Archive for the 'Related News' Category

Elizabeth Keckley in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

Today Steven Spielberg’s much-anticipated new film, Lincoln, opens in theaters across the United States. Covering Lincoln’s final months in office, the film portrays the actions he took to end the war and abolish slavery.

Spielberg based more than 40 of his characters on historical figures; included in this group is Elizabeth Keckley, an enslaved woman whose 1868 book (Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House) UNC Press and the UNC Library republished last year through the DocSouth Books program.

Keckley, born a slave in Virginia in 1818, suffered through decades of slavery’s horrors, including beatings and a sexual assault. Eventually, she raised enough money to purchase freedom for herself and her son, moving to Washington, D.C. to work as a seamstress. A close confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, for whom she sewed, Keckley eventually published Behind the Scenes both as a slave narrative and a memoir of her relationship with the First Lady. The book also attempted to defend the sale of Mrs. Lincoln’s dresses to help solve Lincoln’s financial problems.

Unfortunately, negative public reaction to the book’s revelations of Mrs. Lincoln’s private feelings and financial troubles caused Keckley’s dressmaking business to fail and the Lincoln family to cut off ties with her. But Behind the Scenes remains an important view into the Lincolns’ life and the White House of the 1860s, quoted to this day by biographers.

To learn more about Keckley, check out this summary from the Documenting the American South web site. To see a sketch of a gown Keckley created for Lincoln, check out this page from the Smithsonian Institution.

To purchase Behind the Scenes in print-on-demand paperback or electronic format, click hereDocSouth Books, a collaboration between UNC Press and UNC Library, brings classic works from the digital library of Documenting the American South back into print and makes them available as downloadable e-books or print-on-demand publications.

Slate recently published an article comparing historical photos of the real people to pictures of the actors who portray them. Click here to view this article.

Kate Masur, author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C., recently wrote about the movie in a New York Times op-ed. (Click here to read the story.) Harold Holzer, co-author of The Confederate Image and The Union Image, also commented on the movie in this article from The Telegraph.

From The Chapel Hill News: Unexpected library discovery unearths historical tale

The Chapel Hill News recently printed a story about new research by historian Benjamin Filene, a UNC-Greensboro history professor whose trip to the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library (UNC Chapel Hill) set him off on a multi-year study surrounding fifty 1930s-era photographs.

The photographs, which were used to illustrate Stella Sharpe’s children’s book Tobe (UNC Press 1939), explore African Americans’ lives on North Carolina farms. Filene has traced the photos to two Greensboro families, and the stories to an African American tenant family living on Sharpe’s own land. Apparently, Sharpe wrote the book after one of the African American tenant farmers asked her why the individuals pictured in her children’s books didn’t look like him.

Filene will continue his research, with the possibility of exhibiting it in the Orange County Historical Museum, where he will give a talk this coming Sunday, October 28.

To read the Chapel Hill News article, click here.

Sharpe’s book, Tobe, is available for purchase through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

Celebrating Freedom’s Teacher, the Enhanced E-book

Two weeks ago, we announced the publication of a special enhanced e-book version of Freedom’s Teacher: The life of Septima Clark by Katherine Mellen Charron (click here). Produced in collaboration with the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston, the enhanced e-book features nearly 100 primary-source items, including photographs, documents, letters, newspaper clippings, and 60 audio excerpts from oral history interviews with 15 individuals—including Clark herself—each embedded in the narrative where it will be most meaningful. (See the bottom of this post for a video demonstration).

This week, the project team, the author, and professors and scholars of history celebrated the release of this exciting new product—a scholarly work which truly redefines the concept of the “talking book.” Here are a few informal photos from the event at The Crunkelton on West Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

Left to right: UNC Press digital production specialist Thomas Elrod, LCRM project assistant Alison Shay, “Freedom’s Teacher” author Katherine Mellen Charron, and LCRM project director Sylvia Miller.

Adriane Lentz-Smith, Duke University’s Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History, poses with an enlarged version of the book cover.

Author Katherine Charron shows the enhanced e-book on an iPad to Duke University's Hunt Family Assistant Professor of History Adriane Lentz-Smith. Liz Lundeen, a PhD student of history at UNC Chapel Hill, watches.

A video demonstration of the enhanced e-book.


Browsable and searchable from anywhere in the text, the enhancements include transcripts, additional commentary from the author, and outbound links to online archives. The enhanced e-book is available for the Barnes & Noble Nook and the iPhone and iPad via Amazon’s Kindle app.

Check back for upcoming posts about the creation process, from the point of view of the author and project staff.

Digitizing the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina

Six months ago, the digital production centers at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University began scanning more than 35 archival collections related to the long civil rights movement—a substantial undertaking by the Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN).

Drawing on collections from Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the project, “Content, Context and Capacity: A Collaborative Large-Scale Digitization Project on the Long Civil Rights Movement in North Carolina,” was made possible by funding from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.

