For the NEH…

Historians Joan Kelly, Alice Kessler-Harris, Joan Scott, and Nell Painter, photographer Candacy Taylor, and filmmaker Mira Nair. What do these women have in common? All received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), a government-funded agency now more than a half-century old.

Operating under the banner “Because democracy demands wisdom,” the NEH provides funds to “cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.” These funds help share photos depicting scenes from across an ocean and time (and art and artifacts from the North American continent too), bring books to life, engage young minds at the museum, disseminate knowledge to educators, and tell us what’s in the archives so we can find it later!

Even if you’re not a scholar, you may have come into contact with the NEH. It’s one of those things you might hear about on PBS (This programming is made possible by…). Personally, one of my favorite pieces of NEH work is “The Presidents” on PBS’s American Experience.

As a student, I have come across the work of or had some sort of connection to all the individuals I named above. Joan Kelly was one of the creators of the SLC Women’s History program. Alice Kessler-Harris, who once taught at SLC, was one of the women’s historians whose work I came across while browsing the library of the women’s center where I once worked. Joan Scott and Candacy Taylor’s works were among our readings in our first year as graduate students. Nell Painter presented the keynote address at our “Black Women in White America, Revisited,” conference this year. I wrote about one of Mira Nair’s projects in an undergraduate paper on women-directed films. It is exciting to think that NEH grants helped them on their way to success, on their way to students like us seeing their work and being inspired.

If you are a member of the American Historical Association (AHA) or a savvy observer of the news, you may have heard way back in January about imperiled funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Well, the President’s budget proposal is now out in the open, and the AHA has provided its analysis of the President’s proposal, which is basically to dissolve the NEH.

As a graduate student who wants my fellow classmates and my teachers to have opportunities for research and for the exhibition of their work to the public, I see the National Endowment for the Humanities as an important asset to this country. When grants that can, for example, help us protect our primary source documents or interpret history for techloving audiences are in danger, the professions to which many students aspire are also in danger. It’s important that we protect the NEH!

 

This article reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sarah Lawrence College or the SLC Women’s History program.

Weekly Feminist Smorgasbord: All-American Muslim, Victim-Blaming Ad Campaign & “Muscular Empathy”

via feministryangosling.tumblr.com

  • In an attack on women of color’s reproductive freedoms, anti-choice members of Congress have pushed for a bill called the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act,” which seeks to prevent women of color from attaining abortions in the name of “civil rights.” Clarification: Neither Susan B. Anthony nor Frederick Douglass would have supported this BS.
  • Feministing breaks down the victim-blaming and just downright disturbing “rape prevention” campaign at “ControlTonight.org”, targetting — you guessed it — young women victims. Same old ridiculous narrative: the raped person should control the rapist’s urge to rape by NOT going out and drinking.  The ad’s image itself is a trigger warning, so be prepared to fume with anger.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to the Forbes article, “If I Were A Poor Black Kid.” It’s entitled, “Muscular Empathy,” and explores one of the greatest challenges an historian faces, let alone a human being: empathy with people from very different circumstances than ourselves. Here’s an excerpt:

This basic extension of empathy is one of the great barriers in understanding race in this country. I do not mean a soft, flattering, hand-holding empathy. I mean a muscular empathy rooted in curiosity. If you really want to understand slaves, slave masters, poor black kids, poor white kids, rich people of colors, whoever, it is essential that you first come to grips with the disturbing facts of your own mediocrity. The first rule is this–You are not extraordinary. It’s all fine and good to declare that you would have freed your slaves. But it’s much more interesting to assume that you wouldn’t and then ask “Why?”

Harris-Perry is at her strongest when she breaks down the devastating and unseen culture of shame that is put upon and often internalized by black women; it is fed by a dangerous form of misrecognition that harms both individuals and societies. Harris-Perry is nuanced in her understanding of shame not only manifesting as a sort of shrinking-away, but in the compensating “strong black woman” stereotype that seems positive, but leaves little room for the full scope of human vulnerability. Shame, then, serves as a kind of social control.

