Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bright ideas

Thanks to the Carrboro Citizen for including Orange County's adoption of a 10-year plan to end chronic homelessness among its 10 "best ideas of 2007."

Meanwhile down in Dallas, an inspirational former corporate executive leads their efforts to end chronic homelessnes.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

For inquiring minds, a trusted source

Congrats to Paul and for ranking right up there with the CIA as a trusted internet authority! So says the Sunday Times of London.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tackling chronic homelessness in L.A.

"Project 50" aims to take the 50 most vulnerable homeless off of Skid Row and put them into permanent supportive housing.

Surveyor Mack Garland pushes on, asking probing questions about health problems and drug use. The answers will be used to create a "vulnerability index," determining who gets housing and who doesn't. To put it bluntly, these questions are meant to identify those most likely to die on these streets in the next year.

Garland also snaps a picture so his group can later locate the 50 fortunate enough to have been determined the most unfortunate and get an apartment.

"You get stuck down here. We're here because we don't accept love and we don't give it," says a man who calls himself "Artist Woods." He's been on the streets for 28 years, he says, ever since he was honorably discharged from the Marines.

Law as magic

Via the Law & Humanities Blog (new to my blogroll, a great find), a fascinating article on the "magical" properties of law, an argument with the Legal Realists who tried to separate the two, to demystify the law, to expose its true roots in raw power. In this essay, Jessie Allen, who teaches law at NYU, draws on the work of anthropologists to argue that there are socially constructive, even socially constitutive ways in which the ritual of law functions like magic.

To anyone interested in law or magic or the rational or the irrational or the transformative power of words, I recommend it.

Modern chairs

As noted by the NYT's personal shopper: "A number of midcentury modern chairs that have long been out of production — some of them for decades — are being produced again, some by new manufacturers."

Not to be confused with Modern Skirts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

R.I.P. Rick Sessions

A guest-post by Jonathan Riehl.

Every once in a blue moon we are lucky enough to encounter people in our lives who seem too good to be true; a combination of kindred spirit and mentor even when there is a difference in age. I learned last week that I’d lost such a friend, Rick Sessions, who ran the Soundhaus hi-fi shop in Durham for many decades. I recall first meeting him when, as a fellow esoteric fan of audio technology, I came to him with an 8-track player for my classic car that needed some repairs; typically, Rick outdid me: He not only fixed the problem but also knew the inventor of the 8-track, and owned a copy of its predecessor: an in-dash 45rpm record player. Who knew!

Over the past five years Rick became a friend and I know his generosity was not exclusive. Almost every time I’d stop in the shop on Broad St., another customer would saunter in with a busted CD player—or a multi-thousand-dollar HD unit—and in his low-key demeanor, he treated us all the same. Rick was a throwback to a bygone age, a general store proprietor out of a John Wayne Western who treated everyone with generosity . . . but would inevitably offer up a sarcastic remark when the previous customer left the shop!

I’m certain there were many others Rick extended his expertise and friendship to, beyond myself. I met many of them. To all the Sessions family, our condolences.

I teach rhetoric at N.C. State, and in Classical terms, we emphasize "ethos," the root idea from which we get our modern idea of "ethics." Rick had it, and the Triangle community has lost not only a community legend, but a good and decent man, a man of rich ethos. Not to mention, someone who kept our turntables turning, was always ready to spin a yarn, and, not least of all, served his nation honorably in wartime, as does his son today.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Marking civil rights history in Durham

Congratulations to the folks in Durham who succeeded the second time around in getting a state historical marker for the site of a civil rights sit-in in 1957.

"I think it's significant because it does illustrate the civil rights movement before Greensboro," said committee member Jeff Broadwater, a history professor at Barton College in Wilson. "Sometimes we think the civil rights movement started with Greensboro."

Durham activists have long argued that the Durham event, coming 2 1/2 years before the Greensboro sit-in, laid much of the groundwork for future civil rights protests.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Creeping up on Christmas

It's been an unusual December so far. Too warm to think about shopping, then finally the time is right for a tree. We find the perfect tree, maybe a bit too easily this year, and then look what happens.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Eric Muller on "Book TV"

Eric Muller gave a talk about his new book, American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II, at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles on December 1. It'll be broadcast tonight at 10 p.m. on C-SPAN2's "Book TV."

Luckily for those of us who are cable-deprived, it'll be available on the "Book TV" web site as well.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The rich get richer.

