Oakland Cemetery

Our trip to Atlanta also included a visit to Oakland Cemetery (logo from their pamphlet).

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It dates from 1850 and occupies a 48-acre site between the Sweet Auburn and Grant Park neighborhoods, not far from the King Center and the Georgia State Capitol. Numerous famous Atlantans are interred here, among them:

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Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind.

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Bobby Jones, the most successful amateur golfer ever, and a founder of the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters’ Tournament held there.

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Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first black mayor.

Of course, a large section is devoted to the Confederacy and the soldiers who died for it, whether known:

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Or unknown:

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At one point this obelisk was the tallest structure in Atlanta:

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Note, though, how they’ve tried to defang its message: all three of the federal, state, and city flags take precedence over the flag of the CSA, which of course is the original Stars and Bars, not the Battle Flag.

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There is also a segregation-era African-American section, and a Jewish section, along with the usual collection of interesting headstones and monuments.

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bricks chair kontz stump

Psalm 137

A useful primary source to illustrate the Babylonian Captivity, the sixty-year period in the sixth century BC when large numbers of Jews were enslaved in Babylon, is Psalm 137, one that I always use for HIS 111. This is the translation that appears in the New International Version:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,  happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

The last two verses are always jarring – rather like the third stanza of “In Flanders Fields” – but otherwise this Psalm succinctly and beautifully expresses Jewish sadness over their enslavement and exile (although I’m sure that to scholars of the period, who are better versed in theories of exactly who composed it and when, the story is more complicated).

Although I insist that primary sources come from a particular time and place, I can’t resist noting that some historical episodes become tropes, through which subsequent generations interpret their own experience. (The inspiration that Moses had for African-American slaves is a prime example.) The Babylonian Captivity comprehends the themes of both slavery and exile, thus did people in the fourteenth century speak of the “Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy” when it was located at Avignon between 1309 and 1377, or did Martin Luther compose his tract On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), asserting that the Papacy itself held the true church in captivity. Closer to home, the trope of the Babylonian Captivity has resonance with Afro-Caribbeans for obvious reasons, hence the Melodians’ rendition of Psalm 137, later done by Boney M. And, of course, “Babylon” retained its relevance for the Jews themselves, following the diaspora, as a symbol of exile from their homeland.

(This is to say nothing about other Babylonian tropes, like the Tower of Babel from Genesis, or the Whore of Babylon from Revelation.)

UPDATE: Something amusing from a friend’s Facebook feed:

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Historians of Slavery

My friend Lynn Rainville is featured in the Chronicle (subscription required):

Historians of Slavery Find Fruitful Terrain: Their Own Institutions

JUNE 21, 2016

Crystal S. Rosson had spent years tracing her family roots — poring over courthouse documents, asking relatives to show her the unmarked graves of their ancestors, even quitting her job at a Virginia high school to devote more energy to her research. With every new picture and article she uncovered, one thought lingered in her mind: Where had her great-grandfather Sterling Jones lived? One day she found her answer. It was a well-kept cabin, once a farm-tool museum, now mostly vacant. And it sat only a stone’s throw from the back door of the mansion of the president of Sweet Briar College.

Ms. Rosson had chills. She lives just three miles down the road from Sweet Briar, and she says her family always felt a connection to the women’s college, but she never fully understood why. Since the first day she stood outside that cabin, she has learned more about that connection.

Her great-grandfather was a bricklayer; in fact, he was employed by the college to construct some of its first buildings after the former plantation became an institution of higher education. The cabin, she discovered, was also where Jones’s father probably lived as a slave.

A collection of news and commentary from The Chronicle can provide a starting point for discussion of what might be done to improve the climate and conditions on your own campus.

Ms. Rosson called administrators at the college to see if anyone knew anything about Jones. That’s when she met Lynn Rainville, a research professor in the humanities. Ms. Rainville is director of the Tusculum Institute, which she helped create in 2008 to research and preserve local history. For the previous 15 years, she had been doing just the opposite of Ms. Rosson — tracing Jones’s descendants to find out where they ended up.

