New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-29 17:33Z by Steven

New Orleans After the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom by Justin A. Nystrom (review)

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
Volume 111, Number 4, Autumn 2013
pages 617-619
DOI: 10.1353/khs.2014.0023

Aaron Astor, Associate professor of History
Maryville College, Maryville, Tennessee

Nystrom, Justin A., New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010).

The narrative arc between the birth of Radical Reconstruction and its final death in Jim Crow is bookended by two events in the city of New Orleans. The infamous “Riot of 1866” showcased for the nation the unwillingness of defeated Confederates to concede any political power to the black masses of the South emerging from slavery. The massacre of black Republicans at the Mechanics’ Institute would play a key role in undermining Johnsonian Reconstruction in the congressional elections of that year. Thirty years later, a mixed-race New Orleanian named Homer Plessy would challenge the Louisiana Separate Car Act, only to have the United States Supreme Court enshrine the “separate but equal” doctrine for the nation at large. But between these tragic moments of racial oppression and humiliation was a remarkably complex, multifaceted, and highly contingent struggle between myriad ethnoracial, class, regional, and partisan forces that complicated any teleological understanding of the rise and fall of Reconstruction.

Justin A. Nystrom’s lucid and colorful account of New Orleans after the Civil War explores this remarkable and ongoing battle for power and dignity among the various forces converging on the streets and in the local and state legislative halls. Nystrom’s portrait of nineteenth-century New Orleans reveals the webs of kinship that seamlessly crossed the color line and lent the city caste system a distinctive three-class character—whites, black slaves, and mixed-race Afro-Creoles. The delicate balance of New Orleans society, further complicated by sizable white ethnic immigrant populations pouring into the city in the 1850s, would explode as early as April 1862 when the Union navy captured the city with hardly a fight.

Nystrom’s study follows the interconnected lives of southern white elites like Ezekiel John Ellis and Frederick Nash Ogden, Afro-Creoles like Charles St. Albin Sauvinet and Louise Drouet, white Creoles like Arthur Toledano and Aristee Louis Tissot, white and black “carpetbaggers” like Algernon Sydney Badger, Henry Clay Warmoth, and Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, and ex-slaves like Peter Joseph. The intersection of these colorfully named characters produced an entropic political culture with self-serving factions vying for power in the city, the state, and the region. Nystrom expends considerable effort detailing epic street clashes like the “Battle of Liberty Place” in 1874, when a new Democratic White League movement briefly wrested control of the city from its Republican Customs House–based leadership. Added to the paramilitary violence were competing Mardi Gras floats with explicitly political messages that inscribed new and competing racial discourses that undermined the legitimacy of the mixed-race political order. Nystrom’s analysis reveals a tumultuous era of intraparty factionalism that simultaneously complicated revisionist accounts of postwar Republicanism, while also showcasing the difficulty that “Redeemer” factions faced in shaping a white supremacist order long after 1877.

This is an important book for understanding postwar urban politics in the largest city in the South. It is deeply researched, splendidly written, and well contextualized within the larger historiography of Reconstruction. There are some limitations to the personality and kin-based methodology, however. The two infamous bookending moments—the 1866 riot and the Plessy case—ironically receive only cursory treatment in this book. Nystrom’s central characters were mostly bystanders to these events, which meant that they appeared only in the narrative shadows despite their national significance. Another problem, of course, is the exceptionalism of New Orleans itself. For several obvious reasons, New Orleans was (and is) simply atypical as a southern locale. As such, a study of the city is going to have limited implications for understanding the national drama of Reconstruction. Still, Nystrom manages to extrapolate from the complex and contingent history of New Orleans to make the convincing case that the racial politics of the post–Civil War South was much more unpredictable and contested than even post–Foner historians have appreciated…

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Cheerios revisits mixed-race family for Super Bowl spot

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-29 16:55Z by Steven

Cheerios revisits mixed-race family for Super Bowl spot


Ben Popken, Senior Staff Writer/Editor

For its first ever Super Bowl ad, Cheerios is telling racists to “stick a spoon in it.”

General Mills is portraying in its big game spot the same mixed-race family that drew so many hateful remarks on YouTube last May that the manufacturer had to disable comments on the video. The bigot backlash itself provoked a bigger backlash by Americans who supported the video. The clip ended up racking up over 5 million views.

In the new ad, a black father uses pieces of the cereal on the kitchen table to represent the members of the family and explain to his young bi-racial daughter Gracie how she’s getting a baby brother. Her white, pregnant mother looks on and makes a surprised face when the father assents after Gracie uses the cereal to bargain for a new puppy…

Read the entire article here.

