HIST 7010: Suburban Exceptionalism and The Silent Majority

From Andrew:

Until recently, a key feature of the historiography of the sixties in general and the Civil Rights era in particular was the idea of the “backlash,” where the triumphs and changes made by movements focused on race, gender and sexuality, and ending the Vietnam War eventually flew to close to the sun and alienated large portions of the white working and middle class, giving rise to an ascendant conservatism exemplified by the Nixon and ultimately, Reagan administrations. This perspective changed in the early 2000’s, as a growing number of historians began examining the rise of the New Right as a kind of parallel movement to the much more studied activism of the 1950s and 1960s. Alongside historians such as Lisa McGirr, Joseph Crespino, Kevin Kruse, and Rick Perlstein, Matthew Lassiter locates the fracturing of the New Deal coalition and the era of a “New South” not in an overtly racial backlash to the Civil Rights movement, but in the growth of suburbia as a major node of power in American Society. The Silent Majority primarily focuses on Atlanta and Charlotte as case studies of how “the primary demographic forces behind postwar political realignment in the New South became the sprawling middle-class suburbs and the expanding black electorate, not the defiant Dixiecrats and the defeated massive resisters” (Lassiter, 41). Lassiter expands his focus towards the end of the book to make a compelling case against the ideas of Southern Exceptionalism, the divide over de jure versus de facto segregation, and the successes of a “Southern Strategy” in electoral politics in lieu of an emphasis on the meritocratic ideal of the suburbs couched in the language of the rights of property owners and freedom of choice in terms of education.

Lassiter begins by looking at Atlanta. “The city too busy to hate” and “capital of the New South” provides a key window into postwar changes in the region. Following Brown v. Board, tensions in Atlanta existed not only between whites and African-Americans, but between the rural denizens espousing massive resistance against de-segregation, including shuttering all private schools, and the residents of Atlanta’s northern suburbs, who sought a program of peaceful one-way integration that would not tarnish the city’s reputation for corporate expansion (Lassiter, 45). Lassiter spotlights the grassroots nature of suburban activism by focusing on Help Our Public Education (HOPE), founded by two suburban mothers to prevent disruptions in their children’s education (61). HOPE was virulently castigated by proponents of massive resistance as it shattered their contention that all of white Georgia was united against the prospect of school desegregation (78). HOPE became an exemplar of “pragmatic segregation”, where a small handful of high-achieving black students would be admitted into white schools, meeting the bare minimum requirements of desegregation while avoiding outright integration. While these activists could be seen favorably compared to the demagoguery of massive resisters, Lassiter writes that “Atlanta’s open-schools movement never countered the segregationist crusade to preserve southern tradition with an alternative argument about the responsibility to atone for injustices of the past, but instead with a color-blind vision of a prosperous future liberated entirely from the burdens of southern history” (104). Lassiter ends his section on Atlanta by chronicling the failures of the city to annex the growing northern suburbs, leading to segregation along residential lines which shaped the future of the city. In switching the focus to Charlotte, Lassiter provides an example with similar origins but a different ending.

In switching to Charlotte, Lassiter explains the “Charlotte Way” as “a civic ideology that embraced the Sunbelt Synthesis of economic progress through racial moderation while managing to avoid the hubristic excesses of Atlanta Exceptionalism” (128). After an attempt at a limited, voluntary desegregation plan led to a white mob assaulting a black student, Charlotte’s civic and business leaders devised a new plan to ensure order and prevent violence while attempting to forge a biracial consensus (128-129). When the limits of one-way desegregation led to a push for two-way busing and integration, the Concerned Parents Association (CPA) fought back using language that stressed ideas of taxpayer rights and privileges, rather than outright racial animus, to try and thwart complete integration. Using the CPA as a prime example of “the Silent Majority” as coined by the Nixon administration, Lassiter notes how these “Forgotten Americans” managed to appropriate the language of individual freedoms and rights from Civil Rights leaders while simultaneously ignoring the origins of racial, residential segregation. An ahistorical viewpoint of color-blind individualism and merit that Lassiter states “underlay[s] a predisposition to reject-or more often to fail to even consider-the abstract proposition that the government’s culpability in concentrating black residents in a certain part of the city should have any personal impact on middle-class lifestyles” (142). Charlotte differs from Atlanta by the ability of the city to incorporate its growing suburbs, leading to an interracial alliance against upper class proponents of busing that were unaffected by its implementation (194-5). Following these case studies, Lassiter looks at the bigger picture of how the suburbs have shaped modern America.

