Saturday, May 31, 2008

87 Years Ago Today... The Tulsa Riot

TulsariotWell, it was 87 years ago today that the Tulsa Tribune story hit the streets and ignited the Tulsa riot of 1921. The story--called by the Oklahoma City Black Dispatch "the false story that set Tulsa ablaze"--said that "Diamond" Dick Rowland, a young black man, had tried to assault a young white woman in an elevator the day before. After that, white people gathered at the courthouse, where Rowland was being held. They'd come to see a lynching and maybe participate in one.

Meanwhile, over in Greenwood, the black section of Tulsa, veterans of the world war met in a back room of the "Dreamland Theater" with a newspaper editor to plan how to stop the lync hing. Their trip to the courthouse to stop the lynching later that evening resulted in a struggle. Immediately it turned into the riot that led to the destruction of the black community. Along Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa this evening the ghosts of 1921 may be walking again, reliving that tragedy....

More on this story here. This is cross-posted from thefacultylounge.

Resurfacing in Chapel Hill

Well, it was a long trip from Tuscaloosa to Chapel Hill.

I'm sitting here in my pet friendly hotel in Chapel Hill listening to the Democratic Rules Committee debate; riveting stuff, for sure. And because Chapel Hill is a new beginning for me, I thought that I'd post Thomas Cole's Falls of the Kaaterskill, which is about nature and the new. It's also a connection to my past, however, because it's home is the fabulous Westervelt Warner Museum in Tuscaloosa.

I have new found respect for folks like movers. I also have new found respect for the antebellum southerners I study. The amount of energy it took to settle the south and the physical difficulties were extraordinary. But what the move--packing my books and files, even with the help of movers--as well as the drive impressed upon me how difficult is was to sustain and propagate intellectual culture. The library at the antebellum University of Alabama had something like 5000 volumes; it was one of the largest libraries in the country at the time. Yet it must have been extraordinarily expensive and difficult to assemble those book. Moreover, it's testimony to the extraordinary commitment to the community of ideas that people in the old south, in places that were so difficult to get to, read and wrote about ideas of religion, politics, and moral philosophy. They sustained a culture in the face of adversity. Now, that may also tell us something about why that culture was so thoroughly conservative. (Although in the eighteenth century the hurdles were even greater and that was not so nearly conservative an intellectual culture.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A song for Al

My excellent guest-blogger Al Brophy is in transit today and tomorrow, moving from Tuscaloosa to Chapel Hill. This little song, via twittering Paul, goes out to him and Barb.

History from the Jim Crow Era

One of my favorite works of history is W. Sherman Savage’s The Controversy Over the Distribution of Abolitionist Literature, 1830-1860 (1938), by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Why has it won this place in my heart? In part because of the conditions under which Dr. Savage (who was a professor of history at Lincoln University) wrote and published it–in the dark days of Jim Crow. It’s newsprint paper testifies to the difficult economic conditions of its publication. Yet, despite the hardships of being an African American scholar of extremely modest background and means, Dr. Savage persevered.
I first fell in love with this volume when, as a third year law student (now many, many years ago) I was working on the response to abolitionist literature that was mailed through the United States mail to southern slaveholders and free blacks alike. The abolitionists’ campaign was a shrewd one–to use that great engine of commerce, the mails, to get their ideas into the hands of people where they might have an impact. The response testifies to the power of ideas to liberate us as a people.
Savage’s volume collected a lot of wisdom and presented it in simple and therefore elegant prose. And as I wondered about why such an important work was printed on such, well, inexpensive paper it dawned on me that this was the case because this was likely all the publisher could afford. Ah, further testimony to how ideas can find expression and an audience, even when they are not clothed in the trappings of wealth and majesty.
It’s further testimony to the perseverance of people who sought to tell the truth in those dark days–and were able to help our country remake itself.
Savage’s book is also a reminder that the mainstream academy does not always address issues of importance to African Americans. As Christopher Metzler’s been talking about here of late, we need to be careful to produce scholarship of importance to the African American community–and to our country as a whole. Similarly, we ought to be very suspicious of our colleagues who tell us that issues of race aren’t important or that we’ve already learned what we’re going to from research on race.
Alfred Brophy

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yale's Hidden, Then Disappearing Portrait

This repeats a post from a few years back over at moneylaw, where I used to post now and then.

Yale recently took down a picture of Elihu Yale, the university's namesake, which depicts a young enslaved male (who is wearing a metal collar) waiting on him. I had never heard of the picture before the story broke. Yet, now that I see it, I think it's an important depiction of the connections between that great university and the institution of slavery. I've posted the picture, from the Hartford Courant website at right.

The article reports that the painting hung in a room where the trustees met, though the room apparently was not generally open to the public. It is going to replace the offending portrait with another one, which does not have a slave in it.
Yale has other portraits of its benefactor, with less historical baggage. A painting of roughly the same size - of Yale standing alone by a table, a seascape behind him - will soon be dusted off and pulled from a storeroom at the Yale University Art Gallery to replace the one up now.

