Election Day, 2014. I agreed to be a poll worker in the predominantly rural, working-class white precinct in Transylvania County, North Carolina, where my wife and I vote. After a couple of hours setting up the machines Monday night, I was back at the precinct at 5:30 a.m. Interesting, but not fun—and that's not just because of the long hours and the results. Still, it was an educational experience sitting there and chatting with the other five poll workers. One was a quiet Democrat. I think the others were Republicans in affiliation or outlook. They were extraordinarily warm and pleasant, but over the next fourteen to fifteen hours I learned more about the political culture of working class conservatism than I would have gleaned from reading a dozen books on the subject.
|Location of Transylvania County in North Carolina (top) and location of the Pisgah Forest Precinct in Transylvania County, North Carolina (bottom). Maps by Southern Spaces, 2014.|
I also discovered (as I had during the May primary) that it was relatively easy to spot most Republicans before handing them their voting forms, since they often shared a common facial expression: anger. To paraphrase the oft-quoted line from the 1976 film Network, they were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore.
When we closed up the polls at 8:30 p.m. and printed out the results, I didn't need a statewide exit poll to know what had happened. In a precinct where registered Democrats made up 37 percent, Republicans 30 percent, and "unaffiliated" 33 percent, the incumbent Democratic US senator Kay Hagan earned 38 percent of the vote, losing to a widely disliked Republican opponent who had led the GOP's attack on public education in North Carolina. In her 2008 election, Hagan had lost to Elizabeth Dole by 1 percent in Transylvania County. Hagan's defeat could be blamed on the links between the senator and president Obama. As her opponent and the dark money supporting him said in their commercials, she had supported the president "96 percent of the time."
But in local races where Obama's name was seldom mentioned, the results were the same. There were two slots open for the county commission. One incumbent was a conservative activist whose sarcastic letters in the local newspaper attacking liberals and Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular have been tempered since his 2010 election. But as far as I could tell, his primary campaign message was to remind voters, "It's your money, not the government's." The second incumbent was against gay marriage, the Affordable Care Act, tax increases, any form of zoning or community planning, and regulations on business ("Job killers"). He was for Second Amendment rights. From my perspective, neither of these Republican incumbents extensively campaigned.
Lee McMinn (University of Texas graduate, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, Vietnam veteran/helicopter pilot with two graduate degrees and years of community activism) and Sam Edney (a local businessman and committed environmentalist whose special passion is the problem of food insecurity for children) ran as Democrats. The two worked seventy-hour weeks, spoke and shook hands at every gathering available and met with smaller groups of voters in dozens of homes across the county. They presented a thoughtful program that they posted on their websites and promoted through all forms of social media, including Facebook. They described the kinds of constructive measures that have worked across Transylvania County to develop environmentally responsible and appropriately scaled industry in order to improve the county's struggling economy. While avoiding the word "zoning" (the third rail of local politics), they emphasized the need to engage in coordinated planning to protect the community's greatest resource, its natural and unspoiled beauty. Since the commission levies taxes for the county's excellent but strained schools, they emphasized the importance of adequately funding Transylvania County's school system. They promoted these positions extensively and worked closely with the local Democratic get-out-the-vote campaign.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I heard enough angry remarks from voters, many bearing all the marks of poverty (or barely hanging on to middle class), to become persuaded there is little future here beyond right-wing sound bites—at least not in my lifetime. For the last four years, Republican legislators in Raleigh have engaged in a relentless war on public education. When a teacher came in to vote, openly clutching her Republican ballot sheet, it was all I could do to keep from asking: "Do you always lick the boots that kick you?"
Of course one western North Carolina precinct is not a profile of the nation. This one is overwhelmingly white and has a percentage of retirees twice that of the state as a whole. But in some ways, the vote in this county is a microcosm of what is happening across America. When my wife, Jane, and I moved here part-time in 1991, the county commission was majority Democratic. While Republicans gained the majority over the next several election cycles, on local issues the commission was fairly progressive, supporting education funding, county planning, and investment in new facilities like the state-of-the art county library. Transylvania was included in the congressional district of Charles Taylor, a right-wing Republican. During these early years, county representation in the state house and senate moved back and forth between fairly conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans and there was considerable cross-party cooperation.
|Party affiliation by race in Pisgah Forest Precinct, Transylvania County, North Carolina, 2014. Chart by Southern Spaces.|
Although the latest election, like that of 2010, was a disaster for Democrats, the political center had been shifting rightward over the last fifteen years. In part this was simply a reflection of national trends, but it also reflected the powerful role of Art Pope, North Carolina's version of the Koch Brothers. Through the 1990s and the last decade, the wealthy retail magnate relentlessly promoted a right-wing agenda even as he used his considerable clout to defeat moderate Republican office-holders. (A Tea Party-endorsed candidate unseated the county's moderate Republican state representative in the 2010 GOP primary.)
Today the city of Brevard (population 7,700) remains Democratic—though by a reduced margin—but Tea-Party Republicanism has been on the rise here and throughout western North Carolina, Asheville excepted. As I looked at the precinct returns at election headquarters on election night, I was struck by the voting unity of white working class voters and well-to-do retirees. In the western end of the county, retirees in upscale developments around Lake Toxaway joined hands with some of the poorest residents of the county to vote solidly Republican. (Whites in Transylvania County have a poverty rate that is 20 percent higher than that of whites across the state.) The same pattern appeared in the precinct encompassing Connestee Falls, the large middle/upper-middle class gated retiree community a few miles south of Brevard.
The final element cementing this political shift is the ruthless efficiency with which the North Carolina GOP pushed through its gerrymandering project in 2011. It is conceivable that Democrats can compete in statewide elections, and there are a few areas of the state where countywide elections and a fairly even party balance can create competitive races. But the scalpel-like precision with which national Republican redistricting guru Tom Hofeller carved up congressional and state legislative districts in this state means that most elections are as pointless as those in North Korea. In this election less than half of the state senate and house incumbents faced opposition, and the election produced almost no change in party composition. Given the difficulty of unseating incumbents in their safe districts, the number of challengers in 2016 is likely to decline even further. Our neighboring South Carolina offers a window into the future. In this most recent election less than 25 percent of South Carolina legislators faced opposition. Not a single seat changed parties.
|Moral Monday march on Raleigh, North Carolina, February 8, 2014. Photograph by James Willamor, CC-BY-SA 2.0. In September 2013 Dan T. Carter wrote for Southern Spaces about the tumult in North Carolina government.|
It is a pattern repeated across the South. In the aftermath of the 1968 presidential election, Kevin Phillips assured his boss, Richard Nixon, that the 95 percent support of black voters for John Kennedy was a blessing in disguise. The GOP, said Phillips, could "build a winning coalition without Negro votes. . . . Indeed," he said, "Negro-Democratic mutual identification" was a critical factor in the growth of the Republican Party in the South which would become the foundation of a new Republican majority. With the Democratic Party becoming the "Negro party throughout most of the South," the Republicans would soon dominate that section of the country. That same policy of "Negro-Democratic identification," he added, would attract disenchanted white working class voters in the North as well.1 That memo has been the driving Republican strategy from Phillips through Lee Atwater and on to Karl Rove. With the added lift-off furnished by many white southerners' visceral hatred of a black president, it has made the white Republican South the lynchpin of the GOP's congressional majorities in the US House and Senate.