As we noted in our last meeting, racial integration, busing in particular, is hardly a phenomena occurring solely in the South. As the suburban model spread throughout the nation, Lassiter puts a finger on why measures like busing lead to such virulent reactions. “The meritocratic ethos celebrated throughout America’s upper-middle-class suburbs has always contained two central contradictions: the refusal to acknowledge that any historical forces greater than individual accomplishment shaped the spatial patterns of the metropolitan landscape and the ‘neighborhood schools’ presumption that children of privilege should receive every advantage of the consumer affluence accumulated by their parents instead of competing on an egalitarian playing field” (217). This analysis repudiates the idea of de jure segregation being a different species than de facto segregation, where the former is Un-American and remediable while the latter is simply a product of circumstance. The failure of Bradley v. Richmond to withstand appeal, due in large part to a “massive resistance” of middle class families up to the Nixon administration prevented a wide-scale challenge to segregation resulting from residential patterns (292-3). Going forward, this allowed for a view that segregation was not a shame of the nation, but something that was triumphantly defeated and relegated to the past. Suburban politics have become the dominate politics of modern America, with a focus every electoral cycle on “soccer moms”, naïve or cynical declarations that racism is over, and the primacy of property rights over individual lives. Near the end of his work, Lassiter states that “the dominant ethos of American suburbia has always idealized the present and celebrated the future at the expense of any critical reflection on the past” (322-3). In many ways, this ethos has spread beyond the artificial boundaries of the gated communities where it spawned and became an ethos for national politics in the twenty first century. In short, we can never get away from the sprawl.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Throughout the book, opponents of busing speak in a “color-blind” language of meritocracy and the rights of taxpayers. How does this construction of rights fit in to our ongoing discussion about the nature of rights?
  1. On page 115 Lassiter writes “the resilience of Atlanta Exceptionalism lies in the futuristic amalgamation of pieces from across the American landscape: The Sunbelt growth ideology of Houston and Los Angeles, the Rust Belt poverty of Detroit and Newark, the elitist enclaves of Manhattan and Grosse Pointe, the consumer ethos of suburban privilege that extends from the subdivisions of Orange County to the townships of New Jersey and Connecticut.” Taken as a sum of its parts, can Atlanta be seen as a microcosm of post Civil Rights America?
  1. Most Americans are familiar with Brown v. Board and the 1964/1965 Civil Rights/Voting Rights Acts. Have other Supreme Court decisions mentioned in The Silent Majority such as Baker v. Carr, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Bradley v. Richmond, and Milliken v. Bradley been neglected in discussing the triumphs and shortcomings of the Civil Rights Era?
  1. Do you agree with Lassiter’s argument that “de-facto” segregation is a historical fiction?
  1. How does The Silent Majority demonstrate the limits of the American Constitutional system in addressing systematic issues such as racism and barriers to socioeconomic mobility? Is one of the jobs of The Supreme Court correcting the injustices of the past?
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HIST 2110: Lecture Slides


Below you will find the basic outlines for most of the lectures over the course of the semester. Please keep in mind these are only outlines; the lectures for the remainder of the semester are subject to change, and the material we cover will often diverge from the slides, meaning that regular attendance is critical. These slides offer a skeleton that you can flesh out by taking better and more extensive notes in class.  It would be ideal if you printed out or copied down these outlines before coming to class so you have the opportunity to take fuller notes on the lecture.

  1. Origins of American Settlement
  2. Slavery and the Atlantic World
  3. Spiritual America
  4. The Rights of an Englishman
  5. Nation or Confederation?
  6. Life in the Early Republic
  7. A White Man’s Country
  8. Democracy in Crisis
  9. The Second American Revolution
  10. Reconstructing a Nation
  11. Industrializing a Continent
  12. Thinking the People
  13. The Yen for Reform
  14. The Progressives’ War
  15. The World of the 1920s
  16. America: Back to the Drawing Board
  17. A Democratic Culture?
  18. The Ideological War
  19. Building a Free World
  20. The Third American Revolution
  21. Vietnam and the Rise of the New Right
  22. The Washington Consensus
  23. America in Globalization and War
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HIST 7010: The Strange Career(s) of Jim Crow

From Anna Tucker:

Throughout the semester, we’ve discussed various representations of rights in U.S. history, including intellectual property rights and copyright, citizenship rights, labor union rights, and socioeconomic access rights. This week’s readings provide a broad platform of discourse where we can further engage in our conversations about rights and their formulation. In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, C. Vann Woodward presents rights as a non-fixed attribute of society, subject to contractions and expansions through a variety of legal and societal forces. Danielle McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped,” meanwhile, explores how rights come in various forms – such as over your own body – and how they are often enforced (or denied) beyond the scope of the legal system.

The Strange Career of Jim Crow – C. Vann Woodward

The Strange Career of Jim Crow is based on a series of lectures C. Vann Woodward delivered in 1954 at University of Virginia directly following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education. Woodward argues that segregation was not a static or inevitable feature of the South, but instead, the South’s undulating history was already a succession of alterations to traditional norms and values. Throughout this oft-cited work, Woodward contends with William Graham Sumner’s determinist perspective that “stateways cannot change folkways” (103).

