16
Feb 18

Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South: Scholarship on Catastrophe, Risk, and Resilience

I grew up in Miami, Florida – a town that is no stranger to the effects of natural hazards – and for most of my life, the ever-present threat of disaster was never far away. In some ways, life in South Florida revolves around a cycle of annual hurricane seasons. Every year around May, the local supermarkets put out the information leaflets about the importance of preparing for the big storms that form in the warm waters of the North Atlantic Ocean from June through November (and nowadays, even later). In my experience, most of these tropical storms or hurricanes – and the strong winds, floods, storm surges, and tornadoes that can accompany them – would either bypass us, or cause relatively little damage (that “Never Forget” meme of a knocked-over yard chair comes to mind; it emerges each time a city is met with a weaker storm than expected). But this would not be the case on the night of August 24, 1992, when Hurricane Andrew barreled toward my hometown, eventually making landfall as a category 5 hurricane in Homestead, about 30 miles south from where I lived. To this day, that remains the scariest night of my life.

As a professor of history, my research usually focuses on the study of disaster and crisis in the eighteenth-century Atlantic World, but one of my objectives, both in my research and in the classroom, is to tie my work to the present as much as possible in order to emphasize the relevance and significance of historical study in the modern world. This volume, Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South, was thus born of these efforts, and of my personal experiences growing up in one of the world’s most disaster-vulnerable regions. The Gulf South region of the United States – which encompasses Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas – has a long history with environmental disasters, including not only sudden-onset hazards like hurricanes, floods, or disease outbreaks, but also slow disasters, like rising sea levels, disappearing wetlands, deteriorating infrastructure, among others. So my objective in compiling the collection of essays that make up this interdisciplinary volume is to draw lessons from the Gulf South’s experience with its environment, lessons that are applicable across the globe, as regions all over the planet struggle with the effects of climate change, coastal erosion, population growth, urbanization, poverty and environmental injustice, and so on.

Of course, this volume could not have been possible without the important work of scholars – historians, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, and others – whose work has contributed to the quickly expanding field of disaster studies. If you would like to learn more about this field, or more specifically, about the history of disasters in the Gulf South and beyond, here are some of the books that inspired me to compile Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South.


John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

Craig E. Colten, An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans from Nature (Louisiana State University Press, 2005).

Mike Davis, Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster (Metropolitan Books, 1998).

Kevin Fox Gotham and Miriam Greenberg, Crisis Cities: Disaster and Redevelopment in New York and New Orleans (Oxford University Press, 2014).

Susanna M. Hoffman and Anthony Oliver-Smith, eds., Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster (School for Advanced Research Press, 2002).

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador, 2007).

Scott Gabriel Knowles, The Disaster Experts: Mastering Risk in Modern America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister, eds., Natural Disasters, Cultural Responses: Case Studies Toward a Global Environmental History (Lexington Books, 2009).

Ted Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America (Oxford University Press, 2006).


Cindy Ermus, assistant professor of European history at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, specializes in the history of disaster, crisis (including revolution), and the environment in the eighteenth century. A native of South Florida, she has also published on the history, culture, and environment of the Gulf South. You can find her on twitter as @CindyErmus.

Buy Environmental Disaster in the Gulf South today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


09
Feb 18

Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans

Writing is often a solitary and tedious process with innumerable hours tapping on a keyboard. But the journey to create Freedom’s Dance: Social, Aid and Pleasure Clubs in New Orleans was a joyous purpose. I was driven to tell the truth with Eric Waters (photographer) about an African-American ritual and that both of us loved and knew well. The energy of SAPC members kept us working for years as we pored over thousands of photos to capture the beauty and communal joy of a Second Line parade. We pursued culture-bearers for interviews so that their voices could be heard.

The work was necessary because people from across the U.S. and around the world have witnessed or participated in a Second Line but didn’t know the rich and stunning history.   A Second Line is so much more than Black residents dancing in New Orleans streets just for kicks but is a direct line back to Africa; tribal memory by generations of those who have endured enslavement in America. The color and movement through neighborhoods are about maintaining a cellular connection – communitas – that bolsters people enduring the ‘new Jim Crow’ through systemic oppression, low-paying jobs and mass incarceration. It might be only a few hours on a designated Sunday parading with fellow club members, but this cultural phenomenon feeds psyches to face another day. It is truly a dance that is freeing for SAPC members and the community.

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Here are seven books that will assist bibliophiles interested in gaining more insight on SAPCs in New Orleans, one of the most African-retentive cultures in the United States.

Congo Square: African Roots in New Orleans by Freddi Williams Evans (2011, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press). This area just outside New Orleans’ famed French Quarter – now designated as a historic location – is where slaves would gather every Sunday to meet, dance and sell their wares. It is the place where the precursor to the Second Line occurred, a showcase for African tribal dances. Congo Square details the resilience of those who were enslaved, determined to maintain Africa’s rituals in a foreign land and keep a sense of ‘self.’ Evans is a featured essayist in Freedom’s Dance.

Black Skin, White Masks (Peau Noire, Masques Blancs) by Frantz Fanon (1967, Grove Press). I read this book when I was in junior high in the early 1970s. As a child of integration raised on the East Coast by Southern parents, Black Skin illuminated some of the racial issues I faced at a critical point in my development. I witnessed segregation traveling south in the 1960s and when I saw my first Second Line in the mid-1970s, there was an immediate sense of belonging and being ‘home.’

