My 2020 Synthesis: Empathy and Survival through the Lens of Pandemic Research

by Ashton Reynolds

Summer 2020 Combined Planning Meeting for Class of Covid and Voices of SMU Oral History Projects

Background

This past summer, I served as a Project Manager for the Class of COVID Oral History Project.  This project was initially conceived to record and document the feelings, thoughts, and actions of students graduating from SMU in the COVID disrupted 2020 spring semester.  Additionally, we were interested in how the faculty and staff who assisted those students navigated the unexpected trials and hurdles brought on by COVID.  However, not long into June, it became clear that this project represented more than our participants’ reflections of the spring semester.  Our project found itself in the midst of a pandemic that would extend past the spring and be met with the largest civil unrest since the Civil Rights Movement.  The Class of COVID project was indelibly shaped by the history it sought to record.

Naturally, the necessary resource for an oral history project is people to interview.  Our team took a multifaceted approach to identifying possible interviewees.  We contacted the appropriate university office for a list of graduating students.  In addition to that, we contacted individual departments within the various colleges of the university for assistance in identifying graduating students they felt might be interested in participating in our project.  Finally, and with perhaps the most success, we reached out to people within our own academic and social circles at SMU to interview. These people not only provided us with fruitful interviews about their own lives and experiences; they also made beneficial suggestions for other interviewees.

Because of the pandemic, all of our interviews were conducted via Zoom.  Once the interviews were recorded into Zoom, we uploaded them into a transcription software program called Otter.  Once Otter returned the transcripts to us, we then proofread the transcript for accuracy. After our initial edit of the transcripts, we sent them to another team member to review.  When the transcript was fully vetted, it was then added into Box along with its pertinent information and metadata to be archived in the SMU archives.  In order to facilitate the most truthful answers to our questions, our team agreed to embargo each interview for 16 years, with confidential access limited to SMU students and faculty conducting applicable research.

Approach to Ethics

I approached Class of COVID from both ethical and historical perspectives.  My grant from the Maguire Center not only necessitated an ethical approach but gave me license to pursue an investigation of present events and people’s responses to them as a trained historian.  While historians work in the past, the impetus of our investigations is very much based in the present.  Michel-Rolph Trouillot writes in Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History that the past itself is only the past because of its relation to the present.

The past exists “over there” only because we are “here.”  Pastness, events that we conceive of as before our time, are less a reality and more a position of our conception.  We remember and consider events of the past from the values and concerns of the current moment. As a historian and a person who has grown increasingly concerned with our present ethical considerations in light of the pandemic, our work caused me to wonder about the vitality of our project overtime. I wondered if future societies would revisit our research as an ethical framework for evaluating what they perceived as the past.

Line of Questioning

We wanted our line of questioning to be as objective as possible in order to gain clear and honest answers from interview participants.  We did not want our interviewees to answer our questions in ways that suited our preferences.  Instead, we wanted honest and unvarnished information.  In this vein, we chose a tone of inquiry that avoided confrontation. However, we did ask one question that was more direct – and possibly jarring – than the others. We wondered,

“What do you think your responsibilities are as a human during the pandemic?”

We ended the interview with this question. And although it was asked with no motives for emotional disruption, the very nature of the question makes presumptions about the validity of personal responsibility during a crisis, which could possibly prompt internal/and or external conflict. The answer to this question goes beyond a simple reaction. Interviewees must delve into introspection about what humanity means to them and their place within the community of humanity. Arguably, it is impossible for one to express individual humanity apart from community.

                                                                                 Historical PerspectiveAs a history PhD student, I spent the summer conducting research for my dissertation as I simultaneously worked on Class of Covid.  As I considered the answer to our question about human responsibility, I considered the way this question is considered within the academic discipline of history.  For example, as I read Alan Taylor’s American Colonies, I was struck by the way Christopher Columbus evaluated the indigenous peoples he encountered as not fully human until they adopted Christianity and paid some type of penance. The idea of penance was used to justify Columbus’ decision to enslave them.

Simultaneously, I read Benjamin Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier which describes the struggles of the Mormons to be seen as human both in light of the Missouri Executive Order 44, also known as the Mormon Extermination Order, and their struggle to thrive as a marginalized group in a democratic system that privileged the majority.  Previous research for my MA thesis examined the ways in which African American Baptists and Methodists during Reconstruction in Texas refused to accept less-than-human offerings of fellowship from white church members and chose instead to form their own church bodies where they could express the full dignity of their humanity.

These examples of ways in which people have used power to objectify and degrade others have caused me to believe that times of trial do not bring out the best in societies.  I used to be more optimistic, but I am less sure as I study history and live through our current times.  Conversely, my research with Class of COVID has led me to conclude that many, if not most people, are very concerned with personal ethics.  Certainly, our interviewees do not want to get the virus.

But through our interviews, I noticed that the overwhelming pattern was that the safety of others dominated our participants’ concern. This leads me to ponder whether the personal ethics that guide the individual will guide society as a whole. Will individual responsibility translate into public virtue? I believe there is a disconnect between the personal ethics of individuals and the communal ethics instituted by institutions, organizations, and governments.  Granted, our Covid project presents only a small sample of people. But it is clear that the personal ethics of people who prioritize the welfare of others often isn’t visible in the goals of the larger bodies these individuals comprise.

This does not mean that institutions, organizations, and governments are completely devoid of an ethical framework to care for the wellbeing of the people who are affected by their decisions.  I do think, however, that fully considering the humanity of the individuals that comprise these larger groups complicate how institutions attain their goals and needs.  This is a well-worn historical pattern and not new to the COVID-19 era.  For example, although the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom, there was once fear that Mormon’s threatened to upset the balance of political power in the expanding United States because of their reputation for operating in political solidarity.

Another example is the refusal of white churches in Texas and across the South to grant African Americans full membership within their congregations, despite the progress of the 13th, 14th, and 15 amendments. African-Americans were functionally abandoned by white congregants and the Republican party in the name of “healing the nation.”  This leaves me pondering, why do institutions, organizations, and governments eschew the creativity and courage to accomplish their goals and needs in an ethical manner that considers the full humanity of the individuals without whom they could not exist?

“Greater Good”

The answer must be that institutions, in contrast to many of the individuals we interviewed for Class of COVID, make their ethical decisions based on institutional survival which allows great latitude in sacrificing the individuals who comprise them under the banner of ensuring the “greater good.”  What is insidious about the “greater good” is how easily it becomes a neat default for institutions and their leaders to avoid the hard work of creativity and compassion.  The “greater good” is a salve to the conscience of institutions and their leaders that is unavailable to rank and file individuals that comprise the institutions.

Individuals must confront their humanity, one way or the other.  They can choose to eschew empathy and the action that derives from it, but they run the risk of rightly being judged inhumane for it.  Institutions and their leaders on the other hand can look at the faceless, story-less individual and jettison their wellbeing or association.  Here we recognize that the “greater good” does not equate to “greater majority.”  The “greater good” is the idea of the institution, paradoxically, not the individuals who comprise it.

Too often we look to the past for motivation for our ethical structures of the present.  If we take Trouillot at his word and view the past not as something of substance, but a position dependent on the present, then we can reorient the source of our ethics where it belongs, in the present.  Historical justifications, after all, are really simply dressed-up present desires.  If institutions do one thing well, it is the positive creation of their own history.  Their histories tend to emphasize the accomplishments and trials of the institution, drawing in the histories of individuals that serve the institution’s interests, as needed.  While this is a good historical approach for institutional survival and promotion, it is a poor approach for confronting ethical challenges brought on by events like pandemics.  It develops institutional glory, which is at best useless when confronting ethical challenges, and sometimes it is much worse.

Institutions must eschew institutional glory for institutional empathy.  To accomplish this, institutions – be they government, university, religious body, or corporation — must accept the notion of the past as a concept relative to our present reality.  With this mentality, the histories of the individual are not subsumed, or even redacted, to the history of the institution, but become pertinent and visible as a crucial part of the institution.  Once his/her history is accepted, the individual’s present realities and worth become undeniable.  Thus, the institution truly acts in its own benefit, as it becomes fully aware that it only exists through the individuals who comprise it.  Empathy is then the derivative of institutional history and not the illusion of glory.