I have continued to work and write and speak about progressive politics after Reagan, driven by disgust over what I saw as the triumph of greed in our economic system and contempt for those who are not "winners" in our increasingly dog-eat-dog society. Optimistically, I concluded that I would probably be dead before the final triumph of our corporate plutocracy. But I did not want to see my children and grandchildren inherit this political dystopia.
While the 2008 election seemed to offer a possibility of change it now seems more like a mirage in our political downward spiral. I've often felt depressed, most recently after the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2010 elections. My usual response to disappointment has been to feverishly read the analysis of state and national political pundits, searching for what went wrong, grasping for the silver linings.
Not this time. I know it was a debacle, but I still haven't read political coverage in a newspaper, and I've tuned out television, magazine, and internet post-mortems. Nor, after decades as a political news junkie, have I any desire to follow the coverage.
Two days after the election, in an attempt to avoid such depressing reflections, I went into my shop to catch up on one of my duties at the Unitarian-Universalist Church here in Brevard: making obituary "leaves" for the sculptural tree in our memorial garden. (A local blacksmith did the tree; I engrave the names of deceased congregation members with birth and death dates, cut them into leaves, and epoxy them to the tree.) As I finished the seventh and last leaf, I looked at the birth dates. One was 1919, another 1927, the rest from the 1930s and 1940s. I realized suddenly that one was my age; another was younger.
|The good old days. Detail from "Don't Sit under the Mushroom," 1956. Pamphlet promoting atomic bomb safety by Seattle and King County Civil Defense Departments. Courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, CC-BY 2.0.|
Except for the normal problems with memory that we have as we get older—particularly names, where I have to rummage around to pull the rabbit out of the hat—I am in good physical and mental health. But I don't think I want to spend the years I have left feeling angry, bitter, and frustrated. It pains me to say it, but I think this new rancid form of conservatism has won the underlying battle of ideas for the foreseeable future. Over the last thirty-five to forty years, the war against the very notion of the common good and government as a tool in reaching that common good has sometimes retreated one step backward, but retreat was always followed by two steps forward.
Religious fervor centered around the issues of abortion, gay rights, and other social issues has played a powerful role in the shift. And I can understand the deep nostalgia of frightened voters who want to return to that "golden age"—say 1953—when blacks knew their place, women were happy as homemakers, most people went to church on Sunday and anyone—anyone white at least—with a high school education and a strong back had a future with relative security.
If nostalgia and religious reaction play a major role in our political transformation, it is money that calls the tune. The new plutocracy and its well-paid pimps have had the advantages of vast wealth and a news media that gives the phrase "shallow and superficial" a whole new meaning. How do we make thoughtful political decisions in a country where reporters solemnly balance the views of crackpot climate-change deniers and the 97 percent of earth scientists who have spent their careers analyzing the data? Given the deep seated anti-intellectualism that permeates our culture, should we really be surprised to learn that more Americans believe in the physical existence of angels than in the theory of evolution? Or that, as several studies have shown, our college educated generation is no better informed on basic civic information than a Depression generation dominated by grade school and high school graduates?
And so a parasitic financial industry grows exponentially as it shuffles money from the middle class to the rich with all the skills of a side-walk hustler plying his shell game to clueless marks; the super-rich and those just below them see their portfolios fatten while middle class, working class, and poor Americans watch their incomes stagnate or decline; a generation of children remain trapped in schools overwhelmed by the complex ills of poverty and isolation; we continue to incarcerate young men (mostly black and brown) at a staggering rate; growing numbers of Americans remain food insecure in the richest nation on earth; despite the gains of the last year, millions continue to lack health care insurance at a time when every other advanced democracy in the western world sees this as a basic human right; young people graduate from college overwhelmed with debt; a bloated defense industry siphons hundreds of billions into the sinkhole of sleazy contractors and useless weapons systems; global warming threatens the future of our planet; our national infrastructure continues its slow but inexorable decline toward third world status . . .
And millions of voters seem convinced that the greatest threat to our nation is the "war on Christmas" or—in the words of the late Ronald Reagan—the "strapping young buck" who buys T-bones with food stamps. As a civically engaged electorate retreats with each election, I've reluctantly come to believe that it's what most people want, or if that's not what they want, it's not very important to resist. I can understand the feeling. Watching Dancing with the Stars or fondling an iPhone is a lot more relaxing than confronting the cynical, money-driven political system in Washington and Raleigh.
|Millions of voters seem convinced that the greatest threat to our nation is the "war on Christmas." This still is from the December 2, 2014 episode of the The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News.|
Something has soured as the American dream of mobility and economic security drifts further away. What if the right is winning not because of its financial clout or its political skills but because they have tapped into the authentic core of the new American psyche? What if racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, and hyper-individualism are all bound together by a fear that somewhere, someone struggling one step below on the ladder of life will get a free meal at "my" expense? Perhaps the intensity of the hostility toward "Obamacare" is more than a reflection of the very real racial hostility toward Barack Obama. Perhaps it lies in the belief that this program is just one more handout for the undeserving poor, paid by "my" money.
Americans can be generous volunteers, givers of charity, filled with compassion. My own community has a dozen or more organizations struggling heroically to fill the needs of our poorest residents. But I've concluded that much of this generosity extends only so far as the "giver" chooses the level of giving and the objects of his or her charity. The notion that there is some fundamental principle of justice that requires us to relinquish that individual choice to a democratic government is simply not going to carry the day—at least in my lifetime. As the top vote-getting commissioner says to voters in my county, which has one of the lowest tax rates in the state, "It's your money, not the government's."
Couple that with the fact that we have become a nation of voters who shrink from any demands on our pocketbooks or any personal sacrifice of our "liberties" for the common good and you have the new America. This is now the subliminal default position among voters or at least among those who bother to vote. I acknowledge that there is an understandably cynical view that voting really doesn't count. As I look at the groveling subservience of much of the Democratic Party to the same financial interests and K Street lobbyists that are corrupting our teetering democracy, I keep thinking of the late George Wallace's complaint that the difference between Republicans and Democrats was "tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum." Of course there are differences: just ask the millions of Americans who now have healthcare as a result of the expansion of Medicaid and the passage of the Affordable Care Act. In the case of both parties, however, the subservience to Wall Street and the one percent differs only in degree.
I recently read through the major speeches of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan in preparation for an interview in CNN's planned series on the 1970s. In the face of the gas crisis of 1979, Carter called upon Americans to turn down their thermostats, car pool, and drive less. After the 2001 9/11 attack, George Bush insisted that tax cuts should go forward as planned and he urged Americans to take their families to Disneyland and "enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed." Whatever his faults, Jimmy Carter was the last president who asked for broad sacrifice from the American people, who bluntly told them there was no free lunch. And Americans hated it. Ronald Reagan set the template: every candidate that followed, with the exception of the hapless Walter Mondale, has had to promise ever-expanding programs for the middle and upper classes without increasing taxes, the good times for all without sacrifice by anyone. There is little support for a national leader who tells us to eat our peas instead of "freedom" fries.
|"NC GOP Redistricting," November 10, 2014. Political cartoon by John Cole. Courtesy of the cartoonist.|
Having retired, I now live in the midst of great natural beauty here in the western mountains of North Carolina; every day I encounter friendly neighbors who make day-to-day life worthwhile. But I also live in a county that just rejected two outstanding candidates while reelecting our reactionary Republican commission members; in a county that voted two-to-one for a mean-spirited Tea Party state senator and a Christian nationalist state representative. I live in a state where those who bothered to vote have chosen as their United States senator a man who led his party in slashing public education; manipulating homophobia for political gain; enacting voter laws that take their inspiration from the days of Jim Crow; granting tax cuts to his rich backers; rejecting federally funded medical care for our poorest citizens through Medicaid; cutting unemployment insurance to some of the lowest levels in the nation; and in general serving as a faithful gofer for every right-wing financial interest ready to open a check-book for his party's next political campaign.