In its first edition, The Strange Career of Jim Crow provides a chronological overview of segregation’s fluid history using evidence from legal recourse and its social implications. Beginning with the experimental milieu of post-Civil War Reconstruction and moving into the heated political environment of the 1890s, the 1955 edition reviews the sudden expansion of segregation in the early twentieth century, culminating with impressive emotional force in the opening of rights for the black community during the “Second Reconstruction” (8). The 1966 second edition provides an overview of 1955-1965, championing the efforts of individuals and organizations who presumably nailed closed the coffin of Jim Crow. Yet the 1974 third edition, as noted by William McFeely, is a sobering perspective on the unraveling of these de-segregation efforts as federal support dwindled and identity crises sparked separatist initiatives among the black community.

Throughout his discourse, Woodward proposes several history-turning perspectives. Terming segregation as “physical,” not “social,” Woodward posited that segregation was not inherent in Southern antebellum slavery due to the physical closeness that was necessary to exert control as well as the unintended “intimacy” of “residential intermixture” (xi, 14). While acknowledging some extralegal forms of segregation, Woodward uses first person narratives to describe the flexible nature of this interracial closeness during a time period when white Southerners struggled to understand and exert dominance in a slaveless society (42, 25).

Additionally, Woodward presents a non-teleological proposal that there were several alternatives to early twentieth century segregation, reviewing how various political forces (Northern liberals, populists, and Southern conservatives) sought black votes, but whose ultimate abandonment of interracial political support resulted in the “South’s adoption of extreme racism […], due not so much to a conversion as it was to a relaxation of the opposition” (69).

Woodward’s lectures and subsequent publication of The Strange Career of Jim Crow sent waves through the historic profession and beyond, fanning the flames of historians’ interest in civil rights subjects and influencing others in nondeterminative racial discourse, including his doctoral student, Barbara Fields. Woodward’s narrative reverberated beyond the ivory towers, and even impacted Martin Luther King, Jr., who referenced Woodward before the crowd in Selma with his assertion that “racial segregation as a way of life […] did not come about as a natural result of the hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War” (231).

“It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” – Danielle L. McGuire

Continuing a review of rights during segregation, McGuire presents stories of black women who were victims of sexual violence to illustrate how this form of attack is a “psychological and physical […] tool of oppression” and “reminded black women that their bodies were not their own” (907). This 2004 study is born out of a dearth of rape analysis in the civil rights history and uses the case of Betty Jean Owens as a structural framework. The young woman, attacked by four men in 1959 as she returned from a Florida A&M dance, testified publicly in a trial that resulted in the unprecedented conviction of white men for the rape of a black woman (910).

Black women were subjected to multiple and frequent forms of sexual violence during the civil rights movement and prior, including rape, public exposure, and forced hysterectomies (910). Despite this rampant and invasive violence, a “culture of dissemblance” intensified among the black community to “counter negative stereotypes” of miscegenation and sexual projection, thereby muzzling many rape survivors (and inadvertently, hindering historical review) (914). But this “culture of dissemblance” existed concurrently with a “tradition of testimony,” whereby black women spoke out about sexual violence despite the imposed moral imperative of silence (914). Speaking out served as a reclamation of the body, a public appeal to exhibit the terroristic nature of this oppression and galvanize opposition to it, as shown by the massive community response to Owens’ testimony (910).

Women were not the only members of the black community controlled by sexual violence; men were also subject to this societal persecution. Lynching and state execution were the South’s ways of dealing with black men accused of raping white women, and black men were subject to both stereotypes of the “black beast rapist” as well as rendered virtually helpless to protect themselves and black women from years of sexual violence (918, 919).

Within this tragically oppressive environment, Owens’ testimony proved to be monumental. The trial itself countered years of silence about racial sexual violence, disrobed the shame and assumption of “unchasteness,” and forced the nation to stand witness to this upset of traditional sexual stereotypes that “highlighted the bitter ironies of segregation and ‘social equality’” (919, 923). While many disagreed with the relatively toothless “guilty with the recommendation for mercy” verdict, others were hopeful at this turn of events that Owens claimed was “perhaps the first time since Reconstruction [that] southern black communities could imagine state power being deployed in defense of their respectability as men and women” (927, 908).

McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” presents so many opportunities for discourse about the civil rights era, including gender and sexual stereotypes; community identity and galvanization; sexual violence as a form of white supremacy control; conflicting tensions and traditions of public testimony; and even global influence and response to sexual violence in the South. While at times tangential, the article effectively argues the need to review sexual violence as a tool of significant control over black women and men during the civil rights era. As Princeton University historian Tera Hunter is quoted, “freedom was meaningless without ownership and control over one’s own body” (908).

