News

Not How I Learned It: Rediscovering and Redefining Slave Values in America

By Adrienne Dawson | December 14, 2018

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Historian and professor Daina Ramey Berry teaches in the History and African & African Diaspora Studies departments at The University of Texas at Austin and has received the Hamilton Book Award for her latest work, “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation.”

Here, she tells us how 10 years of research led to discoveries that force us to relearn what we thought we knew about slavery in America — such as a slave cadaver trade that supplied America’s top medical schools and trained future surgeons. Read more...

Here lies a Northwest Dallas graveyard you've never seen for the forgotten and formerly enslaved

By Robert Wilonsky | September 29, 2018

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A historical marker off West Northwest Highway, near Bachman Lake, notes only a visible, accessible graveyard — the small Garvin Memorial Cemetery, where several Confederate States soldiers are interred.

The bronze plaque bears no mention of the other burial ground just yards away. The site is obscured by underbrush on private property adjacent to a panoramic, if little-known, city-owned nature preserve, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence.

There, inside that containment, it is believed that at least 10 are buried — former enslaved people among them, along with "other Negroes" referred to in a landmark-nomination form on file with Dallas City Hall.

I have written about the graveyard before, but only in passing. Nothing denotes the significance of what lies within the tall grass behind a private home's detached garage. No headstones commemorate the dead. There are just posts sticking out of the ground, planted by the home's former owner, G.H. Kelso, "in reverence to the individuals buried there." Read more...

Yale announces 2018 Frederick Douglass Book Prize finalists

July 26, 2018

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Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition today has announced the finalists for the 20th annual Frederick Douglass Book Prize, one of the most coveted awards for the study of the African American experience. Jointly sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center at Yale University, this annual prize of $25,000 recognizes the best book on slavery, resistance, and/or abolition published in the preceding year.

The finalists are: Daina Ramey Berry for “The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation” (Beacon Press); Erica Armstrong Dunbar for “Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge” (Simon & Schuster); Sharla M. Fett for “Recaptured Africans: Surviving Slave Ships, Detention, and Dislocation in the Final Years of the Slave Trade” (University of North Carolina Press); and Tiya Miles for “The Dawn of Detroit: A Chronicle of Slavery and Freedom in the City of the Straits” (The New Press). Read more...

Daina Ramey Berry's "Price for Their Pound of Flesh" wins Best Book Prize from the Society of Historians of Early American Republic (SHEAR)

By UT History Department | July 24, 2018

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Congratulations to Professor Daina Ramey Berry on winning the prestigious Best Book Prize from the Society of Historians of Early American Republic (SHEAR) for her book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to the Grave, in the Building of the Nation (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017). This annual prize recognizes "an original monograph that makes a significant contribution to the historiography of the early American republic." The SHEAR selection committee’s complete citation in praise of this "revelatory new book" can be found below.

Dr. Berry was recently interviewed by "On Point" about the history and significance of the Juneteenth holiday. She also contributed to the CWR Network's virtual town hall on “Race In America: Where Do We Go From Here.” Read about Prof. Berry's lastest news and publications at drdainarameyberry.com, and for up-to-date insights, follow her on Twitter @DainaRameyBerry.

The Price for Their Pound of Flesh is also a finalist for the 2018 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, awarded annually by the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, for the most outstanding non-fiction book in English on the subject of slavery, resistance, and/or abolition. The winner will be announced following the Douglass Prize Review Committee meeting in the fall, and the award will be presented at a celebration in New York City on February 28, 2019. Read more...

President Trump Is Looking for Suggestions for Pardons. So We Asked 7 Historians for Their Thoughts

By Time Staff | June 21, 2018

Few presidents have been as excited about pardon powers as Donald Trump.

In recent months, Trump has issued a rare posthumous pardon to boxer Jack Johnson and a much more contemporary one to conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza. He has commuted the sentence of Alice Johnson, in the wake of lobbying by Kim Kardashian West, and drawn a rebuff from Muhammad Ali’s attorney for suggesting that the boxer might also receive a posthumous pardon, even though his name was already cleared by the Supreme Court.

He even asked NFL players, amid continued conflict over protests at football games, to suggest people he should pardon — though as of Friday none had taken him up on the idea, and the request drew criticism for seeming to misunderstand the reasons behind the protests.

Some have argued that Trump is using these high-profile pardons — especially of D’Souza and former vice presidential adviser Scooter Libby — to send signals to associates being targeted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigations that he may pardon them if they don’t cooperate, prompting his attorney Rudy Giuliani to clarify that was not his intention. (Trump and his lawyers have even asserted, contrary to public opinion, that he could pardon himself if he wanted to.)

