A “Few Bad Apples”: A Historiographical Review of the White Power Movement

By Aidan Goldberg

On the morning of April 19th, 1995, a Ryder truck containing close to 5000 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane, and diesel fuel mixture detonated in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, leading to the catastrophic collapse of the northern half of the building, severely damaging all structures within a 4-block radius, and killing 168 people, including various federal employees and, particularly disturbingly, 19 children in a day care center directly adjacent to the blast. The bombing was perpetrated by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, two disaffected Army veterans, radicalized both by antigovernment literature and the perceived brutality of federal law enforcement at Ruby Ridge, Idaho–where a standoff between survivalist Randy Weaver and the United States Marshal Service resulted in the death of Weaver’s wife and son–and Waco, Texas, where an ATF/FBI siege of a fringe religious sect’s compound in Waco, Texas ended in the immolation of the compound and the deaths of 76 people.  

The attack on the Murrah Building remains the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism in American history, effectively forcing the federal government to dedicate new attention and commit greater resources to investigating and prosecuting white supremacist groups. While the intensity and efficacy of these investigative efforts has varied greatly depending on the ideological priorities of political leadership—consider, for example, the contrast between the Obama administration’s investment in anti-domestic terrorism efforts and the Trump administration’s legitimization of white supremacist rhetoric for political gain—white supremacy is now generally regarded as one of the most pressing national security concerns facing the United States. Racist, right-wing attacks have been occurring with increasing regularity; Black churchgoers gunned down in Charleston, Latinx individuals murdered at a Walmart in El Paso, elderly Jews shot at a congregation in Pittsburgh. Taken with other, overseas incidents of racialized political violence—Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 attacks on the Norwegian Prime Minsters’ office in Oslo and a Labor Party-run children’s summer camp, and the 2017 murder of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, to cite but two examples—these domestic attacks seem part of an increasingly globalized pattern of white supremacist revolutionary activity, in many ways inextricably tied to the development of a shared discourse between right-wing ideologues in Europe and the United States. Testifying to the urgency of the present moment, both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) affirmed during 2021 congressional hearings that the greatest domestic threat facing the United States comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists,” specifically white supremacists [1].

Given the post-Oklahoma City governmental focus on the security risks posed by right-wing domestic terrorism, and, more recently, the heightened public awareness about the dangers of white supremacy with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of Trumpism, it is perhaps unsurprising that there has been a proliferation in the past two decades of literature focusing on white supremacist violence. In this review, I have analyzed three popular readings which exemplify this body of work. The readings— The Terrorist Next Door, written by Daniel Levitas in 2004; Blood and Politics, written by Leonard Zeskind in 2009; and Bring the War Home, by Katherine Belew in 2019—are illustrative of the varying approaches academics, popular writers, and journalists have taken in their treatment of the white supremacist movement, and of the ways in which these historiographical methods have shifted over time. While it is difficult to extrapolate anything definitive from such a small sample size, it appears that authors writing about the white supremacist movement have adopted an increasingly holistic analytical lens, one emphasizing the tactical flexibility, social cohesion, and political influence of white power groups.

The Terrorist Next Door by Daniel Levitas is fairly narrow in scope, focusing specifically on the figure of “Reverend” William Potter Gale, and his establishment of a paramilitary group known as the Posse Comitatus in the early 1970s. Levitas delineates the origins and maturation of the Posse, outlining its birth out of opposition to the Civil Rights movement, its broadening connections to other factions in the white supremacist and anti-tax movements through the 1970s and 1980s, and its eventual metamorphosis into the “Christian Patriot” and militia movements which dominated the late 1980s and 1990s [2]. While Levitas clearly establishes the nexus between the Posse and other white supremacist groups, which, he contends, have been profoundly influenced by the Posse’s ideological framework, his book is primarily focused on the Posse, with any broader analysis of the modern paramilitary right filtered through that lens. 

As befits a semi-biographical study, Levitas begins the book with the immigration of William Gale’s family–ironically Jews fleeing from Russian pogroms in the late 19th century–to South Dakota. This background, while seemingly anecdotal, effectively forces the reader to consider the ways that religious and ethnic minorities might, in their effort to assimilate into existing sociopolitical and economic power structures, internalize and adopt white supremacist attitudes [3]. After discussing Gale’s family background and important experiences in his early life, Levitas describes how, following his discharge from the Army in 1950, Gale became increasingly engaged with anticommunist and, intertwined as they tended to be, antisemitic political causes, effectively embracing the Christian Identity movement by 1953. 

Gale’s political efforts which predated his founding of the Posse Comitatus were largely reliant on harnessing the bigotry of both conservative opposition to the Civil Rights Movement and Christian Identity theology, a fringe ideology which dictated that white people constituted the true Israelites, and which regarded the extermination of nonwhite peoples as necessary for the fulfillment of eschatological prophecy. Levitas is less interested in these early efforts to mobilize opposition to racial integration and to infuse Christianity with white supremacy–two tactics which were hardly novel–than he is with the ways in which Gale was able to take radical, right-wing rhetoric and effectively cloak it in “pseudoreligious legalisms” which lent it a semblance of credibility [4]. Through synthesizing anticommunist and white supremacist talking points, historical allusions to the principles of common law, and the idea of radical popular sovereignty into a single rhetorical toolbox, the Posse was able to provide a range of white nationalist activists and sympathizers with a useful (if inane) legal framework–one which affirmed the unconstitutionality of both federal civil rights legislation and the income tax [5].  Levitas suggests that the relative success of the movement can be attributed to both the usefulness of this quasi-legalistic framework and the movement’s effective use of dog whistles, rather than explicit appeals to notions of racial purity, to recruit a broader segment of the American public [6]. 

Professing this “American-sounding” ideology, Posse groups expanded rapidly from California, Gale’s home state, up the West Coast and to the Midwest, where they effectively leveraged contemporary economic challenges facing farmers—high interest rates, rising inflation, and low farm prices—to expand their recruitment efforts and political activities in rural areas. By the 1980s, the Posse had expanded its political base to encompass a wide range of economic classes and political demographics. While increasing confrontation with the federal government—including, notably, the murder of two federal marshals in 1983 by Gordon Kahl, a Posse member—forced the movement to reconfigure itself under the new label of “Christian Patriotism,” its ideas were effectively incorporated by the militia movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Levitas concludes that the Posse’s success lay in its ability to articulate a new anti-government legal framework, and, critically, in its ability to unite the underlying conspiracy theories and bigotries of its ideology with more mainstream political issues like gun control, land use, and regional planning [7]. While Levitas’ study of the white supremacist movement vis a vis Gale and the Posse is narrowly focused, and his discussion of broader historiographical issues and events somewhat minimal, Levitas provides an excellent overview of a critically important faction within the larger movement. 

