tv African American History Conference CSPAN May 23, 2016 4:00am-5:01am EDT
is a profound and untapped demand for more history from the general american public. and that is all great because that is what we respond to. i have to sayme, i feel there is an assault on the humanities in general. that, why be a history major, what kind of job will it get you? efforts to steer undergraduates into other fields, science, technology, engineering, math, away from the humanities, with a dismissive notion that we have nothing to learn from any of the humanities, and the only purpose of an education is to get a job and a well-paying job, at that. that mindset of course is very dangerous for us as historians.
and i will and with one note. group oflaining to a students at texas, a small group, i was saying, i see so many inaccuracies out there, there incorporated into textbooks, and it is very difficult for me, as a historian, to see this misinformation gain traction, and a whole new narrative of american history replacing the truth. me, what isasked your responsibility for correcting all the mistakes that are floated out there about american history? , no, i don't feel responsible, because if i did that, i could not do my own work. i would not have the time and energy, and in that sense, i made a choice, that i would focus on my own work.
but that does not mean i don't feel that there are negatives there. i still feel that i'm in the trenches. , i am forced to be concise. a foundation, the national association of scholars, the project in texas. it was not a foundation. let me intervene, there is a private foundation in texas and i went online to check it out. they were supportive of this effort, and they had commentary that equates the black rights matter movement with white supremacists' groups. >> it was the national association of scholars. and i will be very self-promoting here, shamelessly. the issue jackie raised at the , i have an op-ed in the los angeles times on wednesday.
>> let's open this up. i am recognizing we have a commitment to this audience to open it up to them at 5:00. we end at 5:30. now, i will be merciless and cut everyone off if they are going to be long. short answers, please. we talked about the individual, going from the academic scholar to the artist, and how we focus on the individual. tom went back and picked up the notion of the early generations , andrican-american history he threaded that with his teaching of race relations. saying, we did not do that, we did african-american history. want theirn't even books to be nominated for race
relations, because that is not what we do. at least two of you, or all three of you, have written larger narratives about african-american history. how do you tell the story? ghetto, thatons a theme of progress? it is problematic, and needs to be tested. if you are writing it now, how would you frame your work? >> it is called creating black from the early 1900s until the present. parts to it, one was xtual, aand one was te synthetic narrative imagery.
i chose that strategy because i wanted to get into the scientific text. a history,ng it as and as a scientist, someone who wanted her readers to be able to trust what i said, whether or not you agreed with me politically. which meant, keeping the passion out of the writing. the passion is in the images, because black artists felt free and beautifully, abundantly, made our work relating to african-american history. my second impetus to going back to art school. i learned that there was an abundant african-american art history. i had only known the art history . grew up with, modernist art
the sort of the new deal type of art. has something like 150 images. sometimes one figure will appear several times, like frederick douglass, because for me, there is not one frederick douglass. and this was an earlier version of the neoclassical turn. it is about the science and the narrative. case, the book, which came out in 2010, it was ironically contracted as a book.ement to another at first, i felt a struggle with sense, it was a
textbook. all the stuff that needs to be -- and after a couple years, i finally organized that book, in terms of generations. african-americans, which gets away from the tendency of organizedxts that are according to other theories of american history, often presidential administration. thent to tell the people story from the people's perspective, and think about my father's life. my father was born in 1917, grew up in jim crow south in virginia on a farm, went to fight in the pacific in world war ii, and
died in 2000. the book at been contracted to three years earlier, and i had not made much progress. i began to rethink it in terms , for my father, how would it be written? father was of the notion that we had to make progress. the first half of his life was a daily insult in terms of just living. movement made a dramatic rupture in change in his life, as you can see. not that everything is all hunky-dory, but there has been change. i can look at his life, look across different periods of development that might be , buted up in a textbook
