drumset!) to the Dalai Lama, but throughout his career he maintained a quiet presence and courtesy. When he stopped by the LSU Press office in the run-up to this book’s publication, he posed and photographed each of the staff members he met, although a lot of us are rather camera-shy. You’ll have to live without those photographs, though! Instead, buy this gorgeous book at 30% off at our website, and take home a piece of American history.


30
Jan 17

A Lifelong Love of Mardi Gras

Brian J. Costello is the author of the new book Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River.

As other Louisiana cultural historians will doubtless be, I am indebted to the foresight of LSU Press and its wonderful staff for agreeing to publish my manuscript Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River (February 2017). This first-known attempt to document all of Louisiana’s Carnival celebrations goes beyond the customary publications and print and media accounts that have focused mainly on Greater New Orleans’ world-famed celebration, plus some emphasis on the colorful Courir du Mardi Gras events of rural Southwest Louisiana.

Carnival and its climax of Mardi Gras, with its street parades, masked balls, street masking and myriad other forms of pre-Lenten revelry have been ingrained on my psyche and have provided for much of my civic and cultural participation since my earliest years. A native and lifelong resident of the old Creole French community of New Roads and an 11th generation Louisianan, I witnessed my first Mardi Gras parades in my home town at the age of five, in 1972, and have never missed one since. The success of New Roads’ duo of parades, the first known to be established as charitable fundraisers, became a primary concern when I accepted the post as chairman of the New Roads Lions Carnival parade in 1993.

In my teenage years, I experienced my first New Orleans parades and, shortly thereafter, those of Lafayette, Thibodaux and Houma. Expansion of Louisiana’s parading calendar drew me to other parades and activities in Livonia, Maringouin, Plaquemine, Baton Rouge and Batchelor among other communities. Meanwhile, since the age of 12, I began to collect newspaper accounts and read all of the books I could find on the subject of Carnival and began to amass a collection of articles, parade and ball programmes, doubloons and glass beads, old ball favors, ducal decorations and vintage photos kindly given me by family, friends and strangers form near and far.

Assuming the journalism profession in 1987 and beginning to author books in 1993, I have devoted considerable attention to the history and traditions of Carnival in Louisiana. My membership in New Orleans krewes allowed me to ride in parades and participate in balls in the Carnival City while continuing to promote New Roads’ Mardi Gras traditions and supporting the parades and balls in several other cities and towns. I am blessed that my wife, Mary, has been of support in my various endeavors, and has accompanied me to parades, balls and other Carnival events since before the time of our marriage in 2000.

Having conducted research since 1979 on Louisiana’s Carnival history and traditions, I thought the time had come by 2015 to put the fruit of my labors into manuscript form and offer it to a publisher of great repute, namely LSU Press. Through the kind editing assistance of Mrs. Margaret Lovecraft and coordination with many of the Press’ talented and kind staff, I am confident that we have produced a work of lasting value that pays homage to one of Louisiana’s richest cultural assets, in its many manifestations and locations throughout the Carnival State.

Place an order for Carnival in Louisiana through our website before Feb. 28 and get 30% off. Use code 04THIRTY at checkout.


13
Feb 17

Designing The Golden Band from Tigerland

In honor of our February CURATE sale, I spoke with Senior Designer Michelle Neustrom about the process of designing one of our most gorgeous books, Tom Continé and Faye Phillips’s The Golden Band from Tigerland.

How did you design the cover for this book?

There are so many good photos, it was hard to decide! But this one, it reminded me of when I was a student, or coming back afterwards, to see a football game. You always go and wait for the band to come down the hill, and it brings out the emotion that you feel getting ready, getting psyched up for a game. It just sets the mood with that specific game-day feeling.

Type placement is another thing you have to look at for cover design. It’s not just picking which image is good; it’s also about whether you can work with it and place the type on it in a successful way. So it lent itself to lots of type.

I usually do the cover design first, and then whatever I do on the cover, I try to pull elements of it throughout the rest of the book. So the little baton element on either side of the “from” in the title, it’s obviously a baton, but it also evokes the lines of their uniforms, especially the buttons on some of the older band uniforms. And you can see that little graphic in different places throughout the book, but it began with the cover design!