As I have watched these events unfold I have reluctantly concluded that seeking justice by placing our faith in a public dialogue over "the facts" is as fantastical as Don Quixote's mounted charge against the tattered windmills of seventeenth century Spain. Frederick Douglass may have been a great orator who believed in the power of language to rouse his supporters, but in bringing about genuine change he was nearer the truth when he wrote that "power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."2
I'm no Henry David Thoreau and I don't plan to retreat to my own version of Walden Pond. I am taking a break from my day-to-day obsession with politics and the avalanche of information that—I fear—leaves us adrift in understanding what has been happening to our nation and what we might do to reverse course. Perhaps I will have a flashing insight as I cut, plane, and assemble into furniture the hardwoods of these mountains that I have come to love.
About the Author
Dan Carter is Educational Foundation Emeritus Professor at the University of South Carolina. He is the author of numerous books and articles including The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (Louisiana State University Press, second edition, 2000).
Good-Bye to All That?»
Big Ten football has received plenty of criticism in recent years, much of it well deserved. The conference clearly isn't what it used to be, and Marc Tracy recently identified some of the reasons why in an excellent piece in the New York Times, concentrating on the Rustbelt's economic and demographic decline, which has left it with fewer resources and top players versus other regions, particularly the Sunbelt.1 Tracy missed one very important point, however, one that is vital to understanding both the Big Ten's former preeminence and its long-term slide: the easing of the "color line" in major southern athletics conferences in the 1970s.
The Big Ten's modern heyday in football was in the 1950s and 1960s. The conference's strength, particularly from the mid-1950s on, was due in large part to the fact that its schools recruited talented African American athletes earlier than a number of other power conferences, most notably, of course, those in the South. Before the early 1970s, a minuscule number of African Americans from the South played football in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Southwest Conference (SWC), leaving the best African American high-school players with two options: play at one or another of the region's many historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) or play outside the region. Thus, the origins of both the terrific teams fielded in the 1950s and 1960s by HBCUs such as Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Alcorn State, and Prairie View A&M (and as late as the mid-1970s by South Carolina State) and the flow of African American talent to the Big Ten. Two cases from the mid-1960s illustrate this point: the recruiting practices of the University of Minnesota and Michigan State University.
|Bobby Bell played for the University of Minnesota before turning professional as outside linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1983, Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Photograph by University of Minnesota Football, ca. 1962. © Golden Gopher Gridiron, University of Minnesota Football.|
The case of Bobby Bell, a North Carolina player recruited by the University of Minnesota, sheds light on a state, a region, and a school. Almost every expert in the history of college and professional football would later include Bell among the greatest players ever. A star running back and later quarterback at segregated Cleveland High School in Shelby, North Carolina, in the late 1950s, Bell was essentially unrecruitable by the ACC or the SEC, despite the fact that his off-the chart talent was well known. Six feet-four, about 235 pounds, and exceptionally fast for his size, he played defensive line in college and as outside linebacker during his twelve-year professional career with the Kansas City Chiefs. His coach with the Chiefs, Hank Stram, wasn't kidding when he said that Bell "could play all of the twenty-two positions on the field, and play them well."2 Bell was a two-time All American in college, a winner of the Outland Trophy in 1962—the same year he placed third in the Heisman race—and a perennial All-Pro in the 1960s and early 1970s. He starred on the Chiefs's Super Bowl–winning team in 1969, was voted to the All-Time American Football League (AFL) team and the National Football League (NFL) All-Decade Team for the 1970s, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983.
Bell might have been able to play all twenty-two positions on the football field, but coming out of high school, he wasn't going to play any of them at a school in a major conference in the South. He therefore accepted a scholarship to play under Coach Murray Warmath at the University of Minnesota. Warmath, a native of Tennessee, had played football at the University of Tennessee. He came to Minnesota as head coach in 1954 after two seasons as head coach at Mississippi State. He remained at the University of Minnesota through 1971 and is remembered today as one of the first coaches at any major US university to recruit significant numbers of African Americans in a given signing class. Bell enjoyed an illustrious career at Minnesota, winning a national championship in 1960 and the Rose Bowl in 1962.3
Joining Bell on defense was another African American football player from North Carolina: defensive end Carl Eller, who came to Minnesota from Atkins Academic & Technology High School in Winston-Salem. Eller, a year behind Bell in school, was also a two-time All-American at Minnesota and was runner-up for the Outland Trophy in 1963, going on to an outstanding NFL career, making All-Pro numerous times. Like Bell, Eller was named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1970s, to the College Football Hall of Fame, and to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Another talented African American football player from the South—Aaron Brown from Lincoln High School in Port Arthur, Texas—joined Eller in the Minnesota defensive line in 1963 and enjoyed a fine career at Minnesota. A first-round draft pick with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966, Brown started on the team when it won the Super Bowl in 1970, playing in the NFL through the 1974 season.
|1965 Michigan State University varsity football team. Photograph reproduced by permission of the MSU Photograph Collection, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1965. © Michigan State University.|
The Michigan State University (MSU) Spartans of the mid-1960s provide a second case study. The Spartan teams of 1965 and 1966 are remembered today for their strong performances. MSU earned a 19-1-1 record over the two seasons, including the 10-10 tie with Notre Dame in the latter year, and had claims to national championships in both years—not least because of the dazzling array of talent on the roster. Some of the most illustrious stars on these teams were African American players from the segregated South, most notably George Webster (Anderson, South Carolina), Charles "Bubba" Smith (Beaumont, Texas), and Gene Washington (La Porte, Texas), all of whom went on to outstanding professional careers. Charles Thornhill (Roanoke, Virginia) was also an outstanding member of the team, but did not go on to the professional leagues. As Adam Rittenberg pointed out in an incisive piece for ESPN.com in 2013, the Spartans's 1965 roster included eighteen African Americans (nine from the South), with seventeen African Americans (ten from the South) on the roster the following year.4 Few of these players could suit up for major schools in their home region in the mid-1960s. Smith wanted to play for the University of Texas, but Coach Darrell Royal could not offer him a scholarship. MSU coach Duffy Daugherty was tipped off about Webster by legendary Clemson coach Frank Howard, who knew all about Webster (from segregated Westside High School in nearby Anderson, South Carolina), but couldn't recruit him. Perhaps even more surprisingly, Thornhill found his way to MSU as a result of a phone call to Daugherty from another big-time southern coach—none other than the University of Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant—who had met Thornhill at the awards dinner of the Roanoke Touchdown Club. (Thornhill had been named the club's player of the year after scoring more than 200 points as a running back his senior year.)
