Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History$

Richard S. Kirkendall

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199790562

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199790562.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 March 2021

The Slow Rise to Prominence of African American History

The Slow Rise to Prominence of African American History

(p.169) 16 The Slow Rise to Prominence of African American History
The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History

Arvarh E. Strickland

Richard S. Kirkendall

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses how the field of African American history became one of the major fields in the Organization of American Historians (OAH). In the early years, attention was confined to the book review section and largely devoted to the work of Carter Woodson. Not until 1945 did the magazine carry its first article by an African American historian. Six years later, an African American appeared for the first time on the program of the annual meeting; and in 1953, the meeting devoted its first full session to African American history. In the 1960s, the historical profession felt the heavy demand for change in race relations; African American history gained recognition as a viable field for study and research, and the prominence of the field now offers evidence of the democratization of the OAH.

Keywords:   African American history, Organization of American Historians, African American historians, Carter Woodson, race relations

The secretaries of the state historical societies who met in Lincoln, Nebraska, in October 1907 did not envision African Americans as members of their new organization, and they could not conceive of a field of historical study and research called Negro history. This remained true of the men who met later to refine the plans and to launch the new Mississippi Valley Historical Association. These men came from states where either de jure or de facto segregation was practiced, and most of them were adherents of William A. Dunning’s “tragic era” interpretation of Reconstruction history. Several of the leaders completed studies of southern states during Reconstruction as doctoral dissertations under Dunning’s supervision. It took over a half century for new generations to complete a gradual process of reform that brought changes in attitudes that welcomed African American participation and recognized African American history as an integral part of American history. Then, during the 1960s, the field and its practitioners achieved prominence within the historical profession and the OAH, and for the next half century, African American history maintained and built upon its lofty position.

For a moment in time, during the World War I era, the MVHR, under the direction of the founding managing editor, Clarence W. Alvord of the University of Illinois, reviewed a few books by African American authors and invited a small number of African Americans to review books. The first review of a book by an African American author appeared in March 1916. Carter G. Woodson’s The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861 was declared a definitive treatment by a white reviewer who was a member of the Dunning school. It is interesting to note that, unique to this review, the school granting Woodson’s doctorate, Harvard, appeared in parentheses. The acceptance Woodson received probably was out of respect for his Harvard degree and the fact that his work was characterized by thorough research and meticulous documentation. In June 1916, (p.170) another member of the Dunning school reviewed favorably The Facts of Reconstruction, written by John R. Lynch, an African American politician of the Reconstruction period.1

Woodson was called upon periodically to review books on African American topics written by both white and African American authors. It was somewhat surprising, however, to find that he was invited to review Ulrich B. Phillip’s American Negro Slavery, a positive portrayal of the institution. Woodson’s review, though critical, was scholarly in tone; still, it seems likely that the overwhelming majority of the Association’s members were more in agreement with Phillip’s interpretation of the institution of slavery than with Woodson’s criticisms.2

The white reviewer who reviewed the volume by Woodson’s protégé, Alrutheus A. Taylor, on Reconstruction in South Carolina did not extend to him the respect that Woodson received. In what was his Harvard M.A. thesis, Taylor was sharply critical of the works of the members of the Dunning school. The reviewer, Philip M. Hamer of the University of Tennessee, pronounced Taylor’s book to be “so great a degree confused patchworks of inaccuracies and of unassimilated portions of the writings of others, that the work as a whole can not be accepted as a trustworthy presentation of the subject with which it deals.”3 (Later reviewers gave Taylor’s subsequent works the same objective analysis that Woodson’s works received.) An editorial comment in the same issue of the MVHR containing the review of Taylor’s book cited his work as an example of the propaganda that the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History was trying to pass off as scholarly work.4

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, books by Woodson continued to be reviewed and given rather objective treatment. Moreover, books by both white and African American authors published by Woodson’s enterprise, the Association for the Study of Negro History and the Associated Publishers, regularly appeared. In addition, reviews of books in the field, mainly by white authors and published by mainstream presses, began to show up in the pages of the MVHR devoted to reviews.5

By the 1940s, slight breezes if not winds of change on racial matters were beginning to blow. On April 24, 1943, the Teacher’s Section of the Association met jointly with the National Council of the Social Studies and the Iowa Council for the Social Studies, and one of the papers scheduled for presentation was by Charles H. Wesley, African American historian and president of Wilberforce University. It was entitled “Teaching the Role of the Negro in American History.”6 In 1945, Benjamin Quarles’s “Sources of Abolitionist Income” was the first article by an African American historian to appear in the Review. Fourteen years later, in 1959, the second article by an African American, “The Colonial Militia and Negro Manpower,” was also by Quarles.7

Worthy of note, the editors of the Review turned over John Hope Franklin’s From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes to the distinguished, (p.171) but not totally “reconstructed,” professor at the University of Illinois, James G. Randall, for review. Surprisingly, at least for us, Randall found the book to be “a work of impressive industry, effective presentation, and undoubted value.”8

The 1950s brought challenges to the comfortable status of the “old order,” but supporters of the status quo did not yield without a struggle. One issue concerned the Association’s name, whether it should be changed to reflect the fact that the organization was no longer regional in character. Two positions were outlined in the September 1951 issue of the Review, and the members were called upon to vote. Paul W. Gates of Cornell presented the argument in favor of change, and John D. Barnhart of Indiana University argued for the status quo. He probably drew a responsive chord from a majority of the members with the argument that changes that encouraged growth could make the association a “large unwieldy group, destroy its present character and defeat its purpose.” They would not be able to meet in small Midwestern cities, and the “intimacy and friendly character of the annual meetings” would be lost.9 At a meeting of the executive committee in December, the proponents of change learned that that the membership had overwhelmingly rejected the name-change proposal.

