Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God's Own Party: Interview with Daniel K. Williams, Part 2

BB: You are one of a number of scholars writing about the Christian Right, thoughtfully archiving and critically reflecting on its history (and in many ways what is happening currently). For interested readers, how do you situate your work alongside other scholars of the Christian Right?

DW: Most of the other studies of the Christian Right that have been published recently (or that will soon appear in print) are narrower in scope than my work. Darren Dochuk has produced a highly insightful study of evangelical political mobilization in California during the postwar era, and Steven Miller has published an excellent study of Billy Graham’s role in creating a Republican South. Other scholars have studied the Cold War’s influence on the Christian Right, the place of megachurch pastors in contemporary political culture, or gender issues in conservative evangelicalism, among other topics. Many of those studies are excellent resources, and I think that readers who are interested in the topic may find it helpful to read those works alongside mine. I am certainly the beneficiary of a larger trend in the profession that is giving new attention to political conservatism and religion in postwar America. I have gained a lot of insights from conversations with other scholars in the field and from the works that they have produced. I look forward to more studies of conservative evangelicalism from emerging scholars in the field during the next few years. But most of these studies do not offer the breadth that my survey of the movement does (nor do they claim to do so).

My work is the most comprehensive, broadly based narrative history of the Christian Right currently in print. As a result, I think that my work highlights connections, long-term trends, religious nuances, and diversity within the movement that previous studies may have overlooked. One of the central themes of my book is that the contemporary Christian Right has deep historical roots. It did not emerge merely as a reaction to the cultural shifts of the 1970s. Instead, its success depended on alliances with the Republican Party and religious developments that had started decades earlier. In order to understand the Christian Right, one must understand something about the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s, the impact of World War II and the Cold War on conservative Protestants, and the division – and then reconciliation – between fundamentalists and evangelicals in the 1950s, as well as shifts in their understandings of race, gender roles, and the place of Catholics in the nation. I think that my work provides this.

I also emphasize the partisan history of the movement to a greater degree than most other scholars do. A central theme of the book is the argument that the Christian Right’s success depended on its alliance with the Republican Party, so the story of the Christian Right is essentially the story of the making of this alliance. Thus, my book draws on the archives of presidential libraries and evangelical publications to trace the development of this partisan alliance in much greater detail than most other works on the Christian Right do.

BB: As one who has studied the Christian Right for a decade a more, you are in a unique position to consider claims that the Religious Right is in decline, or perhaps dead (due to the 2006 midterms, and the 2008 election of Barack Obama). Yet as you point out in the closing chapter of God’s Own Party, evangelicals like Rick Warren maintain conservative theological positions but embrace a kind of social gospel that allows activist collaboration across party lines. At the same time, the emergence of Sarah Palin as a national political figure (and celebrity) of the Christian Right suggests a possible return to the combative style of recent Christian Right politicians. Given the long history of the Christian Right, how do you assess these assertions? In this regard, what might the 2010 midterm elections portend for the future?

DW: Few political movements have been pronounced dead as many times as the Christian Right has. And few have experienced so many unexpected resurrections. Pundits proclaimed the Religious Right dead at the end of 1982, after the Moral Majority was unable to prevent Democratic victories in the midterm elections. They said the same thing in 1989, when Pat Robertson’s lack of success in the Republican Party presidential primaries, the collapse of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and the high-profile scandals of several leading televangelists left the Christian Right temporarily leaderless. But on both occasions, the pundits who proclaimed the end of the Religious Right were surprised to see it emerge with even greater strength than it had had earlier. Ralph Reed’s success with the Christian Coalition in the 1990s put to rest any notion that the Christian Right was in decline. Similarly, when the Christian Coalition faded from the scene, Focus on the Family and other organizations quickly stepped into the void. I argue that the cultural polarization that led to the Christian Right’s emergence will assure its longevity even in the absence of national leaders. Christian Right organizations will come and go, but the cultural polarization that produced the movement is not likely to end anytime soon.

Nor are evangelicals likely to leave the Republican Party in the immediate future, despite some pundits’ assertions to the contrary. Despite an unprecedented outreach to evangelicals on the part of the Democrats, approximately 73 percent of white evangelical voters – and an even higher percentage of those in the South – voted for John McCain in 2008. Conservative evangelicals have invested too much in the Republican Party to leave it, and Democrats have not yet found a way to appeal to more than a minority of evangelicals. Even among evangelical voters under the age of 30 – the ones that the Obama campaign thought it had the greatest chance of reaching – approximately two-thirds voted Republican in 2008.

I do think, though, that we may see a shift in political style. While many younger evangelicals are still politically conservative, they have less patience for the strident culture war rhetoric associated with an older generation of Christian Right activists, such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson. Rick Warren may represent a new type of conservative evangelical leader. Warren tries to downplay his partisan preferences and avoid overt politicking, yet he is still strongly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage, and he has not been afraid to take those beliefs into the political realm.

