HIST 8030: Comments on McGuire

There appears to be a glitch in Lindsay’s post that makes it impossible to reply by clicking “Leave a Comment,” so please upload your weekly response as a comment on this post.

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HIST 8030: “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance”

McGuire, Danielle L. At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance- A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

From the very first page of the prologue in At the Dark End of the Street, author Danielle  L. McGuire hooks the reader in, telling highly detailed and personal stories about some of the many African American women subjected to sexual violence in the segregated South. Beginning with the gang-rape of Recy Taylor in Abbeville, Alabama in 1944, McGuire presents a chronological look at some of the most horrifying and heinous rapes and other cases of sexual violence until the 1970s.  Throughout the book, the author argues again and again that rape, sexual violence, and the double standard in the prosecution of these kinds of cases helped keep black women and men oppressed in the bottom rungs of society’s ladder.  According to the author, “Interracial rape was not only used to uphold white patriarchal power but was also deployed as a justification for lynching black men who challenged the Southern status quo” (p. xviii). Especially early on in the Civil Rights Movement, law enforcement agencies would often ignore reports of black women being raped by white men, whereas a black man who raped a white woman (or had a consensual relationship with her or even just look at her “wrong”) would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law (receiving the death penalty) or past it (being lynched). Through her use of statistics, archival/primary sources, and interviews relating to the crimes themselves, their investigation, and their prosecution (or lack thereof), Danielle McGuire tells a compelling and heart-wrenching story about a less-widely-known aspect of the Civil Rights Movement.

Not content being victims, African American communities throughout the South (and especially the women within them) stood up to the tyranny of the oppressive legal system by banding together to create committees for equal justice and legal defense funds for their neighbors.  The women demonstrated their strength and courage when testifying to police or to juries in graphic about their attacks, not an easy feat for anyone, especially for those whose reputations had been sullied by white-supremacist defense lawyers for the accused (and in front of all-white juries). 

McGuire argues that the prevailing narrative of the civil rights movement focuses on male ministers, and that the women play second fiddle, using the story of Rosa Parks as an example.  While millions today remember her as the demure seamstress who refused to move to the back of a Montgomery city bus after a long day of work and was arrested for it, the true story is that she was a “militant race woman” who had been working for the NAACP as an investigator and secretary for over twelve years before her 1955 arrest (p. 100).  In fact, she was assigned as the lead investigator for the Recy Taylor case in 1944, and “gave an impassioned speech” at the 1948 NAACP convention “warning her colleagues to be wary of any federal civil rights promises,” which led to her being elected the statewide secretary for the Alabama section of the Association (p. 57).  Claiming that history was revised when Parks agreed to “serve as a model of a dignified woman in court” during her 1955 trial, the author maintains that “though Parks was far from a bruised blossom in need of chivalry, her role as a symbol of virtuous black womanhood was decisive in Montgomery as even the most reluctant middle-class ministers rallied to her defense” (p. 100).  This helped to erase the image of the powerful, outspoken, and controversial woman in the eyes of the public and replace that with the strong and inspirational male minister, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who began making national headlines at this time.

Throughout the course of this ambitious volume, McGuire makes several, interconnected arguments relating to sex and sexuality and how those (or the fear of them) were related.  She begins the book itself with a quote from Swedish economist and sociologist Gunnar Myrdal: ‘“Sex is the principle around which the whole structure of segregation… is organized.”  I believe that, when taken together, all of her arguments can be distilled down to this point (which is likely why she chose it to open her book).  The ultimate reason, it seems, why many white supremacists were so afraid of integration is because they feared that integration would lead to “social equality” (interracial sex) or miscegenation, although interracial sex was already happening very often (but not always consensually).  The most interesting chapter, in my opinion, was Chapter 7, “Sex and Civil Rights,” which discussed the claims by white supremacists (politicians) that civil rights activists, both black and white, were sex perverts.   Albert C. Persons, a staunch segregationist, published a book entitled Sex and Civil Rights: the True Selma Story about all of the perverted “interracial sex orgies” between black men and white women that he claimed were happening during the Selma-to-Montgomery March, using doctored photos and sworn police affidavits to “prove” his point.  McGuire makes good use of Persons’s book as well as speeches by Congressman William Dickinson of Alabama (who happened to be the one that hired Persons to investigate the March) that employed major racial fear-baiting and claims of orgies inside of churches, among other things.