 

 

 

 

WHAT’S IN A NAME? An Analysis of the Historical Partiality Involved with the use of the Term “Riot”

By: Ashton Reynolds

Covid-19 lockdown protestors at Michigan’s State Capitol on April 30th.
Photo Courtesy of The Guardian.

 

Protestors reenacting the death of George Floyd at Boston Common on June 3rd.
Courtesy of AP Steven Senne

In The Politics of Collective Violence, historian and sociologist, Charles Tilly explains that the word riot is infused with political meaning. He states that the term riot “embodies a political judgment.”  According to Tilly, when power-holders and those who are contingent to power-holders (i.e. those who are at the front of the line in receiving benefits from power-holders) disapprove of violence by those outside of their power structure, they label these demonstrations as riots.

Even when instances of violence are justified, those in power often describe the violence as riotous in order to delegitimize those outside of their group. Once power-holders employ this rhetoric, the assemblies in question are assessed as subhuman and destructive, which further solidifies the strength of those who control the inner-workings of social and political power.

A Historical Example of a Misrepresented Gathering: Millican, TX 1867-1868

Map courtesy of bestplaces.net

In late summer of 1867, the town of Millican, Texas fell victim to a large outbreak of yellow fever that was raging through the state.  George E. Brooks, the minister of a black Methodist Episcopal Church and registrar of voters for Brazos County, set aside politics, race, and grievances to treat sick and dying victims of yellow fever as the majority of the town attempted to distance themselves from those with the viral disease.

Brooks’ acts were a remarkable display of courage and humanity.  He not only cared for black citizens of Millican; he took care of white citizens, the majority of whom undoubtedly detested the fact the he served as county registrar. Indeed, Brooks received some minimal appreciation for his indiscriminate care of the sick and dying. The gratitude of whites, however, only went so far.  Just short of a year later, Brooks’ body was found decomposing in the hot sun on the banks of the Brazos River.  His flesh had been removed in strips and his face disfigured beyond recognition.  He was identified only because one of his remaining hands showed a missing finger from an earlier injury.

The Event that Led to the Eventual Murder of George Brooks

In the summer of 1868, race relations in Millican proved particularly strained.  Blacks were shown definitively that their skin color nullified any possible reconciliation that Brooks’ actions as a caregiver may have initiated.  In July, members of the Ku Klux Klan attempted to intimidate Brooks and his congregation by firing shots at them.  To the shock and dismay of the KKK members, the congregants defended themselves by returning fire.  The congregants’ response was so effective that the clansmen rode away quickly, and in their haste left their robes, masks, and pistols on the ground in front of the church meeting place.

The congregation did not rest on their laurels. Rev. Books organized and trained a black militia to defend the black community of Millican from future attacks. Whites knew of the militia because they trained every Saturday in full view of both black and white citizenry. As expected, the white citizens were unhappy about the black militia’s existence and even more dissatisfied with their practice of consistently drilling.

Most assuredly, the trouble that the militia prepared for came their way. What became known as the Millican Riot began with a rumor.  A leader among the freed persons of Millican went missing, and it was said that he had been lynched because he sought to collect a debt owed to him by a white man. The truth was that the leader had simply gone to neighboring Washington County.

However, because Brooks was unsure about what happened to the man, he sent the captain of his militia with a detachment of men to find the body in order to confirm the lynching.  While on their search, the militia came around a bend in the road. There, they came face to face with the mayor of Millican, as well as the deputy sheriff and a white posse who had come to ensure the militia did not take retribution against the supposed instigator of the lynching, i.e the white man who owed the debt to the missing freedman.

As is often the case when white Southerners described their conflicts with blacks at the time, the white posse claimed that violence began because blacks initiated it. The whites claimed that they were in the process of successfully brokering peace with Brooks’ captain until “a small negro” in the back discharged his weapon.   They responded by firing upon the militia, which resulted in the killing of fifteen to twenty freedmen including the captain with whom they were supposedly brokering peace.

A counter-example to most of the reporting about the Millican Massacre at the time it occurred. This is probably from a black newspaper. The Daily Austin Republic, July 20, 1868.

Undoubtedly, this is not what actually happened.  Rather, it is the fantasy of whites from the past and the present to obscure the fact that the white posse had no intention of negotiating.  Instead, more than likely, Brooks’ men were shot down before a word could even be spoken.  And Brooks was subsequently murdered.

In the flurry of news reports that followed in the days following, whites sufficiently exercised rhetorical power ensuring that what was in fact a racist massacre designed to terrorize the black citizenry and punish black leaders was labeled a “riot.”  From Galveston to New York, newspapers participated in the active delegitimization of Brooks, his militia, and the black citizens of Millican.  Despite the inaccuracy of the published stories about this event, mainstream readers believed what they read, and they capitalized on the word “riot.”

The story of what truly happened in Millican was replaced with a sensationalized tale about the supposed irrational and undisciplined actions of blacks that threatened the safety of rational, law-abiding whites. As is often the case when describing the actions taken by non-white actors against whites in power, “riot” was the name that was used at the time of the event and subsequently canonized by the historical record.  To this day, the event is most often referred to as the “Millican Riot” rather than the “Millican Massacre,” the preferred term of historians who have studied the event.

Connections to the Present

Of course, the politicization of the word riot is not restrained to that  particular subset of American society.  To this very day, the ethics that we citizens of the United States profess and those that we practice are in sharp contrast and possess a violent juxtaposition.  Images of violence pervade our lives, but they are not evaluated with parity or consistency. Recently, in a scene reminiscent of our country’s troubled racial past, white men dressed in camo fatigues and armed with assault weapons crowded the state capitol of Michigan in order to assert themselves and intimidate those around them. They were not military troops acting at the will of the state. Instead, they were a group protesting their state government’s lockdown policies regarding Covid-19.

Protestor who contested rules regarding Covid-19 lockdown at the Michigan State Capitol on April 30th.
Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images.
More protestors at the Michigan State Capitol on April 30th. Photo Courtesy of BBC and Getty Images.

In evaluating the protests of these men, it is appropriate to assess them in tandem with those of other assemblies who gather to make their grievances known, namely those who currently protest the inexcusable and deliberate killing of George Floyd.  They can hardly be considered an armed force in comparison to those who occupied the Michigan Capitol.  But when these people march – with or without violence — to air their grievances with those who hold power, they are met with impenetrable tear gas, clubs, and other tools of state-sponsored violence.  Their demonstrations are described as meaningless, destructive, and an overreaction.

The occupiers of the Michigan Capitol appealed to history by using aesthetic symbols of rebellion and revolution such as “Don’t Tread on Me” signs and Confederate Battle flags to legitimize their angst. And  generally, mainstream society has not rebuffed these individuals for their protests.

May 31st protest against police brutality in New York City. Photo courtesy of Rolling Stone.

However, those who currently protest the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin are criticized.  Their legitimate protests – whether violent or non-violent – are characterized as riots. There are those among them who have resorted to looting and violence, but the majority of them have not done so. Their demonstrations against the generations of systemic oppression in both conspicuous and inconspicuous forms against African-Americans by police departments across the country are often considered illegitimate.  They have been confronted by the National Guard.

It could be said that the National Guard are a necessary presence because the Minneapolis police have lost credibility within their city.  Nevertheless, by calling upon the National Guard, the governor of Minnesota is sending an unequivocal message that those who protest the death of George Floyd and the systemic issues that caused his death are somehow a threat to be monitored and controlled by the state with force.

 The Moral of the Story

Our guiding ethic that “all are created equal” and that we are one nation indivisible is a noble ethic that we conveniently abandon to our collective peril.  Our professed ethics are meaningless and will remain so unless our nation realizes that there is a disconnection between the ethic we profess and the ethic we perform.  Those in power must use the power of law and order to protect the rights and dignity of all people instead of using it as an arm of protection for some and an entity of persecution for others.

