A New Freedom Summer and Beyond Reading List

After a long hiatus, I had to return to what I’ve often called “my poor neglected blog.” This is in direct response to the events of February-June 2020. In these months, Americans have learned of people who lived relatively ordinary lives who were loved within their families and communities; but, whom considerable parts of America and the world had never heard of: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, David McAtee. The list is long when we look before early 2020. These people’s tragic deaths come in an era of a vast majority of people having video capabilities in their pockets due to the advances made in cell phone technology. Social media, available in those same cell phones, allows people to spread the news around the world. This November marks eight years that I discovered one of my young cousins had been murdered in Florida in a situation that did not involve the police; but, still involved white supremacy. As a Black person, the repetitive nature of these recent killings has made me think of those who read newspapers in the late 1800s-early 1900s and read routinely of lynchings. As a historian, I hear echoes of the voices of the past in the protests of today. Those voices, including the anguish of families and victims themselves, whisper as loudly as leaves crunching beneath our feet in the winter.


What to do? I have watched videos and had conversations with family, friends, and colleagues. However, it is social media where much discussion happens, which I have observed or participated in. Social media can be a place of negativity; but it can also be a place exposing what people know, do not know, want to know, and most importantly—need to know. Thus, like the Ferguson Syllabus developed after the murder of Mike Brown and the #Charlestonsyllabus developed after the murder of the worshipers at Mother Emanuel AME Zion Church, I feel it important to share a list of sources for people of all backgrounds who are interested in the struggles, successes, failures of Black people to be treated with dignity and humanity.


This is in no way intended to be an exhaustive list of every source every written or crafted about the experience of Africans and their descendants (of which I am one) in the United States of America. It does not touch upon the experiences of Africans and their descendants in most of the world including the continent of Africa. However, I hope this will provide context, stories, and provoke discussion among family, friends, and strangers about the experiences of those in the past and how we all have been shaped by them in our present. It is up to us to take these events and the personalities of the past to create a different, brighter future. It is also up to us to decide to cast aside those things and not be perplexed when those of us who know: will say: “No, that’s not true/right.”

The title for this post is inspired from rising temperatures across the United States at this moment and looking back to Freedom Summer when white Northerners came to join Black Southerners in Mississippi register people in the south. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, scroll below and you’ll find sources for that and more!



Daina Ramey Berry, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Daina Ramey Berry and Kali Nicole Gross, A Black Women’s History of the United States

Daina Ramey Berry and Leslie M. Harris, editors, Sexuality and Slavery: Reclaiming Intimate Histories in the Americas

Andrew Billingsley, Yearning to Breathe Free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and His Families

David W. Blight, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom

The Church in the Southern Black Community https://docsouth.unc.edu/church/

Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery https://www.daacs.org/

Clifton Ellis and Rebecca Ginsburg, editors, Cabin, Quarters, Plantation: Architecture and Landscapes of North American Slavery

John Hope Franklin and Evelyn Higginbotham, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 9th edition

John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation

James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, In Hope of Liberty: Culture, Community, and Protest among Northern Free Blacks, 1700-1860

Kate Clifford Larson, Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman Portrait of an American Hero

Ned and Constance Sublette, The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry

Manisha Sinha, The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition

John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery

Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I A Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (Revised Edition)


Colonial period (1600-1783):


The Book of Negroes available online at https://novascotia.ca/archives/Africanns/BN.asp

Erica A. Dunbar, Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge [for teens/adults]

Erica A. Dunbar, Never Caught, the Story of Ona Judge: George and Martha Washington’s Courageous Slave Who Dared to Run Away [young readers]

Annette Gordon-Reed, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia

Philip D. Morgan, Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Lowcountry

Sowande Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage

Simon Schama, Rough Crossings: Britain, The Slaves, and the American Revolution

Eric Robert Taylor, If We Must Die: Shipboard Insurrections in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade

Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from 1670 through the Stono Rebellion

A New Nation (1783-1830):


Ira Berlin, Slaves Without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South

Matthew Clavin, Aiming for Pensacola: Fugitive Slaves on the Atlantic and Southern Frontiers

Digital Doorway at Montpelier https://digitaldoorway.montpelier.org/

Digital Library on American Slavery https://library.uncg.edu/slavery/

Douglas R. Egerton, Death or Liberty: African Americans and Revolutionary America

Douglas R. Egerton, He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey

Douglas R. Egerton, Gabriel’s Rebellion: The Virginia Slave Conspiracies of 1800 and 1802

Barbara J. Heath, Hidden Lives: The Archaeology of Slave Life at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest

The Hermitage-Slavery https://thehermitage.com/learn/mansion-grounds/slavery/

Tera W. Hunter, Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century

Tiya Miles, The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story

Michael Tadman, Speculators And Slaves: Masters, Traders, And Slaves In The Old South

Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia: 1772-1832

Elizabeth Dowling Taylor, A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons


The Expansion of Slavery and Resistance to It (1830-1860):


1853 Richmond and Its Slave Market http://dsl.richmond.edu/richmond3d/

Allen Austin, Origins of the Dred Scott Case: Jacksonian Jurisprudence and the Supreme Court, 1837–1857

Ira Berlin and Barbara J. Fields, editors Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War

Richard J.M. Blackett, The Captive’s Quest for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves, the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, and the Politics of Slavery