you lived before the first world war, and lived to see the civil rights movement. with that imagination, i try to apply that to earlier moments as best i could, and to tell the story from ordinary people, like my father, and that was the organizing rubric. which means you don't tell everything. every instance does not get in there, or else it is an encyclopedia and not a story. and i want to tell a story. >> i have to tell you first of all, it was not my plan to write a textbook. because in our profession, textbooks are not given a lot of credit, right? write and concentrate on
monographs, they give you promotions. was 1992, i was teaching a freshman course at michigan state university, there were 99 students in the class. i go into class one day, and there is a mini revolt of the students. one student said, why do we have a textbook in this class? and i said, because i am your textbook. said, well ifent we are absent, you're not going to repeat your lecture. and i said, you shouldn't be absent. [laughter] at the back of the room, one
just male student said, loud enough for me to hear way and not beront intimidating or disrespectful or anything, he said, if this was a real history course, we would have a textbook, like they have in the other american history courses. and that was like, drop the mic, huh? the next year, i could not get over that. i could not get that out of my mind, that my students were thinking that somehow this african-american history was not because there was no textbook textbook, as there was
in all these other american history courses, but in the department of history. so i decided to write a real textbook. thatst so happens, charlie's jones owens from pearson education contacted me and said, let's put together a textbook. i stopped everything, and for the next three or four years concentrated on writing. it theet -- i call african-american odyssey, because i did not want my students to think that we started off its slaves. as slaves. [applause] and that was the reasoning behind it, the first three chapters were about africa, and then into the middle passage, and focusing on community
development and individual achievement, and resistance, resistance, resistance. is an odyssey, a journey, and we will get to freedom one of these days. i have not written in african-american history textbook, but in my labor of and otherion in 2010, books, i had a epilogue's where i tried to talk about this very recent past. i found the challenge and not to to get a look at the structural legacy of discrimination. itself it has embedded on american society today. the peculiar vulnerability of many african-americans to changes in the economy, peoplesure, the rates of
suffering from predatory love. african-americans were hit by the great recession harder than any other group. so to make that vulnerability clear, and to make clear how those structural legacies time,ue, and at the same to look at larger themes in the economy and show that a lot of different groups have been affected by changes in the economy over the last 30 or 40 years or so. when the lights go out in the factory, all the workers of the same color. in a way, he is right. these larger themes have really affected other populations, as well. the industrialization of global economy. those things have had devastating effects on workers in rural areas and urban areas,
regardless of ethnicity. city balance on the one hand, the unique and historic liabilities of black people in this country, to balance that with these larger forces that have affected many other groups, as well. >> darlene is made the crucial point here, that there are lots of people in this audience who have taught a course in african-american history. in the challenge is the same as writing any textbook. it seems to me that you start with a single question, which i never used to start with. which is, what is the purpose of this course? and i think that is what gets you to the answer to your question. what is the purpose of this course? i am going to signal 30 minutes, but i have 10 minutes,
too. we need to raise certain questions. over the last couple of days we have had an array of themes that have pumped through everything that we have heard. the conversation about mental and mental illness, we have heard a little more about illness and health. art ande issues about music, education, about the body. we have heard a little bit about trauma and its relationship to sexuality,er and mobilization, and politics, both high and low. in thee less about color overall there did. but if we think about this narrative and the odyssey, the journey, the making in creating, and the challenges of.
if i go back to a comment made on the opening night, this book, one black america, and 40 million black americans, it means the lacing of a theme. in what place and in what way you create another narrative. in some ways, i think it is stephanie's invocation of mythology. when do you want to insert myth? what we mean by truth? what is the relationship of the historian to myth and truth? in my family, people made up all kinds of stories. and they made these up for all types of reasons. sometimes for psychological healing, and getting from day one to the next day. and it also brings hope, that indeed, tomorrow won't be like yesterday.