The project is expected to take three years; as digitized collections are completed, they will be available online free of charge, both through Search TRLN and the collections’ finding aids on each library’s website.

To date, more than 100,000 documents have been scanned, and six collections, including the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records, are complete; scanning of five more collections, including the James E. Shepard Papers, the North Carolina Extension and Community Association Records, and the Women-In-Action for the Prevention of Violence and Its Causes, Inc. Durham Chapter records, 1968-1998, is already under way. The following photos illustrate the digitization process at UNC’s Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, where graduate assistants are hard at work scanning manuscript materials from UNC, NC State University, and NC Central University.

Graduate assistant Shea Swauger places a document onto the Zeutschel scanner.

The documents are placed under a glass window to keep them flat during the scanning process.

The Zeutschel scanner, mid-scan.

When finished, the scanned images appear on a computer.

Once the scans are complete, they’re uploaded to the server. Here, graduate assistant Allen Bell uploads the files.

Once the scans are complete, staff perform a quality check and ensure that all pages from the physical document made it into the digitized document. Here, graduate assistant Carolyn Chesarino performs this task.

After the documents have undergone a quality check, the digitized scans are uploaded to the internet and linked within the collection’s finding aid, where researchers can view them.  So far, 105,937 scans out of an estimated 400,000 have been completed.

Samantha Leonard, CCC Digital Production Manager, supervises the UNC School of Library and Information Science students, who she says “have really been the push behind our high numbers of scans and success.”

Later in the grant period, NC State will scan oversized materials, and an audio engineer will digitize the audio recordings including more than 300 oral history interviews from Duke University’s Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American Life in the Jim Crow South Records.

Click here to follow the digitization progress.

UNC Press Spring Sale: 50% off African American History Books!

For a limited time, dozens of African American history books are available at half price, as part of UNC Press’s spring sale.

Included on the list are popular titles such as Lisa Levenstein’s A Movement Without Marches and Lisa Materson’s For the Freedom of Her Race.

Click here to view more sale titles from the African American history list. Spend $75 and receive free shipping!

Progress Update: TRLN’s LCRM digitization project

During its first six months, the Triangle Research Libraries Network’s “Content, Context, and Capacity” grant project has scanned over 100,000 digital objects from archival collections related to the Long Civil Rights Movement. Digitization of six collections is complete, with scanning of five further collections under way. Most of the digitized content is already available online to researchers. Click here to follow digitization progress for individual collections. Click here to view a full list of the 38 collections to be digitized. Scanning is complete for the following six collections, and digital content is accessible via the links to the collection finding aids:

Floyd B. McKissick Papers (NCCU) McKissick (1922-1991) was a North Carolina attorney, businessman, and civil rights leader. The collection documents the LCRM in Durham and Soul City, a town owned and operated by African Americans, and are critical for the study of legal and economic remedies to civil rights inequities. The collection reflects McKissick’s work with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the NAACP, the development of Soul City, and his work with the Republican Party.

The North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records (UNC) The NCCIC was established in 1921 as a state affiliate of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation to work toward improved race relations in the state and to alleviate injustices and change prejudiced racial attitudes. The collection consists of correspondence and financial, legal, and other materials.

Roy M. Brown Papers (UNC) Brown held various administrative positions in North Carolina state public welfare agencies, 1921-1934, and was director of the Division of Public Welfare and Social Work at UNC-Ch, 1936-1945. The collection includes correspondence with professional colleagues concerning public issues, social work training, the North Carolina Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, the North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and the compiling of information from North Carolina counties for a history of public aid to the poor.

Samual Huntington Hobbs Papers (UNC) Hobbs (1895-1969), was a rural sociologist and member of the faculty of the University of North Carolina, 1916-1968. He was chair of the University’s Department of Rural Social Economics. His papers include correspondence, writings, materials about part-time farming, and materials about the North Carolina Rural Electrification Project.

Basil Lee Whitener Papers (Duke) Whitener was a North Carolina Congressman and U.S. Representative for the Eleventh and Tenth Districts (1957–1968). Whitener was opposed to civil rights legislation, deficit spending, foreign aid spending, and the proliferation of domestic and social programs. His papers document the rise of the New Right in North Carolina.  

Rencher Nicholas Harris Papers (Duke) Harris was an African American civic leader during the period following the Brown decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Movement. Harris was the first African American city councilman in Durham, N.C., and the first black man to sit on the Durham County Board of Education. The collection materials relate to Harris’ work in political and educational affairs in Durham, N.C., in the 1950s-1960s as a member of the City Council and the School Board, with emphasis on school desegregation, civil rights, and race relations.

Southern Oral History Program on WUNC

This morning, WUNC aired the first installment in a series entitled Voices for Civil Rights, a collection of stories about oral histories of the civil rights movement.

