Where do white nationalists and insurrectionists gather to build their campaigns against equal justice for all people? The rural corridor in NJ (Ocean, Burlington, and Monmouth Counties) is one example among thousands in the United States. This resource showcases the ways this culture took root. Thankfully, it also features a few examples of how history can work to break these traditions.
Historians like Clement Alexander Price and Giles Wright built a foundation for understanding the African American experience in New Jersey. Recently, Richard Veit and Graham Russell Hodges have added important perspectives and evidence to these traditions. Suburban Erasure and The Path to Freedom opened the doors to new vitality in New Jersey Studies. Young leaders like Nichole Nelson, Hettie Williams, and Melissa Ziobro use this bounty to build bridges to a new generation of scholars. At its heart, this work must dismantle the traditions of white nationalism, especially in American and European institutions.
My career of research and activism provides a strong model for the future. Villanova University’s Strategic Plan for Cultural Diversity transformed its commitment to justice and equity. Temple University’s contributions to the National Dialogue on Race, in conjunction with the UJIMA Collective, transformed regional governance in Philadelphia. The emergence of the First Suburbs coalition in Pennsylvania created the infrastructure for the world economy through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 as well as the BIB and BBB legislation under the Biden Administration this year.
For a decade, these projects energized the emergence of the new histories of capitalism and the global movement towards Afrofuturism, generating the foundation for Ibram Kendi’s anti-racist research, Keisha Blain’s approach to Black internationalism, William Darity’s data on reparations, Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, Paige Glotzer’s history of racial segregation, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Marcia Chatelain’s analysis of Black businesses, and the virtual core of Academic Twitter.
All of these projects provide ways to challenge the traditions of white nationalism highlighted in To Preserve and Protect. This rare resource marks a transition from the limitations of the twentieth century to expansive, new frameworks in the twenty-first.
An elementary education resource for decolonizing government and society.
This important graphic novel is an example of how leaders can shape a society that respects Indigenous culture, while incorporating connections to western traditions. On a local scale, it preserves Maori culture and authority by giving clear instruction and ancient knowledge to newcomers from Europe. Across regions, this text presents ways to teach young people to embrace indigenous languages and concepts so that they can learn to preserve and expand ancient traditions in their own home regions.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is the most important journalist in the history of the New York Times. She has transformed her field in ways that place her among the most important journalists in world history.
I offer this perspective as someone whose work recovered the legacy of one of the world’s greatest journalists – T. Thomas Fortune. Fortune’s journalism and poetry carried the legacy of Frederick Douglass, while establishing platforms for Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Marcus Garvey. His ideas nourished the first generation of civil rights activists after the Reconstruction period and inspired the voices of the Harlem Renaissance.
Hannah-Jones matches this powerful contribution by creating platforms for a new generation of writers and artists in the tradition of the Black Speculative Arts, while enshrining the legacies of Black Arts Movement scholars and Hip Hop innovators over the last forty years.
Hearing the criticisms of older historians committed to celebratory ideologies of liberty, while constantly ignoring the work of Black scholars, Hannah-Jones rose to the challenge in the introduction to her new book. She engaged multiple strands of historiography, showcasing the variety of historical writing on the topic of enslavement and the American Revolution. Though she omits the amazing saga of Colonel Tye between 1775 and 1777 and much of the emerging scholarship on the economic importance of enslavement in New England and the Mid-Atlantic (available now at the Northeast Regional Slavery Index),
she re-asserts the body of evidence to support the project’s claim about the importance of enslavement in the eighteenth century British North American colonies and the early emergent years of the American republic. It is an unparalleled contribution to journalism. More importantly, it provides an enduring bridge between social history and the mass media that enables the nation, and democracies worldwide, to deny the advances of authoritarianism that have emerged over the last thirty years.