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938 available online at https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/

Glenn David Brasher, The Peninsula Campaign & the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans & the Fight for Freedom

Alfred L. Brophy, University, Court, and Slave: Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War

Drew Gilpin Faust, The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830–1860

Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad

Mary E. Frederickson and Delores M. Walters, editors, Gendered Resistance: Women, Slavery, and the Legacy of Margaret Garner

Sydney Howard Gay, Record of Fugitives https://exhibitions.library.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/fugitives

Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household

Zora Neale Hurston, Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”

Martha S. Jones, Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America

Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South

Walter Johnson, Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market

Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams

Anthony E. Kaye, Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South

Cheryl LaRoche, Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance

Gerda Lerner, The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition

Patricia Phillips Marshall and Jo Ramsay Leimenstoll, Thomas Day: Master Craftsman and Free Man of Color

Maurie D. McInnis, Slaves Waiting for Sale: Abolitionist Art and the American Slave Trade

Amrita Myers, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston

North American Slave Narratives available online at https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/

National Park Service, Network to Freedom, Fighting for Freedom: Lewis Hayden and the Underground Railroad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xuk0obth4Qs

Omar Ibn Said Collection, the only known surviving Muslim American Slave Autobiography https://www.loc.gov/item/prn-19-004/only-known-surviving-muslim-american-slave-autobiography-goes-online-at-the-library-of-congress/2019-01-15/

Todd L. Savitt, Medicine and Slavery: The Diseases and Health Care of Blacks in Antebellum Virginia

Marie Jenkins Schwartz, Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South

William Still, The Underground Railroad, available online at https://books.google.com/books?id=KD9LAAAAYAAJ&newbks=1&newbks_redir=0&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Hank Trent, The Secret Life of Bacon Tait, a White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color


The American Civil War Era (1860-1865):


Stephen V. Ash, The Black Experience in the Civil War South

Linda Barnickel, Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory

David S. Cecelski, The Fire of Freedom: Abraham Galloway & The Slaves’ Civil War

Charles B. Dew, Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissoners and the Causes of the Civil War

William A. Dobak, Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Coored Troops, 1862-1867, https://history.army.mil/html/books/030/30-24/CMH_Pub_30-24.pdf

Jim Downs, Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering during the Civil War and Reconstruction

Douglas R. Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America

Eric Foner, Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

Barbara Gannon, The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic

Joseph T. Glatthaar, Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers

Thavolia Glymph, The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment available online at https://archive.org/details/armylifeinblackr00higg_0

Kevin Levin, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

Abraham Lincoln, The Emancipation Proclamation available online at https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured-documents/emancipation-proclamation#:~:text=President%20Abraham%20Lincoln%20issued%20the,and%20henceforward%20shall%20be%20free.%22

William A. Link, Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia

Jaime Martinez, Confederate Slave Impressment in the Upper South

W. Caleb McDaniel, The Problem of Democracy in the Age of Slavery: Garrisonian Abolitionists and Transatlantic Reform

Kelly D. Mezurek, For Their Own Cause:  The 27th United States Colored Troops

James M. Paradis, Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War

Edwin S. Redkey, A Grand Army of Black Men: Letters from African-American Soldiers in the Union Army, 1861-1865

Richard M. Reid, Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era

Amy Murrell Taylor, Embattled Freedom: Journeys Through the Civil War’s Slave Refugee Camps

Barbara Tomblin, Bluejackets and Contrabands: African Americans and the Union Navy

Visualizing Emancipation http://dsl.richmond.edu/emancipation/

Jonathan W. White, Emancipation, the Union Army, and the Reelection of Abraham Lincoln (Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War)


Reconstruction and Redemption (1861-1896):


Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898

Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (1892 edition) https://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/dougl92/menu.html

W.E.B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction in America

Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877

Hilary Green, Educational Reconstruction: African American Schools In The Urban South, 1865-1890

Matthew Harper, The End of Days: African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation

Caroline E. Janney, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation

Leon Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery

Gerard N. Magliocca, American Founding Son: John Bingham and the Invention of the Fourteenth Amendment

Heather Andrea Williams, Help Me Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery

Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery available online at http://informationwanted.org/


Jim Crow and the Early Civil Rights Movement: (1896-1950):


1921 Tulsa Race Massacre https://www.tulsahistory.org/exhibit/1921-tulsa-race-massacre/?fbclid=IwAR3Ez3L1BKdUk0jtiE_w4c05i8s22_neVvobl7AExDZYcPOe_zWh3cPxi9U

Ann Field Alexander, Race Man: The Rise and Fall of the “Fighting Editor,” John Mitchell Jr.

A’Lelia Bundles, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker

Crystal Feimster, Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching

Tracey A. Fitzgerald, The National Council of Negro Women and the Feminist Movement, 1935–1975

Shennette Garrett-Scott, Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore, Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950

Dorothy Height, Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir.