  • Robin Lim, an American midwife who has served thousands of Indonesian women in their births, is CNN’s Hero of the Year.

Sebelius claims that her reason is that the FDA didn’t show that 11-year-old girls, some 10 percent of whom are fertile, understand how to follow the EC directions….If a sixth grader can’t understand those elementary, crystal-clear instructions, we should just move back to the caves, because civilization is finished.

Researching New York : A Sneak Peek at This Year’s Conference

  {Director of the Women’s History Program at Sarah Lawrence College, Rona Holub, shares the abstract for her upcoming presentation at this year’s esteemed “Researching New York” conference series.} 

In Defense of a “Noble Metropolis”: The Irish and German Immigrant Response to New York State’s Attack on Home Rule in New York City, 1857

In April of 1857, the New York State Legislature passed new laws, regulations, and charter revisions that threatened the very fiber of the social and political lives of the poor and working class immigrants of New York City.  Part of this effort involved the dissolution of the city administered Municipal Police and the creation of the state run Metropolitan Police Force. Members of these two separately appointed and administered forces beat each other up at city hall in New York City on June 16, 1857.  The question of who was in charge of the city hung in the air.  On July 4, 1857, mass violence broke out in New York City followed by major civil disorder on July 5, July 12 and 13.  The July violence involved “gangs” and mostly Irish and German residents of the city.  These violent incidents were connected.  Politicians, nativists, and moral reformers in New York State had formed a coalition and set out to stem the tide of immigrant political power.

The violence that broke out, beginning with the Police Riot itself, was a reaction to the imposition of one set of values over another, over the belief that one way of life was better than another,  that one religion was better than another, that political power belonged in the hands of some people but not others.  Contemporary newspapers generally emphasized the “gang war” nature of these outbreaks.  Clearly these disturbances represented much more than gang rivalry and turf wars.  Such spontaneous civil disturbances, often represented as “merely” gang driven episodes sparked by  “criminal elements,” had political overtones.  People who felt that their freedom and ability to govern themselves was being undercut by the state rebelled.  They reacted as “true” Americans, as “freemen,” whose rights were being usurped.  They conveyed a narrative in which they asserted that they should have the same rights as other white male citizens to govern themselves.  It is not a coincidence that at least two of the riots were apparently started by members of the Dead Rabbits, a pro-Democrat, Irish gang attacking members of the Metropolitan Police Force.  The new force represented the powers that hated, derided and attempted to enforce their mores and values on the immigrant population and control the political processes of the city.  The residents of the wards where violence broke out reacted in protest against what they deemed as the usurpation of their rights.

Thus, the violence between the police forces in June and that which erupted in July are connected and represent anxieties, fears, and a wide array of interpretations of self interest among the growing multitude of people entering and living in the city.  This paper describes the events of this month-long period of violence and disruption and interrogates its meanings.  It proposes as well that how these events came about and were handled might have impacted the worst civil violence ever to occur in the city which took place six years later, that is, the Draft Riots of 1863.  Could these have been prevented or at least diminished had the meanings of the 1857 riots been understood and the events addressed differently?

{Researching New York 2011–Upheaval & Disaster, Triumph & Tragedy: Aftermath will be taking place at the University at Albany, State University of New York, November 17 and 18. For more information go to nystatehistory.org.}

Miscegenation: A Law Review

Until the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia, interracial marriage was legally banned in a few states in this country.  Although we may look back and say to ourselves how can that be? That was so recent! the changes in legal thinking that made eradicating all miscegenation laws from the books were actually quite remarkable.  Rather, it was not so much that the legal arguments changed, it’s that the opinions of the Justices in charge of making the decisions changed, and luckily for the better. On the brink of the Court’s landmark Loving decision, two law professors wrote companion pieces of sorts, which were published in the Virginia Law Review.  Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent” takes a strong stand in defense of banning marriage between the races, while Walter Wadlington’s “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” argues that anti-miscegenation laws violate the Constitution and should be struck down.

