“The Gathering”: Leadership Retreat Devotional, 1999 (Be True to Your School, 6)

[NOTE:  During the 1999-2000 school year, I served as Interim Chair of the History Department at Atlanta’s Finest Prep School (AFPS).  This assignment meant, among other things, that I was once again “in the administrative loop,” whether I wished to be or not–be still, my beating heart!

One of my responsibilities that year came early, in mid-August, when I joined other members of the administrative food chain on a “retreat” at a nearby conference center.  Our Dean of the Faculty had welcomed me back to “administration” by asking if I would give the opening devotional, and also find time to explain to my colleagues the origins and purpose of a newly-organized “alternative” student religious group for which I  served as an advisor.  Knowing that I’d be back in the classroom fulltime the following year, no matter what happened this year, I decided to combine those two tasks.

I’ve alluded in previous posts to the important role that religion played at AFPS.  The other thing you should know before reading this post is that, each Spring, we returned from vacation to “Christian Emphasis Week,” when the school  brought in religiously-affiliated speakers to discuss aspects of Christianity, usually in a modern context.  Depending upon the invited speaker, these sessions ranged from informative, to moderately interesting, to “Please, God, get me out of this auditorium as soon as possible.”

And it was with the idea of “Christian Emphasis Week” that I began my talk.  What I hoped to do was to use the “Day of Pentecost” described in Chapter 2 of  Acts of the Apostles (when the Holy Spirit enabled an audience in Jerusalem, made up of people from many different areas of the Roman Empire, to hear–and understand–in their own languages, the  Christian message being delivered by Peter and the other apostles) as a sort of metaphor for our school’s annual “Christian Emphasis Week.”]

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truth cc.org

[Read:  Acts of the Apostles 2:1-8, 12-15]

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.  And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.  Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? . . .  All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”  But others sneered and said, “They are all filled with new wine.”  

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.  Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. . . .”

* * * * * 

I think of the Book of Acts every year as Christian Emphasis Week approaches.  It is never easy to be a missionary for Christianity, but surely few who have earned that distinction had so rough a time as the first-century “Christian Emphasis speakers” whose deeds are recounted in Acts.

Devout Jews, certain that the various disciples and apostles of the new creed were blasphemers, sent “truth squads” to dog them on their missionary journeys and, if that didn’t do the trick, to stone them or otherwise punish them.  Local artisans, whose economic well-being depended upon the continued willingness of people to buy handmade silver idols of Roman gods, were not happy to see the missionaries arrive.  Those early “Christian Emphasis speakers,” and the disorders that followed in their wake, were also anathema to town officials and Roman magistrates, whose primary commission from the imperial government was to keep a lid on an always restive populace.

In the passage I read from Chapter 2, Peter and the others got off pretty easily.  The worst the scoffers could come up with was that the speakers must have been “filled with new wine.”  Of course, Peter hotly denied the charge:  after all, it was only 9 o’clock in the morning!  BUT, perhaps the hecklers were correct:  because his message was unfamiliar, and therefore scary to some in the audience, yet he persisted in trying to get his point across, Peter was, at least in a metaphorical sense, “filled with new wine,” and certain of his listeners did not like the taste of it one bit!

* * * * *

But what has this got to do with our Christian Emphasis Week speakers?  During our current President’s stewardship, we have adopted a broader approach to our annual showcase for the Christian message.  Some of our speakers have presented the old, familiar Christian “wine” to our students, while others have trotted out some of the new stuff.  While many of our students savor the “old wine,” some of them gag on the new, setting the stage for scenes like the one two years ago, when some of our more “committed” young Christians behaved badly during a presentation by one of our speakers and subsequently received a richly-earned dressing down from our President.

One result of this incident is the real reason I’m standing before you this morning.  A group of our seniors, seeing this episode as all too typical of the approach to Christianity by many of their peers at AFPS, went to one of our English teachers and asked her to sponsor an “alternative” religious group that would be a “safe place” to discuss Christianity and other religions,  setting attendees free from what they considered censorious comments by those of their peers who were already convinced that they had “solved the cosmic riddle” as far as Christianity was concerned.  This teacher agreed, got approval from the administration, and asked several faculty members, of whom I was one, if we would be willing to help out.  And so, though its name wasn’t decided upon for a while yet, “the Gathering” was born.

Two of the student founders of “the Gathering” elaborated upon the purposes of the group in a letter they sent to their successors at the start of last year.  I’d like to share their thoughts with you this morning:

–Please keep in mind that the purpose of our group is not to create two warring camps of Christians at our school!  We intend for this group to be in addition–not in competition–to Friday Morning Fellowship.  Do your best to avoid bashing other people’s views.

–We created “the Gathering” because many of us came to see a need that wasn’t being met:  this school simply did not provide a place for non-judgmental, open, and honest dialogue concerning Christianity.  Above all, we want “the Gathering” to be a place to LISTEN–not a place to throw in your two cents simply because you have two cents.

–Furthermore, while this is definitely a Christian group, we want “the Gathering” to be a place where inquisitive people of all religious persuasions will feel not only welcome, but valued.

–Finally, the purpose of “the Gathering” is not to cultivate some sort of group mentality, where all of us believe exactly the same thing.  Rather, we hope that our meetings will help aid the individual on his or her spiritual journey.

* * * * *

So, what kinds of things go on at “the Gathering”?

  1. During the first year, the seniors who started “the Gathering” were dedicated to it.  They set the agenda, assigning topics, leading discussions, and bringing food.
  2. Last year, while our seniors were excellent at leading discussions, they were so overcommitted academically and extracurricularly that they did little planning for sessions of the Gathering; in fact, we could not even count on their regular attendance.  Thus, the burden of setting the tone for each session increasingly fell on younger students or on faculty advisors.  (As a result, our student leaders for the coming year are two sophomores.  One is Jewish, while the other approaches theology from the conservative Christian perspective).
  3. Among the topics we discussed last year were:  a) “current events,” e.g., Assembly/Christian Emphasis speakers; news stories, like one featuring a student at a Kentucky Christian school who was barred from graduation because she had gotten pregnant; or something said by a religious figure on television; b) the essentials of Christianity–a popular topic:  what must one believe to call him/herself a Christian?  This included a presentation on the Nicene Creed, not just what it said but why (i.e., treatment of its historical/theological context); c) extracurricular–visits to a Roman Catholic service and to The [Jewish] Temple.  There has also been some discussion of the group undertaking a service project, but this hasn’t yet come to pass.

The faculty who regularly attend “the Gathering” is an interesting mix.  Two are the “usual suspects”:  our school Chaplain and the Chair of the Bible Department.  Like them, most of the rest of the faculty who attend are active in our churches and have studied theology, either formally or informally, or, in a couple of delightful cases, through surviving many years of Catholic schooling.  Thus, we tend to see theology as to some extent an academic discipline, an area in which it is definitely OK to ask questions, to use the minds God gave us to investigate what others have said, thought, and written about their encounters with God’s word and its application to our daily lives.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us advisors believe that faith is not a destination to be reached once and for all before going off to college, but a journey full of pitfalls and detours, done in fits and starts, which can last long beyond the high school/college years.

If “the Gathering” sounds like your kind of place, either as a regular or intermittent visitor, please consider yourself invited.

Rather than end this devotional with a prayer, let me close with the words of one of the founders of “the Gathering”:

If every single one of us is made in God’s image, then what better way to gain a clearer understanding of God than to gain a clearer understanding of each other?”


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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Books, Current Events, Education, Historical Reflection, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, memoir, Popular Culture, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Retirement, Sun Belt, Teaching, Theology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Road to Jim Crow, 1875-1900, Part 1 (Teaching Civil Rights, 10)

[NOTE: As we saw in the previous post in this series, a key element in the eventual acceptance of the defeated South back into the Union on a (more or less) equal basis with the rest of the nation was the development by skilled southern propagandists of a set of ideas historians refer to as the “New South Creed.”  This intellectual construct basically proffered the willingness of the South to be made over in the image of the victorious North in exchange for the rest of the country’s acceptance of the need for southern whites to control their region’s race relations.  The acceptance by both parties of these terms smoothed the way for the “Compromise of 1877,” which marked the symbolic end of Reconstruction and the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.  Yet, acceptance of the Compromise had other, long-term consequences that would prove significant for the history of the entire country.  (For a list of suggested reading, see the end of Part 2.)]


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Several factors contributed to the acceptance by the North and West of the South’s insistence that its white male citizens be allowed to control the racial destiny of the region.  One was the general northern disgust at the excesses of Reconstruction, especially the activities of purportedly “inferior” former slaves.  Another grew out of the “New South Creed,” the desire for reconciliation between the sections. The final impetus paving the way to the “Jim Crow” era in the South was the revival of racial prejudice in the North, not only because of the excesses allegedly committed by the freed people and Radical Republican Carpetbagger and southern white Scalawag allies, but also because of the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century shift in the sources of American immigration from “superior” northern European people to allegedly “inferior” southern and eastern Europeans.

* * * * *


Although the 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution had been written to protect emancipated slaves after the Civil War, they had to be enforced by the federal government and sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court to be effective.  However, by 1877, with the withdrawal of the last federal troops from the South, the national government essentially washed its hands of the issue; and, in a series of rulings between 1873 and 1896, the Supreme Court indicated that it also was  unwilling to lead a crusade for African American rights.