Another great African American football star at MSU from earlier in the 1960s, long-time college and NFL coach Sherman Lewis, captured what was going on in the minds of many elite African American athletes living in the South at the time. Lewis hailed from Louisville, Kentucky, where he had an outstanding record in high school as a running back and track sprinter, but according to a 2007 interview, he knew "blacks couldn't play in the SEC. I had to go somewhere West or North." Claiming he knew about Michigan State long before it knew about him, Lewis elaborated:
When we watched games on TV in the '50s, we were always looking for black athletes. . . . Minnesota had a lot. Iowa was loaded. And Michigan State had a history. It had 'em and played 'em. I remembered that from watching the Rose Bowl.5
In the 1950s, MSU featured outstanding African American running backs such as Clarence Peaks (from Michigan) and Herb Adderley (from Pennsylvania). Other Big Ten schools also played black athletes, including the University of Illinois, where Chicago's Buddy Young played as early as the mid-1940s and J. C. Caroline—from segregated Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia, South Carolina—shined as a sophomore in 1953, leading the nation in rushing. Caroline learned about the Big Ten not from television, but from a white man who operated a grocery store near Booker T. Washington High School. According to Caroline:
From what he [the grocer] had heard, he told me he thought I could play football in the Big Ten. . . . He told me about Buddy Young having a great career at the University of Illinois and how black players were finding a place in the Big Ten. I had always figured I would go play football at a black school in North Carolina, so I let him contact people at Illinois.6
In Rittenberg's article, Lewis provides additional context about the Big Ten:
There's always been great players down [South]. . . . They were all going to Grambling, Florida A&M, Tennessee State, Texas Southern. But when the Big Ten started recruiting them, instead of Florida A&M, they were going to Michigan State, or instead of Texas Southern or Grambling, they were going to Minnesota.7
|Program for the 1966 Rose Bowl featuring Michigan State vs. UCLA. The Michigan State Spartans won the 1954 and 1956 Rose Bowl games. However, the Spartans lost the 1966 match up with UCLA. Photograph reproduced by permission of the Duffy Daugherty Papers, Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections, 1966. © Michigan State University.|
Instead of going to Kentucky, Lewis attended MSU. There, he became both a sprint champion and a star running back, twice winning All-American honors (1962, 1963). He was named player of the year by the Football News in 1963, when he also finished third in the Heisman balloting. Other talented African Americans followed his lead.
Some journalists and historians of sport have suggested that the "tipping point" for desegregating big-time sports in the South occurred on the night of September 12, 1970 at the University of Alabama's Legion Field, when the USC Trojans—starting an all-African American backfield—destroyed the still all-white Crimson Tide by a score of 42-21.8 The Trojans were led by African American running backs Sam "Bam" Cunningham (135 yards on twelve carries and two touchdowns) and Clarence Davis, a native of Birmingham. This view compresses and, in so doing, almost certainly oversimplifies things. Even before the game, Alabama's Coach Bryant had seen the writing on the wall and already had a highly touted African American running back from Alabama (Wilbur Jackson) playing on the freshman team. Indeed, ever since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pressure had been mounting on Alabama and other major southern programs to recruit African American athletes.
Clearly, though, by the early 1970s (around the time of the USC game), there was no turning back either for Bryant or Alabama or for other schools in the ACC, SEC, and SWC. Some colleges had already been making tentative moves to integrate. Even the rudest attempts at cost-benefit analysis—whether explicit or implicit, and whether cast in terms of wins and losses on the playing field, social stability, or potential political problems with the Feds—suggested that the dismantling of the color barrier would not only continue but intensify.
College Football Hall of Fame coach, Jerry Claiborne, an assistant at Alabama in 1970, famously remarked, "Sam Cunningham did more to integrate Alabama in sixty minutes than Martin Luther King, Jr. had accomplished in twenty years." This is a great line, but one that surely overstates football's role and understates civil rights activists' accomplishments. A less famous quote seems more on the mark regarding Bear Bryant's role in breaking the SEC football color line. According to sports journalist Don Yaeger, Bryant, when asked in the mid-1960s if he would start recruiting black athletes to play for the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide, replied "I won't be the first. But I won't be third."9
Once big-time southern football programs began to recruit African Americans aggressively in the 1970s, the Big Ten's pipeline to black talent from the South was punctured. The Big Ten continued to recruit players from the South, but seldom the best. Purdue's great running back, Leroy Keyes, who grew up in the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia and was Heisman runner-up to O. J. Simpson in 1968, was one of the last Big Ten All-Americans from the South until Michigan's Anthony Carter, who was from Riviera Beach, Florida, and played for the Wolverines from 1979 to 1982. At the end of the day, there are many reasons for the relative decline of the Big Ten and Marc Tracy has deftly discussed most, but not all of them. The integration of big-team football programs in the South hurt the Big Ten badly, just as it did the former football powerhouses among the South's HBCUs.
About the Author
Peter A. Coclanis is Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History and Director of the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
This is an open access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 License.
- 1. Marc Tracy, "As Big Ten Declines, Homegrown Talent Flees," New York Times, October 3, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/sports/ncaafootball/as-big-ten-declines-homegrown-talent-fades-and-flees.html.
- 2. Larry Watts, "The Coachable One," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 2, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020210aab.html.
- 3. Incidentally, that team, which had also gone to the Rose Bowl in 1961, was led on offense by future College Football Hall-of-Famer Sandy Stephens, the school's first African American quarterback who was from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
- 4. Adam Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race in 1960s," ESPN.com, February 21, 2013, http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/8970293/segregation-led-star-players-michigan-state-spartans-1960s-college-football.
- 5. Sherman Lewis, "Sherman Lewis: All-America Halfback and Longtime Coach," Michigan State Official Athletic Site, February 17, 2007, http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/021707aaa.html. During the 1950s, MSU played in and won Rose Bowls in 1954 and 1956.
- 6. Larry Watts, "True to Oneself," Big Ten: Celebrating Black History Month, February 4, 2010, http://www.bigten.org/genrel/020410aaa.html.
- 7. Rittenberg, "Spartans Blended Race."
- 8. See, for example, Steven Travers, One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game that Changed a Nation (Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2007); Mark Wangrin, "The Gradual Arrival of Integration Revolutionized the Sport," in ESPN College Football Encyclopedia (New York: ESPN Books, 2005), 48–51. For more judicious insights, see Charles Martin, Benching Jim Crow: The Rise and Fall of the Color Line in Southern College Sports, 1890–1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 255–258.
- 9. Walter Payton and Don Yaeger, Never Die Easy: The Autobiography of Walter Payton (New York: Random House, 2001), 48.
|NOLA Hip-hop and Bounce Archive launch party poster, Holly Hobbs, 2014.|
The NOLA Hip-hop and Bounce Archive, the first university-affiliated southern rap archive in the Deep South, is now online. The archive features over forty videotaped oral history interviews with pioneers of New Orleans rap and bounce music, including Mannie Fresh, Mystikal, KLC, DJ Jubilee, Ms. Tee, 5th Ward Weebie, Nicky da B (1990–2014), and many more. The archive also includes materials from Alison Fensterstock and Aubrey Edwards's Where They At exhibit, which screened at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in 2010 and includes over fifty photographic portraits and audio interviews with New Orleans rappers, DJs, producers, photographers, label owners, promoters, record store personnel, journalists, and other parties involved in the New Orleans hip-hop and bounce scene from the late 1980s through Hurricane Katrina.