The African slave trade was brought to America by European settlers, desperate for bodies to work the sugar and cotton plantations, to supply their trading empires with goods. In paintings of the time, images of blacks in metal collars, marking them as slaves, were not uncommon, said John Marciari, a curator of early European art at Yale.

"It's a simple but lamentable fact of history," he said.
I think it's important to talk about the past and so I am grateful for the discussion of the Yale portrait. But I also worry when I see an effort to erase history, which may be one effect of moving the portrait. Lots to talk about here, of course. This will be a piece of University, Court, and Slave, of course.

Thanks to the fabulous Jim Campbell of Brown University for alerting me to this story.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Memorial of Samuel Townsend

In honor of memorial day, I thought that I'd post on a most interesting will--that of Samuel Townsend of Madison County, Alabama. (Thanks to the fabulous Merrily Harris of the University of Alabama's Hoole Library for bringing this to my attention.) Mr. Townsend's 1856 will freed a number of people (Joel Williamson speculates that at least some of them were family members). The will is important evidence of the ways that testators, lawyers, and executors negotiated around the system of slavery--and on this I will be talking more later this summer.

However, you know what the very first substantive request was? To be buried on his plantation and for a memorial to be erected over his remains! ("I wish my body to be interred in the grave yard on the plantation where I now reside, a marble monument worth from five to seven hundred dollars erected upon my grave, and enclosed by a durable stone wall.") Pretty cool to look to wills to see how people thought about memorials, isn't it?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Saturday, May 24, 2008

An Honorary Degree for Paul Jones

The blogosphere is lighting up with discussion of Washington University’s award of an honorary degree to Phyllis Schlafly. Sometimes those decisions are controversial; at other times, they are something that everyone agrees on.

All of this reminds me of one of my university’s excellent decisions on an honorary degree, which it awarded back in 2006 to art collector and benefactor Paul Jones. (Not Sally's Paul Jones, a.k.a. "The Real Paul Jones"!) The University of Delaware houses much of his collection of African American Art.

But first a step back in time to the 1930s Alabama. It was one of Jones’ childhood aspirations to play football for the Crimson Tide. Alas, that was not to be. Instead, he played for Alabama State. In the 1940s, when Jones was a student at Howard University, he applied to the University of Alabama’s law school and was denied admission because of his race. That didn’t stop him, however; he went on to a successful career as a businessman in Atlanta, then to work in the Nixon administration, and even a run for Congress in 1982 (as a Republican). At one point in the 1970s, Dr. Jones was in the federal government’s education department and approved a large grant to the University of Alabama for adult education. He never mentioned his history with the university at that point–he just did something that was forward-looking and positive. Though that did not mean that he had forgotten his history with the university; in fact, he saved the law school’s letter to him.

In 2004 the University of Alabama and Dr. Jones began a partnership that involved a show of some of his art collection in Tuscaloosa; that was followed by a generous gift by friends of the university for a scholarship for needy students in his name. And this culminated in his giving a commencement address in August 2006, along with an honorary degree. Even there, Dr. Jones did not talk about the past; he chose instead to talk about the graduates, their families, and the future. It was a moment of a gesture to make amends for the past and to build something better for the future.

This repeats a post I put up recently over at diverse education's group blog, The Academy Speaks.

Alfred Brophy

Friday, May 23, 2008

University, Court, and Slave

I thought that I'd talk a little about my current project. I'm pretty excited about it, in part because it's something I've been working on (in one way or another) since beginning graduate school. I've had a bunch of detours, through colonial American history (particularly Quaker legal thought), through violence in the early twentieth century and contemporary discussion of reparations. But I'm now back and working on intellectual thought in the old South.

Alas, I'm one of those people who study dead, white men--and Christians and slaveholders at that. Every now and then a white woman wanders across my pages, too. And sometimes enslaved people speak--though as I'll talk about next month, I more often study ways that the slaveholders try to prevent them from speaking.

My current project is a monograph, tentatively called "University, Court, and Slave." It's about jurisprudence in the south in the years leading into Civil War. And the way I try to get at that complex set of ideas is by looking to the writings of academics, who were often more expressive about the matrix of ideas about economy (utility), history, and precedent than were judges faced with deciding cases in front of them.

In the years leading into Civil War, orators at Harvard and Yale spoke in support of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. William and Mary’s President Thomas Roderick Dew and University of Virginia Professor Albert Taylor Bledsoe were among the leading American proslavery writers. Randolph Macon College President William Smith wrote a proslavery college textbook, Lectures on the Philosophy and Practice of Slavery. Smith's book, like many other southern texts, are available on the UNC website. I 'm glad such books are available, so they can be studied.