Sometime last year at one of our Orange County homelessness round tables, I met a young single African American woman who was living at the women's shelter. She'd lost her job in the health care business and so she couldn't make rent any more. At the time I met her, she was working at Chick Fill-A, but that wasn't enough to pay for shelter. All she had was her car, and it needed repairs totaling a couple hundred dollars that she didn't have.

Can't your family help? I asked naively. After all, that's what I would do--ask for help. (Wouldn't you?) They sympathized but there wasn't any way they could help, she said.

I thought about her again when I read Henry Louis Gates' op-ed in the NYT last month. Looking for "clues about how to address an increasingly entrenched inequality," Gates writes,

I have been studying the family trees of 20 successful African-Americans, people in fields ranging from entertainment and sports (Oprah Winfrey, the track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee) to space travel and medicine (the astronaut Mae Jemison and Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon). And I’ve seen an astonishing pattern: 15 of the 20 descend from at least one line of former slaves who managed to obtain property by 1920 — a time when only 25 percent of all African-American families owned property.

And so, Gates concludes, "The telltale fact is that the biggest gap in black prosperity isn’t in income, but in wealth." Forty acres and a mule would would have made a difference. Is he right?

Comes now Melinda Miller, a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Michigan, to test this proposition. She has studied the records of families of former slaves of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma who did receive property settlements because the treaty negotiations required it. Her conclusion:

I find the racial gap in land ownership, farm size, and investment in long-term capital projects is smaller in the Cherokee Nation than in the southern United States. The advantages Cherokee freedmen experience in these areas translate into smaller wealth and income gaps in the Cherokee Nation than in the South. Additionally, Cherokee freedmen had higher absolute levels of wealth and higher levels of income than southern freedmen. These results together suggest that access to free land had a considerable positive benefit on former slaves.

Via historian Ralph Luker, who can't help noticing that Miller is a student of economics, not history.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

What's new in law and literature

A hearty helping of new books on law and literature. Via Legal History Blog.

Restaurant wrap-up

With the exception of the Flying Burrito, which has sadly entered into historical memory, Matt Barrett's review of local restaurants pretty much hits our own favorites.

Leave home for the holidays and enjoy a night out!

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Complete streets"

The term "complete street" is something I first heard from my colleague Ed Harrison. It means a street that accommodates more than cars and trucks. According to the New Urban News, Charlotte is more complete than most.

Green and affordable

From the Utne Reader, a profile of an affordable housing development where the residents have affordable utility bills.

Viking Terrace’s green upgrades, which were completed last summer, offer its melting pot of low-income and formerly homeless residents access to a world commonly reserved for companies and individuals with the financial means to go green. Affordable housing developments like this one are springing up across the country, showing that green homes can and should be built for everyone, not just because they’re good for the environment, but also because they’re healthier, more comfortable, and—yes—more affordable.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Debating: a legacy

Denzel Washington is starring in a movie set in 1935 about the great debating team at Wiley College, a black college, now a struggling HBC, in Marshall, Texas. I hope the movie lifts its fortunes. One of Wiley's founders was former slave and Reconstruction legislator Meshack Roberts.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Carrollton Massacre: One of many forgotten histories

At long last, sometime this summer my essay on Elizabeth Spencer's novel The Voice at the Back Door and the Carrollton Massacre of 1886 was published. It came out in the Winter/Spring 2005-06 issue of the Mississippi Quarterly (Vol. 59, Nos. 1-2), which was published this summer. I recently obtained a .pdf copy to share here with you.

A couple of years ago, I wrote about visiting Carrollton, where the scene of this tragic violence, the county courthouse, still stands. I gave a talk about it as a Hutchins Lecture at UNC last year. The reaction in the blogosphere has been very interesting. A couple of comments to that "field trip" post:

"I live in Carrollton and I don't appreciate you coming into our town and digging up racial history and trying to stir up racial tensions."

"I grew up in North Carrollton and I don't recall ever hearing about the incident at the courthouse that I just read about in the 'field trip' story. I must admit that I am intrigued."

And quite recently,

"As a greatX4 grandaughter of the Confederacy, born and raised in the South of the 1950's, brought up with mint juleps and sitting on the veranda... I just want to say thank you. For far too long the truth of the horrid things that happenned has been hidden or twisted so badly that it could hardly be called truth at all.

"I have my own wound that must be healed... the lynching of L.Q. Ivy in Union County, MS. My grandfather was there when it occurred along with a crowd of several hundred and told me the story when I was a child. I was horrified then and am disgusted now at man's inhumanity to his fellow man."

I've had others say they knew, or kind of knew, about terrible violence way back when in the southern towns where they grew up, things that it wasn't polite to talk about. A crucial part of the rhetoric of the Lost Cause was to ensure that those stories didn't see the light of day.

