New Issue: JSH August 2020

Today's post is by Andrew W. Sanders, Southern Historical Association Editorial Intern and graduate student in history at Rice University.

Even as the pandemic continues on, the editors of the Journal of Southern History announce the publication of the August 2020 issue. The issue has been mailed to SHA members and is available digitally through our partnership with Project MUSE.

Kyle Ainsworth, special collections librarian at the East Texas Research Center at Ralph W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, details the use of horses by enslaved people in “Field Hands, Cowboys, and Runaways: Enslaved People on Horseback in Texas’s Planter-Herder Economy, 1835–1865.” Farms, ranches, and plantations in Texas “had far more horses and mules per enslaved person than was true elsewhere in the Deep South,” and as a result, enslaved people were “intimately familiar with horses and mules.” Enslaved people used horses as part of their labor, and “many Texans were plainly nonchalant about seeing mounted enslaved people.” Relying on data from the Texas Runaway Slave Project, Ainsworth notes that enslaved people in Texas used horses in attempts to escape at a rate far higher than those in Louisiana or Mississippi, partially because of their access and familiarity, and partially because of Texas’s proximity to Mexico. In much of the historiography on slavery, horses are identified as “instruments of the enslaver’s power and oppression,” but Ainsworth’s work provides a new perspective in which horses and mules could be the tools to access freedom.

Bruce E. Baker, reader in American history at Newcastle University, contributes “Fires on Shipboard: Sandbars, Salvage Fraud, and the Cotton Trade in New Orleans in the 1870s.” The work challenges the simplicity of the organizational synthesis, the idea that capitalist development represents a march from disorder to order” stewarded by “a modern band of wide-awake boosters.” Instead, Baker presents capitalist development as cyclical and highlights the important role of crime. “Capitalists need criminals,” Baker argues, because criminals direct attention to weaknesses within the system, “inspiring those with more power to control and shape those systems to fix the problems and to find more efficient and effective ways to do things.” In the case of 1870s New Orleans, the complexity of salvage laws incentivized criminals to set fire to ships. By assisting in the extinguishing of the fire, they were then entitled to a court-mandated payment of some percentage of the ship’s value. As cases of arson become more and more common, various organizations and business interests worked to form new networks that brought “greater order to the waterfront.” Baker reminds us, however, that the story is more complicated than the organizational synthesis would allow, and that the arsonists would return soon enough.

Stephen Tuck, professor of modern history at Oxford University, addresses evolving and disputed religious views within Black civil rights groups in “The Doubts of Their Fathers: The God Debate and the Conflict between African American Churches and Civil Rights Organizations between the World Wars.” In the 1920s and 1930s, the NAACP reported a “spirit of indifference to Christianity” so strong “that it is bordering on agnosticism.” In addition to higher criticism’s challenge to theology and a changing societal landscape that curbed the institutional power of the church, the realities of Jim Crow rattled the belief of many Black Christians: “many were ‘either charging God with injustice or with inability to control the world which he has created.’” Leadership in civil rights groups began signaling skeptical views, resulting in tension with Black church leadership. The most pronounced conflict—between leaders of the NAACP and the African Methodist Episcopal and Baptist Churches—reached such a magnitude that “in the eyes of some clergy, the NAACP . . . might as well have stood for the National Association for the Attack on Christian Principles.” Over the course of the article, Tuck tracks the context, development, and nature of this rift, as well as the process of reconciliation. 

Thanks as always to the many reviewers who have contributed thoughtful critiques to the book review section. The “Historical News and Notices” section explains revisions to the 2020 meeting plans and presents the Call for Papers for the 2021 Southern Historical Association meeting in New Orleans. However, please note that the deadline for #2021SHA proposals has been extended to October 20, 2020. 


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