The voices in the body of text deserve ongoing engagement in the months and years ahead by writers and scholars from every tradition. Indeed, this new book gives readers a chance to imagine new ways to read, learn, write, and communicate. However, it is the Acknowledgements section that carries a powerful lesson for further exploration. Andre Carrington opens the door to this concept in his book, Speculative Blackness. In it, he argues for the power of the audience to find meaning beyond an author’s intent. A classic note in the tradition of literary analysis, Carrington brings this insight to the forefront of understanding the Black Speculative Arts, emphasizing the power of an audience’s imagination. Hannah-Jones goes further in the new version of the 1619 Project – she thanks the scholars, writers, and editors who directly impacted the production and development of the work between 2019 and 2021. She thanks her collaborators, her friends, her partner, and her daughter.
Then, she takes a moment to thank her audience of educators – the nameless and unnamed. Years ago, in an online conversation with Abdul Alkalimat during the first months of the H-Afro-Am platform, I suggested that Black scholars should share more of their ideas, methods, and bodies of evidence to accelerate the processes of liberation. Other participants scolded me, making arguments for individual intellectual property and copyright protections. I replied that I had too many ideas to try to own all of them and that I would always be grateful when someone found an idea I offered a worthwhile pursuit of their own. The simple existence of the good idea in a public forum – with the chance to end white supremacy – is enough for me. Since 2007, I have launched dozens (maybe hundreds) of these projects, including the astonishing collaborative platforms of the African American Intellectual History Society and the Urban History Association. I am most proud of Nikole Hannah-Jones and the 1619 Project – an initiative I amplified from its first public mention and organized national support to expand its audience from the moment that its release date was announced. Hannah-Jones was the first person I mentioned as a speaker for the Social Justice Academy I created in New Jersey. She will always be one of my top recommendations for future projects and initiatives – especially her new network, The 19th.
In my life, I am often proud to be one of the unnamed resources that supports a world rooted in justice and equity. I have never been more proud to be one of the nameless educators that stand alongside Hannah-Jones’ family and the infinite body of ancestors who made the 1619 Project possible.
I knew I had to teach the course. After six years of graduate school, when V.P. Franklin and Bettye Collier-Thomas offered the opportunity to teach at Drexel University, it was my top priority. U.S. and African American history surveys were already the basic content I could teach with depth and agility. Collective Racial Violence was the course proposal that drove my passion for the profession.
Now, twenty years later, the American Historical Association has adopted the theme and created an online resource to encourage educators and scholars to follow this model. It reminds me about conversation I had in 2005 with Dallett Hemphill about the existence of breeding plantations in the antebellum South. As a colonial historian, she regarded them as rumors – unproven conjecture. The work I had done on the sexual abuse within systems of racial violence showed me how real they were. Over the last fifteen years, the scholarly consensus has moved to recognize the horror of forced intercourse, labor, and childbirth in service to land expansion and financial profit. I look forward to the future scholarship on the states of Virginia and Maryland that will document these historical realities in greater detail.
When I published the Racial Violence Syllabus online as a response to claims that white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia (and nationwide), was rare and abhorrent, I never expected that over 4 billion users would engage with the content and translate it into seven languages. It transformed the global consciousness of white supremacy, demonstrating the importance of publicly engaged historical scholarship. It raised emerging scholars like Keisha Blain, Ibram Kendi, Kevin Kruse, Kaye Whitehead, and Hettie Williams to national, even international, prominence. Most importantly, it encouraged a range of journalists, including Jamelle Bouie, Jason Johnson, Joy Ann Reid, Wesley Lowery, and Jonathan Capehart to demand higher standards of knowledge and expertise about racism from their peers. Most provocatively, it provided a framework for Nikole Hannah-Jones to create the 1619 Project with the New York Times.
Through it all, Michele Norris’ question persisted with me. “Where is the original document?” With my move to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, I had occasion to search through nearly every part of my personal archive. This week, as I continued to re-organized my papers, I finally found it.