An issue found in both articles is the lack of attention given to black female agency, in the sense of a black woman’s autonomy over her own fate, particularly as it comes to marital choices.  This is an aspect of analysis that is largely ignored by the authors, who choose instead to write about the laws from the perspective of the white male.  This may stem from a number of factors—including the professions of the authors (lawyers), the drafters of the laws (white men) and a general lack of case law brought to the courts by black women.  These constraints should not automatically yield an assumption that female agency may be ignored, however.   Unfortunately, the professors do not approach the issue of miscegenation law from the position to view it as an inability for a black woman to maintain a certain status in her life.  Rather, they approach it from the male dominated stance, which, while not necessarily lessening the importance of the analysis, does limit it in some respects. 

Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”

One of the best parts about being a student of history is stumbling across that one document that really makes the reader stop, sometimes gape, and really say “huh.” [The one piece that unlocks not only the writer’s personal beliefs, but also the sentiments of the era.]  That, for this reader, was Professor Alfred Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent,” which was published in the Virginia Law Review in 1966.[1]  Not only does the article offer incredible insights, albeit one-sided, into the Congressional debates over miscegenation law during Reconstruction and the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution—but it also serves as an invaluable insight into the legal world during the 1960s at a time when conservatives were doing everything they could to preserve the racism that was so prevalent in the South. This racism was ultimately eliminated, at least as far as marriage was concerned, only one year later with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia.[2]  In many respects, the article serves as both a primary and secondary source, making it a true gem among the scholarship about miscegenation law.

The article itself was written and published while Loving v. Virginia was making its way up to the Supreme Court.  On July 29, 1966 lawyers for the Loving’s had submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court asking for the Court’s intervention on a Constitutional question.  Professor Avins’ article was published in the November 1966 issue of the Virginia Law Review, and the state of Virginia filed its response briefs with the Supreme Court on November 18, 1966.  The Court announced that it would hear the case on December 12, 1966 and oral arguments were scheduled for April 10, 1967.  Given these factual circumstances, it is no wonder that Professor Avins, a law professor at Memphis State University, used such strong language in the opening paragraph as “it requires no special perspicacity to see that anti-miscegenation laws are in jeopardy.”[3]  Right from the start Avins makes it clear that the article, published in the very state whose anti-miscegenation law was coming under attack, was a vehement defense of the states’ right “to draw distinctions between the races.”[4]  Despite the fact that it is nearly impossible for Avins to have researched and written the entire article in the amount of time it took for the Lovings’ case to get from the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court, it is clear that there was enough discussion surrounding the Lovings’ case that Avins article, while not necessarily a direct attack on the Lovings’ case, was in many ways a response to the potential change in the legal and political environments.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) was groundbreaking for its representation of interracial marriage

Avins’ main argument is that the Fourteenth Amendment was never meant to cover marriage between the races.  After chiding the Supreme Court for overstepping its boundaries and noting that the Court should not have the final say on the scope of a Constitutional provision, he turns to the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, arguing that “once the original understanding and intent of the framers is ascertained” any further questions about the scope of the Amendment should be laid to rest.[5] Avins looks to transcripts from the Congressional debates over the Reconstruction amendments in order to reach his conclusion about the true scope of the Fourteenth Amendment.  He also notes that “present day attacks on these laws involved no new constitutional principle, and it cannot be said that they involve any questions to which the framers did not in fact address themselves in 1866.”[6]  If that’s not a blatant criticism of the Lovings’ case and potential threats to miscegenation law, what is?

In order to make his case, Avins uses block quotes from many of the Senators and Congressmen who were debating just how many rights to extend to the newly freed slaves after the conclusion of the Civil War.  These quotations themselves are invaluable, particularly as they pertain to female agency, to the study of U.S. miscegenation law as a whole.  Avins argues that miscegenation was only even considered because it was a rhetorical tool used to try to stir up trouble around the proposed extensions of rights to the African-Americans in the 1860s.  One of the arguments against the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection was the fear among Democrats that enfranchising black men would lead to more interracial marriages.[7] Along that same line, the Congressmen argued that the Fourteenth Amendment would not touch state miscegenation laws because “the white person [is] equally denied the right to marry the negro.”[8]  This logic is precisely what the state of Virginia relied on, and the Court rejected, in the arguments in Loving; Avins’ intention is clear: don’t rock the boat.

