DCentric » Books http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU DCentric Picks: ‘How To Be Black’ Reading http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentric-picks-how-to-be-black-reading/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentric-picks-how-to-be-black-reading/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 17:35:48 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14567 Continue reading ]]>

Alex Lee / Courtesy of HarperCollins

Baratunde Thurston is author of the new book, "How to Be Black."

What: A book reading by Baratunde Thurston, author of “How to Be Black.”

When: Doors open at 6 p.m., and the event starts at 7 p.m., Thursday.

Where: Sidwell Friends School’s Quaker Meeting House at 3825 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

Cost: Free.

Why you should go: Thurston, a comedian, social critic and digital director for The Onion, grew up in D.C. In his new book, “How to Be Black,” Thurston uses plenty of humor to touch upon the complexities of growing up black in America, with the District as a backdrop. He also writes about growing up in Columbia Heights before it was gentrified.

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Kate Masur’s “An Example for All the Land” http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/kate-masurs-an-example-for-all-the-land-3/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/kate-masurs-an-example-for-all-the-land-3/#comments Wed, 09 Mar 2011 16:01:03 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4553 Continue reading ]]>

Kate Masur's "An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C."

The author of the first major study of Washington, D.C. during reconstruction in over fifty years spoke to DCentric recently.

Kate Masur, a history professor at Northwestern and author of “An Example for All the Land,” opined on racism, the Republican party and how D.C. developed a thriving African American middle class through good schools.

Why did you write this book?

I’ve been interested in D.C.’s history in part because it represented the juncture between the North and the South. I wanted to look at the period of emancipation and quintessential Northern/Southern issues, including the end of slavery, the meaning of emancipation and urban politics. In D.C., I could look at local and federal government in an interesting place that mixed both regions. That and there hadn’t been a good study of these issues in a really long time.

What were D.C. audiences most interested in?

D.C. was hungry for this sort of work. People have an episodic idea of history, so filling in the blanks and offering a narrative for this period is useful. Lots of people asked about African American politics and participation in a progressive coalition. This was a period of upheaval. You could really see what a difference it made that Congress had exclusive jurisdiction in Washington…the city was batted back and forth. It didn’t have control over its own destiny, this period really highlights that.

That sounds familiar. At the Portrait Gallery, when you read from the Reconstruction-era diary of a racist Washingtonian, I couldn’t get over how similar it sounded to certain anonymous comments I read on recent news articles.

Now, no one wants to own racism. You sort of wonder where all those comments come from if everyone is not racist…not to mention structural racism. In my book, white power brokers deliberately and repeatedly said that it wasn’t about race or problems with African Americans, it was just about good government. In fact, the policies they were seeking dramatically reduced the power of a newly biracial electorate. They made life more difficult for poor African Americans who had just become voters and found a certain amount of political power in D.C., so despite saying those policies weren’t racist, they had everything to do with reducing the power of black people.

Tell me more about African Americans and the Republican party.

The Republican party stuck together during the civil war. They had a cause to fight for. Most members were not on board with extending or sustaining slavery. Once slavery didn’t exist, conditions were ripe for Republican party coalitions to fall apart, we see that nationally and locally. In D.C., when African American men got the right to vote in 1867, they were naturally members of the Republican party, because Democrats were associated with racism and white slave owners. The local Republican party is a coalition of African Americans, white natives and white northerners who were in D.C. because of the war. This biracial coalition hangs together for a short amount of time, but fractures by 1870. The more conservative side tries to build a coalition with Democrats who are out of power, on a pro-business platform by being critical of the more progressive, more African American side of the party…they made it clear they were not allied. This wasn’t unique to D.C., this pattern happened a lot throughout the South.

What happened to African Americans after that?

We see the beginnings of an upwardly mobile class of African Americans. If we go back to the period before the Civil War, there were thriving African American private schools. Reconstruction was the origin of public schools. There’s also Howard University, a top-notch university with graduate schools and a teacher training program. Because of the federal government, African Americans could find better jobs in D.C. than in most places (including elsewhere in the North), so D.C. became a magnet for ambitious, educated African Americans. African Americans started working for the federal and municipal governments in large numbers, and that laid the foundation for an unusual black middle class.

Wow, Howard. Go Bisons!