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Righteous Discontent: The Women’s Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920

Nathan Huggins, Harlem Renaissance

Blair Murphy Kelley, Right to Ride: Streetcar Boycotts and African American Citizenship in the Era of Plessy v. Ferguson

Leon Litwack, Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the Age of Jim Crow

Tim Madigan, The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=5/39.1/-94.58

Redlining Richmond http://dsl.richmond.edu/holc/pages/home

Mark Roman Schultz, The Rural Face of White Supremacy

John Szwed, Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth

Douglas Smith, Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow

Ida B. Wells, Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases available online at https://archive.org/details/southernhorrors14975gut

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, The Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged Causes of Lynching in the United States available online at https://archive.org/details/theredrecord14977gut

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Mob Rule in New Orleans: Robert Charles and His Fight to Death, the Story of  His life, Burning Human Beings Alive, Other Lynching Statistics available online at https://archive.org/details/mobruleinneworle14976gut

Kidada Williams, They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I

C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow


The Televised Civil Rights Movement and Massive Resistance (1950-1968):


Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice

James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

Earnest N. Bracey, Fannie Lou Hamer: The Life of a Civil Rights Icon

J. Michael Butler, Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida 1960-1980

Digital SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] Gateway https://snccdigital.org/

Margaret Edds, e Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow

Freedom Riders (documentary) https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomriders/

Freedom Summer (documentary) https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

Lance Hill, The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement

Hasan Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt

Ben Keppel, Brown v. Board and the Transformation of American Culture

Coretta Scott King, Rev. Dr. Barabara Reynolds, Coretta: My Life, My Love, My Legacy

Martin Luther King, Jr., Why We Can’t Wait

Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail available online at https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

Phyl Newbeck, Virginia Hasn’t Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Mildred Loving

Renewing Inequality http://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/renewal/#view=0/0/1&viz=cartogram

Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women who Helped Launch Our Nation Into Space

Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975

Mary Stanton, From Selma to Sorrow: The Life and Death of Viola Liuzzo

Akinyele Umoja, We Will Shoot Back Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement

Malcolm X and Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X


The Aftermath of the Televised Civil Rights Movement and Massive Resistance (1968-1990):

Curtis J. Austin, Up Against the Wall: Violence in the Making and Unmaking of the Black Panther Party

Stokley Carmichael, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael

Sewell Chan, “Marsha P. Johnson: A transgender pioneer and activist who was a fixture of Greenwich Village street life”

Angela Davis, If They Come in the Morning…:Voices of Resistance

Angela Davis, Angela Davis: An Autobiography

Ashley D. Farmer, Remaking Black Power: How Black Women Transformed an Era

Happy Birthday, Marsha! (short documentary streaming through Amazon) http://www.happybirthdaymarsha.com/

Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South

Kevin Mumford, Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Pauli Murray, Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist, Feminist, Lawyer, Priest and Poet

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

William L. Van Deburg, New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 1965-1975


How We Remember and Commemorate (or fail to):

 Emmanuel Dabney, Beth Parnicza, Kevin Levin, “Interpreting Race, Slavery, and United States Colored Troops at Civil War Battlefields,” Civil War History, Volume 62, Issue 2, June 2016, pages 131-148.

Jennifer Eichstedt and Stephen Small, Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums

Kristin Gallas and James DeWolf Perry, editors, Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites

James O. and Lois E. Horton, Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory

Antoinette T. Jackson, Speaking for the Enslaved: Heritage Interpretation at Antebellum Plantation Sites

Ethan J. Kytle and Blain Roberts, Denmark Vesey’s Garden: Slavery and Memory in the Cradle of the Confederacy

Tiya Miles, Haunted South: Dark Tourism and Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era

Paul A. Shackel, Memory in Black and White: Race, Commemoration, and the Post-Bellum Landscape

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

Stephanie E. Yuhl, A Golden Haze of Memory: The Making of Historic Charleston




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Preservation of Black History Sites

In October, on the same weekend of the devastation brought by Hurricane Matthew, I was at the Association for the Study of African-American Life & History conference held in Richmond. It was a great program organized by many and overseen by Dr. Evelyn Higginbottham and Sylvia Cyrus.

As a part of my official duties, I was asked to sit on a panel discussing the preservation of historic sites that relate to people of African descent. Of course, many places do. The NPS presenters focused on what it is that the agency does to help in the preservation of these places.

Before we spoke, John W. Franklin (son of the well-known John Hope Franklin) and former NPS director Robert “Bob” Stanton spoke. To catch us all, you can watch online.

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“Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse Into The Life of Judah the Enslaved Cook.”

National Park Service Ranger Shannon Moeck of Belle Grove and Cedar Creek National Historical Park (and admittedly a friend) has taken some time to work with Kristen Laise, executive director of Belle Grove Plantation to put together a program Shannon titled “Kneading in Silence: A Glimpse Into The Life of Judah the Enslaved Cook.” She did the program on July 30, August 6, August 13, August 20, September 3, September 10, September 17, and September 24. I finally had the time to attend on September 24th.

Shannon was thinking deeply on this subject as she told the crowd of 52 visitors that she included “kneading” because of the work that Judah performed as a cook at Belle Grove Plantation and she included “silence” because of the lack of documentary evidence contemporary to Judah’s life about her. Furthermore “silence” was included because later generations have too often ignored the experiences of those who lived in slavery.

