The NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work — Non-Fiction

Temple University Press congratulates Envisioning Emancipation authors Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer for being named Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction at the NAACP Image Awards February 21.

Envisioning Emancipation_smBarbara Krauthamer, who attended the ceremony, gave the following acceptance speech:

Thank you to the NAACP and to everybody. It is wonderful to be here.  My co-author Dr. Deborah Willis could not be here, but I know that she joins me in thanking all of you. We’d like to thank our editor Janet Francendese and everybody at Temple University Press; all of the librarians and archivists who helped us.  When we dreamed of this book ten years ago we wanted to create a collective family album of photographs that showed African American survival, dignity and beauty, even through the most trying times of slavery and the triumph of emancipation and freedom.  Thank you, and we wanted to dedicate this to our mothers and to those who made a way when there was no way so we could be here today.  Thank you.
And here are some images from the NAACP Image Awards ceremony:

BK screen BK statue photo 2 BK with award

 

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Let’s Talk about Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this Q&A, Sex and the Founding Fathers author Thomas A. Foster discusses our fascination with the intimate lives of historical figures.

Q: What do you think accounts for our interest in the private lives of public and/or historical figures?
TF: I think people are drawn to personal lives of famous people as a way of connecting to them. I have long been interested in the Founding Fathers as cultural icons. As I started reading biographies and doing research, I discovered that Americans have always been writing about the private lives of historical figures—sometimes with more imagination than evidence. It fascinated me to see how the stories change over time—often to suit the norms of the day. Apparently, people have been looking at the real men beneath the polished marble exterior for ages.

Q: Why is sex so critical for understanding the Founding Fathers today?
TF: The history of sexuality can tell us a lot about our culture and society. Sexuality is connected in vitally important ways to family, economy, politics, gender, race, class—you name it. Unless we know the history of sexuality, we will be missing the full picture of who we are and how we developed over time as a society. Studying how sex figures in our nation’s understanding of its Founders, shows that sexuality is part of that broader political and cultural identity that is being worked and reworked by every generation.

Author Thomas A. Foster

Author Thomas A. Foster

Q: So how does the desire to know the “real” Founders influence the stories we tell and remember?
TF: The whole idea of debunking myths of the Founders is an old one—and one that gets recycled over and over again. Americans are perennially hoping to reach the “truth” about the Founders—and sex is one way that they think they can get there. But for the most part it’s just a mirage. We have hardly any documentation for so much of what is spoken of as fact. One of the things that surprised me while writing Sex and the Founding Fathers is the way the stories change. Sexual standards shift over time and those broad changes become quite evident when we look at how the intimate lives of the Founders have been imagined by different generations.

Q: Historical rumors circulate that Washington was impotent, or that Alexander Hamilton was gay. How much faith can we put in these suggestions, innuendos, and accusations?
TF: That the stories about their sex lives change so much over time—and rest on very little actual documentation—is a sign that something else is going on than simply getting at the “true” man behind the public façade. As an historian of sexuality, I would argue that it’s extremely important that we recognize the ways that sex is taken up in discussion of national identity—with the Founding Fathers being one core element of that historical and cultural identity. How we go from Adams as a prickly prude to an amorous puritan, for example. Or how Americans feel compelled to speak about these political greats with the same superlatives—as being the most romantic, or the greatest love stories, etc.

Q: Right, reputations shift over time—for example, Thomas Jefferson has been variously idealized as a chaste widower, condemned as a child molester, and recently celebrated as a multicultural hero. How can we move from commemoration to accusation to celebration?
TF: There are multiple ways to read the Founders’ life stories. That these stories change over time shows that they’re crafted to serve cultural purposes—positioning Jefferson as a chaste widower was important in its day for many nineteenth-century audiences. Today that depiction doesn’t speak to us for a wide variety of reasons.

G-000865-20111017.jpgQ: Do you think Jefferson really “loved” Sally Hemings? How large is the gulf between what we know, what we can prove, and what we want to believe?
TF: The gulf is enormous, and we have so little to go on. The academic scholarship on sexual intimacy between masters and slaves tells us that the relationships were exploitive and abusive. But in popular depictions of Hemings and Jefferson, we often see them as in love and ahead of their time. We have no documentation to help us understand their relationship but we’re invested in imagining it as historically true. We certainly have no evidence that it was an abusive relationship, and we know that the Hemings family was positioned well on the plantation. We also know that Sally received some fine clothing while in Paris. And there is scholarly consensus that Jefferson fathered all of Hemings’s children. But as I point out in Sex and the Founding Fathers, establishing likely paternity is entirely different from trying to understand the interpersonal dynamic of a decades-long relationship. The relationship has been envisioned fairly unhesitatingly—in some popular venues as a romance.

