Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Remembering Dr. John Hope Franklin

I just found out that Dr. John Hope Franklin, the dean of historians of African American history, passed away this morning. I talked with John W. Franklin just a couple of weeks ago, and he was down in North Carolina with his father, checking on him.

I am proud to say, as a burgeoning historian of African American history, that I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Franklin. We talked about the importance of preserving Reconstruction era historic sites (I spoke with Eric Foner at that same event, and he agreed with Dr. Franklin's assessment--thanks Miriam for that opportunity). Dr. Franklin was one of the few people with whom I felt nervous while in his presence. I just wanted to make sure that I sounded halfway intelligent; I did alright.

I remember when I decided to go to graduate school for history, and decided that I wanted a book to put me into a right frame of mind. I chose Race and History: Selected Essays 1938-1988 by Dr. Franklin. I still have that book, ink bled upon the pages. I poured through those essays, and I dreamt of having that type of impact on someone reading my own words. Dr. Franklin was indeed an inspiration for me, and countless others.

My thoughts are with John and Karen, as well as Dr. Franklin's family, friends and colleagues at Duke University.

Dr. Franklin on the Election of Barack Obama

Dr. Franklin remembering James Weldon Johnson

Monday, March 23, 2009

Are Men's Colleges "Bromance" Epicenters?

Being both an alumnus of a men's college, I have to say that this whole "bromance" phenomenon is just funny. Why not just have writers explore the worlds of Hampden-Sydney, Morehouse or Wabash? I bet "I Love You Man" would have been much more interesting from that point of view. I watched and participated in "bromance" courting rituals for four solid years; it was like a training ground.

I wonder if dudes from Morehouse and Wabash would say the same (though I doubt Morehouse alumni would use the term "bromance," I know how skittish my brothas are to things even seemingly gay)? Men's college alumni are trained in the art the "bromance." Own it!

All About Their Benjamins

I've a confession to make. Though I entered undergrad confident that History was going to be my major, I quietly wondered about adding Economics as a second major. I made it through Econ 101, but it's appeal as a subject was lost on me. My mind works differently.

Yet, I have a bad feeling about the two most prominent people in BHO's economic team, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. My gut reaction is that these two men were happy cheerleaders praising deregulation and "clever" schemes, as we were careening toward the edge of the abyss. My gut tells me that these men, like Jim Cramer of CNBC, recognize and endorse the two markets (see the John Stewart smackdown of Cramer and Wall Street here in three parts), and, like Frank Rich, I think that they are too closely tied to Wall Street and the mentality that led us to this point to police it in the best way.

The bottom line is that I do not trust them. I am not confident that these men have our best interests at heart. David Sirota makes the point more plain. Why are the rules different for Wall Street, when compared with Detroit or Main Street? Why not be consistent?

I have no idea if the stimulus, TARP or any other economic measure coming from the Obama administration will work; I am no soothsayer. I hope that they will. I'm no economist, just an historian. But frankly, I would feel much better if those two men were not advising BHO. And that's all I have to say about that (thanks "Forrest").

Friday, March 13, 2009

South Carolina On My Mind

When I decided to go to Clemson University for graduate school, I was concerned about what I would find when I arrived. Armed with an unnecessarily smug Virginia attitude, I headed south. It was perfectly fine. Though Clemson did not have the patrician air of Hampden-Sydney College, it provided me with a great academic experience, and I have friends from that era that I continue to cherish.

Yet, when I ventured beyond the campus and encountered the rest of South Carolina, I was troubled. I could see the racial and class distinctions all around. I saw poverty, black and white, that I never hope to see again. The battle of the Confederate Battle Flag over the statehouse was just getting warm. It struck me that people here knew their respective place within the hierarchy. Most of the black folks I met (native South Carolinians) longed to leave for Atlanta or Charlotte or DC. Most of the white folks I met (native South Carolinians) looked forward to building their lives right there in South Carolina. I found that so fascinating, because it spoke to how those students felt about futures at home.

Only when I heard Ty'Sheoma Bethea's story as told by BHO at the "not SOTU (State of the Union) address," was I reminded of the things I saw in South Carolina. It made me sad. But it was this story done on CNN that made me even sadder still. The lawmakers in South Carolina dropped the ball. Though I do not know who runs things in Dillon, SC, it makes no sense that an open school should be in such a terrible condition.

Gov. Sanford's political stand not to accept stimulus funding that could go to help meet the needs of Ty'Sheoma's school is insulting (not to mention the needs of the poorest in the state overall). Maybe Sanford and his supporters need to be reminded that the school Ty'Sheoma attends is the same school Ben Bernanke, the current Chair of the Federal Reserve, attended. And that is something that I remembered about South Carolina that I hope will go away one day: race and class still matter.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where My Historic Sports Sites At?

