Diggin’ in the Crates: Civil War Womanhood and Fellman’s Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War

Image of New Manchester Mills ruins

New Manchester Mills ruins, Lithia Springs, GA.

Here in the state of Georgia, the Civil War is very much alive here and now – In the present. While much of the nation has moved on, the last 150 years have been but a moment for Southerners, and not white Southerners alone, as many often suppose. The recent commemorations are a bitter reminder of the wound of that war on the nation. Here in the Atlanta the preparations for upcoming commemorations of the Battle of Atlanta, which took place 150 years ago on July 22, 1864, remind residents of the war’s impact on the city.

There are numerous sites throughout the state of course, but one example, Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, GA, provides an example of the exacting costs of war on women and children. Only a short distance from Atlanta, the ruins of the New Manchester Textile Mills, which have recently found fame after being featured in the Hunger Games franchise, are unique. The mill was one of two sites where white women and children, workers in the mill – which provided cloth for Confederate soldiers – were taken as prisoners of war. (Note: I haven’t had a chance to investigate evidence surrounding the people of color who may have been swept up in this action. Enslaved African laborers built this site – or much of it, but more research is needed to tell this story). This was around April, 1864, when General Sherman ordered the mill burned to the ground because of its war role.  Union soldiers stayed at the mill, drilling, swimming, and awaiting orders, before heading to Atlanta for the historic battle.

The research issues surrounding the Civil War have not been exhausted.  Too many have not even been considered in the scholarship, let alone our classrooms.

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Watch: Remembering Dr. Maya Angelou at Today’s Moving Memorial

Dr. Maya Angelou remains a powerfully sustaining force, and since her transition on May 28 at the age of 86, I have, like so many others, been trying to process the glowing glory of a woman who so unapologetically taught us to “be” in the world.

For my students, I have only had “resources” to share – book titles, touching articles, and documents of a life that I somehow believed would be ever-present and ever-mothering, ever calling us to courage as educators, as women and men, as artists.  Though I tried, I realized that there was little I could say to begin to tell a life so expansive, so daring, and so truly multifaceted.  The late poet/author/playwright, actress, singer, dancer, professor, director, filmmaker, recording artist, sage and visionary defies description.

Today, when thousands in the world gathered on the web to say farewell, virtually joining her close family and friends at her Homegoing Service, I had only sadness – there were no words.  I could only imagine the pain of those who knew her, not through books, television screens and university appearances, but in the care of her bosom, in her loving embrace, and under her doting tutelage.  Dr. Angelou’s grandson, Elliot Matthew Jones, declared of his family: “We have always had to share Grandma with the globe,” and this was clearly on display today, as the family chose to share the service via webcast and the OWN Network.

She was, even for those of us who loved her from afar, a master teacher, a model of family, an example of generosity.  So many beautiful words were spoken – but the silence left in the wake of her passing is sobering, even as so many in the world celebrate her life.

Today’s tribute was fitting.  Cicely Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Ambassador Andrew Young, First Lady Michelle Obama and others provided glowing tributes – Ms. Winfrey’s was particularly generous and personal, as were the remarks from Angelou’s son, author Guy Bailey JohnsonLee Ann Womack sang Dr. Angelou’s favorite song, “I Hope You Dance,” and Alyson Williams sang us happy with a soaring rendition in song of one of the poet/artist/dancer/teacher’s beloved spoken blessings, “God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds”.  Maya Angelou’s pastor, Dr. Serenus T. Churn, Sr., preached a sermon of victory and hope.  Too, former President Bill Clinton, one of a number of speakers at a truly transcendent service hosted at Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel, said of Maya Angelou that “God loaned her His voice. She had the voice of God, and He decided he wanted it back for a while.”

As we remember Dr. Maya Angelou, we must be reminded that we have a great deal of work to do.  We must stand up with conscience.  Perhaps we can prove ourselves worthy, one day, of the responsibility of God’s voice.

Please take the time to view the Homegoing Service of Dr. Angelou, “A Celebration of Rising ‘Joy’“. The program for Dr. Maya Angelou’s Memorial service is also linked below.

LinktoAngelouService_OprahWinfreyThe program for Dr. Maya Angelou’s Memorial Service HERE



*Squeal*: Watch Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith In Discussion at the Schomburg

Chimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith at the SchomburgChimamanda Adichie and Zadie Smith are perhaps the two most important forces diversifying popular literature in the West at the moment. Adichie is managing to do this, quite remarkably, with work that defiantly and purposefully looks toward (and is often centered on) the West African country of Nigeria.   Smith and Adichie have gotten the publishing establishment to listen to characters and voices that reject stereotypes in a most definitive way. In many cases, these voices achieve this masterfully because they are delightfully oblivious of the fact that these stereotypes even exist.