BB: What projects currently occupy your time? What might interested readers expect from the pen of Dan Williams in the future?

DW: My next book project will be a comprehensive history of the pro-life movement from the early 1960s to the present. I plan to discuss how and why the movement organized, who its leaders and activists were, and why the movement was able to achieve some degree of success in transforming the nation’s political debates and shifting Americans’ opinions on abortion even though the pro-life movement itself was often plagued with bitter internal divisions. I will discuss why pro-lifers ultimately mobilized on the right despite their early efforts to win the support of liberal Democrats, and why their relationship with conservative politics has often been uneasy. I also plan to analyze the divisions in the movement between Catholics and Protestants or between moderates and radicals, and how those debates have affected the movement’s history. Most of all, I want to examine the pro-life movement on its own terms, as a self-perceived struggle for human rights. Previous studies of the movement have often portrayed the debate over abortion primarily as a gender issue, and as a result, I think that they have overlooked key aspects of the pro-life movement that are critical to understanding its full history. As the first comprehensive scholarly history of the movement, my book will break new ground in this area.

I am also co-editing (with Laura Jane Gifford) a book on conservatism in the 1960s. Our anthology will present the latest scholarship on the transformations in the conservative movement that occurred during that decade. Our focus will be on local and transnational trends that have previously been overlooked in the focus on movement leaders. Instead of focusing on National Review or the leaders of the Republican Party, we want to examine what sorority members on southern college campuses or working-class women in Boston were doing during the 1960s that led them to abandon their Democratic Party heritage and embrace the party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

God's Own Party: Interview with Daniel K. Williams, Part 1

Baldblogger presents part 1 of an interview with Dan Williams, author of the recently published God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right (Oxford University Press, 2010).

There are posts on his book over at Religion in American History (here and here), and John Fea at The Way of Improvement Leads home offers his take here. There's also a great audio interview at Barry Lynn's site Culture Shocks. Dan is an assistant professor of history at the University of West Georgia.


Baldblogger (BB): God’s Own Party maintains that in order to understand evangelical political ascendancy vis-à-vis the 1980 presidential election, one must begin by examining the culture wars of the 1920s. Briefly connect the dots for us. Why is it important to consider this historical trajectory in order to understand evangelical Christianity and modern Republican politics? Does this perhaps help to explain your choice of subtitle—The Making of the Christian Right—as opposed to The Making of the Religious Right?

Dan Williams (DW): The contemporary Christian Right subscribes to a particular view of the relationship between Christianity and the public sphere that can be traced back to the fundamentalist movement of the early twentieth century. Fundamentalists of the 1920s believed that secular influences threatened the nation’s Christian identity, and that if Christians did not enter the political arena to defend the nation’s Christian values, the nation would face divine judgment and possible destruction. The conservative evangelicals who formed the modern Christian Right in the late twentieth century held this same view of America’s unique religious identity and the necessity of preserving the nation’s Christian values by fighting secular influences through politics. The culture wars of the late twentieth century were thus very similar to the culture wars of the 1920s.

Even some of the particular issues at stake in those culture wars were similar. Fundamentalists of the 1920s were concerned about sexual licentiousness, changes in gender roles, the state of the family, and the secularization of public education. Evangelicals in the 1970s and 1980s were concerned about these same issues. That’s not surprising, because late-twentieth-century American conservative evangelicalism was a direct theological descendent of early-twentieth-century fundamentalism. In fact, many of the conservative evangelical leaders of the late twentieth century had parents who had called themselves “fundamentalists” and had identified with the fundamentalist movement of the 1920s. Some had even worn that label themselves before exchanging it for the less pejorative term “evangelical.”

My book traces the story of evangelical political activism from the early twentieth century to the present, because the Christian Right is deeply rooted in the evangelical politics of the previous three generations. I think that some studies of the Christian Right have underestimated the connections between late-twentieth-century evangelical politics and those of an earlier era, but I think that one contribution that a historian can make to this discussion is to trace that political lineage.

Media reports of evangelical political activism in the 1980s commonly used the term “Religious Right” to refer to the movement, as though it were generically or ecumenically religious rather than distinctively Christian. During the 1990s, the phrase “Christian Right” became more common, perhaps because of the use of the term “Christian” in the most prominent Religious Right organization of the decade, the Christian Coalition. Today both terms are commonly used.

In my view, the term “Christian Right” is a more accurate descriptor, because the movement’s theology and worldview have always been distinctively Christian. Nearly all of the movement’s leaders have been evangelical Christians. Although a few Orthodox Jews and a number of conservative Catholics support some of the Christian Right’s goals, the movement’s leadership has always come from a rather narrow range of evangelical Christian denominations. And the movement’s history can be understood only in the context of the history of twentieth-century conservative Christianity, especially evangelical Protestantism.