The NOLA Hip-hop Archive is the culmination of over two years of oral history interview work documenting the stories of the pioneers and legends who helped to create New Orleans rap and bounce. Housed by the Amistad Research Center and the Tulane University Digital Library, the archive mission has been made possible through additional support from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, Music Rising, the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South, and a successful Kickstarter campaign.
|Fiend at Inner Recess studio, New Orleans, Louisiana. Photograph by Holly Hobbs, 2014.|
|Holly Hobbs at the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, 2014. Photograph by Jason Saul.|
The oral histories in the NOLA Hip-hop Archive all engage with the specifics of local geographies, many of which are now forever altered post-Katrina. Former No Limit recording artist Fiend describes growing up near the intersection of Edinburgh and Eagle streets in the Hollygrove neighborhood of New Orleans in his archive interview, where his family owned a bar frequented by jazz, blues, soul and rhythm and blues artists. The family bar was directly across the street from Ghost Town, a now defunct venue often referred to as "the place where bounce began." T. T. Tucker, co-creator of the seminal bounce track, "Where Dey At," famously performed at Ghost Town, an experience he describes in his own rare archive interview. Throughout the archive videos, other artists reference Ghost Town, T. T. Tucker, and other defining people and places in the New Orleans hip-hop canon. Streets and neighborhoods serve as important touchstones in the narratives of many New Orleans hip-hop and bounce artists, and these continuities of time and space are told here through the artists' own words.
The site goes live formally on December 11, 2014, with a launch party from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Cafe Instanbul in New Orleans. The evening will feature Nesby Phips DJing, with a performance by Truth Universal. Please visit the archive at nolahiphoparchive.com and join us on the 11th.
About the Author
Holly Hobbs is currently completing her PhD at Tulane University where she is writing her dissertation on post-Katrina hip-hop and recovery in New Orleans. She has worked as a promoter, artist manager, and musician within the New Orleans hip-hop community since 2008. She is a writer for the popular music website, The Smoking Section, and the Knowla Encyclopedia of Louisiana History, Culture, and Community.
Flannery O'Connor's place in American literature is undisputed. A master of the short story, her The Complete Stories (1971) was voted the "favorite" of the sixty fiction winners of the National Book Award in 2009. August 3, 2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of O'Connor's death. Had she not succumbed to complications related to lupus in 1964, she would have been eighty-nine years old today. O'Connor's legacy is unique among southern writers. Unlike contemporaries Eudora Welty or Carson McCullers, O'Connor primarily wrote short stories that drew upon her bleak, dark, and deeply religious worldview.
Whittled down to a two-word sound bite appropriate to the age of Twitter, O'Connor's work might be described as peacock grotesque or grotesque peacockian, if one has the three extra characters to spare. (O'Connor's work and image have long been associated with the image of the peafowl she raised at her Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, and the grotesque southern Gothicism of her written work.) And yet, far from being reduced to a convenient sound bite, O'Connor's sensibilities have infiltrated society in far-reaching ways: what might O'Connor make of True Blood and the consistent vamipirization of the South?1 What would O'Connor say about Savannah residents Jim Williams and the Lady Chablis, the carnivalesque at the heart of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? What would O'Connor think of so-called "reality" television where a real housewife of New York detaches and throws her prosthetic leg during a fight, à la Joy/Hulga in perhaps O'Connor's most famous short story "Good Country People"? What would O'Connor's take be on what I call "Flannery on Film," the numerous in-the-works film adaptations of her texts?2 What would O'Connor have to say about the continual othering of southern space (the land of "freaks" made visible for the world's gaze) in television shows like Duck Dynasty and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo? Fifty years after her death, it is these types of questions that emerge when I think about O'Connor's legacy.
|Brooke Hatfield experimented with several iterations of FLANnery O'Connor. Photographs by Brooke Hatfield. Courtesy of Brooke Hatfield. Pictured above are versions 1 and 2.|
Recently, Brooke Hatfield, an avid O'Connor fan, designer, and artist, described O'Connor's legacy as "zine-inspiring." Released at the June 2014 Atlanta Zine Fest, one of Hatfield's passion projects, Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Portraits of Flannery O'Connor, asks fourteen artists, utilizing a variety of mediums, to imagine their versions of O'Connor's iconic image.3 Some artists chose more traditional methods of portraiture, while others, as in Yoonhwa Jang's portrait of O'Connor as a dog, chose more radical methods and images to represent her. Hatfield states that she was attracted to the happenstance mix of "reverent, more traditional portraiture with something a little more untethered to legend."4 While Dan Murdoch and Ashley Anderson painted "mind-blowing beautiful" portraits, "Yoonhwa Jang's [portrait of O'Connor as animal] uses a couple of notable elements of O'Connor's appearance (Those glasses! Those pearls!) to tell a very different story."5 Hatfield herself has previously made a portrait of another of her favorite southern women, Harper Lee's Scout Finch dressed as a ham made out of a piece of ham. "I love food and puns in pretty equal measure," Hatfield states. Hatfield's portrait of O'Connor is in this food-pun vein. The piece is titled "FLANnery O'Connor," which as the capitalization suggests, is a portrait of O'Connor drawn on regular print paper, cut out with a "scalpel" (a surgical tool utilized by Hatfield in true O'Connor fashion), and then laid on top of a baking dish of Flan, or what Hatfield calls her "flanvas," which she made herself.6
|Travis Ekmark's art for the zine. Portrait by Travis Ekmark. Courtesy of Travis Ekmark and Brooke Hatfield.|
During a July 29 event to promote the zine's release, writer Johnny Drago read a short fictional piece, "The Name of This is a Sacred Relic," inspired by Travis Ekmark's art for the zine. Drago describes his story as "about two friends, two writers who go down to Milledgeville, Georgia looking for inspiration. Of course, they come back with something completely different. The story is essentially based on the Instagram feeds of some friends of mine who visited Andalusia and the Central State mental hospital recently, and the parallel, vicarious visit I had in my head as I scrolled down."7 Whereas some of the portraits for the Zine explore the more eccentric sides of O'Connor, Ekmark's portrait on which Drago's story is based is startling in its simplicity—a solid background with a black-ink drawing in the foreground—and as such, Drago's story follows an age old plot: two friends go on a journey from which they return changed.
As a writer of fiction and drama, Drago describes O'Connor's influence: "[Her] work has absolutely influenced my fiction, in much the same way that the writing of Tennessee Williams impacted my plays."8 For Drago, O'Connor addressed "reality in a detailed and truthful way."9 Elsewhere, Drago has commented on the "meditative qualities" of O'Connor's work. Drago's focus on the details and the meditative qualities of O'Connor's work points to a way of approaching O'Connor that elides the whole and ruminates on the fragment.
|A symbolic representation of the more than 25,000 patients buried in unmarked graves on the Central State Hospital grounds in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by John Kloepper. Creative Commons Liscense CC-BY-3.0.|
For all the cleverness and cuteness of many of the zine's portraits, what are (were) the details and truths of O'Connor's reality? What types of things did O'Connor meditate on, ruminate over, and why do they matter today? Fans, readers, and critics often interpret the "truth" of Flannery O'Connor's work as grotesque, as gothic, as haunting. How do words haunt, and what does it mean to be haunted by Flannery O'Connor's words? In "Ghosts and Shattered Bodies, or What Does it Mean to Still be Haunted by Southern Literature?" the late Patricia Yaeger writes, "We live in a world that is haunted, knows it's haunted, and denies its own hauntedness. What do we do when we see a ghost?"10 What do we do when we see, when we encounter, Flannery O'Connor? O'Connor's ghost no doubt resides in Hatfield's flanvas, in the pearls and glasses of Jang's portrait, in the rough lines of Ekmark's sketch, in Drago's words, in Christine Ernest's pixelated and distorted needlework portrait, in O'Connor's words that remain in print and are read by countless students and fans. As the recent Bitter Southerner publication on Hatfield's zine declared, O'Connor indeed "walks among us still."11 And yet, focusing on the entirety of O'Connor's legacy—the full portrait—ignores the ways in which she actually moved through the world. Nearly all of the images in the zine present O'Connor's ghost in various illustrations of her face and upper body. Only two images, Dan Murdoch's and Alvin Diec's, portray the crutch with which O'Connor literally walked for many years of her life. When we encounter a ghost, even one like O'Connor's, we inevitably make choices as to what to see, witness, and represent.