The authors, of course, are well aware of these tired tropes, but they play with space, time, context, and location to unseat our preconceived notions with their delicately created characters. Smith and Adichie excel at this, I suspect, because they are members of the global citizenry of the Twenty-First Century, as are some of their characters, all of whom comprise a narrative that is largely untold. Continue reading

Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: A Shout-Out (Updated)

Recently, I discussed Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns in a lecture on the HarlemCover, The Warmth of Other Suns Renaissance.  The renaissance, of course, would not have been possible without The Great Migration, that massive and historic movement of millions of African Americans from the the rural south the promises (and disappointments) of the urban North, and Wilkerson’s history is certainly the most sweeping – and most beautiful, in an epic and lyrical sense – exploration of the period to date.  I wanted to share a quick blog post for my students’ reference, and to give this text a much-deserved “shout out”.

I’m a child of the Great Migration.  Two decades after more distant relations and village members left our beloved South Carolina for Washington D.C., New Jersey, and New York, finding work in factories and building families in the “Nawth,” my immediate forebears reluctantly found themselves swept away in the very last wave of the waning migration during the 1960s, settling in with “our people” from down home until they found their own way.  Of course, I wasn’t yet born, but I am no less a Great Migration baby, the child of migrants, and I spent my childhood looking forward to our pilgrimages “home” once or twice a year – a ritual we honored religiously.   Though we’d never planned it, at least not openly, nearly the entire family has quietly ended the exile, returning home to the South.

Yes, Wilkerson is telling my story. But I’d like to think that I am still very much in the place to be objective. Continue reading

Thoughts On Changing the World With Baldwin’s Beale Street

So, there’s little question I’m on bit of a book kick lately. Occupational hazard.

The other day, I was fortunate enough to encounter a powerful question: “Is there a book that could save the world (or at least change it)?”

Perhaps in part because of important influences in my (even) younger days, the first book to come to mind was James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk (1974).

*Cues Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made To Love Her”*

If you haven’t had the chance to be absolutely altered by the tale of Tish and Fonny – two young folks in grown-up, seasoned love – pushing back against the odds stacked against them by callous inner-city circumstances and an unforgiving economy …um…

Don’t do that to yourself any longer. Get the book. Even if it hits to close to home (or the present day, perhaps).

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A Case for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in the Classroom, or, a Love Note to Dr. Louis Hill Pratt (Part II)

A Short Project on Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Dr. Pratt has passed on now, but I hope he’d be happy to know that I’m finally taking the time to complete another Adolescent Literature seminar.  I had the choice recently to a select a book I’d like to see taught in classrooms for young readers, and so I returned to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor, for the first time since my girlhood.  I’m very glad I did, and I’m thinking very seriously, now, of finding ways to integrate this text into one or more of the classes or workshops I teach.  College students ought to read this text as well.

I was saddened to learn about efforts in recent years to remove the text from classrooms. In addition to it’s usefulness for young readers in the classroom, It would also make a wonderful reading group selection, and can be well matched with history projects on a number of topics, including African American education in the Jim Crow South and the difficult issue of racial terrorism.

Historical fiction is a wonderful tool for learners, teachers, and everyday folk.  What Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry does so well is to present history, through Cassie’s personal lessons, in the stories related by Logan kin, and in the lessons Mama (Mary) Logan teaches in the classroom, in ways that clarify the economic and social forces behind America’s racial history.  Rather than the dumbed down, single-layer approach we often use – one that truly underserves learners, Taylor’s text presents the complexities of slavery and Jim Crow in clear, simple and direct terms.  Needless to say, I’ve changed my perspective on Adolescent Literature.Thanks, Dr. Pratt.I was asked to design a project that would help educators understand that role of such a text in the classroom – Something short and direct.  This is what I came up with – a presentation and writeup.  As I don’t expect to be surrounded by reading teachers sooner than later (other than relatives who are already on my list), I thought I’d share it here. If you find it useful or have questions or suggestions, please let me know.

A Justification for Classroom Use of Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry


Published in 1976, Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, has been a staple in many American classrooms, and enjoyed a strong popularity in the 1980s. Continue reading

A Case for Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in the Classroom, or, a Love Note to Dr. Louis Hill Pratt (Part I)

I never caught the adolescent literature bug.

While an undergraduate English major at Florida A&M University, I was interested in literary studies.  While there, I was introduced to cultural studies, textual studies, various literary approaches and philosophies.  These were what held my attention.  FAMU is famous for turning out stellar teachers, but I wasn’t in the English department’s Education program, and in many ways, I saw adolescent literature as an important, but long-abandoned stop I’d made as a young learner.

There was a small chance for an intervention on that front, and it came in the most capable hands – if at the wrong time.  Dr. Louis Hill Pratt was a venerated professor in the FAMU English department.  He had served as chair – several times if I recall – but during my time there led the committee for graduation, and when I sat before him in a musty room, anxious for completion of my requirements, he kindly suggested I join his Adolescent Literature course for the summer’s early session.  There would be mostly Education students, he explained, but I just might find the literature useful, and discussions of pedagogy would broaden my horizons.  Continue reading