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans by John Hope Franklin (1970, Knopf). Franklin created this comprehensive, academic view of being Black in America. The book outlined what it took for a race of people to rise above being treated as less than human and battle to thrive in a country that needed their bodies for economic development. An eye-opener read in my freshman year of college.

Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth Century by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (1992, LSU Press). Hall detailed every aspect of an African’s life in the ‘New World’ but ensured that the enslaved weren’t nameless or faceless, toiling in a field picking cotton or cutting sugar cane. She offered a list of tribes, their origins in Africa, their tribal attributes and how that became the fabric of New Orleans and Louisiana.

Black Rage in New Orleans: Police Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina by Leonard N. Moore (2010, LSU Press). Moore’s book shows the continuum of resistance that began in Congo Square and continued unabated into the disaster that nearly wiped out New Orleans. African Americans in the city were never collectively docile or accepting of mistreatment. The warrior spirit from African tribes lives on in the city’s Black citizens.

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson (2005, Basic Civitas-Perseus Books). Dyson was one of the first nationally recognized academics to look at the decimation of a predominately African-American city. He delved into issues of class, caste and culture, and these same issues are explored in Freedom’s Dance.

Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny (2013, Duke University Press). Sakakeeny focused on a specific aspect of the Second Line culture – music delivered by brass bands. There cannot be an SAPC without the driving beat of a band comprised of – at minimum – a snare drum, trumpet, saxophone and tuba. It is a comprehensive look at a music culture that could only have been born and nurtured in New Orleans.

Freedom’s Dance offers a holistic view of a beloved ritual that screams ‘you are in New Orleans!’ The book honors a pure demonstration of dedication, pride and spirit.


Karen Celestan is executive writer and editor in University Advancement and adjunct professor of English at Texas Southern University in Houston. She is the co-author and editor of unfinished blues: Memories of New Orleans Music Man with Harold Battiste, Jr. (2010, Historic New Orleans Collection). unfinished received a BCALA Literary Award (Black Caucus of the American Library Association) for Contribution to Publishing. Celestan’s work has appeared in Carve Magazine, New Orleans Advocate, The Times-Picayune, Gambit Newsweekly and other publications.

Buy Freedom’s Dance today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


26
Jan 18

The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920

One of my earliest Mardi Gras memories—I was five years old or so—is of my family costuming on Mardi Gras day and heading down to the French Quarter to claim a spot at the old police station. There, the convivial spirit was especially rich and we celebrated by drinking in the fabulously costumed revelers walking by and by dancing to the music wafting through the streets. The crowning moment was when my mother gifted me with my annual Mardi Gras treat: Italian fig cookies from Central Grocery, complete with sprinkles. Another memory from around the same time takes me to our other family Mardi Gras spot: Rampart Street. While waiting for a parade amidst a throng of spectators, I eagerly looked up and down the street and caught a glimpse of something amazing far in the distance: a man, dressed head-to-toe in magenta feathers, emerged out of the adjoining neighborhood and danced out onto Rampart. After the briefest of moments, he disappeared. I blinked and he was gone, but for a second I had seen a Mardi Gras Indian!

As I grew older, the details of my Mardi Gras festivities shifted but the customs themselves remained firmly in place. Whether I was celebrating Carnival with friends or family, watching a parade on the street or a krewe court at a bal masque, to me Mardi Gras meant costuming, community, and dancing.

While writing New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920, I came to understand that my experiences echo the transatlantic, multicultural nature of New Orleans Mardi Gras, one that is both unique to the city (its geographical location, history, and people) while also global in scale, infusing ideas from Europe, West Africa, and the Caribbean. And while masking and parading are central to these traditions, an often overlooked—but highly visible—Carnival ingredient is dancing. In New Orleans history, even in colonial histories, a main highlight of the Carnival season was dancing at masked balls (both private and public). In fact, the mighty trio of masking, parading, and Carnival balls pervaded each Mardi Gras history I read, but over and over I encountered the same predicament: while most histories discussed balls as important to Mardi Gras, there was little mention of actual dancing.

I trained in dance for over twenty years before studying history. I loved every moment I spent in technique class, in rehearsal, performing on stage, creating movement in my head, and dancing through life at every possible moment, in every possibly way. Dance is a lens through which to see the world and ask questions. The way we move carries information about our worldview and the physical choices we make crystalize those views, even if for a moment. Taken together, our movement practices create identity and, when we look closely at the dance and movement practices of Carnival balls, we see that there’s a whole untapped landscape of information and history at our fingertips. This is the world that I wanted to dive into with New Orleans Carnival Balls—picturesque tableaux vivants productions, regal grand marches and quadrilles, debutante call outs, and romantic ballroom dancing (from waltzes to ragtime).

The carnival balls I investigated existed in a private social sphere—an opulent, secret realm only accessible to the urbane men who belonged to the oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras organizations (krewes) of Comus, Proteus, Momus, and Rex, as well as their family, and equally prestigious friends. While being a dancer equipped me with useful tools for this project (especially movement description), my training as a historian ensured that I could delve deep into archival detective work to solve the main mystery: how do you investigate a secret? Among many diverse types of sources I perused, from court cases to costume sketches, the most revealing, pertinent materials I found were handwritten letters, diaries, and handmade scrapbooks. These sources were the ones that provided a rich foundation from which to understand the static customs or shifting rituals embedded in old-line secrecy. They described what old-line Carnival balls were like a hundred years ago or more and are their own magical Mardi Gras memories chock full of dancing adventures.