BB: Can you briefly discuss pertinent moments in the history of the Christian Right where gender and race (either separately or together) figured (and/or figure) into this movement?

DW: The divisions between fundamentalists and evangelicals over race and civil rights prevented a unified, politically influential Christian Right from forming in the 1950s and 1960s. Although fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, Jr., John R. Rice, and Billy James Hargis were becoming increasingly active in conservative politics at the same time that mainstream evangelicals such as Billy Graham were, the two groups were at odds over racial desegregation. In 1964, fundamentalists mobilized on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who opposed President Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, but many evangelicals supported Johnson.

Fundamentalists and evangelicals did not come together on issues of race until the end of the 1960s. At that point, fundamentalists were ready to abandon their defense of segregation, while evangelicals who were upset by urban race riots were ready to distance themselves from the civil rights legislation in the interest of maintaining “law and order.” Both groups united in support of Richard Nixon.

Race was thus a factor in delaying the formation of the Christian Right, but when the Christian Right mobilized, its leaders claimed to be completely racially tolerant. However, the presence of former segregationists, such as Jerry Falwell, in prominent positions of leadership in the movement alienated many African Americans. The Christian Right found it very difficult to reach out to non-whites, despite the efforts of Falwell, Ralph Reed, and others to do so.

If the Christian Right took steps to portray itself as racially tolerant and distance itself from its segregationist past, it made no apologies for its conservative record on gender issues. The culture wars of the 1970s largely revolved around issues of gender or sexuality, and the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment was one of the movement’s earliest political causes. In the battle against the ERA, conservative evangelical women united with conservative Catholics to oppose feminism and protect traditional gender roles. Women played a leading role in mobilizing the Christian Right, but they did so as defenders of a “separate spheres” ideology of gender roles that was directly opposed to the gender egalitarianism of feminists and cultural liberals.

BB: Integral to understanding the history of the Christian Right is the fascinating history of communication styles and communication technologies of the 20th and 21st century. How did (and do) evangelicals and partisans of the Christian Right use print culture and visual culture—and in our own times social networking technology—to present their message, attract new followers, and in general attempt to impact American society?

DW: In the 1950s, politically active fundamentalists and evangelicals were masters of the use of radio and television. Jerry Falwell’s success on television, first in his own community and then nationwide, was one of the primary reasons for the rapid growth of his church and his fundraising ability. Fundamentalist radio broadcasters of the 1950s spread an anticommunist political message on hundreds of stations throughout the South and Midwest. Magazines also played a central role in spreading the gospel of political conservatism. Christianity Today promoted a moderately conservative Republican brand of politics among evangelicals, while the Sword of the Lord championed a more overtly right-wing political ideology among fundamentalists.

In the 1970s, televangelism and, to an even greater extent, direct mail, gave pastors such as Falwell a national political platform that they had never had before. Computer-generated direct mail allowed them to mobilize followers and raise money on an unprecedented scale. By the end of the 1970s, Falwell was raising more money per year than the Republican National Committee.
Evangelicals were also masters of the printed word. The bestselling nonfiction book of the 1970s was not The Joy of Sex, Roots, or All the President’s Men, but was instead Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth. James Dobson became a household name among evangelicals primarily through his books, which sold millions of copies, and his radio program Focus on the Family, and he then used his national reputation as an author and Christian radio show host to become an influential political lobbyist. Francis Schaeffer was another bestselling evangelical author of the 1970s who used his books to shape evangelicals’ political thinking. In more recent years, Tim LaHaye, a former board member of the Moral Majority, has done the same with his Left Behind series of novels about the end-times.

BB: In your account of the history of the Christian Right, the 1990s seems to be an important and somewhat overlooked decade. How does the history of the Christian Right in the 1990s explain the making and unmaking of George W. Bush?

DW: During the 1990s, the Christian Right became far more effective at legislative lobbying than it had been before. Most of its gains in that decade came through the success of Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition. Before Reed and Pat Robertson formed the Christian Coalition in 1989, the Religious Right had received a lot of national publicity, but it had not had much success in influencing Congress, getting legislation passed, or even reshaping the Republican Party. Reed was determined to change that. Instead of seeking a national stage, as Falwell had done, he worked quietly at the local level to move state Republican parties to the right. By the mid-1990s, the Christian Coalition controlled more than one-third of the state Republican parties in the nation.

Reed then used that influence to elect social conservatives to Congress. By the late 1990s, congressional Republicans were far more conservative on social issues than they had been a decade earlier, and the GOP was becoming the party of the Christian Right. But this was not enough to ensure the success of the Christian Right’s agenda. When Congress passed a Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, President Bill Clinton vetoed it, and when conservatives in Congress impeached Clinton, he survived the attempt to remove him from office. Christian conservatives ended the decade frustrated, but more determined than ever to elect one of their own to the White House.

