All posts filed under: Historic Preservation

Posts about places that matter

Be a good boy…and follow your mother’s advice

Pop quiz: Who said the following? She’s a ‘nasty woman.” A “crazed, crying lowlife.” A “dog” who has the “face of a pig.” “Low I.Q.” She is “ugly both inside and out!” A “monster!” Okay, enough already. I don’t even have to tell you who said all those things. You’ve no doubt guessed correctly. Sexism in America, like our country’s racism, never went away. But it also never had such a vocal champion in the Oval Office. For centuries, women have taken abuse from men. For much of that time they had few rights and legal remedies to help battle oppression. Sexism and abuse continues, as we see all too well in the actions of the current president, but today women have more rights, more ways to combat mistreatment, and a power that is already being seen across the country. Winning the right to vote in 1920 gave women the opportunity to play a significant role in addressing sexism, and they are taking advantage of that power to push against one of today’s chief threats …

Recovered songs, recovered stories

Folk songs often bring us to the intersection of place, history, and memory. In certain cases, digging into those songs gives us a chance to recover the true stories, long-hidden, from our past, bringing a reckoning with the history that did happen and a reimagining for our collective future. Recently, The Bitter Southerner posted a thoughtful article which examines how the popular folk tune Swannanoa Tunnel was taken from the wrongfully convicted black community in Western North Carolina. Forced to build the railroad tunnel as convict labor during the Jim Crow era, those convicts originally wrote the tune in the “hammer song” tradition of John Henry. Somebody Died, Babe: A Musical Cover-up of Racism, Violence, and Greed shows how the song was reshaped and romanticized into an English-based folk tune in the 1920s – 1960s to appeal to white audiences. As the site notes, “Beneath the popular folk song…and beneath the railroad tracks that run through Western North Carolina, is a story of blood, greed, and obfuscation. As our nation reckons with systematic racial violence, …

Touro Synagogue

Let’s take a road trip to help understand the history behind religious liberty

In following coverage of the fight over the Supreme Court*, don’t worry if you have become confused about the concept of religious liberty. Those making the most noise either do not understand — or do not want to understand — this fundamental First Amendment right enshrined in the Constitution. People who should know better often sow confusion around the history and meaning of “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Before we go all 2020 and take a virtual road trip to visit the places that help us see why the religious persecution faced by earlier generations led to this all-important amendment, let’s begin with a quick summary of why religious liberty is on the radar screen today. Recently two justices on the Supreme Court couldn’t pass up the chance to comment as they joined the court’s unanimous decision not to hear the appeal of Kim Davis, a Kentucky public official who refused to issue marriage licenses because of her personal religious views against same-sex unions. Justices …

Let’s stop celebrating a past that never existed. Instead, let’s understand and honor the one that did.

I first stood at Jamestown as a history-enthralled 11-year-old. The picture of the 17th century ruin of the church tower, abutted to the 1907 Memorial Church, is seared in my mind. I also remember the water lapping at the nearby shore, serving as a reminder that the people at Jamestown had the most tenuous of toeholds on this continent in those early years. While I didn’t know it at the time, the narratives of life in early 17th century Virginia — told by the guides, the plaques that lined the walls of the 1907 church, and the books I devoured — were incomplete and sometimes egregiously false. White Christian Europeans were the focus. If they were mentioned at all, Native Americans, along with the enslaved African Americans who began arriving against their will at Jamestown in 1619, were small, dependent actors; impediments, if you will, to the greater story of the colonists and settlers and the shaping of what it meant to be an “American.” Those Europeans were not home. They were the outsiders. Yet …

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Carter!