Those who cry “Justice!” in the streets must no longer be met with state-sanctioned violence, and white Americans should join non-violent protestors in burning down the façade of righteousness behind which systemic evil too often is enforced. Officer Derek Chauvin’s decision to end George Floyd’s life brutally reminded us that America is a nation of laws – not a nation of justice.  Our guiding ethic should rest in the later instead of the former.

Forgoing the Visage in Lieu of the Soul: The Way in Which Covid-19 May Change our Post-Corona Aesthetics and Attitudes

By: Camille Davis

Forgoing the Visage in Lieu of the Soul: The Way in Which Covid-19 May Change our Post-Corona Aesthetics and Attitudes

 

Top: The Cover of Vogue and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute’s 2020 Commemorative Edition. Bottom: The Cover of Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell’s Worn on this Day: The Clothes that Made History, published in 2019. Middle: A 1943 Vogue graphic explaining the importance of sacrifices to its readers during World War II.

In a pre-Covid-19 world, the first Monday of May would inextricably be known as the day of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Met Gala.  This mammoth fundraiser highlights the spring exhibition of the Met’s Costume Institute, and it brings together the biggest names in the art, fashion, entertainment, and athletic worlds. This year, the Met Gala, like so many other mainstay components of Western, pre-Corona life is indefinitely postponed. The Met’s need to reschedule is  one  of many reminders of the capriciousness of the time, and it is a reminder of what little control anyone has over something that felt like an indelible component of human control and human strength in the current age — namely the ability to control one’s personal image.

Yes, the Met Gala is an event that highlights the role of clothing and costumes as expositors of major historical moments and eras. But it also does something else that largely may have gone unnoticed until now: It champions a mild form of humanism. It glorifies the human predilection and practice of using clothing as a means of explaining one’s personal values, aspirations, and preferences to the world. It celebrates the role of clothing throughout history as a mechanism for human beings to communicate — and control — how they are seen and evaluated.

Such a power — a power to control perception — has historically been described as necessary, appropriate, and possibly an inherent right of one’s humanity. Think of Fredrick Douglass’ 19th century advocation of photography as a means for African Americans to present themselves as people of dignity in order to combat racial caricatures and stereotypes rooted in slavery. Or what about the practice of 18th and 19th century Native Americans who masterfully blended Euro-centric attire with their own indigenous styles to convey individuality at a time when the U.S. imperial ambitions relegated and condensed all indigenous people to the amorphous, ambiguous, non-specific “Indian”?

Frederick Douglass. Courtesy of Biography.com

 

Payouska (Pawhuska), Chief of the Great Osage. Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin. Silhouette, 1804. National Portrait Gallery

Consider the role of long hair and beards in the 1960s and 1970s as a visual component of the anti-establishment, youth quake. Or think of the practice of 17th and 18th century European aristocrats and American gentry of wearing powdered whigs to convey wealth, power, and physical prowess.

Woodstock, 1969. Courtesy of the NYTimes.com

King George III. Allan Ramsay. Oil on canvas. 1761-1762
58 in. x 42 in. National Portrait Gallery

The history of human adornment and self-presentation provide extraordinary physical evidence of the ways in which people attempt to advocate for themselves and their interests over time. And in the pre-Covid, 21st century, the desire — and the ability — to tailor perceptions may have been higher than at any other time in human history.

But yet, life abruptly shifted.

The institutions, mechanisms, and structures in place that normally provide the materials for self-imaging are now hampered by the pandemic crisis of Covid-19. The fashion houses, the salons, the barber shops, the spas, and the boutiques are no longer readily available. There is no way to maintain one’s “normal” visage and style for public consumption at this moment. From most reports, this will be the case for the foreseeable future. And perhaps that is a good thing.

Although possessing agency over one’s personal visage is a necessary and fundamental part of living in a free society, it can create a new bondage of its own. The 21st century’s ubiquitous use of social media  insinuated an idea of perpetual camera-readiness across the “developed” world that no one truly could ever maintain — before, during, or after — Corona. Instead of the image operating as a representation of a human being, somehow it became a replacement for the human being himself. Looking good became a substitution for being good. Perhaps now, the image has an opportunity to be relegated to its place in order to give the soul a chance to reclaim its rightful position within the human psyche.

Think of “The Greatest Generation”

In March, Princeton University’s Meg Jacobs recalled to CNN the “soul work” of the World War II generation that parallels and exceeds our own. While discussing the sacrifice of those in the armed services who fought across multiple battle fronts and the collective manufacturing efforts of men and women who braved the dangers and excesses of factory life to make supplies for those who fought, Jacobs mentioned some of the aesthetic and sartorial sacrifices required of the time. She recounted that some of the prevailing wisdom was to “Repair a shirt rather than buy a new one; paint on nylons instead of wearing the real thing, [and] go without cuffs on your pants.”

Jacobs explained that women were encouraged to wear pants instead of skirts to preserve fabric and to refrain from nylon stockings so that nylon could be used for parachutes.  And although it would be reductive and historically inaccurate to romanticize the  American society and politics of the 1930s and 1940s — there were plenty of political, social, and moral demons that needed expulsion — it is true that the military success of American troops and the subsequent economic success that helped underpin the “American century” resulted from a collective willingness to adjust to the demands of that day’s crises.

Jacob’s example is a timely reminder of the power that emanates from communal sacrifice.

Vogue, September 1943 Cover

 

Heroism in our Time

      

Christine McCarthy, a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on Apr. 2.

Photo Courtesy of Erin Clark—Boston Globe/Getty Images and Time.com

In response to Covid-19, there is a plethora of sacrificial beauty to behold — and to draw inspiration from — in our time, as well. There are the healthcare workers, first responders, food producers/distributors, and essential workers all over the world. And there are the arias from Italian balconies, the poignant sounds from #togetherathome and #homefest concerts, and the optimism emanating from virtually syncronized glee clubs. What of Andrea Bocelli’s hair-raising concert on Easter and the Metropolitan Opera’s concert on April 25th? Think of those quietly serving neighbors and friends without humble-bragging on public platforms. And oh yes – there are the countless fashion houses that are  manufacturing medical supplies and hand sanitizer or providing funds for Covid-19 relief. There are extraordinary opportunities to exhibit generosity of spirit during this uncertain and worrisome time.

 

Photo Courtesy of NYtimes.com

 

 

Italian Tenor Maurizio Marchini’s rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’, translated ‘None shall sleep’ from his balcony in March went viral. Many grew particular inspiration from Marchini picking up his small son as he sang the words ‘Vincerò!’ translated ‘I will be victorious.’ Photo Courtesy of Youtube.com

 

When life resumes some of its normality, there will be plenty masters of aesthetics to lead the way with beauty and with “soul.” Pierpaolo Piccioli, the Creative Director of Valentino is publicly discussing the need for using women of color as muses for European fashion houses. He has done so and continues to do so in his work.   Harvard Business School alum Nadia Boujarwah sustains the brand she co-created called Dia&Co, a direct-to-consumer clothing line for women who struggle to find plus-size clothing.  Additionally, there is Dallas based social organizer, NeAndre Broussard, who creates photo exhibitions of black men in suits to challenge and change Western misconceptions of black masculinity. And of course, Vogue and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)  continue to raise money for charitable causes in need of funding and exposure.

 

Adut Akech, South-Sudanese/Australian model who is the preeminent face of Maison Valentino. She is wearing a dress from the fashion house in the photo by Johnny Dufort. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times Style Magazine.

 

Most assuredly, the institutions that make us “camera ready” and “picture perfect” will again have their day in the sun. And so will we, the consumers. But until that day comes, may we join with those who are forgoing their image for the benefit of their — and others’ — souls. And may we become a bit more accepting and loving of our pandemic visages — and sacrificial attitudes — even after we overcome the pandemic itself.

Wouldn’t that make for such a beautiful world?

Viva Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders! A Brief History of Organizing and Mobilizing the Latina and Latino Vote

By: Jonathan Angulo

 

Viva Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders!