Here, at last, is the original vision of the syllabus for my 2001 course – Collective Racial Violence in the United States. It is literally the proposed syllabus that was approved by the university. It is not the final syllabus that I actually used for the course (I still think that all of those copies were destroyed). However, many critics doubted that I had taught the course and questioned whether the syllabus ever existed. Given the ongoing (and growing) significance of this work, I am ecstatic to share this primary document with you.
So much historical research relies on access to rare documents. The work of the T. Thomas Fortune Foundation would have been impossible without these resources. With the foundation’s recent Count Basie exhibit, access to the historic records of the “Westside” YMCA has become even more important. Based on the history provided in “Suburban Erasure”, it is a pleasure to share this glimpse into the history of civil rights in New Jersey’s suburbs.
Social media has changed the ways scholars approach the creation and distribution of knowledge in profound ways. Facebook pages for new monographs reach thousands of readers within a few days. Instagram posts generate questions about content and methods across disciplinary boundaries. LinkedIn searches help new institutions find promising candidates faster than anyone considered possible. However, Twitter has been singular in its impact on academic discussion in the public sphere. In 2012, few serious scholars used the platform to communicate about scholarly research. Historians, as a profession, prefer books and journals. Even the use of vital tools like JSTOR and Project Muse was controversial at first. If television and films are risky resources because of their tendency to omit details or emphasize the dramatic, how much less reliable would Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram be? The brevity of these formats alone reject any pretense of objectivity, rendering any possibility of scholarly value unlikely. Unless the participants possess skills in computer science or media studies that are less common or valued in the profession, these criticisms might have prevailed. Instead, over the next two years, initiatives like Saturday School produced a regular following and even attracted the attention of the Washington Post. Still, online use of social media by academics was uneven, at best. Indeed, in many institutions, it was actively discouraged. In 2014, a group of intellectual historians began to explore the possibilities of daily engagement in academic conversations. These discussions led to the creation of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). Led by Christopher Cameron, Keisha Blain, and Ibram Kendi, this society attracted a few dozen scholars who actively used social media as part of their research agendas. Their initial blogs created a frenzy of demand by 2016, as the public responded to the chance to participate in informal conversations about scholarly topics.
A turning point came in August 2017 when the “Unite the Right” rally caused social unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia. The killing of Heather Heyer by a rally participant ignited an international outcry against white supremacy. Social media amplified the sense of injustice and unity against the threat of fascism around the world. The AAIHS formula of publishing online syllabi about controversial topics was immediately employed to force a global confrontation with racial violence in American history. Millions of people around the world responded and a ‘racial violence syllabus’ was translated into seven languages in two weeks. Professional organizations took note of the increased public engagement as both the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians embraced AAIHS and several other social media networks of emerging scholars. Within two years, Ibram Kendi and Keisha Blain had emerged as the leaders of a new generation of academics whose work transformed the culture of academic journals, popular journalism, and multimedia platforms for mass audiences. Since 2018, social media has become one of the required areas of engagement for academics in every discipline.
The immediacy of production, especially in retaining the rigor of peer review, has opened the doors to vast new areas of intellectual collaboration. Jason Herbert, tweeting from his @herberthistory handle, is one of the leading authorities on the power of these media as he created a massive online community of scholars around the concept of “Historians at the Movies.” These weekly conversations give scholars and teachers time to explore the successes and failures of historical research through the lens of popular media, especially film. Over the last two years, these exchanges have inspired countless hours of laughter and collaboration in a staid profession in dire need of both. Herbert innovated a format that had emerged among educators in elementary and secondary schools – the online chat. By choosing a popular film, then identifying a hashtag to share the conversation, scholars could exchange ideas and jokes in real time. These conversations would build a strong sense of community that many academics do not enjoy in their daily work. As a result, a core audience developed around the HATM tag. Herbert could host every week, but also invite specialists to discuss particular thematic aspects of almost any film.