At the Dark End of the Street is an incredibly intriguing book that really challenges the prevailing “King-centric and male-dominated version of” the Civil Rights Movement that America (and the world) has come to know (p. 132). While I read this book with ever-widening eyes, and couldn’t put it down, I do find two issues with it.  First, I wish that the author had included at least one specific incident of a similar vein that happened in the North or the West.  She mentioned the Watts and Detroit Race Riots in passing, but they were not expounded upon, and surely sexual violence was not only confined to the South.  Second, I felt that although the text was, for the most part, even-handed, due to the fact that McGuire makes such heavy use of contemporary newspaper accounts (which often used sensational language), the tone of her text was quite melodramatic.  That is not to say that the events written of were not every bit as horrible as she makes them sound, but I wonder if other words could have been chosen to tone down the rhetoric even a small amount.

Although I did find some flaws in the book, it opened my eyes to an entirely new history of events during the struggle for Civil Rights and my eyes were glued to each page. Due to this book, I have learned so much more about the Movement than I ever had previously in school.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you feel that McGuire’s work is able to fit in to the current historiography of the Civil Rights era or that it is too radically different from other works?
  2. Do you believe this book would be considered “controversial” in mainstream America today (as in, not academia)? Would most people (for example, our parents) consider the work to be “too liberal” and not “balanced” enough?
  3. Do you think the middle-class black community’s insistence on virtue and keeping up “proper” appearances did more to help or hinder their fight for equality?
  4. Is there anything that you would have included in this book that you feel McGuire may have left out or neglected? If so, what would you include?
  5. Both this book and last week’s selection, Hurewitz’s Bohemian Los Angeles are ambitious works that take many disparate themes and attempt to pull them together to make a single thread coursing through the book.  Both discussed Communism (and McCarthyism) and how it did or did not affect the Civil Rights and Gay Rights Movements, respectively. Which movement do you think was more inspired by the Communist Party’s organizing tactics (not so much their actual beliefs)?
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HIST 2110: First Exam Study Guide and Slides

Please remember to bring a blue book to the exam on Monday. Blue books are available at the campus bookstore.

Important Names and Terms

Columbian Exchange

Bartolome de las Casas

The Black Legend

Predestination

Triangular trade

Middle passage

Anne Hutchinson

Old Deluder Satan Law

William Penn

Bacon’s Rebellion

Anglicization

French and Indian War

Proclamation of 1763

Stamp Act of 1765

Articles of Confederation

Federalism

3/5ths Compromise

Whiskey Rebellion

Alien and Sedition Acts

Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions

Marbury v. Madison

Possible Essay Questions

How did Native Americans change the landscape and environment of North and South America when they began to settle in the Americas?

What factors contributed to the rise of African slavery in the South? (Explain at least three.)

Describe how the experience of African slaves in the Americas differed, based on region, type of work, etc.

Which British colonies were most tolerant in matters of religion, and why?

Why did British colonists believe they had a special claim to rights?

Why did Martin Howard say he opposed independence for the colonies in his “Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax”?

How did Bacon’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion reflect popular discontent? How did each threaten the political establishment, and how did authorities respond?

Explain three different ways that the form of government created by the Articles of Confederation dissatisfied many Americans.

What does the Constitution have to say about religion? In what way, if any, did the Bill of Rights modify the Constitution with regard to religion?