The Smithsonian Institution broke ground on its new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the end of February and plans to open the museum in 2015. Its collection will include oral histories from the civil rights movement—many of which will be drawn from an inventory of existing oral history collections throughout America, but several of which will be newly completed interviews with individuals who participated in the civil rights movement. UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) will provide many of these interviews.

WUNC reporters will speak with LCRM blogger and SOHP digital coordinator Seth Kotch each Friday this month. Today, Kotch described the aims of the SOHP and shared a story from Jamila Jones, a woman who was active in the civil rights movement from age nine. Click here to listen to this story.

Kotch says, “We really wanted to dig up untold stories from people whose names might not appear in history textbooks.”

Check it out!

From the Southern Historical Collection: Lewis Family Finding Aid is Now Available!

The finding aid for the Lewis Family Papers—which comprise more than 3000 papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials from a prominent African American family from Raleigh, N.C., dating back to the 1910s—is now available online.

The collection includes papers from J.D. Lewis, a Morehouse College graduate who was one of the first African American members of the United States Marine Corps, and also was the first African American radio and television personality, corporate director of personnel, and director of minority affairs for WRAL. Also included are documents from Vera Lewis Embree, who was a successful choreographer and professor of dance at the University of Michigan.

The collection includes primary materials from the Capitol Broadcasting Company, the National Business League, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, and many other companies and organizations—as well as newspaper clippings, funeral programs, school materials, awards and certificates, personal letters, and photographs dating from the 1910s through the 2000s. Audio tapes of WRAL editorials and community musical performances, as well as videotapes of weddings and other events, add a multimedia element.

The new finding aid, compiled by Holly Smith and Nancy Kaiser of UNC Chapel Hill’s Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, makes it easier than ever for scholars, researchers, and the general public to discover what this substantial and significant collection has to offer.

For more information, and to view the finding aid, click here.

DocSouth Books Are Now Available!

UNC Press and the University of North Carolina Library are pleased to announce that the first twelve DocSouth Books are now available in both print-on-demand paperback and e-book formats. This collaborative effort brings back into print several classic works from the digital library of Documenting the American South and makes them available to new generations for a variety of uses.

Comprising slave narratives, a collection of slave songs, and a call-to-arms pamphlet by a free black man, the DocSouth Books program makes accessible in book form several compelling and enlightening texts from the nineteenth century. For example, Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Reverend Josiah Henson is traditionally thought to have inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Also included is Solomon Northrup’s Twelve Years a Slave, which was recently slated for Hollywood adaptation by Brad Pitt.

The DocSouth Books are newly typeset for readability but otherwise unaltered from the original publications, with the original page numbers preserved. Print-on-demand copies range from $15 to $40. Downloadable e-book versions, priced between $8 and $17, are available for the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader, and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

Launched in 1996, the Documenting the American South online collection includes more than 1,400 digitized books, as well as maps, images, oral histories, manuscripts, and primary source material. The first twelve DocSouth Books represent the most frequently studied and requested texts in the Documenting the American South collection. The collaboration between Documenting the American South and UNC Press uses the latest technologies in digital publishing to bring affordable and unaltered versions of these rare texts to an audience of students, scholars, and general readers of all ages.

“Users now have two new ways to engage with these books,” said Jenn Riley, head of the Carolina Digital Library and Archives. “This collaboration with UNC Press makes perfect sense as a way to expand the scope of Documenting the American South.”

“UNC Press and the UNC Libraries have a long history of collaboration, and this is another great example of what has been a fruitful partnership,” said Mark Simpson-Vos, Editorial Director of UNC Press. “The publishing processes we have put in place for DocSouth Books promise to yield dividends for years to come.”

Troy Davis, Innocence, and the Death Penalty

The death penalty has become so infrequent in the United States that when executions take place, as they do behind closed doors in the quiet hours of the morning, they attract a great deal of attention. This is particularly true when race is in play, as it often is, and as it was in the two executions that took place on September 22, those of Troy Davis and Russell Brewer.

Brewer’s execution received short shrift in what felt like a rare reversal of attention. His crime, the horrific torture and murder of James Byrd, received a vast amount of press coverage back in 1998. Byrd was an African American man who was beaten and chained to the back of a truck by Brewer, who was white, and two other white men. The men dragged Byrd down a backwoods country road, leaving what was left of his body unrecognizable. (Ross Byrd, son of the victim, came out in opposition to the execution, saying that life in prison was punishment enough.) It was a hate crime that equaled or exceeded the bloody excesses of the Jim Crow era, and resulted in Texas Governor and current candidate for the Republican presidential nomination Rick Perry signing into law the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, creating new punishments for hate crimes and becoming the foundation for similar federal legislation.