“It was a fluke,” Ms. Rosson says of meeting Ms. Rainville. “We had long, crazy, amazing conversations that started us on this path together to piece my great-grandfather’s connection together to the college.” In 2014 the two researchers reopened the cabin with an exhibit to teach students and the public about the college’s historical ties to slavery.

The collaboration between Ms. Rosson and Ms. Rainville was accidental, sparked simply by their own curiosity. But the professor and the genealogist are by no means alone. As more institutions grapple with their own thorny histories, a growing number of scholars are digging into public history and raising questions about colleges and universities’ responsibility to acknowledge and explain those links to slavery and racism.

That represents a shift in scholarly thinking, says Kirt von Daacke, an assistant dean and associate professor of history at the University of Virginia. “Scholars haven’t been deeply involved in micro-institutional history,” he says. “They see it generally as a bit of navel-gazing, but they think it’s great for students to do.”

More at the link (behind paywall, alas).

Thoughts I have had while lecturing

I. An interesting shift: at one point African-American slaves took inspiration from Moses leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt, hence the spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go!
Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land;
Tell old Pharaoh To let My people go!

But of course Egypt is African, or judged to be representative of Africa, so starting in the twentieth century African-Americans began to look back with admiration on ancient Egypt, partly as a riposte to the European idealization of Ancient Greece (this is where the Afrocentric charge that the latter “stole” everything from the former comes from). Thus, for example, Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s first black fraternity, founded at Cornell in 1906 and which:

utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization…. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha’s constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha’s mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage.

(This despite the fact that they use Greek letters to identify themselves – why not a couple of hieroglyphs?)

I suppose the fall of slavery in the United States lessened the appeal of the ancient Hebrews, allowing the shift toward sympathizing with the Egyptians.

II. One of my favorite records when I was in college features the novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” which dates from the 1950s and is (I suppose) a celebration of the rise of nationalist Turkey. By way of explaining the name change of that county’s most famous city, the song points out a parallel situation:

Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam.
Why they changed it I can’t say, people just liked it better that way.

But perhaps a more accurate assessment of this name change is that the British defeated their continental rivals the Dutch and took possession of the New Netherlands in 1664, and promptly changed the names of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange to New York and Albany respectively, after the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Fort Orange was so called, of course, on account of “Orange” being the name of the ruling house of the Netherlands.

What’s ironic is that James II was a Catholic, and didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself, and provoked the Glorious Revolution of 1688, whereby Parliament invited his daughter Mary Stuart to become queen, and her husband to become king… that husband being none other than William of Orange, king of the Netherlands. These two reigned as co-monarchs, hence the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

So an Orange was replaced by an Albany, who was replaced by another Orange (who opened up Ireland for Protestant settlement, hence the Orange Order, and Orangeman’s Day).

“Confederate History and Heritage Month”

A great article from David Parker on Like the Dew: A Journal of Southern Culture and Politics:

Governor Phil Bryant caused something of a stir in February when he signed a proclamation declaring April to be “Confederate Heritage Month” in Mississippi.

Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal made no such proclamation, but he didn’t need to. The Georgia General Assembly already took care of this back in 2009, when it legislated that “the month of April of each year is hereby designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month and shall be set aside to honor, observe, and celebrate the Confederate States of America, its history, those who served in its armed forces and government, and all those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear.”

“The cause which they held so dear” had as its cornerstone the institution of slavery. This is according to Alexander Stephens, a Georgian and vice-president of the Confederate States of America, who said exactly that in a speech in Savannah in March 1861.

But forget for a while that the resolution calls on Georgians to honor and celebrate a nation built on slavery. As a historian, I have another problem with it: “All those millions of its citizens of various races and ethnic groups and religions who contributed in sundry and myriad ways to the cause which they held so dear.”

Georgia’s resolution assumes a unity of support for the Confederacy and the war effort that simply did not exist. African slaves had little enthusiasm for the Confederate cause, of course, but here’s something we seem to have forgotten, or perhaps never knew: A lot of white Georgians did not support the war.

On January 2, 1860, when Georgia’s (white male) voters went to the polls to elect delegates for a statewide convention to decide on the secession question, the secessionists won—by a vote of 42,744 to 41,717. Hardly overwhelming support! Once the convention voted for secession, and especially after the shooting started, white support shifted a bit, but there was always a tremendous amount of white disaffection.