By contrast, Zeskind’s Blood and Politics, written five years after Levitas’ account, takes a significantly more expansive view of white supremacy, providing a survey of the white nationalist movement more broadly and describing critical developments from the 1950s through the immediate aftermath of September 11th. While Zeskind, like Levitas, is sure to situate the subject of his investigation, white nationalism, in the context of other white supremacist movements, his engagement with the latter is relegated to what he sees as pertinent to telling the story of the former. Like Levitas, Zeskind clearly emphasizes the importance of the Civil Rights Movement in mobilizing political actors on the radical right.  Zeskind contends that white supremacist organizations in the post-Jim Crow era, responding to the inability of their predecessors to prevent widespread racial integration, opted to “build a movement around the idea of white dispossession.” The rhetoric of white dispossession—that the economic and political dominance of whites was being threatened by political reform and demographic change—motivated racist groups to coalesce around the need to create a white ethnostate [8].

Zeskind has chosen to center his narrative around individuals, focusing on two prominent white nationalists,Willis Allison Carto and William Pierce,whom he believes epitomize a key strategic divide in the movement between a more reformist “mainstreaming” represented by Carto and a more revolutionary “vanguardism” represented by Pierce. As Zeskind describes it, Carto’s “mainstreaming” approach was heavily preoccupied with cultivating political respectability. Zeskind notes that Carto attempted to win people over to the white nationalist cause by working within existing political institutions to affect policy change. Pierce’s “vanguardism” approach, by contrast, was rooted in the premise that gradual reform is an impossibility, and that any attempts to recruit white people en masse through respectability politics is misguided, instead suggesting that the movement should rely on small, highly organized cells of dedicated cadres to take revolutionary action [9].

Zeskind’s narrative, which describes the political activism and criminal activities of numerous factions within the white supremacist movement—David Duke’s neo-confederates, pseudo-constitutional groups like the Posse Comitatus, and myriad paramilitary survivalist groups—is framed around this ideological and strategic debate between Willis Carto and William Pierce. Zeskind suggests that the viability of each strategy shifted depending on contemporary political conditions. For instance, when describing white supremacist activities in the 1980s, Zeskind notes how the bank robberies and assassinations carried out by vanguardist factions like the Order prompted federal prosecution of key figures in the white supremacist movement, leading the vanguardist approach to fall out of favor. This is not to say that acts of political violence were not perpetrated by organizations within the movement—the OKC bombing testifies to that—but that vanguardism ceased to be the dominant strategic approach as the 1980s drew to a close. Indeed, Zeskind suggests that by the 1990s, those on the right had begun to develop a form of ethnic nationalism which found its way to the margins of political respectability, attributing this development, in part, to the ways in which the end of the Cold War and effective collapse of communism catalyzed a reckoning within conservative circles about the meaning of American identity [10]. He argues that the relative political success of figures like David Duke, who was elected to the Louisiana state legislature, and Pat Buchanan, who enjoyed considerable support in national presidential primaries, exemplified this new form of white nationalism and illustrated the extent to which white nationalist rhetoric has been assimilated into the political mainstream. 

Zeskind’s study is, broadly speaking, more all-encompassing than Levitas’, and he provides the reader with greater insight into both the methods of his historiographical approach and the challenges associated with studying white supremacist groups. He describes how, in researching hate groups, he would rely on a wide range of printed sources, including racist and antisemitic booklets and periodicals, numerous newspaper clippings, and a variety of courtroom documents, including federal affidavits, criminal indictments, and depositions. Additionally, Zeskind details how he relied on the stories of people who were part of the movement, both current members that he met while attending white supremacist rallies, and those individuals who sought him out when they were trying to leave the movement. Zeskind also addresses what is one of the most obvious historiographical challenges associated with studying fringe, racist groups—their tendency to lie to outsiders—noting that  to work around this, he enlisted several volunteers to attend racist meetings and gather information covertly [11].

In Bring the War Home, Katherine Belew seeks to provide a more extensive narrative of the white supremacist movement. The author departs from the traditional historiographical approach to the post-Vietnam white power movement—one which characterizes the movement as a simple resurgence of Klan activity–seeking instead to understand white power as something more ideologically all-encompassing and tactically flexible than had been previously understood [12]. Indeed, Belew is quite deliberate in her use of the term “white power” rather than “white nationalist” or “white separatist,” arguing that the former better encompasses the range of ideologies and practices aimed at affirming the political and economic control of white people, and suggesting that the latter terms minimize the violence of the movement while implying that white supremacists were seeking to defend the American state [13]. Taking a comprehensive approach to the archive, Belew begins her study in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, arguing that the historical memory of American defeat in Vietnam played a central role in the efforts of the white power movement to construct a common group identity [14]. The centrality of Vietnam in her narrative represents a particularly interesting contribution to the historiography of the movement, forcing the reader to reckon with the ways in which militarism, imperialism, and racialized violence abroad might, and frequently do, have profound repercussions domestically. Her historical study goes on to discuss the intensification of white supremacist criminal activities in the 1980s and the effective climax of the movement’s violence in Oklahoma City.  While Belew’s work is more limited in time frame when compared to the chronological scope of Zeskind and Levitas, the depth and comprehensive nature of Belew’s research enables her to effectively reframe our understanding of the white power movement. 

Moreover, Belew argues quite compellingly that prevailing scholarship has failed to recognize both the extent to which white power constituted a full-fledged social movement and the movement’s remarkable influence on mainstream politics [15]. Whereas Levitas and Zeskind orient their narrative around particular individuals and their respective organizations, Belew’s study examines the ways in which more macro-level political developments, namely the Vietnam War, allowed the white power movement to construct a common political identity. Belew argues that, after the military defeat in Southeast Asia, there was a concerted effort by the white power movement to construct a common narrative about the war: that American soldiers had been betrayed by cowardly military and political leadership, and that their sacrifice had been trivialized by an ungrateful public. This narrative helped the movement both to create a common political identity, effectively unifying a disparate array of white supremacist congregations, neo-confederates, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis, and to attract more military veterans, a development which she sees as instrumental in the development of the movement’s paramilitary culture and infrastructure and, consequently, of its capacity for revolutionary violence [16].

