Henry Louis Gates Arrested at Cambridge Home

“Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling.

Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed…”

Read the rest at the The Boston Globe.

Find the Police Report here.

Update: Charges have been dropped.


Kenneth Stampp Dies

Kenneth Stampp, 1912-2009
Kenneth Stampp, 1912-2009

From NYT:

“Kenneth M. Stampp, a leading Civil War historian who redirected the scholarly view of slavery in the antebellum South from that of a benign relationship between white plantation owners and compliant slaves to one of harsh servitude perpetuated to support the South’s agrarian economy, died Friday in Oakland, Calif. He was 96.

The cause was heart failure, said Richard Hill, a friend who was also the family lawyer and a former student of Mr. Stampp’s.

Mr. Stampp, who taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1946 to 1983, wrote several influential books about the Civil War period, from the decade leading up to the war to Reconstruction.

His reputation was founded on two books that turned accepted wisdom inside out and engendered seismic shifts in the scholarship of the period. They became staples of university classrooms.

The first, in 1956, was “The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Antebellum South,” which juxtaposed the views of slaves themselves with the more conventionally researched perceptions of slave owners, yielding a far different picture of the institution than historians had previously created.

Rather than portraying slaves as docile, simple-minded creatures who were complicit in their own subjugation, Mr. Stampp showed how by working slowly, breaking tools and stealing from their owners, the slaves were in constant rebellion. And rather than portraying the owners as beneficent upholders of a genteel culture determined to maintain racial harmony, Mr. Stampp revealed the slave-keeping impulse to be an economically motivated choice.

“We now viewed slavery not only through the eyes of the masters but through the eyes of the slaves themselves,” said Leon Litwack, a long-time colleague and former student of Mr. Stampp’s at Berkeley, and the author of “Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980. “He was clearly one of the influential historians of the 20th century. All you have to do is open history textbooks and compare what you find in them to what you found before 1960.”

The second seminal book, “The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877,” published in 1965, demythologized another favorite trope of previous historians: that the decade after the Civil War was disastrous for the South, a time of vengefulness visited upon it by the North, of rampant corruption and of vindictive political maneuvering….”

From a 2006 “History Doyens” profile by History News Network:

“To my best recollection, it was a former graduate student, Richard Heffner, who, hearing my feeling that there was a need for a new book, said, “Well, why don’t you write it?” and I thought about it. I do insist that it had nothing to do with the civil rights movement.

The book came out in 1956, and so somebody suggested–I think it was Win [Winthrop] Jordan, actually, who used to be in our department–that it was somehow connected with the civil rights movement, and it really wasn’t. My decision to write it dated back to the forties.

I began working on it as soon as I finished a book called And the War Came, which I finished in 1948. In the spring of 1952, I had applied for a Guggenheim, and I received one. I was due for a sabbatical. So I planned to be away for the whole year, from the summer of ’52 to the summer of ’53. That’s when I was going to do the bulk of my research on this book.

In January, I moved to Chapel Hill. I had written to a friend at the university there, and he had found a quite satisfactory place for us to live in a suburb of Chapel Hill called Carboro, which is a mill town. It was rather interesting living in a Southern mill town for a while. I couldn’t have done the book without going there, yes. I don’t think it had any effect on the tone of my book. A lot of the Southerners whom I saw, when the book came out, didn’t write to me and say, “This is a great book.”

When the Guggenheim year was over in July, we came back to Berkeley. I had a little more research to clear up out of secondary sources, but I began writing in the late fall or maybe early winter of 1953-’54. It was a terrible experience beginning that book. I was terribly concerned about this book and my responsibility in writing it. I really wanted to write a book that would persuade Southerners that slavery wasn’t quite like the myths and legends.

Now, the question of a publisher, Knopf published it, but I had an unfortunate relationship with Knopf with my book And the War Came–giving them an opportunity to reject it twice. It was a double humiliation. Anyway, And the War Came was out in 1950, and it had very good reviews. Alfred Knopf, the old man, was pretty peeved at one book man at Knopf, one of their field men, because he’s the one who had solicited the manuscript. I had said, “I will never publish a book with Knopf.” Anyway, this man came to me in 1952 at a convention and said, “I hear you’re writing a book about slavery.” I said, “Yes, but Knopf is not going to have it.” I don’t think is an exaggeration: I think he must have been under considerable pressure from Knopf because he practically got on his knees and asked for it. I said, “I’ll never send you the manuscript. If you want to give me a contract without ever seeing the manuscript, okay.” And I got it.

Sight unseen. I was never going to let them turn down another manuscript or another book of mine. So I’m very glad because Knopf makes beautiful books, and he does a pretty good job of promoting. So I sent the manuscript to Knopf the late summer of 1955, and I had an editor whose name I can’t remember, and he disappeared before the book was finished. He probably was fired. Knopf was always firing people. So for the last bit, I didn’t have an editor. The manuscript–it was a clean manuscript. I had a typist who really made no typos–I couldn’t find any–and raised a couple of questions. She did a little bit of editing, actually, anyway. So the manuscript was a nice clean one that I sent to Knopf; then later in his reminiscences, Alfred Knopf said that in all the time that he was running his company, he had only received two manuscripts that could go straight to the publisher without editing. Mine was one, he said; another was a friend of his who also had written on black history. Well, that was partly true, but it also covered the fact, or disguised or concealed the fact, that my editor had been fired. Anyway, it’s a nice story, and it never made me unhappy to have Knopf say that my manuscript was so letter-perfect.