These days I’m studying the intellectual defense of slavery in American colleges in the years leading into Civil War. The same language of moral philosophy that’s employed in colleges also appears in public debate (like the debate over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 in Congress) and in judicial opinions. The concern for considerations of utility rather than individual humanity to slaves and their references to historical “knowledge” about the ubiquity and need for slavery appear in college classrooms, in public oratory, and in judicial opinions. Sometimes people write about the role of moral philosophy in judicial opinions. What interests me is how there is a common language. I don’t suggest that lessons Justice Thomas Ruffin learned while a student at Princeton in the first decade of the nineteenth century controlled him when he was a judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1829 through the 1850s. Rather, the language of utility and history that was common to college classrooms and to judicial opinions suggests some of the connections. The professors and jurists (and politicians, too) are drawing upon a common understanding of how to address moral problems.

Those sometimes hidden connections can help us answer some important questions about the reasoning process of antebellum jurists–-and so are important to legal historians. Once we focus on the ubiquitious considerations of utility, I think we understand why people as different in outlook as Morton Horwitz and Richard Posner both see economic considerations as central to jurisprudence in the 19th century.

Even more important than what they say about 19th century jurisprudence, these connections illustrate how powerful the proslavery forces were. They demonstrate that when we think about investigating universities’ connections to slavery, we should pay close attention to the ways that they loaned their intellectual capital to the project of continuing nearly four million people–-indeed our whole country–-in bondage. Those proslavery college professors were engaged scholars; they used their talents and their positions of influence to teach the next generation.

There are also stories about a few places where college professors opposed slavery. Judge William Gaston of the North Carolina Supreme Court spoke against slavery in an address at the University of North Carolina in 1835. After the mid-1830s, Southern schools–like the South more generally–were consistently and forcefully in favor of slavery.

President Francis Wayland of Brown University is one of those who opposed slavery; in 1845 he debated through a series of letters a proslavery minister from South Carolina, Richard Fuller. But those who opposed slavery were relatively few. More told their students and whoever else would listen that slavery was right; was ordained of God; was necessary for the continuation of American society; and that emancipation would cause greater harm (for slaves, as well as others) than would continuation of slavery. Such as some of the lessons we learn from rigorous investigations of our past, such as Brown University undertook. And for that knowledge, as for some many other things, we owe Brown's President Ruth Simmons and the Steering Committee’s leader, History Professor James Campbell, a huge debt.

Alfred Brophy

Thursday, May 22, 2008

New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: The Law and Politics Volume

Following up on a brief mention over at my home (, I want to mention a very exciting new book: volume 10 in the UNC Press' New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Jim Ely and Bradley Bonds edited it. These sorts of volumes are absurdly difficult to conceptualize: how can you capture something so sprawling as southern law--to say nothing of politics--in a few hundred pages. So they're necessarily selective. But that's the fun it is, isn't it? Seeing what you can put together--what cast of a few dozen characters can be made to speak for a region and many centuries? Reminds me of Richard Wightman Fox and James Kloppenberg's fantastic Companion of American Thought. Back in the day, it was a great present for almost all occasions.
Here is the press' description of the volume:
Volume 10 of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture combines two of the sections from the original edition, adding extensive updates and 53 entirely new articles. In the law section of this volume, 16 longer essays address broad concepts ranging from law schools to family law, from labor relations to school prayer. The 43 topical entries focus on specific legal cases and individuals, including historical legal professionals, parties from landmark cases, and even the fictional character Atticus Finch, highlighting the roles these individuals have played in shaping the identity of the region.
The politics section includes 34 essays on matters such as Reconstruction, social class and politics, and immigration policy. New essays reflect the changing nature of southern politics, away from the one-party system long known as the "solid South" to the lively two-party politics now in play in the region. Seventy shorter topical entries cover individual politicians, political thinkers, and activists who have made significant contributions to the shaping of southern politics.
Of course, it invites comparison with the law section of the Encyclopedia of New England, published a few years back by Yale University Press (of which I was a co-editor).
Sally's the master of things southern and legal, so I'll be interested in her thoughts on this important volume. There is a synthetic essay by Maxwell Bloomfield and Jim Ely and there are both topical essays (like southern law schools, convict lease system...) and biographical entries. One thing that I'm interested in is how the editors present the system of southern law? How do ideas appear in the story? How does the southern legal system relate to the national system? How do little people and legal mandarins fit into the story? Where does violence fit in and civil rights, too? What about the dissenters. Ah, there's just so much work to be done on southern legal history.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Edward Durell Stone's Crimson Carpets!

The New York Times' coverage of the death of A&P heir Huntington Hartford includes a video of his art museum on Columbus Circle, which was designed by Edward Durell Stone. You know what other building was designed by Edward Durell Stone? The one I've worked in the last seven years--the University of Alabama Law School! It's a pretty cool building--has a couple of spiral staircases and is reminiscent of the "dog trot" style popular in early Alabama homes. It also has crimson carpet--and that's what caught my attention, because the video refers to the crimson carpet in the Columbus Circle building!