We have forgotten that a lot of white folks thought of the war as “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” White disaffection was not confined to the lower class, but it was strong there.

There’s more at the link. White opposition to the Confederacy deserves to be remembered. The same impulse that created West Virginia was found in pockets throughout Appalachia, and beyond.

 

Photos

Photos (by Jeff Reed ’16) from last week’s Race and Reinhardt event, in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the integration of Reinhardt College by James T. Jordan ’68.

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Professor of history Kenneth Wheeler talks with Mr. Jordan in the Glass House.

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Dr. Wheeler, Mr. Jordan, and Dr. Edith Riehm, who gave a talk on the career of Civil Rights activist Dorothy Rogers Tilly 1899.

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Reinhardt President Kina Mallard presents Mr. Jordan with a framed resolution from the Reinhardt board of trustees.

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Mr. Jordan and his parents, who still live in Canton.

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SGA President Jamie Palmer and Vice President of Student Activities Katie Purcell unveil a portrait of Mr. Jordan from the Reinhardt Cherokee Phoenix, which will be placed in the Lawson Academic Building.

Announcement

From Reinhardt’s Events Page:

Race and Reinhardt: Making a Difference Here and Beyond

Thursday, Feb. 18, 3:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

During this event, special guest James T. “Jay” Jordan, the first African-American student enrolled at Reinhardt, will discuss his life and experiences as a student when he entered Reinhardt in 1966. The symposium will be moderated by Reinhardt History Professor Dr. Kenneth Wheeler.

In addition to recognizing James Jordan, there will be a lecture by historian Dr. Edith Riehm, who has studied President Truman’s Committee on Civil Rights and the post-World War II civil rights movement. Dr. Riehm will discuss the unheralded trailblazer role that Reinhardt alumna, Dorothy Rogers Tilly, Class of 1899, played in the Civil Rights Movement.

Tilly devoted her entire adult life to reforming southern race relations. Her extensive career as an activist, organizer, and mentor forged a link between the reform efforts of the early twentieth century and the modern civil rights movement. She worked with the Women’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, the Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching, the Southern Regional Council and the Fulton-DeKalb Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and the Fellowship of the Concerned (FOC).

In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed Tilly to his Committee on Civil Rights. The Committee produced a famous and influential report, “To Secure These Rights,” which called for an immediate end to segregation. To the end of her life, through example and education, Tilly promoted racial tolerance and acceptance of desegregation during the explosive years of the civil rights movement.

Isaiah Nixon’s Grave

From the Emory News Center:

Students find long-lost grave of Georgia man killed for voting in 1948

By Laura Douglas-Brown | Emory Report | Jan. 26, 2016

Arms linked, five Emory University students stood silently in the muddy cemetery, their cheeks damp with rain and tears. It was a moment none could have imagined when they signed up for a class focused on the Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project — a moment set in motion by an act of bravery almost 70 years ago, brought full circle now through research, determination and what more than one person called a “miracle.”

With the students bearing witness under the gray Georgia sky, Dorothy Nixon Williams rested her hand on a rough concrete headstone etched with the word “Father,” bent to touch the concrete slab beneath it, then wept in the arms of her son.

“Father.” Her father, Isaiah Nixon, an African American man who had dared to vote in the 1948 Democratic Primary in Montgomery County, Georgia, only the second held since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all-white primaries unconstitutional. Her father, who was gunned down by two white men that evening on the front porch of her home, when she was just six years old.

Her father, whose grave had been lost in the rural cemetery after Williams, her mother and five siblings fled to Jacksonville, Florida, shortly after his death.

Her father, whose grave had been found by those Emory students.

The gathering wasn’t a funeral, but their professor, Hank Klibanoff, offered a eulogy of sorts as Williams, her husband and son, the students and a few local residents — mostly relatives of others who had voted on that fateful day — stood together in the neatly kept graveyard ringed with pines.

“I don’t know anyone who is not moved by the story of Isaiah Nixon, and it is because Isaiah Nixon matters,” Klibanoff said. “His life matters, his death matters, his disappearance from history matters. And what matters more is that he has now reappeared, and I just think that is miraculous in so many ways.”

Much more at the link.