 A Brief History of Organizing and Mobilizing the Latina and Latino Vote

Photos Courtesy of Wikipedia

Photo Courtesy of pressdemocrat.com

On February 3rd, the Iowa Democratic Party held the first caucus of the Democratic 2020 primary. Caucuses are notoriously “messy” because they require voters to remain within enclosed locations for hours while votes are tallied. However, Iowa introduced satellite caucuses this year which allowed voters to participate in the election process without being physically present. The Sanders’ campaign recognized that this innovation provided an extraordinary opportunity for mobilizing the critical yet often overlooked Latina/o vote. The decision to engage this electorate with satellite voting secured the popular vote in Iowa for Sanders and placed him in a distinguished group of past presidential candidates who wisely assessed the Latinx vote as critical in their quest of obtaining the highest office in the country.

JFK and LBJ

In 1960, Mexican Americans supported John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s campaign with a statewide partisan organization, Viva Kennedy. Ethnic Mexicans overwhelmingly supported JFK when he began to meet with leaders from the G.I. Forum—a Mexican American veteran organization. In 1959, his staff met with Hector P. Garcia, the forum’s founder,  to organize Spanish-speaking populations. Thus, the Viva Kennedy drive arose. Ethnic-Mexicans also supported JFK because of the Democrats’ 1960  platform. Its agenda called for civil rights, school desegregation, fair housing, and voting rights. The campaign proved to be successful. Kennedy won 85 percent of the Hispanic national vote and 91 percent of it in Texas. The President-elect vowed to appoint more Hispanics—at the time Mexicans were referred to as Hispanics; today they are also referred to as Latina/o—to his administration. Despite this promise, the President failed to appoint Spanish-speaking people to significant political positions.

Courtesy of Button Museum

Lyndon B. Johnson’s relationship with ethnic-Mexicans allowed him to continue the political association with them that Kennedy established. Before becoming Vice-President in 1960, LBJ was a Texan congressman and senator. Johnson began his career teaching ethnic-Mexican students in the town of Cotulla, Texas. There he witnessed the lack of education and economic opportunities that ethnic-Mexicans endured. Upon his first Senatorial term, he organized the burial of a Mexican American veteran, Felix Longoria, at the Arlington National Cemetery. A funeral home in Three Rivers, Texas refused to bury the veteran due to segregationist beliefs. Longoria’s funeral motivated other ethnic-Mexican communities, like those in Cotulla, to fight for integrated cemeteries. When Johnson ran for president in 1964, ethnic-Mexicans knew that LBJ had been present during tough moments for members of their community, and they supported his successful campaign for the presidency.

Ultimately, Johnson’s presidential administration delivered material gains for Spanish speaking people like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Economic Opportunity Act, and Medicare in 1966. Despite these accomplishments, the legacy of  LBJ is somewhat undermined by his  choice to side with agribusiness interests against ethnic-Mexicans,  the Vietnam War (LBJ’s administration disproportionately sent ethnic-Mexicans to fight), and his reluctance to appoint Hispanic members to senior positions.

George W. Bush and Obama

 Four decades later, between 2008 and 2016, President Obama improved the lives and status of Latinas and Latinos within the United States. The Great Recession between 2007 and 2009 decreased the wealth of Latina/os by 66 percent. Obama’s administration worked to decrease unemployment which helped the community acquire some of their lost fortunes. President Obama also made sure to appoint Spanish-speaking officials within his administration. Notably, he appointed the first Latina, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court. Additionally, in 2009, he appointed Hilda Solis as the first Latina Secretary of Labor and when she left the position in 2013, Tom Perez replaced her.

While his administration kept major promises to the Latina and Latino community, Obama’s record on immigration was more controversial. Obama allowed the United States’ legitimate concerns regarding terrorism sway him towards hyper-vigilant — and arguably unnecessary –support for deportation.

Before the Twin Tower attacks on September 11, 2001, undocumented immigrants were temporarily allowed to remain in the country if they were married to a citizen or if their children were U.S. citizens. However, this changed once President George W. Bush led the country into war against major nations in the Middle East—formerly known as the War on Terror. Although the Bush administration attempted to use the War on Terror as a means for protecting the citizens of the United States from further terrorist attacks, this conflict led to stronger national and border security initiatives. As a result, Bush’s administration created the Immigration and Custom Enforcement Agency (ICE) in 2003 which paved the way for the separation of families with mixed immigration statuses.

ICE began to deport more immigrants, and by 2012, the Obama administration continued the practice of the Bush administration by  expelling  400,000 undocumented immigrants, 90,000 of which were undocumented parents of U.S. citizens. In 2014, the Obama administration’s record of deportation led the country’s largest Latino organization — the National Council of La Raza and its president, Janet Murguía — to identify Obama as the “deportation president.” Many of those who were deported were part of the Latina and Latino community.

Activists and the Obama administration worked together to provide benefits to the undocumented community after immigration reform failed in 2010 due to a bipartisan coalition of Senate Democrats and Republicans voting against immigration reform. This had been the case since 2001, and undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children—Dreamers—continued to fight for progress. Their initiatives proved to be successful when, on June 15, 2012, Obama’s Department of Homeland Security determined that it would not deport individuals who were brought to the U.S. as children under an undocumented status.

That same year, the President signed an executive order—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—which established that some undocumented immigrants could apply for a driver’s license, open a bank account, and would not be deported as long as they continued to renew their status. Individuals were eligible as long as they were sixteen or under 31 years of age, resided in the U.S. before June 15, 2007, had graduated from high school or were enrolled in a school, and had not been convicted of a felony. DACA therefore protected families from being separated. This initiative significantly impacted the Latina and Latino community as some came to the U.S. under an undocumented status to work in sectors like construction, hospitality, and agriculture.

Courtesy of Univision

Bernie Sanders and the 2016/2020 Democratic Primary

Between 2015 and 2016, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton campaigned against one another for the Democratic nomination.  Throughout the election, Sanders enhanced his relationship with Latina/os and was challenged for his previous stances. Sanders infamously voted against Immigration Reform in 2007 arguing that bringing thousands of immigrants into the U.S. lowered wages for American workers. Additionally, organizations like the League of United Latin American Countries (LULAC) encouraged Senators to vote against the bill. LULAC argued that the legislation lacked a pathway to legal residence under its guest-worker program, eliminated numerous family-based green card classifications, and that the guest-labor initiative lacked many worker protections. One year later, in January 2008, Bernie traveled to Immokalee, Florida, to witness the working conditions of tomato laborers.

After two months, the Senator convinced his peer Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to hold a press conference regarding the conditions of these workers. Two years later, the laborers, employers, and tomato purchasers agreed to increase tomato pound rates, improve working conditions, introduce health and safety programs, and make it easier to address complaints of sexual abuse. While Politifact states that Sanders did not entirely ensure these outcomes, his visit to Immokalee placed a spotlight on the workers’ issues who were undocumented and people of color.

The Senator’s campaign created an ad about the event which resonated with the community during the 2016 campaign. Despite this, Sanders lost ten out of eleven states where Latina/os made up much of the population. Since 2016, some of Sanders primary platform issues such as a single-payer health care program and tuition-free colleges/ universities reverberated with Latinas and Latinos. Yes, immigration policy is important to the Latinx community, but so is health care and education.

In 2019, Sanders decided to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination and has continued to solidify his relationship with Latina/os. For example, Bélen Sisa—a dreamer—has become the deputy press secretary for his team. Additionally, Sanders also hired Chuck Rocha-an ethnic-Mexican Texan—as his Senior Policy Advisor. Moreover, Carmen Yúlin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, became a co-chair for the Senators’ team. Throughout the campaign trail, Bernie has spoken at the National Association of Latin Elected Officials (NALEO) and the League of United Latin American Countries (LULAC). His appeal to the community has motivated supporters to create the group, Unidos Con Bernie. There is even a shirt on the campaign store that reads, “Tío Bernie” (Uncle Bernie). Additionally, The New York Times reported that Sanders polls well with Latina/o voters. Additionally, a Texas Lyceum Survey stated that the Senator garners 36 percent of the Hispanic vote.