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But Trump has long been a fan of executive action — witness the signing ceremonies he schedules for executive orders — and it seems likely that he’s going to continue issuing pardons.

With that in mind, we asked historians for some notable figures from American history that they think could merit a posthumous pardon. Not every suggestion was literal (many never received the federal conviction that would open a person up for such a pardon, and one is a fictional character) but all were thought-provoking. Here are a selection of the responses. Read more...

Museum Ties Portraits of the Wealthy to Their Slaveholding Pasts

By Jason Daley | June 20, 2018

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Photography has made it possible for pretty much everyone to sit for a portrait—or at least a selfie. But having your portrait painted by a genuine artist is still an honor reserved for the rich, the powerful or the friends of art students. It was the same in the past—only the wealthy could afford to have their likeness put on canvas, which is why our art museums are full of rich people wearing their finest outfits glaring at us from their good sides. But the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts is also highlighting the hidden warts, adding signs to its portrait collection illuminating many of the subjects’ deep connections with slavery, reports Maria Garcia at WBUR.

Elizabeth Athens, then the Worcester Art Museum’s curator of American Art, came up with the idea while assessing the museum’s early American gallery. “It was exclusively wealthy, white people and they’re presented in this very kind of valorized way,” she tells Garcia. “We were missing a whole swath of humanity that was part of American history. And I really wanted to correct that.” (Athens is now at the National Gallery of Art.) Read more...

Juneteenth and the Detention of Children in Texas

By Jelani Cobb | June 19, 2018

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By the time word of freedom had drifted west to Texas, it was old news elsewhere. On June 19, 1865, the nearly two hundred thousand men, women, and children enslaved in Texas learned of their emancipation, two and a half years after Lincoln had issued the proclamation terminating slavery in states rebelling against the union. The institution of slavery was essentially an open-air prison, and proved remarkably successful, at least in this instance, at the kind of information control that exploitation relies on. Juneteenth, the annual celebration marking the day that this postponed freedom arrived in Texas, occupies a strange niche in American culture, isolated as a black tradition, as if the currents of slavery and its death did not shape the direction of the nation in its entirety. Read more...

Daina Ramey Berry's "Price for their Pound of Flesh" honored with the Phillis Wheatley Award

By UT Department of History | June 2, 2018

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Congratulations to Professor Daina Ramey Berry, whose book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Beacon Press, 2017) has been recognized by The Sons & Daughters of the US Middle Passage (SDUSMP) with the Phillis Wheatley Award.

Beginning in September, Dr. Berry will be the Oliver H. Radkey Professor of History and African and African Diaspora studies. She is a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of American Studies, the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, and the Warfield Center for African and African American Studies.

SDUSMP highlighted the award in a press release last month announcing its 2nd Annual Sons & Daughters of the United States Middle Passage Conference this past Saturday, June 2, at Rider University in New Jersey. “The conference is a celebration of the lives of individuals enslaved in the United States and early English America. Without them, African-Americans, their descendants, would not exist and our country would be unrecognizable. They endured the horrors and brutality of American slavery and we must never forget them.” Read more...

The lynching memorial ends our national silence on racial terrorism

By Jonathan Capehart | April 26, 2018

When I visited Berlin five years ago, I was awed and thrilled by the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Topography of Terror museum. Thrilled because those places and other blunt expressions of public accountability in the German capital for the nation’s horrific past were a break from the ignored or euphemistic, happy-faced storytelling of the painful parts of U.S. history. I marveled at the ability of a nation to unflinchingly look itself in the mirror and then permanently report back its findings to the world in word and architecture.

America’s inability to replicate that kind of raw, historical honesty has always pained me. That’s not to say we’re not getting better. At the National Museum for African American History and Culture, the sin of slavery is not just some distant institution of commerce, but it’s also accurately depicted as an evil that destroyed real lives. We are still grappling with its consequences, and our failure to atone for it mars our ability to collectively recover. Read more...

Visitors leave lynching memorial with strong impressions

By Mike Cason | April 26, 2018

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If the impressions of the first-day visitors to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery hold true, the memorial's designers achieved their intent of creating a compelling experience to spark awareness of the horrific legacy of lynching.

Tom Perryman, a teacher at Greenhill School, a private school in Dallas, has followed the development of the memorial from afar but said that did not prepare him for the power of seeing it in person.

"I had seen the museum in virtual form on the Internet for months and had been looking forward to getting here," Perryman said this afternoon. "But when you actually walk under the columns it's just breathtaking.