Discussion Questions:

  1. In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, Woodward states, “This is not to contend that the Negro’s status has been what one historian has called the ‘central theme’ or basic determinant of Southern history. There is in fact an impressive amount of evidence indicating that the Negro’s status and changes therein have been the product of more impersonal forces” (6-7). While this statement is a fairly obvious clue of Woodward’s influence on Barbara Fields’ later works, what evidence does Woodward present about these ‘impersonal forces,’ if any? Do you believe Fields would present this history differently?
  2. McGuire’s “It Was Like All of Us Had Been Raped” presents sexual violence as a form of control during the civil rights and preceding eras. Are there other evidences of sexual control from our previous readings this semester, and how do we see evidence of this oppression today, specifically in Hunter’s view that “freedom [is] meaningless without ownership and control over one’s own body” (908)?
  3. Using evidence from both Woodward and McGuire, who do they believe controlled the power to extend or rescind rights? How is agency used, if at all, by these groups and/or individuals?
  4. William Graham Sumner believed laws cannot change a society’s supposedly inherent values. While Woodward disagrees with viewing values as a static part of society, his third edition expresses disappointment that even with the legal progress of the 1950s-60s, there were “genuine needs that the struggle against segregation had not fulfilled” (viii). To what extent do you believe laws can influence society’s perspective or direction?
  5. With Woodward’s need to create two additional updates to The Strange Career of Jim Crow within twenty years of his first edition, there is a sentiment that the civil rights timeline is challenging to encompass with no firm end. Since 1974, how do you feel the discussion about civil rights has changed?
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HIST 7010: The Straight State by Margot Canaday

By Leslie and Jodie

In The Straight State, Princeton University legal and political historian, Margot Canaday, examines the federal bureaucratic process in which U.S. citizens were labeled “others” and excluded from the rights of citizenry. Canaday examines three branches of the government, which construct American citizenry, including immigration, the military, and social/welfare programs. The growth in the permanent military and welfare state, with vastly expanded bureaucratic capabilities and controls, parallels America’s interest in homosexuality and its policing and proscription. Through an initially slow progress beginning in the Progressive era and WWI, federal agencies grew significantly with the New Deal before reaching a regulatory apex in the post-WWII years, when homosexuals were fully formulated as same-sex desiring and/or gender nonconforming threats to status quo heteronormativity and were targeted for exclusion from state benefits and full citizenship.

Canady’s analysis thus traces the political and legal history that helped crystalize the concept of “homosexuality” as both a legal status and identity. She explores the use of official coded language, as homosexuals were targeted for exclusion within American society, and that language was soon applied to policies that would impact immigration, military/civil service, and social service benefits.  Drawing upon copious archived federal records, she crafts her six chapters—divided equally into two parts—starting with immigration, moving to the military, and then centering two chapters about state benefits at the heart of the study, straddling parts one and two. The break in the book’s two sections reflects pre- and post-WWII eras, the former tracing a more vague and hedging reaction to queer Americans (and would-be Americans) while the latter era exhibited a more dramatic escalation in the federal policing of homosexuality. Her narrative thus follows an effective and interesting thematic pattern: immigration-military-state benefits-state benefits-military-immigration.

Early in the twentieth century the Bureau of Immigration linked the opportunity for citizenship to morality. Though not well defined, aliens who were considered morally inept were subject to denial of citizenship and deportation (24). While homosexuals were not targeted according to law and regulation (and codified language), specifically, nonetheless ostensibly queer individuals could be spotted by telltale physical attributes and would face deportation for being at risk of becoming a charge of the state—a sufficiently capacious allegation that could embrace almost anyone infirm or somehow undesirable and also lacking sufficient wealth and connections to get them off the hook.

Imperfections in the body combined with inquiries into the intimate details of an immigrant’s life provided an easy avenue of condemnation. Of particular concern were signs of effeminacy in males, anything suggesting queer or less than physically sound in a masculine sense.

Over the span of time Canady notes that although legislation related to and used to identify homosexuals and other queer social rejects shifted from perceived physical characteristics to the realm of mental disorders, the process for excluding homosexuals still required that psychiatrists were an integral part of the process. It would take another twenty years to eliminate the role of psychiatrists in deciding homosexual identity. Although, immigration officials are not allowed to questions aliens sexual preferences, aliens were still questioned indirectly regarding their sexual practices. If discrepancies were detected the immigration status of an alien could be affected.

Chapter 2 Canady analyzes the military industrial complex and discusses tactics utilized by the government to exclude citizens from military service. Similar to policies adapted by the Bureau of Immigration, the military deployed language that othered the citizenry out of service. Canady points out that the military made the jump to link homosexuality to psychopathic behavior whereas immigration linked the new-fangled sexual identity to degenerate behavior (57).

Due to vice activity near bases, the military launched campaigns aimed at keeping soldiers physically healthy and morally upright. The military employed similar requirements as immigration when inducing aliens for military service. Recruits were subjected examination which targeted perceived imperfections of the body (62). For example, men who were labeled as having effeminate characteristics were excluded from service. Some recruits were subjected to multiple examinations.