Four themes shaped the reflection on the success of the concept – pedagogy, specialization, reach/sustainability, and streaming. The foundation of the social media community is a group of teachers and instructors who value the spontaneity of knowledgeable engagement through an informal window of cinema. So often, they focus on the primary and secondary sources that rightly shape student knowledge of historical content. Film brings sound and motion into the experience in ways that written text cannot. Even the power of still images fall short of the ability of a Hollywood production to create a new memory that might inspire a lifetime of learning. The power of this initial connection is reinforced with the range of specializations that the experts bring to each session. Every professional organization struggles to invite a broad cohort of new participants to stay vital. In HATM, rare insights from the edges of multiple fields spark new questions and insights every minute of the time shared together. Perhaps most importantly, the silent witnesses of these exchanges are far larger on social media than they could be in a conference room or convention center. The HATM viewing of the Marvel Studios’ film, Black Panther, reached over 180 million viral interactions on September 6, 2020. The digital crowd represented almost half of the population of the United States. Few traditional scholarly products have this level of success in reaching mass audiences. As a result, public engagement with historical topics increases. The nature of a streaming service, like Netflix or Amazon Prime, allows for powerful resonances to develop among vast audiences, so that the quality of historical analysis can inspire people who never had a chance to appreciate the joy of the “life of the mind” in other parts of their lives.
Herbert’s skill in drawing informed participants is unmatched. In his discussion about the utility of counterfactuals in historical analysis, he moved quickly to the heart of the profession in North America – the Civil War. His desire to engage in the contingencies that shaped the outcomes, as well as the possibilities of small changes yielding massive historical differences, revealed a deep, abiding energy that defines a true historian. Take, for example, the film “Confederate States of America.” It begins with the premise that the Confederacy won the Civil War. Then, the process of civil rights reforms was delayed a full century until the John F. Kennedy administration. This conceptual rift between history (as millions understand it) and the fictional timeline invites a suspension of disbelief that allows both exploration and entertainment. The artistic process of filmmaking also invites historical scrutiny through the process of oversimplifying the complexity of individual and collective decision-making across time. HATM goes further. By historicizing fiction, it enables a form of literary criticism that challenges the audience to find the remnants of fact that shape narrative. Where CSA distorted history for entertainment purposes, HATM grounds the entertainment experience in the rigorous application of historical analysis. The debates around how we confront the most difficult questions about past human experiences drives a hunger for knowledge that touches every field of inquiry. This shared determination across every voice in the HATM conversations helps to shape a warm and affirming community, especially through the expression of disagreement. In the end, Herbert offers his audiences a form of historiography through media. PBS explored this line of inquiry in an older film titled “Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property.” The entire project focused on the questions that Herbert raises every week through social media. The filmmaker challenged an historian to examine the telling and re-telling of Turner’s revolt over time and across contexts. As a result, as the historian explained the shifting use of language and storytelling as the authors and audience remembered (and forgot) details, the filmmaker captured the process of historical analysis as a visual product. The contradictions and the clarity stand together on film. Unlike a singular narrative that rejects pieces of evidence in order to convince an audience about its objective truth, the PBS film also allows the tensions of ambiguity to persist. It leaves the audience to struggle with the layers of truth that historians constantly encounter through the archives.
HATM negotiates this terrain every week, moment by moment, as historians encounter scholars from different disciplines who share resources and analysis that rarely appear in history classrooms. The openness and spontaneity of the conversations are entirely unpredictable, and the learning that occurs as a result is deeper – and, in some cases, more enduring. As multiple stories are told from multiple perspectives, a broader grasp of historical truth emerges. It is never complete, but it is fuller, richer, and more inspirational through platforms like “Historians at the Movies.”
The first article, Pandemic bringing community together through acts of kindness, highlights some of the actions people are taking to help each other through physically, mentally and financially crippling conditions of COVID-19
The second article, Coronavirus kindness: San Francisco man serves free coffee to essential workers from home window, show cases a local man who reminds us all that one person and one act can make a significant difference.