Several Christian Right leaders considered George W. Bush the perfect candidate. He was a born-again believer who read his Bible every day and was not shy about praying in public. He seemed to have a genuine opposition to abortion. He also had the name recognition and connection with business leaders and economic conservatives to allow him to win the nomination. In other words, he was not Pat Robertson or Gary Bauer, evangelical candidates who never had a serious chance of becoming president.

Eventually, though, many evangelicals became frustrated with Bush when they felt that he was not following through on his promises to them during his second term in office. Although Bush did give evangelicals the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban that they had long sought, his administration was not able to deliver most of the other items that they wanted, including a Defense of Marriage amendment to the Constitution. Evangelicals discovered that even when the White House and both houses of Congress were in their hands, they could not change the cultural direction of the nation. Politics alone could not curb the nation’s growing acceptance of gay rights, for instance.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

W.E.B. on the Web

About a year ago, I conducted an interview with the eminent historian Gerald Horne about his new biography of W.E.B. Du Bois. Read part 1 of that interview here, and part 2 here.

In recent weeks the magazine Political Affairs has interviewed Horne as well. Part of the interview comes as a podcast, with the full interview, "W.E.B. Du Bois in Global Contexts," available here. This interview of course highlights Du Bois's politics, but Horne also discusses Du Bois's international, Pan-African vision of the world.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Divided by Faith: A Decade Retrospective

The Divided by Faith: A Decade Retrospective conference begins tomorrow afternoon.

I'm giving a presentation on the history of Divided by Faith--the book’s impact among scholars, accounting for its impact in the fields of American religious history and religious studies. Second, I gauge Divided by Faith’s influence within evangelicalism, examining how it prompted additional studies of racial justice. Finally, I end my presentation by reflecting on Michael Emerson’s continuing narrative about race, religion, and evangelicalism through subsequent books such as United by Faith and People of the Dream.

A big thanks goes to historian Rusty Hawkins and the folks at Indiana Wesleyan University for all of their work! You can find an updated conference schedule here.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Investigating Race and Religion in American History and Culture

I recently received word about this important conference (also posted here):

The John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University invites proposals for an interdisciplinary conference commemorating the tenth anniversary of Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith’s groundbreaking book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, to be held on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, on October 15-16, 2010.

The conference will begin Friday evening with a dinner and panel discussion with Michael Emerson on the impact Divided by Faith has had on scholars and church practitioners. Professor Emerson will also present a closing address Saturday afternoon.

Divided by Faith’s influence has been felt among a variety of academic disciplines. Over the past decade, scores of historians, sociologists, and theologians have produced scholarship intersecting with the book’s theme of the power of race in American religion. American religious historians have explored the roots of segregated churches, sociologists have undertaken further investigations into ethnic and racial divisions of American congregations, and theologians have produced works suggesting that the days of racialized evangelicalism are numbered. Ten years after its publication, the scholarly ground initially tilled by Emerson and Smith’s book remains fertile for researchers from multiple disciplines. In recognition of the growing scholarship being generated in this area, the John Wesley Honors College at Indiana Wesleyan University invites scholars working broadly on the overlapping topics of race and American religion to participate in this conference marking the tenth anniversary of Divided by Faith’s publication.

Successful proposals may consider a variety of topics related to the general theme of the intersection of religion, race, and American society. Proposals should include an abstract of approximately 500 words and a CV. Submissions from scholars and advanced graduate students working in sociology, history, theology, or other relevant fields are encouraged. Presented papers may also be considered for publication in an anticipated interdisciplinary volume on the influence of race in American religion. A limited amount of funding for travel may be available to students and scholars who are unable to obtain funding from their own institution.

Proposals must be received by July 15, 2010, and should be sent by email to or by post to John Wesley Honors College c/o Rusty Hawkins; Indiana Wesleyan University; 4201 S. Washington; Marion, IN 46953.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Summer School 2010

With final exams graded and the semester over, it is now on to summer reading--leisurely excursions through new works, and pouring over documents for writing projects--along with some class preps. And some reading for this seminar.

1. I'm reading Laurie Maffly-Kipp's Setting Down the Sacred Past: African-American Race Histories, a work that investigates the ways black Americans forged identities and documented pasts. According to the Harvard University Press web site: "Asserting a role in God’s plan, black Protestants sought to root their people in both sacred and secular time. A remarkable array of chroniclers—men and women, clergy, journalists, shoemakers, teachers, southerners and northerners—shared a belief that narrating a usable past offered hope, pride, and the promise of a better future. Combining Christian faith, American patriotism, and racial lineage to create a coherent sense of community, they linked past to present, Africa to America, and the Bible to classical literature. From collected shards of memory and emerging intellectual tools, African Americans fashioned stories that helped to restore meaning and purpose to their lives in the face of relentless oppression."