The story of what happened in Wilmington in 1898 is an important example of the revised understanding of this history that is going on today. What used to be called a "race riot" is now, thanks to a study initiated by the North Carolina legislature, understood as a coup--a violent overthrow of legitimate governmental authority by the conservative white establishment. Al Brophy's work on what happened in Tulsa a little later is another example.

There are lots of stories. Nicholas Lehmann's book Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War provides a larger context to what happened in Carrollton and across the South. From a recent review of the book,

Nearly one month after resigning as governor of Mississippi, Adelbert Ames told a New York Times reporter in April 1876 that he did not blame the northern public for dismissing reports of fraud and violence in southern elections. "Before I went South," the Maine-born, former Union general explained, " ... I do not think that any amount of human testimony could have induced me to believe in such a condition of society as exists in Mississippi." Ames knew that it was difficult for northerners to believe that heavily armed paramilitary organizations would scatter peaceful political gatherings, that ballot boxes were stolen and burned, that public officials could be gunned down in broad daylight in the center of town, and that battles erupted between white and black militias in response to local elections.

The electoral violence of the mid-1870s remains perplexing. Although historians have documented the violent counterrevolution that undermined Reconstruction, the general public knows little of these events and seems skeptical that white terrorists could have so brazenly subverted democratic governance in the United States. Nicholas Lemann's intention in Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War is to bring this forgotten story to a wider audience and explain why southern democracy and civil rights were snuffed out.

Stephen Cresswell's Rednecks, Redeemers, and Race: Mississippi After Reconstruction, 1877-1917 also contributes to this new understanding specifically as to Mississippi.

And so, history and memory continue to tussle each other about. Writes Ira Berlin in a recent essay,

Slavery lives--and will continue to live--in both history and memory. But the time has come to put the two together, to join history and memory, to embrace slavery's complex history, to accept the force of slavery's memory, and thereby elevate both. For only by testing memory against history can a sense of a collective past be sustained. Perhaps by incorporating slavery's memory into slavery's history--and vice versa--Americans, white and black, can have a past that is both memorable and--at last--past.

"American Slavery in History and Memory," in Slavery, Resistance, Freedom, ed. Gabor Boritt and Scott Hancock (Oxford 2006).

UPDATE 12/03: More on the lynching of L.Q. Ivy mentioned above. Warning: not for the faint.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Curbing the urge to purge

The campaign is over, the Ruffin symposium is over, Thanksgiving is over, it's December already. I'm in a maintenance mood; took a load of books to the PTA Thift Shop today to clear out space for the ones stacked on the floor. I rarely buy books for their long-term value; they're to be read, or at least read at, and available for research. Some, to be sure, I need to have around for unexplainable reasons--old grad school books mostly. But more often, when I feel pretty certain I'm not going to need a book again, it's no pain to give it away.

I almost gave away my Everyman's Library copy of Thomas Browne's Religio Medici and Other Writings. But as I landed on the last page, I decided I wasn't ready to part with it:

Think not thy time short in this World since the World itself is not long. The created World is but a small parenthesis in Eternity, and a short interposition for a time between such a state of duration as was before it and may be after it. And if we should allow of the old Tradition, that the World should last Six Thousand years, it could scarce have the name of old, since the first man lived near a sixth part thereof, and seven Methuselas would exceed its whole duration. However to palliate the shortness of our Lives, and somewhat to compensate our brief term in this World, it's good to know as much as we can of it, and also so far as possibly in us lieth to hold such a Theory of times past, as though we had seen the same. He who hath thus considered the World, as also how therein things long past have been answered by things present, how matters in one Age have been acted over in another, and how there is nothing new under the Sun may conceive himself in some manner to have lived from the beginning and be as old as the world; and if he should still live on, 'twould be but the same thing.

--"Christian Morals," sec. XXIX

Virginia Woolf in her own way suggests why I might want to hold on to old Thomas Browne.

Accustomed as we are to strip a whole page of its sentences and crush their meaning out in one grasp, the obstinate resistance which a page of Urn Burial offers at first trips and blinds us. . . . He is an amateur . . . has no call to conciliate his reader. . . . Here we approach the doubtful region--the region of beauty. . . . But why beauty should have the effect upon us that it does, the strange serene confidence that it inspires in us, none can say. Most people have tried and perhaps one of the invariable properties of beauty is that it leaves in the mind a desire to impart. Some offering one must make; some act we must dedicate, if only to move across the room and turn the rose in the jar, which, by the way, has dropped its petals.

--"Reading" (1919)