in this way, myths become its humanizingprocess of and being human and struggling against what it means to always find yourself in this place and struggle over power. i leave those questions there, you can pick them up, because now there are people on the line. [laughter] i begin by saying, i am very proud that three of my former students of the first class i ever taught at the university of some of the stars of our three day, so i to see him up there during the show. i wanted to make a brief comment, and i hope there is a question in there. i was the blogger for the opening session. i think it has been posted now. i began the blog and ended the blog with references to john
mill franklin. i knew there was a certain ambiguity there, that although hope was involved in the planning of the museum, he did not live to see it. i hold the john hope franklin professorship, and part of the reason is because we became close friends. would spend the month of february in st. petersburg, florida. in february,to be but mainly, he was hiding out from black history month. he had no internet account, could not turn down all these invitations, so he hid. when we talked about the professorship, it was his decision to call it the scholarship of southern history, and not african-american history. i had the conversations with him, he had an ambivalence
about african-american studies, african-american history. he did move and evolve, so i think it is so fitting that we have had this commentary about john hope. i think his spirit is in the room. i wondered if you have any thoughts about his continuing about the connection between american history in african-american history? comment a bit, maybe someone else can follow up. i am much more sympathetic toward his decisions than i would have been in the 1960's, 1970's. in doing a bit of study that i oldwrite on one day, as the folks say, if i live, he came out of a generation of scholars
1930's, -- to say that they were integrationist does not quite get it. he tries to put it in a separate thee, or even going into library of congress, and not being able to have lunch on capitol hill. that was the era of those folks were dealing with. an insurgentwas act, a political act. and that defined the coming-of-age. to call himself an african-american, you are the textbook at that point, of african-american history. to call himself in african-american history was to
concede that separation. nest,l himself a southern he belonged there. he belonged in that area of study and history, and he brought with him, his african-americanism to that study. and that was important. to our discredit, some of those in my generation, looking askance at that decision, was a lack of imagination about where his generation was coming from, and the different issues they were taking. >> i said what i have to say, but quickly, i think it points to the imperatives of a good scholar, which is to learn and change her mind. one of the best short essays any istorian can and should read in the newsmagazine perspectives on history, short piece on why every senior scholar should change his or her mind at least
once. where franklin changed his mind was in the 1980's, when he became very angry. during the reagan administration, he decided he had been wrong about some things. that the types of accomplishments he was referring to, he began to question what the meanings of those compliments were, in part because of how quickly the discursive environment changed, by just having a president who could say certain things and legitimate certain things. >> a quote from franklin, if you rob the people of their sense of history, you take away their hope. john hope, franklin responded by saying, i think knowing one's in ary leads one to act
more enlightened fashion. i can't imagine how knowing one's history does not urge one to be an activist. i know the more i learned about my history, the more i wanted to change things towards what i thought our place ought to be in this history. that was 1994. commentw others want to -- both an educator and a student. history inh school utah, and i am also a graduate student at utah state university. i'm trying to show my students that learning is lifelong. fresh air, iath of often don't get this discussion in utah. [laughter]
this whole conference, i want my students with me, how great would that be for them to be here? with regards what professor jones was saying, how do we reach a wider audience? gety classrooms i do resistance when i teach african-american history, i often get raised eyebrows. martin luther king, march of progress, we are done. for example, i had a student that said to me that when she went home, your mother told me i had made it up. very seriously. by the end of the year she conceded to me, and i brought her along with me, but i cannot say i brought her parents, though. and also, note label liberal, with the way i teach.
but i would like to leave my classroom feeling good, positive, like they learned something and can be positive about american history. but had we reach that wider audience? andthat i have learned heard this weekend is great, but had we get that in the public schools in the midwest, the west, outside of these urban centers. because without that, it seems difficult. >> i will turn to the panelists. one of the things we have not really spoken about is the power of digital tools to move us beyond space and time. 1983 wasnot true in everything from the phones in your pockets to the ipads to the computers. there is a new dissemination device that can be mobilized and be part of a solution strategy.
>> i would say the challenging thing is to get your students to understand that the real joy comes not from the content of the story itself, which can be difficult at times to absorb, but the joy comes from learning history, learning to think critically, learning to analyze primary documents in their context. learning to read and write better. there are parts of learning history they can be very and nobly, in terms of one's own self-realization. are you going to walk out of a feelingout selma mankind is great and wonderful? no, probably not. but that is not what we should be aiming for in the classroom, i think.
is -- did spielberg's youroln," film come to stay? did anyone write a review for the newspaper? us and ouray colleagues can have access to popular culture, because history is all around. "roots" could be popular more real day weekend, but anyone that is a historian teaching in the united states has a reasonable shot at a short piece in the local newspaper. there are lots of these opportunities. but earlier, someone made a comment about how we don't respect local culture in academics. and this is a serious problem. we need to be willing to not be public intellectuals that only publish in "the new yorker."