Belew divides her study into three constituent parts. Part I focuses on the 1970s, establishing the role of violence within the movement, including the centrality of the Vietnam narrative, the development of paramilitary training camps, and the nexus between the white power movement and various transnational mercenary groups. In Part II, Belew focuses on the 1980s, illuminating how the movement became more and more violently antistatist, discussing the movement’s 1983 declaration of war on the federal government, its use of early computer networks and cell-style organizing, and its attempts to steal military-grade weaponry from the state. Part III looks to the apex of the white power movement’s revolutionary violence, describing its confrontations with the federal government at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas, and the effective culmination of antigovernment violence with the Oklahoma City bombing. Belew concludes her study with a meditation on the ways in which the bombing has obfuscated and distorted historical memory, arguing that it cemented public perceptions of white supremacist violence as merely the acts of a few men rather than the manifestation of a broader movement. Belew argues that the inability of the American public to understand the broader implications of OKC and the white supremacist violence that fueled it, in part, set the stage for the rise of Donald Trump, a political development that seemingly took mainstream and left-wing America by surprise. 

Perhaps because she is writing as an academic historian, Belew deals at great length with the historiographical issues inherent to writing about white supremacist groups. She notes, for instance, the difficulties associated with incorporating images from the white power movement into the book, saying that using any photographs owned by racist organizations risks making a financial contribution to their cause. Like Zeskind, she also points out that white supremacists tend to hide their activities, legal or illegal, to mitigate the risk of government infiltration of their cells. Belew also emphasizes the many ways that the archive itself is limited. She suggests that FBI, ATF, Marshall Service, and DOJ records, used widely in research of the white power movement, vary enormously in the accuracy of their accounts, the motivations of their authors, and the degree to which they have been redacted. She further asserts that white supremacist activity in prisons—a key part of the movement—has been poorly documented, and that legal documents from the height of the movement in the 1980s and 1990s are rarely digitized, making them difficult to access. Belew also notes, quite shrewdly, that records from extremist watchdogs like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, while extremely useful, ought to be read in light of these organizations’ reliance on donations; that is to say, they might have a financial incentive to overestimate the movement’s influence and organizational sophistication [17].

Taken together, these readings support several broad statements about contemporary trends in the historiography of the white power movement. First, the recent proliferation of literature focusing on the white power movement and racialized violence illustrate the extent to which both popular and academic interest in these groups has increased as right-wing domestic terrorism is increasingly seen as one the most pressing critical threats to national security. Second, the books I selected suggest an evolution in who is writing about the movement. Whereas Daniel Levitas and Leonard Zeskind have worked primarily as experts on the origins and activities of white supremacist and neo-Nazi group (Zeskind, for a time, also worked as a community activist), Katherine Belew is a professor at the University of Chicago, suggesting the ways in which the white power movement has increasingly become an important subject of inquiry for academic researchers. Finally, the differences between the three books indicate a fundamental shift in the historiography towards more all-encompassing studies of the white power movement as a whole, exemplified by Bring the War Home, rather than more specific examinations of particular groups, as shown by Blood and Politics and The Terrorist Next Door. All three books, however, are thoroughly researched and cogently written, significantly contributing to our understanding of the history of various factions within the white power movement. Future scholarship should look to answer more developed questions, building off of the work of Levitas, Zeskind, and Belew. For instance, is it even possible to identify common root causes of white supremacist violence that can be applied across disparate demographic groups; disaffected workers in the rust belt, Christian extremists, anti-immigration vigilantes at the border, corporate CEOs reliant on GOP support? Furthermore, what does our lack of understanding about these issues mean about our ability to address white supremacist violence in a cohesive, policy-driven manner? There is an urgent need for continued scholarship in this area—scholarship that broadens our understanding of white supremacy beyond the focus on a few isolated groups, a few bad apples.


[1] Eileen Sullivan, Katie Benner, “Top law enforcement officials say the biggest domestic terror threat comes from white supremacists,” New York Times, June 15th, 2021.

[2] Daniel Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002): 3.

[3] Levitas, The Terrorist Next Door, 11.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 9-10.

[8] Ibid., 22.

[9] Ibid., 26-27.

[10] Ibid., 29-30.

[11] Ibid., 16-18.

[12] Katherine Belew, Bring the War Home (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019): 25.

[13] Belew, Bring the War Home, 12.

[14] Ibid., 12-14.

[15] Ibid., 29.

[16] Ibid., 15.

[17] Ibid., 30-34.


Belew, Katherine. Bring the War Home. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2019.

Levitas, Daniel. The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002. 

Sullivan, Eileen, Benner, Katie. “Top law enforcement officials say the biggest domestic terror threat comes from white supremacists.” New York Times, June 15th, 2021. 

Zeskind, Leonard. Blood and Politics. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2009. 

The Sympathizer: Grappling with the Memories of War

By Dan-Ha Le

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am a man of two minds”

Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen: 'I always felt displaced no matter where I was' |  Fiction | The Guardian

The Sympathizer, a Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Professor Viet Thanh Nguyen, tells the story of a Communist spy in the South Vietnamese army, whose mission is to flee to America with the remnants of the Diem regime and report back on possible insurgent efforts. Aside from grappling with the trauma of displacement within the Vietnamese diaspora in America, Viet Thanh Nguyen illustrated the struggles of living with a double-identity through the torn conscience of his protagonist. 

In 1975, Viet Thanh Nguyen fled Vietnam and came to America with his family by boat. Upon arrival, they were placed in a refugee camp and were later forced to separate to live with their respective sponsors while they awaited citizenship. His family was eventually able to reunite, settling in San Jose, California. Growing up as both American and Vietnamese, Nguyen had always felt like an intruder: an American spying on his very Vietnamese family, but also Vietnamese spying on his very American society. In fact, this experience is what inspired the The Sympathizer protagonist’ profession as a double-spy.

 As the bastard son of a Vietnamese single mother in rural Central Vietnam, the protagonist had always hated his father for making him a bastard, of mixed blood no less. Half-French, half-Vietnamese, not Vietnamese enough to be respected by his countrymen, not quite French enough to be heralded as a Westerner, the protagonist has long resigned to receiving unjust verbal abuse and harassment: “the baby-faced guard who comes to check on [him] every day calls [him] a bastard whenever he feels like it”. 