With that context, Shannon began populating the plantation, noting the owner, Isaac Hite had married Nelly Madison (sister of the President) and that the big house at Belle Grove was finished in 1797 and that Hite remarried after Nelly’s death to Ann Maury. Shannon read aloud an August 25, 1785 letter in which James Madison, Senior (father of the President) conveyed 15 slaves to Isaac Hite, Jr. A portion of the letter helps to illustrate the perpetuation of slavery indefinitely as Madison, Senior wrote in part, “To have and to hold the said 15 slaves together with such of their increase as may have happened since the last day of March one thousand seven hundred and eighty two, and all their future increase to the said Isaac Hite Jr. and his heirs forever.”  Just to clarify “increase” means children and “future increase” are the children of the 15 slaves as well and those children’s children and the subsequent generations. All of which Shannon connected back to the 1662 Virginia statute that the condition of the child’s is dependent on that of the mother. So the Hite’s plantation grew from those slaves that Hite, Jr. inherited from his father as well as those conveyed to Hite, Jr. by his father-in-law to the natural reproduction of the enslaved community and also purchasing. Eventually there were some 276 enslaved people at Belle Grove between 1783 and 1851.


NPS Ranger Shannon Moeck in the basement kitchen.

Shannon asked visitors to consider just the types of work that the enslaved domestic servant staff would have performed at Belle Grove and how we really in the 21st century don’t think often about this work: from making candles to use to see with after dark; to making soap for a variety of tasks; to doing laundry for multiple days instead of a couple of hours with machines to wash and dry.

Still, Shannon notably said that this program would likely cause more questions than answers based on the paucity of source material. It was not, as she noted, a program about slavery everywhere and across all space (time and geography). It wasn’t even a program fully about the life of those enslaved by the Hite family at Belle Grove. It was instead a “glimpse” (again because of the lack of materials) into the life and work of one person: Judah.

Judah was owned by the Bowman family from her birth in 1794. She was purchased by Isaac Hite, Jr. from his cousin, Abraham Bowman about 1816 along with her two children. She served as the cook until her death in 1836. While at Belle Grove, with an unknown man (or possibly men) Judah had ten more children. Because of the lack of information from Judah’s own hand or that even of her children, Shannon passed around small cards with the names of Judah’s children and when they were born. The visitors read the names and birthdates aloud to those gathered as Shannon attempted to “give some voice” to those who had been silenced for too long.

For all those children, only daughter Maria (born February 15, 1825) has a group of children that the documentary evidence sheds light on. Shannon again had visitors read aloud the names of Maria’s children: Emelia (b. Sept. 4, 1844) Amanda (b. Jan. 28, 1847) Willis (b. Aug, 31, 1848), and Ann Eliza (b. Jan. 25, 1850). Shannon asked the audience: “What happened to the other children’s children? Did they have children? Who are the father/fathers of Maria’s?”

While we were in the kitchen underneath the house, Shannon asked us to take a moment and imagine. Imagine the sounds Judah heard from the parlor upstairs while the Hites, their children, and guests would gather within this beautifully decorated and appointed room with carved Corinthian pilasters and carpeted floors. Imagine the heat and relative darkness from this kitchen. Imagine when Judah was pregnant and was lifting pots and pans or cutting up vegetables. She pondered aloud in a way that forced the audience to think too: “How does Judah care for her children?” “Where did Judah live? In this room? In a quarter nearby?”

Weeks before her first program, Shannon asked me how she could better help to showcase the skills of Judah in cooking when there isn’t a lot of evidence from the Hites about their meals on a regular basis. I suggested that she employ a tactic that I have used: read a recipe from a historic cookbook that is tied to the family.

Shannon indeed looked into the Hite family’s records and there was a historic cookbook from which Shannon read a recipe.

Shannon read from one of the pieces of evidence about Judah’s life from Ann Hite, the second mistress of Belle Grove. She wrote to a friend of hers in 1836 about Judah’s death and how awful it was for Judah’s children, the last one, Jonathan was just five weeks old at the time of Judah’s death. She lamented too that she had lost Judah which was an “inconvenience” because of course, Judah had provided many meals for the Hites in their elaborate dining room.

Shannon asked us to consider what “legacy” means to us. She contrasted that with the Hites’ legacy inclusive of furniture, land, silver, a large house, children, and slaves. What then was Judah’s legacy? In large part we don’t know because we don’t have enough information about Judah’s children: unlike that of the Hites. Judah didn’t live to see any of Maria’s children but she knew what all enslaved parents knew: the condition of their children and future generations followed that of the mother. So Judah died and left twelve children as the personal property of the Hite family. She may have had plenty of hope that slavery would end but in 1836, she had no realistic idea of when or if that would ever happen.


Belle Grove Plantation’s big house.

Several visitors asked good questions at the conclusion of the program and Kristen Laise and Shannon asked people to spread the word that Belle Grove is trying to do to undercover the history of any person who was enslaved at Belle Grove. With Belle Grove now under the leadership of Kristen and the Belle Grove & Cedar Creek National Historical Park, I believe that research will continue and I hope that anyone out there who has information (written or good oral history) will come forward to continue to flesh out the stories of those who could not and did not leave a written record of their life in bondage.

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Reconstruction at the Civil War Institute 2016

I am soon onward and upward to the Civil War Institute’s annual conference. This is my second time going to the college for it (though my third year involved with the Institute’s annual conference). I always look forward to meeting new folks, seeing familiar faces, and catching up with people who have a mutual interest in this period of American history.