we need to engage in public culture whenever we have the opportunity. historian, but i do read a little history. d.c., and myfrom wife and i live in maryland now. i have a quick question, but i think it is important. andt peeve that follows me, that is hard for me to leave it, is that the term slave is so casually used. to pick onying anyone, but jackie said it correctly a little while ago, when she was speaking. she talked about people being insulated. i think when we move toward this new museum, i think that is historian, it would be wonderful if you could equate the term reference ofe
people being slaves in the african-american history of experience here within the same connotation as the n-word. when you say someone is a slave, you're taking away the responsibility of the enslaved. done is in some great work around the economy about the enslavement of people, and it was the single most economically viable business in america at the time of its abolition. aswhat i would ask you historians, especially with the opening of the new museum, can , such thatmovement the reference to people who are slaves, is not something that we accept. thank you. [applause]
>> if i understand you correctly, your objecting to the word slave, but not enslaved persons? >> exactly. >> that is done, not to worry about that. wouldere is something i like to put on the table here in terms of next steps for our writing history. i would love people who are trained in african-american history to take those terms of engagement, those themes of discussion, that theory of seeing the society and then take those from african-american history and into other areas of history, so that it would not be simply
that we use our expertise in african-american history, but in wider societies. others we see things don't, necessarily. i was recently with a group of biographers, and a woman who was writing a biography of ernest hemingway said that as a woman writer, she could see things in hemingway's writing that his billions of other biographers had not seen. forsame can be said historians of african-americans. >> good afternoon, i am a graduate student studying cultural sustainability. first, let me say that i am in awe of the depth of knowledge and scholarship and passion and professionalism that i have heard over the past several days of this conference. i am hoping to going to go into
public history in some way, shape, or form in terms of sustaining culture. i think that for the most part, on inwas a great dialogue the african-american past throughout these several days. a lot of questions and answers came up to give some really insightful dialogue. this is not a criticism, but a point of reference may be for future conversation. what i did not hear in the thread was the future. i am so impressed with the level of diversity in the room, race and ethnicity, but also generationally. what i did not necessarily see in the panels was representation from a younger generation, who are going to be stepping up to the plate to be the public historians of future history. and i say that in two perspectives because first of all, there is a certain level of pedagogy that one generation is now bringing the next generation
through, so we can continue to archive and preserve the history of the past. to makethat in order the museum relevant, if you want people to come, they have to find themselves in what they are seeing represented in the museum. so therefore, if there is a way to create the museum, if it is slave history, it is contextualized so a person can come in and see the economic infrastructure of slavery. how does that correlate with mass incarceration today? how do they recognize that they can see themselves in the history of the past because it is still going on today? any other question i have, is there a way to include the voices of younger historians, or those experiencing history right now, because we're at a point in history where our world is changing rapidly. there is a photography in
baltimore at the uprising, a young man on the streets of baltimore, but he had a camera them. and he documented photographs in the moment, and this photographs and up in "time" magazine. had we also encourage a younger generation to become cognizant of their value in history taking place right now, and how to we capture those voices now, set of waiting until the future? just a thought for consideration. >> thank you for your questions. challenge, the museum as it is being created, also will have a programming aspect going forward that will include additional conferences and opportunities. one point of clarification on behalf of our hosts, but in part, this is public history. history, also academic
and the ways the academy has changed, the generations of scholars that come into it have added new perspectives and new questions. sometimes their place in the may be affected by their chronological age. >> the age range on this panel was supposed to be very different, but i am replacing somebody who is much younger than i am, and you had to pull out at the last minute for family reasons. i am from the gibbons collection of african american literature at the university of minnesota, and i researched african-american history. i would love to hear a little aboutre from all of you
the tension you feel between the proposition of african-american history as american history, and the declaration, the statement ist african-american history american history, which still seems to be, when i hear it, it seems a political act in enough of itself, in the face of so many distortions we are still navigating. you've talked about how you work, but where those points of tension, terms of you feel about it? it, everythink about
major event, every major turning point and development in the american experience is either involved -- has involved african-americans as actors, or as an issue. sense, you cannot write american history without writing about african-american history. but the point was trying to make earlier, there is also another side to that. while all american history is african-american history, the reverse is not true. aspects of the african-american experience that have to be recovered, are not simply in relationship to the american project, or to white americans or other americans, but have to do with the african-american community.