Well, Howard is not alone, but it did have a medical school, a law school, a teacher training program, and undergraduate degrees. There was also M Street high school, which later became Dunbar– it was the first preparatory high school for black students in the country. It was an amazing liberal arts high school at a time when many were talking about industrial education as the direction go in for the African American population. While some questioned the need for liberal arts education for African Americans, or felt that they shouldn’t aspire to medicine or law, M street and Howard were bastions of other points of view. Why shouldn’t African Americans aspire to the best education available? There was no reason why they shouldn’t. There was a lot of synergy between Howard, the federal government and the local school system. D.C. public school graduates went to Howard in disproportionate numbers and Howard graduates worked for the federal government in disproportionate numbers. Howard produced professional dentists, pharmacists, lawyers and doctors, many of whom stayed in D.C.

It sounds like education figures prominently in “An Example for All the Land”.

It’s interesting. When this was a dissertation, it had a separate chapter on education; in the book, it ended up being dispersed throughout the narrative. There are lots of connections between schools and politics. There are debates over whether black students should be allowed to go to white schools. Can white schools exclude blacks? In the end, schools remained segregated until the 20th century, but the debate was fascinating. Why have public schools at all? Why segregate? Why integrate? Those debates were connected to other issues, like equal accommodation in public transportation, theaters and a whole range of public and quasi-public places where segregation and integration were debated.


The last paragraph of “An Example for All the Land” addresses those debates:

The era’s struggles over where equality should be promoted and where inequality should be accepted, over how democracy should work, and over whether wealth, whiteness or manhood should be the sources of special privileges, resonate in our own time. The parallels are instructive, if not always encouraging.

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Acquittal of the ‘Negress’ Minnie Gaines http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/acquittal-of-the-negress-minnie-gaines/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/03/acquittal-of-the-negress-minnie-gaines/#comments Thu, 03 Mar 2011 22:51:19 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4534 Continue reading ]]>

New York Times, July 21, 1869

A desperate black victim of domestic violence named Minnie Gaines confesses to bludgeoning the father of her unborn child– who was white. Progressives fret about whether an all-male jury will treat her fairly. The public is riveted to the scandalous news story.

If all of that sounds unfamiliar, there’s no need to ratchet up the radio or turn on the TV. Gaines went to trial in 1869. She is a part of D.C. history, yet a cursory search of the internet yields nothing about her besides the blurb to the right, from the New York Times.

Gaines’ story takes up just two pages in a new book by Kate Masur, a History professor at Northwestern University, but those two pages contain a powerful example of what Masur offers in her study of racial equality during reconstruction– “An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C.

When asked about the Gaines case, Masur added:

It was the first murder trial in D.C. to be heard by a racially mixed-race jury: six black men, six white. Reporters followed the jury and wrote about how they took an omnibus out to the suburbs and had a picnic on a Sunday. It was scandalous that they ate and worshiped together; the jury was breaking taboos, so the trial was a huge media event.

Women active in D.C.’s suffrage movement also attended the trial, they saw it as a feminist issue. One female activist wrote a letter to the Revolution, Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s paper, saying “Minnie Gaines is not going to get justice because she doesn’t have a jury of her peers, since there are no women on the jury.”

In the end, Gaines was found not guilty by reason of insanity. That was the mildest possible sentence and she was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the insane for nine months, where she had her baby. Eventually, a hospital supervisor contacted Gaines’ father in Fredericksburg, Virginia and invited him to take her home.

And that is the story of Minnie Gaines.

Next week on DCentric: More on “An Example for All the Land” via an interview with Kate Masur.
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Kate Masur’s “Example for All the Land” at NPG http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/kate-masurs-example-for-all-the-land-at-npg/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/kate-masurs-example-for-all-the-land-at-npg/#comments Wed, 09 Feb 2011 18:55:24 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4064 Continue reading ]]>


Author Kate Masur, reading from "An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle for Equality in Washington, DC"

Today, Kate Masur, Assistant Professor of History at Northwestern University, read from her new book, An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle for Equality in Washington, DC at the National Portrait Gallery (hat tip to the City Paper for letting us know about this event).

After the reading, Masur took questions from the standing-room-only crowd. As she quoted from the Reconstruction-era diary entry of a racist white Washingtonian, I was startled by how over a century later, similar sentiments could be found in the comments sections of local blogs and newspapers. Masur said she wanted to “illuminate the larger picture of dynamism in Washington” via the stories in her book. She also reflected on how once slavery was “resolved”, many local white Republicans cared more about business than equality.

When Masur mentioned that An Example for All the Land –the first examination of Washington during Reconstruction in over five decades– explored why D.C. became a hub for black education and an African American middle class, the crowd buzzed with interest.

One attendee, Barbara Burger of Washington, D.C., enjoyed the presentation. Burger explained, “I’m a native Washingtonian. My family has been here since 1880. I’m very interested in any studies that explore the African American situation. I’m very happy to see she’s taken it upon herself to write a book and do research that will hopefully have an effect on the perceptions of this city.”