It was published in October, 1956. As far as I know, it received no prizes. There was no Pulitzer prize or Bancroft prize. There was a prize at that time given for the best book in Southern history, and it didn’t even win that prize, though I think it was by far the best book in Southern history that year. The only prize actually came years and years later — I got the Lincoln prize in 1993. It was sort of a lifetime award, but the thing they always featured in their presentation prize was The Peculiar Institution, which most people think is the most important book I wrote.”

Read the rest of both pieces here and here.

Slow Posting Season

Alice Ruth Moore Dunbar Nelson Author of “People of Color in Louisiana,” Journal of Negro History (1917) Click Image for Credit

Due to research travel and the improbability of internet access, posting will be more sporadic than usual this July and August

Please feel free to share news and scholarship in the comment section below.

Thank you!

U.S. Episcopal Church Struggles with Complicity in Slavery

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“The dioceses explored the legacy of slavery and racism in various ways, many of them involving screenings of “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” a film created by Katrina Browne, a descendent of the DeWolf family of Maine, longtime Episcopalians who were slave traders in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The film follows Browne and members of her extended family on journeys to Ghana and Cuba and into their own hearts and minds as they wrestled with how they continue to benefit from the buying, selling and labor of enslaved people.

In addition, dioceses created study guides, video programs and other resources for congregations to delve into their own histories and confront the legacies of racism and slavery. (According to Deputy Diane Pollard (New York), chair of the Social and Urban Affairs Committee, the presentations will be made available on the website of the Episcopal Church archives in the future.)

The idea of “reparations” for slavery is a sticking point for many people. However, reparations means more than money, according to a definition prepared by the Diocese of New York: “Reparations is the process to remember, repair, restore, reconcile and make amends for wrongs that can never be singularly reducible to monetary terms. The process of reparations is an historical reckoning involving acknowledgement that an offense against humanity was committed and that the victims have not received justice.”

via Episcopal Life Online – NEWS.

Simonsen Reviews black Atlantic/African Atlantic Scholarship

Simonsen, Gunvor. “Moving in Circles: African and Black History in the Atlantic World.” Text, November 13, 2007. http://nuevomundo.revues.org/index42303.html.


“The article examines the development of African diaspora history during the last fifty years. It outlines the move from a focus on African survivals to a focus on deep rooted cultural principles and back again to a revived interest in concrete cultural transfers from Africa to the Americas. This circular movement can be explained by a combination of elements characterizing African Atlantic and black Atlantic history. Among them is a lack of attention to questions of periodisation and change. Likewise, it has proven difficult to conceptualize Africa and America at one and the same time as characterized by cultural diversity and variation. Moreover, the field has been haunted by a tendency of moving to easily from descriptive evidence to conclusions about African identity in the Americas. A promising way to overcome these problems, it is suggested, is to develop research that focuses on single individuals and their Atlantic trajectories.”

Available at Nuevo Mundo/Mundos Nuevos.

Niaah on Jamaican Dancehall

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Click Image for Credit

Niaah, Sonjah Stanley. DanceHall: From Slave Ship to Ghetto. University of Ottawa Press, 2009. 

Coming October 2009.

From the University of Ottawa Press Catalogue:

“The first extended study of Jamaican dancehall music and performance
culture. DanceHall combines cultural geography, performance studies and cultural studies to examine performance culture across the Black Atlantic. Taking Jamaican dancehall music as its prime example, DanceHall reveals a complex web of cultural practices, politics, rituals, philosophies, and survival strategies that link Caribbean, African and
African diasporic performance.
Combining the rhythms of reggae, digital sounds and rapid-fire DJ lyrics, dancehall
music was popularized in Jamaica during the later part of the last century by artists
such as Shabba Ranks, Shaggy, Beenie Man and Buju Banton. Even as its popularity
grows around the world, a detailed understanding of dancehall performance space,
lifestyle and meanings is missing. Author Sonjah Stanley Niaah relates how dancehall
emerged from the marginalized youth culture of Kingston’s ghettos and how it
remains inextricably linked to the ghetto, giving its performance culture and spaces a
distinct identity. She reveals how dancehall’s migratory networks, embodied practice,
institutional frameworks, and ritual practices link it to other musical styles, such as
American blues, South African kwaito, and Latin American reggaetòn. She shows
that dancehall is part of a legacy that reaches from the dance shrubs of West Indian
plantations and the early negro churches, to the taxi-dance halls of Chicago and the
ballrooms of Manhattan. Indeed, DanceHall stretches across the whole of the Black
Atlantic’s geography and history to produce its detailed portrait of dancehall in its
local, regional, and transnational performance spaces.”

Slave Route Museum Inaugurated in Matanzas, Cuba

“On Tuesday, the city of Matanzas inaugurated a national museum on the Slave Route in the San Severino castle.

Participants at the inauguration spoke about the indelible stamp left on the Cuban historic memory of those people who were violently uprooted from their lands and converted into slaves for cheap labor.

UNESCO Executive Committee President Olabiyi Babalola Joseph spoke about how the Atlantic slave trade forms an essential part of the shared history of Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and Americas.

Babalola said that the new museum represents a bridge among generations and is an interesting place to teach the African history and languages. He said the idea behind the Slave Route project is to break the silence on the immoral and ignoble practice of which Africa was a victim.”

Read the rest: Slave Route Museum Inaugurated in Matanzas, Cuba – Cuba – Juventud Rebelde – The newspaper of Cuban Youth.

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