At the annual meeting held in Cincinnati earlier that year, members had glimpses of the future that probably disturbed many of them. For the first time, an African American historian was on the program. John Hope Franklin chaired a session in which three white scholars, one of whom was a woman, Betty Fladeland, presented papers. The report on the session noted that more than 100 persons attended the session but only “approximately one fourth of them commented favorably on the program.”10

The issue of racial discrimination came to the forefront even more explicitly at this Cincinnati meeting. The immediate cause of the acrimony was an invitation to hold the 1952 meeting in New Orleans, where African Americans would be totally excluded from the headquarters hotel. Incoming president Merle Curti announced that he would not deliver his presidential address where African American members could not at least attend the sessions. Curti hoped to find a compromise that would not lead to a split in the Association. A committee to study discrimination, chaired by Carl Wittke, was established. It soon submitted a report that stated all members “are entitled to participate in the annual convention and other meetings and activities of the Association.” The committee called upon the Executive Committee to recommend that the association select “as a meeting place for its annual spring convention, only such localities or institutions where all members of the Association will be permitted to participate in all official sessions, including luncheon and dinner meetings which are part of the official program.” Even though the recommendation avoided the volatile issue of desegregated housing, the Executive Committee procrastinated and resolved to have another committee study the subject further (p.172) and make recommendations no later than the 1953 annual meeting. A new committee, chaired by Thomas D. Clark, was charged with this responsibility.11

Clark and his committee promoted change. At the next meeting of the Executive Committee, he and A. D. Kirwan, both of them from the University of Kentucky, invited the Association to hold the 1953 meeting in Lexington and “assured the executive committee of the absence of discrimination in that city.”12 Finally, in 1954 the Executive Committee accepted the recommendation of the Clark committee on discrimination that the Association refuse to accept invitations unless sponsors guaranteed there would be no discrimination in meals and housing.13

The Lexington meeting broke the ice on scheduling Negro history sessions. The program committee scheduled what can be considered the first real Negro history session. The papers explored African American attitudes and thought in the nineteenth and twentieth century, but only one African American, Elsie M. Lewis, presented a paper. At the 1954 meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, the program included a session on the Negro in politics. The token African American presenter, Rayford W. Logan, was unable to attend, however, and his paper was read by a substitute.

The St. Louis meeting in 1955 did not have a session devoted to Negro history, but this was the first meeting at which the new policy of non-discrimination was followed. The only hint that anything unusual had taken place contained in Joe B. Frantz’s report of the meeting was this statement: “A new generation of historians had arisen since the Mississippi Valley Historical Association had last met in St. Louis, but it will likely take more than one succeeding generation to erase the memory … of the forty-eighth annual meeting….14

The Negro history session reappeared in 1956 with a panel chaired by C. Vann Woodward, papers delivered by Kenneth M. Stampp and Guion G. Johnson, and comments by Fletcher M. Green and John Hope Franklin. Franklin was also elected to the executive committee in 1958 and named to the program committee in 1960.15

And then came the 1960s! The pace of change accelerated during that decade. From beginning to end of the sixties, change was a major theme in the life of the nation; the organization felt the pressures and, illustrative of that fact, changed its name. One of the big national themes was the demand for reform in race relations; the field of African American history benefited from that.

The organization contributed to the field’s development in several ways. The MVHR-JAH published more articles on Negro history than ever before: one in 1961, a second in 1963, four in 1965, and ten more during the second half of the decade. After a slow start in 1961, the Program Committee sponsored eight sessions on the field from 1962 to 1965 and then thirteen in the next five years. Also, the book-review sections in each issue of the Review and (p.173) the Journal testified to the rapid development of the field and the recognition of it by the OAH. While the MVHR reviewed only fifteen of these books in its last three years, the JAH reviewed nearly twenty in one year (1965) and nearly forty in the next five.

During the 1960s, the field as presented in the MVHA-OAH had two major parts. One focused on whites who had significant relations with blacks, both negative and positive. There were studies of racism, including racism outside the South, the slave trade, slaveholders, slavery, fears of slave uprisings, and plans to colonize blacks in Africa. Other work focused on and opposition to the abolitionists and to Reconstruction’s challenge to the race system. The Ku Klux Klan, race riots, the Scottsboro case, and resistance to the mid-twentieth-century attack on Jim Crow (the post–Civil War racial order) also attracted attention. In addition, the OAH gave much space to studies of white abolitionists, including those who ended slavery in the North, while other work focused on missionaries who served slaves, Radical and other Republicans who battled for black rights from the 1860s to the 1890s, and white critics of Jim Crow during the twentieth century.

The other part of the field focused directly on African Americans and their actions. Benjamin Quarles did work of this kind in the 1965 OAH meeting and in books that the MVHR and the JAH reviewed: The Negro in the American Revolution (1961), Negroes and Lincoln (1962), and Black Abolitionists (1969). Some white historians also contributed, including August Meier. His book Negro Thought in America, 1880–1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (1963) portrayed African Americans as actors, not only acted upon. The Journal reviewed it favorably, and he drew upon it in a presentation at the 1964 meeting. The JAH also reviewed another of his books, From Plantation to Ghetto: An Interpretive History of American Negroes (1966), written with Elliott Rudwick, and, in 1969, published their article “The Boycott Movement Against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900–1906.” A year earlier, Richard M. Dalfiume, in another JAH article, had emphasized the importance of World War II in the history of black activism, calling the war years the forgotten years of the Negro Revolution and the watershed in recent Negro history.16

At the same time, other historians who received attention and opportunities in the OAH portrayed Negroes as active participants in American history. They wrote of slaves and other black people in various southern places, including cities. They discussed the slaves’ religion, black nationalism, Negro contributions to the Confederacy, Negroes in Reconstruction, black ghettos in northern cities, and challenges by blacks to their economic status after slavery. They wrote and spoke of Negro participation in politics and the federal government, including the military, and also explored the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the mind and mood of blacks in the twentieth century, a protest by sharecroppers, and “the Second Reconstruction.” (p.174) Who were the appropriate people to write “Black history,” some asked, as that name increasingly became the term of choice for the field.