In celebration of Mardi Gras, here are six diverse books that focus on Carnival, history, and customs:

Brian J. Costello, Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River (LSU Press, 2017). Costello’s new book is a comprehensive look at Carnival history and mores throughout Louisiana. While New Orleans Mardi Gras history, including balls, comprise the first part, it’s exciting to learn about the rich and varied Carnival traditions, like Courir de Mardi Gras in Acadiana, or historic moments, like New Roads’ 1911 African American parade, led by King Snowball and his consort on the first float while a second float carried a brass band. From the Florida and River Parishes to Shreveport and Monroe, Costello not only provides historical accounts in accessible prose, but also suggests Mardi Gras exhibits around the state where you can immerse yourself in each area’s unique way of celebrating.

Samuel Kinser, Carnival, American Style: Mardi Gras at New Orleans and Mobile (University of Chicago Press, 1990). Kinser’s cultural history explores the historical ties (and tensions) between New Orleans and Mobile’s Carnival celebrations, but also links Mardi Gras to Caribbean, European, and African festivals. This multicultural approach highlights the contributions of Congo Square dances and quadroon balls or discusses commonalities with eighteenth-century Afro-Caribbean John Canoe maskers (among other cultural practices) to understanding Carnival culture in New Orleans. Kinser discusses a range of topics, from parades and balls to tourism and cultural codes.

Reid Mitchell, All on a Mardi Gras Day: Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival (Harvard University Press, 1999). Out of all the books on this list, Mitchell’s work was most inspirational to me when writing New Orleans Carnival Balls. His ability to weave together diverse perspectives into a synthesized narrative urged me to consider the multiple forces at play—and the seriousness of play—within the realm of old-line ritual. His work also encouraged me to open my chapters with historical vignettes. All on a Mardi Gras Day juxtaposes revelry and racism, elitism and immigration, as it crafts a nuanced social history that delves into the centrality of Africans, Creoles, and gay rights to Mardi Gras narratives. From American annexation and the emergence of old-line krewes to Mardi Gras Indians, brass bands, and drag, Mitchell’s writing is a remarkable New Orleans history. Unsurprisingly, dance plays a key role.

Robert Tallant, Mardi Gras…As it Was (Pelican Publishing Company, 1989 reprint). To me, this book represents the “glossy” New Orleans histories: romantic, mysterious, slightly fantastical—everything that Mardi Gras is, for sure, but definitely written in a different era. Tallant continues to be one of the best-known Louisiana writers—his work on the Louisiana Writers’ Project of the WPA and publication of Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folktales (with Lyle Saxon and Edward Dreyer) in 1945 remains a cultural cornerstone. This work is no different; it persists in the canon of Carnival history. I recommend it for its tone and the evocative picture it creates: historical vignettes of nighttime parades, ball romances, and the like, but also advice of “how to get into a ball” or “become a queen.” Mardi Gras…As it Was is part history, part memory, all magic.

Henri Schindler, Mardi Gras Treasures: Jewelry of the Golden Age (Pelican Publishing Company, 2006). In this beautifully illustrated volume, Schindler explores the same period in Mardi Gras history—the Golden Age—as my own work. Mardi Gras Treasures moves through each of the old-line krewes (and the tableaux societies collectively), providing a brief history along with general ball descriptions. Sumptuous images of krewe court crowns, scepters, and other fine jewels, as well as an array of ducal badges, ball favors, costume sketches, and dance cards pepper the book. For me, though, the most exciting parts are the photographs of the people themselves—krewesmen in business suits or costumed as kings and court queens (sometimes with their attending maids) resplendent in their full dress, with trains, crown, and scepter. The past comes alive in these photographs and we have a chance to peer into the secret world of old-line balls for ourselves. The photographs are well worth lingering over. This is but one book in the Mardi Gras Treasures series, which also includes individual publications focusing on invitations, costume designs, and floats.

Kim Marie Vaz, The “Baby Dolls”: Breaking the Race and Gender Barriers of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Traditions (LSU Press, 2013). Except for Schindler, all of the books mentioned above touch in some way upon the Baby Dolls, a group of African American women from the red-light district, Storyville, who began costuming as baby dolls around 1912 and took to the streets during Mardi Gras with vivacious dancing. The original Baby Dolls dressed in short satin dresses with bloomers, bonnets, and garters (stuffed with money). They smoked cigars and “walked raddy” through the streets as they sang songs, drank, and claimed their turf through salacious taunt and boast dance battles. Today’s Baby Dolls, while still focusing on women and community, use dance to cultivate community education and outreach. Vaz’s book compiles remarkable primary historical documents alongside interviews with current Baby Doll maskers, detailing a tradition of spirited innovation, community bonds, ancestral survival, and of course, amazing dance.


Jennifer Atkins is associate professor in Florida State University’s School of Dance.

If you are interested in learning more about Mardi Gras Balls, buy New Orleans Carnival Balls: The Secret Side of Mardi Gras, 1870-1920 today! Jen Atkins and Brian Costello will also be speaking at the Barnes & Noble at Citiplace in Baton Rouge on Saturday, February 3rd at 1:30 p.m.


22
Jan 18

Reconstruction in Alabama, a 2017 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

It is with great pleasure that LSU Press announces that Reconstruction in Alabama by Michael W. Fitzgerald has been selected as a 2017 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title.

Fitzgerald is a professor of history at St. Olaf College and the author of Urban Emancipation: Popular Politics in Reconstruction Mobile, 1860-1890 and The Union League Movement in the Deep South: Politics and Agricultural Change During Reconstruction.