2. Delving into political history, Thomas Sugrue's Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race is a short but weighty account of race in Barack Obama's campaign for the White House and his early months as President. As the Princeton University Press web site states, "Sugrue traces Obama's evolving understanding of race and racial inequality throughout his career, from his early days as a community organizer in Chicago, to his time as an attorney and scholar, to his spectacular rise to power as a charismatic and savvy politician, to his dramatic presidential campaign. Sugrue looks at Obama's place in the contested history of the civil rights struggle; his views about the root causes of black poverty in America; and the incredible challenges confronting his historic presidency." I'm fascinated with historical works that attempt to document history of those still living and making history themselves.

3. Branching into the history of journalism, incarceration, and prison reform, I'm also making my way through a memoir of faith, hope, struggle, and survival: Wilbert Rideau's In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance. It is a book about Rideau's life before, during, and after nearly half a century in Louisiana's notorious Angola prison.

4. I'm a big fan of memoir. In recent years I've read the memoirs of several academics (world historians William McNeill and Philip Curtin), along with other writers such as historian Tim Tyson, activist Tim Wise, and minister Robert Graetz, a white pastor and activist during the modern civil rights movement. This summer it is the memoir of theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah's Child: A Theologian's Memoir.

5. Although not published yet, I'm looking forward this fall to reading Jason W. Stevens' God Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America's Cold War. "Religion has been on the rise in America for decades—which strikes many as a shocking new development. To the contrary, Jason Stevens asserts, the rumors of the death of God were premature. Americans have always conducted their cultural life through religious symbols, never more so than during the Cold War. In God-Fearing and Free, Stevens discloses how the nation, on top of the world and torn between grandiose self-congratulation and doubt about the future, opened the way for a new master narrative. The book shows how the American public, powered by a national religious revival, was purposefully disillusioned regarding the country’s mythical innocence and fortified for an epochal struggle with totalitarianism. Stevens reveals how the Augustinian doctrine of original sin was refurbished and then mobilized in a variety of cultural discourses that aimed to shore up democratic society against threats preying on the nation’s internal weaknesses. Suddenly, innocence no longer meant a clear conscience. Instead it became synonymous with totalitarian ideologies of the fascist right or the communist left, whose notions of perfectability were dangerously close to millenarian ideals at the heart of American Protestant tradition. As America became riddled with self-doubt, ruminations on the meaning of power and the future of the globe during the “American Century” renewed the impetus to religion." As I'm currently attempting to wrap my brain around the social and cultural history of the Cold War period, I'm looking forward to Stevens' book.

6. Then there's Thomas S. Kidd's next book, a study of religion and the American Revolution. Tommy has appeared at Baldblogger before (read here, here, and here). God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, as I see it, is part of Kidd's trilogy on religion and colonial America. His first book The Protestant Interest, traced cultural and religious transitions in New England at the turn of the eighteenth century, and his study of the Great Awakening explored colonial religious revivals in rich detail, and his forthcoming work closes out the eighteenth century.

UPDATE: 7. It seems that a post here cannot be complete without mentioning W.E.B. Du Bois. So, here goes: UC-Santa Cruz's Eric Porter has a forthcoming book The Problem of the Future World: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Race Concept at Mid-Century with Duke University Press.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace

Inspired by this author's innovative ways, and this book's Facebook page, you can now follow Holy Mavericks on Facebook (as if there were not 1000 better things to do)!

NAACP Unit 6816 (SHSU)

On Saturday evening I had the privilege of delivering the Brotherhood/Sisterhood Conference banquet address for the NAACP student chapter (Unit 6816) on the campus of Sam Houston State University. I gave a talk titled "Finding the Past in the Present: W.E.B. Du Bois for a New Century."

I was also honored with the
2009-2010 Faculty Freedom Fighter Award, recognizing the
role of teaching and scholarship in keeping the memory of the
NAACP alive and continuing its work for civil and human rights
in the 21st century. I am particularly excited to win this award during the 2009-2010 academic year, months that span the centennial of the association itself and The Crisis magazine. The SHSU chapter is doing great work on campus and in the greater Huntsville and Houston communities, in addition to playing key roles at the national level. I'm humbled to be associated with chapter, and excited to be a part of the work the students are doing.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Amy Bass, Those About Him Remained Silent Interview, Part 2

Baldblogger (BB): If one were to visit Great Barrington today—what of Du Bois might one see

Amy Bass (AB): It depends on how well they look. There are signs, there are plaques, there is a mural, etc. [BB: see these images here.] But it is what you don't see that tells the bigger story. There is Muddy Brook Elementary School, which in 2004 had the promise of being named W.E.B. Du Bois Elementary School. There is a smal parking lot and a trail on the site of his childhood home, but not the reconstructed house or the small museum that was envisioned in 1968. And there is still the occasional venomous letter to the editor, if one picks up a local paper, that asks why such a figure is recognized at all.