I remember back in 2013 at the Institute’s Future of Civil War History conference, Peter Carmichael, the institute’s director, approached me and several others asking if we though a conference dedicated to Reconstruction would be successful. I said yes. I’m not sure he was sure; but, I also know he was committed to going through with it. I said then, I’d be willing to help however I could.

The participants on the schedule are going to touch on a variety of subjects that include and go beyond the long traditional period of 1865-1877. I look forward to learning more from those in attendance.

I hope that everyone comes with good questions (well, that’s probably a given); but just as important leaves with more questions and curiosity to find answers.

I am on a panel titled “Finding Reconstruction at Historical Sites.” The panelists will tackle how historic sites are or could interpret the complexity of Reconstruction.


Chimborazo Hospital, 1865. “What is that doing on this post,” you ask? Well, soon you’ll hear. Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress

I know that some of the CWI staff thought that there would be no interest in this topic. For better and for worse (not or), we’ve seen that this nation continues to debate the repercussions of the Civil War, race, and the legacy of the laws created in the aftermath of April 1865.

You can check out my pre-conference interview here

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The Hemings Family Tour

I recently had the opportunity to go on the Hemings Family tour at Monticello. A group of 14 people including myself attended this program, which our guide rightfully noted is “probably the most famous enslaved family in American history.”

The tour began on the west side of Jefferson’s home before moving on to the south terrace. There we were able to take in the view where importantly, our guide, Mr. Bill Bergen noted that most of Jefferson’s enslaved laborers were not members of the Hemings family nor worked in and around the house. The majority of those slaves worked in the fields planting predominately grain crops in Jefferson’s years as a Federal public servant, including his years as President and in his retirement from public life. He pointed out the various farms that could be seen from our vantage point, which looked down over this area. One certainly can’t help but think of Jefferson looking over this same space to attempt to monitor the field hands.

View of the agricultural fields at Monticello where most of Jefferson's slaves planted, tended, and harvested his crops. Photo by author.

View looking towards the agricultural fields at Monticello where most of Jefferson’s slaves planted, tended, and harvested his crops. Photo by author.

Quickly Bergen returned to the topic of this tour: the Hemings family. He made clear that the Hemings are a tough subject for many people. As he said “We will deal with some tough subjects but they are important to understanding the Hemings’ and Jefferson.” On this tour we entered the house the way the Hemings (and other enslaved domestic servants) would have, not from the grand entrance on the east side of the building.

Once underneath the entrance hall in the cellar, we were given a piece of paper with the Hemings family tree starting with the matriarch, Elizabeth “Betty” Hemings (1735-1807). After giving a small history of her, Bill pointed out the “Crossroads” exhibit which features cutouts of Martha Jefferson Randolph (Jefferson’s eldest daughter and longest living child) but also members of the Hemings family: Burwell Colbert, a butler; Priscilla Hemmings, the woman who provided a great amount of child care for the Randolph children; Betty Brown, who was a seamstress and lady’s maid; and Harriet Hemings, a girl who also was a seamstress and had other skills. The space had some interactive items: a replica portion of the dumbwaiter used in the dining room in Jefferson’s time as well as a call bell, which other visitors were consistently ringing. The space, with other visitors not on this tour, other employees not giving the tour, and our own presence certainly gave the feel for a lot of hustle and bustle. We ascended a narrow staircase, which forced some people to comment about the struggle in getting materials like food up and down the narrow staircase.

We moved through the principal rooms of the first floor as most visitors to Monticello do; but this time not with an eye to the pelts and bones in the entrance hall. Rather, it was Burwell Colbert would have greeted visiting people at the door. He or others kept this room (and others) warm in the winter. He probably was in charge of keeping the massive clock going in that same hall. Colbert was the subject and the actor here. How he worked and what he did. Jefferson was included of course, but not in the way you usually hear about him on the “normal” tour of the house. Let me be clear though (having been on the traditional tour), Burwell Colbert is discussed on that tour.

In the South Square Room, where Martha Jefferson Randolph’s small office/Jefferson library overflow is represented, the guide created some interactions between Colbert and Mrs. Randolph. In addition, a small writing table is reproduced based on one made by John Hemmings (1776-1833—side note: he unlike the other members of the family seems to always have two m’s in his surname).

The discussion about John Hemmings continued in the book room and book annex, where Mr. Bergen encouraged us to look at the woodwork and reflect on the craftsmanship of John. He asked the audience about what would be advantages and disadvantages in a system of slavery of working in and around the owner’s house. Also, he asked what might have been some advantages and disadvantages of having the light skin of the Hemings in a time where skin color really did inhibit people’s understanding of other people. Visitors were willing to engage with this (though only two of us, self included were black).

After a quick walk through the parlor, we were ushered into the bedroom of Jefferson. There we discussed Burwell again who also saw to Jefferson’s needs as his personal servant. Our guide explained the Burwell was one of those that Jefferson freed in his will and he was given $300 to buy tools that could be used for his skills as a painter and glazer. For me, whenever I go to Monticello I can’t help but stare at the alcove bed and think about the saga of Sally Hemings.

The tour went into the dining room where the wine dumbwaiter and the static dumbwaiter were not described as a unique little Jefferson invention but rather as a way for Jefferson to limit the amount of slaves seen by people in the dining room.