In Reconstruction in Alabama, Fitzgerald offers the first comprehensive reinterpretation of that state’s history in over a century. The civil rights revolutions of the 1950s and 1960s transformed the literature on Reconstruction in America by emphasizing the social history of emancipation and the hopefulness that reunification would bring equality. Much of this revisionist work served to counter and correct the racist and pro-Confederate accounts of Reconstruction written in the early twentieth century.

Fitzgerald’s work not only revises the existing troubling histories of the era, it also offers a compelling and innovative new look at the process of rebuilding Alabama following the war. Attending to an array of issues largely ignored until now, Fitzgerald’s history begins by analyzing the differences over slavery, secession, and war that divided Alabama’s whites, mostly along the lines of region and class. He examines the economic and political implications of defeat, focusing particularly on how freed slaves and their former masters mediated the postwar landscape. For a time, he suggests, whites and freedpeople coexisted mostly peaceably in some parts of the state under the Reconstruction government, as a recovering cotton economy bathed the plantation belt in profit. Later, when charting the rise and fall of the Republican Party, Fitzgerald shows that Alabama’s new Republican government implemented an ambitious program of railroad subsidy, characterized by substantial corruption that eventually bankrupted the state and helped end Republican rule. He shows, however, that the state’s freedpeople and their preferred leaders were not the major players in this arena: they had other issues that mattered to them far more, like public education, civil rights, voting rights, and resisting the Klan’s terrorist violence.

After Reconstruction ended, Fitzgerald suggests that white collective memory of the era fixated on black voting, big government, high taxes, and corruption, all of which buttressed the Jim Crow order in the state. This misguided understanding of the past encouraged Alabama’s intransigence during the later civil rights era. Despite the power of faulty interpretations that united segregationists, Fitzgerald demonstrates that it was class and regional divisions over economic policy, as much as racial tension, that shaped the complex reality of Reconstruction in Alabama.

Reconstruction in Alabama is one of 504 books and digital resources chosen by the CHOICE editorial staff from among the over 5,300 titles reviewed by CHOICE during the past year.

These outstanding works were selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as an importantoften firsttreatment of their subject. Constituting about nine percent of the titles reviewed by CHOICE during the past year, and two percent of the more than 25,000 titles submitted to CHOICE during this same period, Outstanding Academic titles are truly the “best of the best.”

 


22
Dec 17

Looking Across Vast American Spaces: Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter in Conversation

Recently, Bryan Giemza and Maria Hebert-Leiter shared with us what inspired them to write Images of Depression-Era Louisiana. Here is an excerpt of their conversation.


Bryan: The origin story of Images of Depression-Era Louisiana: The FSA Photographs of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott begins in another book, actually. I was writing a new introduction to E.P. O’Donnell’s Depression-era novel, The Great Big Doorstep. It’s a minor classic of humor writing, set in Plaquemines Parish, and Eudora Welty was very fond of it.  I wanted to show what the place looked like, and turned up a series of contemporaneous photos straight out of the novel’s world, right down to the Boothville orange groves that the author lived among!

I had to marvel at my luck. It’s unusual to land on such an exact match. The outer reaches of Plaquemines Parish weren’t exactly a densely populated area in the 1930s—O’Donnell writes about a flotsam-and-jetsam culture of cast-off people on the margins of nature, industry, and the waterways. It was sort of astonishing to find that they had been photographed at all at that time.  There was a variety about the subjects, places, and people that was unusually intimate and arresting.  Naturally I wondered, “Who took these? Where did they come from?”

I wondered if the photos were as striking to others as to me. It didn’t take me long to realize, from the reactions of others, that they were indeed something special.

Maria: I was also amazed when I first viewed the photographs. I was born and raised in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and as soon as I saw them I recognized the subjects captured on film. Even if I didn’t actually know their names, I had seen folks like them before. They are the people of Louisiana—then, now, and always.

So Bryan and I started to unravel the backstory and to literally map the byways and pathways that the photographers took. We had to untangle the Louisiana chapter from the bigger story, because some of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers’ work is well known. For example, Walker Evans worked with James Agee on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), and Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” is perhaps the most famous of the images in the FSA-OWI collection. Both of them took a few photos on their way through Louisiana, in fact.

But it’s easy to forget that Evans and Lange were just two of the photographers Roy E. Stryker sent across the nation to record the need for and, later, the results of the Resettlement Agency (RA) and the FSA programs between 1935 and 1943. Stryker brought together an amazing group of photographers who not only shot federal programs in action but also documented on film the folkways, traditions, and customs of the areas they visited.

We realized that the three principal photographers that worked Louisiana for the FSA needed to be examined as a set. Images of Depression-Era Louisiana specifically addresses the work of Ben Shahn, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott and the incredible photographs they took in the state. The local culture of Louisiana has a texture and variety set apart from other parts of the south and the country, and they had captured some part of it. A series of Russell Lee’s negatives of the 1938 Crowley Rice Festival are preserved, along with Marion Post Wolcott’s images of Spanish muskrat trappers and their families in St. Bernard Parish. And those are but two series among the 4,000 Louisiana negatives still protected by the Library of Congress.

Bryan: My question is, What is like the FSA project today?  Can we imagine similar projects that help us to really see one another, across the vastness of American spaces, divisions, and social classes? Public policy is fundamentally about making choices, and the only way to make informed choices is with good information. In our image-saturated world, we forget that a picture is worth a thousand words, and there were a lot fewer pictures in the 1930s. The FSA photographers rendered invisible people and places suddenly visible. The boldness and vision of it are still inspiring.