How did you choose the shades of the interior purple and gold colors? The gold is very bright and cheerful, and then the purple is much more subdued. What goes into that decision?

I went with this very orange-gold color because the marching band uniform has that same kind of tone, and that printed very cheerful and bright. The purple is more subdued, almost more of a navy, but again it’s because if you look at their uniforms in the picture throughout the book, they do look a darker color. I didn’t want all the photos of them in their uniforms to look out of place next to the colors of the book.

What are some of the challenges in designing the interior of a photo-heavy book?

Getting all the photos to fit with the text in a pleasing way! You’ll have call-outs, where the text of the book makes references to a particular photograph, and those are not always evenly spaced. So it is a challenge: In some two-page spreads it would be very photo-heavy, and then in others you’ll have no photos at all.

I also wanted each chapter to have a pause, a break, like a new song is starting. I wanted to drive home that we were making the shift: Something new is happening! That’s why I chose to start each new chapter with this design element, to give it some grandeur. And there’s a different musical instrument at the bottom of each of the pages that begin a chapter. Because I started with the trumpet on the book cover, I wanted to follow that design element throughout the book.

What are some of the fun parts of designing the interior of a photo-heavy book?

I always like picking out the endpapers and the colors for the book cover! Not just for photo books, but with a book like this, you can choose a fun endpaper, which is the paper on the inside front and back covers. We have books where we pick out the colors, and I like paging through and choosing which ones are the best fit for that book. But we get to do that for every book!

It’s fun coming up with a look for the book, almost like a logo, an identity for it. Again, it all comes back to the cover: Whatever I do on the cover, I like to pull it throughout the book. You can embrace that as much as you want, too: You can really go all out and stick with the look of the cover very closely, or you can just be slightly inspired by it. You don’t have to commit to it.

For this book, though, I really pulled a lot of design elements from the cover. I really like the running feet, with the little baton. Something as simple as that — I tried probably ten different ways of doing this footer, and that’s the one I liked the most. It’s funny how a lot goes into such a tiny little detail. Good design doesn’t always have to be specifically noticed; it just feels right, even if maybe you can’t pin down exactly why.

Did the authors have any ideas/requests about the book’s layout that worked really well or didn’t quite work exactly the way you planned?

Well, at the end of each chapter, the authors wanted to include a series of photographs that would often come from more recent years in the band’s history. To me, it didn’t quite go with the historical chapters, and I had to figure out a way to set them apart and make it clear visually that these images weren’t from the historical eras the text had just been discussing. That’s why at the end of each chapter, there are photos on colored backgrounds: The reader understands that these images don’t go with the history but they’re here as a kind of visual punctuation, a break between each chapter.

Shop our CURATE sale today. Get 30% off, plus free shipping, on the most beautiful books we publish!


01
Feb 17

Happy Release Day, Kelly Cherry!

LSU Press is delighted to announce the release of Kelly Cherry’s new book, Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer, which explores in verse the life of the Father of the Atomic Bomb. In celebration of its release, we’re sharing an excerpt!

Scientists Flee Germany

Scientists began to flee Germany,
fearing for their future. For two years
Robert dedicated a portion of
his salary to their aid. If his psyche
mirrored his anxious alliance with his parents—
his craving to escape the shame he felt
at their uncertain efforts to assimilate—
if he himself had fully assimilated—
he saw that his gemütlich life was absurd
compared with lives of Jews in Europe, where,
window by window, lights were going out.

To order your copy, visit our website today!


29
Nov 16

Jump Start Your Holiday Shopping at Season’s Readings

Jump Start Your Holiday Shopping at Season’s Readings
Join Faye Phillips, Billy Cannon, and LSU Press for Holiday Book + Journal Sale
Tuesday, November 29, 4:30–6:30 p.m., The Club on Union Square

This November, as you’re making your plans for the holiday season, pencil Season’s Readings into your calendar! As part of LSU’s Holiday Spectacular 2016, LSU Press and The Southern Review welcome you to our annual book and journal sale, with gift ideas for everyone on your shopping list. A copy of The Golden Band from Tigerland signed by author Faye Phillips will hit just the right note with the music fans in your life, while armchair historians will pore over Stanley Nelson’s tireless investigation into Klan murders of the 1960s, Devils Walking. Aviation expert Vincent P. Caire, cocktail connoisseur Liz Williams, and poets Alison Pelegrin and Ava Leavell Haymon will also be in attendance to sign copies of their books, along with Billy Cannon and his biographer, Charles deGravelles.