By 1970, the OAH recognized the field as an established and highly important component of what the American historical profession had to offer. Would the Organization continue to contribute to the development of the field? The most important test would be the articles published in the Journal, for that depended on two sets of decision makers: authors and editors. For the OAH to pass the test, the historians in the field needed to continue to regard the JAH as a good place for their work and one that was receptive to what they had to say, and the editors had to continue to be receptive to good work in the field.

Martin Ridge, who served as editor from 1966 to 1977, had already demonstrated during his first five years that he accepted the rising field, and he continued to publish work in it—fifteen articles—to the end of his term. Some of them dealt with whites who impacted negatively on African Americans. Michael S. Hindus showed that the legal system in South Carolina from 1740 to 1865 supported white dominance, not black justice, while Robert E. Gallman and Ralph V. Anderson maintained that slaveholders developed a diversified agricultural system so as to keep their slaves busy all of the time. John M. McFaul argued that most politicians of the Jacksonian era tried to keep slavery out of politics so as to preserve the union of slaveholders and non-slaveholders.17

Other articles portrayed white-black relations from other angles. A. E. Keir Nash wrote of a remarkable antebellum tradition of fair treatment of blacks by the Texas Supreme Court, an all-white institution. Focusing on a mostly white group, Jane and William Pease and Michael Fellman argued that during the 1850s, abolitionists, influenced by passage and enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law, among other events, became more radical—more confrontational and more willing to use violence. Radical Republicans continued to be portrayed quite positively, a trend that had begun before the 1970s, but Louis S. Gerteis argued that their success had been exaggerated. They had failed, for example, in their efforts to distribute land to the freedmen. One obstacle they faced, Michael Les Benedict maintained, was the constitutional conservatism of most Republicans. By 1890, these Republicans as well as southern Redeemers and even southern blacks had, Howard N. Rabinowitz concluded, given the South a system of de facto racial segregation.18

During Ridge’s last years as editor, most of the articles on twentieth-century race relations focused on black activism. There was one exception: Christopher G. Wye’s essay on two sets of New Deal agencies, those focused on housing and on jobs. While alleviating problems that many blacks had, the programs contributed to the preservation of racial segregation and a racial occupational pattern.19

Four other articles emphasized challenges by African Americans to the race system. Meier and Rudwick studied the lawyers with whom the NAACP (p.175) worked and found that in the early years this force for change relied on white lawyers but before the end of the 1930s switched to blacks at the top and in the local communities. Turning to black activism during World War II, Harvard Sitkoff found that the war stimulated racial militancy; militancy led to increased racial violence, and violence persuaded Negro leaders to retreat to a moderation that enabled them to form alliances with white liberals. Basing his essay on the black press, Lee Finkle maintained that the leaders adopted a new rhetoric capable of both gaining concessions from a reluctant administration and restraining the militants. Alan Winkler used the Philadelphia transit strike of 1944 to illustrate how the war stimulated demands for change. In that city, black transit workers pressed for better jobs, whites resisted, but the city avoided violence.20

In the year-long interim between Ridge and Lewis Perry, the Journal published only one article in the field. Written by William M. Wiecek, it focused on slavery and abolition before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1820 and 1860 and criticized the tendency of the Taney Court, unlike earlier ones, to get involved in slavery cases.21

During Perry’s time as editor (from late in 1978 to the middle of 1984), the JAH averaged fewer than two black history articles per year, mainly because competition for space had become greater than ever. The field now had to compete not only against the long-established fields but also against the other rising ones. Nevertheless, specialists in Black history continued to find opportunities in the Journal’s pages.

The opportunities included two review essays, a new feature in which the editor, as in regular book reviews, solicited the contributors. In one of them, August Meier reviewed two surveys of Black history by black scholars and used them to discuss the direction in which such scholars were moving the field. The other reviewer, Jan S. Hogendorn, discussed three books on the economics of the African slave trade that testified to a recent widening of slave-trade investigations.22

Two articles of the traditional type, ones voluntarily submitted by authors, discussed both enslaved and free blacks. Peter Kolchin applauded recent work on the slave community that demolished the view of slaves as depersonalized victims but suggested that some scholars had gone too far, replacing the Sambo myth with the myth of the idyllic slave community. He called for reevaluations, some of them by comparisons with slavery outside the United States. Looking at free Negroes in antebellum Alabama, Gary B. Mills challenged more negative views with evidence that they were tolerated and not regarded as threats to society or the slave system.23

Other articles took the story from Reconstruction to the end of the century. While Armstead L. Robinson emphasized black activism during Reconstruction, Pete Daniel concluded that by 1900, slavery had truly ended for some (p.176) blacks but for others it had metamorphosed into peonage, a subtle form of control. James C. Klotter reported that many late nineteenth century reformers saw conditions among whites in Appalachia as similar to those among southern blacks and shifted their attention away from blacks to the mountain whites.24

Two other articles, both dealing with black social history, emphasized the limits on black progress during the years between 1900 and 1945. Studying blacks and Poles in Pittsburgh from 1900 to 1930, John Bodnar, Michael Weber, and Roger Simon maintained that although black migrants to this industrial city experienced some upward mobility, they encountered racism in the plants from both employers who preferred immigrants and immigrants who resisted blacks, and they failed to find the occupational security obtained by the Poles. Karen Tucker Anderson’s article on black women workers during World War II challenged the emphasis of earlier studies on wartime improvement in opportunities for blacks, seeing it as ignoring the persistence of discrimination and the unequal distribution of the benefits of a full employment economy. For black women, she concluded, what was most significant was the extent to which barriers remained in place.25

Following a lull from September 1984 to the end of the following year, the number of articles in the field moved up again. They rose to three in 1986 and again in 1988, five in 1989, six in 1990, and then averaged nearly four per year from 1993 to 1998. The new editor, David Thelen, who served from 1985 to 1999, dealt with the problem of increased competition for space by enlarging the space the Journal offered. It had slightly more than 1,300 pages in his first year, 1985–1986, expanded to more than 1,500 two years later, and averaged nearly 1,800 pages per year from 1991 to 1999.