The Green Book

From the Washington Post:

The forgotten way African Americans stayed safe in a racist America

By Ana Swanson

For African American travelers, much of the U.S. could be a hateful and dangerous place, even into the 1960’s.

Jim Crow laws across the South mandated that restaurants, hotels, pool halls and parks strictly separate whites and blacks. Lynchings kept blacks in fear of mob violence. And there were thousands of so-called “sundown towns,” including in northern states like Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan, which barred blacks after dark, an unofficial rule reinforced by the threat of violence.

So in 1936, a postal worker named Victor Green began publishing a guide to help African American travelers find friendly restaurants, auto shops and accommodations in far-off places. Green dubbed the guide after himself – the “Green Book” – and published it for decades. Green says he was inspired by the Jewish press, which had long published information on restricted places.

The Green Book included listings for hotels, restaurants, gas stations, bars and beauty salons across the U.S., as well as travel articles, paid advertisements, and stories about local attractions. The guide first focused on New York, but was gradually expanded to cover the whole U.S. The first edition said on its cover, “Let’s all get together and make motoring better,” while the 1949 edition featured a quote from Mark Twain – “Travel is fatal to prejudice.”

While poverty and discrimination kept many African Americans from owning cars, a new black middle class rose up in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, and many of them were eager to escape poor treatment on public transportation.

Yet car ownership came with its own challenges. Many African Americans would pack meals, blankets and gasoline in their cars on trips in case they ended up somewhere where they wouldn’t be served or didn’t want to ask.

More at the link. Plan a trip using Green Book data courtesy of Brian Foo of the New York Public Library.

County Histories and Historical Records

I was pleased to read a new column by David Parker, professor at Kennesaw State University and friend to Reinhardt’s history program. Happy archives month!

County histories remind us of need to preserve historical records

In 1929 the Georgia General Assembly passed a resolution urging counties to compile their histories in honor of the state’s upcoming bicentennial (in 1933, 200 years after the founding of Georgia in 1733). More than 100 counties appointed official historians, and nearly three dozen published their histories. These books varied, but they typically included chapters on geography and natural resources, Native Americans, the Civil War, churches, schools, newspapers, and so forth.

Among the authors of these books were teachers and lawyers, preachers and journalists, school superintendents and county court judges, and leaders of local historical or patriotic societies. The published histories tended to be long—an average of nearly 500 pages, from Schley County’s 33 pages to Upson’s 1,122. Many of those pages consisted of census records, military rosters, lists of county officials, and reprints of newspaper articles. Some books had lengthy biographical sections, with histories of prominent individuals or families. Many included general sections on life in the old days—quilting bees, militia days, barn raisings, corn shuckings, log rollings.

David Kyvig and Myron Marty, authors of Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You (1982), noted that the county histories written in the early 20th century tended to be “long on local pride and short on critical observations.” The first part of that formula was certainly correct. The title page of the Coffee County history explained that the book was “a story… showing that Coffee County, in South Georgia, is God’s Country and a good place to live.” Walker County residents were “a hardy, brave and patriotic citizenry,” and those of Chattahoochee were “splendid men and women… whose lives are a credit to the civilization of America.”

The books were certainly “long on local pride,” but were they “short on critical observations”? In many cases, yes. A number of the county historians uncritically embraced Lost Cause ideology, a historical perspective that downplayed the role of slavery in the coming of the Civil War, overstated the support of white southerners for the Confederate cause, and distorted the nature of Reconstruction.

Perhaps the Lost Cause is most evident in the discussions of slavery. The Dougherty County historian noted that the institution “was a feudalism as illustrious as that of any medieval country of Europe. The barons were the slaveholders—the serfs were the negroes, and perfect tranquility in relations prevailed.” In Schley County, “White settlers were kind to their slaves, clothed and fed them, and allowed them to worship with them in their churches.” In Upson County, “Everyone knows that slaves were treated very kindly indeed, and only in rare instances was there any trouble between slave and master.” In Walker County, “There were generally, almost universally, the kindest of relations between master and servant.” And in Coffee County, “The training the negroes received while they were slaves has been a great blessing to them.”

Embarrassing sentiments, to be sure, but not universal ones. Find out more at the link.