The theme of double-identity is central to the message of The Sympathizer. A true and committed believer of the Communist cause, the unnamed protagonist volunteered to infiltrate the lives of his enemies in order to advance the operations of liberating Saigon from American grasp. After years of going undercover, the protagonist successfully carried out the missions he was given, while adjusting perfectly into his double-life. Eventually, the protagonist unintentionally develops sympathy and familial bonds with the enemy, while trying desperately to hold onto the ideology that painted his missions’ bigger picture. The two minds and identities that the protagonist assumed onto himself drift further apart to the point where he had to face the deeper political nuances of the Vietnam War, as well as his role within it.   

As a Vietnamese who was born and raised in Vietnam, the history lessons that I was taught and the historical narrative that I draw from is vastly different from that of Nguyen and my Vietnamese-American peers. Yet The Sympathizer forces one to come face-to-face with the duality, or rather, manifold nature of history. As much as the protagonist wanted to possess one and only one identity, the social nuances that envelope his existence compel him to wrestle with the morally ambiguous nature of history and war, to reconcile two adverse observations of the same truth.

Review: A Marvelous History

By Sarah Naiman

It is not often that a show wins eight Emmy awards in one year. Given its countless accolades, vast praise, and outstanding reputation, it is no wonder that The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is one of Amazon’s most successful television shows. These successes aside, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel stands out because of its fantastic period costumes and sets, fast-paced and witty dialogue, and ability to broach modern issues through a historical lens. 

The show’s protagonist is Miriam “Midge” Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan), a young, wealthy, and beautiful Upper Westside housewife whose world is thrown upside-down after her husband, Joel (Michael Zegen), an aspiring comedian and businessman, has an affair with his secretary. After refusing Joel’s apology, Midge finds herself in a downward spiral. Suddenly, she is on stage at the Gaslight Café, a downtown comedy club where Joel often (unsuccessfully) tested his new material. In a drunken rage, to the delight of the audience, Midge lands punchline after punchline, only to be hauled off stage by the police for her use of foul language. Susie Meyerson (Alex Borstein), the manager of the Gaslight, is shocked and impressed by Midge’s performance, and bails her out of jail. This night begins Midge’s career in comedy; bolstered by Susie as her manager, she uses her time on stage at the Gaslight to process all the new changes in her life. 

In seasons two and three, we see a great deal of growth in Midge, as she commits herself to a career in comedy. Significantly, she again rejects Joel, and ultimately (spoiler!) abandons her season two love interest, Benjamin Ettenberg (Zachary Levi). Similarly, she gets a job working at the makeup counter at B. Altman. Significantly, she also tells her parents, Rose and Abe Weissman (Marin Hinkle and Tony Shalhoub, respectively) about her decision to pursue comedy. After her rendezvous in the Catskills during season two, Midge takes to the skies in season three, as she is signed onto a worldwide tour with superstar singer Shy Baldwin (Leroy McClain). All while managing two kids!

Midge encounters countless problems as an aspiring comedian, mother, and newly single woman in the early 1960s. Obviously, the odds are severely stacked against her. However, throughout all of her struggles and triumphs, Midge continues to serve as a reluctant feminist beacon. While the series opens with her serving as an ambitionless and doting housewife, she is soon forced to become independent. Moreover, while she initially sulks and resents this independence, when offered, she ultimately opts not to return to her life, as it was void of deeper meaning. Additionally, Midge uses feminist values through her many struggles with love. While she and Joel briefly reunite, she is unwilling to sacrifice her career to restore their marriage. Even when Benjamin supports her career in season two, she extricates herself from the relationship because she knows that she must devote herself to comedy. Another good example of feminist Midge is in season three, when she is hired to voice a radio ad for then-candidate Phyllis Schlafly. While Midge originally accepts the gig, with the help of her father, she ultimately recognizes the ad’s offensive message. As a result, she refuses to read the ad on air. In this example, Midge once again shifts from a reluctant to an enthusiastic feminist. Hence, while it is easy to write Midge off as a young woman who loves clothes and talks too much, beneath this façade, she serves a feminist trendsetter for her time.

In terms of historical accuracy, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel has a mixed record. While the clothes and set are often promoted as perfect period pieces, some viewers quibble with the ways in which the show examines historical race relations. While Midge has friends and colleagues across the racial spectrum, her frequent multiracial encounters are likely not realistic, given that segregation was still a prevalent issue. This aside, many believe that the show tells a story that reflects life as an early female comedian. It is widely recognized that Midge’s life is loosely based on that of a young Joan Rivers. Additionally, Midge’s female comedian rival, Sophie Lennon (Jane Lynch) is also believed to be modeled after Phyllis Diller, another pioneer of the field. Credibility is also added to the show through the use of historical characters and references. In particular, the presence of Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby), a popular and controversial comedian in the 1950s and 1960s, gives the show historical grounding. Midge’s friendship with Bruce seems realistic, as Bruce was also a trailblazer in comedy. 

Overall, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is definitely a show worth watching. While the production of season four has been delayed, fans around the world are eagerly anticipating its release. The show may not exactly parallel real life, but it should still offer fans of history a (somewhat romanticized) glimpse into life in the 1960s as a pioneering comedian and feminist. Though Midge is a fictional character, she represents the many women who fought similar battles for equality, respect, and dignity during her time. 

The Case of Liberty in History

Note: This article is supposed to be read in conjunction with “Review: The 1619 Project.”

By George Gworek

Two weeks prior to the first presidential ‘debate,’ President Donald Trump provided divisive remarks regarding the teaching of American History in America’s public school system. President Trump denounced the ‘twisted web of lies’ being taught in U.S. classrooms, echoing his assertions from an earlier speech on July 4th at Mt. Rushmore. This web was to be untangled by the 1776 Commission, a proposed executive order to promote “patriotic education” within our public schools. The commission ignores legal issues surrounding federal overreach, and reintroduces extensive logistical and analytical issues surrounding the education and interpretation of history to the public sphere. As members of a nation that continues to wrestle and reconcile with its imperial and domineering past the commission reinvigorates discussions regarding the federal government’s jurisdiction over school curriculums, the true meaning of ‘patriotic history’ in America, and the subjectivity and objectivity of history. 

The Federal government has always retained minimal involvement in public education, a precedent established and maintained through the 10th Amendment. Rather than mandate specific curriculums or topics at a federal level, the Amendment ensures that these rights are “reserved to the states respectively.” The issue of states rights has been perceived since its inception in 1791. However, this Commission is not the only time in which its sanctity has been challenged. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), passed in 1965, was part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” The piece of legislation was the most far reaching federal legislation affecting education ever passed in the U.S. Congress. Emphasizing equal access to education, the act provided federal funding to primary and secondary schools and authorized funds for professional development and instructional material. 