We went down into the south dependency and into the kitchen. Bill Bergen discussed James Hemings (1765-1801), who Jefferson took to Paris, France when James was 19 years old. For three years, James learned the art of French cookery and though he was technically not enslaved in France then, Hemings returned to the United States. While in Philadelphia, Jefferson and Hemings agreed that if Hemings taught another slave of Jefferson’s the art of cooking in the French style, Jefferson would emancipate James. This was done in 1796 and here Bill Bergen noted that we have the clear sign that James was also educated. James compiled an inventory of kitchen items at this time. James’ brother, Peter filled the void. In 1801, Hemings as a free employee returned to work at Monticello briefly before dying of what appears to be suicide later that year.

After a quick five-minute break, the tour began again outside the South Dependency. Here, the guide pointed out that one of the rooms in the south dependency housed Sally Hemings at one point. That room (which had been a restroom) will have archaeology done and work will go forward with representing the space, as Sally would have experienced it.

View of the southern wing which includes a room that was used as a slave quarter. Work will be done to begin a restoration of the quarter space. Photo by author.

View of the southern wing which includes a room that was used as a slave quarter. Work will be done to begin a restoration of the quarter space. Photo by author.

We went over to the weaver cottage/slave quarter on Mulberry Row, one of two original buildings that survive on the row. As a part of the “Mountaintop Project” (heavily funded by David Rubenstein), the cottage will get much needed restoration work to bring it back to its appearance when Jefferson lived at Monticello and when free and enslaved laborers worked in this space. This is another space that the guide pointed out that Sally Hemings occupied at one point.


View of the reconstructed John and Priscilla Hemings cabin. Photo by author.

View of the reconstructed John and Priscilla Hemmings cabin. Photo by author.


We finally came to the reconstruction of John Hemmings’ and Priscilla Hemmings’ (1776-1830) cabin. Mr. Bergen encouraged us to take note of the petrified chinking that was discovered in an archaeological investigation with the imprint of a hand on it. One visitor asked if the size of the slave quarter was typical. He noted that though the building was not original it was recreated based on archaeology and contemporary historical documentary evidence. He did state that one exception was that the log chimney would have likely leaned further away from the structure in the event of a fire the chimney could be pushed away from the rest of the structure to save the majority of the structure. We went inside the cabin where there were some items such as dishes, a table filled with some personal items, and one bed. There was also a root cellar represented but unfortunately moisture was trapped beneath the Plexiglas so as to prevent us from seeing what foodstuff was represented in the root cellar. Another visitor asked if there would have been bedsteads for children or if they slept on the floor. Here Bill explained that the best evidence beyond the archaeology of the site was the account of Martha J. Trist’s (great-granddaughter of Jefferson) 1889 memoir recalling the interior of the cabin. Jefferson’s granddaughter, Cornelia also provided some description of what was in the space by recounting Priscilla’s death.

It was also outside the reconstructed quarter that we delved into Sally Hemings (1773-1835). Mr. Bergen noted that the story dates back to the early years of Jefferson’s presidency and is shrouded in mystery as neither Jefferson nor Sally Hemings made any public or private written statements. Jefferson’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren attempted to push the blame onto other family members. The 1999 DNA testing had to be done with a male Jefferson family member not of a direct descent to Thomas Jefferson because Jefferson lacked a son. However, the evidence did prove it was a Jefferson (not a Carr) who fathered Eston Hemings (and probably all of Sally Hemings’ children who were all light skinned and three light enough to pass as whites). He also noted that the post-1999 vogue idea for those who cannot imagine Jefferson having children with Sally, has been to blame Jefferson’s brother, Randolph. He highly credited the thinking of Annette Gordon-Reed. He said “I doubt a man would have thought of this; but, she looked back at the 9 months prior to Sally having a child and found Jefferson was at home and no evidence of Randolph having been at Monticello.” Bill said that some people have left Monticello as employees since this controversy of the late 1990s/early 2000s but that others have come on and are willing to deal with the reality: that it is very probable that years after Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson was dead, Jefferson had a relationship with the enslaved Sally Hemings. He said that some people on the other end of the spectrum feel like the foundation doesn’t go far enough in calling out the way in which Sally may have had these children (i.e., by force); but, he said it is impossible to know if any legitimate feelings of love existed between the two or not.

In all, I thought the tour was well received and conceived. Mr. Bergen noted that Monticello could not have existed without slavery. From the very removal of part of the top of the mountain, to the brick masons and carpenters and cabinetmakers, to those who made clothing and dumped urine and feces out of chamber pots, over to those in the fields. The Hemings were clearly the focus but their unique set of circumstances was also not privilege. Some family members were able to be free, at least Sally’s oldest sister, Mary had a long-term relationship with a white man. Still, she was not able to get her four enslaved children out of slavery after she was free. James Hemings (son of Critta) was whipped and later escaped (though interestingly enough, Jefferson did not go looking for him). And some of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren suffered the fate of many slaves: sold at auction because of the debts of a single slaveholder.

In this tour the Hemings enslaved community had names and families but also were talked about in an active voice. They loved, they worshipped, they resisted the institution of slavery, a small few were emancipated, and they suffered under the yoke of bondage. I would say that my only real critique is that I wish more time had been given to day-to-day life of these people. One example is in Jefferson’s bedroom there is a chest of drawers with some personal bric-a-brac. It would have been easy to discuss Burwell Colbert’s interactions with these items as Jefferson’s personal servant as a means to illustrate Burwell’s work and drive home the point about work in the “big house” not necessarily being easy. It’s always a good time to see what Monticello is doing and certainly now, as Bill Bergen said: the staff is more committed than ever to not using passive voice and getting the story of slavery out to the public.