BB: Discuss the book’s cover.

AB: It's a photo taken right after the site of Du Bois's childhood home was conferred a National Historic Landmark. It tells its own story: unremarkable sign, abandoned property, descending fog. Rather gothic, I thought, and I'm incredibly pleased that my publisher agreed.

BB: Readers may or may not know you are a scholar and analyst of more recent Olympic games as well. [Read about it here, here, and here.] I wonder if you might discuss this work, and what’s in store for Vancouver.

AB: Yes, I've been a research consultant for NBC since Atlanta, 1996. It obviously is a position that was attached to my dissertation project on the Mexico City Games, and then my first book. But now it is just something that I have rare expertise in, so the relationship has continued. As for Vancouver? Winter Games are quirky things -- just about anything can happen when cold, wind, ice, and snow are involved.

BB: What projects are currently in the works? What can readers expect to see from the pen of Dr. Amy Bass in the future?

AB: Oh, I have no idea. I continue to write most frequently for, which is a fantastic outlet for random thoughts. My most recent fixations there have been mostly about sports -- Tiger, Beckham, etc. And there's a few things wandering in my head right now. But with Vancouver right around the corner, most of my head is fixed on the Olympics.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK Day: A King for Our Times

I posted this two years ago on MLK day, and I now post it again. We still need a King for our times.

Around this time every year, as with many, King is on the mind. For many years the "I have a dream" mantra has dotted the airwaves and enveloped the history classroom. I sought to try to begin changing that a few years ago--at least in my classroom.

My students had already memorized a good part of the "dream" speech in their literature classes, so I introduced them first to the King who had a doctorate in theology. I then introduced a King who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 by having students read the speech. Discussions were interesting. This assignment preceded my reading of a few paragraphs of King's 1967 Vietnam War speech. The prophet was speaking, and speaking loudly and clearly, and he suffered for it.

Who is King for our times? A radical King, a prophetic King.

Harvard Sitkoff, a historian at the University of New Hampshire, just published a new biography that recollects--or resurrects--a radical and religious King who saw as part of the call to justice economic equality and antiwar activism.

And how is King remembered by some? Historian Andrew Manis published a short piece in 2005 titled "White America and the MLK Holiday." It is a penetrating article, and deserves to be read and re-read every January if not more frequently. A sampling of lines: "White America loves the colorblind King of 1963, but we studiously avoid the more radical King of 1968," and "King's birthday is a wonderful opportunity for the majority of white Americans to awake from our dreamworld."

While King's "I Have a Dream" speech is a profound and important oration, let us not forget his equally powerful and prophetic musings from the late 1960s.

It is here we may find a King for our times.

[Photo credit here.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Of Prophets and (Black) Panthers

Tune into CSPAN's BookTV this weekend for some important and interesting interviews.

One is with historian Peniel Joseph, a scholar of the Black Power movement among other subjects. Joseph is the author of two books, and a number of essays. The other is with sociologist Jonathan Rieder, about his latest book on the rhetorical (and religious) performances of MLK.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Amy Bass, Those About Him Remained Silent Interview, Part 1

Baldblogger's next interview features yet another work on Du Bois: Amy Bass's Those About Him Remained Silent: The Battle over W.E.B. Du Bois (University of Minnesota Press, 2009). A history professor at The College of New Rochelle, this is Dr. Bass's third book. She posted about the book at the University of Minnesota Press's weblog, in addition to a radio interview and a conversation with the The Berkshire Eagle. This is the first of two posts.

Baldblogger (BB): In short, Those About Him Remained Silent is a book about the controversy surrounding the quest to honor and memorialize W.E.B. Du Bois in his hometown of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, following his death in August 1963. What is the short and quick version of the book's main arguments?

Amy Bass (AB): It's tough to write hundreds of pages and then condense. More directly, the book is about the debate: why did a community that so embraced Du Bois in the late 19th century come to shun him almost a century later? But in a bigger sense, it is about ideas of race and nation and citizenship in the Cold War, and in an even bigger sense, it is about civil rights as a legacy -- how we remember, what we remember, and perhaps even most important, what we forget. The idea of memory is a really important one in this piece, and thinking about it in a cultural study has really changed my perspective on history, and the art of research, writ large. While I am not exactly sure what my next project is, I think it will continue in the vein of the study of memory, as it is something that has really captured my imagination, which is kind of interesting to me, because in the initial draft of the book, it did not even exist.