Some of the articles dealt with the slave system and its ideology. Christopher Morris drew upon the now rich literature on slavery to offer a theory of the master-slave relationship that emphasized its structure and concluded that slavery may have been both more humane that we sometimes think and more insidiously oppressive. Looking at a Kentucky county during the two decades before the Civil War, Keith C. Barton reported that the hiring of slaves for domestic labor was a common practice that enabled owners to profit from their excess labor and small and middling farmers and craftsmen to relieve their women of household drudgery. And Michael Wayne maintained that by the 1830s, white southerners ceased to tolerate debates over slavery, saw perpetuation of it as necessary to preserve their own liberty and equality, and believed blacks were innately suited to be slaves and largely accepting of their fate.26

Historians continued to pay attention to the anti-slavery movement. Elizabeth B. Clark noted that, beginning in the 1830s, it made the cruel treatment of the slaves a major theme. Nell Irvin Painter explored how Sojourner Truth, a black woman who had been freed from slavery in the North, used speech, writing, and photography as a preacher and an abolitionist. Seymour Drescher’s (p.177) article, “Servile Insurrection and John Brown’s Body in Europe,” included a discussion of the abolitionists’ use of the European reaction to Brown, and Robert E. McGlone offered a study of the effort by the Brown family to come to a satisfactory understanding of the big event in its history: Brown’s effort to promote a violent slave uprising and the consequent deaths of family members.27

The beneficiaries of abolition in the North attracted much attention. In two articles, one on African American festivals and parades in the North, the other on free blacks in New York City from 1783 to 1810, Shane White proposed that the parades were attempts to foster unity among freedmen and to proclaim to whites that blacks were no longer slaves but were citizens with a right to the street, and the New Yorkers were not passive ciphers but exceptional men and women. Robert E. Desrochers Jr. wrote of an eighteenth-century African American who had experienced Africa, the slave trade, slavery in the North, freedom, and prosperity and proudly told his life story. Daniel R. Mandell, covering a long period after the American Revolution, explored Indian-Black intermarriage in southern New England, demonstrated that the history of race relations in America involves more than white-black relations, and proposed that the issues of American race relations first emerged among these New England Indians. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, W. Jeffrey Bolster reported, seafaring was one of the few jobs readily available to blacks; the maritime culture made them feel like men, and thus this way of life had great appeal, but the good conditions eroded before the Civil War. In one of his articles, Shane White noted that the positive situation he described would change soon after 1810, and in another piece, Rowland Berthoff explained how white males by mid-century justified barring free blacks (and also married women) from the equal rights and protection the Constitution assured all persons.28

Several contributors carried the story of freed men and women into the Reconstruction era. Two focused on battles for control between whites and blacks. In a county study, Christopher Waldrep explored efforts by Mississippi whites during Reconstruction to use the law as defined by the Black Codes and administered by the courts to control the freedmen. Not fully satisfied, these whites felt compelled to employ violent means as well. Focused on Alabama soon after the war, Michael W. Fitzgerald explained the emergence of a decentralized system of tenant farming, emphasizing the political mobilization of freedmen who challenged efforts by landowners to tightly control the labor force.29

The JAH during Thelen’s years also offered essays on the race system that emerged before the end of the nineteenth century. An article by David W. Bright focused on Frederick Douglass, the freedman who had championed abolition before and during the war and, troubled by the forces at work in his late years, upheld his memory of the war as a struggle for both union and liberty. Robert J. Norell, looking at “Jim Crow Careers” in the South’s leading industrial (p.178) city, Birmingham, reported that blacks were limited to the lower level industrial jobs, giving white workers a stake in a system that lasted until the 1960s. Robin D. G. Kelley, challenging the idea that black working people during the days of Jim Crow did not protest, called attention to daily, unorganized, evasive, seemingly spontaneous actions at work and in public spaces and saw them as undermining the divisions between political history and social history.30

Four articles dealt with an early critic of the system, W.E.B. Du Bois. Richard Cullen Rath argued that at the turn of the twentieth century, Du Bois created an Afrocentric philosophy of history that rejected power being located and fixed in white folk and that projected a world in which the longings of black folk would have respect. Writing of this black intellectual during World War I, Mark Ellis sought to explain his “close ranks” editorial of 1918 and concluded that it was highly probable that he wrote it to secure a position in military intelligence and that it crucially influenced the War Department’s decision to offer him one. In response, William Jordan maintained that “accommodation” was a sensible choice in 1918 and that Du Bois was guided by an understanding of the dangers of militancy amid wartime frenzy and encouraged by the government’s wartime racial strategies—only one of which was the offer of a commission. Returning to the discussion, Ellis suggested that Jordan emphasized the wider response to the war by equal rights champions while he, Ellis, traced the day-to-day events surrounding Du Bois in the summer of 1918 and these suggested that the editorial and the captaincy were linked.31

The JAH during these years carried one more article on the impact of World War I on African Americans. Written by Steven A. Reich, the article argued that during and right after the war, southern blacks, stimulated by wartime rhetoric, mobilized in opposition to white supremacy. Using Texas as a case study, Reich reported that in the Lone Star State a wide range of blacks participated, alarmed the elites, and were put down by the coercive resources of both state and federal governments.32