For example, in the Civil Rights Cases (1883), the justices invalidated parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, arguing that the 13th Amendment, ending slavery, could not be stretched to cover “social discrimination,” and that the 14th Amendment could be used only against deprivation of civil rights by states, not discrimination by private individuals. Most famously, the Court’s decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) gave the stamp of approval to the “New South Creed’s” doctrine of “separate but equal.”  Plessy thereby validated the various “Jim Crow” (“legal segregation”) laws enacted throughout the South beginning in the 1890s.

* * * * *

Essential to the strategy of southern whites controlling the region’s racial destiny was the manipulation of the black vote.  During Reconstruction, freedmen cast their ballots regularly for Republican candidates.  Former Confederates, some of whom had been disfranchised during Radical Reconstruction, saw this black voting pattern as evidence that African Americans were either being “coerced” or “manipulated” by Carpetbaggers and Scalawags.  This view ignored a couple of obvious facts:  Republicans were followers of the party of Abraham Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator”; and southern Democrats represented the party that had supported slavery and been in the forefront of the movement for secession.  So, why should freed people support Southern Democrats?

As part of their campaign to weaken Radical Republican regimes during Reconstruction, the former Confederate states adopted extra-legal measures to reduce the number of black voters.  For instance, they hid ballot boxes, or, as under South Carolina’s “eight-box law,” made sure that there were as many ballot boxes at each polling place as there were offices at stake.  Voters, unassisted, were required to deposit a separate ballot in each box.  If they could not read, or were poorly educated, they were almost certain to invalidate at least some ballots by depositing them in incorrect boxes. Southern states also changed locations of polling places overnight without informing black voters.  Other tactics included applying economic pressure on black tenant farmers and sharecroppers and, if that failed, resorting to intimidation by violence-prone groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

As white Democratic “Redeemers” regained control of state governments, they used state  legislatures to take other steps.  A favorite was gerrymandering, the redrawing of electoral districts to dilute African American voting strength.  In South Carolina, to take one case, legislators approved a map that concentrated 25,000 of the state’s 30,000 black majority in a single congressional district.  Redeemers also launched investigations of Radical governments, hoping to discredit leading Carpetbaggers, Scalawags, and Freedmen, thus showing how mistaken giving the vote to former slaves had been.

* * * * *

Extra-legal methods of disfranchising black voters were carried over into the era of “Redemption” of states from Radical Republican rule.  Nevertheless, there still was a lingering fear among white southerners that, if southern states moved to disfranchise African American voters, the federal government might step in. Forces were at work, though, that would make possible, beginning in 1890, the adoption of direct, “constitutional” means of disfranchisement.

As Redeemers fell from power in their turn, they were replaced by demagogic, racist politicians elected by angry, lower-class Southern whites.  These new leaders reflected the desires of those who had elected them to pass “Jim Crow” (segregation) laws and take away the right of freedmen to vote.  This movement would be accelerated after 1896 because many southern Populists blamed their defeat in the presidential election of that year on manipulation of the African American vote by wealthy, conservative whites in the South’s “Black Belt.”

As the United States began to expand abroad and acquire colonies in the late nineteenth century, the federal government had to decide whether the native populations of, say,  Hawaii and Puerto Rico ought to have the same civil and political rights as white residents.  Government officials found southern white arguments about limiting the rights of allegedly “inferior” peoples (in this case, colonial subjects) especially appealing. Moreover, upper class white northerners were appalled by the influx into American cities, beginning in the 1890s, of supposedly inferior “New Immigrants” from southern and eastern Europe. Fearing for the “purity’ of the “Anglo-Saxon race,” white northerners could at last share the fears of southern whites.

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Legislature of the State of Mississippi, 1890 (Wikipedia)

So, in the last decade of the 19th century, the time seemed ripe for southern states to do legally, through constitutional means, what they had previously done only extra-legally.  Mississippi was the first state to do so (1890), followed by South Carolina in 1895.  The movement to disfranchise African American voters picked up steam after the collapse of Populism in the aftermath of the 1896 presidential election: Louisiana (1896), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901-1902), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910) all removed their African American citizens from the voter rolls by constitutional amendments.  During this same period, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas accomplished the same goal through poll taxes or other methods.  And, in Williams v. Mississippi (1898), the U.S. Supreme Court found the “Mississippi Plan” of 1890 constitutional.

End of Part 1

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, American History, Civil Rights Movement, Education, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History Teaching, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midterm Elections, 1866, 2018: Deja Vu (Sort of)

[NOTE: Followers of this blog know that I usually eschew contemporary politics here, but there have been a few exceptions (for example, here and here).  And, here’s another one.

First, some background.  When I was in History graduate school (1968-1973), the “gold standard” in multi-volume histories of the United States was Harper and Row’s New American Nation Series, edited by Richard Morris and Henry Steele Commager.  I bought most of the volumes in this series in paperback, and several proved very useful while I was working on lectures for my American survey course and preparing for written, comprehensive exams.

Scholarship, research, and interpretations march on, however.  In more recent decades, the crown for up-to-date, scholarly, multi-volume treatment of this nation’s past has been worn by Oxford University Press’s The Oxford History of the United States, whose General Editor is Stanford University’s David M. Kennedy.  The series remains unfinished at this date, but there’s a better than even chance that the remaining chronological gaps will be filled, perhaps before Kennedy retires from the editorship.

I own every volume published by Oxford so far and have read all but the most recent one, Richard White’s The Republic for Which It Stands:  The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1876 (2017), which I have begun this summer.  As I made my way through White’s account of the tumultuous presidency of Andrew Johnson, I was struck by his description of Johnson’s campaign to seize control of Reconstruction from Congress, which was dominated at the time by the so-called “Radical Republicans.”

Why did White’s treatment of the Johnson Presidency prove so captivating to me?  Because his analysis of the overmatched Tennessean’s campaign suggested certain traits of our current President, as he, too, looks ahead to the midterm elections this November.  White’s volume was published in 2017, which means that he might have been influenced in his treatment of President Andrew Johnson by the antics of Donald Trump, at least during the campaign season.  At any rate, certain of White’s points of emphasis strike home, and I think they might also resonate for some of you.]

* * * * *

Andrew Johnson (Wikipedia)

Scene 1:  In February 1866, President Johnson vetoed the Freedmen’s Bureau Bill, and Congress narrowly sustained his veto,

but Johnson remained the kind of man who was angry even in victory.  As was the custom, on Washington’s Birthday a crowd gathered before the White House to serenade the president, and Johnson gave an impromptu speech that provided more evidence that he should never give impromptu speeches.  He equated [Thaddeus] Stevens, [Charles] Sumner, and the abolitionist Wendell Phillips with the Confederate leadership.  They were, he said, as bad as traitors since they too aimed to undermine the Constitution.  The president referred to himself 210 times in a speech of little more than an hour, or three times every minute. (66-67)

Scene 2:  When a black delegation led by Frederick Douglass visited Johnson, he

told the delegation that it was poor whites, not blacks who were the real victims of slavery in the South.  After the delegates left, he told his private secretary:  “Those damned sons of bitches thought they had me in a trap.  I know that damned Douglass; he’s just like any nigger, & he would sooner cut a white man’s throat than not.” (67)

Scene 3:  White explains that

There was method in Johnson’s madness.  His goal was a coalition of conservatives who would cross party and sectional boundaries to maintain a white man’s republic.  On March 27 Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill as an attack on the rights of white people and as a move to centralize all power in the federal government. . . .

He also indicated that only he could speak for the nation.  Congress spoke for parochial interests. . . . Johnson’s political calculation was that by framing the issue as a dual contest between the rights of whites and the rights of blacks, and between the expansion of the federal government and the preservation of local governments, he could not lose. (67)

Scene 4:  Here’s where the parenthetical “sort of” in the title of this post comes in.  When President Johnson set off on his “swing around the circle” from the East through the Midwest in 1866, in an effort to weaken the hold of Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives,

He ended up delighting his enemies and appalling many of his supporters.  With each stop, the crowds became more hostile, and Johnson grew angrier.  He argued with hecklers, comparing himself to the crucified Christ, and found himself abused in the press. . . . (82)

Clearly, President Andrew Johnson had misjudged the temper of his “base,” unlike our current President (of course, President Johnson did not have access either to Twitter or to Fox News, more’s the pity).

* * * * *

Johnson’s “swing around the circle” in the summer and fall of 1866 turned out to be an unmitigated disaster for him and his vision of Reconstruction.  The results of the 1866 midterms ushered in a “veto-proof,” Radical Republican-dominated Congress, setting the stage for the attempt to impeach the President and remove him from office.  This effort narrowly failed, but for the remainder of his term Johnson was reduced to a little more than a political cipher.

* * * * *

So, is any of this actually relevant to the 2018 mid-term elections this November?

President Trump’s allies and his base are determined to retain control of Congress and strengthen their man’s hold on affairs.  The opposition, both Democrats and “Never Trump” Republicans, seems just as focused on capturing at least one house and thereby weakening the President.