To appreciate more thoroughly the FSA-OWI collection, its unprecedented achievement, and the remarkable dedication and vision of Stryker and the photographers, we recommend the following books:

Carl Fleischhauer and Beverly W. Brannan, eds, Documenting America, 1935–1943 (University of California Press, 1988). This book includes a general history of photography at the time, along with suggestions regarding how to read the larger FSA-OWI file. The editors focus on each photographer by choosing significant series they took and discussing these series in more detail, along with including memorable photographs from it. For example, they describe and explain Russell Lee’s photographs of the forced relocation of Japanese Americans in 1942.

Gilles Mora and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. FSA: The American Vision (Abrams, 2006). This book will prove especially useful for readers who want a more general history of the RA, FSA, and OWI. It also includes brief histories of Stryker and the individual photographers, along with some of their memorable photos.

Jack Hurley, Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties (LSU Press, 1972). Hurley’s focus specifically on Stryker allows for a more thorough account of the photographers’ fearless leader and his motivations for creating this unprecedented photographic collection.

Howard Greenfeld, Ben Shahn: An Artist’s Life (Random House, 1998). Greenfeld records Shahn’s life from childhood, including his family’s immigration to America, through his RA and FSA years and beyond. This book explains why Shahn, a painter, took photographs that are included in the FSA-OWI collection.

Jack Hurley, Russell Lee, Photographer (Morgan and Morgan, 1978). Hurley provides a more comprehensive biography of Lee, who continued to work with Stryker even after the FSA years.

Paul Hendrickson, Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott. (Knopf, 1992). Hendrickson includes Wolcott’s responses to certain photos since he interviewed her decades after she took them. This book offers interesting insight into her personality and her experiences as a woman photographer at the time.

P. O’Donnell, The Great Big Doorstep, with an introduction by Bryan Giemza and an afterword by Eudora Welty (LSU Press, 2015). This Depression-era comic novel set in Louisiana inspired Images of Depression-Era Louisiana and our more in-depth inquiries into the photographers and the photographs they took of the state during this time.

John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana (University of South Carolina Press, 2003). This book is a must read for those interested in how the federal projects affected the Louisiana people as it records an African American’s experience of Separate but Equal policies as they pertained to federal projects in the South during the FSA years.

Richard Wright, 12 Million Black Voices (1941; Basic Books, 2002).  Edwin Rosskam curated from across the FSA collections the photographs in this collection reflecting black experience in that time and place.  The accompanying text from famed African American writer Richard Wright makes the volume even more memorable.


Bryan Giemza is director of the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Libraries. He is the author of Irish Catholic Writers and the Invention of the American South.

Originally from Thibodaux, Louisiana, Maria Hebert-Leiter teaches at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke.

Buy Images of Depression-Era Louisiana today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


15
Dec 17

How Memory Alters History: Books on Heroes, Villains, and the American Past

When I heard John McCain invoke Theodore Roosevelt as his “favorite philosopher” during the 2000 Republican presidential primaries, it got me thinking: who else has praised Roosevelt as an inspiration? It turns out that countless politicians from both sides of the aisle summon Theodore Roosevelt as a political lodestar, but so do advertising agencies, artists, comedians, and impersonators. Over the last century, Roosevelt has inspired poets, architects, motion picture producers, theatre directors, and presidential biographers. Each representation of Roosevelt differs, not only in the actual depiction, but in the remembrance of the past and the rationale for doing so. Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost: The History and Memory of an American Icon examines the portrayals of Roosevelt, the agency of memorializers, and the historical contexts that underpin commemoration. What emerges is a complicated portrait of a many-sided former president, created by successive generations of memorializers. Roosevelt’s legacy is not his own; it belongs to us because through the act of remembering the past, we create it.


Merrill D. Peterson’s work on legacy in American history drew me to this study of Roosevelt. His treatment of Jefferson, Lincoln, and John Brown as figures of changing meaning has defined the field. Since Peterson’s groundbreaking work,Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). several other historians have illuminated the prism of American history through memory studies of key individuals. Here are five recent works:

Roessner, Amber. Inventing Baseball Heroes: Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, and the Sporting Press in America (LSU Press, 2014). Memorialization takes place in all walks of life, not least in sports, where athletes become deities or devils to fanatics. The American pastime has its share of characters and Roessner demonstrates how baseball’s sportswriters created public images of the games’ early heroes and villains. Like presidential biographers, Roessner shows the essential subjectivity of writers.

Greenberg, David. Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image (W. W. Norton & Company, 2004). As for the leading books on presidential images, Greenberg’s Nixon’s Shadow ranks as a favorite. Eloquently written, and intensively researched, it depicts the changing portrait of Nixon from California populist to global statesman. What Greenberg adeptly explains is how dependent our modern political system rests on image construction and hero-worship.

Lengel, Edward. Inventing George Washington: America’s Founder, in Myth and Memory (Harper, 2011). While Nixon languishes at the bottom of most rankings of American presidents, Washington usually tops the same lists, yet his legacy has undergone as turbulent a time. Editor of Washington’s Papers Edward Lengel sketches the first president’s legacy and agents of commemoration in Inventing George Washington. From the “marble man” almost unblemished in early biographies, to the efforts of debunkers that knocked the Founder’s greatness, Lengel explains that even the most revered American heroes have their detractors and mythmakers.

Cook, Robert. Troubled Commemoration: The American Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965 (LSU Press, 2011). This book provided some inspiration around anniversaries. His examination of the Civil War centennial in the 1960s, during the ongoing civil rights movement, demonstrates the power of the present on the historical past.