that was the project of those coming out of the 1960's and 1970's, trying to pursue. it is much more diverse since then, but think that is still part of the project. part of the reason for that tension. it is been there since beginning and i think it will always be there, between american history, of which we are all a part, and african american history, which is also because we are from america. also, a separate track. it is also simply the question of what is general history, and what is specialized history? one of the things we have created in the last generation of american scholarship is a specialized field of african-american history in retreat go into great deal in a circumscribed
places, and with a small cast of characters. that is the case in any of history. this is, you are going to hold this up for me? my 1975 issue of "life" magazine. the bicentennial edition. is reason i have this because they had a list of 100 essentially that transformed america and made america a great place. they divided up into art, the mind, inventions, politics, and
what have you. events, or points, where black people are included or discussed, the first was not turner -- nat turner. the second was the emancipation proclamation. plessy v. ferguson , and the last were louis and theg and the blues, final was jackie robinson. discussions -- this was what we celebrated as american history in 1975.
i brought this not only to give it to you, but the people could see how far we really have come. movement,ack history we have transformed american history. they could not get away with this now. satisfied that we have done our job, we have some more work to do. the next generation will be heavily responsible for rewriting all of african-american history and all of american history. [applause] also, there is the issue of specialization and over specialization. my second job interview that i ever had for a history professor position, interviewer said to me, it was a position that was
advertised in the southern history, and labor history. he said, so what are you? that itied to explain is all. he said, no, to find a job, you have to say you are one. shaken, out of there thinking i had lost that one. my very next interview was with the university of north carolina. i told the interviewer that this had just happened. the interviewer said to me, you give the right answer. nell, she does not read member this, but i do. >> did you get the job? --that is besides the point beside the point. but it has to do with the way we see what history is.
what we've seen in the last two days, people talking about the diversity of african american history within the field. as opposed to people seeing african american history as being the things that diversify american history. a lot of that has to do with the way in which you integrate different ways of thinking about different people. >> [indiscernible] >> i'm thinking about the
mixing paint, what happens to african-american history as a subjugated knowledge when it becomes american history? what happens when someone becomes an example of american exceptionalism? what happens when asked american history becomes an affirmation of american greatness? is that what i'm trying to ask you. what i'm trying to figure out, -- there is the claim that african-american history is american history. what does that look like, especially when we have a museum? is, of what i'm asking here what we find ourselves in this moment -- monday say it differently. will we find our journey to this moment conflicted into a narrative about american
exceptionalism? >> yes. >> is that troublesome? >> of course it is. [laughter] when i said everything, and i talked about that shadow, should we do it because we know it will be constricted to the white supremacy or the paternalist, or the darkie narrative, those things are going to happen in this country. we should not stop because those things are going to happen. we keep going. african-american history is american history because african-americans are americans, whether we have roots three or our generations deep, or parents or ourselves are immigrants, that is a given. what other people do with it, some of it will be awful. so, somet will be so of it will be nice, some will be lucrative, some will be visual.
all those things will happen, everything. i am a professor emeritus at cornell university. i want to say this has been a wonderful conversation and discussion. again, thank you to darlene for the program in 1983, which was how many years ago? 33 years ago. how time flies when you're enjoying yourself. you mentioned john hope franklin, and a comment in the question. john hope franklin really missed the meeting of the association of studying african-american history. he was there. and, i don't think i am betraying anything here, he took out a life association and the membership each year, that was his financial support of the association for the study of
african-american life and history. but thinking of john hope franklin, if you look at the subtitle to his book, "from slavery to freedom," and this is the question i want you to reflect on. was "fromedition slavery to freedom, a history of american negroes." what did that mean, when he said "american megroes." then, he added, a history of americans. how does that help us as we look to conceptualize the african-american past? >> it definitely shows that he was progressing.