Some anti-Trump members of the op-ed “commentariat” are even predicting a “Blue Wave” election result that will reduce the President to a cipher for the remainder of his time in office, as happened to Andrew Johnson, and, who knows, perhaps lead to his impeachment.  (Of course, those editorial voices are the same ones who confidently assured us in 2016 that Trump had no chance to be elected President.  Yikes!)

The current situation suggests that, at a minimum, we should make sure we’re registered to vote, regardless of our party affiliation, and then show up at the polls on election day.  (I know, I know, radical notions both.)  The contest has all the makings of a referendum on Trump and “Trumpism,” as it should, and neither side can afford to become complacent.  It’s also important to keep in mind that history–real, verifiable history–you know, with facts and all–remains the crucial source when deciding for whom to vote, not what your favorite news channel might urge.

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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in Age of Jim Crow, Books, Current Events, Education, Historical Reflection, History, History graduate school, History Teaching, memoir, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The New South: Myth and Reality (Teaching Civil Rights, 9)

[NOTE:  This is the first of several posts that will reveal my approach to “teaching Civil Rights” to a class of high school juniors and seniors.  I did not do a lot of lecturing in this course, but what I offered periodically was intended to create a framework for material in our texts, videos, and discussions. What follows is the substance of a lecture I gave very early in the semester.

As part of the so-called “Compromise of 1877,” in exchange for southern support of the Republican presidential candidate in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes, the South received a southerner as postmaster-general (a patronage-rich Cabinet post); the promise of economic aid from the federal government, especially in railroad construction; and a return to local self-determination in racial matters. The Compromise of 1877 was controversial at the time and remains a source of contention among historians.

A key element in securing acceptance of the terms of the Compromise was the development of the “New South Creed.” Yet, as events unfolded from the end of Reconstruction (1865-1877) through the first decade of the twentieth century, the “New South Creed” appears to have been largely a mythical construct bearing little resemblance to the reality of the “New South,” at least in retrospect.]

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Henry Grady (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

During Reconstruction, a few energetic young white southerners saw the need for a positive program to lift the eyes of their people from the poverty and humiliation that had been their lot after Appomattox:  Henry W. Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution; Henry Watterson of the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal; journalist Walter Hines Page; and Richard Edmonds, founder of the Baltimore (Md.)-based periodical the Manufacturer’s Record.

Their program was based on the idea that the present misfortunes of the South stemmed directly from the antebellum “tyranny of cotton” and the region’s reliance on the institution of slavery necessitated by it.  Their “realistic” alternative for the postwar South included:

  1. Harmonious reconciliation between the sections.
  2. Industrialization of the South through the infusion of northern capital and the immigration of skilled labor.
  3. Diversification of agriculture, based upon sound business principles
  4. Peaceful coexistence of blacks and whites on a “separate but equal” basis.

To spread this “New South Creed,” advocates resorted to what we would today call propaganda, sending speakers to the North and encouraging visits to the South by friendly northern journalists.

Proponents of the notion that there was indeed a “New South” below the Mason-Dixon Line maintained that the former Confederacy was a land teeming with natural resources begging to be exploited, and home to a large, non-union labor force that came very cheaply.  Moreover, they argued that the prevailing mood in the region was one of acceptance of the verdict of the Civil War:  it was a quiet place where outside capital would both be secure and produce profitable returns.  Finally, those who emphasized the reality of a “New South” reassured northerners that white and black southerners were content with their lots in the post-war world.

This “New South Creed” was based upon the South’s purported belief in progress, a point emphasized in a series of industrial expositions in the 1880s and 1890s, including one in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park (1895).  As part of their rosy view of progress, spokesmen promised that the South’s acceptance of the doctrine of “separate but equal” in racial matters would guarantee political and economic equality for blacks but would maintain white supremacy in social matters.

Propagandists for the “New South Creed” argued that there was no danger in allowing  black people to vote; the practice provided good training in citizenship for that benighted race.  As for racial equality, proponents contended that separate societies were justified by the obvious “superiority” of the Anglo-Saxon “race” and by the fact that both blacks and whites preferred segregation.  This argument proved doubly useful, because a) it seemed to support the notion that segregation rested on consent rather than force; and b) it could be used to justify the desire of whites to limit African Americans’ freedom of movement and, thus, restrict contact between the races.  And, of course, “separate but equal” eventually gained support from the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision.

* * * * *

Ironically, a “separate but equal” facet of the New South Creed, the “Myth of the Old South,” that moonlight-splashed, magnolia-scented legend all who have read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind or seen the movie version are familiar with, began to develop in the 1880s.

The United Confederate Veterans was formed in 1889 and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1895, each dedicated to idea that, although a “Lost Cause,” the establishment of the Confederacy–and the conflict  that grew out of it–had been a noble endeavor that survivors must memorialize and commemorate in every way possible:  from textbooks and school curricula that highlighted the valor of Confederate leaders and troops, to statues erected in town squares and other public places honoring the fallen in marble and bronze.

Despite the fact that the regimes ushered in by the Democratic “Redeemers” and their successors following Reconstruction were no-nonsense and seemed to be trying to make the South over into the image of the victorious North, the intertwined myths of the “Old South” and the “Lost Cause” highlighted the grace and simplicity presumed to have existed under the Old Order of pre-war years.

* * * * *

Joel Chandler Harris (Wikipedia)

The main vehicle for the “Myth of the Old South” was literary.  The 1880s and 1890s witnessed a revival of southern influence, especially in fiction.  Short-story writers and novelists like Joel Chandler Harris and Thomas Nelson Page emphasized local color, dialect, and sentimentality; realism was nowhere apparent.  By the 1870s, many northerners were disgusted by Reconstruction, fed up with the perennial “Negro problem,” and yearning for reconciliation between the sections.  The pervading spirit of “Old South” literature harmonized readily with those feelings, and, as a result, it was phenomenally popular with northern middle-class readers during the late nineteenth century.

Northern authors joined their southern brethren in enumerating several common themes about life in the South before and after the War. In the literary South set before the War, a prettified version of slavery was presented as the most suitable form of social control for poor, helpless slaves.  Short stories and novels set in the postwar South stressed that former slaves were unable to cope with freedom; there was a need for reconciliation between North and South; blacks were innately inferior to whites; and the most desirable form of control over the African American population was the paternalism of southern whites.

* * * * *

One cannot deny that there were genuine achievements during the era of the New South.  For instance, a postwar boom in railroad construction saw 13,259 miles of track constructed by 1880 and 27,650 by 1890.  The revival of southern railroads also breathed new life into seaport cities and ocean shipping.  The federal government spent some money on southern river and harbor improvements, widening the Mississippi River below New Orleans and dredging the harbor at Galveston, Texas.

Cotton mills expanded in the South during the postwar era, as did tobacco factories, which were centered in North Carolina, and the iron industry, especially in Alabama.  New towns rose, like Birmingham; old ones such as Natchez, Memphis, and New Orleans, were revitalized; and Atlanta emerged like a phoenix from the ashes of the Civil War years.

Yet, despite strides in these areas, the South’s progress was no faster than the rest of the nation.  Thus, in 1860, the South had 17.5% of manufacturing establishments in the United States and 11.5% of the capital, while in 1904 those figures stood at 15.3% and 11%, respectively.  During this same period, the value of manufactured products in the South rose from 10.3% of total value produced in the U.S. to 10.5%. Despite the growth of some southern towns and cities, the region’s population remained overwhelmingly rural.  For instance, by 1900 South Carolina was being hailed as the “cotton mill state,” yet 69% of its population was still employed in agriculture, and only 3.6% in manufacturing; and the percentage of southerners east of the Mississippi River engaged in manufacturing in 1900 was approximately the same as in all states east of the Mississippi in 1850.

Moreover, the South was still a colonial dependency of the North, producing raw materials that were largely finished outside the region.  “New South” spokesmen had emphasized that, while they were willing to accept northern financial aid and participation in industrializing the South, the South should itself determine how that money was spent.

What happened, though, was that infusions of northern and European capital led to absentee ownership. For example, of the twenty members of the board of directors of the Richmond & West Point Terminal Company in 1890, seventeen lived in New York City.  J.P. Morgan took advantage of the Panic of 1893 to gain control of the South’s railroad network; other northern industrialists took over southern iron and steel corporations at the same time; and eastern money also controlled oil pipelines, sulfur, and aluminum.

Factories that moved south did so to exploit cheap, non-union labor.  Declining agricultural conditions pushed farmers to urban areas, thus decreasing chances for skilled immigrant labor in those cities, and the South remained suspicious of, or even hostile towards, immigrants. If all this were not bad enough, various freight differentials were raised as artificial barriers, which further hampered the process of industrializing the South.

Southerners thus were not the happy, contented people “New South” propagandists made them out to be. Factory jobs were for whites only—in 1891, there were only 7500 blacks engaged in factory work, and most of them were in janitorial positions.  If white workers threatened to strike, though, management could point menacingly to the black labor pool as potential strikebreakers.  Per capita income in the United States in 1909 was $1165, but only $509 in the South.  Finally, by 1900, 150,000 white and 233,000 black southerners rented agricultural land, while 404,000 whites and 229,000 blacks were sharecroppers.

In short, postwar economic conditions like sharecropping, tenant farming, the crop lien system, and convict leasing victimized poor whites and poor blacks alike.  Popular unrest was manifested in the region during the 1890s in the growth of the Populist movement as a formidable political force.