Carwardine, Richard and Jay Sexton. Global Lincoln (Oxford University Press, 2011). Finally, American history exists in a wider, global context and the essays in Global Lincoln show the rail-splitter from an international perspective. In the twentieth century, Lincoln had meaning for Latin Americans, Russians, and Irish people, reminding us that American narratives of leadership go far beyond its own shores.


Michael Patrick Cullinane is a reader in modern U.S. history at Roehampton University, London, and the author of Liberty and American Anti-Imperialism, 1898–1909, and coauthor of The Open Door Era: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century.

Buy Theodore Roosevelt’s Ghost today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


01
Dec 17

Military Occupation, Emancipation, and the Civil War: Essential Scholarship

Historians of the American Civil War have authored an impressive and increasingly complex history of the common soldiers who waged the conflict. Explaining soldiers’ motivations to enlist, charting their steadfast commitment to the respective national causes, unfolding their multifaceted views on race and emancipation, and placing citizen-volunteers within their mid-nineteenth-century world, the rich scholarship on soldiering during the Civil War seems remarkably comprehensive. My new book In the Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America draws on this resonant scholarly tradition to investigate how United States soldiers understood the era’s wars of military occupation, the layered conflicts waged well beyond the front lines. The book contends that military occupation—a central and contested component of our modern military tradition—is not a dead artifact of the American past.

In the Wake of War engages the perspectives of United States soldiers who served in three separate yet intimately connected military conflicts: the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and Reconstruction. The book thus aims to link the American Civil War to its broader cultural context, revealing how the events of 1861 to 1865 were shaped by a military ethos that preceded secession and which continued to influence the dawn of peace after Appomattox. The book argues strongly for the continuity of republican military culture from which historical actors gauged military occupation at once against the citizen-soldier tradition and the long-standing fears of standing armies, each of which posed significant implications for the conduct of occupation, the composition of volunteer armies, and the processes of state-sanctioned social and political change.

Approaching military occupation through the eyes of the occupier—rather than the occupied— reveals a war within a war, a conflict fraught with its own unique traits and spirit. These wars of occupation were just as complex, dynamic, and consequential as those waged on the front lines. Exploring how United States soldiers, who reflected the broader society from which they came, interpreted occupation on both ideological and practical grounds reveals an in-the-ranks perspective on an unprecedented role of American armies in international and domestic wars and crises. This history of military occupation thus reveals how occupation brought soldiers face-to-face with a host of critical problems in nineteenth-century America: the relationship between citizen and government; the balance between republican corporatism and democratic individualism; faith in the exceptional nature of Union; the complications of race in a white democracy; the intricate negotiation of gender roles; the limits of free-market capitalism; the boundaries of restricted warfare; the military’s simultaneously celebrated and ambivalent place in international affairs and domestic life; the role of standing armies in the American imagination; and the uncertain scope of the federal state in the nebulous transition from war to peace.

In the Wake of War contributes especially to a time-honored conversation on emancipation—particularly Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation—and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies. Race emerged as a central feature of the occupation experience. The book engages how the Proclamation spoke to white anxieties about military occupation, which shaped how African American men were integrated into federal armies and how they designed their own conceptions of military service and the purpose of military force.  The mass enlistment of African American soldiers pushed white leaders to define service in auxiliary forces along lines of race. The politics and rhetoric of emancipation served to confine black troops to limited roles, including the “dishonorable” duties of service behind the lines. Yet in so doing, black soldiers emerged on the front lines of occupation, using their new-found martial authority to great advantage in unbalancing traditional power dynamics in the South. African American occupiers defied the racial status quo and, from the points of their bayonets, destabilized the very society once guilty of their enslavement, underscoring the stunning impact of wartime emancipation.


While the act of writing history is often a solitary and sometimes lonely exercise, I am grateful to the community of scholars who have so richly influenced In the Wake of War. The following books (in addition to so many others) have shaped my own historical philosophy and have underwritten many of the arguments in the book.

Gary W. Gallagher, The Union War (Harvard University Press, 2011). Perhaps no other scholar has shaped my thinking on Civil War history more than Gary Gallagher. Emphasizing the idea of Union—the loyal citizenry’s conception of the American republic as the world’s unique experiment in democratic republicanism—Gallagher’s work reminds us that the Union’s war was conducted on the basis of limitation, guided by a degree of restraint, and always measured with an eye toward peace and a restoration of the republic. Emancipation, death of the “Slave Power,” and the enlistment of African American soldiers emerged as unanticipated but critical elements in this war for Union. Gallagher’s insistence on the contemporary power of Union in the loyal imagination, coupled with his belief that military institutions and affairs should assume a central place in our narratives, guide the intellectual basis of In the Wake of War.

Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge University Press, 1995). Grimsley’s book was one of the first to treat Civil War-era military occupation as a problem of federal policy. Exposing the complex nature of waging wars against hostile civilians, Grimsley demonstrated the profound challenges of employing volunteer soldiers in nineteenth-century wars of invasion and occupation.

Stephen V. Ash, When the Yankees Came: Conflict and Chaos in the Occupied South, 1861-1865 (University of North Carolina Press, 1995). Published the same year as Grimsley’s Hard Hand of War, Ash’s treatment of occupation focuses primarily on the social and political changes incurred at the southern grassroots. Like Grimsley, Ash compelled scholars to see how Union occupation unleashed rival power dynamics in the Confederate South and layered the region with competing loyalties contingent on proximity and reach of federal armies.