The wills prof in me loves this vignette from the Times' obituary (which is a great read, btw):
he even floated the idea of his mother’s adopting his first wife, Mary Lee Epling, so that he might keep her as a sister after their divorce in 1939. Instead, Mary Lee made a successful new marriage, with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
I love the closing lines:
"I have tried to use my millions creatively,” Mr. Hartford wrote in one of the early issues of his magazine Show. But, he added, “The golden bird, coming to life, has sometimes wriggled out of my hand and flown away.”
Alas, we've lost another person with personality.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

This is why they call it the moonlight and magnolia school

I've got my internet connection back up, so....

On Sunday I came home, on the late side from a colleague's house--they live next to the famous Tuscaloosa Country Club (famous because it's the subject of an important vignette in Carl Carmer's Stars Fell on Alabama).

The magnolia tree in the front smelled oh so sweet and the moon cast such beautiful shadows. No wonder there's a whole genre built around them. (The so-called "moonlight and magnolia school" that flourished from the wake of Civil War through the early twentieth century, which focused on the beauty of the old south.) Of course, focus on that can cause us to lose sight of a lot else, which we should be paying attention to.

By the way, trees are great stand-ins in southern thought for the critical southern values of inheritance and family. So when I was looking for a question for my remedies exam, I thought one based on a case from Jacksonville about some homeowners who sought an injunction to prevent the Alabama Power Company from cutting down their trees was the makin's of a great question.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Poland/DeFeo House: A moving preservation story

Congratulations to George Smart of Triangle Modernist Houses for organizing a terrific modern home tour in Durham Saturday! We enjoyed the three houses on the tour in Hope Valley--Brian Shawcroft's 1963 Bruce and Nancy Wardropper house, Robert "Judge" Carr's 1958 Miriam and Henry Nicholson house, and the new "Three Pavilions" by Bill Waddell for Monica Hunter.

Also available on open house was the wonderful house designed by George Matsumoto for George Poland, a professor of foreign languages and literature at NCSU, in 1954. The house, designed like Matsumoto's own house only on smaller scale, was beautifully sited above Crabtree Valley in Raleigh, but development crowded upon it and threatened to consume it. Poland's heirs worked with Preservation North Carolina in 2001 to find a seller willing to re-situate the house and give it the love it deserved.

Don DeFeo did just that, working with architect Ellen Cassilly to coordinate the move to a new pastoral setting in Durham County, to design modest renovations, and to design a new downstairs.

Now he is selling the house through the Modern Home Network and Preservation North Carolina. What a delight to be able to experience this special jewel box of a house.

To hear a mockingbird

DURHAM - On a sweltering summer day in 2001, Vernon Tyson turned up the heat as he and his son Tim strolled through New Orleans' Garden District.
"What do you want to do?" the father asked.
The men had come to the Deep South as part of an innovative history class Tim was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The father, a United Methodist minister, often cut to the human heart of matters, so his son knew this question wasn't about where they should eat.
"At first I thought it was strange," Tim Tyson recalled. A 42-year-old father of two, professor of Afro-American Studies and author of the prizewinning biography "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power," he was not exactly adrift. But his father rightly suspected that his son had broader aspirations.
Before he could answer, something even stranger happened. A huge mockingbird -- "twice as big as any you've ever seen" -- swooped down three feet in front of them. It started singing, loud as could be, in music Tyson could only describe as jazz. They stood there, astonished.
"That's what I want to do," Tim declared.
Peder Zane on Tim Tyson.

Ruffin Field Trip: Part II

Here are two of Sally's other pictures from the Ruffin Field trip. At left is one of the slaves' houses from the historic Stagville, a plantation owned by the Beehan and Cameron families. About 900 enslaved people lived on the plantation around 1860. And below is the front of one of the houses. As I recall, there were four compartments--two on the entry floor and two on the second floor. Pretty sparse accommodations---no surprise there. And I think it's great that these structures have been preserved; they help convey a sense of what life was like. One of the things that surprised me (though it obviously shouldn't have) was how the houses are lined up in a row. It seemed very much like the industrial-era villages I've seen up north.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A new prospect for Raleigh's monumental landscape

Congratulations to the folks with the North Carolina Freedom Monument Project for securing Gov. Easley's support in their work to establish a monument to the African-American experience in the state on Union Square in Raleigh, the grounds of the Capitol. Initiated in 2002 by the Paul Green Foundation, this project has benefited from the dedicated work of many people, especially our friends Marsha Warren and Reg Hildebrand.

A couple of years ago, I said to Reg that I hoped the monument could be located within sight of the statue to Thomas Ruffin, author of the infamous State v. Mann, which handed to masters almost unlimited power to suborn their slaves through physical "correction." At that time, it was not clear where the monument would be sited.

Symbolically, there could be no better location than Union Square, home of so many of what Catherine Bishir has called the state's "landmarks of power" that by 1915, when the Ruffin statue was erected, some had already said the square was too crowded. Ruffin ended up in an alcove at the entrance to what was then the Supreme Court building, now the Court of Appeals; the spot considered ideal, on Union Square across from the court building, had just been taken by the 1914 monument to the Women of the Confederacy.