* * * * *

Although the New South Creed initially faced numerous obstacles, it eventually overcame them, to gain widespread acceptance on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Nevertheless, the triumph of the New South Creed was one of rhetoric and literary artistry over substance.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the South remained the poorest section of the country, a colonial dependency of the North whose people lived under conditions that were, despite the claims of a central tenet of the Creed, both rigidly separate and decidedly unequal.

The “New South Creed” had become a myth.   It would disappear, to be revived in a 1970 book by historian Paul Gaston, but the concept of the “New South” the Creed purported to describe has remained an integral part of the region’s identity.


Ayers, Edward L.  The Promise of the New South:  Life After Reconstruction.  Oxford and New York, 1992; 2007.

Gaston, Paul M.  The New South Creed:  A Study in Southern Mythmaking.  New York, 1970.

Lamplugh, George R.  “The Image of the Negro in Popular Magazine Fiction, 1875-1900,” Journal of Negro History 57 (April, 1972): 177-189.

Woodward, C. Vann.  Origins of the New South, 1877-1913.  Baton Rouge, 1951; 1967.

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

POTP Cover

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)






Posted in Age of Jim Crow, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History Teaching, Research, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Betts: A Mother’s Memoir, 1923-1964 Part VIII: Betts, Ben, and J.B., 1940-1944

[NOTE:  Almost a year ago, I put up what I thought would be the final installment of the series, “Betts: A Mother’s Memoir, 1923-1964.” But I hadn’t considered my  “Historical Pack Rat” gene. . . .

In the middle of Part IV of the “Betts” series, I had found it necessary to fill a gap between the two parts of her memoir, which Betts whimsically referred to as “Slub of Slife.”  I noted that, despite the fact she’d become engaged to J.B. before he reported for duty overseas as a U.S. Marine, “for reasons that remain unclear, Betts and [J.B.] broke off their relationship during the war.”  Then, in January 1943, Betts married Ben Lamplugh, who was on active duty with the U.S. Army.

A few weeks ago, while re-reading my journal, I came across an entry that helped fill in that gap in the “Betts” post, notes I’d made during a phone call to my mother in 1996.  I had forgotten about the call–and the notes on it!  And, yes, my journal, which I’ve been keeping since the summer of 1968, is a fine example of my pack rat “gene” and how it occasionally has helped me to continue “doing history after leaving the classroom.”  And this is another instance.  Because of what I found in that journal entry, I have now revised Part IV of the Betts series to reflect a fuller understanding of what transpired among Betts, Ben, and J.B., and why those things mattered.]

* * * * *

Betts in 1942

On April 12, 1996, I had received in the mail a copy of J.B.’s account of his service as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II, sent by Betts.  That night, I phoned  to tell her I’d read the memoir and liked it.  Here’s what transpired thereafter, according to my journal.  The italicized passages are taken from the journal (lightly revised); unitalicized passages enclosed in bold brackets are reflections on the 1996 journal entry twenty-two years later:

. . . During our conversation, I got her to talk about J.B., Ben, etc., and I learned a lot I hadn’t known.  What follows is a series of notes on that conversation:

1940—Betts graduated from Newark High.  She worked with Ben’s brother Bill and his wife Maxine [at Continental Diamond Fiber in Newark, Delaware].  Betts was introduced to Ben at Bill & Maxine’s farm near Newark (i.e., Bill and Maxine “set her up” with Ben).  Ben was in the Maryland National Guard at the time.  He reminded Betts of her father, because he was quiet.  During this period, Betts also occasionally dated “college men” from the University  of Delaware, including one I’ll call “Joe Delaware.”

[What surprised me here is that Betts had apparently met Ben in 1940, about the same time she met J.B.  I had thought she’d met Ben after J.B. left for the war.  Dating Ben, J.B., and even a “college man” like Joe Delaware, makes perfect sense when one remembers that, growing up, Betts had not been able to do lots of things her girlfriends did (like dancing, dating):  her doctor and her parents tried to limit her physical activity because of her bout of rheumatic fever. With her graduation from high school, and  finding a job at the fiber mill, Betts was officially “on her own” and free to do things that had been denied her because of her illness, including dating.]

1941—When Ben came to Newark, he’d ask Betts out.  Sometimes she’d go, sometimes not.  Yet, Betts must not have thought very much of Ben at the time, because, by the time the United States declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, Betts and J.B. were planning to marry.  However, J.B. enlisted in the Marines in February 1942, so their wedding plans were put on hold.

[Betts apparently dated several boys casually after graduating from high school in 1940, including “Joe Delaware” (probably a freshman at the University of Delaware in Newark); Ben; and J.B.  Notice her statement that, when Ben asked her out on his visits to Newark to see Bill and Maxine, she wasn’t always able to go.  She had a job at the fiber mill, so dating during the week might not have been feasible; or, perhaps she’d agreed to go out with J.B., Joe Delaware, or another friend or “college man” and couldn’t accompany Ben.

I don’t know how often she dated Joe Delaware, but Betts remembered his name over fifty years later, so they almost certainly went out more than once.  Yet, J.B. must have drawn her more strongly than the others—she met him in 1940 and, by late 1941, he’d given her an engagement ring, and they’d planned to wed early in 1942.   Then came Pearl Harbor, and war.]

1942While deployed with the Marines in the South Pacific, J.B. met several guys from the Newark area, one of whom was the aforementioned Joe Delaware.  As they talked about life “back home,” Betts’ name came up.  Delaware told J.B. that not only did he know Betts, but he’d also dated her.

J.B. evidently took this to mean that, following his departure for the Marines, Betts had dated Joe Delaware; he wrote Betts an angry letter, demanding to know why—not if—she was dating boys in Newark while he was overseas.  Betts took his letter to mean that J.B.  didn’t trust her.  So, she sent J.B.’s ring, as well as her collection of clippings about the war in the South Pacific, to his mother in Iowa; then she wrote J.B. a “Dear John” letter.  (J.B. later told Betts that Marines  who received bad news from their “girls back home” posted those letters on a board for their buddies to read.)

[After Betts sent her letter to J.B., his dad arranged for the woman he wanted his son to marry to begin corresponding with J.B.  Through some of her friends, Betts learned that J.B. had “moved on” in his life and had asked the young woman his father preferred, to marry him.   Aware of this, Betts began to see Ben again, more steadily.]

Ben and Betts in World War II

1943Betts and Ben marry. (January)

1944their first child is born(May)

The strange thing about this is that, until tonight, I had always assumed that Betts’ relationship with Ben was the reason she and J.B. broke up, but that’s apparently not the case.

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

Posted in American History, Delaware, family history, genealogy, Historical Reflection, History, memoir, Research, Retirement, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Story Behind “A Scrappy Fourth of July” (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 29)

[Note:  Last time, I regaled you with “Confessions of a Historical Pack Rat,” a light-hearted look at where I’ve gotten some of the material for posts at “Retired But Not Shy” (hereafter RBNS) over its first eight years.  As it turns out, with July 4th only a few days away, I now have the chance to retell that story, focusing on the “history” of a single post that has already appeared here three times, in different forms, and is appropriate for the coming national holiday.]

* * * * *


Atlanta’s Finest Prep School (AFPS) is a “unit school,” which means, among other things, that, at least in theory, its curriculum across the K-12 educational spectrum should be synchronized over the course of those thirteen years.  The question always is, what does that mean to the classroom teacher?  This is something that each department head wrestles with, as I did during eight years as Chair of the History Department.  Admittedly, I did not do as much with the concept as I might have during my tenure as Chair.

As the 2009-2010 school year opened, my last at AFPS, I had been “back in the trenches” (i.e., a fulltime classroom teacher) for more than a decade.  In addition, I was the editor of the department’s newsletter.  As a sort of farewell gift (?) to my History colleagues, I asked them to share, through the newsletter, how they taught their students about the Declaration of Independence.

I introduced what I called the “Declaration Project” during our pre-school department meetings.  The plan was for each division (elementary, junior high, high school) to contribute an article on the topic to the newsletter, for the January, March, and May 2010 issues, respectively.  So that my colleagues would have an idea of what I expected of them, I wrote an article in the September 2009 issue, “The Declaration Project: Introduction,”  which, as it turned out, would, a couple of years later, be the genesis for a series of posts at RBNS on July the 4th celebrations in Antebellum Georgia.

* * * * *

By late 2011,  I’d been retired for eighteen months; since June 2010 I’d been the blog-meister at RBNS; and I need something to write about for December.  Pondering alternatives, I seized upon that September 2009 newsletter article–perhaps, if I expanded  it, adding a number of specific examples of political activities on the 4th of July in Antebellum Georgia drawn from both my dissertation research and my current project, I might produce an interesting post, at least to readers who, like myself, were “In Pursuit of Dead Georgians.”  The result, posted on December 1, 2011, “A ‘Fourth Dimension’ in Georgia Politics,” both had a vague title and was published at the wrong time of the year, but, hey, it took care of December 2011!

A few years later, as I was thinking once again about what to put up at RBNS in July, I returned to that earlier post.  “Why not make a few revisions, and post it in the chronologically appropriate month?” I wondered.  So, on July 1, 2015, a slightly different version of that 2011 essay debuted as “A Scrappy Fourth of July.”