Looking at the combination of current events and historical analysis, Avins’ article becomes much more than merely a descriptive assessment of the Fourteenth Amendment.  It becomes an insight into a world that was on the brink of change and one law professor’s last minute attempt to maintain the status quo.

Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” 

From the opining lines of Professor Walter Wadlington’s 1966 article “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective” it is clear where Wadlington stands on the pending miscegenation issue.[9]  He calls Virginia a state “which regularly recalls with glowing sentiment the story of how one of her early white sons married an Indian princess” and notes that it is “with symbolic irony” that the state’s highest court reaffirmed Virginia’s commitment to strict legal codes against racial intermarriage.[10]  In what can only be considered the companion piece to Professor Alvin Avins’ “Anti-Miscegenation Laws and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Wadlington examines the historical background of the law that was at issue in Loving, namely the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, as well as the ideologies that contributed to the changes in the law.

Wadlington starts his analysis as far back as he possibly could in Virginia law, looking at statutory law from what he calls the colonial period, noting that the first statutory ban on interracial marriage was probably recorded in 1691.[11]  He notes that the punishment for being found guilty of sleeping with a slave was banishment from the colony, but he does not push the idea further ideologically.  He does not include an analysis of why banishment was the favored punishment or even why there was a punishment at all. He does not mention that, as Barbara Fields would note, the act of sleeping with a slave essentially rendered the white partner a slave as well, thus blurring the line between slave and free, and between the races.  Perhaps as a law professor that never occurred to Wadlington.  It may also have to do with the fact that at the time of the article’s publication many still believed race to be immutable.

Wadlington’s historical journey continues through the “present” miscegenation statute, which was enacted in 1924 with very little fanfare.  He does spend a great deal of time contemplating what he calls “the Pocahontas Exception” to the bar on interracial marriage and relationships.  He points out that there was an actual exception to the 1924 Racial Integrity Act, which permitted marriages between white people and those who were “no other mixture of blood than white and American Indian.”[12]  He posits that this exception was meant to protect the descendents of Pocahontas and John Rolfe and leaves it at that.  What he does not do is make a connection between the somewhat privileged and troublesome position that the Native Americans have occupied in much of American law and race politics.  He sees no connection between this exception and the section of the Dred Scott case in which Chief Justice Taney directly addresses the issue of whether or not Native Americans are analogous to African Americans.  In Dred Scott Native Americans are held to not be citizens of the United States, but for different reasons than the African Americans, based on logic that essentially stems from class rather than race.  The same could be argued of this exception to the Racial Integrity Act, that where the act seeks to protect race, it is contradictory and really seeking to protect a privileged class.

After all the historical legwork, Wadlington finally gets to a discussion of the Loving case, which had been scheduled for oral arguments at the time of this article’s publication.  Not only does Wadlington put forth the arguments that would support overturning the miscegenation bans, he also debunks the pro-miscegenation statute arguments, most of which were set forth by Professor Adkins in the same issue of the journal.  In fact, he actually cites Avins’ article in his own footnotes.  If ever there was an illustration of the conversational nature of academia, it is with the two articles.  It almost seems that Wadlington is speaking directly to Avins with a tone one would reserve for a child who declares her intention to dig a hole in the back yard all the way to China.

This is most clear in the brief but elegant conclusion, in which Wadlington states that while “it is possible that the original miscegenation bans served a legitimate purpose at a time when Negroes were essentially an alien part of the community…neither can we justifiably perpetuate those laws under the changed circumstances of our world.”[13]  He clearly seeks to lay to rest the originalist argument that the framers of the 14th Amendment could not have meant for it to apply to interracial marriage and to further the belief in a breathing and adaptable Constitution.  He closes with a powerful call to the Judiciary, with what is perhaps the best line in the essay: “…the Supreme Court should not make it clear that bans on interracial marriage have no place in a nation dedicated to the equality of man.”[14]

{Loving photo courtesy of harpyness.com}
{Pocahontas photo courtesy of williamsburgprivatetours.com}

[1] Alfred Avins, “Anti-Miscegenation Law and the Fourteenth Amendment: The Original Intent”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7, (Nov 1966), pp. 1224 – 1255

[2] Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

[3] Avins, 1224.