Some other monuments on the square include the 1892 Confederate Monument, unveiled by Stonewall Jackson's granddaughter precisely 34 years after North Carolina seceded from the Union; a statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, the first Confederate soldier to die in battle; and elaborate monuments to Charles Aycock, the "education governor" more recently known for his participation in the Wilmington coup of 1898, and Zebulon Vance, North Carolina's governor during the Civil War and again after the war as federal troops left the state. These monuments were all erected during the great period of the solidification of conservative Democratic power and the institutionalization of Jim Crow. As Bishir writes,

As the southern elite took control of the political process during the decades spanning the turn of the century, it also codified a view of history that fortified its position in the present and its vision of the future.

Throughout America in the decades just before and after 1900, political and cultural elites drew on the imagery of past golden ages to shape public memory in ways that supported their authority. By commissioning monumental sculpture that depicted American heroes and virtues in classical terms, and by reviving architectural themes from Colonial American, classical Roman, and Renaissance sources, cultural leaders affirmed the virtues of stability, harmony, and patriotism. The principal shapers of public memory and patrons of public sculpture and architecture in Raleigh and Wilmington, centers of political and cultural activity in the state, were members of an established elite. They were akin to aristocrats throughout the nation and they were well acquainted with national cultural trends. They also shared certain backgrounds, experiences, and values. All were Democrats, and, with a few notable exceptions, they were members of families of long-established social and economic prominence.

The Freedom Monument Project's supporters have pointed out that "except for an anonymous, wounded black soldier in the N.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial, blacks are not represented on the State Capitol grounds." This monument proposes to correct that oversight. It holds the promise of inspiring whole new interpretations of the existing landmarks on and around Union Square--including the imposing statue of Judge Ruffin.

women of confederacy
After a bill introduced into the Legislature in 1911 by Gen. Julian Carr of Durham County to appropriate funds for a memorial to the women of the Confederacy failed to pass, Col. Ashley Horne put $10,000 of his own money toward the design and construction of the monument.

Thomas Ruffin's steady gaze still meets visitors to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The statue was funded by the North Carolina Bar Association and Ruffin's family.

The Ruffin Field Trip

Last fall I had the pleasure of visiting Chapel Hill for a conference on Thomas Ruffin that Sally and Eric Muller put together. They also put together a terrific field trip, which included a trip to see Ruffin's office over in Hillsborough and then some slave quarters. Sally took a bunch of great pictures, but she didn't post them. I thought you'd enjoy Ruffin's office.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Going Away Present

On Monday the folks at the University of Alabama Law School were kind enough to have a going away lunch for me and George Geis, who's moving to the University of Virginia. It was a real treat to be able to say bye to my colleagues of seven years; Tuscaloosa was a place where I learned a lot--about friendship and legal analysis and where I did some maturing as a scholar, too. I came to Alabama with a bunch of years of teaching experience already, so my experience here was different from the usual entry-level person. In a lot of ways that made it possible for me to focus on learning to appreciate the community and to work on projects that a new faculty member who's still learning how to teach just wouldn't have time for.

Sometimes I worry that my work isn't as interesting as it was before I arrived here. The project that's been most meaningful for me as a scholar was working on Reconstructing the Dreamland. I still think my two favorite pieces of scholarship are an article about a German lawyer who came to Pennsylvania in the late seventeenth century and wrote the first legal treatise in British North America and one on Harriet Beecher Stowe's critique of legal thought in her obscure but revealing novel Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp. All three of those were completed before I arrived here. It's sort of sobering to think that my best work (or at least favorite work) may be behind me. Even my current project, University, Court, and Slave, about which I am very excited, traces its origins to my dissertation--although I refined and expanded it greatly in Tuscaloosa. (You'll be hearing a bunch more about University, Court, and Slave in the near future; it's a project about which I am excited, in part because it's letting me get back to my core area of interest: intellectual history of the old South.)

So why do I like my earlier work--or why haven't I produced some more good ideas of late? Hard to say. I found working on Reparations Pro and Con (written entirely in Tuscaloosa) very rewarding but also frustrating. Quite simply, it's hard to get a grip on our nation's long history with race. And I fear that few people want to have a conversation about race. So trying to write a book that does justice to each side and takes account of the important perspectives coming from each vantage is, well, tough.

