Released in April by Peter Lang Publishing, the book is edited by Ethnic Study Professors Anthony Parent and Ulrike Wiethaus. It covers historical traumas like the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Trail of Tears – the forced relocation of Native Americans. The book surmises that such episodes continue to affect blacks and American Indians. The editors say the book seeks to give voice to those whose voices are ignored in other history books.
“When you silence somebody, you destroy their humanity and there’s the concept of social death,” said Wiethaus, who also co-authored the book’s introduction with Parent. “You can really extend that it is a historical death; you take away their profound humanity.”
A reception for the book’s contributors, most of whom are WFU faculty, was held last week in Carswell Hall. Ronald Neal, a WFU religion professor, was on hand.
He wrote a chapter that explores the effects of race on political power in the South from Reconstruction to today. It contends that the racist “Southern Strategy,” or employing racism to win white votes, used by segregationist politicians like the late Sen. Strom Thurman have been cloaked in the economics and class issues that are being used by current lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
“It really speaks to what happens to populations that have to constantly contend with legacies of oppression and how populations thrive, how they continue to keep going in the face of trauma,” he said.
Beth Hopkins, director of outreach at WFU School of Law, shared her family’s story in the book. Her contribution chronicles the struggle of her grandfather – a Virginia farmer – to make ends meet during The Great Depression. With his family starving, he walked 20 miles a day to learn a new trade and started his own successful business as a plaster contractor. By the time she was born in 1951, her family lived comfortably thanks to the hard work of her grandfather and others. She said writing about her family’s rise from poverty was a labor of love that she hopes will inspire others.
“The story chronicles how black families can be resilient with a vision because my grandfather had a vision,”
“He impressed upon his children that he had to work hard, and he gave them some formulas for success in a racist society.”
Parent authored two chapters – one on Harriet Jacobs, an escaped slave from Edenton who became an abolitionist and author, and the other on the hidden meanings slaves put into the songs they sang while shucking corn.
While the melodies may have sounded happy, idyllic or even silly to their masters, Parent said slaves hide indictments of their condition in songs.
One tune, “How’s Ye Feeling Brudders?,” seems like a nonsensical ditty about craving more drink. Closer examination reveals it’s actually about comforting a woman dying of tuberculosis.
“Ultimately what most of these songs are all about is ‘Look, we’re human even though you deny us our humanity everyday, we’re human beings,’” said Parent.
Ana-Maria Gonzalez Wahl, director of Ethnic Studies, and her husband, sociology professor Steven E. Gunkel, co-wrote a chapter on a more recent triumph: the 2009 formation of a union at the Smithfield factory in Tar Heel, N.C. after a nearly two decade-long dispute. With 5,000 employees, the pork processing plant, which relies heavily on black and Hispanic workers, is one of the world’s largest slaughterhouses.
“Being able to organize that size of plant in the South is this huge achievement for the labor unions that were involved and for the workers,” said Wahl.
Parent and Wiethaus hope to see the book used in college classrooms throughout the nation. Currently, the hardcover, which is available at Amazon.com, goes for about $90, but the professors are hopeful that a more affordable softcover edition will be released in the future.
The other WFU contributors are Stephen Boyd, Margaret Bender, Margaret Zulick, Nina Maria Lucas, Christy Buchanan and Joseph Gryzwacz.