This year’s Season’s Readings, on Tuesday, 29 November, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Club on Union Square (formerly the Faculty Club), boasts a wide array of great titles at 20% off, more than a dozen local authors, and free gift wrapping. Enjoy complimentary hors d’oeuvres, coffee, and a cash bar while you shop great books and mingle with local authors. Free parking will be available from 4:30 to 8:30 in the Union Square Parking Garage.

Special guests will be in attendance to sign copies of LSU Press books:

The Golden Band from Tigerland’s Faye Phillips
Devils Walking’s Stanley Nelson
Military Aviation in the Gulf South’s Vincent P. Caire
Lift Your Spirits’s Liz Williams
Fonville Winans’s Louisiana’s Cyril Vetter
Waterlines’s Alison Pelegrin
Afton Villa’s Genevieve Trimble
Legendary Louisiana Outlaws’s Keagan LeJeune
Billy Cannon and his biographer Charles deGravelles
Louisiana Wild’s C. C. Lockwood
A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook’s Cynthia LeJeune Nobles
Seat Yourself’s Alex Cook
Louisiana Poet Laureate Ava Leavell Haymon
Hungry for Louisiana’s Maggie Richardson
River Road Rambler’s Mary Ann Sternberg
Best of LSU Fiction editors Nolde Alexius and Judy Kahn

Many other LSU Press titles and issues of The Southern Review will be available for sale. The Club on Union Square is located at the corner of Highland Road and Raphael Semmes, across Highland from the LSU Union.

For more information on Season’s Readings please contact LSU Press at 225.578.8282 or visit www.lsupress.org. Presented with support from the LSU Barnes & Noble.


04
Aug 16

Racism is a National Problem

David Goldfield is the author of Still Fighting the Civil War. He joins us on the blog today to talk about racism in the South and the nation.

The murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and of Philando Castile in St. Paul at roughly the same time underscores what I’ve been teaching and writing about for the past forty years: racism, and particularly the fraught interaction between law enforcement and black males, is a national, not merely a southern problem. The Sterling episode in Baton Rouge does not speak to the persistence of these problems especially in the South. It is a national problem. When the great black leader W.E.B Du Bois wrote in 1903 that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line, he was not referring only to the South.

In 1966, when Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference came to Chicago to protest housing and job discrimination, angry white mobs confronted him and African Americans mostly ignored him. King allowed that in his years in the South he had never seen so much hatred as he saw in Chicago. Today, Chicago is the most segregated city in America.

As for voting rights, again, this is a national problem. The subterfuges of East Baton Rouge Parish, while they may have antedated the current flurry of legislation nationwide to limit minority voting power, is not much different from efforts in some Midwestern states to demand voter IDs, to close polling places, to limit early voting, or to purge voter rolls. Voting rights, like police-community relations, is no longer only a southern problem. It is a national disgrace.

As a native southerner, I looked forward to the day that the South would join the Union and abide by the spirit of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.” Unfortunately, the rest of the nation has joined the South. Fortunately, there are places in the South, such as Charlotte, Nashville, and Atlanta — all New South cities — where the fires of brotherhood burn bright, and certainly brighter than in many northern cities. That encourages me to hope not that the South would rejoin the Union, but that southerners would lead the nation to higher ground of racial and ethnic understanding. From history, we especially know how the reverse turns out.


29
Jul 16

Race and Law Enforcement beyond Policing: The Criminal Jury System in Louisiana

Thomas Aiello is the author of Jim Crow’s Last Stand: Nonunanimous Criminal Jury Verdicts in Louisiana. He joins us on the blog today to talk about the history of racism in Louisiana’s criminal justice system.