World War II continued to attract the attention of historians of Black history. Dominic J. Capeci contributed an article on a lynching in 1942 that drew the U.S. Department of Justice into the era of civil rights for the first time and brought the federal government more directly into the protection of blacks and the struggle for racial equality than at any time since Reconstruction. Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black wrote of the Roosevelt administration’s concern about the loyalty of black Americans and the Office of War Information’s efforts to mobilize black support and interpret American race relations to the world. To accomplish its goals, the OWI tried to improve Hollywood’s portrayal of people of color but accomplished much less than black leaders wanted. Adding a broad survey of the war’s impact on the South, Pete Daniel proposed that the changes included a restructuring of agriculture, the rapid growth of cities, and the launching of a civil rights movement.33

(p.179) Two articles enlarged the Journal’s discussion of the war, labor, and the civil rights movement. Robert Korstad and Nelson Lichtenstein, arguing that the civil rights era began in the early 1940s when black America became more urban and proletarian, illustrated this with two examples: the predominantly black tobacco workers in Winston-Salem and the biracial United Auto Workers in Detroit. Moving beyond the war period, these authors noted the collapse of the worker-based movement during the early Cold War. Carrying further the question of organized labor and the struggle for black equality, Bruce Nelson maintained that the vast majority of white shipyard workers in Mobile were unwilling to make concessions to demands from their black co-workers. While many whites saw the blacks as threats, others accepted them as necessary, though subordinate participants in the workplace.34

Other discussions of the civil rights movement stretched from 1939 to the 1960s and beyond. Promoting a cultural history of the movement, Scott A. Sandage argued that African American struggles from 1939 to 1963 to hold rallies at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, made use of one conception of Lincoln and contributed to the movement’s strategy of nonviolent action. Looking at the consequences of the Brown case, Michael J. Klarman maintained that its importance lay not in desegregating the schools but in its step-by-step causal relationship with the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. James F. Findlay argued for the great importance of the mainline churches in the passage of the 1964 act, seeing their heavy involvement as a break with their past but only a brief interlude in their history. Writing of federal farm and welfare policies and the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta, James C. Cobb stressed their conflicting impacts and the difficulties that accompany attempts to promote reform in a society without altering its traditional power relationships.35

Timothy B. Tyson challenged the established chronology of black history that sees reliance on appeals to the Supreme Court as the first stage of the civil rights movement, nonviolent action the second, and Black Power the third. Focusing on the important role of Robert F. Williams in what the author calls the African American Freedom Struggle, he proposed that Williams’ story reveals that throughout World War II and the postwar years, independent black political action, black cultural pride, and armed self-reliance operated in the South in tension and in tandem with legal efforts and nonviolent protest. This current of militancy included a willingness to use guns to defend home and community.36

The articles of importance for African American history during Thelen’s time as editor also included a survey of the ideologies of race by Peggy Pascoe. She focused not on the decline of scientific racism early in the twentieth century but on the emergence of new ideologies and then the winnowing down to one by the 1960s. Although some people still employed racial categories, this (p.180) powerfully pervasive belief, which she called the modernist racial ideology, maintained that the eradication of racism depended on the deliberate refusal to recognize race.37

During these years from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, the JAH not only published many articles on African American history. It also published new features in which the essays, usually short, were solicited, most often by the editor. The authors did not initiate the contact. The new features included the review essay, an innovation created by Perry and continued by Thelen, and the Round Table, the Special Issue, the Research Note, and Perspectives, all of them Thelen’s contributions. He also added several special series.

A number of these new features dealt with African American history. A Round Table in September 1987 focused on Martin Luther King Jr. and offered short essays by five established scholars in the field. In a Round Table on World War II, published in September 1990, John Hope Franklin spoke of his negative experiences in that war. In March 1991, a dozen contributors to another Round Table on King dealt with plagiarism and originality. Two other Round Tables, one in September 1995 on Massive Resistance in Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s and related topics, the other in March 1997 on lynching, appeared before the end of Thelen’s reign.

The other innovations also contributed discussions of the field. A Special Issue on the Constitution in December 1987 included three essays in Black history. In a Review Essay in June 1988, Franklin commented on the development of the field and two survey of it, one by Meier and Rudwick, the other by Darlene Clark Hine. In September of that year, a special issue on research included an essay by Kim Lacy Rogers on the great importance of oral history for the field, and in December, a section entitled Perspectives consisted of an appraisal by Howard Rabinowitz of a major book in the field, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, and a response from the author, C. Vann Woodward. In December 1994, a Special Issue included an essay by John E. Fleming on African American museums and another by Greg Cuthbertson on historiographical alliances between South Africa and the United States. Three Research Notes, one by Richard Lowe, another by John Modell, Marc Goulden, and Sigurdur Magnuson, and a third by James N. Gregory, dealt with the Freedman’s Bureau (December 1993), World War II and black Americans (December 1989), and the Southern Diaspora (June 1995), and in another Special Issue, Robin D. G. Kelley contributed an essay on Black history’s global vision (December 1999).

After Thelen, the editors—Joanne Meyerowitz and Edward Linenthal38 and also Edward Paul Nord, who served twice as Acting Editor—continued to be receptive to the field and to make the JAH attractive to its historians. From 2000 to 2010, they published an average of four articles per year in Black history and included essays in the field in the new features: one Perspective (June 2000), a Special Issue (December 2007), and eight Round Tables (December (p.181) 2000, March 2001, March 2003, June 2004, March 2006, September 2008, September 2009). And all of this happened even though the Journal was shrinking from 1,962 pages in 2000 to 1,628 in 2006 and to 1,280 in 2010.