But maybe there's something about the career paths of scholars in general that accounts for this. Partly I've been taken away from writing articles in recent years by committee work for the University (always illuminating to serve on university committees--you learn a ton, even if it impedes scholarship) and partly because I've been editing book reviews over at Law and History Review, which I love. Maybe it has to do with how we learn to ask questions, too. The issue I find most interesting in legal history--how legal doctrine relates to culture--is an issue that invites even a novice scholar to ask lots of questions. So by the time I started teaching and certainly by the time I'd been teaching a bunch of years, I'd identified a lot of datasets (from cases to literary addresses to black newspapers to literature to landscape art) to examine. So that even when I'm doing "new" work, it's looking at older questions and at data that I've known about for a long time. Boy, it's a real thrill to realize that you're looking at something entirely new to the scholarly community--like the manuscript of the first legal treatise in British North America or the transcript of a trial in the aftermath of the Tulsa riot that took place nearly eighty years ago and that no one had used in decades. I've been getting that thrill again with University, Court, and Slave because I've been reading cases, treatises, and literary addresses that are often ignored.

But the project that's going to get me back to the sense of complete novelty (I hope) is still mostly in the future--it's about the idea of equality in early twentieth-century black thought. And it's tentatively called "Reading the Great Constitutional Dream Book." I've presented an early version a few times. But it's only been an outline so far; the vast majority of the work lies ahead. And therein lies the story about the wonderfully thoughtful going away present my colleagues gave me. My working title comes from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. When the elderly couple are being evicted, IM asks what are they being evicted from? They have (almost) nothing--all they had was the "great constitutional dream book." And so my project looks to what those ideas were--and then (and this is the really hard part to levitate) how those ideas relate to the civil rights revolution. Ellison first learned about those ideas of the constitutional dream while he was growing up in Oklahoma City and he wrote about that experience a couple of times--including in three essays published in the Carlton Miscellany in 1980 (Carlton College's literary magazine). Somehow (and I'm sure this cost a fortune in effort and money both) they found an autographed copy of that issue (which also contains terrific articles on Ellison by such Ellison luminaries as Robert Steptoe and John Callihan)! Opening that present at the lunch was just another example (as Ellison said) of the unexpected outdoing itself in its power to surprise! While of course I'd read those essays (several were talks given at Brown University) before, it's a real treasure to have them in their original form.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Prison Library: Literature and Black Identity

The recent news that the FBI asked for information from the internet archive is further evidence that books are both important ways of transmitting ideas and important signifiers of which ideas readers find important.

It is not just law enforcement that is interested in reading habits, however. We are hearing a great deal about the project of “the history of the Book” these days. It aims to understand the role of books as vehicles of change: how do books contribute to changes in society, how do they help to create and sustain identity.

Sometimes historians look at books, to measure a culture. What does Invisible Man say about the culture of the United States on the eve of Brown? What do Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery and W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk say about Jim Crow?

At other times, historians draw inferences about people from their libraries. This post talks about a list of about 120 books on the "black experience" that Judge Don Young ordered to be placed into the Marion, Ohio prison library back in 1972, Taylor v. Perini, 413 F.Supp. 189, 215-19 (D.C. Ohio 1976). What interests me about the list is its potential for mapping the sources of identity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. What, then, are the books that the judge ordered added? More below the fold.

The Harlem renaissance and its leaders are well-represented: W.E.B. DuBois’ Souls of Black Folk; Richard Wright’s Native Son and Uncle Tom’s Children; James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man; Claude McKay’s Home to Harlem (1928) along with some other Renaissance-era literature, like Rudolph Fisher’s Conjure Man Dies: A Mystery Tale of Harlem (1932) and Walls of Jericho (1928)). Situated between the renaissance and the 1960s is Invisible Man.

There is the early 1960s literature that captured the possibilities of the Civil Rights movement: Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land; Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969); King’s Where Do We Go From Here, The Trumpet of Conscience, Stride Toward Freedom (1958), and Why We Can’t Wait; Alan Westin’s Freedom Now! The Civil-Rights Struggle in America (1964); and Howard Zinn’s SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1968). I might also put John Killen’s And then We Heard Thunder (1964), James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone (1968); John Alfred Williams’ The Man Who Cried I Am (1967) in that category–they are situated in a place between the optimism of the Civil Rights era and the later separatism. They ask, with King, what now?

Then there’s the literature that represents the transition to black power, as well as disillusionment with the Civil Rights movement or western society more generally, such as Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1961) and White Skin, Black Mask (1952); Tom Hayden, Rebellion in Newark; Benjamin Muse, American Negro Revolution: From Non-Violence to Black Power, 1963-1967 (1968); Chuck Stone, Black Political Power in America (1970); Harold Cruce, Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967); Louise Meriwether’s My Daddy was a Numbers Runner (1969)). Along those lines, is literature that provides a popular, sociological critique of 1960s society, like Charles Silverman, Crisis in Black and White (1963). And there’s the literature that continued in the late 1960s and early 1970s to seek an answer in more traditional or different places, like Kenneth Clark’s Dark Ghetto (1967).

As you would expect, there are many on black power: Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice; Autobiography of Malcom X; Amiri Baraka, Home: Social Essays (1966); H. Rap Brown, Die N–r Die! A Political Autobiography; Lester Julius’ Look Out Whitey, Black Power’s Gon Get Your Mama; Bobby Seale, Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton. Maybe I’d put Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morning (1971) into this category. And I guess Cecil Brown, Lives and Loves of Mr. Jive-Ass N–r, too. Prison literature, like George L. Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, is surprisingly rare in this collection.