In spite of being predominantly part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” this legislation was also passed at the height of the Cold War; the decision was not without political ambition. In 1957, eight years prior to the establishment of the act, the Soviet Union won a crucial battle with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial earth satellite. This early loss within the space race sparked anxiety that America’s public schools were falling behind. As a result, after winning his re-election in a landslide victory, President Johnson immediately pursued the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Johnson’s move was a bipartisan success, prompted by a common adversary due to the Cold War. Unlike the recent 1776 Commission, the act was also initiated not by the argument of subject matter, but the urge for overall accessibility and success rate. The current issue regarding our schools is not an internal subject struggle regarding the quality of our education, but rather an argument over the correct way to teach subject matter. The issue is politicized in a way that does not put the benefit of our students first, but the agenda of specific political parties first. In addition, the 1776 Commission does not come from the agenda of a reputable social group, such as intellectual, but rather the federal government; it is an attempt to bridge the agenda of our government, an objectively authoritarian measure.

The 1776 Commission is a distinctly political venture, a conservative response to the New York Times 1619 Project, a distinctly progressive project which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the national narrative” (Nikole Hannah-Jones). The project claims that America’s birth began not in 1776 following the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but in 1619, when slavery first arrived in Britain’s North American colonies. The Project has been highly criticized by prominent historians and political figures alike for its “displacement of historical understanding by ideology” (Sean Wilentz). These comments made by Sean Wilentz, Professor of History at Princeton University, reflect an ongoing struggle amongst historians and all similar researched based fields of the humanities: personal neutrality (objectivity) and the subjective nature of research and analysis. 

Personal neutrality within research methods is the belief that facts should speak for themselves, untouched by interpretation or analysis. Wherever this piece of history comes from within an archive, whether it is a statistic, article, newspaper clipping, etc., it is not the job of the researcher to interpret the piece, rather to objectively view it and provide the subsequent information as stated. The effect of this form of research is the maintenance or perceived maintenance of an ‘accurate’ history, maintaining its integrity and providing a more authentic representation of the past. This integrity protects history from misinterpretation. 

However, with the adaptation of personal neutrality comes many logistical issues. It is essentially impossible to be an unbiased observer. Not only is it impossible for someone to be an unbiased proprietor of history, but those who created primary documents in real time were not free of their own biases. Primary documents have strong leniencies in the favors of those who write them, whether that be an individual or an institution. In addition, personal neutrality removes the possibility of fiction from being used as a primary source. The lack of historical authenticity directed towards novels from the same period of time as these primary documents, removes the possibility to learn from subjective analysis of these time periods in the day and age. As a result, we are unable to learn from these pieces of fiction that potentially uncover historical partiality. 

Subjective research and analysis attempts to rectify these historical biases, those both within primary documents, and the subsequent ‘personally neutral’ historical rhetoric within research and analytical scholarship. It is pieces such as Nikole Hannah-Jones 1619 Project and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that are the result of these historical crusades. Subjective analysis can provide light and acknowledgement to periods of history that would otherwise be ignored and glossed over for other events of the time. Subjective research allows historians to analyze primary sources from a more accurate perspective than if they were taken from an objective standpoint. Bringing together historical context and comparing and contrasting primary sources can provide a new and seemingly more accurate narrative of history. More often than not, this history that is uncovered is the history of those that were subjugated and ignored in our high school textbooks, in lieu of more favorable histories to provide a positive American narrative. 

However, subjective analysis can be taken too far. Academics like Wilentz, such as Professor Sam Wineburg of Stanford University’s School of Education, argue that research based on subjectivity can perpetrate the same issues which they seek to resolve. Wineburg particularly critiques Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, claiming that the book became the “single authoritative source of history for so many Americans” (Wineburg 2). This issue is not unfounded, as continues to be conducted narratives are subject to change. As new narratives are created, the validity of older ones fall into question, as well, the dominant authoritative sources or our studies will lead to impact our own research. This research will fuel future political ideologies. 

The 20th century’s violent relationship with nationalism (as well as the world’s continued difficulty with this ideology) has resulted in a poor public view of ‘Patriotism.’ However, this unfavorable association is primarily due to the failure to distinguish the two ideologies. The difference between the two is characteristically philosophical; they are seemingly two sides of the same coin. For patriotism, there is patria, one’s country; in the case of nationalism there is natio, one’s nation (referring to ethnic/cultural individualism). There is considerable overlap between a ‘nation’ and ‘country,’ however, this gap widens when a state’s ethnicity is less homogeneous. This ethnicity is the basis for nationalism, hence the term white-nationalists being an extreme nationalist group. This is the crowd that Trump panders to as he proposes the 1776 Projectthose wanting to maintain, reinforce, and amplify the white-nationalist portions of the United States’ history, while belittling and ignoring the history which does not favor these nationalists’ agenda. However, for a liberal state to work, citizens must understand the national interest as something other than the interest of the state. This is a line currently being misconstrued by the Trump Administration through its proposal of the 1776 Project

The solution to this issue, with regards to providing a proper lens of history, is a rendered version of ‘political patriotism.’ These varieties of  ‘new patriotism’ could provide the unifying function of nationalism while avoiding its emphasis on culture and ethnic identity. The unifying function of this ‘new patriotism’ would be the love of, and loyalty to, one’s political community, laws and institutions, and the liberties and rights which they make possible. The result is the creation of many forms of American Patriotism, the most idealistic of which, confronting America’s history, would be the “Patriotism of Liberty.” This patriotism bonds individuals of the United States not by blood, but by ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ and a love of the institutions that make this possible. These are founding principles not just of the Constitution, but of liberal democracy all over the world. Love for these merits and the institutions that make them possible does not necessitate the endorsement of one’s country or its actions, rather just a love for these specific principles. 