Next week on DCentric: an interview with Professor Masur, and more about her book.

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Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in D.C. http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/emancipation-and-the-struggle-over-equality-in-d-c/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/emancipation-and-the-struggle-over-equality-in-d-c/#comments Mon, 07 Feb 2011 20:22:19 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=4023 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: dcwriterdawn

National Portrait Gallery, the site of Wednesday's free event.

Here’s a neat Black History Month event I found via the City Paper. Did I mention that it’s free?

Beginning in 2004, Kate Masur kept stumbling across references to a 19th century Capitol employee and her refusal to leave a train departing from Alexandria…(Masur) eventually identified the employee as Kate Brown. Brown, a women’s room attendant, wanted to sit among the very people she served in the designated “ladies’ car”—implicitly for white women only. After a conductor instructed Brown to move and she refused, he and a police officer police pounded on her knuckles and twisted her arms before tossing her from the car and onto the platform. Masur includes Brown’s story in An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington, D.C., an account of black Washingtonians’ efforts to gain equality in the wake of the Civil War…And in a story that will surely resonate with those of us dissatisfied with the District’s Congressional representation—or lack thereof—Masur tells of black and white Washingtonians bonding to cultivate a new Republican Party with big hopes for greater racial equality—only for Congress to abolish the local self-government they needed, all but destroying the progressive foundation they’d established.

Progressive black and white Washingtonians coming together to create a Republican party for racial equality? I’m there! Well, that and I’m always down to learn more about D.C. history. Tomorrow, Masur will speak at the National Archives (700 Constitution Ave NW). If you miss her there, you have a second chance to hear her– she’ll be at the National Portrait Gallery (800 F Street NW, pictured above) on Wednesday. Both events are at noon. More Black History Month events, here.

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Tasty Morning Bytes- Anti-Teen Machines, Lead Contaminates CoHei and Helpful Cadavers http://dcentric.wamu.org/roundup/tasty-morning-bytes-anti-teen-machines-lead-contaminates-cohei-and-helpful-cadavers/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/roundup/tasty-morning-bytes-anti-teen-machines-lead-contaminates-cohei-and-helpful-cadavers/#comments Wed, 01 Sep 2010 11:45:23 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?post_type=roundup&p=422 Continue reading ]]> Good Morning, Washington, D.C. Let’s wish Wednesday (and September!) a warm welcome by toasting it with some links!

Washington Post suspends columnist for Twitter hoax “Wise wrote on Twitter after the incident that he’s “an idiot” and offered “apologies to all involved.” But the columnist still didn’t appear to grasp just why Twitter users (including other journalists) assume respected journalists are publishing accurate information on the medium. “I was right about nobody checking facts or sourcing,” he added along with Monday’s apology.” (Yahoo News)

Gallery Place Installs Anti-Loitering Device (it’s called the “Mosquito”) “…the Mosquito will dissuade loiterers but will not hamper shoppers, diners and those seeking entertainment. Gallery Place called for new legislation prohibiting loitering — a rule that the District of Columbia, unlike every other major U.S. city, has failed to put on its books.” (NBC Washington)

Lead Contamination Closes Columbia Heights Playground “According to DC’s Department of the Environment, the contamination came from a nearby construction site. The park is located at the corner of 11th and Monroe Streets in Columbia Heights.” (WUSA Washington, DC)

On my shopping list – Isabel Wilkerson’s Sweeping book, ‘Warmth of Other Suns’ “In a book that, quite amazingly, is her first, Ms. Wilkerson…has pulled off an all but impossible feat. She has documented the sweeping 55-year-long migration of black Americans across their own country…this work of living history boils down to the tenderly told stories of three rural Southerners who immigrated to big cities from their hometowns.” (The New York Times)

Oval Office makeover has comfy, more modern feel “”The room seems very American…And it looks like such a mix of classic and contemporary, with a laid-back elegance. Those sofas are plush, but not fancy, not fussy. It looks like a lot of work gets done in there. It’s elegant, and it’s also appropriate. It feels humanized.”" (WTOP News)

How Cadavers Made Your Car Safer “It’s not just cars that benefit. Researchers have drawn on Wayne State’s cadaver work to design helmets that might prevent concussions in NFL players. NASA has used cadavers to test vehicle crashworthiness, and the Defense Department backs studies using cadavers to better understand traumatic brain injuries. And as good as computer models are, they still can’t capture the exact essence of how human tissue reacts…” (ired.com)

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