BB: You write that it was not until graduate school that you realized you grew up within miles of Du Bois's hometown. Discuss this realization and the process of studying and researching about the place you grew up-a literal kind of local history. To what extent did your impressions and understanding of Du Bois change-and the place from which you hail?

AB: The easiest way to explain it? He became a neighbor. It's interesting, because I was obviously reading a lot of Du Bois, but I wasn't reading Souls & and I wasn't reading the autobiographies. I was reading him as a black intellectual, as a Marxist intellectual. I came upon the Great Barrington reference in Paul Gilroy's The Black Atlantic in a seminar I was taking with Nikhil Pal Singh. I was so shocked by it -- and in retrospect this is kind of hilarious -- that my intitial reaction to fight it, to think it wasn't true. But then as I dove into his more personal writings, not only did I grasp it as a fact, I embraced him as a different kind of figure. There was something important to me about him being local. It was astonishing, because in a very real way, there are few more global thinkers than Du Bois. It gave me a truly parallel perspective.

BB: And a related question: your first book, Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (University of Minnesota Press, 2002) tackled a national subject-really a global subject-in the context of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Your latest book also explores the modern Civil Rights Movement-a "local" study of Du Bois in a national and global context. What have these books added to your knowledge and understanding of the CRM, both in terms of your research and how you teach it?

AB: The strangest thing for me was to realize that I'd written two books on 1968 -- it was completely without conscious intention. But it makes sense: my desire for studying civil rights is to ensure it a plurality -- this is something that I explore in the first book, and also with the study on Du Bois's legacy. It cannot be thought of as THE civil rights movement -- it has to be civil rights movements, plural, and I think both books examine why this is so. Civil rights had common goals of equity and citizenship, but it had such diverse figures, moments, strategies, organizations. It cannot be a cohesive entity, and yet we have compartmentalized it as such. My hope with both of these projects is that expands a bit as to where civil rights exists and who participates on its behalf, whether Olympic athletes or a few townsfolk who want to erect a sign where Du Bois once lived. I think it also demonstrates how strategies of civil rights did not necessarily begin as such. The movement to memorialize Du Bois in Great Barrington in the late 1960s was to be just that: an act of memory. However, as the controversy began to unfold, it -- I hope -- becomes obvious that this movement to remember civil rights turns out to be an action of civil rights itself.

BB: Discuss the evidence you used to construct your argument, both documentary and oral (and given the images of Du Bois memorials and commemorative plaques-I would say artistic or material evidence as well).

AB: The project began with a lot of conversations, the first of which were with my parents, who knew a lot of the central players. I then did a few more formal interviews with some key players who are still alive. I then went to the archives of the most prominent local newspaper, and that is where both the public debate -- editorials, letters to the editor, etc. -- and the behind-the-scenes debate, via files in the papers archives, came to light. The photos in the book are obviously also important, as is the site itself, which has changed dramatically, and for the good, since I began the research.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Spending the Holidays with Horne, Part 2: Interview with Gerald Horne

I begin 2010 with part 2--the final segment--of my interview with Gerald Horne.

Baldblogger (BB):
Your first scholarly work—Black and Red: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Afro-American Response to the Cold War, 1944-1963 (1986)—tackled Du Bois, and now over twenty years later you return to research and write another book on Du Bois (let us not forget, however, W.E.B. Du Bois: An Encyclopedia (2001), co-edited with Mary Young). First, how has Du Bois historiography changed during the last quarter century, and what are some fruitful avenues of research currently under investigation? Second, how was researching and writing W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography similar and different than your first work on Du Bois?

Gerald Horne (GH): With the collapse of the USSR and the formal end of the Cold War, it is possible to be more sober and objective in understanding these phenomena today--as opposed to the 1980s when Black & Red was being evaluated. Having said that, I think we need more digging in foreign archives about Du Bois; for example, archives of German intelligence concerning his student years there; British, French and Portuguese archives concerning the 'Pan African Congresses'; Moscow archives concerning the Communists' approach to him--ditto for Beijing.

Suffice it to say that I wrote the first book on a typewriter--the second on a laptop: enough said.

BB: I thought long and hard, and could not identify another scholar who penned separate biographies of spouses. How did researching and writing about Du Bois and his second wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois in Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois (2000), shape your understanding of the Du Boises in particular, and twentieth century history more generally? What are the difficulties and delights of working on such spousal biographies?

GH: As so often happens in marriages, one spouse influences another--so having written a biography of Shirley Du Bois aided in writing the book under discussion: and vice versa.

To be candid, I cannot think of any "delight" involved. Generally, I find research to be delightful--and writing to be hard work.

Perhaps when I was writing the book at hand, I was conscious of not being repetitive--in terms of both themes and phrases--in terms of writing earlier Du Bois books.

BB: You are perhaps the world’s nimblest archive-hopper. What archives did you visit in preparing your Du Bois volume? What archives might you suggest to individuals interested in researching Du Bois and his life and times?