The military began to gradually shift its focus from physical characteristics to psychological ones. Based on psychological profiles, which were originally intended to place recruits in a job field, tests were developed to determine which recruits were eligible for service. The theory was that degenerate behavior was not necessarily linked to low intelligence. The military began to devise tests that relied on abnormalities in personalities as tool to exclude the citizenry from service.

Moving into the latter twentieth century, the military adopted similar language and exclusionary policies as other governmental agencies. That is, once homosexuality was no longer considered a mental disorder, the military no longer used psychological tests as a means to exclude homosexuals from service. With the passing of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, gays were allowed to serve in the uniformed service so long as they kept their sexual preference hidden.

Lastly Canady delves into the federal world of social services. During the Depression the government established New Deal programs to address growing social welfare concerns. One of the programs was aimed primary at men who traveled hobo-style in search of employment, the much suspected and maligned Federal Transient Program. Another program, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was aimed at male youths and intended to prevent them from migrating to other areas of the country and potentially falling prey a queer lifestyle. The FTP was quickly disbanded by the Second New Deal, believed to be a hotbed for perversity among the unattached “bums” in gendered camps, but the latter lasted much longer. The CCC might still exist were conservatives in the 1940s not so determined to dismantle the New Deal social welfare state, to be replaced with the 1944 GI Bill. While some politicians at the time would have been happy to simply dismantle the welfare state and forgo the GI Bill, the abandonment of sixteen million returning veterans to an uncertain, potentially wanadering and unattached (read queer) life was essentially unthinkable. The GI Bill, however, selectively rewarded veterans and heteronormativity and did so at the expense of women, non-whites, and, most especially, homosexuals who did not completely closet their lifestyle. Homosexual was now a distinct legal and proscribed species, thanks to the expansion of a bureaucratic state that chose to legitimize and wield the term “homosexual” to create a brand of second-class citizenship.



1) Canaday sets out to “complicate what has now become a standard interpretation within the field of gay and lesbian history…that extreme state repression of sex and gender nonconformity in the mid-twentieth century was the result of the sudden visibility of gays and lesbians during and after World War II” (2). She posits instead that the constitution and persecution/prosecution of homosexuality only came about after a considerable period of time when the state had time to “puzzle before they power” (3). Do you agree? To what degree is her argument valid?

2) The author argues that “the state crafted citizenship policies that crystallized homosexual identity” (10), which is certainly true, but do you think she ever overstates her case? Is she downplaying the role of sexology, psychology, and religion?

3) The scope of the book stretches from the Progressive era of “muscular Christianity” and vaunting of all that is masculine to the post-WWII extreme of heteronormativity. Considering the fact that a considerable degree of same-sex sexuality and queerness was officially intentionally overlooked, excused, or even condoned, is Canaday overstating the binariness, as it were, of heteronormativity? In other words, is there more that is “queer” going on here, and thus her abstractions rob her subjects of agency?

4) It seems that LGBTs/homosexuals, however defined/labeled over time, have been USED to “other” and promote one or another political agenda. Deployments of “homosexual” or other such language and concepts are useful when the government desires to limit state benefits (FTP) and promote New Deal programs (CCC) or otherwise maintain and vaunt conservative ideals and anti-socialist, anti-communist agendas in the post-war era of the permanent military-industrial complex. Is her analysis of the evolution of the bureaucratizing of “homosexuality” overly boxy, like her sources, not faithfully considering political motivation and ORIGINS of homophobic sentiment, say, in psychology and religion?

5) Considering her sources and organization, did she give women short shrift? Were there really no records documenting, say, the Lumber Jills? Are the federal records so very silent on the topic of women and homosexuality pre-WWII?

6) On page 168 Canaday asks: “Did the specter of perverse sexuality cast a shadow on the idea of universal social provision?” And in a footnote she continues. “This is, of course, a highly speculative point, but one that I intend to suggest future avenues for research….Is there a relationship between the universal social citizenship provided by the Beveridge plan in Britain and the government’s 1957 Wolfenden Report, recommending the decriminalization of homosexual offenses (…enacted in 1967…) What should historians make of the fact that the most socially democratic welfare states (in Scandinavia) have generally been the most progressive in providing rights for sexual minorities? Closer to home, is it only a coincidence that the first state to enact same-sex marriage (Massachusetts) followed that legislation with a pathbreaking plan to provide to its citizens universal health care in the nation?”