he was engaging in some kind of a dialogue with -- the bookneration -- 56?t 60 years old 1947, so it is way over 60, then. argue that the last one is probably obvious. but i would love to have a transcript of that meeting where they make that first change. i am fascinated by that, that first change. >> do you have anything to say about that? [laughter]
>> i just want to say as the i would say he wrote the book in 1947, so you know that he knew he was talking about being a slave and then getting free. because there was too much andory between emancipation 1947. the other thing i want to say, john hope franklin, one of the things in his new version, the ninth addition, is that he brought himself into the book. so what was he doing in 1947? andas using his knowledge, in 1949, his knowledge to work
gethe case of the naacp to a man into the university of kentucky. he made an argument to the naacp and the courts to say, we understand that separate is not equal. his knowledge was used for civil rights. there was the understanding of him not being able to go to because he was there, we know a lot of what we know. i will give you another example, when he was on capitol hill, working at the library of theress, this was in
1940's. his friends were saying to him, let's go out on capitol hill to eat. i don't know if you've ever been to the library of congress, but i really enjoy going along the avenue, being in those restaurants. but john hope franklin could not do it. one of his friends said, i don't know how you can be a historian, i don't know how you can do this. because you can't even go out there. he did that because he was not discouraged, and because he was still fighting that struggle with his scholarship. he was making history at the same time he was writing history. so i am biased about john hope franklin. [applause]
>> thanks, evelyn. we are being given the signal to wrap up. questionsto take some , and that is it. >> thank you so much for this great panel. i will be teaching african-american history at winston-salem in the fall. [applause] thank you. , i quote,n reflecting black students believe that black studies concern them and why people alone, but that is a mistake. black studies means intervention in an area of studies essential to the understanding of aged in modern societies. it will require the complete reorganization of intellectual life and outlook of the united
states and our civilization as a whole. so i see my role this provocation to which writing and teaching history is central. historians, what strategies impact it? especially in this historical moment we are in. political,ypes of economic, and social crises we are facing, how do we make history relevant for our ideologicalget them clarity of the day-to-day realities they encounter, of the contradictions they experience, and help them develop their own interpretive framework for new political and cultural imaginations to emerge? >> thank you. yes? >> i am a recent phd in history from princeton university. my question is probably unfair to ask at the end, but i will
ask it nonetheless, which is, how do we discuss the future of the african-american past, encouraging scholars like myself -- ursue [inaudible] thank you. >> actually, that was my question as well. [laughter] >> i'm from rutgers university. when we all started, and when i got on the bus to come to the conference, and i saw everybody in thead grown up with field, and come of age in the field with, i thought, this is a great homecoming. for many of us who came in the age of the 1980's in the profession, there was sort of a defiance that we had. it was like, we are going to do this. it was an energy. were doing was
really an extension of our contribution to the movement. i personally had worked at my undergraduate alma mater at bringing about the teaching of african-american history. sense-in and a demonstration, because there was not african-american history. we had something going on, a motivation. we had a movement in many ways behind this. i would like for you to just say something to the generation of people who are sitting here, some who have finished their degrees and they don't have a job. [applause] [laughter] going?did they keep on and also, what jaclyn said, are graduatingo
thereve their degree, yet is somebody out there sitting on their interview panel saying, you are too politically correct. it does not matter if you are politically incorrect or correct, you know what they are saying. way, oring, is there a do you have one word, to say to the generation that is here, people going into the field, about why they should stay? why should they do the work we do? [applause] we are going to limit it to a word or two. >> yes, quickly, go to our website. the aha is trying to suggest
that phd historians are useful in many places in our economy and society. there are many ways to be an historian. this is a deep cultural change that needs to take place, but this is what we are trying to do. quickly, the answer to the other question, i wanted to say that somebody asked about students having ideological clarity, i do not want my students to have a logical clarity. earlier, there was a comment about liking things that are a mess. the mess may be a little too much, but i don't want to give my students ideological clarity. that is not our job as professors. [applause] >> i would say two things. one is, find your allies. keep your allies with you. because we came out in a terrible job market. keep your allies with you, and why do you keep doing it? because you love the work. >> and with that, thank you.