This distinction is important as we turn to providing the “Patriotism of Liberty” as a lens for history. America has a long history of not endorsing their own politically patriotic merits, from its major role in the slave trade, to imperialism and colonialism, and 157 years of racial discrimination, subjugation and violence. The protection of this culture is inherently nationalistic. However, with regards to a lens of history, this culture, a culture which sits idly by or endorses such a disregard for America’s founding virtues or merits, is inherently unpatriotic. The 1776 Project is a ploy to protect and reinstate a white-national anthropology, provided under a false narrative of patriotism. A true patriotic analysis of American history, one of “Patriotism of Liberty,” would seek to reconcile with its past providing the basis of American liberties as the driving factor. With such a perspective, it would be inherently unpatriotic and a disservice to ignore or minimize where these liberties fell short. Whether or not the Trump Administration hopes to de-emphasize these values directly is unlikely. It would be at a great political disinterest of Conservatives in America to do so outrightly. However, by intentionally showing disregard for those disenfranchised within history, the Administration inevitably harms and violates these American merits of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

The field of history has no illusion of “objectivity,” that is to say the omission of a particular point of view. Any historian is forced to choose from an infinite number of facts. As a result, from its primary sources, to its academic research, history has and always will remain a subjective study. We must be tolerant of the complexity and mess of history, or we will only recreate issues which we have hoped to rectify for future generations. As well, any dominance within a narrative is bound to be detrimental to the study of the subject and will conclusively contain inaccuracies. However, any form of authoritative dominance within the narrative of history will remain inevitable, as no academic nor historical source is free of individual subjectivity. Understanding of this imminent characteristic of history and working with history is being ignored by our federal government with the creation of the 1776 Commission. The Commission does not respect the messy innuendos of the study of history, instead opting for its own authoritative narrative. However, we can mitigate these limitations, or adversely make them entirely transparent through the adoption of historical lenses such as the “Patriotism of Liberty.” 

Works Cited 

Plotnikoff, David. “Zinn’s Influential History Textbook has Problems,” Stanford Report. Stanford, California, December 12, 2012, news.stanford.edu/news/2012/december/wineburg-historiography-zinn-122012.html. 

Primoratz, Igor. “Patriotism,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), plato.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/encyclopedia/archinfo.cgi?entry=patriotism&archive=spr2019.  

Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “The 1619 Project” New York Times. New York, New York, 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.

Wilentz, Sean. “A Matter of Facts” The Atlantic. Washington D.C., January 22, 2020, http://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/01/1619-project-new-york-times-wilentz/605152/.

Pelsue, Brendan. “When it Comes to Education, the Federal Government is in Charge of …. Um What?” Harvard Graduate School of Education Magazine. Cambridge, Massachusetts 2017, http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/17/08/when-it-comes-education-federal-government-charge-um-what.

Serwer, Adam. “The Fight Over the 1619 Project Is Not About the Facts” The Atlantic. Washington D.C., December 23, 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/12/historians-clash-1619-project/604093/.

Zinn, Howard. “A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present” HarperCollins Publishers. New York 2005.

Review: The 1619 Project

Note: This article is supposed to be read in conjunction with “The Case of Liberty in History.”

By Meredith Warden 

The primary goal of the New York Times’s ambitious 1619 Project is to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative” (“The 1619 Project”). The 1619 Project fills in historical gaps and highlights the centrality of slavery and Black Americans within America’s founding, past, and present by analyzing the history and currents of anti-Black racism in the U.S.

As a collection of long-form essays, the 1619 Project has space to discuss the legacy of slavery in everything from capitalism to healthcare to urban planning. The common threads between many of these essays run deep, working to further emphasize the entrenched status and legacy of slavery throughout America’s history and the present moment. 

Matthew Desmond’s essay traces the how slavery was fundamental to the development of capitalism—he states, “Cotton was to the 19th century what oil was to the 20th: among the world’s most widely traded commodities”—Bryan Stevenson’s piece delves into the echoes of slavery in mass incarceration, mentioning that inmates in some facilities “worked in fields under the supervision of horse-riding, shotgun-toting guards who forced them to pick crops, including cotton.” As Stevenson writes, the U.S. has the highest global incarceration rate, and this prison system was intentionally created to maintain “strategies of racial control” by marking “anything that challenged the racial hierarchy” as a crime. When read together, these essays artfully pull out the systemically obscured threads between slavery, capitalism, and mass incarceration.

Trymaine Lee and Kevin M. Kruse’s essays add layers to the ways in which slavery’s legacy shapes racial inequities today. Detailing the “racial wealth gap” between Black and white Americans, Lee details how “economic terror and wealth-stripping” from the 1860s onward have “left black people at a lasting economic disadvantage” because any financial efforts they made to gain wealth were “regarded as an affront to white supremacy.” Moreover, as Kruse and Lee write, “wealth-building” policies like the New Deal and institutions like the Home Owners Loan Corporation excluded Black people and segregated them into redlined districts, many of which remain impoverished and disinvested-in today.

Linda Villarosa and Jeneen Interlandi’s essays detail how pseudoscientific beliefs about racial differences that started as a way to justify slavery —such as the theory that Black people feel less pain than white people—continue to mask the “brutal effects of discrimination and structural inequities” in our current healthcare system (Villarosa). Interlandi’s essay, in particular, illuminates how the National Medical Association (“the leading black medical society” throughout much of the 1900s) began the movement to push for a universal health care system—a fight that is still ongoing.  

In considering the ongoing effects of slavery in various parts of society, the 1619’s collection of essays does a fantastic job of revealing systemic racism’s strength today. These essays also importantly demonstrate resistance and joy in spite of this brutal system of inequality. As Nikole Hannah-Jones, the organizer of the entire 1619 Project, states in her introductory essay, it is Black Americans “who have been the perfecters of this democracy” that America as a country has purported to be since its founding. The Black struggle against racism has been present since the first ship appeared on the horizon of the Atlantic in 1619, and this struggle has “helped the country live up to its founding ideals..not only for ourselves [Black Americans]…[but for] every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights” (Hannah-Jones). Wesley Morris’s article on music gets at both the racism inherent in white America loving “black music,” especially minstrel shows (for “loving black culture has never meant loving black people, too”), but also the hope within this music, for it is “the music of a people who survived, who not only won’t stop but also can’t be stopped.” Another essay, which includes photos and stories of recent Howard University Law School graduates, emphasizes the struggle for equality and freedom in stating that these graduates “represent nothing less than their ancestors’ wildest dreams” (Aduayom). Likewise, many of the poems and creative stories in one compilation-style essay speak to this legacy of Black resistance. Reginald Dwayne Betts’s piece, for example, artfully redacts most of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1973, leaving only the words that speak to the agency and empowerment of people who fled enslavement (“the fugitive…empowered…he or she…fled”). Other pieces speak to Black uprisings, such as the 1800 Gabriel’s Rebellion (one of the “most extensively planned slave rebellions, with the intention of forming an independent black state in Virginia”) and the “Negro Fort” in Seminole, Florida, a haven for fugitives, Black Seminoles, and free Black people (Jenkins; Jess). 