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HIST 2110–Exam 2 Study Guide




Compromise of 1850

John Brown

Homestead Act

Emancipation Proclamation

Black Codes



Fourteenth Amendment

Knights of Labor

Dawes Act

Gilded Age

Jim Crow

Booker T. Washington

Eugene Debs

Settlement houses

Lochner v. New York

Birth of a Nation

Margaret Sanger

Fourteen Points

Nineteenth Amendment

Alice Paul

Marcus Garvey

Great Migration

Bonus Army


Social Security Act

Wagner Act

New Deal Coalition


Congress of Industrial Organizations

Essay Questions 

In what ways did the United States’ triumph in the Mexican War create problems that led to the Civil War?

What does Jourdon Anderson’s letter to his former master tell us about the changing relationship between black workers and white landowners in the wake of Emancipation? If he had decided to go back, what kind of economic arrangement do you think might have developed between Jourdon Anderson and P.H. Anderson?

Discuss what the “frontier” symbolized for Americans in the nineteenth century, and then describe at least two ways in which the reality of the West differed from the myth.

What were three ways that the US government sought to defeat Native American resistance and change their way of life?

Describe at least three problems that farmers faced in the late nineteenth century, and then discuss ways that the Populists hoped to remedy those problems.

Compare two different theories scholars have used to explain the emergence of a Progressive reform movement among the middle and upper class in the early twentieth century. What motivated the Progressives?

Describe the differences between Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey’s visions for improving the lives of African Americans in the early twentieth century.

Why did the members of the Bonus Army march on Washington?  How did the authorities respond to their demands, and what happened when they arrived in the nation’s capitol?  (Draw on Malcolm Cowley’s 1932 account in The New Republic.)

How did the administration of Franklin Roosevelt try to solve the problems of the Depression through the New Deal? Describe three different policies and the issues or concerns they were meant to resolve, as well as their consequences (good and bad).

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HIST 7010: Democracy of Sound (Cummings)

In The Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century, Alex Sayf Cummings takes his readers through the establishment of copyright law that applies to sound. Cummings discusses a plethora of mediums for music, from piano rolls to vinyl records to magnetic tape. Cummings begins with a discussion of the history of copyright law. In the introduction of his book, Cummings acknowledges that “Copyright, in short, has always been the creature of shifting political interests and cultural aspirations—always incomplete, always subject to change (p. 3). He describes the origin of copyright law in England, which established a printer’s right to text that he published (p. 2). Then, he explains the movement to the copyright protecting the author’s rights to his or her work, and this protection “was limited to books, maps, and charts” (p. 3). Music did not become a part of copyright law until 1831 (p. 3). Throughout the book, Cummings explores the intellectual property protections that apply to music, as well as the differences between counterfeiting and piracy in the music industry.

Part One of the book is about the birth and growth of piracy from 1877 to 1955. Cummings begins the first chapter of Democracy of Sound with this statement: “Music lends itself to reproduction” (p. 11). This is important to keep in mind as we wander through stories of people copying music, whether legally or illegally, and consider the their actions had on record companies, artists, and the music industry as a whole. One of the earliest mechanisms that created questions about whether or not music could be copied was the piano roll, which allowed pianos to play tunes to songs. In the late 1800s a case went to the Supreme Court to decide whether or not a piano roll that played Adam Geibel’s hit song “Kentucky Babe” should be protected under copyright law. A unanimous Court ruled that “copyright was limited to expressions that were visually accessible” (p. 21). Therefore, a piano roll was not protected because it required a special machine to decipher the holes in the paper to play the song.

During the Progressive Era, Thomas Edison “imagined the phonograph as an office dictation device, with domestic applications such as recording a baby’s first words of the voice or a grandparent for posterity” (p. 24). He did not think that phonographs would be used for recording music, hence the name “talking machine” rather than “singing machine.” However, recording music quickly became one of the major uses of the phonography. It was considered perfectly moral and legal for people to use these machines to record sounds in their own homes, as Edison had intended, but was it moral for people to record the sounds of others (such as records) in their homes and share that with their friends? Representative John Gill, Jr. compared composers to patentees because they “can control the reproduction of his product, but not its use” (p. 28). He argued that limiting the way that someone can use a song that he has purchased was an unwarranted invasion of property rights because it would be the same as letting someone borrow a tractor that he purchased.

Early pirates were known to mainly reproduce jazz and other obscure records that were not being produced as much by record companies because they were not as mainstream and did not sell as many copies as more popular music. From Cummings’s perspective, it seems that these cultural preservationists were respectable because they were finding and reproducing records that were not easily found and being sold everywhere. After Columbia records released the vinyl LP record that was more durable and could run longer than the old 78 RPM records, the need for pirates to make records more accessible increased. Most record companies were not going to rerelease old records on this new format. Cummings writes, “Pirates stood ready to fill any gap that resulted” (p. 51). There was even an incident in 1951 in which a major record label pirated records they themselves had produced years earlier.