Q: You address scandals in Eighteenth-century society, which contemporary politicians use to justify their own bad behavior. How have things changed—or stayed the same between Washington’s era and today’s digital age?
TF: Almost every scandal in Sex and the Founding Fathers was openly published. Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, and Franklin all saw scandalous talk about their sex lives in print. However, typically, Americans remember their Founders favorably not negatively. Dirt on Adams? He certainly liked to think of himself as the most virtuous of the Founders. Americans have generally adopted a similar view. I think contemporary politicians find it helps them if they can point to Founders and say that they are similarly flawed (with the implication being that maybe they are similarly great in other areas).

Q: Gouverneur Morris is perhaps the least known Founding Father, and yet his extensive and explicit diaries reveal a treasure trove of unconventional sexuality, as well as details about his intimate life. What can you say about his attitudes toward sexuality that generates attention for him?
TF:
Gouverneur Morris left us the most material from which to understand his sexual identity and experiences. His diaries were quite explicit and he lived as a sexually active bachelor until he married at the age of 57. It’s not what he says as much as the fact that he said it that distinguished Morris. His writings capture late eighteenth-century ideas about sex out of wedlock—combining the rhetoric of love and companionship with a free expression and excitement about love and sexual pleasure.

African American Athletes and Academic Performance

This week, Gregory Kaliss, author of Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality(now available in paperback), pens an essay for Black History Month on African American athletes and education.

A recent spate of stories in the national news media has examined the serious problem with the academic performance of athletes at Division 1 colleges and universities. A study by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania showed the significant gap between the academic performance of black student athletes in relation to their white peers, with the football players of the national champion Florida State Seminoles graduating at only a 37% rate. Equally troubling was a CNN story noting the academic deficiencies of men’s basketball and football players at the University of North Carolina and other public schools nationwide.
It seems quite clear that many student athletes, especially racial minorities, come to college unprepared to succeed and are offered little remedial help to bolster their chances for earning success.

These are serious issues and are especially meaningful in light of the hopes that black leaders had for college athletes to transform the racial landscape in the U.S. When African American leaders pushed for racial integration in the realm of college athletics, they did so in the hopes that sports participation would lead to broader changes in American society. Whites would see blacks and whites playing together as teammates. They would be forced to acknowledge the accomplishments of African Americans on the fields and in the classrooms of privileged institutions of higher learning. They would have to acknowledge black men as something other than the caricatures passed down through Hollywood films, biased media coverage, and various other cultural forms.
Like professional sports, integrated college sports would show that an equal opportunity society was possible once African Americans were given the chance to succeed. But college athletics had the added bonus of educating future black leaders to take up the cause of racial equality in later years.

Men's College AthleticsAs my own research for Men’s College Athletics and the Politics of Racial Equality, and the work of other scholars attests, those hopes dimmed over the years, especially as the 1960s progressed. White fans attempted to relegate black achievements to the realm of the physical, refusing to credit black male intelligence and leadership. Certain positions on teams, such as the quarterback, remained off-limits to black players for decades. And, most significantly, black athletes found that white coaches and university administrators had little concern for their academic wellbeing. Plucked from under-funded schools and completely unprepared for the rigors of college life, these student athletes found themselves taking just enough courses to remain eligible for their sport, only to discover that they had not worked toward a degree. When their time in sport was done, they had almost nothing to show for their time in college.

Although some of these issues have clearly improved over the years, the stories now circulating in the media suggest that many problems still remain in the academic realm. And they indicate that many administrators, coaches, players, and fans need to be reminded of the long struggle for African-American athletes to get an opportunity in Division 1 athletics, and the high hopes black leaders once had for college sports. In remembering those struggles and those aspirations, we may yet generate enough dialogue to create meaningful change in how our colleges and universities educate their student athletes.

Don’t Just Read Our Authors, Watch Them!

This week, we showcase a quartet of videos featuring Temple University Press authors talking about their books. Natalie Byfield revists the case of the Central Park Five, in her new book, Savage Portrayals; Tom Foster discusses Sex and the Founding Fathers; Karla Erickson talks about How We Die Now, and Dean Bartoli Smith answers Cullen Little’s questions about the Baltimore Ravens, the topic of his book,  Never Easy, Never Pretty.

Natalie Byfield, Savage Portrayals

From her perspective as a black, female reporter for the New York Daily News during the Central Park Five trial, Natalie Byfield shows how the media’s racialized coverage of the Central Park Jogger case influenced the conviction of five young minority men accused of “wilding” and affected the American juvenile justice system.  She recalls her experiences here:

Thomas Foster, Sex and the Founding Fathers

In this video, Foster explains why we are so interested in the private lives of public historical figures, and how the desire to know the “real” Founders has influenced the stories we tell and remember.  

Karla Erickson, How We Die Now

Here, Karla Erickson explains what prompted her to write about death and dying and the myths she debunks about “the longevity revolution.”  

Dean Bartoli Smith, Never Easy, Never Pretty

The author sits down with sports writer Cullen Little to discuss the Ravens and more.   

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