Lecture Slides

1 – The Origins of American Settlement

2 – Spiritual America

3 – Staples, Slavery, and Subprime Aristocracy

4 – The Rights of an Englishman

5 – Nation or Confederation?

6 – Life in the Early Republic

 

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HIST 8030: Bohemian Los Angeles, and the Making of Modern Politics

The history of homosexuality in the United States has been an oft ignored subject. As historians have gravitated towards scholarship that examines marginalized groups, homosexuals remained on the periphery of historical analysis. Recently, though, historians have begun to explore the world of homosexuality and gay culture, and the people who experienced it. George Chauncy’s seminal work, Gay New York, and Margot Canady’s Straight State, provide just a few examples in this burgeoning field.[1] By addressing this deficiency in the historiography of Modern US, historians of sexuality have provided a framework that assists in our standing of sexuality, gender, politics, and the process of othering. In Bohemian Los Angeles, Daniel Hurewitz adds to this field.   His analysis, however, goes further than just exploring the history of homosexuality in Los Angeles. By examining the development of identity politics by homosexuals in Edendale, a Los Angeles enclave, Hurewitz has provided an analysis that broadens our understanding of this distinct political development for the marginalized or othered.

The development of identity politics for homosexuals in LA did not occur spontaneously, rather, Hurewitz argues that, “…identity construction emerged from a complex interaction between individual violation, like minded concurrence, and state imposition.”(18) Moreover, Hurewitz asserts that the formation of identity politics could only occur after homosexuals identified themselves through their sexuality. Beginning his analysis by exploring the performances and identity of Julian Eltinge, a cross dressing actor who gained fame and popularity for his performances, Hurewitz explores the complex dichotomy of gender and sexuality. While on stage or film Eltinge performed and acted as a woman, but off stage he formulated an identity through his masculinity. The duality of Eltinge’s sense of self illustrates the fluidity of gender, and points towards gender as a social construction, but if Eltinge signified a multifaceted identity for homosexuals, how then did they create a political identity that revolved around their sexuality? For Hurewitz, the answer revolves around the community of Edendale.

The history of Edendale, like much of LA, began with the film industry. Movie studios cropped during the 1920s, creating a thriving community, but when those studios began to close, the economic viability of the community did not diminish, it just changed. Edendale soon became a haven for a group of artists who spent countless hours considering the meaning of identity through their art. It was these artists and their questions over identity, or essence as Hurewitz uses, that laid the seeds for the growth of identity politics. They met regularly through organized meetings, and it was the structure of these meetings that created a sense of community. The idea of place plays an important role for Hurewtiz, who cites Edward Soja, stating that, “the places where people live and how they live in those places distinctly affect how they understand themselves and their world.” (13) In short, place is essential to understanding ones sense of self. The artists, though, were only one part of the equation for Hurewitz.

As artists flocked towards Edendale as a refuge to practice and engage with their art, it also served as safe have for communists in both the pre and post war eras. While the artists questioned the meaning of identity through their art, communists in Edendale faced the reality of an identity based on their political leanings. Here, they formulated an identity based on their political ideologies. More importantly, however, they began to realize an emotional attachment to those with like-minded ideals. This attachment stemmed from their meetings and sense of otherness that developed through State sponsored suppression of their political ideology. The emotional bond developed by a sense of togetherness, through the oppression by the state and society at large, proves to be an essential aspect of identity politics, but it was the combination of all these factors that led to the construction of a unique identity for homosexuals, one that had its roots in their sexuality.

Daniel Hurewitz has written an intriguing and informative history of the establishment of identity politics for homosexuals in the LA area during the post war era. This book, however, is about much more than homosexuality. In fact, the political movement led by Harry Hay and the Mattachine Society only makes brief appearances until the end. Through this framework it is clear that for Hurewitz, that the importance of the Mattachine Society does not rest with their identity, but rather how this identity developed during the first half of the twentieth century. It is surprising then, that Hurewitz has no discussion of the deliberate exclusion by the State of homosexuals participation in the post war prosperity that occurred through the GI Bill. If identity politics is contingent on the oppression by the State and society as a whole, along with the other factors discussed previously, then even a short discussion of this marginalization would have sharpened the otherness homosexuals must have felt in the post war era. This minor critique notwithstanding, Hurewitz has produced a thought provoking work that historians of modern US, gender, politics, and sexuality will find fruitful.