Two years later, I revived that 4th of July post, thinking that, like my treatment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., posting it might become an annual event.  The result:  “A Happy Fourth, from Antebellum Georgia!” appeared on July 3, 2017.

* * * * *

All of which–son of a gun!–brings us to late June, 2018.  I had been working on a different post for July 1, but it occurred to me last night that a 4th of July post would perhaps be  more appropriate.  So, here it is, for those who might have missed it, my homage to Antebellum Georgians, their shifting views of the Declaration of Independence, and what that might mean to us today:


Happy Fourth of July!

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For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)


Posted in 4th of July, American "republicanism", American History, American Revolution, Education, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History Teaching, Popular Culture, Research, Retirement, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confessions of a Historical Pack Rat: “Retired But Not Shy” at Eight

[ Note:  One question any new blogger should—but probably doesn’t—ask is, “Will I be able to find sufficient material to keep this blog alive?”  I know that I didn’t think about this question in May 2010, when I contemplated establishing a blog. Yet in 2018, as “Retired But Not Shy” cruises past its eighth birthday, I can finally admit that my blog has lasted so long because I’m something of a historical pack rat.  Let me explain.]

* * * * *

I gradually saw that my blogging interests centered around several themes.  Not only had I written about, lectured on, and opined concerning these issues on numerous occasions, but I also had kept copies of those notes, lectures, talks, articles, and editorials.  So, yes, “Retired But Not Shy: Doing History after Leaving the Classroom” (hereafter, RBNS) could have become little more than a collection of my “Greatest Hits,” but that’s not what happened.

Although the blog’s archives reflect some walks down memory lane, other posts broke new ground.  But, just for the fun of it, let’s concentrate this time on “old war horses,” posts I pulled from basement filing cabinets, revised, or otherwise gussied up so that they might enjoy new life in the blogosphere.

* * * * *

“Blues Stories”—eight of these posts originated in “Back to School Night”  lectures I offered annually to returning alums at Atlanta’s Finest Prep School (AFPS), the nom de blog of the place where I taught for nearly forty years.  Most of the others came from books I’ve read since retiring from AFPS.  Rather than mention any titles here, I’ll refer you to the Year Eight “Top Ten List” below, where half of the items are Blues-related.

“Dead Georgians”—twenty-eight posts, and counting.  Quite a few were offshoots of earlier research, for my dissertation (and the book that resulted from it), and later, as I piloted ideas that eventually found their way (or didn’t) into my second book.

The story of the “Fourth Dimension” in Georgia politics began as an article in AFPS’s History Department Newsletter.  The two-part tale of Elias Boudinot and the Cherokee Phoenix (here, here) was my contribution to AFPS’s “Explore!  Native Americans” program, and subsequently became a staple in my AP United States History course (APUSH).  “Georgia and the American Revolution,” grew out of a course presented to an adult evening class at AFPS in 1976, during the bicentennial celebration of the American Revolution.

Other posts in this section originated as public lectures.  “Georgia and the Federal Constitution” (here, here) comprised a talk to a group of Georgia History buffs during the bicentennial celebration of that document.  I trotted out “Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806,” based on my dissertation, for a class at Emory University’s Oxford College in Covington, Georgia, taught by my good friend, Dr. Arnold Shankman, and subsequently used “up the road” from AFPS, at a neighboring prep school.

“Meanings of ‘Liberty’ in Georgia During the American Revolution” grew out of notes created for a discussion on a public television station in Augusta, Georgia,  arranged and hosted by Dr. Ed Cashin of Augusta College.  A recent two-part post, “Georgia Visions,” (here, here) was based on a talk I gave to groups of foreign high school students visiting AFPS.

I was proud of the “historical problem,” “Who was a ‘Citizen’?,” which tried to identify the author of a pamphlet on Georgia politics in the years after the end of the American Revolution.  Perhaps the answer to this question mattered only to me, because I had been unable to answer it while researching my dissertation nearly fifty years ago.  Still, I took what I knew (or thought I knew) and organized it as a sort of “DBQ on Steroids,” the kind of documents-based essay assignment I had used with my APUSH students many times. And, I offered “a solution” as the final post in the series, something I’d been unable to do in the early 1970s.

Finally, posts on antebellum Georgia governors George Gilmer and Wilson Lumpkin, the treatment of “An Anti-Slave Trade Movement in Middle Georgia?” and several on the Cherokee and the Creeks sampled research for my second book.

“Historical Reflections”—this collection drew on material I had prepared during my years at AFPS, though many of them also appear on other blog “pages.”  (See links at the top of the home page.)

“Growing Up in Colonial New England” was originally prepared for an evening “Education” course I took while trying to become “certified” to teach high school history in Georgia.

A series that began last year and concluded in Year Eight, “Betts: A Mother’s Memoir,” combined edited versions of my late mother’s family history and a memoir covering her two families, from the early 1920s through 1964, with two concluding episodes I wrote to fill in gaps and provide a broader context for Betts’ story.

“Interdisciplinary Work”—most posts in this category also stemmed from my years at AFPS, when I responded to requests for help from colleagues in other departments.

In addition to the series on the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper and its founding editor, Elias Boudinot, noted above, other posts drawn from school-wide interdisciplinary projects were “The Uses of History in Tom Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’” and “Echoes of the Scopes Trial.”

Additional efforts to aid colleagues seeking a historical perspective for difficult topics included: “Denying the Holocaust”; “American Witch Hunters:  Salem and McCarthy”; on “American Republicanism,” for AFPS’s “School for the Common Good”; and “Reckoning with the ‘Dispossessed Majority’,” for my older son’s summer school New Testament class.

“The Book that Changed My Life” answered a request from our high school librarian for faculty essays on that topic to be included on the library’s new website.

“Is Wolf Hatred Really Wolfism?” was orchestrated by my brother Rick, a wildlife advocate who now lives just outside the gates of Yellowstone National Park, and cross-posted with his blog.

“Prep School”—these posts also were direct outgrowths of my teaching career at AFPS.  Among the highlights:

One of my favorite posts, “That’s Why They Paid Me the Big Bucks,” originated as a farewell editorial in the History Department Newsletter in 2010.  Another post, “Testifyin’ at the PDC,” was a “pep talk” delivered to the school’s “big givers” at a dinner held at an  exclusive club.

Early in my final year at AFPS, our principal asked us to critique the school’s “faculty forum” [“pre-planning”] topic.  “Teaching 21st-Century Students: A Reflection” was based on the letter I sent in response.

Last, but not least, are the popular posts in the “Teaching Prep School with a PhD” series.  There, I suggested to graduate students in My Old Graduate School’s “Beyond the Professoriate” program that, in these parlous times for History PhDs, aspiring college professors might be able to leverage their degrees into a secondary school setting and be content there.

 “Teaching History”—this series of posts features some essays included under other topics, especially “Historical Reflections” and “Interdisciplinary Work.” Among those not previously mentioned, my favorite is “Teaching History ‘Backwards,” based on an article for the History Department Newsletter about an experimental approach adopted in an elective Civil Rights history course.

“The South/Civil Rights”—This page includes several posts about The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The first, published in 2012 (revised in 2015),  grew out of editorials written for the History Department Newsletter.  Thereafter, I began to post annually a commemoration of the King Holiday, including, most recently, part of a talk I delivered in a 1987 high school assembly to introduce a panel discussion of King’s life and legacy.

“Teaching History ‘Backwards’” is included in this section as well, along with several other milestones on the road that led me to the Civil Rights history course.  One was an article from the Georgia Association of Historians Newsletter (1978) about a course I offered for a few years, “The South and the Sectional Image.”  (And, like the post about growing up in colonial New England mentioned earlier, this essay originated in an “Education” course.)  The winding path to the Civil Rights course also involved introductions to two panel discussions on Southern History, one at AFPS, the other on “Myth and Reality in Southern History,” organized for a regional independent schools meeting in Atlanta.

“The Vietnam Era”—the main reason I created this page was to highlight how I finally came to terms with the Vietnam War during my early years at AFPS:

The four-part series, “Growing Up with Vietnam,” was based on a talk I gave several times in the school’s “Senior Lecture Series,” then incorporated into my APUSH course each spring.

Two posts (here, here) grew from editorials from the History Department Newsletter.

Finally, “Past Personal: Teaching the Vietnam War as History,” originated as a paper delivered at a meeting of a local independent school organization.

* * * * *

The top ten posts for Year Eight (June 2017-May 2018):

* * * * *

So, what’s the message for aspiring bloggers this post?  “Don’t throw away your written past if you plan to carve out a future in cyberspace” might just fit on a bumper sticker. Another suggestion:  have lots of interests, or, if you have only one or two topics you like to write about, space your efforts so that you always have something in reserve, for when it’s time for a new post but, alas, you just can’t think of one.

Finally, as RBNS approached its eighth birthday, it reached a milestone:  In November 2017, this blog received more than one thousand visits, nearly a third more than were recorded for the entirety of Year One (June 2010-May 2011); subsequent months in Year Eight have come close to four figures, but none has reached it.

* * * * *

By the time this post appears, RBNS will have received around 29,000 visits over its lifetime.  Thank you, one and all, for making this happen, and please continue to stop by  “Retired But Not Shy”!  Pack rat or no, I’ll try not to let you down.