The articles covered a long range from the seventeenth century to the present. Several focused on slavery. Wendy Anne Warren drew large meaning from a report in 1638 of a rape in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of a recently arrived African woman by another slave. It was ordered by their master who was eager to promote slave breeding. Kevin Dawson dealt with the large importance of swimming and diving for West Africans and American slaves, skills in which they were clearly superior to whites. Drawing upon a wide scope of evidence, Terri L. Snyder looked at suicide from multiple perspectives, showing that it was a part of the history of slavery.39

More articles dealt with the slavery controversy. Kenneth P. Minkema and Harry S. Stout presented an essay with a long time period but a sharp focus. They explored the participation in the debate from 1740 to 1865 by the theologian Jonathan Edwards and his followers, showing that for them it reached its highpoint with his first generation disciples during the revolutionary era. While Edwards criticized the slave trade but owned slaves, these disciples demanded immediate emancipation and racial integration, but later Edwardseans moved to more moderate positions.

Other articles on the great controversy covered somewhat shorter time periods. Nicholas Guyatt wrote that between 1776 and 1840, Americans troubled about slavery often proposed colonization, believing the removal of blacks from land occupied by whites would allow the former to transform themselves into citizens of civilized nations. Lacy Ford focused on the evolving efforts of opinion makers in the South to grapple with the problem of slavery, arguing that by the late 1830s they had discarded the idea that slavery was the root of corruption and hypocrisy in a republican society and acclaimed slavery as the surest foundation of an egalitarian republic crafted for whites only. Looking at one Southerner, Roger B. Taney, and his change over time from a moderately antislavery lawyer into a zealously proslavery judge, Timothy S. Huebner presented him as an illustration of how the terms of the debate shifted. Coming of age during the founding era, he expressed an early nineteenth century brand of antislavery that began to evaporate during the 1830s in response to the rise of radical abolitionists.40

These abolitionists continued to draw attention. Marc M. Arkin found continuity between the Federalist Fisher Ames and the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Both believed in New England’s exceptionalism, distrusted southern culture, feared southern hegemony, and highlighted a link between power and passion. Daniel Feller challenged the idea that Jacksonian Democracy was essentially proslavery and anti-black and held up Benjamin Tappan, a prominent Jacksonian Democrat and a sincere foe of slavery, as support for his challenge. Joseph Yanielli focused on George Thompson, a missionary and (p.182) militant abolitionist who moved to Africa in 1848 and carried on his crusade against oppression there, helping to educate the first generation of African anticolonial activists.41

Several contributors carried forward the discussion of the Civil War and emancipation. Kate Masur explored the use by Union officers of the term contraband to apply to slaves who fled to Union forces and the widespread adoption of the term throughout the North. Dorothy Ross, writing of Lincoln’s moral conflict between liberty and national survival, concluded that the president solved the conflict by linking the two, though the Union remained his top priority. And Gary J. Kornblith, engaging in a counterfactural exercise, concluded that the Mexican-American War was a necessary if not sufficient cause of the Civil War and the latter was a necessary if not sufficient cause of American abolition in the nineteenth century.42

Reconstruction and the establishment of the Jim Crow system were but minor themes in the JAH during the years of Meyerowitz and Linenthal. Elaine Frantz Parsons contributed an article on costume and performance in the Reconstruction-era Ku Klux Klan that argued that the Klan was intimately intertwined with and completely dependent on popular cultural forms and institutions, and Andrew W. Kahrl, focusing on steamboat excursions and pleasure resorts, told the story of the emergence of segregation on the Potomac River in the late nineteenth-early twentieth century.43

As a promoter of African American history, the Journal’s emphases during these early years of the twenty-first century were life under Reconstruction and Jim Crow and, above all, the attacks upon that racial system. Stephen Kantrowitz discussed the many free blacks who became Freemasons and, as activists, benefited from it, for it enabled them to develop leadership skills, connect with others outside their localities, gain political experience, and imagine what equal citizenship could be. Sven Beckert wrote of freedom, cotton, and global capitalism, focusing on black Americans from Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee and officials and workers in Germany’s African empire. Adam Fairclough, writing of the great importance of black teachers, argued that though they worked under the limitations of the Jim Crow South, they promoted learning and self improvement.44

Once again, the JAH published an article on W.E.B. Du Bois. In this piece, Axel R. Shafer focused on the influence during the late nineteenth century of the German historical school of economics on his thinking about race and the potential of black people. This posed a difficulty for him, as white progressives found in that same way of thinking a new rationale for discrimination. This quickly persuaded him to distance himself from German scholarship and progressive social thought.45

Another article concerned with the intellectual history of race discussed a quite different school. Written by Joanne Meyerowitz, it focused on the culture-personality group of social scientists from the 1920s to the 1950s. They (p.183) rejected biological theories of race, investigated how different cultures produce diverse patterns of human behavior, and, among other results, influenced the civil rights movement.46

Three articles on the 1920s and 1930s dealt with black business and music, the Scopes Trial, and the civil rights lawyer. David Suisman focused on Black Swan Records and its owner, Harry Pace, who saw his company as a potentially powerful means of responding to the hostile conditions blacks faced, boosting their spirits, encouraging black business and self-sufficiency, and influencing popular opinion. According to Jeffrey P. Moran, secular black elites in northern cities viewed urbanism, secularism, and science as the forces of progress and employed Scopes in their struggles against white supremacy in the South and ministerial dominance throughout African America. And Kenneth W. Mack defined a debate in civil rights circles during the 1930s over the roles of law and mass politics and concluded that the African American takeover of the NAACP litigation program was less a victory of legalism over mass politics than an attempt to fuse the two.47

Two articles demonstrated that there was still more to be said about World War II and African Americans. Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff demonstrated that the black boxer Joe Louis was a central part of the American state’s efforts to use mass culture to address the troublesome racial issues. Thomas A. Guglielmo showed that the life-saving blood donor program excluded blacks at first, then accepted them but on a segregated basis, became a target of the rising protest movement, and was defended by milder racist assumptions than had been employed in the past, not by claims that whites were the superior race.48