The 1619 Project is an incredible collection of essays that seek to, as the Editor in Chief of the New York Times writes, “expand the reader’s sense of the American past” (Silverstein). The Project itself seeks to tear down the pattern of omitting talk of slavery and systemic racism from American society as a whole, including in public life, healthcare, politics, and school (see Nikita Stewart’s essay, which details how schools barely teach about slavery or sugarcoat it). The Project has even spurred a companion podcast and curriculum, demonstrating the far-reaching ripples of this alternative reframing of history. Despite nitpicking academic criticisms about the project and political backlash that seeks to intensify white supremacy, blind nationalism, and a lack of critical thinking about American history (see the 1776 Project), the 1619 Project is an instrumental addition to popular and academic thought. In presenting an alternative perspective on history, one that draws threads between the past and the present, the 1619 Project continues to speak to modern resistance movements, such as the Black Lives Matter Movement, that fight to uproot and eliminate anti-Black racism and systemic racism.

Works Cited 

“The 1619 Project.” New York Times, updated 4 Sep. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

“A New Literary Timeline of African-American History.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/african-american-poets.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Aduayom, Djeneba. “Their Ancestors Were Enslaved by Law. Now They’re Lawyers.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/howard-university-law-school.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Desmond, Matthew. “American Capitalism is Brutal. You Can Trace that to the Plantation.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019,  www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/slavery-capitalism.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Hannah-Jones, Nikole. “America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Interlandi, Jeneen. “Why Doesn’t America Have Universal Health Care? One Word: Race.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/universal-health-care-racism.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Kruse, Kevin M. “How Segregation Caused Your Traffic Jam.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/traffic-atlanta-segregation.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Lee, Trymaine. “How America’s Vast Racial Wealth Gap Grew: By Plunder.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/racial-wealth-gap.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Morris, Wesley. “Why is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music?” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/music-black-culture-appropriation.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Silverstein, Jake. “We Respond to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project.” New York Times, 20 Dec. 2019 (updated 4 Jan. 2020), www.nytimes.com/2019/12/20/magazine/we-respond-to-the-historians-who-critiqued-the-1619-project.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Stevenson, Bryan. “Why American Prisons Owe Their Cruelty to Slavery.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/prison-industrial-complex-slavery-racism.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

Villarosa, Linda. “How False Beliefs in Physical Racial Difference Still Live in Medicine Today.” New York Times, 14 Aug. 2019, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/racial-differences-doctors.html. Accessed 10 Oct. 2020. 

“You Know This House”: Review of The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

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Reviewed by Meredith Warden 

Sarah Monique Broom’s debut novel The Yellow House is, at first glance, a memoir of her childhood and early adulthood. However, the book offers much more than a chronology of the author’s life. Broom deftly ties together space, memory, and history to interrogate her relationship with the titular Yellow House and the neglected New Orleans East neighborhood in which she grew up. The Yellow House is both a story of familial love replete in the physical space of home and a historical and contemporary study of disinvestment in Black neighborhoods and communities.

The eponymous Yellow House, bought by Broom’s mother after her first husband died, is a central presence in Broom’s life. The youngest child of Ivory Mae and Simon Broom (Ivory Mae’s second husband), Sarah Broom is born into a house that is homey yet falling apart “from the start” (58). Her mother, filling the house with brand-new furniture and carpeting, describes the structure as “beautiful because that was my first house that I actually owned” (59). The Yellow House becomes intertwined with the author’s family as they “grew into all the spaces of the house…the family’s traces everywhere” (77). Broom’s evocative descriptions of these lived-in spaces, of the Yellow House as a character in and of itself, meld seamlessly with the narrative of her family.

 Yet the house is also built on sinking land and, once Simon dies before the author’s first birthday, his absence exposes “the house’s frailties” (110). The room in which he died “folded in on itself,” and so does Broom’s family, retreating to the house’s interiority and prohibiting non-family from seeing the home (99). Broom vividly describes the “slow creeping” of shame warning the family that, in Ivory Mae’s words, “You know this house not all that comfortable for other people” (146). Without her father, the author’s childhood home deteriorates even as her mother tries to maintain it, “its disintegration a straight line always lengthening, ad infinitum” (150). 

Broom artfully intertwines this entropy of the Yellow House with the systemic neglect of her neighborhood, New Orleans East. She details the history of New Orleans East, initially lauded in the 1960s as a “Model City…taking form within an old and glamorous one” that would make New Orleans “the brightest spot in the South” (55). However, by the late 1970s, the neighborhood had changed from mostly white to mostly Black, from investment to disinvestment. One of Broom’s most insightful themes—space—jumps out here. Broom writes that “if the city were concentric circles, the farther out from the French Quarter you went…the less tended to you would be. Those of us living in New Orleans East often felt we were on the outer ring” (301). In the eyes of affluent, white residents and tourists, New Orleans East is marginal, on the edge of New Orlean’s narrative. 

With “the Water,” which is how Broom refers to Hurricane Katrina, this marginalization becomes even starker. The myth of New Orleans “can sometimes suffocate the people who live and suffer under the place’s burden”; the myth does not have room to address “levee failure or lack of clean running water or bus service, trash pickup, mental health services, jobs” (328, 238). The city demolishes the Yellow House after the Water damages it, and this sudden absence deeply affects Broom. In moving prose, she writes that “the house held my father inside of it…as long as the house stood, containing these remnants, my father was not yet gone. And then suddenly, he was” (232). “The weight of us all in the house,” that familial weight, abates as Broom’s family is displaced and scattered (232). Defined by as much as confined to the Yellow House, Broom feels lost without it: “the house had burst open; I had burst open” (240).  

Living in Harlem when the hurricane struck, Broom again experiences the urge to leave, to forget New Orleans, after the Yellow House is destroyed. She goes to Burundi for five months, but, feeling lost and disconnected, she returns to New Orleans and takes a communications job for now-infamous Mayor Ray Nagin. Yet she still feels helpless toward the city, stating that “more and more I began to feel that I was on the wrong side of the fence, selling a recovery that wasn’t exactly happening for real people” (283). Even with Broom’s City Hall job, it takes seven years for her mother to get a reimbursement for the torn-down Yellow House; recovery and repairs are measured “by spoonfuls”; and “more than 100,000 people—one-third of the population—[are] still displaced” (281, 273). Feeling unmoored in the Water’s aftermath, Broom begins to consider the question that will form the genesis and core of The Yellow House: “How to resurrect a house with words?” (292). 