Courtesy of Latino Magazine

Sanders was able to close his electoral deficit in the 2020 Iowa caucus because of his collaboration with Latinas and Latinos. The state had four Spanish-language satellite caucuses, and the Senator almost unanimously won them. Out of the 442 votes in the sites, Bernie’s campaign acquired 428 of them. This accomplishment would not have occurred without the help of volunteers like Marlén J. Mendoza who was one of the precinct captains in a satellite caucus. Throughout mass-Latina/o neighborhoods in Iowa, Bernie won 66.5 percent of the vote.

Courtesy of The Intercept

On February 20th, the Senator’s campaign won a decisive victory in the Nevada caucus because of Latina/o support. The official results reported that Bernie won 46.8 percent of the general electorate. According to entrance polls, he won 51 percent of the Latino vote and placed a strong second with African American voters. 27 percent of the African American community supported the Senator, and 39 percent voted for Vice-President Joe Biden.

After Super Tuesday, March 3, 2020 where fourteen different states voted, Joe Biden effectively beat Sanders in ten states while Sanders won crucial elections with large Latina/o electorates. The vice-president won Alabama, Arkansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas due to his strong African American support and endorsements from ex-presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg. Additionally, Biden’s strong finish in South Carolina and Democratic House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn’s endorsement gave him a strong momentum leading up to Super Tuesday. However, Bernie Sanders won Colorado, Utah, Vermont, and California. According to California exit polls, the Senator won 49 percent of the Latina/o vote. Sanders narrowly lost to Biden in Texas by a 4.5 percent difference,  but he won 45 percent of the Latina/o vote in that state.

As some of his predecessors who sought the presidency,  Bernie Sanders’ is making a collective effort that engages, understands, and organizes the Latina/o community. Numerous states have voted in the 2020 primary cycle; nevertheless, Latinas and Latinos will continue to make their voices heard.  As a Mexican American, I am convinced that even if Sanders does not win the nomination, the Latinx community will make sure that future candidates and administrations continue to listen to us. We are a growing demographic, and politicians who sincerely fight for health care, the environment, education, criminal justice reform, immigration, and affordable housing will have our vote.

12 Things I’ve Learned as a Ph.D. Student

SMU history graduate student Tim Seiter recently wrote an insightful and witty  article for INSIDE HIGHER ED discussing what it’s really like to be a PhD student and shares what he’s learned along the way.

To read, click here.

“Ad Perpetuam Rei Memoriam:” In Memoriam of Kobe Bryant

By: Camille Davis

Photo Courtesy of clipart.com

As the world reels from the news regarding the sudden and horrendous death of 41-year-old Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, it seems as though no particular tribute or testimony provides the adequate amount of answers or comfort. Grief is often debilitating, and when it is met with shock, the two culminate into a potion — or sometimes a poison — that seems impenetrable.

Although this is the case, we at The Future of the Past believe that historians have a mandate to tackle life as it comes — or in the case of history — has come. History is filled with both triumph and disaster, as well as questions that have no easy, definitive explanations. Ours is a field that encompasses the entirety of the human experience, and it is a field that provides a long, broad lens from which to examine both past and current events. With this in mind, we join the rest of the world in submitting our “ad perpetuam rei memoriam,” our “permanent record of the matter” regarding the loss of one of the most well-known and respected cultural icons of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Photo Courtesy of thewrap.com

 

Photo Courtesy of ABC

Exceptionalism

Bryant’s professional, athletic accomplishments are well-documented. Among them are being a first -round NBA pick during the 1996 draft, earning 5 NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals, appearing in 18 All-Star games, setting an NBA record as the third-highest scoring player in a single game until Lebron James surpassed his record on  January 25th, and playing with the Los Angeles Lakers for twenty-years, which is more than three times the span of the average, professional athlete’s career.  Yet interestingly, despite the gravitas of his NBA record, Bryant’s life off the court seems to provide the most compelling components of his legacy.

Photo Courtesy of NBC

Mamba Mentality

“Mamba Mentality” is a term that Bryant famously coined in 2016. He described it as the ability to “be the best version of yourself.” He named himself “Black Mamba” after a snake that was used as the symbol of an assassin in Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 film “Kill Bill.” The term evolved into a mantra about challenging oneself for greatness, exceeding the boundaries of physical and mental comfort, rising to the occasion, and focusing on solutions instead of excuses. In 2018, Bryant formally articulated this philosophy by co-writing a book called The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. The book became a manifesto for goal setters — both athletes and non-athletes — about how to meet the challenges of life with courage and commitment. New Orleans Saints All-Pro linebacker Demario Davis told USA Today, “Kobe’s impact transcends the game of basketball. It transcends life… Mambo mentality is more of an approach than anything else. It’s about attacking what’s in front of you with passion and purpose, without fear and doubt and without an ounce of quit.”

Bryant used this ethos to guide his post-pro-basketball life with the same intensity and intent that guided his time on the court. And equally as important, he spent his time in retirement encouraging others to do the same.

In 2016, he began the Mambo Sports Academy with the specific goal of mentoring athletes at every level of the game: NBA players, potential NBA recruits, high school students, and children. The academy included men, women, boys, and girls, and it was symptomatic of the teaching, support, and encouragement that Kobe had generously given to younger athletes during a large portion of his career. During the summer of 2019, Kobe Bryant and his Mambo Sports Academy hosted NBA players Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Kyrie Irving, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, Tobias Harris, Isaiah Thomas, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne recently explained that as Bryant planned to leave the NBA, she conceptualized writing an article about him that would “top them all.” When pitching her story idea to Bryant, she admits to appealing to his ego in order to get his permission to write a story that would be filled with grandiose language. She inferred that her article would simultaneously flatter Kobe while advancing her own career. Bryant saw right through Shelburne and declined. Instead of accepting a piece filled with vainglory, he encouraged her to write something authentic.

“He said he’d do a story with me about his life, but not out of vanity — mine or his,” she admitted. He told her, “I’m not interested in self-serving pieces. It has to be something where an athlete reads it and is inspired by something, learns something, and pushes themselves.”

Bryant’s famed “Dear Basketball” retirement poem confirmed this reality. He was done with vanity. He was ready to see himself — and for the world to see him—as he truly was: strong yet vulnerable to the wears and tears that time and experience unequivocally make upon the body.

Photo Courtesy of Google Images

The Beauty of Authenticity

In 2018, at the 90th Academy Awards, Bryant earned an Oscar within the category of “Best Animated Short Film” after turning his retirement poem into an animated film. He chose storied, Disney animator, Glen Keane, as his illustrator for the film, and he tapped legendary composer John Williams to write the film’s score. Though not formally educated past high school, Bryant was a known intellectual who favored Beethoven, which impacted the rhythm and tone of the music he preferred to accompany his autobiographical poetry.

Mumba Mentality and “Dear Basketball” were not the only pieces of literature Bryant penned. In early 2019, he began publishing the first volume of a children’s book series called The Wizenards, through his media company Granity Studios. Bryant co-wrote the series with author Wesley King. The next editions of the series were supposed to launch in March of this year. King has stated that the news of Kobe’s and his daughter, Gianna’s, deaths led him to delete the manuscript. The first edition of the series made The New York Times best seller list.

In addition to writing formally, Bryant also regularly made time to send text to friends and colleagues whom he believed needed encouragement. ESPN writers Ramona Shelburne and Jackie MacMullan both wrote pieces this week attesting to Bryant’s generosity of spirit exhibited through his notes of inspiration.

Photo Courtesy of theheavy.com

 

Photo Courtesy of NY Post

Fatherhood

The person he encouraged and instructed most passionately was his 13 year-old-daughter, Gianna, who was one of four  daughters he shared with his wife, Vanessa. In addition to his usual fatherly activities, he spent a significant amount of his time mentoring Gianna in basketball and providing tutorials to her AAU teammates when they visited the Mambo Sports Academy. Both Gianna’s death and her fathers were premature, and there will never be a human explanation insightful enough to ease the torment of their passing.