Then, magnetic tapes came along. Cummings writes, “Magnetic tape’s greater potential for durability, flexibility, and quality stimulated the adoption of a ‘high fidelity’ hobby by middle-class consumers in the postwar era, when prosperity enhanced the prospects for a new method of home recording to gain popularity” (p. 70). Even after the Depression forced most people to look toward free entertainment on the radio instead of purchasing music, this more durable medium on which people could record made it more accessible to the masses. And, as choral director Edward Tatnall Canby points out, recording on tapes was a way for people who were not musically talented, in terms of singing or playing an instrument, actively involved in the music making process (p. 71). Magnetic tapes were made even more mainstream when they began putting them into cars. Overall, the invention of these tapes had a huge effect on the music industry, especially when it came to copying music at home.

Part Two of Democracy of Sound focuses on the legal backlash of these recordings. In the early days of music piracy, bootleggers were mostly illegally recording records that were primarily jazz and other niche genres. However, during the late 1960s, people began to make recordings of popular music, as well. Rubber Dubber was one of the major players in the bootlegging industry, releasing albums by popular artists of the time, usually found in plain white sleeves, on the shelves of obscure locations. Cummings compares these bootleggers to Robin Hood in a way because they were mainly taking from rich record labels or famous rock stars to give to the masses. He opines that most people did not feel guilty about taking money from these people, even if they respected an artist’s right to loyalties for his work.

Cummings also discusses music piracy in terms of capitalism. He explains that a bootleg version of a concert recording could be available for people to buy the very next day. He writes, “In this way, the bootleggers offered a desired product faster than the established industry’s structure would allow—a prototype of fast, flexible capitalism” (p. 109). However, bootlegging for the sake of cultural value seemed to be more respectable than doing it for purely capital gains. Cummings argues, “Often, bootlegging for collectors and fans was seen as more admissible than a parasitic, entrepreneurial piracy” (p. 109). There were also pirates who created mixes of an artist’s top hits or a satiric mix of his worst songs. This was commonly deemed more artistic than simply copying an existing record in its entirety. However, this came to an end in August 1971, when Congress passed a bill that provided federal copyright protection for sound recordings.

Cummings takes us through a dozen copyright law reforms that occurred throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Then, on April 29, 1971, Congress passed the first US copyright law for sound recordings by voice (p. 135). This illustrated a shift from America typically limiting copyright as much as possible to stronger individual property rights. As technology began to improve and make music even more readily available, copyright law became stricter. A new copyright law passed in 1976 made it so that “copyright existed as soon as the ideas were expressed in tangible form, whether printed, visual, or electronic. In other words, everything is copyrighted” (p. 145-146). Overall, copyright was becoming more and more prominent.

However, not everyone agrees that tighter copyright regulations are the way to go. Cummings writes, “Bootleggers raised legitimate questions about whether such copying and exchange really threatened the survival of the music industry” (p. 151). He asserts that a lot of fans were copying music illegally, but they were not actually competing with record labels. Instead, bootleggers argued that they were simply making more music available to the masses, without negatively affecting the record labels. Tapes recorded at home also served as a means for bands to promote themselves and get music out to their fans and potential fans. Some artists, namely Bruce Springsteen, “openly endorsed bootlegging early in his career” (p. 155). He even played a series of live concerts on the radio in hopes that people would tape it and enjoy it. Meanwhile, artists like B.I.G. got record deals after record companies heard their self-recorded demo tapes. On the other hand, some artists despised being recorded and were very protective of their work. Globally, there were many differences of opinion and technology made it so that piracy was an international issue. Cummings argues that, overall, piracy did not have as much of an effect on the record industry as economic recessions in the 1970s, 1990s, and in 2001 (p.199).

In the Conclusion of his book, Cummings discusses piracy as social media. Cummings writes, “Online file sharing threatened the compromise forged by the Court in 1984, as individual users could share copies of their recordings not just with a few friends or family but with millions of strangers around the world” (p. 202). During the Progressive Era, it seemed reasonable to allow a person to do whatever he wanted with his property, but with the spread of technologies, such as Napster and Facebook, necessitated stricter copyright in order to protect the intellectual property rights of artists and record companies. However, it seems clear that piracy has always been and will always be a part of American culture.

Discussion Questions:

  1. According to Cummings, “British sociologist Lee Marshall has defined piracy as ‘the unauthorised copying of a published work’” (p. 5). Is this definition acceptable? How else could we define piracy?
  1. Cummings writes about pirates making records that major record labels were not going to reproduce. On pages 60-61, he says, “The ultimate question remained: who should be the stewards of the ever-growing legacy of recorded music? Should the companies that originally recorded and marketed the music decide whether it would remain available to the public, beyond the worn-out relics hoarded by collectors? Should music lovers be able to keep copies of old recordings in circulation despite the industry’s disinterest or active opposition?” What do you think?
  1. Should all music be protected by copyright law? What about songs that have been considered a part of the public domain for decades, such as the “Happy Birthday Song”?
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Making A New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939

Given the ultimate breakdown of the union movement in the United States, it can be difficult to gauge the significance of workers’ struggles for rights and representation, or to make sense of the difficulties they endured while campaigning for it. Americans’ sense of the impotence of the domestic labor movement, argues Elizabeth Cohen, has helped obscure what in the 1920s and 1930s felt like real victories to the working class men and women, operating, perhaps for the first time, in a wider political world. In her book Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939, Cohen describes how workers used the Democratic Party and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to incorporate themselves effectively into the American political process.