There are a lot of histories: DuBois’ Black Reconstruction; John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom and Reconstruction, Emancipation Proclamation, and Reconstruction; Franklin Frazier’s Negro Family in the United States (1968); Edward Cronon, Black Moses: Marcus Garvey (1960); David Levering Lewis’ King: A Critical Biography; Benjamin Quarrels’ Black Abolitionists, Mr. Lincoln and the Negroes; and The Negro in the Civil War; Kenneth Stampp’s The Peculiar Institution (1956); C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow (1955); Arthur I. Waskow, From Race Riot to Sit-In (1966); Herbert Aptheker’s Negro Slave Revolts (1943). Along with the histories are other scholarly work that describe and analyze black culture, such as E.U. Essien-Udom’s Black Nationalism (1970); C. Eric Lincoln’s Black Muslims in America (1961); Henry A. Ploski’s Afro USA (1971); Marshall Stearns, The Story of Jazz (1970); Chuck Stone, Black Political Power in America; and Joseph R. Washington, Black Religion (1964); and other work that collects culture, such as Miles Mark Fisher, Negro Slave Song (1953); Arna Wendell Bontemps, American Negro Poetry (1963).

DuBois’ Black Reconstruction reminds us that there are books on Reconstruction by and for white people and books on Reconstruction by and for black people. Talk about segregation of memory! Jim Crow separated people intellectually, as well as physically and socially.

Of course the classification scheme that I’ve imposed above says a lot about how I view the world of the 1960s and early 1970s, from the vantage of the early twenty-first century. I’m continuing to think about how to classify the books. And as the classifications grow, I find that I want to put books into several categories. It’ll be interesting to see what readers think about the classifications.

There’s a lot more to say about this; prison officials responded that they already had a lot of literature on the black experience in America in their collection. Might be worth comparing the two lists. For example, Booker T. Washington’s Up From Slavery appears on the prison’s list. But nothing like it is to be found on the court’s list of books to be added. One other quick observation: it’s surprising what isn’t in that list. For instance, I would have expected more James Baldwin.

The special master, Vincent Nathan (who used to teach at the University of Toledo Law School), was kind enough to correspond with me about how the list of books was assembled. He remembers that it came from a group of law librarians. The list may, thus, say more about the intellectual interests of librarians than about the needs or attitudes of the plaintiff class. But even then I think it's informative of what people thought ought to be included on a list of the "black experience." Much left to talk about here.

(This post is a repeat of one over at blackprof a couple of years ago.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Looking forward to the Visit

Thanks Sally for that very, very kind introduction and for inviting me to walk into Greenespace and chat for a while. It makes me very happy and optimistic about the future to know that someone as thoughtful as Sally is an elected official. And I'm looking forward to being Sally's neighbor and colleague in a couple of weeks. It's a dream come true to be on a faculty as terrific as UNC's.

I share Sally's interest in things antebellum and in how we remember the past. And because I'm giving a talk on landscape art and property law on Thursday I thought that I'd talk some about that now, because I'm still rearranging my note cards and trying how best to present this material.

The talk, "Property and Progress" (cute play on Henry George, eh?) is on the relationship between landscape art and property law in the years leading into Civil War at one of my favorite--and one of our country's finest--art museums, the Westervelt Warner Museum. The talk centers around my favorite work of American art, Asher B. Durand's Progress (1853), which just so happens to be owned by the museum. This will be a huge treat for me, to have the chance to talk about that most magical of paintings at its home. And, in fact, this talk is part of welcoming it home from travels to the Brooklyn Museum of Art and then out to San Diego for a major exhibit on Durand.

I join two themes here--first, the centrality of property and particularly the hand of humans on the land, in antebellum landscape art; second, the ways that antebellum property law reflected and amplified those values. The correlation between them is not perfect. A substantial part of landscape art reveals concern over increasing human intrusions on nature. For instance, Thomas Cole's landscapes frequently disclose an ambivalence about the market. What Cole and a lot of other people celebrate--including Frederick Church's Above the Clouds at Sunrise--is nature freed from humans.

Church_naturalbridge_2 The romantics of the antebellum era worried that someone tried to own the landscape. So when Natural Bridge in western Virginia was offered for sale, John Thompson protested it in the pages of the Southern Literary Messenger. Thomas Jefferson thought that the Natural Bridge, which he had once owned, should be treated as a public trust. (Frederick Church's image of the Natural Bridge, which is owned by the University of Virginia, is at right).