Photo Courtesy of Black Enterprise

Final Analysis

Despite the tragedy of this moment, it is reasonable to assume that Bryant lived  the end of his life with a peace about himself and all that he accomplished. His epic achievements and adventures are astonishing and inspiring for those who witnessed them or subsequently learned of them, but they seem right in line with what young, Kobe Bryant planned and fantasized about as a boy growing up in California and in Italy. As he scurried around shooting tube socks pretending to make clutch plays, as he describes in “Dear Basketball,” one can imagine a notebook, a journal, or maybe even a scrap of paper with a detailed plan for his life and these Italian words scribbled across the top of the page: Perpetuam Rei Memoriam, The Final Records of the Matter, before those records ever even occurred.

On behalf of your fans at SMU, rest well Kobe and Gianna.

 

 

When Virtue Comes in Color: The Historical Implications of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Voyage to South Africa

By Camille Davis

The Duke and Duchess in South Africa. Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News.

Recently, the world watched Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and their four-month-old son, Baby Archie, as they spent ten days touring South Africa. The media images of a royal, Western, interracial couple visiting a country that is notorious for its recent, segregationist past presents a poignant and powerful message about the progress and transformation that is present in both the British royal family and in the former apartheid-ridden, South Africa. Even more so, the racial context of the Duke and Duchess trip is palpable because of the criticism Markle has faced for her racially mixed heritage. The royal family has fully accepted Markle, but the British press has not.  There are also those within the American press who are relentlessly indignant about the African blood in Markle’s veins.  During her tenure as a royal, the duchess has not spoken explicitly about her ethnicity, until her most recent visit to South Africa. While addressing a crowd in Cape Town, she referred to herself as “a member of the royal family, a mother, a wife, a woman, a woman of color, and as your  [the people of Cape Town’s] sister.” This statement is powerful because it attests to the ability of Markle to represent multiple components of herself simultaneously. In essence, she exhibited that being a woman of color and being a British royal are not mutually exclusive. One can be both — and represent both—exceptionally well.

One of the great Western misconceptions about people with non-European heritage or racially mixed identities is that they are incapable of filling roles outside of those traditionally prescribed for them. For those who think this way, it is difficult to conceptualize a person of color operating in a position that has been historically preserved — either by law or custom — for those who are white. The Daily Mail’s infamous reference to Markle as being “straight out of Compton” and other pejorative comments of that sort are rooted in the idea that a black woman could not effectively navigate the responsibilities of a British royal. Her ethnicity and/or the culture that the ethnicity represents imbue her with a limited capacity.  In short, a woman of color is not fully a woman.

The Duchess of Sussex guest editing British Vogue. Courtesy of @SUSSSEXROYAL

Such marred perceptions create a proverbial tight rope for which Markle must walk. With each step, she must carry multiple layers of her identity with dexterity and grace because a misstep means that one or all of those layers will be marginalized and diminished by a jeering, chanting critical onlooker. A misstep means that she is criticized about her race, her role as a wife, her role as mother, her role as a royal, her identity as a woman — she is critiqued about her success or failure at being all of these things at once. The cynicism about her race creates a sense of dubiousness about all the other parts of her. “Can a black woman be a  ______?” This is why Markle’s public, multi-faceted identification of herself in her various roles is so important. By simultaneously claiming her familial roles, her royal role, and her race, she asserts her awareness of the tight rope and her willingness to walk it. And what better place to do this than in a country that is still healing from its deeply embedded, historical, racial wounds?

The Duchess cooking at the Hub Community Kitchen, a place for victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fires. Photo Courtesy of the LA Times via Jenny Zarins/ AFP/Getty Images/Kensington Palace
The cover of the September issue of British Vogue.
M.M’s birthday cake by Luminary Bakery. Photo Courtesy of Marie Claire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thank you note from M.M. to Luminary Bakery for her birthday cake.

Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

As is the case with all of us, the ultimate test for the Duchess of Sussex is what she does — not just what she says. In Markle’s case, the ease in which she delivered her Cape Town speech was indicative of the life she is living and has lived. During her two years as a member of the royal family, she has accomplished a tremendous amount. The most well-documented achievements include working with fashion designer Misha Nonoo  and the charity Smart Works to create a clothing line for unemployed British women who are attempting to re-enter the workforce; being a co-author and royal patron of the Together: Our Community Cookbook to raise money for victims of the  June 2017 fire in  the Grenfell Tower high-rise; guest editing the September issue of British Vogue and creating a theme for the issue that focuses on women who are creating positive social and political change in the world; also commissioning  her birthday cake from Luminary Bakery, a bakery that hires women who have survived trauma that includes abuse, homelessness, and incarceration. Additionally, she recently flew commercial in order to attend the U.S. Open in support of her friend, another woman of color, Serena Williams.

The Duchess at the U.S. Open on September 7th. She is sitting next to her friend, Serena Williams’ mother, who is on her right. Photo Courtesy of Fox News.

Do these actions tell us everything there is to know of her? Absolutely not. However, they do say that she has the ability to be a representation of feminine excellence for a woman of any race in the same way that her storied and beloved, late mother in law, Princess Diana was – and still is. By being an excellent woman of color, Markle will contribute to the eventual characterization of women of color as simply and unequivocally “women” by the Western world.

 

T.W. Gregory’s ‘Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan’ as it Resonates Today

By T. Ashton Reynolds

Intolerable and Inexcusable Acts that and All that Made them Excusable…

On July 10th, 1906, T.W. Gregory of Austin, Texas delivered a paper before the Arkansas and Texas Bar Associations entitled, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan.[1] His opening comments defined the Ku Klux Klan as the “Invisible Empire,” springing up overnight as a dark ephemeral shadow government fielding its own army of 100,000 men bent on carrying out its bidding.  He described this Invisible Empire as one that “passed laws without Legislatures, tried men without courts, and inflicted penalties, sometimes capital ones, without the benefit of clergy.”[2] It defied state and national authorities with impunity and its every act, according to Gregory, was “in defiance of the established order and the spirit and letter of our institutions.”[3]  Indeed, the acts of cruelty and oppression committed by The Invisible Empire (in addition to those committed in its name by others with dubious connection to the Klan) were both intolerable and inexcusable.[4]

Intolerable and inexcusable as the acts of the Ku Klux Klan were, Gregory was thoroughly convinced that, given the conditions of the South between 1866 and 1872, hardly any man assembled to hear his paper “would have been other than a Ku Klux or Ku Klux sympathizer.”[5] Academically speaking, Gregory stated that no one in their right mind could approve of the Klan as an organization.  But, given that the Klan was comprised of individuals hard pressed by the conditions in which they found themselves, the Klan took on the mantle of something more than a simple organization.  The Klan became a collective of individuals, a movement that assumed the “dignity of a revolution, the protest of proud and despairing race against conditions not to be endured…desperate men, challenging fate, and swearing that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should be theirs and their children’s at any cost.”[6]

Gregory concluded that Reconstruction created an unconstitutional vacuum of liberty in the South.  Four misfortunes sucked liberty from the post-rebellion South.[7]  The first misfortune was the assassination of Lincoln along with his generously kind plan of Reconstruction for the South.  The hatred and venom “unsurpassed” directed by Republicans and Southerners alike at Andrew Johnson whose political career was “as a matter of fact” marked by “honesty and consistency,” was the second misfortune that befell the South.[8]  According to Gregory, Johnson was “endowed with such a faculty for doing the right thing in the wrong way.”[9] When it came to reforming the Union, Johnson was like a bull in a china shop.  The third misfortune was the passage of the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill which removed from the Southern states the right to regulate freedmen as they saw fit and entrusted it into the hands of the War Department.  The Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, in the eyes of many white men in the South, was an intrusive attempt to disorder the inherent and necessary racial stratification of Southern society with blacks on the bottom.[10] Finally, the Reconstruction Acts suspended the constitutional rights of Southern states and their white inhabitants by unconstutionally imposing military rule over them.[11]