|Dan Murdoch's portrait for the zine, featuring O'Connor holding her crutch. Portrait by Dan Murdoch. Courtesy of Dan Murdoch and Brooke Hatfield.|
|The cover of the 2007 paperback edition of O'Connor's second and final novel, The Violent Bear it Away.|
A portrait by definition is only part of the whole picture, only a fragment of what can be known or seen. Returning to O'Connor's works helps us to shift focus from the whole picture to the haunting fragment in interpreting O'Connor. The most recent paperback edition of O'Connor's second and final novel, The Violent Bear it Away (1960), features an extinguished matchstick haloed by a veil of smoke. It seems a fitting image to approach an understanding of O'Connor's work and legacy. Yaeger asks that we look beyond the "operatic" grotesque and excess of the southern gothic so often associated with O'Connor's work and view the fragments: "A focus on scraps or remnants changes received notions of the southern gothic. Excess, monstrosity, perversion, nightmares, rattling machinery: these rhetorical structures give way to less operatic forms in which fragments, residues, or traces of trauma fashion a regime of haunting."12 What haunts more is the residue; the "vestige, the scrap, the remainder" is "the force that's most frightening."13 The extinguished match haloed by smoke. Or the lavender handkerchief.
Towards the end of The Violent Bear it Away, a nameless stranger with a car picks up the protagonist-hitchhiker, Francis Marion Tarwater: "The person who had picked him up was a pale, lean, old-looking young man with deep hollows under his cheekbones. He had on a lavender shirt and a thick black suit and a panama hat. . . . His eyes were the same color as his shirt . . . he turned . . . and gave the boy a long personal look."14 After "the boy," Tarwater, passes out in the car, "the man pick[s] him up and carrie[s] him into the woods."15 A break in the narration occurs. Next, the man emerges from the woods, his skin "a faint pink," as "if he had refreshed himself on blood."16 (Note the vampiric South resonance of this simile.) When Tarwater awakens, "his hands were loosely tied with a lavender handkerchief . . . his clothes were neatly piled by his side. Only his shoes were on him . . . [his] mouth twisted open to the side as if it were going to displace itself permanently . . . he began to tear savagely at the lavender handkerchief until he had shredded it off."17 The monstrosity and perversion of this closing scene is the act of forced sodomy Tarwater experiences at the hands of this "friendly" man passing through. Yet, the less operatic scrap, the lavender handkerchief, becomes the focused detail that haunts the reader long after the novel's close.18
The lavender handkerchief. The extinguished match. The veil of smoke. The barbed-wire heart.19 The prosthetic leg. The peacock's feather. The pointy-rimmed glasses. The pearl necklace. The imperfect flanvas. The hobbled body. The crutch. However we interpret O'Connor, her ghost remains in these fragments and remnants she leaves behind as much as the "whole" portraits artists and writers continue to imagine. Fifty years after her death, her legacy seems cemented. Master of the southern gothic, champion of the grotesque, a meditative writer whose truth is found in the details, O'Connor's image and words continue to haunt, inspire, and generate robust conversation. As O’Connor’s cousin and a trustee of her estate, Louise Florencourt, said in a recent announcement of materials donated to Emory University’s Manuscript Archive and Rare Books Library, "Flannery should be seen as whole as could be made possible."20 As we all continue to interpret O'Connor, we would do well to heed the advice of the master herself: Remember, "an identity is not to be found on the surface . . . it lies very deep,"21 and "'if there's no bottom in your eyes, they hold more.'"22
|Flannery O'Connor's bedroom at Andalusia, her home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen.||The porch at Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home in Milledgeville, Georgia. Photograph by pdoyen, November 12, 2008. Courtesy of pdoyen.|
For more information and to purchase Scale Highly Eccentric: A Zine of Portraits of Flannery O'Connor, visit Brooke Hatfield's website and shop. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Flannery O'Connor – Andalusia Foundation, Inc. Hatfield describes this decision as one based on the importance of place to O'Connor's work: "O'Connor wrote the majority of her published work at Andalusia. It's a literary landmark. And O'Connor's work was so informed by the specifics of place, so Andalusia is sort of uniquely valuable to her fans. Also there's a huge screened-in porch with lots of rocking chairs, and it's a perfect place to eat a Publix Cuban sub."23 In a related Southern Spaces publication, photographer Nancy Marshall echoes Hatfield's evocation of the importance of place to O'Connor's work. Like Hatfield and the characters of Drago's story, Marshall journeys to Andalusia three times a year to trace or commune with O'Connor's ghost; she writes, "my interest is in trying to photograph the landscape as O'Connor saw it in her time and to allow the traces of her presence there to reveal themselves."24
About the Author
Eric Solomon is an editorial associate at Southern Spaces and a PhD student in the department of English at Emory University. He received his BA in English and Spanish from the University of Mississippi and the University of Belgrano, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
- 1. In addition to the HBO series True Blood and the series of novels that inspired the show, Charlaine Harris's The Southern Vampire Mysteries, see A Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin's early novel Fevre Dream (1982), set on a Mississippi Riverboat in 1857; Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, largely set in-and-around New Orleans; Seth Grahame-Smith's 2010 novel Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter and the 2012 film of the same name, which reimagines slaves as food for vampires and the roots of Lincoln's antislavery crusade following his realization of this in New Orleans; and the television series The Vampire Diaries, set in Virginia and largely filmed in Georgia, among many others.
- 2. O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, was memorably brought to the screen in 1980 by filmmaker John Huston. Atlanta's Good Country Pictures has acquired the film rights to many of O'Connor's texts, planning to mount a production of The Violent Bear It Away and a television series based on her short stories. Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh has also recently stated that he plans to complete his so-called "glorified suicide trilogy"—which currently combines the films The Guard (2011) and Calvary (2014)—with a film that takes its title from O'Connor's story "The Lame Shall Enter First" to star Brendan Gleeson.
- 3. The "esteemed zine artists" include: Ashley Anderson, Rebecca Bowen, Jenifer Carter, Alvin Diec, Travis Ekmark, Christine Ernest, Brooke Hatfield, Yoonhwa Jang, Tori LaConsay, Elizabeth McNair, Dan Murdoch, Natalie Nelson, Emily Wallace, and Lydia Walls.
- 4. Brooke Hatfield in discussion with the author, September 2014.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. Ibid.
- 7. Johnny Drago in discussion with the author, September 2014.
- 8. Ibid.
- 9. Ibid.
- 10. Patricia Yaeger, "Ghosts and Shattered Bodies, or What Does it Mean To Still Be Haunted by Southern Literature?," South Central Review 2, no.1 (Spring 2005): 87.
- 11. "A Talented Group of Writers and Artists Prove that Flannery O'Connor Walks Among Us Still," The Bitter Southerner, August 2014, http://bittersoutherner.com/flannery-oconnor-walks-among-us-still.