I am one of those weird people who thinks about the term diversity in its most broad definition. I think that we do a disservice to the concept of diversity by limiting our approach to the subject by erecting the parameters of race and ethnicity. It is one of the principal problems with the broader historic preservation movement. Generally speaking, when people in that world hear the term "diversity," they automatically think "Black." With that line of thinking, and it certainly isn't limited to the world of historic preservation, the discussion often ends before it begins, and diversity continues to occupy a cloistered space.

I raise this point to talk about the history of U.S. sport, as well as the preservation of the historic sites associated with that field of study. Too, often people have dismissed the historical relevance of American sports, and concomitantly, those associated sites. Issues related to gender, race and business innovation are all there. I, for example, focused on Jack Johnson and Joe Louis in my Master's thesis (white southern newspaper coverage of their championship reigns). In doing the research, I wondered how many of the various sites related to the first two black heavyweight champions remained. Were there markers identifying the historic significance of what once existed?

Sadly, very few historic sites related to American sport remain in tact.

One of my friends from graduate school has written a history of DC stadia politics, Capital Sporting Grounds: A History of Stadium and Ballpark Construction in Washington, DC. Brett Abrams, who is now an Archivist with the National Archives, is, like me, a sports fan (though I am quite particular about which sports I like). And, I would like to think that I had some minor influence on his decision to look at American sport history. Brett also got something of a "shout out" from Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher, with his blog post about the book.

What I think is important in histories like Brett's is that it provides preservationists with an opportunity to learn about sports related historic places of which we may not be aware. I doubt many know that Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC sits on the site of the old Griffith Stadium, where the Washington Redskins, Washington Senators and the Homestead Grays (Negro Leagues) once played. Which reminds me, I will have to check to see if there is a marker of sorts identifying that fact.

Those people who want to preserve historic sites related to American sports diversify the preservation movement. This type of preservation opens the field to people preservationists may not normally reach. Think of the preservation of Fenway Park, for example. People who'd never thought about preservation raised their voices to make sure that park was saved (though I wonder if the preservation community took sufficient advantage of that crescendo of interest). That effort showed people that places related to things that are a part of their lives have historic value, and that they have the power to save them.

Hats off to Brett for finishing his second book, and I hope that some here in DC will read it and be inspired to look at the preservation of some of the city's historic sport sites. And I hope that they will realize that they are helping to diversify, in a real sense, the preservation movement.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

On Michael Steele and Hip Hop

Okay, so I'm from the old school of the hip hop generation. I remember hearing "Rapper's Delight" and "Planet Rock" on the radio when I was in elementary school, and I loved it. I will admit that as I moved toward adolescence, I gravitated toward new wave, almost anything coming out of the UK musically, and pop. But hip hop was always there. Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Dana Dane, Salt-n-Pepa, Whodini, Roxanne Shante, etc. all kept me linked to hip hop during that period of exploration. But it was Eric B. & Rakim and Public Enemy that really got to me. These brothas were serious. Throughout my undergrad years, I was bouncing between R.E.M. and hip hop. I'm rambling I know, and I have a point, but I can hear all of that music in my mind right now.

I brought this up, because I have been bothered by Michael Steele for the last few weeks now. I have listened to him put forth outdated slang and strange utterances, all in the effort to bring some version of a hip hop sensibility to the Republican Party (which makes me wonder if Frodo Baggins had an easier task). It was particularly painful watching him on D.L. Hughley's show trying to offer Chuck D. praise for pulling himself out of the projects where he never lived (talk about getting your face cracked on national television). I won't even talk about Rep. Michelle Bachmann (as my Irish boys would say "Jay-sus"!).

Mind you, I think that it will be good, in the long run, to have it so that people will not be able to tell one's political party based on the color of one's skin. But, I just don't believe he is going about delivering his message the right way. Nor, do I believe that he really understands hip hop. Steele reminds me of my Pops, in that my Pops can appreciate the beats of hip hop, but he is really an old school R&B lover. Steele, most likely, is in a similar space. I think Ari Melber does a good job of explaining the difference between Steele and Obama. And, Ta-Nehisi Coates does an even better job of showing Steele's disconnection.

Ultimately, hip hop is about authenticity; it's about representing yourself. I am a gay, bougie, history & politics loving, proper talking black man, and just like Ledisi says, it's "Alright." Once Steele understands that, then he might be able to give the people some real hot spit (look it up).

Don't Believe the Hype - Public Enemy