 

Questions:

 

What is the significance of “place” in Hurewitz’s analysis?

How did “identity” evolve for homosexuals in the time frame Hurewitz writes about?

How has “identity politics” shaped and influenced political culture during the twentieth century?

Does Huretiz argue that gender is a social construction?

What role did the state play in the formation of identity politics in the community of Eldendale?

[1] George Chauncy, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, (Basic Books, 1994), Margot Canady, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America, (Princeton University Press, 2009).

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HIST 8030: An Elegant Appraisal of the American Political Tradition

Richard Hofstadter.  The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made it.  1948.  Reprint, New York: Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.  1974.

Richard Hofstadter was considered by many of his contemporaries to be a man of great wit, genuine grace and strong intellect.   All of these qualities shine through in The American Political Tradition.  A compendium of biographical essays, the book frequently takes an irreverent, ironic look at American icons, for instance saying of Thomas Jefferson, “The leisure that made possible his great writings on human liberty was supported by the labors of three generations of slaves. (26)”   While we all know and understand this to be the case, there is a certain sly elegance in Hofstadter’s phrasing that gives the information greater resonance.  Clearly, Hofstadter was a gifted writer as well as a serious historian – an unusual and welcome combination.

When The American Political Tradition was first published in 1948, the introduction seemed to indicate Hofstadter believed that beneath the surface ideological conflict among politicians and their political parties, there was in reality a broad consensus, pervasive in the US from its beginnings, which supported and sustained a capitalist economic system (xxvii).  However, in the introduction to this edition of the book, Hofstadter states he has profound differences with consensus historians.  He explains that “the consensus point of view is limited,” saying it merely provides a frame for the historical picture (xxix).  He goes on to cite as an example the profound conflict that led to the American Civil War, a “momentous and tragic political failure. (xxix)”   Therefore, despite his introduction in the first edition of the book [demanded by his publisher] his statement in this edition’s introduction should render it impossible to continue to conclude that a consensus theory of political history is the operative, unifying theme in the book.

Despite his denial, the book is replete with discussions of self-imposed limits of reform to accommodate business interests by leaders like Theodore Roosevelt.  Starting with the title of the essay, “Theodore Roosevelt: The Conservative as Progressive,” Hofstadter then points out many of the ways in which Roosevelt had no interest in helping workers and great interest in keeping Wall Street happy, an inclination with which we may be familiar.  Discussing Roosevelt’s record in the New York Assembly, Hofstadter lists a litany of bills intended to help workers that Roosevelt opposed:

“He also opposed bills to abolish contract convict labor, to raise the salaries of New York City police and firemen, and to improve enforcement of the state’s eight-hour law; he indignantly fought a bill to set a twelve-hour limit on the workday of horse-car drivers in street-railway systems (281).”

All denials by Hofstadter notwithstanding, the book clearly has a strong bias toward exposing what today we call the “classic liberal economic consensus.”

The sardonic tone of the book is clear even from reading the essay titles – “Abraham Lincoln and the Self-Made Myth,” or John C. Calhoun: The Marx of the Master Class.”  Hofstadter shows little restraint in putting forth his opinion about his subjects.  Still, there is real scholarship in his work.  Despite not having the extensive footnotes and long bibliography readers of history have come to expect,  it is clear that Hofstadter spent years researching his subjects and the political context of their actions.  He backs up his interpretations with facts.  Speaking derisively of Herbert Hoover’s economic philosophy, Hofstadter says:

“The peculiar economic theology that underlay Hoover’s attitude toward relief was highlighted by the political aftermath of the 1930 drought.  In December Hoover approved a Congressional appropriation of $45,000,000 to save the livestock of stricken Arkansas farmers, but opposed an additional $25,000,000 to feed the farmers and their families (399).”