Ultimately, according to Gregory, these misfortunes allowed for the disenfranchisement of “substantially all of the intelligent class of the South.” Thus, into the vacuum came freedmen, who, Gregory was careful to point out, were mostly illiterate, and now comprised almost the entire electorate.  To make matters worse, Northern carpetbaggers and Southern Scalawags (who were “composed almost exclusively of the very scum of creation) controlled the black vote.[12] Insofar as Johnson was unable to check Congress, and the Supreme Court unwilling to act as the “bulwark against unconstitutional legislation and executive tyranny” as intended by the founding fathers.  Gregory wrote that, by 1867, “it seemed that every remedy had tried in vain and the limit of endurance reached.”[13]

 

The Ku Klux Klan: Defenders of The Constitution and Freedom…

 At the halfway point of his paper Gregory quotes Woodrow Wilson’s History of the American People to set the scene for a full throated apologetic diatribe regarding the Klan:

“The white men of the South were aroused by the very instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of government sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interests of adventurers…There was no place of open action or of constitutional agitation, under the terms of reconstruction, for the men who were there real leaders of the Southern communities…They could act only by private combination, by private means, as a force outside of the government, hostile to it, proscribed by it, of whom opposition and bitter resistance was expected, and expected with defiance.”[14]

It was simply unbearable to be treated like some vanquished enemy fully at the whim of their conqueror.[15]  But, just when all seemed lost, “fate had prepared a potent weapon, and at the critical moment thrust it into the hands of these desperate and despairing men.”[16]

Where Gregory begins his apologetic description of the Klan is important.  He reminded his listeners that at the heart of the story of the Klan is just a small group of young, professional men in Tennessee with time on their hands who formed a secret fraternal organization whose only purpose was to “mystify outsiders and have fun.”[17] Essentially, according to Gregory, for the first year of the Klan’s existence it was not much more than the Kappa’s throwing a raging invitation only kegger while wearing scary looking robes and chanting creepy sounding incantations in barely visible  locations.  Yet, as new chapters, or “Dens,” sprang up all over the South, members of the Klan began to come to the realization that their goal of mystifying outsiders was having an unexpected side effect: it gave the Klan “amazing influence of the unknown over the minds and actions of men.”[18]  Soon members of the Klan shifted their purpose away from a great social prank to the idea that a “great mission awaited the movement.”[19]

The great mission was to take up the banner of the Constitution which existed to protect the weak, the defenseless, and the decent.  Of course, this was based on Southern white men’s understanding of what “constitutional” meant, as well as who was “defenseless” or “weak.”  The salient point here is that the Klan viewed the carpetbaggers, scalawags, and freedpersons as the true threats to constitutionality and decent people.  This was an important principle which underlay the Klan’s purpose for existence: for the defeated South, Constitutionality took on a spiritual immutable epistemology that had nothing to do with the government empowered by the Constitution.  As the misfortunes that befell the South during Reconstruction robbed it of its constitutional rights, there were men who would keep the spirit of the Constitution, as they understood it, alive until such time as constitutionality in governmental form could be restored to the Southern states.[20]

In the end, Gregory reiterates that though he does not condone the crimes and excesses of the Klan, the ends and accomplishments of the Ku Klux Klan fully justified its existence as a movement.[21]  Even though the Klan was extra-judicial and acted outside constitutional boundaries, it was a more agreeable than the perceived form of extra-judicial, unconstitutional action imposed upon the South by the Northern states.  In reality, Gregory is not describing a battle to protect constitutional rights as much as he is describing a battle to deprive constitutional rights.  If the acts of the Klan could not be condoned, they could be excused in light of their targets.

In Case You Thought This Kind of Thinking Was Dead and Gone…

For a brief time after the end of major hostilities in the Civil War, Southern whites believed life would return to normal, save they no longer legally owned slaves.  It would not be long before the horrors of the war faded into memory and things would go back to what they were before.  For Southern whites, Congressional Reconstruction put that dream despairingly on hold.  The Ku Klux Klan was the bearer of the banner that things could be great again.  More than a banner holder, they were motivated to action by that banner.

I read this document two weeks ago at DeGoyler Library at SMU.  Though we have seen a uptick in overt and covert racist demonstrations in the last few years, in those two weeks I have repeatedly come across the very ideas Gregory puts forth in this paper he delivered in 1906, some one-hundred and six years ago.  Last week I drove past a man selling dozens of racist flags on the side of the road.  This weekend in Hilsborough, North Carolina, Klan members rallied in public outside a courthouse in full regalia.  And yet, Gregory’s maxim continues to hold true.  Most self-respecting white southerners would never put on a robe and hold a banner in public.  The Klan is repugnant, a bunch of violent fringe extremists.  But, for white southerners racism, isn’t the problem: their problem is that they believe the government is creating an environment where white people’s constitutional rights are threatened in the name of justice and righting wrongs of the past.  This is not a matter of remembering the past so we don’t make the same mistakes today or in the future.  This is a continuation of what has always been in our country.

Picture taken in North Zulch, Texas by author
Klan Rally in Hillsborough, North Carolina that happened last Saturday, August 24th.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gregory ended his talk with an ominous threat for those in the future who might try and disturb white hegemony again:

“The Ku Klux machine has been stored away in the Battle Abbey of the Nation, as obsolete, we trust, as the causes which produced it; it will stand there for all time as a reminder how useless the prostitution of forms of law in an effort to do that which is essentially unlawful; but it will also remain an eternal suggestion to the vigilance committee and the regulator.”[22]

 

[1] Thomas Watt Gregory. Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan : a Paper Read before the Arkansas and Texas Bar Associations, July 10, 1906 / by Mr. T.W. Gregory. Austin, Tex: s.n., 1906.; T.W. Gregory graduated from the University of Texas with a Law Degree, was a member of the Board of Regents of the University of Texas, a Trustee for Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and was actively involved in the UT Ex-Students Association serving as head from 1926-1928.  He served as Attorney General of the United States under Woodrow Wilson and was active in state and national Democratic politics.

[2] Gregory, Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan, p 2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gregory, at one point in his paper differentiated between a revolution and a rebellion, noting that a “revolution is a rebellion which succeeds, while a rebellion is a revolution which fails.” p. 3. So, while in his estimation the KKK movement was a revolution,  by his same logic the Southern cause was a rebellion.

[8] Gregory, 4.

[9] Ibid, 5.

[10] Richard White, The Republic for Which It Stands: the United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2017), 50.

[11] Gregory, 6.

[12] Ibid, 7-8.

[13] Ibid, 11.

[14] Ibid, 11.

[15] It is fair to note that there was a certain whiplash to the treatment of the South during Reconstruction due to the competing understandings and goals of Reconstruction between Johnson and Congress, and even within Congress.  The everyday lesson here is, if you have a petulant child, both parents have to be on board or it just makes everything worse.  For more on Reconstruction see Negro Militia and Reconstruction by Otis Singletary and This Republic For Which It Stands: The United States and the Guilded Age 1865-1896 by Richard White.

[16] Gregory, Ibid, 11.

[17] Ibid, 12.

[18] Ibid. 13.

[19] Ibid.

[20] The Klan held an organizing convention in Nashville, TN in 1867 and adopted three (painfully ironic) points of action:

 

  1. To protect the weak, the innocent, and the defenseless from the indignities, wrongs, and outrages of the lawless, the violent, and the brutal; to relieve the injured and the oppressed; to succor the suffering and the unfortunate, and especially the widows and orphans of Confederate soldiers
  2. To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and all laws passed in conformity thereto, and to protect the States and people thereof from all invasion from any source whatever.
  3. To aid and assist in the execution of all constitutional laws, and to protect the people from unlawful seizure, and from trial, except by their peers, in conformity with the laws of the land..

Gregory, 14.

[21] Ibid, 21; Though earlier he goes out of his way to show that 90% of the time the Klan used what he described as the ignorance and superstitious nature of freedmen and poor whites to simply scare them into falling in line, but if and when they did use deadly force they gave their victims at least a days warning to leave.

[22] Ibid, 22.