Mark E. Neely, Jr. The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction (Harvard University Press, 2007). Like Grimsley and Ash, Neely’s work sought to rewrite old Lost Cause narratives that indicted the Civil War as an unlimited total war. Placing the conflict within broader hemispheric, cultural, and racial contexts, Neely encouraged readers to see that the Civil War’s white combatants placed remarkable restraints on their conduct, limiting and reducing the scale of wartime devastation. The book, like In the Wake of War, suggests that American conduct during the invasion of Mexico was far different from that which occurred during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

William W. Freehling, The South vs. the South: How Anti-Confederate Southerners Shaped the Course of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2001). While I relied on the expansive literature concerning the processes of emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers into Union armies, no book sparked my thinking on the Emancipation Proclamation like Freehling’s work. Freehling pushed me to read deeply into the Proclamation, locating obscure and subtle meanings in Lincoln’s call for black troops, the implications of which shaped how occupation unfolded during both the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Mark Wahlgren Summers, The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 2014). Like Gallagher’s work, Summer’s treatment of Reconstruction understands the concept of Union as the driving force of mid-nineteenth-century life. Occupation in the transition from war to peace thus inhabited a foreign space for loyal citizens who looked with skepticism at a powerful, expensive military state managing political affairs and regulating social conditions in the guise of what they imagined as an imposing standing army. Such institutions were antithetical to the very idea of Union preserved during the war.

Gregory P. Downs, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War (Harvard University Press, 2015). Arguing that the war continued in a legal form in the months and years after Appomattox, Downs sees United States Army that occupied the southern states as the central institution in preserving the promise of emancipation. Only the army, as an extension of the federal state, could manage the chaos of Confederate defeat and provide critical safety to freedpeople embarking on new lives of liberation. But Downs recognizes, much like Summers and myself, that the very military power necessary to manage a robust occupation was stripped by a broader culture of democratic republicanism that looked askance at powerful domestic military institutions.

Andrew S. Bledsoe, Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Junior Officer Corps in American Civil War (Louisiana State University Press, 2015). I went to graduate school with Drew Bledsoe, with whom I have spent untold hours discussing the culture and ideology of the citizen-soldier in the early American and Civil War experiences. My understanding of citizenship, volunteer soldiering, and the republican military ethos—hallmarks of both his and my books—are drawn from our many conversations about the existing literature.

Numerous scholars recently have published excellent books on military occupation during the American Civil War. I have benefited greatly from their work and our mutual conversations. They all deserve mention here because their scholarship assumes a prominent place in the framing and conclusions of In the Wake of War.

  • Judkin Browning, Shifting Browning: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2011)
  • Bradley R. Clampitt, Occupied Vicksburg (Louisiana State University Press, 2016)
  • Joseph W. Danielson, War’s Desolating Scourge: The Union’s Occupation of North Alabama (University Press of Kansas, 2012)
  • H. Dilbeck, A More Civil War: How the Union Waged a Just War (University of North Carolina Press, 2016)
  • Earl J. Hess, The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi (University of North Carolina Press, 2012)
  • Michael D. Pierson, Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans (University of North Carolina Press, 2009)

Andrew F. Lang is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.

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02
Sep 14

Back to School: The College Board Desegregates the SATs

It’s September, and school is back in session! In honor of the end of summer and the start of another school year, we’ve asked Jan Bates Wheeler to swing by the blog and tell us the remarkable story of the desegregation of the College Board and its partner, Educational Testing Services.

In 1960, the College Board and its testing partner, Educational Testing Services (ETS), unexpectedly became participants in the movement to desegregate schools. Many southern black students wishing to take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) complained that they were treated disrespectfully at the white high schools that administered the tests. Moreover, some were turned away altogether, left with no SAT scores to report to admissions offices. The injustice of this insidious barrier to higher education for the growing number of black students in the South wishing to enroll in college motivated the two organizations. “Standardized testing” meant that all those being tested should receive the same, fair treatment.

Working through the College Board’s newly established Southern Regional Office, the College Board and ETS desegregated SAT centers in the Deep South before the schools themselves integrated. The actual work of negotiating for desegregated testing fell on two College Board employees, Ben Cameron and Ben Gibson, both white southern liberals. For nearly four years, they traveled, separately, around Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina, dropping in unannounced at hundreds of high schools to convince white school officials to allow black students into their segregated schools and treat them respectfully. State laws, local customs, and white supremacist organizations dictated otherwise. Consequently, Cameron and Gibson often faced open hostility and sometimes even the possibility of violence toward themselves and anyone whose cooperation they won. Their quiet, persistent strategy, reinforced by a contingency plan hatched with the Department of Defense that established test centers at military bases, eventually succeeded. Significantly, they accomplished most of their work prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which accelerated the pace of school desegregation.

Cameron and Gibson’s story, told through their candid reports and records of conversations with individual school officials, offers a unique perspective on school desegregation. Their responsibility placed them in the unusual position of advocating for school desegregation as part of their jobs. Their writings, apparently untouched for nearly fifty years, reveal the dedication required to reach a goal many thought unachievable. The College Board had charged the Southern Regional Office with expanding its programs throughout the South. Insisting on desegregated SAT test centers placed the College Board squarely in opposition to prevailing laws, customs, and attitudes—an unenviable and ill-advised position for any nascent business venture—and added a financial risk to their already daunting task.