Landscape painters also captured farms and parcels of land, such as Thomas Cole's Ox Bow in the Connecticut River (right). It shows the landscape around Mount Holyoke. Look from left to right and see the increasing civilization. On the left is wild nature, twisted trees; over towards the right are fields, orchards, roads. Ox Bow was completed in 1836, the same year that Emerson completed Nature. You may recall that Emerson said of landscape that:
The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.
Thomas Cole painted a number of such scenes. Sometimes I've used Cole's 1847 "Home in the Woods," which is in the Reynolda House Museum.
The idea here is to show the ways that humans put their imprint on nature--and how artists celebrated that imprint. George Inness' Lackawanna Valley (below) is a classic example. Look at the machine going through the the fields of cut-stumps; the railroad roundhouse in the background; the smoke stack even further off; what a strange juxaposition (it seems at first) of humans and nature. While it seems strange at first, my point is that landscape art is part of the celebration of human's use of land. The boy sitting in the foreground reminds one of Thoreau who talks in Walden of setting his watch to the railroad whistle. Where the image of Walden is of a secluded place, that solitude was often disturbed by the train whistle and then the sounds of the engine.


There’re some neat connections here between property law’s reverence for private property (and its preference for use of land) and the kind of art that Americans produced. It's fun cultural history, I think. And every now and then there are some unexpected connections between judges and landscape art. For instance, in a lecture in 1844 at Dartmouth, United States Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury referred to Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire to illustrate how nations evolved–“starting first in the rudeness of nature; then maturing to high refinement and grandeur-till, amid the ravages of luxury, time and war, sinking into utter desolation.” The series of five paintings depict the same landscape (look for the mountain in the background), as the country goes from a state of nature, to civilization, consummation, destruction, and then desolation. Sort of sobering, but in keeping with many nineteenth-century Americans’ belief in the cycle of nations.
Others, including Justice Woodbury, saw an unbroken chain of upward progress, often facilitated by the increasing respect for private property. And so there's an odd contrast between Cole, who was ambivalent about humans' imposition on nature and Woodbury and a lot of other jurists, who were enamored of the market. And you know what Woodbury's talk is called? How could it be anything other than "Progress"?!
Cropseyuniversity_michigan Yup, colleges in the antebellum era were deeply interested in progress-- technological, economic, and moral (though what that meant was unclear). And so it should not surprise anyone that Jasper Cropsey painted the University of Michigan in 1855 (right). It has everything--the school buildings and church (at right), the fields, the roads, a horse drawn wagon, domesticated animals. The college in the garden, to paraphrase Leo Marx' brilliant book The Machine in the Garden. And another important source for this talk is Angela Miller's fantastic book The Empire of the Eye.
What, then, of the centerpiece of the talk: Durand's Progress? It’s a great canvass for seeing all sorts of images of what "progress" meant-–the shift from the native Americans over on the left (the state of nature), then moving across the canvass to the right, the telegraph wires, the steam boats, the canal, the peddler, the boy bringing the cattle to market, the church, the railroad roundhouse....
The talk is particularly meaningful for me, too, because it's the last lecture I'm giving in Tuscaloosa. So it'll be fun, but sad, too, because I'll be saying goodbye to a painting I love and a lot of friends, too.
Alfred Brophy

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You can call him Al, and call yourself lucky.

It's a pleasure to lend some Greene space to Al Brophy, professor of law at the University of Alabama, soon to be of the University of North Carolina. Can't wait to welcome him and Barb in person as they settle in to their new Southern Village home. Meanwhile, he's agreed to sit a spell here and test out a few ideas.

I first became aware of the prodigious Alfred L. Brophy's work seven or eight years ago when I started seriously researching the life and career of Judge Thomas Ruffin. Already by then, he had a long list of law review articles out there, a J.D. with a Ph.D. in history. He seemed larger than life! How refreshing to find out, years later, when we had him up here for our symposium on Ruffin and State v. Mann, that he isn't very tall. Al is quite down to earth, smart and funny and full of interesting ideas.

Please join me in welcoming Al to GreeneSpace and to Chapel Hill.

Friday, May 02, 2008

New Orange County homelessness plan web site

Carson Dean, our new coordinator for Orange County's Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness, has hit the ground running. I got a chance to see him in action on Wednesday afternoon, when he met with two rising UNC seniors who will be planning their senior class project, which they want to focus on homelessness. Earlier on Wednesday he had met with students from Hunger and Homelessness Outreach Project (HOPE) of the Campus Y together with other student groups interested in working on homelessness issues.

To the rising seniors, he made a couple of suggestions including one that would give support to homeless people as they enter the work force for perhaps the first time in many years, or ever. Increasing employment is one of the key goals of the plan, and Carson has been holding meetings already with key players to talk about that.

And meanwhile, he has dramatically improved the web site for the plan, upfitting it with lots of useful and current information.

Carson's official title is "coordinator" of our 10-year plan--which is exactly right. Within Orange County already there are lots of resources for addressing the needs of the homeless and those most at risk. The success of the plan depends on putting those resources to the most efficient use--coordinating these multiple efforts--as much as it does on getting new resources in place. Looks like he's off to a great start.

Check out the web pages and see how you can get involved.