Book Review: Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848

Book review by Kyle B. Carpenter

In her debut monograph, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, Lindsay Schakenbach Regele produced an outstanding history of Early American capitalism. She argues that the American arms and textile industries became the focus of policymakers’ efforts to create national security after the American Revolution in order to protect the United States from reconquest and move on from dependence on British manufactured goods. An excellent political economy of Early America, the book shows the clear connections between the American state and business interests from the moment the United States declared its independence. It also hits on the major themes of national security, nationalism, and U.S. territorial and economic expansion. I found the book to be a joy to read as it contributes a valuable new concept, is tightly organized and always stays on point in its argumentation.

Schakenbach Regele offers historians of American political economy a new concept: national security capitalism. She defines it as “a mixed enterprise system in which government agents and private producers brokered solutions to the problems of international economic disparities and war.”[1] A forerunner to Eisenhower’s notion of the military industrial complex, national security capitalism neatly summarizes that the United States never completely adhered to free-market capitalism. Federal subsidies, government contracts, and protectionist tariffs for the arms and textile industries ensured the United States could withstand international conflict. The concept usefully provides a shorthand for future historians to utilize without having to delve into the depths of the connections between state and business in Early America on their own. Schakenbach Regele did all the work and wrapped it in a neat three-word concept.

In terms of its construction, Manufacturing Advantage is chronologically organized and adheres to its tightly woven argument. She begins the book with the supply nightmares George Washington faced during the Revolution and uses Valley Forge to ground her argument in the reality of shortages of clothing and arms. The framers of the constitution, keenly aware of the war’s supply problems, included executive powers for presidential cabinets and staffing to bolster manufacturing without having to wait for congressional legislation. Schakenbach Regele then takes the reader through all the formative decisions made by succeeding presidents and their cabinets from Washington to Polk, hitting all the major events from the embargo under Jefferson, the War of 1812, expansions into Latin America, and finally the U.S.-Mexico War. In each chapter, the author sticks tightly to her argument by explicitly showing how policymakers supported the arms and textile industries.

In fact, my one critique of the book is that it may at times be too tightly organized. Some sections of the book could benefit from the narrative loosening up to explore the broader context. For example, in chapter 6, “Industrial Manifest Destiny,” the author gives a brief background of the United States’ expansion into Oregon and Mexico but spends most of the chapter’s focus on changes to the Ordnance Department. I think this section of the book had an opportunity to expand a bit to explain the continued British and French presence in Texas and how it enflamed U.S. nationalism. Since nationalism was a key element in the unity between the state and manufacturing industry, further exploring the context of rising nationalism might help make the argument even more forceful.

My critique is merely how to make an excellent book even better. Manufacturing Advantage remains an incredible contribution to the history of Early American capitalism and political economy.  Its conceptual framework and organization make it an accessible read for any scholar interested in the topic.

[1] Lindsay Schakenbach Regele, Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry, 1776-1848 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019), 2.

From Rejected to Accepted: Learning from Mistakes and Setting Yourself Up for Success

By Andrew Klumpp

One of the things no one told me about graduate school when I started was exactly how much rejection I would face as a graduate student. The application process to graduate school probably should have indicated that the academy includes a fair amount of rejection, but I’m not sure that I really understood that until I started the process of really putting myself out there for fellowships, conferences, and jobs.

Social media and departmental websites make it easy to witness our colleagues’ successes. When someone receives a prestigious grant, their name and picture, deservedly, show up on the department website. When conferences make decisions about accepted papers/panels, I often find out first from enthusiastic announcements on Twitter before I even have time to check my own inbox.

Conversely, people infrequently announce their rejections from fellowships, jobs, or conferences.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the past four years to receive my fair share of acceptance emails, and on occasion, I’ve even announced my delight on social media; however, a big part of my process of receiving more acceptances has involved learning from plenty of rejection.

I used to keep all of my deadlines in my head and just presumed that I wouldn’t forget any of them. Vaguely, I knew when conference proposals were due and which fellowships might apply to my research interests. I had a bit of success that way, but I also got my share of rejections. I occasionally missed a deadline because it came up more quickly than I anticipated or failed to pull a panel together in time because I didn’t start my work putting it together soon enough. My first few years as a grad student, I learned some of these lessons the hard way, through rejection and the occasional missed opportunity.

I don’t mind be open about those early struggles, failures, and rejections, though. First of all, I’ve learned and changed as I’ve developed as a scholar. Secondly, I recognize that this is part of the process of my learning as a graduate student and good preparation for future efforts to navigate the academic world.

So, what have I learned from all of this?

1) Keep a Spreadsheet

In light of the lessons I’ve learned, I do things differently now. Every August I sit down to prepare an excel sheet to keep track of all upcoming conference, fellowship, and job deadlines for the academic year. This year, as a fourth-year student, I knew I’d spend a lot of my time in the classroom, in the archives, and writing my dissertation, but I didn’t want to lose sight of the many opportunities that would come my way. Missing a few deadlines earlier in my career or being rejected because I knew I didn’t allot the appropriate amount of time to an application taught me a lesson. Knowing the importance of these applications forced me to set myself up to maximize my opportunities for success.

During this process, I also take time to scour fellowship announcements, research library grants, and a variety of other sources of support for graduate students. If I find something that looks like it will apply to my work, I enter it into my spreadsheet, copy the website into the appropriate line, and insert the due date. Most of these opportunities occur annually, so I can find them at any time of the year, and by doing much of the legwork ahead of time, funding opportunities are less likely to sneak up on me. Sure, things come up unexpectedly, but when they do, I put them in the spreadsheet and continue with the process.

With all of that information collected, I can arrange my spreadsheet by due date and pace my work appropriately without the fear of missing an important deadline.

2) Start Conference Planning Early

Plenty of rejections have also taught me quite a bit about the process of putting together panels for conferences. Most crucially, I’ve learned to start earlier rather than later. Sometimes things come together last minute, but I’ve often found more success when I started early. It takes work to put together a dynamic panel and as a graduate student, that meant leaning on my contacts in the field, sending emails to folks I’d never met, and in at least one instance, turning to Twitter to fill a last minute vacancy. It’s work that takes time. An important part of getting your work out there is the process of presenting at conferences, but coordinating between scholars, particularly over email, is something done best with plenty of time to spare.

When setting up a panel, it’s also important to know who you are and pay attention to creating panels that represent the diversity of voices in the field. That’s been hard sometimes, especially because as a graduate student many of my closest colleagues are other graduate students. I know of panels of graduate students that have been accepted at some conferences, but your odds always improve if you are able to folks at diverse points in their career—the same goes for representing all other forms of diversity working in the field. With a bit of time and chutzpah, you can often secure established scholars for a panel. In fact, I’ve often been surprised by how gracious, kind, and encouraging these folks are when approached about panel opportunities.

3) Don’t let fear of rejection stop you.

Rejection can be very hard, and with every letter or email I get, there’s a tinge of disappointment. But I’ve learned not to be afraid of it. More than once in the past year alone, I’ve been happily surprised because I took the time to apply for fellowships or ask well-known scholars to participate in a panel I was developing.

When I look back on my 2018-2019 spreadsheet, it’s a mixed bag. I still got plenty of rejections, but I also met almost every single one of my deadlines with time to spare. At the end of the day though, it was my most successful year by far, particularly for fellowships and panel and paper proposals.

By taking the lessons I learned from rejections earlier in my career, I received three wonderful research grants for the coming year from the Van Raalte Institute in Holland, Michigan, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, and the New-York Historical Society in New York City. I also managed to snag a small dissertation completion fellowship, which will certainly ease the stress of writing next year and a few conference travel grants. This year, I’ll also have the opportunity to present my work in a variety of contexts, including on panels that I organized at the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the American Academy of Religion.

Since I started graduate school four years ago, I’ve been rejected a lot. Those rejections have often been difficult, disappointing, or frustrating, but they’ve also been instructive. I’ve learned that rejection is a part of the process. The system I’ve developed isn’t perfect and it certainly doesn’t stop me from getting rejected. Ultimately, though, it works for me. It helped me, as a fourth year Ph.D. candidate, look back at 2018-2019 academic calendar as one filled with both instructive rejections and also plenty of acceptances.