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Even though they lived under Jim Crow, they thrived: A Community of Free People—The Winton Triangle

Posted in History, Live Events, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-29 16:44Z by Steven

Even though they lived under Jim Crow, they thrived: A Community of Free People—The Winton Triangle

Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
1901 Fort Place, Southeast
Washington, D.C., 20020
Saturday, 2014-02-01, 14:00-16:00 EST (Local Time)

Marvin T. Jones, Executive Director
Chowan Discovery Group

For over 260 years, the Winton Triangle’s mixed-race landowning community successfully navigated slavery, discrimination laws, the backlash from the Nat Turner Rebellion, the Civil War and Jim Crow. Winton Triangle native Marvin T. Jones explains in words, images and documents a very different history of the rural South.

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New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2014-01-29 15:04Z by Steven

New Orleans after the Civil War: Race, Politics, and a New Birth of Freedom

Johns Hopkins University Press
344 pages
Hardback ISBN: 0801894344, 9780801894343

Justin A. Nystrom, Assistant Professor of History
Loyola University, New Orleans, Louisiana

We often think of Reconstruction as an unfinished revolution. Justin A. Nystrom’s original study of the aftermath of emancipation in New Orleans takes a different perspective, arguing that the politics of the era were less of a binary struggle over political supremacy and morality than they were about a quest for stability in a world rendered uncertain and unfamiliar by the collapse of slavery.

Commercially vibrant and racially unique before the Civil War, New Orleans after secession and following Appomattox provides an especially interesting case study in political and social adjustment. Taking a generational view and using longitudinal studies of some of the major political players of the era, Nystrom asks fundamentally new questions about life in the post–Civil War South: Who would emerge as leaders in the prostrate but economically ambitious city? How would whites who differed over secession come together over postwar policy? Where would the mixed-race middle class and newly freed slaves fit in the new order? Nystrom follows not only the period’s broad contours and occasional bloody conflicts but also the coalition building and the often surprising liaisons that formed to address these and related issues. His unusual approach breaks free from the worn stereotypes of Reconstruction to explore the uncertainty, self-doubt, and moral complexity that haunted Southerners after the war.

This probing look at a generation of New Orleanians and how they redefined a society shattered by the Civil War engages historical actors on their own terms and makes real the human dimension of life during this difficult period in American history.

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New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Judaism, Media Archive, Religion, United States, Women on 2014-01-28 18:44Z by Steven

New Rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue ‘a Pioneer’

The Wall Street Journal

Sophia Hollander

Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl Is Daughter of a Korean Buddhist Immigrant and an American Jew

Growing up as the daughter of a Korean Buddhist immigrant and an American Jew in Tacoma, Wash., Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl said some family members always wondered: Could she ever be fully accepted as a Jew?

Any lingering doubts were eliminated last week when the congregation of Midtown’s historic Central Synagogue voted her to succeed Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, 71, when he retires later this year. Her appointment will take effect July 1.

Rabbi Buchdahl, who is 41, will become one of only a few women—and likely the only Asian-American—leading a major U.S. synagogue. Central Synagogue boasts 100 full-time employees and an endowment that exceeds $30 million.

“She really is a pioneer,” said Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, president of the Wexner Foundation, which develops Jewish leaders in North America and Israel. “She represents a new generation of women.” According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest rabbinical organization in North America, about 30% of Reform-movement rabbis are women.

Her appointment comes at a critical moment for American Judaism. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that the number of U.S. adults identifying as Jewish has dropped by half since the late 1950s. Fewer than a third of Jewish adults said they belonged to a synagogue, temple or other congregation…

…In addition to her unusual cultural heritage, Rabbi Buchdahl has been quick to blur other lines. According to the Central Conference of American Rabbis, she is one of only about a dozen people in the U.S. and Canada ordained as both a rabbi and a cantor

Read the entire article here.

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The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-28 07:42Z by Steven

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930 [Joseph Review]

MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States
Published online: 2014-01-26
DOI: 10.1093/melus/mlt079

Ralina L. Joseph, Associate Professor of Communication
University of Washington

The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930. Jolie A. Sheffer. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 2013. 248 pages. $72.00 cloth; $24.95 paper; $24.95 electronic.

Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century multiracial characters in US popular culture almost always have been dismissed by critics as tragic. They are the torn victims of race crossing whose inevitably dismal fates result from their race-infringing parents and are exacerbated by their own romantic adventures across racial lines. Mixed-race characters bear epithets such as the tragic mulatto, the half-caste, and the half-breed; their downfall is unchangeable presumably because of the incompatible white and minority bloods that flow within their veins. Stories about multiracial characters function in US culture as barometers of race relations. Tragic mixed-race tales illuminate the white nation’s pathological fear of the deepest and most permanent form of integration: miscegenation.

Jolie A. Sheffer warns that this is not the full story. In The Romance of Race: Incest, Miscegenation, and Multiculturalism in the United States, 1880-1930, Sheffer imagines mixed-race subjects in turn-of-the-twentieth-century literature and their women of color (often mixed-race) authors as not just the embodiment of tragedy but the active agents of resistance and change. Sheffer writes that while stories of miscegenation and incest, which she terms racial romances, serve the function of “reveal[ing] a history of exploitation of racialized…

Read or purchase the article here.

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Dark skin, blue eyes: Genes paint a picture of 7,000-year-old European

Posted in Articles, Europe, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-01-27 03:10Z by Steven

Dark skin, blue eyes: Genes paint a picture of 7,000-year-old European

NBC News

Alan Boyle, Science Editor

A 7,000-year-old man whose bones were left behind in a Spanish cave had the dark skin of an African, but the blue eyes of a Scandinavian. He was a hunter-gatherer who ate a low-starch diet and couldn’t digest milk well — which meshes with the lifestyle that predated the rise of agriculture. But his immune system was already starting to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Researchers found all this out not from medical records, or from a study of the man’s actual skin or eyes, but from an analysis of the DNA extracted from his tooth.

The study, published online Sunday by the journal Nature, lays out what’s said to be the first recovered genome of a European hunter-gatherer from a transitional time known as the Mesolithic Period, which lasted from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago. It’s a time when the hunter-gatherer lifestyle was starting to give way to a more settled existence, with farms, livestock and urban settlements.

The remains of the Mesolithic male, dubbed La Braña 1, were found in 2006 in the La Braña-Arintero cave complex in northwest Spain. In the Nature paper, the researchers describe how they isolated the ancient DNA, sequenced the genome and looked at key regions linked to physical traits — including lactose intolerance, starch digestion and immune response.

The biggest surprise was that the genes linked to skin pigmentation reflected African rather than modern European variations. That indicates that the man had dark skin, “although we cannot know the exact shade,” Carles Lalueza-Fox, a member of the research team from the Spanish National Research Council, said in a news release. At the same time, the man possessed the genetic variations that produce blue eyes in current Europeans…

Read the entire article here.

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“The performance was hands-down the best Choate performance I have ever seen.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2014-01-27 03:00Z by Steven

“The performance was hands-down the best Choate performance I have ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of white struggle stories, and a lot of black struggle stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mixed struggle story.” —Zemia Edmondson description of Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni’s one-woman performance, One Drop of Love.

Alexandra Brunjes, “Getting Race-y in the PMAC,” The News: The official student newspaper of Choate Rosemary Hall, Wallingford, Connecticut, January 25, 2014.

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Getting Race-y in the PMAC

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-01-26 10:11Z by Steven

Getting Race-y in the PMAC

The News: The official student newspaper of Choate Rosemary Hall
Wallingford, Connecticut
Saturday, 2014-01-25

Alexandra Brunjes ’16, News Staff Reporter

“How does our belief in ‘race’ affect our most intimate relationships?” This is the question that Ms. Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni sought to answer during her one-woman performance, One Drop of Love, last Friday night, January 17th, on the Paul Mellon Arts Center [(PMAC)] mainstage, employing her relationship with her father as the primary example.

Using a collection of images and voice recordings and the astonishing ability to seamlessly shift personas in order to represent members of her family, Ms. DiGiovanni told the story of her experience with race. 

Ms. DiGiovanni originally meant for One Drop of Love to be a documentary for her Masters of Fine Arts thesis at California State University. “I always knew I wanted to look at race,” she stated. “I wanted to figure out why race was so important in my family, and why it was getting in the way of my relationship with my dad. It took me a long time to realize that the entire reason for my show was to have that final confrontation with my dad.”

Celebrity Ben Affleck, a childhood friend, attended Ms. DiGiovanni’s first show. He then consulted with co-producers from Argo and friend Matt Damon. They ultimately decided to produce her show. She said about this development, “[The show] gained this new trajectory that I never had imagined.”

“This is the largest crowd I have ever performed for, as well as the youngest,” Ms. DiGiovanni said of her Choate performance. “At the end, the response was beautiful. I’m so glad that it can have an impact on people.”