Other articles dealt with another war that affected race relations, the Cold War. Manfred Berg challenged critics of the NAACP who charged it missed a great opportunity for civil rights and social reform in postwar America and argued that the group struggled in a difficult situation to keep the cause of civil rights on the agenda. Andrea Friedman, focusing on Annie Lee Moss, a black civilian employee of the Defense Department, and critiquing postwar liberalism, challenged the portrayal of her as an insignificant woman, victimized by Senator Joseph McCarthy and dependent on protection from white Democrats.49

Other contributors focused on several other participants in the civil rights contest of the 1950s and after: the U.S. Supreme Court, black teenagers, the Christian churches, and Dr. King. Michael J. Klarman suggested that while the Court had little impact on southern criminal justice, it did contribute to the civil rights movement by attacking the white primary and segregation in higher education and helping to mobilize civil rights consciousness and to educate white northerners and judges about the evils of the Jim Crow system. Jane Dailey demonstrated that religion played a central role on both sides of the controversy, with segregationists and integrationists making competing (p.184) claims to Christian orthodoxy. Victoria W. Wolcott used a small event at a Buffalo amusement park in 1956 to illustrate the importance in the civil rights movement of black teenagers and recreation sites, the contrasting white and black visions of integrated recreation, and the death of the parks. And Joseph Kip Kosek introduced Richard Gregg, America’s first major theorist of nonviolent action. This historian portrayed Greg as one of the major influences on King and the latter as the person who came closest to fulfilling Gregg’s goal of revitalizing democratic politics.50

Yet another cluster of articles focused on black universities, Africa, black voters, and John Kennedy. Jason C. Parker spotlighted the roles America’s black universities in the civil rights victories in the United States and the creation of nation-states in Africa, two parts of the decolonization of the Black Atlantic. James H. Meriwether emphasized Kennedy’s attention to Africa, more than to civil rights and to King, in his successful effort to appeal to black voters in 1960 without pushing away white southerners, while Renee Romano focused on African diplomats in the United States, Kennedy’s State Department, and the international pressures that contributed to the successes of the civil rights movement.51

Another cluster focused on the radicalization of black activism during the 1960s. One article, by Ruth Feldstein, focused on Nina Simone, an African American singer/songwriter who became an activist in the 1960s, offered in her music visions of black cultural nationalism and female power, and had connections with many cultural producers and activists. Daniel Martin opposed the dominant understanding of Le Roi Jones/Amiri Baraka as a relentless champion of black macho, questioned the utility of that term as a characterization of the black power ideal, and presented Baraka as one who reformulated the long-standing ideals of social and moral uplift in ways that preserved the notion of a socially responsible patriarchy. In addition, Peniel E. Joseph examined black power historiography, its changing meaning within civil rights scholarship and its recent growth as a distinct subfield within U.S. history. He ended with a plea to the profession to come to terms with the black power movement’s complexity in order to rethink postwar American history.52

Thomas J. Sugrue wrote of another effort at reorientation, doing so in an essay on the politics of racial equality in the urban north from 1945 to 1969. He discussed the struggle over employment discrimination from its origins in World War II through the racial liberalism of the postwar years to the militant protests and counter-protests of the 1960s. The key actors included white construction unionists who opposed affirmative action, fought to maintain the status quo, and fundamentally reoriented the civil rights debate.53

In the midst of this flourishing of the field of African American history in the pages of the JAH, Lew Formwalt, the executive director of the OAH, reported in 2006 that minorities constituted only 7 percent of the membership.54 This (p.185) was so even though, as this essay demonstrates, the JAH had, for nearly half a century, recognized African American history as a major part of American history. It was true also even though the members over the same time period had testified for nearly as long to their sense of the large importance of the field in their choices for the presidency of the Organization. John Hope Franklin, who served in 1974–1975), was the first African American president. Since then, four other African Americans have followed him in that office: Mary Frances Berry (1990–1991), Darlene Clark Hine (2001–2002), James O. Horton (2004–2005), and Nell Irvin Painter (2007–2008). Furthermore, more than a dozen white contributors to the field, beginning with C. Vann Woodward in 1968–1969, have also served as president. In short, more than a third of the presidents since the MVHA became the OAH have contributed in large ways to the development of African American history. Still further, since 1984 the OAH has had a standing and active Committee on the Status of Minority Historians and Minority History.55

African American history’s rise to prominence has been a major part of the democratization of the Organization of American historians. That change involves much more than recognition of the writing of some black historians. The rise means that the OAH now recognizes that all black Americans are important in the American story. For many years, the study of their history was but a small part of the American historical profession’s activities, and during those years, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association paid little attention to that history. The change came in the 1960s and thereafter, and the field became a prominent part of the work of the historical profession and of one of its major representatives, the OAH.


(1) . Walter F. Fleming, review of The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861, by Carter G. Woodson, in MVHR 2 (Mar. 1916): 586–89; J. W. Garner, Review of The Facts of Reconstruction, by John R. Lynch, in MVHR 3 (June 1916): 112–13.

(2) . Carter G. Woodson, review of American Negro Slavery, by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in MVHR 5 (Mar. 1919): 480–82.

(3) . Philip M. Hamer, review of The Negro in South Carolina During Reconstruction, by Alrutheus Ambush Taylor, in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review (MVHR) 12 (Mar. 1926): 606–8, quotation on 608.

(4) . “Editorial Comment,” MVHR 12 (Mar. 1926): 628–29.

(5) . See, for example, Arthur C. Cole, review of Anti-Slavery Sentiment in American Literature Prior to 1865, by Lorenzo Dow Turner, in MVHR 17 (Mar. 1931): 624–25; Percy Scott Flippin, review of George Washington and the Negro, by Walter H. Mazyck, in MVHR 19 (Sept. 1932): 305; Paul Lewinson, review of The Negro in American National Politics, by William F. Nowlin, in MVHR 19 (June 1932): 125–26; and N. N. Puckett, review of The Negro in the Slaughtering and Meat-Packing Industry in Chicago, by Alma Herbst, in MVHR 20 (June 1933): 164. See also Puckett’s review of The (p.186) Education of the Negro in the American Social Order, by Horace Mann Bond, in MVHR 21 (Dec. 1934): 418–20.