The predominant black fear and resentment of law enforcement is justified by every historical measure. The structural bias in policing, for example, has extended back to the first American police force established in 1838 in Boston and has only continued, pushed today by training standards, private prisons, and overt militarization among departments across the country. Demonstrating the historical bigotry inherent in systems of policing, however, is different than criticizing individual police officers, many of whom do their job with fairness and diligence, and most of whom believe that they are public servants. There are, for example, demonstrable historical bigotries inherent in the professoriate—my particular profession—and yet the bulk of those whom I respect most are members of the academy. The confusion in conflating such criticisms, combined with the historical bigotry that was the subject of such analysis in the first place, has left Baton Rouge lesser for the endeavor, publicly strewn with the bodies of Alton Sterling and several police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

Just as law enforcement officers have to continue to work in remarkably harsh and dangerous circumstances, and just as black citizens have to continue to explain to the privileged majority that black lives matter, historians, too, have to continue working to understand the context that creates such tragedies. One of the most racially problematic elements of Louisiana’s law enforcement, for example, is its criminal trial procedure that allows juries to decide criminal cases with nonunamious verdicts, another system that disproportionately affects minority defendants.

The principle of nonunanimous jury verdicts in non-capital criminal cases was not a unique Louisiana holdover from the Napoleonic Code. It was not a legacy handed down from France or Spain or the Holy See, as were so many of Louisiana’s other governmental idiosyncrasies. It was a conservative measure fired in the crucible of the Bourbon restoration following Reconstruction, when white Democrats sought to return their state to some sense of normalcy following federal occupation. The law validating nonunanimous jury verdicts first passed in 1880, and was codified in the Louisiana state constitution of 1898. It was the era of the Redeemers. It was the era of Jim Crow. And the same leaders re-imposing white southern rule and formulating the convict lease system fundamentally changed a code that had been in place since American transfer following the Louisiana Purchase and used it to create more convicts.

Following the end of Reconstruction, the state legislature ordered another in a long line of Louisiana constitutions. “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy public trial by an impartial jury,” noted the constitution of 1879, and that jury had to be unanimous—as it always had. But the real force for change in the new constitution was the requirement that jury trial mandates be subject to the legislature’s discretion. There was no specific constitutional provision authorizing the state senate to extend the possibility of binding nonunanimous jury verdicts to criminal cases. But that is precisely what it would do.

On April 10, 1880, the Senate modified Article 527 of the 1870 Code of Practice. “If it appears that nine or more of the jurors have agreed to the verdict,” the new law stated, “the same shall be recorded.” And with that, the burden on criminal defendants was made inexorably harder. Criminal juries no longer needed unanimity to convict. The state would further formalize its new requirements in Article 116 of the constitution of 1898: “Cases in which the punishment is necessarily at hard labor [shall be tried] by a jury of twelve, nine of whom concurring may render a verdict; cases in which the punishment may be capital, by a jury of twelve, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.” The constitutional convention of 1898 was tinged with racial overtones. It was the session that codified Jim Crow and black voting restrictions. Convention president E.B. Kruttscchnitt opened the proceedings by reminding delegates that “this convention has been called together by the people of the State to eliminate from the electorate the mass of corrupt and illiterate voters who have during the last quarter of a century degraded a politics.” In closing the convention, he praised delegates for perpetuating “the supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon race in Louisiana.”

Jim Crow's Last Stand

To help perpetuate that supremacy, legislators needed to combine its attempts at segregation and disfranchisement with a systematic reinstitution of a version of slavery. Louisiana’s convict lease system actually began in the antebellum era, when the state first leased prisoner work to private companies in 1844. That work was originally done inside the prison, turning the penitentiary into a de facto factory, but during Reconstruction the state began shipping prisoners out to work on construction and repair projects. Most of them went to a contractor named S.L. James, who signed a twenty-one year contract with the state in 1870, and renewed it in 1890. The state made a profit, James got cheap labor that he could treat as brutally as he liked. In 1881, the year following the original nonunanimous jury law, fourteen percent of leased convicts died. The next year, more than twenty percent died. And more than three-fourths of Louisiana’s leased convicts after 1870 were black. In light of the racial motivation of such punishments and the overwhelming need of the state for more prisoners to lease to the growing political machine known as the “James Gang,” the state’s change to nonunanimous criminal jury verdicts became almost a fait accompli.