“The performance was hands-down the best Choate performance I have ever seen. I’ve seen a lot of white struggle stories, and a lot of black struggle stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a mixed struggle story.” Zemia Edmondson ’16 described…

Read the entire review here.

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Undoing Racial Identification and Redoing Ethical Cultivation: Passing as a Performance of Identity and an Ethics of Self-Making

Posted in Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2014-01-26 09:59Z by Steven

Undoing Racial Identification and Redoing Ethical Cultivation: Passing as a Performance of Identity and an Ethics of Self-Making

Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York
Honors Thesis
Fall 2013
42 pages

Paige Meserve

Submitted to the Department of Religion

Paige Meserve uses contemporary affect theory and queer theory to explore how racial identities are performed (and taken apart) in novels from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.  Drawing on Foucault’s notion of ethics as a practice of self-cultivation, Paige reads racial passing as one way that African-American women negotiate a world that refuses to sustain and feed them but which they cannot simply leave. Paige shows how such strangely performed identities constitute an ethics of dis-identification. By its means, these women hope to create cross-temporal communities that go beyond fixed racial identities of white and black, and therefore also go beyond existing moral codes of right and wrong – all in favor of imagining new styles of living that are not complicit with a racist world.

The Black Woman’s very life depends on her being able to decipher the various sounds in the larger world, to hold in check the nightmare figures of terror, to fight for basic freedoms against the sadistic law enforcement agencies in her community, to resist the temptation to capitulate the demands of the status quo, to find meaning in the most despotic circumstances and to create something where nothing was before. Katie Cannon, Black Womanist Ethics


In The Female Complaint, Lauren Berlant defines normativity as a “felt condition of general belonging and an aspirational site of rest and recognition in and by a social world”(5). Her work raises intriguing questions regarding how subjects outside of the mainstream culture can negotiate their existence and find happiness in a cultural landscape that doesn’t offer them the terms for it. How do these minority subjects manage such an ambivalent, but necessary, attachment to a social world simply incapable of providing them the means to thrive?

Berlant in Cruel Optimism uses the phrase cruel optimism to discuss this compromising bind. Cruel optimism is “a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered to be impossible, sheer fantasy, or too possible, and toxic”(24). The subjects under consideration here are attached to creating a life for themselves in a terrain that makes it impossible. “Cruel optimism is the condition of maintaining an attachment to a significantly problematic object”(24). The optimistic attachment must be maintained to preserve the desire to keep on living; its cruelty, however, resides in the fact that the possibility of thriving in their cultural climate is severely limited.

José Muñoz describes a process he names disidentification as a way that a minority subject can work within the dominant culture while simultaneously critiquing it. In his work, Disidentifications, he refers to disidentification as “a hermeneutic, a process of production, a mode of performance”(25). To further outline what this process is, he writes: “Disidentification is, at its core, an ambivalent modality that cannot be conceptualized as a restrictive or “masterfully” fixed mode of identification”(28). In spaces where bodies and identifications are ungrounded and become scripts, the possibility emerges of discovering new ways of working with, inhabiting, or potentially abandoning the stunted cultural climate where identities serve more as a prison than a means to provide an affirming space for the self. Disidentification is “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship”(4). In reading his work, I want to further explore the potential of performance spaces as ways a minority subject can work with the broken pieces society offers them as terms of existence. It is crucial to find these spaces that can perhaps provide an alternative way to negotiate and interact with a social system that tends to foreclose possibility.

A way that people of color have historically attempted to manage a society that brutally represses them and eliminates all possible avenues for a palatable existence, is racial passing, the process in which a person of one race adopts the mask of another race. As I will demonstrate throughout this analysis, racial passing is one of these potential performance spaces that enables these subjects to work with the dominant culture that suppresses them in new and different ways. In her introduction of Passing and the Fictions of Identity, Elaine K. Ginsberg writes: “passing is about identities: their creation or imposition, their adoption or rejection, their accompanying rewards or penalties. Passing is also about the boundaries established between identity categories and about the individual and cultural anxieties induced by boundary crossing.” She posits that the act of passing “interrogates the ontology of identity categories and their construction”(4). If passing treats race as a performance, then categories of race are destabilized and become an insufficient way to signify identity. Ginsberg questions: “when “race is no longer visible, it is no longer intelligible: if “white” can be “black”, what is white?”(8) These instances that destabilize identity demand different ways of understanding the category. I see passing as a site rich with possibilities that calls for further examination of its complexity and of its new potentialities…

Read the entire paper here.

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