* * * * * *

For  those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)






Posted in "Education Courses", "In The Temple of Wolves", 4th of July, Age of Jim Crow, American "republicanism", American History, American Revolution, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Books, Cherokee Indians, Cherokee Removal, Creek Indians, Denying the Holocaust, Dr. Martin Luther King, Education, Elias Boudinot, family history, George R. Gilmer, Georgia History, Historical Problem, Historical Reflection, History, History Curriculum, History graduate school, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, Martin Luther King, memoir, Muddy Waters, Popular Culture, Prep School, prep school teaching with a PhD, Research, Retirement, Rick Lamplugh, Scopes Trial, Skip James, Son House, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, The Blues, Theology, Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia", Uncategorized, Urban Blues, Vietnam War, Wilson Lumpkin, Wolves, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Draining the Creeks (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 28)

A Review of

William W. Winn, The Triumph of the Ecunnau-Nuxulgee:  Land Speculators, George M. Troup, State Rights, and the Removal of the Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama, 1825-38.  Macon, Ga.:  Mercer University Press, 2015.


[Note:  As an historian of Georgia political party development from the American Revolution to the Civil War, I had a difficult time coming to terms with Georgia’s Indian removal campaigns of the 1820s and 1830s.  The volume under review is a perfect example of why that should have been so.  Mr. Winn’s hefty tome (475 pages of text and another 80 pages of end notes and index), with its old-fashioned, all-encompassing title, is an almost excruciatingly detailed treatment of Georgia’s and Alabama’s determined, and ultimately successful, drives to evict the Creek Indians.]

* * * * *

The story of the ouster of the Creeks from Georgia, which Winn presents in the first five chapters, held few surprises for this reviewer. The author correctly emphasizes the importance to that effort of the concept of “state rights,” which had originated in the era of the infamous Yazoo Land Fraud (1795-1796), especially after the cession of the Yazoo lands to the United States government.  In that so-called “Compact of 1802,” the national government agreed to remove native American tribes (i.e., Creeks and Cherokees) residing within Georgia’s boundaries when that could be done “peaceably” and on “reasonable terms.” The fulfillment of that promise was a bone of contention between Georgia and Washington for nearly four decades and kept the campaign for “Indian removal” alive.

George M. Troup

Moreover, after the Yazoo lands had been transferred to the federal government, disappointed Yazoo purchasers, barred from being reimbursed for what they’d paid to the original Yazoo speculators after Georgia rescinded the sale in 1796, launched a methodical campaign in Congress to secure compensation from the national government.  Georgia congressmen, and allies from other southern states, blocked those efforts until 1814.  A key figure in that anti-Yazoo coalition was Georgia Congressman George Troup, who opposed settling with the Yazoo purchasers on state rights grounds.

A decade later, Troup, then Governor of Georgia, greased the skids for the corrupt Treaty of Indian Springs (1825), that would have ousted the Creeks from the state, but the newly-elected President, John Quincy Adams, appalled by the stench of corruption in the negotiations, refused to enforce the treaty.  Only the signing of two additional, less corrupt treaties (Washington [1826], and Fort Mitchell [1827]) finally pushed the Creeks from Georgia—and, initially, into Alabama.

* * * * *

Alfred Iverson (Wikipedia)

I found fresh and interesting the last four chapters in Winn’s book, covering the decade the Creeks in Alabama (including those previously ousted from Georgia) struggled to forestall their seemingly inevitable departure.  Another helpful feature of this latter section is a detailed treatment of the debate in Congress over the Jackson Administration’s Indian Removal Bill in 1830, which tends to be obscured in other discussions of this period.

The “Ecunnau-Nuxulgee” (Creek for “those greedily grasping after lands”), who “triumph” in Winn’s title, were the aggressive land speculators who swooped down on the Creeks, secured their Alabama lands, and helped drive them out.  Another term the Creeks used to characterize those speculators, translated as “dirt-eaters,” was, according to Winn, “meant to classify such individuals as a particularly unappealing sub-species of the white race.” (xiv)  Anyone who reads this book—and has a empathetic bone in his or her body–will find it difficult to quibble with Wynn’s description.

Perhaps the most active group of land speculators during the Alabama phase of what Winn terms the “Great Creek Land Grab” was made up of men I already recognized as “state rights”-spouting Georgians who lived in the relatively new town of Columbus, Georgia.  Included among their number were Judge Eli S. Shorter, Alfred Iverson, John W. A. Sandford, and James C. Watson, all of whom made out financially like bandits during the “Great Creek Land Grab,” thanks to the Columbus Land Company, but then lost their financial shirts in the Panic of 1837—yes!!!

* * * * *

The key event in the Creeks’ exit from Alabama was another Treaty of Washington (this one signed March 24, 1832):

  • The Creeks ceded lands east of Mississippi River (approximately five million acres) to the United States, in exchange for a comparable quantity of land west of the Mississippi, plus financial compensation for their improvements on lands within the cession, three million acres of which were “prime cotton land, . . . no small acquisition on the part of the United States.” (303)
  • After a survey of the ceded Creek lands east of the Mississippi, each principal Creek chief was to select one section (allotment) of 640 acres, and every other head of household was to receive a half-section of 320 acres.
  • Allotments could not be sold for five years. If, at the end of that time, an allotment holder wished to remain in Alabama and become a citizen and subject to its laws, he could do so, and receive a patent from the United States for his land.
  • The Creeks could sell their allotments, but sales had to be certified by someone appointed for that purpose by the President, who must also approve each sale before it became final.
  • A  controversial provision of the treaty was Article V, dealing with white “intruders” who had already settled on Creek lands in Alabama.  Intruders were to be removed from those lands until the tracts were surveyed, unless they had made improvements on them and had not expelled Creeks from them, in which case they could remain until their next crops were gathered.  Intruders who were removed would be barred from the lands for five years after ratification of the treaty, or until the lands were conveyed to the whites by the Creeks.
  • Article Twelve allowed federal recruiting agents “to renew their efforts at enrolling Creeks to remove to the West.” (326)  But, speculators were not interested in this aspect of the treaty until they finished hornswoggling the land from the Creeks. Put another way, the Creeks were “damned if they did and damned if they didn’t” want to sell out.

* * * * *

The real message of the Treaty of Washington turned out to be, “let the games begin!” Speculators did their best to separate Creeks from their allotments; “intruders” protested that they needed to remain on land they’d occupied for longer than provided in Article V (cue the violins); and Creeks who were not principal chiefs soon found themselves fair game to be tricked, made drunk, and swindled out their “allotments,” through a variety of methods, the most popular of which reportedly were developed by the now infamous Columbus (Georgia) Land Company.  You’re familiar, I trust, with the old card-player’s expression, “read ‘em and weep”; well, the same phrase seems to apply once the reader has completed the pages Winn devotes to the consequences of the 1832 Washington treaty.

The last phase of Creek removal was the so-called “Second Creek War” (1836), which whites at the time regarded as a “just war,” but Winn does not.  The “conflict,” such as it was, ended quickly, and almost 18,000 Creeks were ushered out of Alabama and over the Mississippi River to the new Indian Territory.  Those evacuees were followed by 4,100 more by the end of 1838. According to one estimate, when the dust of removal had settled, white speculators had swindled the Creeks out of almost 2 million of the 2.1 million acres allotted them in the treaty. (464)

* * * * *

Gov. John Gayle of Ala., 1831-1835 (Encyclopedia of Alabama)

William Winn has a sharp eye for greed, empty political rhetoric, and hypocrisy.  He describes the whites who attended a meeting of the Creek tribal council in September 1832 as “Whiskey jobbers, con men, spies, US emigration agents, Indian countrymen, traders and merchants, land speculators and their agents, and lawyers of indeterminate allegiance.” (329)  In summarizing parallels between efforts by Georgia Governor George Troup (1825-1826) and Alabama Governor John Gayle (1833-1834) to defy the national government over Creek removal, Winn asserts that “state rights had won again, the second time in eight years this had been the case in a high-profile confrontation over Indian lands between a southern state and the federal government.” (369)

Winn, a veteran journalist and local historian, admits in his  “Acknowledgments” that this book wasn’t his idea.  Thomas J. Peddy, a retiree in Columbus who had long been interested in the expulsion of the Creeks from Georgia and Alabama, began researching the topic.  When Winn first met Peddy, in 1987, the Columbus man was compiling notes on Creek history from government documents, newspapers, and local records.  Peddy tried to interest Winn in taking over the task of writing a history based on this research, but Winn, busy with other projects, put him off.  Peddy died in 1990.  In 2002, the Historic Chattahoochee Commission asked Winn to take up where Peddy had left off.  In the end, Winn dedicated the book to Peddy,  honoring his role in compiling much of the evidence Winn used to buttress his own research.

Major drawbacks to this work include sloppy editing and a very confusing system of end notes.  Nevertheless, for the “general reader,” who probably doesn’t peruse notes, this won’t be a significant issue.  Winn’s style is journalistic in the best sense, direct and engaging, although his pro-Creek, anti-white speculator bias is certainly clear (and will probably be shared by most readers).  His character sketches of the “players” in this historical drama are detailed enough that the reader can form his or her own opinion of their strengths and weaknesses.