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Civil War History Article

I apologize for the silence lately. I’ve been busy engaging with history (as usual), just not in any way to make a substantial post here.

Today I received my copy of the June 2016 Civil War History. Back in March 2013, I, along with hundreds of others attended the Future of Civil War History Conference. The conference was both fun and enlightening in many ways. I was happy to be on a panel regarding U.S. Colored Troops during the war.

In the aftermath, there were plans for a book length project of essays to address various themes in the conference. Unfortunately, life happened, illness struck, and a host of other decisions that resulted in the book going to the curb. Instead, there would be fewer essays and still, Kevin Levin, Beth Parnicza, and I were asked to participate in an essay. The title of the essay, “Interpreting Race, Slavery, and United States Colored Troops at Civil War Battlefields” appears in this June issue of the journal.
My section of the essay fulfilled the needs of the article (though I’m still unsure if I like the emphasis on me). What I really am hoping is that people will substitute the historic names of the real people who existed at the sites I help interpret and my name and look at their site(s) and insert themselves and the names of the historic characters at the site(s) that are interpreted. 

The other articles are equally interesting and should challenge those who write history for a living, teach in classrooms (K-12 or college/university), and who work at historic sites to ask themselves and continually ask themselves: how can I use more techniques to reach my audiences to connect with the complicated history of the Civil War era.

Regrettably, the article isn’t posted online. But I think the preview paragraph on the journal’s website gives some hint as to where Beth and I go with our texts. Kevin ably shaped and edited the article so it reads well.


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Interpreting Christmas and Slavery

Let me apologize for the silence. However, I’m back to what I affectionately call “my poor, neglected blog” for a seasonal post.

This week an article appeared about a Christmas program at Gunston Hall, the plantation owned by George Mason (an often forgotten Founding Father) located in Fairfax County, Virginia. The program they had was titled “Plantation Christmas” which is a program about Christmas in the late 1700s. The author notes that various folks on Twitter were critical of the event through the site’s marketing and through a photograph that appeared on Twitter from David DuVal, director of marketing and public relations.

The site’s executive director responded to Mother Jones and you can read the article for yourself. What I’m less interested in is talking specifically about Gunston Hall and talking broadly about interpretive output at Christmas events at historic sites.

I am known around some in the museum community as the guy who hates “cider and cookies programs.” They exist at 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th century sites from Maine to Florida and from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to California. I actually like cider and I like cookies. However, what is the purpose of these programs? What window do they offer people into the specifics of the historic site or the historic context of the people who lived/worked at this place?

I took this subject on in my work (which y’all know I attempt to steer clear of discussing on my personal blog but I think in this case it is valuable).  We had a program at the Grant’s Headquarters at City Point unit of Petersburg National Battlefield years ago that featured cider and cookies, Christmas carols, dancing on the lawn, Civil War Santa, and kids’ crafts (such as construction paper chains and stringing popcorn and cranberries). In December 2001 (my first year working this program), I decided to insert a lecture about the lives of enslaved people during the Christmas season somewhat broadly but also bringing out information about the folks who lived and worked on the Eppes family’s plantation. I gave the program twice to a group of about 30 people each time.

The next year I suggested canceling the Christmas program to give us time to dig deeper into Richard Eppes’ diary to investigate the specifics of Christmas in the 1850s and 1860s on this plantation. We did not have a program again until 2007. I organized a group of living historians to assist me in representing specific people who were at the Eppes’ plantation (white and black) at Christmas 1858. A loose script was developed and I e-mailed the details of individual enslaved persons, the Eppes family, and their visitors. There were three stations (one in the big house parlor, one in the kitchen/laundry, and one outside on the lawn). This allowed people to hear about the lives of these people and their perspectives during this specific time of year (when a lot of us reflect back on our lives’ broadly, the past year, family, religion, and discuss preparations and gifts).

Gone now was Civil War Santa (it’s the 1850s after all), a Christmas tree (the historic record noted the first Christmas tree in the house in 1866), no more stringing popcorn and cranberries, no dancing (no evidence the Eppes’ did this outside or inside the house), and instead the interpretation happened of this specific site in the context of the 1850s and based in primary source evidence.


Christmas 1858 (in 2007) with living historians portraying Elizabeth Eppes, Susan Slaughter, and myself as George Bolling.

The program ran the next year and then in 2009 we started following the 150th anniversary of events (2009 was Christmas 1859, 2010 was Christmas 1860, 2011 was Christmas 1861). Each one wrapped in the evidence from Eppes’ diary and other contextual materials where the diary was lacking. There has not been an event 2012-2015 because the Eppes’ plantation complex rapidly disintegrated as a result of the Eppes family’s refugee status during the war and the enslaved people’s desires to be free and their own action of escaping in the spring and summer of 1862 and Union occupation from May 1864 through the end of the war.
A challenging component to any of these programs is shifting the focus back onto the people who lived these experiences: good, bad, and the ugly. For example, Christmas 1858 was a happy period for the person I was portraying, George Bolling who got married having successfully convinced Richard Eppes to allow him to marry someone who wasn’t on the plantation (which Eppes usually did not allow). However, that in and of itself opened the door for the interpreter to discuss with the visitors on these tours the degradation of adults who were enslaved. Black adults asking one man who has decreed in his mind that he should get to say on who others can marry.  George and his wife undoubtedly had concerns within that happiness about the stability of family when a slaveholder might breakup the union. Yet the preparations for the wedding spoke to the power of love to endure great strains.
Plantation sites have a lot of unresolved stories because the people who experienced slavery died long ago with many of those same people not feeling at peace. Our job in being able to connect our sites with the public should strive to not continue perpetuating slights to those whose stories have often been hidden in the shadows.