The Supreme Court would narrowly validate Louisiana’s law in Johnson v. Louisiana (1972), tried in conjunction with a similar Oregon appeal, and the outcome validated the legality of non-unanimous criminal verdicts. But it didn’t end the controversy about the approximate justice they provided for criminal defendants. In the century prior to Johnson, appellants had argued that 9-3 verdicts made it that much easier to convict. The state countered that they also made it that much easier to acquit. Appellants argued that 9-3 verdicts in non-capital criminal cases overly complicated a system that often tried defendants on multiple counts, including misdemeanors and capital offenses. The state countered that they reduced the number of hung juries, thereby streamlining the system and saving the state money. The Supreme Court was less concerned with such arguments, instead arguing that consistency provided fairness, and fairness was the fundamental bedrock of due process.

That fairness, however, has been questionable and continuously questioned. The original 9-3 verdicts were later modified to requirements for 10-2 decisions, but that did little to make the system more equitable. The Louisiana jury law, forged in post-Reconstruction politics, has remained one of the last holdovers from the early Jim Crow era in Louisiana. The original impetus of legislators to make convictions easier for a state hungry for more convicts withstood constant challenges throughout the following century. Its constitutionality was confirmed in Johnson not because a racist Court sought to reinstitute one of the final vestiges of Jim Crow, but because it ruled that equal protection could be granted by nine of twelve jurors. Still, as the twentieth century became the twenty-first, it was clear that race still played a role in the formula created by the nonunanimous jury standard. It didn’t have the racist odor of poll taxes or separate train cars, and so it remained, with effects that reached far beyond the bounds of race. It still remains. But the debate about the debits and credits of nonunanimous criminal jury verdicts and the assumption of their inherent place in the system by Louisiana legislators and prosecutors has fundamentally shaped the state’s criminal justice policy, for better and for worse. Mostly, however, for worse.

Like policing, the history of the criminal jury system in Louisiana is structurally biased and disproportionately hurts the poor and minority groups. Like police officers, many of the lawyers, judges, and court officials who are part of that system view their work as public service and devote their lives to selflessly participate in that effort. Most don’t know the role played by S.L. James or E.B. Kruttscchnitt in the creation of Louisiana’s modern legal system. But that doesn’t mean they don’t play a role in perpetuating that system. Law enforcement is more than just policing. While debates about the role of policing in black lives are, despite their difficulty, ultimately necessary and beneficial, eliminating racial disparities in the system will take more than just police reform. Law enforcement is a massive enterprise that exists well beyond the scope of policing, and history tells us that, particularly in Louisiana, historical disparities based on race exist in all of its many facets.


26
Jul 16

Black Lives and the Conundrum of Unimaginable Grace

The United States is suspended in an extended state of crisis. The very meaning of citizenship and the promises of protection from private intrusion in the Fourth Amendment and the promise of equal protection within the Fourteenth Amendment remain in jeopardy today just as was the case during Reconstruction and the subsequent era of de jure racism in the Jim Crow South and de facto racism throughout the rest of the nation. The twenty-first century is an era in which many—across lines of race and ethnicity—insist race no longer matters, that everyone has a fair chance if she or he just works hard and is a good person.

There are many examples of structural racism—historical practices that are actually embedded in the political, economic, and social systems of the nation—that refute the notion of a post-racial United States, just as there are countless legal claims and cases that prove the notion of a colorblind justice system a myth. Employment, education, healthcare, and housing are arenas in which African Americans have experienced unequal access since emancipation. This reality is inextricably linked to the growing national movement attuned to the problem of ordinary black lives holding no value to the nation once those lives were no longer enslaved and forced to labor without compensation.

We, the nation, inherited the sins of our forefathers and instead of correcting those sins many decades ago, the nation allowed them to fester and rot. Thus, today, the ramifications of unequal access to those four arenas central to citizenship and full incorporation into the nation—employment, education, healthcare, and housing—is playing out, literally, on all of our various screens, as one unarmed black person after the next is subjected to police violence (or mass incarceration). These violent altercations are shaped by both the historical racial inequities and the racialization and stereotypes imposed upon black citizens from slavery to the present.