As Winn admits, this is a long book, and only those truly interested in the subject will want to read it from beginning to end.  For those hardy souls who take up Winn’s challenge, the rewards will be many, though disgust at the speculators and their machinations will also be a factor—and should be.

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)








Posted in American History, Books, Creek Indians, Education, George M. Troup, Georgia History, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, Research, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Teaching, Uncategorized, WP Long Read | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Brother, the Writer: Act 2

A Review of Rick Lamplugh, Deep into Yellowstone: A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur & Controversy (2017). Available at amazon.com in both paperback and e-book formats. 

Several years ago, I reviewed my younger brother Rick’s book, In the Temple of Wolves (2014), which recounted experiences he and his wife Mary shared over several winter stays in Yellowstone National Park.  That book was quite successful, boosting Rick from merely a recent retiree to a prominent advocate for Yellowstone and its wildlife, especially the wolf.

The volume under review is a sequel to In the Temple of Wolves, but with a difference.  The author’s emphasis this time is, as his subtitle suggests, “A Year’s Immersion in Grandeur and Controversy.”  Rick and Mary are no longer seasonal visitors to the nation’s first national park.  Since the publication of In the Temple of Wolves, the “Oregon Lamplughs” have become the “Montana Lamplughs,” moving to Gardiner, just outside Yellowstone’s north gate. That relocation, with the adjustments required of them by their new environment, gives this book its special flavor.

* * * * *

All the grandeur of the park and its wildlife you’d expect from the author’s lyrical writing in his earlier volume is here, too, but now there’s more.  Living year-round next to Yellowstone brought new responsibilities to wolf advocates Rick and Mary, plunging them into controversies about conservation of the park and its denizens vs. exploitation of its resources and wildlife.  And, thanks to Rick’s skill in describing those issues, the reader is there with him and his wife throughout that year.

The self-deprecating humor that was part of Rick’ s first book carries over to this volume as well.  For example, a chapter entitled “A New Way to Stop” highlights Rick and Mary’s efforts to master cross-country skiing. Rick is determined to learn how to ski downhill safely; after all, what could go wrong?  Try a face plant that cuts his forehead and forces him to scramble around madly retrieving glasses, sunglasses, hat, and one glove.

Another hilarious account reveals that Yellowstone wildlife pay scant attention to the needs of local advocates.  Rick and Mary decide to take a weekend off, do some chores, kick back and relax.  Well. . . . Several female elk show up with newborn calves in tow just outside Casa Lamplugh.

Watching the spectacle out of their windows, Rick and Mary are struck by the cluelessness of a jogger who got too close to one of the calves for its mother’s liking and was chased away by the angry mama.  And then—wait for it!—Rick stepped outside to work on a project, despite Mary’s warning that Mama Elk and baby were still nearby.  Rick shrugged off his wife’s advice; after all, he was a permanent resident of Gardiner, not a weekly renter like the jogger.  Then:  Rick ended up shouting at an aggressive Mama Elk, while backing slowly into his garage and slamming the door.

A final example of the author’s penchant for humor occurs when he records what happened after he and his wife awoke up on a cold September morning while on a camping trip and found themselves forced to run from three angry moose who,  it turned out, were trying to escape from them!

* * * * *

In explaining what drew him and Mary to activism on behalf of Yellowstone and its denizens, Rick offers as an example the “hunters” (“shooters—a firing squad really” [20]) who wait for hapless bison to wander from the protection of the park to adjoining land where—surprise!—bison hunting season has begun.  Moreover, this “sport” is part of an “interagency management plan” that aims to reduce the number of bison in the park from 5000 to 3000.

Rick and Mary soon joined local conservation groups, hoping to make a difference.  Even if bison escape being shot by hunters, another part of the interagency management plan allows some of the animals to be captured, penned up, and then sent to a slaughterhouse, with the meat being given to local Native Americans, again as part of an effort to control Yellowstone’s bison population.

The author’s first detailed account of what advocating for wildlife can mean for the truly dedicated describes a meeting in the Gardiner school during a “public comment” session on a proposal to increase the kill quota for “Montana Wolf Management Unit 313,” just outside the park, from two wolves to six.  Rick’s sympathies are clear, but he does give “equal time” to the other side.  A month or so later, the government agency announces that the quota would remain at two; the title of the chapter, “Saving Four Wolves.”

Another example of Rick’s introspective cast occurs when he has a nightmare while on a camping trip.  The experience leads him to ponder the nature of his fears, and he concludes that they’re primal and have been part of being human for eons:  “Our ancestors kept shooting, trapping, and poisoning any and all creatures that evoked the fight or flight response.  Kill the animal; kill the fear.”  (203)

Yet, it isn’t only the park’s wildlife that Rick and Mary try to protect.  Rick and another member of Gardiner’s Bear Creek Council joined advocates to tour the proposed site of a controversial gold mine.  While listening to the testimony of experts on the gold mining process, the author realizes that one person who also opposes mining in Yellowstone owns a wilderness outfitting business and is a trophy hunter whose kills decorate his workplace.  Can you say irony?

Moreover, there really was no force strong enough to monitor whether the mine would live up to its promises to the public.  Ultimately, the Interior Department ruled that the proposal would be put on hold for two years so that more time could be spent studying the impact of the mining proposal on areas near Yellowstone and on the park itself.  In other words, the powers that be opted for a short-term solution to a long-term problem.

* * * * *

A regular feature of the book is the use of a specific activity that leads the author to consider a broader issue.  For example, a leisurely hike sparks a discussion of the “trophic cascade theory,” which holds that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone in 1995, by reducing the elk population, enabled the park’s willows, aspens, and cottonwoods to recover.

When Rick and Mary spot a grizzly couple courting, Rick reflects on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s current effort to delist Yellowstone grizzlies from the protection afforded by the Endangered Species Act.  He points out that, when wolves were delisted from the same statute in 2011, the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho essentially became “free fire zones” for wolf hunters, and he fears that, if grizzlies lose those same protections, they would face a similar fate.

Rick and Mary’s first mountain bike ride of the season takes them near a group of pronghorn antelopes and their fawns, then segues into the history of the pronghorns in Yellowstone.  Not surprisingly, these animals also are in danger.  Their numbers are down from one thousand or so in the 1930s to four hundred and fifty today.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, Mary pulls a four-day volunteer stint driving tourists at Old Faithful.  Meanwhile, Rick, ensconced with a book manuscript in a room at the Old Faithful Inn, recalls how, a few summers earlier, he joined a group of tourists watching an eruption of the geyser.  The author muses about observers who became impatient with how long the process took, because they shortly had to be somewhere else to view another attraction.  Rick wonders, “When did this marvel of nature become just another stop along the vacation highway, a wonder to bag in our rush to the next must-see?” (136)

* * * * *

Rick also devotes an occasional chapter to the historical context of a current controversy.  For instance, in meditating on the role of the bison, he reviews the history of efforts to protect Yellowstone’s bison from poachers, who had been plundering herds almost from the creation of the national park in 1872.  Two decades later, Congress passed the Lacey Act, which prevented hunting, wounding, killing, or capturing wildlife in Yellowstone and became the model for protecting wildlife in all national parks.

My little brother can certainly turn a phrase.  Here’s an excerpt from his journal, when he and Mary went backpacking along the bottom of Yellowstone’s “grand canyon”:  “The clouds have unionized.  No longer separate little puffs, they have banded together, flexing billowing muscles, forming thick masses with battleship-gray bottoms and few breaks of blue.  They cover more than half the sky and drift slowly eastward, resisting the wind, demanding more time to block the sun.” (169)

* * * * *

Rick also does not shy from commenting on the impact of Yellowstone’s popularity on the park and its neighboring towns, including Gardiner.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, ten thousand visitors came to Yellowstone; in 2015, four million tourists arrived, in a park that’s designed to handle two and a half million annually.  Of course the money is good for residents of Gardiner and other nearby towns, but the tourist season puts a tremendous strain on local budgets.  For instance, the town of Gardiner has 850 year-round residents but hosts about 750,000 visitors each year.

The author points out that the National Park Service’s multi-year ad campaign, “Find Your Park,” was too successful; in fact, it’s a major factor in the park’s problem of overuse.  He offers a modest proposal, “Reserve Your Park,” as a way to limit visitors to the nation’s park system.  Basically, “Reserve Your Park” amounts to asking the Park Service to cap the number of both overnight campers and day-trippers, and, once reservations reach the limit, to accept no more.  Yet, everyone Rick shared this idea with pointed out that, while it might look good on paper, in practice it would arouse controversy and, ultimately, end in failure.

A fascinating chapter concerns the role of the grizzly in Yellowstone’s ecosystem.  Returning to the site of  a big male grizzly feeding on an elk carcass, Rick and Mary watch as the grizzly, who is loading up for his approaching hibernation and isn’t eager to share the carcass with interlopers, eventually comes around.  At that point, Rick imagines the same grizzly preparing for hibernation if the carcass had been brought down outside Yellowstone and, thus, beyond the protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act in the park.  And the twist:  he also recognizes that it’s people like him and his wife, watching grizzlies in a context where the animals are in no danger from humans, who actually help condition the bears to view humans as harmless, even if they’re packing heat.