Cohen pursues her study with a commitment to intersectional identities, suggesting that it is counterintuitive to categorize workers by race, ethnicity, or gender; such distinctions are rarely the sole determinants of an individual’s behavior. Cohen centers her study on Chicago because of the multiethnic composition of its labor force. The prodigious array of sources available for Chicago in this period allow Cohen to introduce workers’ voices back into the narrative of their history. Cohen’s account begins with the unsuccessful 1919 steel strike and ends at the pinnacle of the CIO’s influence at the end of the thirties.

The strikes of the early 1920s were easily dismantled by manufacturers who recognized the precariousness of the workers’ campaign. The national strike was hindered by workers’ ability to unite across racial lines. White workers at the largest steel mills and meatpacking plants lived in company towns that were almost completely separated by ethnic group; blacks, in an unspoken concession to the workers made by their employers, were rarely hired and were kept out of the company towns. Segregation in the company towns allowed racial prejudices to endure and prevented the coalescence of a strong united labor front. Companies like International Harvester manipulated ethnic tensions where possible to weaken heterogeneous striker groups. Companies’ paternalistic influence over segregated company towns limited workers’ worldview and prevented them from understanding their grievances in the context of national politics. Welfare capitalism dominated throughout the 1920s, and issues like wages, incentives, and on-the-job relationships continued to be negotiated at the local level. The personalism of such employer/employee interactions dissuaded widespread collectivism.

The passage of the Immigration Acts in 1921 and 1924 curtailed immigrants’ public expressions of their ethnicity and prompted debates about the meaning of nationality. Organized ethnic societies, which had long served as substitutes for national labor groups or the more conservative craft unions, made deliberate efforts to maintain their groups’ ethnic identities. Throughout the twenties, it was these ethnic societies that were most responsible for providing welfare relief to workers.  Aid societies, local banks, churches, and ethnic fraternal societies helped consolidate ethnicity against increasing pressure to assimilate.

Mass consumption was the primary manifestation of such pressure. Manufacturers and progressives alike agree that consumption of mass culture was the best way to integrate workers into a middle class. Cohen argues that despite the contemporary belief in the efficacy of the mass market in homogenizing class groups (and decades of likeminded historiography), the existence of mass consumption as a phenomenon does not guarantee its adoption by all groups in all places. Most importantly, people’s relationship to mass culture was divided among generational lines rather than ethnic ones. Middle-aged workers found they shared more in common with similarly-aged people of other races than they did with their own children, who were more deeply connected with the culture of mass consumption. Mass consumption did not destroy workers’ ethnic identities, but it did grant them an avenue by which to empathize with other groups.

The Great Depression shattered the relationships that had previously directed workers’ lives and their access to welfare. Local ethnic banks were no longer able to supply aid, and the realities of the depression overwhelmed corporations’ previous commitments to welfare capitalism. Though the loss of jobs and wages was devastating to Chicago’s workers, even more devastating was the apparent failure of the methods and institutions that had dominated their lives. With none of their traditional institutions remaining at the local level, workers turned to themselves and to the federal government. Most workers still advocated capitalism, but believed that big business had too much influence in the way the country was run. They advocated for a realignment of power between the corporations, the government, and the unions. Expanded roles for unions and the feds would, in many workers’ estimations, prevent another depression. In truth, the Democratic Party was a great deal more moderate than union workers believed, and the platform of moral capitalism they advocated did not come to fruition. Nevertheless, workers were instrumental in helping to shift the responsibility for workers’ welfare from the corporation to the state. Workers looked to new, more powerful national unions to complement the state’s responsibilities and offer them the localized, personal network of security that they had grown accustomed to under the regime of moral capitalism.


  • Do you agree with Cohen’s contention that the themes she studies here do not vary much from region to region? Would you offer modifications to her argument as it applies to, say, Birmingham or Pittsburgh? Why or why not?
  • Cohen argues that mass culture “did not in itself challenge working peoples’ existing values,” but that mass culture’s impact instead “depended on the social and economic contexts in which it developed” (101). Are these really mutually exclusive ideas? Are we comfortable with the dichotomy Cohen establishes here? What are your thoughts on her treatment of culture in this chapter?
  • How does Cohen understand “moral capitalism,” and how do those principles play into her arguments?
  • What connections can you draw between Cohen and our other readings, specifically Roediger or the articles from last week?
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