What strikes me as most unbelievable about this phenomenon is not that certain law enforcement officers (by no means all) are racist—this is not new news. I am instead struck by the utter lack of empathy expressed, verbally or through silence, for the victims. I witness this daily on Facebook when the only posts expressing empathy for black people who have lost their lives or experienced grave bodily and psychological harm at the hands of law enforcement come from academic friends across race and ethnicity, African American family members and friends, and a few white liberal high school friends. The lack of empathy for the victims is indicative of what it looks like to be born into a nation where the remnants of denied personhood continue to inform present day notions of humanness, of what it means to be fully human.

I enter this warped reality from a conflicted position: I am the black mother of three black sons and the wife of a black law enforcement officer. As a mother, I am both fearful and infuriated that I am supposed to do more than is required of white mothers as I raise my sons. That I am supposed to teach them principles for the best chance of survival (success is not guaranteed) in a nation that marked them as a “problem,” as a menace to society, at birth. And, no, my sons’ middle class status does not protect them. It does not protect them from stereotypes in school and it does not protect them from ignorant notions that black people are simply “more violent” and black boys and men are “intimidating.” Just ask Senator Tim Scott.

While I am concerned about my boys, I also cannot help but think about the Facebook post of one of the most recent fallen police officers, Montrell Jackson. In the aftermath of the July 5th shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police officers, Officer Jackson posted on Facebook on July 8th: “I swear to God I love this city, but I wonder if this city loves me. In uniform I get nasty, hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat. . . . These are trying times. Please don’t let hate infect your heart.” His statement and the recent targeting of law enforcement officers by African American men in Dallas and Baton Rouge made me feel nothing but dread when just a week later my husband volunteered to be one of the thousands of law enforcement officers working to ensure order and safety at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

My husband’s career choice has been a major point of contention in our household for the 10.5 years he has been in that profession. I have never personally had a negative experience with a police officer. In fact, the few experiences I have had have been professional and cordial on the part of the officer. But that fact does not stop me from being apprehensive about law enforcement (it also does not stop me and my children from hating the schedule and all that my husband misses in his absence). My apprehension is not about getting caught doing something wrong, but about how, by doing nothing wrong, I could still be accused of doing wrong, as I have witnessed in countless videos of police stops across this country.

This apprehension is not simply shaped by a troubled history of corruption and discrimination in many law enforcement units across the nation. It is also shaped by things I have observed as the wife of a police officer: wondering why so many officers policing urban cities live in rural communities; wondering why so many officers who never lived in urban cities want to police in those spaces; wondering what other words besides “Jew,” “gay,” and “fag” I would hear bantered back and forth at the holiday party if my husband and I were not there. I wonder why my husband and some of his white colleagues feel their diversity training is ineffective, not because the department does not care about the issue, but rather because it has fallen susceptible to the trend of believing that anyone who lays claim to doing diversity consulting is educated and competent on the subject.

Something else I recently had to wonder is how many times my husband could have “legally” shot a civilian. I knew and have written about one incident in which someone tried to unholster my husband’s partner’s firearm, and my initial shock when he explained that the only reason he did not shoot the perpetrator was due to having an unclear shot. I have since learned that he has nearly pulled the trigger countless times during traffic stops when people will not show their hands and are reaching around in their vehicles (usually trying to conceal drugs). These instances put me in a conflicted space: no one has the right to threaten the life of my husband for doing his job, yet equally no one, simply by virtue of having a badge and gun, has the right to determine that someone is a threat based on their skin tone.

There is an additional facet to my dread and apprehension. The two men who assassinated police officers were veterans. The mother of Gavin Long, the Baton Rouge shooter, has noted that her son suffered from PTSD and the military refused to treat him. There has been recent, but far from enough, media coverage of this pervasive problem. And the problem is not new. In my most recent book, When We Imagine Grace: Black Men and Subject Making, one chapter focuses on my grandfather, Major Gilbert Alexander Boothe, a retired officer of the US Army and a Buffalo Soldier. He was in the first unit of African American soldiers to fight in battle during WWII (as opposed to cleaning latrines and being sent to deliver supplies on battlefields with no firearms). What he accomplished as a black man in the military during that time, both through rank, medals and honors, and afterward by earning a master’s degree in psychology, is something few men of any race have done. But, as my father pointed out, the fact that my grandfather came back from Europe and Korea having seen what he saw, experienced vile discrimination, and managed to not only be functional but to achieve in spaces not previously open to black men, particularly sharecropping black men from rural Georgia, made my grandfather amazing.