In order to minimize the risk to all concerned, Cameron and Gibson pledged not to publicize their efforts in any way. Even years after they completed their work, the two men refused to write about their campaign for fear of compromising the safety of the school officials and military base commanders who had helped them. Their legitimate concern kept this story largely untold until now.

Remarkably, throughout their campaign the two men consistently treated everyone with respect, no matter how offensive some school officials became. At one point, following an unsuccessful meeting with a South Carolina superintendent, Cameron took follow-up telephone calls from the official almost daily for three weeks, patiently “listenin’ ” and talkin’” until he achieved a desegregated center. Cameron and Gibson agreed that they would never leave an adversary “in a bad mood,” no matter what. Their ability to remain civil and even friendly in situations where widely divergent views collided stands in sharp contrast to today’s polarized exchanges. I admire the courage, dedication, patience, and powers of persuasion of Cameron and Gibson. Had they wanted to retreat and wait for school desegregation to solve their testing center problem, their superiors at the College Board would have acquiesced. Instead, the two men persisted.

Having found this “lost” story while looking for material for my dissertation, I felt responsible for sharing it. Besides contributing a minor chapter to an important period of U.S. history, Cameron and Gibson offer valuable lessons through the low-key, personal approach they brought to a difficult situation. As we reflect on important milestones in the Civil Rights movement, we might remember especially its characteristics of persistence, non-violence, and civility, exemplified by the SAT desegregation project, and consider the approach we ourselves might take in pursuing similar injustices.

Jan Bates Wheeler is associate director for Accreditation in the Office of Academic Planning at the University of Georgia, and the author of A Campaign of Quiet Persuasion: How the College Board Desegregated SAT® Test Centers in the Deep South, 1960-1965. This piece appeared for the first time at UGA’s Research Magazine, and it is reused here by permission.


19
Jun 14

Today in History: 19 June 1964

After an 83-day filibuster in the Senate, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed the Senate on June 19th of that year. The act outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or country of origin, and forbade prejudicial application of voter registration requirements. In his book When Freedom Would Triumph, Robert Mann quotes President Lyndon B. Johnson on his memory of the passage of that historic act: “I knew . . . that to the extent Negroes were free, really free, so was I. And so was my country.”

When Freedom Would Triumph recalls the most significant and inspiring legislative battle of the twentieth century–the two decades of struggle in the halls of Congress that resulted in civil rights for the descendants of American slaves. Robert Mann’s comprehensive analysis shows how political leaders in Washington–Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, John F. Kennedy, and others–transformed the ardent passion for freedom–the protests, marches, and creative nonviolence of the civil rights movement–into concrete progress for justice. A story of heroism and cowardice, statesmanship and political calculation, vision and blindness, When Freedom Would Triumph, an abridged and updated version of Mann’s The Walls of Jericho: Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Russell, and the Struggle for Civil Rights, is a captivating, thought-provoking reminder of the need for more effective government.

Robert Mann is the author of Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater, and the Ad That Changed American Politics; When Freedom Would Triumph: The Civil Rights Struggle in Congress, 1954–1968; and many other books. He is also a political columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

This summer, LSU Press is “Made in Louisiana”! Through July 4th, read local and you will receive 35% off When Freedom Would Triumph and hundreds of other titles by Louisiana authors. Shop the sale at our website, using offer code 04LALOVE at checkout.


30
May 14

Today in History: The Lincoln Memorial

The dedication of the Lincoln Memorial took place on 30 May 1922, presided over by former president William Taft, with Lincoln’s only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, in attendance. But not everyone was thrilled about the new memorial and its glorification of the sixteen president.

Graphite sketch of the proposed Memorial by architect Henry Bacon (Library of Congress / Prints and Photographs Division)

In a July editorial following the statue’s dedication, historian and civil rights activist W. E. B. DuBois wrote:

Abraham Lincoln was . . . poorly educated and unusually ugly, awkward, ill-dressed. . . . At the crisis [Civil War] he was big enough to be inconsistent — cruel, merciful; peaceloving, a fighter; despising Negroes and letting them fight and vote; protecting slavery and freeing slaves. He was a man — a big, inconsistent, brave man.

Frustrating as DuBois found Lincoln’s inadequate devotion to the abolitionist cause, other writers of the time disliked him for just the opposite reason. Lexington writer Mary Scrugham published a substantial article attacking Lincoln in response to the dedication of the Lincoln memorial. Describing Reconstruction as a “hideous crime against white womanhood,” she decried Lincoln’s reelection as illegitimate:

The glory bestowed upon Abraham Lincoln for saving the American Union is a strange paradox, for he did not save the union. The fact is, he came very near to destroying it. . . . A union based on force and a union based on consent are as different as day and night, whether in government or matrimony. Force is force; and the mailed fist is the mailed fist, whether it is raised on the field of Flanders, by the streams of Ireland, or on a “march through Georgia.”

Similarly, Richmond writer Langbourne Williams wrote that the mercilessness and brutality of the Union troops meant that

in the interest of truth, and the honor of the U.S., the Lincoln memorial at Washington should be taken down and converted into some charitable institution.

While most Americans count Abraham Lincoln among the most beloved and admired former presidents, a dedicated minority has long viewed him as not only the worst president in the country’s history, but also as a criminal who defied the Constitution and advanced federal power and the idea of racial equality. Intrigued? Learn more in John McKee Barr’s book Loathing Lincoln, the first ever panoramic study of Lincoln’s critics.

Now through June 6th, you can get 45% off Loathing Lincoln and hundreds of other LSU Press titles, using the offer code 04MILHIS. Shop our military history sale today!