GH: Fortunately, Du Bois' Papers are on microfilm and, thus, easily accessible [BB: in a few years, the Du Bois Papers will be digitized and thus available for a wider audience]; some of his richest letters have been published under the aegis of Herbert Aptheker, who also prepared a comprehensive and annotated bibliography of Du Bois' work. Then there is my Du Bois Encyclopedia--all these, and other sources, were instrumental in penning this book.

As for archives, see the response above. I would particularly like to draw attention to the archives in Lisbon, Portugal, which are quite rich and which I used for my book, The Deepest South on the African Slave Trade (2007). As is well known, Lisbon not only once controlled Brazil--a 21st century superpower in the making--but, as well, Mozambique and Angola, homelands of numerous 'African-Americans'. Those interested in the struggle against apartheid would be derelict if the Lisbon archives--particularly at the Foreign Ministry--are ignored. Being a small power--today's population is only about 9 million--with a huge African 'empire', Lisbon was deathly paranoid (understandably) about anti-racism and anti-colonialism, particularly emerging from their often articulate backer: the U.S.

I would also suggest burrowing deeper into the National Archives in College Park, Md. and Washington, whose riches have yet to be fully explored; the Hoover in Palo Alto; the National Security Archive at George Washington; the Schomburg; the National Archives in London; New York University; etc.

BB: By my count you have authored around 25 books, with additional edited volumes. As you look back on a distinguished career as a scholar, activist, lawyer, and writer, what are the best things about writing? The most difficult? For those unfamiliar, what is your process for researching and writing a book or an article?

GH: The best thing about writing, I think, is creating a record for future generations to consider; then there is the creative process of conjuring up the appropriate words and images to move a reader. The most difficult? Hard to say. Having been writing a book continuously since August--which I just finished last week--I would say the most difficult thing was the time spent away from reading, from writing op-eds and commenting on the flashing issues of the moment, writing book reviews, etc.--I have felt this tremulously and tremendously.

I have just started two new books: one on the relation between Black America and Cuba before 1959, the other, a biography of the Black Communist, William Patterson. The latter will not be that difficult to research, his papers are at Howard, I visit there in a few days, I know where the 'bodies are buried', so to speak, having written about his comrades e.g. Du Bois, Ben Davis, Ferdinand Smith, The former is more involved, more complicated, requires *much* more digging. I have some themes in mind but others will emerge as I dig in; for example, yesterday I was reading an English language newspaper from Havana beginning in 1912 and what jumped out at me was the concern about Japanese encroachment in the hemisphere, so I guess that will be a theme since Tokyo simultaneously was making appeals to Black America. So, I go into this project with settled themes--solidarity between Cuba and Black America; 'racial' bonding particularly in music and sports; hysteria about radicalism on the part of their mutual antagonists; etc.--and I look for bolstering of these themes as I research; then other themes emerge--e.g. Japan-as I dig further.

BB: The cover of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography features a very courtly 1946 photograph of Du Bois with a penetrating gaze. What did you wish to communicate with this choice for the book’s cover?

GH: I confess: the publisher chose this photo.

BB: What material you have to leave out of W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography? Put another way, what are certain points about Du Bois’s life you wished to have emphasized more?

GH: Perhaps I could have emphasized more his private life, his personal life--but choices must be made.

BB: What projects are currently in the works? You cite Negroes with Guns!: African-Americans and the British Empire Confront the United States before the Civil War as forthcoming in the footnotes; what can inquiring readers expect to see in the future?

GH: Reds in Paradise? Racism & Radicalism in the Making of Modern Hawaii is in press with the University of Hawaii Press. It tells the complex story of how an archipelago thousands of miles from the mainland became the 50th--and final?--state while the Communist Party and a union close to it played a leading role in these lovely isles. I have noticed that the hyper-active conservative movement in this nation already have perked up their ears at the prospect of this book, even though their ostensible target--Barack Obama--was born in 1961, two years after my narrative concludes! [BB: Regarding Barack Obama, Hawaii, and the Communist Party (among other important topics), readers may be interested to check out Horne's weighty, informative, and fantastic speech at the opening of the CPUSA (Communist Party, U.S.A.) archive in 2007, and in the previously cited interview about his recent book on US-East Africa relations.]

Negroes with Guns! is a de facto sequel to the work of Benjamin Quarles and also that of Simon Schama's Rough Crossings in that it discusses at length the unavoidable fact that the Africans in North America did not see the 1776 revolt as legitimate, saw it as a revolt against the proto-abolitionist 'Somerset's Case' and, thereafter, collaborated with London (particularly in the War of 1812 but also in contesting control of Florida, Texas, the Pacific Northwest, etc.) This conflict was resolved only with the Civil War--and abolition.