But underneath my grandfather’s exceptionalism was rage. The rage was driven not just by the carnage of war he saw on the battlefields and the discrimination he experienced in the barracks, but also the reality of his blackmaleness in the nation he risked his life for and returned home to as a second-class citizen. His wife and children felt his rage in the private space of their home, while in public spaces he was given awards for community uplift. It is such a sad state of affairs that half a century after my grandfather returned home from offering his country the highest form of service, other black servicemen are returning feeling the same rage.

In her novel Beloved, which is a true national treasure, Toni Morrison writes about the trauma of slavery and the struggle for a community of free blacks in Cincinnati to not simply survive but to feel truly human when they were all once property. A matriarch of the community, Baby Suggs, implores these traumatized and disenfranchised human beings to “imagine grace.” She insists, “The only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”  Perhaps this is what Kendrick Lamar hopes, too, can be understood in the lyrics to “We gon’ be alright” and Beyonce hopes might be accomplished by having Sister Sledge style “all her sisters with [her]” in “formation.”  But more than just imagining grace, Baby Suggs speaks to black people’s humanness in a manner eerily relevant today and worthy of an extensive quote, because it intersects directly with many of the encounters between law enforcement officers and black people that have ended badly:

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise then up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on our face ‘cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your moth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”

The eloquent prose of our Nobel Laureate in fiction echoes real life. Ultimately, it boils down to black people being denied grace, or the Websterian granting of free and unmerited favor, because they still, today, are not seen as fully human. Whether it is fictive African American women imagining how ideologies borrowed from outside the US might offer them solace from raced and gendered experiences, which I study in Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity; whether it is real and imagined African American men working to define themselves against narrow stereotypes and embrace their multidimensionality, as I examine in When We Imagine Grace; or whether it is black people and allies across race and ethnicity marching and demanding that black lives matter just as much as anyone else’s; what is indisputable is that we as a nation will never be free or be a true democracy until we can grant free and unmerited favor to every human being calling this nation home, simply because they are human.

Simone Drake is assistant professor of African American studies at Ohio State University and the author of Critical Appropriations: African American Women and the Construction of Transnational Identity.


20
Jun 16

Confederacy of Dunces included in LOC’s “America Reads”

A Confederacy of Dunces has been included in The Library of Congress’s “America Reads,” an exhibition showcasing 65 books—chosen by the public—that had a profound effect on American life.

“America Reads” Exhibition to Open June 16 (Library of Congress)


09
Oct 15

Around the Press in 80 Books: Tumult and Silence at Second Creek

In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, executive editor Rand Dotson writes about Tumult and Silence at Second Creek.

Tumult and Silence at Second Creek

In the early 1970s, an archivist at LSU’s Hill Memorial Library suggested to historian Winthrop Jordon that he examine what appeared to be a partial handwritten transcript of slave testimony from a failed 1861 slave revolt. At the time, the uprising was unheard of. Indeed, no record of the events alluded to in the transcript existed in the historical literature. The slave testimony, however, offered a tantalizing starting point, and it led Jordon on a twenty-year odyssey to understand what had occurred in Adams County, Mississippi, in 1861. His historical detective work uncovered one of the most important planned slave insurrections in American history, a conspiracy that led planters just outside Natchez to hang or whip to death nearly 30 of their slaves and afterwards do all in their power to erase the events from the historical record.

Published in 1993, Tumult and Silence at Second Creek, is not only the story of the failed insurrection and its bloody aftermath, but also of how Jordon came to understand the details of what happened and the life stories of the individuals involved. In essence, he takes readers along as he gathers evidence and interprets it, offering an informal guidebook on how the best professional historians work their craft. The result is a history book like no other: one that places readers over a historian’s shoulder as he solves a perplexing historical mystery using scattered and incomplete sources, eventually turning a fragment of slave testimony into the richest possible rendering of a vanished slave conspiracy and the extralegal trials and executions of those accused that followed. Upon publication, Tumult and Silence won the Bancroft Prize – one of the most prestigious awards in the history profession – and was widely praised by fellow historians as the most remarkable feat of detective work by a modern historian.

Buy this book now for 20% off and get free shipping on all orders over $50; use code 0480FAV at checkout.