President Jimmy Carter turned 96 years old today, and that’s worth a celebration! It also brings back some personal memories. The 1976 campaign, when former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter took on the incumbent Gerald Ford, was the first time I was eligible to vote for president. A few weeks before Election Day, I was in Philadelphia as a young college student studying history and historic preservation, attending the National Trust Annual Preservation Conference — the first of 41 I attended over my career. Philadelphia in 1976 moved me. I loved exploring a real city, a gritty city at the time, with my friends and classmates. It was so different than Murfreesboro or even Nashville. We ate food that had never before passed my Southern lips and heard strange accents that sounded foreign to my ears. I was able to see and touch Independence Hall and Carpenters Hall, iconic places that I had explored only in books as my interest in the past expanded and deepened. Being in the room where the delegates debated concepts such …

Rest in Peace, John Lewis

America just lost one of its most clear-eyed, moral leaders. John Lewis — civil rights hero on the front lines from lunch-counter desegregation in Nashville to Freedom Rides through a hostile South, the last remaining speaker from the August 1963 March on Washington, U.S. Congressman for 34 years, an activist to the end, and conscience for a nation — passed away Friday night after a six-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Representative Lewis was a hero to many because in this age of nonstop blathering nonsense, he spoke plainly about the hope for an America that — as Langston Hughes wrote — is the America that the dreamers dreamed. And he not only spoke, but he walked the talk, most famously when his skull was cracked more than fifty years ago while trying to walk across an Alabama bridge working for justice.  There are many wonderful tributes to John Lewis pouring in. I recommend the statement of President Obama, who — when given a ticket to his history-making inauguration as the nation’s first Black American president …

Where the journey begins

Everyone has an origin story. Some carry a soul-stirring strength that extends across time and space. They may be so powerful that they aid in protecting the setting, preserving the very places where the story originates. While watching a repeat of the Ken Burns film The National Parks: America’s Best Idea on my local PBS station, I am reminded of how many of our parks include mountains, lakes, and meadows that are part of the origin story for Native Americans. Places that have deep meaning for the soul. Sacred places. Other origin stories evolve, as the nation, group, or individual comes to a fuller understanding of who and what they are. As is appropriate for a nation built on the shared work of the imagination, the complex American origin story continues to unfold, especially during this era of turmoil and change. “All of us tell stories about ourselves,” write Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback in the Harvard Business Review. “Stories define us. To know someone well is to know her story — the experiences that …

Places and perspectives

Are you afraid? It was an era when those protesting for civil rights had moved from nonviolent techniques to more confrontational stances, and the nightly news carried stories and photos of clashes in cities across the country between the police and protesters. The tribal nature of our communities was coming into focus for everyone to see. While we lived on Main Street, our neighborhood was mixed both economically and racially. And here I was, playing pickup basketball on a local court, when a player on the opposing team asked me that question. He wanted me to acknowledge that I was the only person scuffling around on the asphalt, shooting at hoops with torn nets and battered backboards, who was not African American. The question insinuated that I should feel out of place and uncomfortable and was followed by another: Don’t you feel scared? Playing on the local courts as a young teenager with whatever group of neighborhood kids came along was just what I did. “No,” I replied. I knew most of these guys, and …

Grant

Hope, redemption, and U.S. Grant

Last evening the History Channel began a three-part mini-series entitled Grant. The series* is based on the Ron Chernow magnificent biography of the same name. I decided to repost my 2018 review of Chernow’s work here to provide readers with some background along with encouragement to watch the mini-series. I was thinking of the themes of hope and redemption and how much impact they can have on our lives as I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s new biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  Chernow is one of the few historians who, through deep scholarship and powerful writing, can drive the country toward a full reappraisal of a historical figure’s life and impact.  David McCullough’s works on Truman and John Adams come immediately to mind as examples of this type of national reassessment, but Chernow has also worked his magic in the past with Alexander Hamilton and George Washington. He does so again with this biography of Grant. The historical stereotype of U.S. Grant — especially if you grew up in the South — is of a failed …

Remembering the Uncounted

Today we pause to honor and mourn the military personnel who have given the last full measure of devotion for our country. As we fight a worldwide pandemic on this particular Memorial Day, we would do well to recognize the global identities of those American service men and women we honor. Let us remember the more than 57,000 Filipino soldiers who died fighting as members of the U.S. Army from 1941-1945. We should add our gratitude for the 23 members of the Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, a segregated Hispanic unit made up primarily of Puerto Ricans, who were killed in World War II while participating in the battles of Naples-Fogis, Rome-Arno, central Europe and Rhineland. And we should never forget the more than 600 soldiers who died while serving in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team — the most decorated unit for its size in U.S. military history and almost entirely composed of second-generation American soldiers of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) — fighting valiantly in Europe against the Axis powers although many had families confined to internment …