(6) . “Historical News and Comments,” MVHR 29 (Mar. 1943): 649.

(7) . Benjamin Quarles, “Sources of Abolitionist Income,” MVHR 32 (June 1945): 63–76; Benjamin Quarles, “The Colonial Militia and Negro Manpower,” MVHR 45 (Mar. 1959): 643–52.

(8) . J. G. Randall, review of From Slavery to Freedom: A History of American Negroes, by John Hope Franklin, MVHR 35 (Sept. 1948): 288–90.

(9) . “Historical News and Comments,” MVHR 38 (Sept. 1951): 350–52.

(10) . George L. Anderson, “The Forty-Fourth Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association,” MVHR 38 (Sept. 1951): 262.

(11) . “Report of the Secretary-Treasurer for the Year 1951–1952,” MVHR 39 (Sept. 1952): 393–94; Ray Allen Billington, “From Association to Organization: The OAH in the ‘Bad Old Days,’” Journal of American History (JAH) 65 (June 1978): 78–80; August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Black History and the Historical Profession, 1915–1980 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986), 155.

(12) . Meier and Rudwick, 155; Billington, 82; George E. Mowry, “The Forty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association,” MVHR 40 (Sept. 1953): 310.

(13) . Paul W. Gates, “The Forty-seventh Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association,” MVHR 41 (Sept. 1954): 292; Billington, 82.

(14) . Joe B. Frantz, “The Forty-eighth Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association,” MVHR 42 (Sept. 1955): 288.

(15) . Richard W. Leopold, “The Forty-ninth Annual Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association,” MVHR 43 (Sept. 1956): 277; William D. Aeschbacher, “Report of the Secretary-Treasurer for the Year 1957–1958,” MVHR 45 (Sept. 1958): 382; “Historical News and Comments,” MVHR 47 (June 1960): 182.

(16) . Editor’s note: For me, one event more than any other symbolized the rise to prominence of African American history at the time. It was the appointment in 1969 of Arvarh Strickland as professor of history at the University of Missouri, Columbia. I chaired the history department at the time; he was the first African American appointed to the faculty of the Columbia campus, and he established courses in the field as a major part of the department’s offerings.

(17) . Dec. 1976; June 1977; June 1975.

(18) . Dec. 1971; Mar. 1972; Dec. 1974; June 1973; June 1974; Sept. 1976.

(19) . Dec. 1972.

(20) . Mar. 1976; Dec. 1971; Dec. 1973; June 1972.

(21) . June 1978.

(22) . June 1983; Mar. 1984.

(23) . Dec. 1983; June 1981.

(24) . Sept. 1981; June 1979; Mar. 1980.

(25) . Dec. 1979; June 1982.

(26) . Dec. 1998; Sept. 1997; Dec. 1990.

(27) . Sept. 1995; Sept. 1994; Sept. 1993; Mar. 1989.

(28) . June 1994; Sept. 1988; June 1997; Sept. 1998; Mar. 1990; Dec. 1989.

(29) . Mar. 1996; Sept. 1989. See also articles by Dylan Penningroth (Sept. 1997) and Amy Dru Stanley (Sept. 1988).

(p.187) (30) . Mar. 1989; Dec. 1986; June 1993.

(31) . Sept. 1997; June 1992; Mar. 1995.

(32) . Mar. 1996.

(33) . Mar. 1986; Sept. 1986; Dec. 1990.

(34) . Dec. 1988; Dec. 1993. See also the articles on Josephine Baker, the Communist Party, and African American suburbanization by Mary L. Dudziak, Gerald Zihavi, and Andrew Wiese (Sept. 1994; Sept. 1996; Mar. 1999).

(35) . June 1993; June 1994; June 1990; Dec. 1990.

(36) . Sept. 1998. See also the article by Jonathan Zimmerman (Dec. 1995) on the impact on African Americans of their service in Africa as Peace Corps volunteers.

(37) . June 1996.

(38) . Edward Paul Nord served three times as Acting/Interim Editor during the years from 1997 to 2005.

(39) . Mar. 2006; Mar. 2007; June 2010.

(40) . June 2005; Mar. 2009; June 2008; June 2010.

(41) . June 2001; Mar. 2010. In an essay on the politics of the 1850s (Sept. 2001), Bruce Levine includes a discussion of the importance of the slavery issue.

(42) . Mar. 2007; Sept. 2009; June 2003.

(43) . Dec. 2005; Mar. 2008.

(44) . Mar. 2010; Sept. 2005; June 2000.

(45) . Dec. 2001.

(46) . Mar. 2010.

(47) . Mar. 2004; Dec. 2003; June 2006.

(48) . Dec. 2002; June 2010. Patricia Kelly Hall and Steven Ruggles dealt with a force of large importance during the war, before it, and after it: migration from the South to the North during the twentieth century (Dec. 2004).

(49) . June 2007; Sept. 2007.

(50) . June 2002; June 2004; June 2006; Mar. 2005.

(51) . Dec. 2009; Dec. 2008; Sept. 2000.

(52) . Mar. 2005; June 2006; Dec. 2009.

(53) . June 2004. See also the article by Michael B. Katz, Mark J. Stern, and Jamie J. Fades, “The New African American Inequality” (June 2005).

(54) . “Centennial Reflections,” OAH Newsletter 34 (Nov. 2006): 2.

(55) . OAH, “Guide to Service, Award & Prize Committee Structure 1998–1999,” 18 and 51n20; Arvarh E. Strickland to Estelle B. Freedman and Thomas Dublin, July 28, 1997; William H. Chafe to Paul Boyer, April 14, 1998; Strickland, “Report of the Committee on the Status of Minority Historians and Minority History,” 1997, Strickland files.