When The American Political Tradition was first published there were clear differences in its reception between left and right leaning publications.  Hofstadter was patently a left leaning historian, and the book was viewed by many through that prism.  It was lauded in a number of reviews in the left leaning press, for instance called “an able, witty, urbane book,” in The Nation[1].   It also provoked some very strongly worded objections in conservative vehicles as long as a decade after publication.  In 1958, folding together Hofstadter’s work and that of Louis Hartz, Russell Kirk wrote in the National Review, “I am concerned…whether these scholars…do justice to the role that tradition ought to have in any scheme for rescuing modern society from its difficulties.[2]

It must also be remembered that many of Hofstadter’s conclusions have been called into question by succeeding generations of historians.  Writing a review in The New Republic on David Brown’s biography of Hofstadter in 2006, Sean Wilentz said, “Many of the [Hofstadter’s] historical judgments …appear contrarian to the point of being shallow.”[3]  He goes on to indicate that Hofstadter does not do justice to Lincoln’s “deep disgust at slavery,” nor does Wilentz believe Hofstadter adequately places in context his judgment of Jackson and the fight over the national bank.  Hofstadter has also been criticized for underplaying the impact of the populist movement.   Still, his work remains required reading in colleges and universities around the country.  Despite his criticism of Hofstadter’s work, Wilentz goes on to say, “Hofstadter’s sharpness about the darker follies of American democracy seems more urgently needed than ever.”[4]

Upon the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The American Political Tradition, historian David Greenberg provided in a simple sentence the best summation of the man at the time and the work he produced, “Fifty years ago, amid trying personal circumstances,[5] an audacious young historian wrote a book of lasting merit about American Presidents and their politics.”[6]  It is an irreverent book that forces one to question long-held assumptions, laugh out loud occasionally, and yearn for more, which fortunately Hofstadter went on to provide.

Suggested discussion questions:

  1. Does The American Political Tradition posit that throughout our history there was what we now call the classic liberal economic consensus or the “Washington consensus?”  If it does, is that an accurate take on our history?
  2. If the book were published now, would it be considered a scholarly work?
  3. Does the book indeed have a sardonic tone and is that appropriate in a scholarly work?
  4. In what ways do Hofstadter’s liberal leanings show through, or do they?
  5. Does the forward by Christopher Lasch, a controversial figure, help, hinder or not have an impact upon the reader’s understanding of Hofstadter’s work? Does it invite the reader to continue or not? 

Submitted by Louise Milone

August 30, 2014

[1] Perry Miller, “The New History,” The Nation ( October 16, 1948): 439.

[2] Russell Kirk, “The American Political Tradition,” National Review (February 8, 1958): 134.

[3] Sean Wilentz, “What Was Liberal History?” The New Republic (July 10 & 17, 2006): 21.

[4] Ibid., 25.

[5] Hofstadter’s wife Felice, also in her twenties, was stricken with terminal cancer during the time he was writing this book.  Her death, leaving behind an infant son, made this a devastating time for Hofstadter.

[6] David Greenberg, “Richard Hofstadter’s Tradition,” The Atlantic Monthly (November 1998): 132.

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HIST 2110: Spiritual America/Staples & Slavery

For Wednesday and Monday, view the Crash Course video below to learn about Virginia, Maryland, and New England:

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HIST 2110: Origins of American Settlement

For Wednesday’s class, we are going to be discussing how people got to the Americas in the first place. Be sure to get the textbook (Give Me Liberty by Eric Foner) and read pages 1-37. Also, read Ursula K. Leguin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and come to class prepared to discuss it.

You might also find this Crash Course video on the settling of the Americas useful to review the material before class:

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