I agree with the comment of the Twitter user @slwill who asks if the story of the enslaved and the slaveholder are combined. I cannot speak to the program at Gunston Hall (though the site director says that they are committed to finding out more about Mason, the idea of slavery, and the specifics about the enslaved people at Gunston Hall); but, this should be a question always asked by interpreters at sites with connections to slavery. How can we (who work in these sites) help open up conversations with our visitors about the multiple perspectives that slaveholders, overseers, visitors, and the enslaved viewed the “big house,” the associated outbuildings, and the stuff within those buildings? We have to start with being honest about who built and maintained these structures, who cleaned silver and laid it out on dining tables, and the feelings that the enslaved person may have gotten from a pretty piece of art versus that of the slaveholder.
Tours guides and printed literature must carefully have the tone that shows they are serious about being inclusive of the variety of experiences people had on the plantations, in city houses, and at industrial sites. The tours must be grounded in the hard, but rewarding work, of primary source research. The research should be multi-disciplinary combining archival work, historical architectural and historical landscape design, archaeology, and material culture (or in other words–the stuff people owned whether it survives or not). The stories discussed with visitors that come about from this work must also be honest (slave trading, whippings, threats, resistance, etc.), and they must be human (all the people on the plantation have humanity–even negative human traits). Tell the stories of love/heartache, hate, ideas, courage, success/failures, faith, intelligence, beauty, fear, generosity, and creativity. The brilliance of what is often seen in these places of slavery (furnishings and buildings) could only have been sustained through the variety of enslaved persons who built and maintained buildings, planted/tended/harvested crops, dusted furniture, washed dishes, made nails, pried open oysters and turned them into soups and sauces, and washed clothes. These stories must exist alongside the stories of the slaveholders, because that was the lived experience of slavery.


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Freedmen’s Bureau Talk & Sources

Back in August I gave a talk about the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. You can click here to view it online by clicking here.

Marriage of a colored soldier at Vicksburg by Chaplain Warren of the Freedmen's Bureau.

Marriage of a colored soldier at Vicksburg by Chaplain Warren of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Library of Congress.


Pat Young asked about sources for further reading. Among the secondary sources are:

  1. Paul A. Cimbala and Randall M. Miller, eds., The Freedmen’s Bureau and Reconstruction.
  2. Mary J. Farmer-Kaiser, Freedwomen and the Freedmen’s Bureau: Race, Gender, and Public Policy in the Age of Emancipation.
  3. William L. Richter, Overreached on All Sides: The Freedmen’s Bureau Administrators in Texas, 1865-1868.
  4. Paul Cimbala, Under the Guardianship of the Nation: The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Reconstruction of Georgia, 1865-1870.
  5. And while not a book solely about the Bureau, I feel like I must include Heather Andrea Williams’ Help Me to Find My People: The African American Search for Family Lost in Slavery.

You can help genealogists and historians by joining the transcription project. You can read more about that by clicking here.



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Evaluating the Civil War Sesquicentennial

First, let me apologize for the lack of posts. I had an idea prepared but real life made me reconsider posting. In fact, blogging in general has gone in a direction that I’m not interested in. So the posts will be much more infrequent which inevitably will mean some of you will forget about the blog. I am sorry about that.

That said, back in August I was on a panel with several other folks regarding an assessment of the Civil War 150th. I will maintain that I am tired of the narrative that the 150th was a “failure” simply because each event didn’t have 50,000 people at them. The 150th commemorations varied in scale, places, and indeed more people saw more about the Civil War than they did during the centennial. I know for one, no one in my family attended anything during the 1960s commemorations when they were still attending segregated schools in Southside Virginia. Yet, members of my family did join me on some programs during the 150th.

The 2011-15 commemorations and promotion had the benefit of not only print media and word of mouth, but social media platforms online.

The link to the conversation can be found here: http://www.c-span.org/video/?327502-2/discussion-evaluating-sesquicentennial and I welcome any sane feedback.



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Richmond National Battlefield’s Upcoming Reconstruction Program

Chimborazo Hospital in April 1865. Library of Congress.

Chimborazo Hospital in April 1865. Library of Congress.

This coming Saturday (July 18th) at 7PM, Ranger Mike Gorman will be presenting a program on the Freedmen’s Bureau and the freed people who occupied Chimborazo Hospital in the aftermath of the Civil War.

For a preview check Mike out here: http://ideastations.org/radio/news/chimborazo-hospital-after-civil-war. Further details are available on the Richmond National Battlefield website.

Again, I urge people to look into what the NPS is doing already to address Reconstruction in post-Civil War America.

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