This question grows during the year Broom lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans, as she confirms the fact that “much of what is great and praised about the city comes at the expense of its native black people” (301). Broom begins digging into archival research and writing down her family’s oral histories, doing the work that will form The Yellow House. One of the most powerful sections comes at the end of this year in the French Quarter, where Broom asks, among other questions, “Why do I sometimes feel that I do not have the right to the story of the city I come from?… Who has the rights to the story of a place?” (329). By creating a narrative that centers a place and people marginalized in the story of New Orleans, The Yellow House is Broom’s assertion of this right. If the stories of Broom’s neighborhood seem tangential at times, one must remember that these stories illuminate themes of home and community within a place neglected by those in power. Toward the end of the book, she writes that “no place is without history”; above all, The Yellow House is a striking and poetic demonstration of this fact (331).

Review: Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge

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Review by Emily Spezia-Shwiff

Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar details the escape and life of Ona Judge, an enslaved woman who ran away from the Washingtons during the second presidential term. Never Caught begins with a detailed family tree of Ona Judge, descriptions of life in Mount Vernon, and then follows Judge on her journey with George and Martha Washington in public office, explores how she likely gathered the information and resources to make her escape, and showcases her escape from enslavement and the rest of her life as a freed woman.  Never Caught is unique because Ona Judge does not have a large archive of materials from which Armstrong Dunbar can gather information. Armstrong Dunbar utilizes George and Martha Washington’s letters, journals, newspaper postings, and other written works to include more information about Ona Judge. She also details information about the Mount Vernon plantation, the Fugitive Slave Act, New Hampshire laws, and other archived information to expand the narrative and experiences of Ona Judge past her limited archive.

Armstrong Dunbar also infers what Ona Judge may have been thinking or feeling at different points in her journeys such as “For Judge, the move [to New York] must have been similar to the dreaded auction block.” (Armstrong Dunbar 22).  This statement, while not archived as something Ona Judge said or felt, is historically sound. By including grounding information like this, it makes the narrative of someone who did not leave behind an expansive archive more plausible and relatable. It is unlikely that a person in the 21st century will have met a formerly enslaved person. This disconnect often makes it easier for young history students to not fully understand the horrors of slavery, the fear of a fugitive slave getting caught, and how a fugitive slave may never feel safe or settled once they escaped. Armstrong Dunbar implements a fiction-like approach to dissecting what Ona Judge may have felt or experienced during her life, except, unlike fiction, all the moments Armstrong Dunbar extrapolates are grounded in archival evidence of the period.

Never Caught not only depicts Ona Judge’s journey as a runaway slave of the president, it also reveals a darker, patriarchal side of George Washington that is not often discussed. Armstrong Dunbar details the interworking of Mount Vernon’s slave system, Washington’s careful plan to bypass Philadelphia’s emancipation law, and the quiet pursuit of Ona Judge once she escaped. This book does not take a celebratory stance of George and Martha Washington but instead truthfully examines their slavery practices. Although the Washingstons hid it at the time, Armstrong Dunbar brings to the forefront of her book how Washington’s slaves contributed to his time in office, and it is clear that the enslaved people were not only an important part of the functionality of the house, but an important aspect of George Washington’s wealth and respect outside of his political pursuits.

Never Caught: The Washington’s’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar is an impressive undertaking, one that details how a runway enslaved person of the United States’ first president managed to remain free despite being found and coaxed to return. Ona Judge remained firm in her resolve that being free was better than being enslaved by the president of the United States. Armstrong Dunbar filled Ona Judge’s narrative with dynamic moments by inserting how Ona Judge likely felt during life events. Utilizing only two short interviews to determine Ona Judge’s voice, Armstrong Dunbar was able to fill in the missing information with notes about Judge, information about other slavery practices, and historical events to complete the narrative of Ona Judge.

Review: Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy


Emily Spezia-Shwiff

Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy by Elizabeth Gillespie McRae focuses on the movement white women founded during the 20th century to resist desegregation. Gillespie McRae argues that white women decided to advocate for preservation of segregated schools for the sake of their children, invoking white motherhood as the source of their inspiration and tool of resistance. She states that previous scholarship looked at resistance to the desegregation movement top-down, focusing on the legislative and judicial system rather than the grassroots massive resistance movement. White women were key players in both fields but were especially prominent and essential in the grassroots movement.

Gillespie McRae cites the stories and words of many women through her book, including Florence Sillers Ogden, Mary Dawson Cain, Cornelia Dabney Tucker, and Nell Battle Lewis (236). These women, especially Florence Sillers Ogden, wrote many newspaper columns that illustrate their points of the rhetoric of massive resistance. Gillespie McRae shows how white women relied on the public school system to educate her children on the principles of white supremacy and to teach them how to act as the superior race in their everyday lives.

A large part of Gillespie McRae’s argument is that white women “defend[ed] segregation in the name of white motherhood” (133). She argues that white southern women leaders used “white motherhood” to convince other women to join their movement. They also used the concept to justify their actions to themselves and the public. These actions included regulating how history was portrayed in the public school textbooks (naming the Civil War as the “War among the States,” claiming that the cause of the war was disagreements over states’ rights, putting a lot of the blame of the war on Abraham Lincoln, limiting the amount of Black history present, etc.), resisting school integration, and later resisting the busing movement. These women believed that segregation was God’s will (Gillespie McRae 171) and that they must defend it to follow that will and to protect their children. They resisted through public protest, petitions, in-person appeals to the legislature, campaigning for electoral candidates, and writing newspaper essays and editorial letters advocating the preservation of segregation. These efforts were considerable, affecting the landscape of the South and the ability to implement desegregation.

While Gillespie McRae does a good job of detailing the white mothers’ movement, she fails to consider the role of Black motherhood and how this movement affected Black families. She left out the voice of Black mothers. Gillespie McRae does discuss how the moment affected Black history, such as the manipulation of textbooks to erase Black history (Gillespie McRae 58), but she does not discuss how Black families reacted to this movement and how/if they responded. Though this book focuses on white mother’s resistance to desegregation, it would have added a layer to her narrative to include how Black mothers reacted to this movement and whether they acted. It is unlikely that Black women watched these protests without any response. Considering how vocal Black people were in discussing Brown v Board of Education, both in print and in speeches, it is unlikely they did not engage with the white mothers’ protest of massive resistance.