- 12. Yaeger, 90.
- 13. Ibid.
- 14. Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1955), 227, emphasis added.
- 15. Ibid., 231.
- 16. Ibid.
- 17. Ibid, 232.
- 18. It will be lost on few that "lavender" has long been associated with homosexuality. The so-called "lavender scare" of the 1950s would have been on people's minds upon the novel's publication in 1960. The lavender scare paralleled Joe McCarthy's Red Scare, with McCarthy stating that gays and lesbians were perhaps "even more dangerous than Reds." On April 27, 1953, as O'Connor was preparing to publish "You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead," a short story which serves as chapter one in The Violent Bear It Away, President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which made it legal to hunt down and fire gay and lesbian government employees. The policy lasted until President Clinton officially rescinded it in 1995. What exactly O'Connor is doing with this image and this grotesque act of violence at the novel's close is a question for another forum. Tison Pugh gives an insightful reading of homosexuality in O'Connor's work and this novel in particular in his recent Queer Chivalry: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2013).
- 19. The 1999 thirty-fifth printing of O'Connor's first novel Wise Blood features a barbed-wire heart on the cover. Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949).
- 20. Richard Fausset, "Emory Receives Archive of Work by O’Connor," The New York Times, October 7, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/books/university-acquires-flannery-oconnors-papers-and-effects.html?_r=0.
- 21. Flannery O'Connor, "The Regional Writer" in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, ed. Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1969), 58.
- 22. O'Connor, Wise Blood, 222.
- 23. Brooke Hatfield in discussion with the author, September 2014.
- 24. Nancy Marshall, "Andalusia: Photographs of Flannery O'Connor's Farm," Southern Spaces, April 28, 2008, http://southernspaces.org/2008/andalusia-photographs-flannery-oconnors-farm.
Remnants of Flannery»
Southern Spaces is pairing with Emory University's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) to publish short features on MARBL collections, events, and exhibits that tell the history of spaces and places in the US South. These posts investigate the geographical, historical, and cultural study of real and imagined southern spaces through the lens of archival sources and materials and are featured on both the Southern Spaces and MARBL blogs.
|John Biggers paints House of the Turtle, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1990. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.|
In July 1957, Houston-based artist John Biggers traveled on a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) fellowship to Ghana, Nigeria, and Dahomey (now part of Benin) to investigate multiple strands of cultural heritage on the African continent.1 Visiting both rural villages and burgeoning cities, Biggers was particularly struck by Oku Ampofo, a medical doctor and talented artist based near the Ghanaian capital of Accra. In his handwritten travel notes, now located in Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL), Biggers described Ampofo as a "true intellectual" who believed "in the building of Africa, in the development of people, in that which is true and good." Biggers believed Ampofo embodied "the New Africa," linking the continent's past with its future through his artwork, which included ebony and mahogany carvings along with cement statues.2 Noting that the "strong and exuberant character, and personality of the African" endured despite "influences from other peoples," Biggers contended in a typed summary of his travels that the "original values of the old African cultures still have profound meaning today."3
|Cotton Pickers, 1947. Sketch by John Biggers, depicting his early realist style. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.|
Throughout his long career, Biggers struggled to create works that would, like Ampofo's, both honor the legacies of the past and look hopefully toward the future. Biggers's own art engaged the experiences of African Americans in the US South. Much like West Africans who were grappling with the inheritances of colonialism, African Americans lived daily with the reality of being both African and American. Over the course of a multi-decade career, Biggers struggled to adequately express this tension.4 While his early pieces adhered to European styles of realism, Biggers's later work began to incorporate more stylized and symbolic elements drawn from African traditions, creating a hybrid style of realistic and abstract forms. Biggers also collected African sculptures, studying each piece in his home until its meaning revealed itself to him. Biggers worked (sometimes to the point of exhaustion) to meld African images with the iconography of the US South to create works that could provide African Americans with a sense of artistic identity.5
As part of his mission to illuminate African American experiences, Biggers helped found the Art Department at Houston's Texas Southern University (TSU) and served as its first head.6 Students responded enthusiastically to his direction. In March 1978, as part of a celebration of Biggers's thirtieth anniversary at TSU, a number of former students wrote to express gratitude to their teacher. "Thanks for being a guiding light for young black artists," wrote one, adding thanks for "inspiring blackness as a true meaning towards creative expression."7 A long-time colleague remembered, "the Joy of those kids who sat at your feet and learned the Beauty of their race and a measure of self-pride, myself included."8
|House of the Turtle, pre-installation, Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia, ca. 1992. Mural by John Biggers. Photo courtesy of John Biggers's Estate. John Biggers Papers, Emory University Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.|
Biggers's blending of different symbols and traditions came to its most mature form in a pair of murals, Tree House and House of the Turtle, begun in 1990 at Virginia’s Hampton University and painted with the help of the artist's nephew James.9 Both murals include abstract and symbolic images, but House of the Turtle in particular engages Hampton's origins as a school for the children of slaves (and for the children of Native Americans). The top of the mural depicts two students of African descent holding a lamp and a flower, symbols of growth and illumination. Though stylized African forms appear throughout House of the Turtle, the triangular shape at the top of the mural evokes the "shotgun houses" of Biggers's North Carolina youth, a motif that appears throughout his works.10
Though John Biggers passed away in 2001, his first-hand account of the 1957 trip to West Africa offers researchers a perspective from which to understand Biggers’s artistic motivations. In addition to diaries and accounts from the trip, the John Biggers papers in MARBL also contain correspondence, writings, photographs, and other materials illuminating Biggers's lengthy career as an artist, educator, university administrator, and community activist. Reflecting MARBL's commitment to collecting and preserving the work of important African American artists, Biggers's papers join the collections of other notable artists of his generation, including those of Benny Andrews and Mildred S. Thompson.
About the Author
Michael Camp is a graduate processing assistant in MARBL and a PhD student in the department of History at Emory University. He received his BA in History from the University of Tennessee and his MA in social sciences from the University of Chicago.
- 1. Biggers published a book after his trip titled Ananse: the Web of Life in Africa, three copies of which are available in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, including two that were Biggers's personal copies and one that belonged to African American composer William Levi Dawson.
- 2. John Biggers, typescript draft of travel diary, July 4, 1957, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
- 3. John Biggers, typescript draft of travel diary, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
- 4. W.E.B, Du Bois, founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), wrote passionately about this "double consciousness" of African American identity. MARBL and Woodruff Library contain extensive holdings of The Crisis, the NAACP's official journal.
- 5. Olive Jensen Theisen, Walls that Speak: The Murals of John Biggers (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010), 70-73.
- 6. TSU, a historically black university (HBCU), was established in 1927 as the private Houston Colored Junior College. It was converted into a public institution and renamed Texas State University for Negroes in 1947, and in 1951 was renamed again as Texas Southern University.
- 7. Curtis Watson, Jr. to John Biggers, March 1978, and Al Blair to John Biggers, March 1978, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
- 8. Al Blair, letter to John Biggers, March 1978, John Biggers Papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University.
- 9. Hampton Institute, also an HBCU, was founded in 1868 by members the American Missionary Association to provide education to former slaves. It established a program for teaching Native Americans in 1878, a project that lasted until 1923. With the addition of several academic programs, the Institute became Hampton University in 1984.
- 10. Theisen, Walls that Speak, 100-03.