Troy Davis

If Byrd’s death left a legacy that at least seeks to protect people from hate crimes, Troy Davis lived out a much more troubling legacy: the long shadow of Jim Crow. Black men in the American South face execution in numbers far out of proportion to their population, most often for crimes against whites. This isn’t just true in the South, of course, but as Christopher Hitchens wrote recently in Lapham’s Quarterly, “the business of execution is carried on more enthusiastically and more systematically in the states of the former Confederacy.” That enthusiasm was on display at the recent GOP debate, when the crowd cheered the 234 executions that have taken place in Texas under Rick Perry.

That enthusiasm and a snarl of legal technicalities weathered the pull of a steadily eroding case against Davis. In 1991, Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of an off-duty police officer. The testimony of the witnesses called varied wildly as to the description of the shooter, who according to their accounts wore a white shirt or a yellow one, had facial hair or did not, was 20 or 30 years old, stood 6 foot 2 or 5 foot 9, and weighed 130 pounds or 180. And those are just a handful of the inconsistencies that emerged in witness testimony. Seven of nine witnesses later recanted. There was no physical evidence and the safety valves intended to keep innocents from death failed to function.

Yet the power of doubt in Davis’s case was brushed away when the Supreme Court ruled that in his appeal, Davis had to provide compelling evidence of his innocence, meaning that in order to remove himself from death row (and, by the way, spend the rest of his life in prison) Davis would need to meet a substantially higher standard than prosecutors did when they secured a conviction. In dissenting on the Court’s decision to grant Davis an opportunity to challenge his conviction, Justice Antonin Scalia infamously dismissed the idea that so-called actual innocence gave an appelant legal standing under the Constitution.

This renewed focus on witness reliability now joins with a renewed focus on innocence, which followed a renewed focus on the whether lethal injection hurts (if it does, then should our conscience?), which followed concerns about bias, which followed concerns about–well, you get the picture. But rather than these various issues coalescing into a single bloc of opposition against the death penalty, they seem to emerge piecemeal as one, then another, convicted criminal is executed. The concern aroused by the previous execution subsides and is replaced by a new concern. There is, in short, no momentum.

What does this mean? Most likely that the number of death sentences and executions in the United States will continue to decline. But also, that the small number of states and counties that actually execute people will dwindle to some lower limit and stay there. We know that counties that have executed one person are more likely to execute another–this is what one researcher calls “the power law of death.” The power law of death means that counties that have executed before are more likely to continue to do so, and that counties that haven’t won’t start. The numbers bear this out. Harris County, Texas, is the only county in the country that has executed more than 50 people since 1977. Its 116 executions is more than triple as many as occurred in the runner-up, Dallas County. Just 14 counties have executed 10 or more people, all of them in Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri. If the main predictor of execution is execution, the death penalty can hardly be more arbitrary.

Is execution just a bad habit? Yes and no. We know that racial bias plays a huge role in the death penalty process, from indictment to execution, and that no amount of technical adjustments, such as those made following Furman v. Georgia, can eliminate it. We know that those with diminished mental capacity are more likely to be executed. We know that legal defense for the poor is often inadequate. And finding legitimate solutions to any of these problems, which would be a difficult task with a genuine desire to fix the problem, has become impossible since the death penalty assumed its position as a purity test for American politicians.

With little variation, supporters of an increasingly doctrinaire and punitive Republican Party supports, even relishes (the cheers at the debate), the prospect of execution. Those cheers didn’t signal bloodlust. Instead, they sprang from the kind of brutish defiance and willful ignorance that is a defining feature of modern-day conservatism (see, too, evolution, global warming, taxation). To be a true fan of the Republican team means savoring your opponents’ defeats, even if those defeats come in the form of men and women executed. Democrats, gambling as they often do that they cannot anger liberals so much that they’ll lose their support (they’re wrong–Ralph Nader, anyone?) and committed to bending over backwards to appease so-called Independents and moderates, trot alongside the wagon and sometimes partake in cowardly acts of support, the most notorious occurring in 1992, when candidate Clinton’s left the trail for Arkansas to oversee the execution of Ricky Ray Rector.


The death penalty’s efficacy as political shorthand exceeds its efficacy as punishment. Occasionally, grown-ups have said as much and abandoned it, most recently Pat Quinn in Illinois. But as long as Americans view the use of the death penalty as a form of political expression and as long as we cling to the belief that it offers closure to victims (a recently-invented concept that has gained traction without much proof of its existence); as long as race, poverty, and mental disability relegate its use to the least-valued among us; as long as we are satisfied with patches and safety valves, it will continue in one form or another. The rickety machinery of death, to use Justice Henry Blackmun’s term, will keep sputtering and lurching along, carrying with it men like Troy Davis and carrying with it, too, our national conscience. Our conscience deserves better stewards than the handful of politicians who insist on doing things as they’ve always been done.