[4] Avins, 1224.

[5] Avins, 1225.

[6] Avins, 1226.

[7] Avins, 1230.

[8] Avins, 1232.

[9] Walter Wadlington, “The Loving Case: Virginia’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute in Historical Perspective”, Virginia Law Review, Vol. 52, No. 7 (Nov 1966), pp. 1189 – 1123

[10] Wadlington, 1189.

[11] Wadlington, 1191.

[12] Wadlington, 1202.

[13] Wadlington, 1222.

[14] Wadlington, 1223.

Another Body Talk

by Robert Leleux


One of the most peculiar things about The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls is that it seems, at times, to have been written by your Great Aunt Rose. Joan Jacobs Brumberg is an accomplished historian and an enlightened thinker, but she sometimes expresses a tone of agonized propriety that I can’t recall having heard since the days when Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds. Take, for example, the following sentence, delivered absolutely without irony in the course of an impassioned plea on behalf of sexually exploited teenage girls: “The way in which a society handles young girls in trouble,” she writes, “is…revealing.”[1] The “trouble” to which Brumberg is referring to is, incredibly, the “Is she in trouble?” kind of trouble. The kind of “trouble” that always comes with quotation marks around it, even when it’s used in conversation.

Except, I haven’t heard that kind of “trouble” used in conversation since I was a small boy in Texas, playing under my grandmother’s dining room table, and listening in on the conversation of the old ladies in my family who still considered “pregnant” an unsuitable term for that “delicate condition.” Likewise, “out-of-wedlock births,” another Eisenhower-era phrase of which Brumberg avails herself several pages later.[2] In fact, The Body Project is sadly, but revealingly, littered with such creaky, antiquated expressions. Never more so, I’m afraid, than in the very, very unfortunate section devoted to body piercing, of which the following sentence is perhaps the most mortifying: “Teenagers today,” Brumberg explains, “grow up in a world where rigid dichotomies between gay (homosexual) and straight (heterosexual) behavior are disappearing.”[3] Oh, dear, dear, dear. Statements like this remind me of the kind of “talks” ladies used to give on current events during monthly luncheons at the club. Continue reading

The History Blogging Project

via The History Blogging Project.

Blogging technology has created new opportunities for postgraduate historians to engage with specialist and non-specialist audiences, and to demonstrate the impact of their work by creating and informing new, virtual, public spheres and spaces. While there are a number of for-profit blog training courses in the private sector, there is no training provision in blogging as a method of public engagement for postgraduate historians.

The History Blogging Project aims to fill this gap by developing a set of training resources that will enable postgraduate historians to create, maintain and publicise a blog on their research. The Project tackles issues specific to writing about historical research on a blog, but also includes themes relevant to any postgraduate student in the arts and humanities. Through the development of an online collection of how-to guides, advice and examples taken from current history blogs, the Project aims both to inspire postgraduate historians to blog and to challenge existing bloggers to think about the ways in which they share their research with a range of different audiences.

At the same time, the Project aims to create a forum in which postgraduate historians can network and publicise their blogs.

read more at The History Blogging Project.

Women’s History Sources

We got a tip from friend of R/V, Kate Angell, about this great collaborative blog focused on primary sources.  It’s called Women’s History Sources:

Women’s History Sources is a collaborative blog that serves as a current awareness tool for anyone who is interested in primary sources at archives, historic sites and museums, and libraries. Some of the types of sources that the blog covers:

  • New exhibits in archives, libraries, and museums
  • New digital collections (artifacts, diaries, oral histories, photos, etc.)
  • Featured objects/documents from other blogs and websites
  • “In the News” – stories that feature original documents or artifacts.
  • “On this Day” – digital resources that are related to an event on a specific date.
  • Recent books that include letters, diaries, photographs, et

Check it out!