Art, Diaspora, and Identity: The John Biggers Papers»
|Confederate fort near Atlanta, Georgia, part of the city's inner ring of fortification, 1864. Photographic print by George H. Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.|
Emory University's Robert W. Woodruff Library continues to celebrate the launch of the Battle of Atlanta mobile tour website and commemorate the 150th anniversary of the battle with a presentation and exhibit of materials on Thursday, July 17, at 6:30 p.m. in the Joseph W. Jones Room.
Developed by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS), the smartphone-friendly tour provides GPS directions and mapping, historical information about each of its twelve stops, and multimedia content including video and historical images. It is accessible via a web link, BattleATL.org, and requires no download.
The event will include a talk about the context and legacy of the July 22, 1864, battle by Daniel Pollock, project lead and Civil War scholar; a demonstration of the mobile tour by Brian Croxall, project manager and ECDS digital humanities strategist; and a presentation on the Civil War collections at Emory's Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL). Randy Gue, MARBL curator of Modern Political and Historical Collections, will discuss stories and perspectives on the Battle that emerge from MARBL's Union, Confederate, and civilian collections.
"MARBL has a range of materials that document the Civil War, and statistically they represent some of our highest-use collections," Gue said. "It is exciting to see the library and ECDS develop tools that transform historical items and data from archives with digital technology. The Battle of Atlanta mobile tour website represents a new, interactive way to learn."
Erica Bruchko, US history and African American studies librarian at the Woodruff library said that the exhibit, "Mobilizing the Battle of Atlanta," chronicles how the tour application was created and the research that went into it. Bruchko, Croxall, Pollock, and ECDS Andrew W. Mellon graduate fellow Chris Sawula curated the exhibit, which will remain on view through October 19, 2014.
|Dolly Lunt Burge, whose diary is in the exhibit, wrote about the Battle sounds she could hear from her home in Covington, Georgia. Courtesy Civil War collections, MARBL, Emory University.|
Among the historical materials on display will be photographs, letters, lithographs, newspaper clippings, postcards, maps, and the diary of Dolly Lunt Burge, who described hearing the Battle of Atlanta—one of the biggest in the final months of the Civil War—from as far away as Covington, Georgia. The exhibit will also include some items that do not appear on the digital tour.
Team members compare the stops along the mobile tour to a kind of twenty-first century historical marker—one that can hold an unlimited amount of text, accommodate images and video, and can be updated as new research comes to light.
Project members drew on Pollock's research to pinpoint twelve significant areas—most now unrecognizable due to the city's growth—and created a GPS-guided tour enhanced with information and images gathered from various institutions' archives during months of research. When the ECDS team could not find an application with the precise features they needed, they created their own open-source software.
"While many people in Atlanta know there was a Civil War battle here, very few of them could show you where it happened. Our digital tour takes you to the exact location of twelve significant moments in the Battle of Atlanta," Croxall said. "To learn that the first shots were fired near a local high school or to realize that its most ferocious fighting took place along your commute at what's now the intersection of Interstate 20 and Moreland Avenue, helps you see the city in a new, historical context."
The exhibit will be on display outside ECDS on level three, near the Joseph W. Jones Room where the presentation and demonstration will be held. Light refreshments will be served.
|Confederate and Union troops in close combat, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.|
As the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta approaches, the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship (ECDS) at Emory University has launched a self-guided mobile tour of Battle-related sites throughout the city, complete with maps, historical information, photos and videos, and even parking suggestions for those who drive the route.
The app launched with a celebration and demonstration held Wednesday, June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Atlanta Cyclorama & Civil War Museum. Another event, planned for Thursday July 17 at Emory's Robert W. Woodruff Library, will include a small exhibit of historical photos and materials from its Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL) related to the Civil War and the Battle of Atlanta, which took place July 22, 1864.
Designed to enrich people's understanding of Atlanta and its history, the smartphone-friendly tour provides GPS directions and mapping, historical information about each of its twelve stops, and multimedia content including video and historical images. It requires no download and is accessible via a web link, BattleAtl.org.
The mobile tour is part of an ECDS team project that includes Daniel Pollock, a physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a Battle of Atlanta scholar; Allen Tullos, ECDS co-director and Emory history professor; Brian Croxall, project coordinator and ECDS digital humanities strategist; Jay Varner, chief software developer for the project; Kevin Glover, Emory web developer; Chris Sawula, history graduate student, ECDS fellow, and photo researcher; and Erica Bruchko, a U.S. history and African American studies librarian at the Woodruff library.
Digital mapping that matched each historical spot with its modern-day location was done by geospatial librarian Michael Page, another member of the project team.
|The Troup Hurt House and the four-gun DeGress Battery, which were temporarily captured by Confederate infantry on the afternoon of July 22, 1864, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, Atlanta, Georgia, 1886. Painting by the Atlanta Panorama Company.|
The stops are set up in chronological order of the Battle's events, but the tour can be stopped or started at any point. It concludes at the Atlanta Cyclorama, where an enormous circular painting of the Battle of Atlanta is displayed.
"Atlanta played a significant role in the Civil War," Pollock says. "The Battle of Atlanta was a turning point in a very important campaign that began in early May 1864 and culminated with the fall of Atlanta on September 2. It was the biggest battle in that campaign and the most consequential, and it took place in our midst."
The mobile tour gives visitors a chance to remember the Battle's significant moments in the areas where they happened: Union General William Sherman's headquarters during the Battle, on the campus of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library; Confederate General John B. Hood's vantage point for the Battle, within what is now Oakland Cemetery; Fort Walker, marked by an earthen mound in Grant Park that was part of the Confederate defense that encircled the city; the area where the Battle of Atlanta began, now occupied by Alonzo Crim High School; the spot where Union General James McPherson was killed, marked by an upright cannon monument at McPherson and Monument avenues; and Leggett's Hill, where the Battle's most ferocious fighting took place, now the intersection of Moreland Avenue and I-20, to name just a few.
Many important Battle of Atlanta sites have been replaced by service stations, interstates, buildings, and other signs of urban growth. Still, there are surviving topographical features of the sprawling battlefield and many reminders of key events, recorded on historical markers placed just prior to the Civil War centennial in the 1950s, Pollock says.
"This application is the 21st century version of a historical marker," Croxall adds. "Markers only fit so much text, and you don't know they're there until you come across them." Another benefit is that ECDS licensed the tour software as open-source and will make it available to others who want to create their own tours, Croxall says.
|Atlanta was a thriving Southern urban area prior to the Battle. Wet plate negative by George Barnard. Courtesy of Library of Congress.|
Pollock had been studying the Battle of Atlanta for more than twenty years and giving periodic tours when his friend, Tullos, suggested that his tour could be turned into a self-guided, GPS-driven mobile app with ECDS's help. Work on the project began in August 2012.
The mobile tour is a companion piece to Daniel Pollock's article "The Battle of Atlanta: History and Remembrance," published on May 30 in Southern Spaces, an Emory-based digital, peer-reviewed journal now in its tenth year. The article, written by Pollock, provides expanded information about the Battle of Atlanta and the twelve tour stops.
"It's been exciting to work on, and it's been a very collaborative project," says Tullos, who also serves as senior editor of Southern Spaces. He adds the project was particularly rewarding for Pollock, who not only has been able to share his knowledge of the Battle of Atlanta with a wider audience, but also acquired a great collection of images from reunion events that occurred for decades after the Civil War. Those images will be accessible via the Southern Spaces article.