* * * * *

Deep into Yellowstone is a fine book, illuminating the evolving interests of Rick and Mary  in their now permanent home environment, just outside the gates of Yellowstone. The seasonal organization of this volume stresses the year-round demands made upon the time and energy of local residents who care about the future of the park, its wildlife, and its resources.  As was the case in his first Yellowstone book, in treating controversies Rick strives for objectivity, and  succeeds much of the time.  If you liked In the Temple of Wolves,  you’ll certainly enjoy Deep into Yellowstone.

* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)







Posted in "In The Temple of Wolves", Books, Current Events, family history, Historical Reflection, memoir, Research, Retirement, Rick Lamplugh, Uncategorized, Wolves, Yellowstone National Park | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Georgia Visions: A Continuing Drama in at Least Six Acts, Part 2 (Adventures in Interdisciplinary Land, 10)

[NOTE:  This is the concluding part of a post derived from a talk I presented, on two occasions, to foreign students visiting my school, on the history of the state of Georgia. For Part I, go here.]

* * * * * 

Henry Grady (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

Henry Grady’s Vision

The defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War was traumatic for Georgia and the other southern states, and the period of Reconstruction that followed the war was considered a humiliation by most southern whites.  Military rule was imposed on the former Confederate states for varying periods of time (nearly six years in Georgia); and a series of amendments to the Federal Constitution abolished slavery, defined freed persons as citizens, and protected African Americans in the exercise of their civil rights.

During these years, several energetic young southerners developed a program, the “New South Creed,”  intended to give the region’s humiliated whites grounds for hope.  Perhaps the most effective prophet of a “New South” was a Georgian, Henry Grady, editor of the Atlanta Constitution.  The “New South” idea supported by Grady and others included  diversification of agriculture, to break the pre-Civil War “tyranny of cotton”; industrialization of the South, using outside capital but avoiding outside control; sectional reconciliation; and participation of African Americans in southern life on a “separate but equal,” or racially segregated (“Jim Crow”), basis.

By 1900, northerners and southerners were convinced that a “New South” had indeed arrived, but they were wrong.  The largely agricultural South entered the 20th century in the same position it had occupied earlier, an economic “colony” of the industrial North.

There had been some progress in crop diversification, but not much.  Economic conditions in the post-Civil War South led to the creation of systems like crop lien, tenant farming, sharecropping, and convict leasing, all of which bound both blacks and whites in a vicious cycle of indebtedness for nearly a century, with cotton still the main crop. Industry came to the South, but so too did outside control.  Moreover, the industries that arrived were extractive ones, producing only raw materials or involving just the early stages of manufacturing, with the finishing processes being done outside the region.

About the only aspect of Grady’s “New South” vision that worked well was his desire for sectional reconciliation and racial segregation.  For nearly another century, African Americans in Georgia and other southern states lived a life that was rigidly separated from, but decidedly unequal to, that of whites.  This segregation was approved by the United States Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which would be the law of the land for the next 58 years (until Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954).  A prominent spokesman for Southern blacks, Booker T. Washington, even used a speech in Atlanta in 1895 to acquiesce in “Jim Crow” social segregation in return for access to economic opportunity for African Americans.  And so, with segregation essentially taken off the table, the North and the South found much to admire in each other, joined hands, and marched into the sunshine of a reunited nation–for a time.

* * * * *

Tom Watson (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

Tom Watson’s Vision

Even as Henry Grady’s dream of a “New South” took hold in the minds of Georgians and other southerners, a competing vision was being developed by another Georgian, Thomas E. Watson.  Watson believed that the conservative Democrats who controlled Georgia after Reconstruction were only using Grady’s “New South” rhetoric to enrich themselves and to keep other Georgians mired in poverty.  Watson envisioned a Georgia peopled by simple, rural folk. His view, while anti-urban and anti-capitalist, was bi-racial, at least at first.  He became the leading spokesman for the forces of agricultural protest that eventually produced the Populist Party, whose vice-presidential candidate Watson became in 1896.

Gradually, however, because of a series of political defeats and the frustrations of thwarted ambition, Watson’s vision became distorted in bizarre and dangerous ways.  He turned against African Americans, Catholics, and Jews.  As powerful and appealing a speaker as Watson could be, his prejudices produced dire results.  He touched off a race riot in Atlanta in 1906 and urged the lynching of Jewish factory owner Leo Frank in 1915 for the alleged rape and murder of the “little factory girl,” Mary Phagan.  And Watson’s ideas, if not Watson himself, played a part in the revival of the virulently anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Semitic Ku Klux Klan atop Georgia’s Stone Mountain, also in 1915.

Tom Watson’s racial, religious, and ethnic prejudices helped shape—and warp—Georgia politics for the next half century, and his defense of rural Georgians against “corrupt” capitalists and the sinful city was engrafted onto the state’s political system in 1908, with the adoption of the “county unit system” for electing the governor.  Under this system, the eight most populous counties each had six unit votes; the next thirty largest counties had four votes each; the 121 smallest counties each received two votes; and the candidate receiving a plurality of popular votes got all of the unit votes in each county.

* * * * *

Governor Jimmy Carter (New Georgia Encyclopedia)

The “Sunbelt” Vision

During the first half of the 20th century, no single vision imparted any sense of unity to Georgia and the South.  It was a time of transition, when Grady’s creed for a “New South” and Watson’s vision of a rural paradise competed for dominance.  What finally emerged, thanks to the boll weevil, the Great Depression, World War II, the modern civil rights movement, and the energy crisis of the mid-1970s was a vision of Georgia as part of the so-called “Sun Belt,” a perception rather close to Grady’s “New South” but without the racial segregation.

After World War I, agriculture in Georgia continued slowly to diversify and manufacturing to develop.  In the early 1920s, the arrival of the boll weevil spelled disaster for Georgia’s cotton production.  By the mid-1920s, for the first time in the state’s history, industry produced manufactured goods worth more than the products of Georgia agriculture. By the time the rest of the nation began to suffer from the Great Depression in the 1930s, conditions already existed in Georgia and other southern states that led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to label the South as “the nation’s #1 economic problem.”  FDR’s New Deal proposals had as one goal reversal of the South’s economic problems, but the real turning point came during and after World War II.

The period between the world wars also saw the beginnings of the challenge to the system of racial segregation that dominated the social system in Georgia and the South.  Then, in March 1946, a federal court in New Orleans declared unconstitutional Georgia’s “white primary,” which had effectively disfranchised the state’s African American voters during Democratic primary elections that chose candidates for the state’s dominant political party.  Electoral reform would continue when later courts broke the rural domination of state politics by outlawing the county unit system and by requiring that election districts be drawn based on the principle of “one man, one vote.”

Even before World War II, federal courts had begun to attack segregation in education.  The climactic case was the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision mandating the integration of public schools.  This, plus the raft of civil rights laws of the 1960s and early 1970s, brought black Georgians, and their brothers and sisters elsewhere, into the mainstream of American life for the first time.

The vision proclaimed so movingly in August 1963 by one of the greatest Georgians, The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his “I Have a Dream” speech, slowly came to have the shadowy shape, and at least some of the substance, of reality, when, for example, Maynard Jackson was elected the first African American mayor of Atlanta in 1973.  And, two years earlier, in 1971, newly-elected Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, one of the racially moderate “New South Governors” of the era, could proclaim that “the time for racial discrimination is over.”

By the late 1970s, it seemed clear to many observers that Georgia was part of a “New South,” this one called the “Sun Belt,” the southern and southwestern rim of the United States, where racial peace and economic prosperity seemed to go hand in hand.  Yet, as was the case with the other “visions” we’ve examined, the “Sun Belt” vision also reveals a gap between perception and reality.

For example, studies consistently showed that the prosperity of the “Sun Belt” was unevenly distributed.  In 1985, for instance, only three of Georgia’s 159 counties had per capita incomes above the national average, and only eight others were above the state average.  Much of this “prosperity” was urban-based.  As one Georgia professor put it, “Without Atlanta, Georgia is poorer than Mississippi.”  This has given rise to the phenomenon of the “Two Georgias,” with the state divided economically between the Greater Atlanta region and everyplace else.  Capturing the Olympics for Atlanta in 1996 also had a tremendous impact, for better or worse, on the Greater Atlanta area, but it’s hard to see how the rest of the state benefited.

The Sunbelt (Wikipedia)

* * * * *

The visions we’ve examined have one thing in common:  They describe aspirations rather than reality.  In other words, they encompass what those who held to them hoped to achieve, not necessarily what they accomplished.  Of them all, only the  “Sun Belt vision” seems realistic enough actually to be achieved.  But will it be?  Even after all these years, the jury’s still out.


Numan V. Bartley, The New South, 1945-1980 (1995).

Kenneth Coleman, general editor, A History of Georgia (2nd ed., 1991).

______________, The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763-1789 (1958).

Paul M. Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking (1970).

George B. Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945 (1967)

C.Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 (1951).

________________, Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel (1938).


* * * * * *

For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)






Posted in American History, Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Georgia History, Henry Grady, Historical Reflection, History, History Teaching, Interdisciplinary Work, Martin Luther King, Southern (Georgia) History, Southern History, Sun Belt, Teaching, Tom Watson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments