Our Faculty/Students in News
Old Ways in New Jersey
Interview with Professor Carla Cevasco
Interview with Professor Jimmy Sweet
Interview with Professor Maria Kennedy
Interview with Professor Michael Rockland
Interview with Professor Nicole Fleetwood
Interview with Professor Sylvia Chan-Malik
One evening last spring, my son packed his backpack for school the next day and sighed. “Mom, it’s weird walking around near my school,” he said. His somber tone made me afraid of what would come next—confessions of bullying, peer pressure, or, as had been reported about the eighth-graders, witnessing kids drinking or making out near the campus.
“Why?” I asked, trying to sound calm.
“All the white people move away from me when I’m walking to school. The white women grab their bags or cross the street. The only people who say hi are black women pushing strollers with white children in them,” he said.
At the time, he was barely five feet tall and weighed under 100 pounds. He was a 12-year-old in the sixth grade at a fairly diverse but majority-white middle school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Since starting there, he had been insistent about going to school on his own, a 20-minute journey from our home in Harlem. His father and I had set up a system: one of us would track his journey to school until he sent a text message confirming arrival. I watched the little dot that represents his movement along the city grid, but what that phone app could not show was the people he encountered along the way and how they treated him.
Black leisure travel during the Jim Crow era is an overlooked and under-researched topic. When researchers examine African American travelers during this time period, they tend to view their mobility through the lens of politics or as a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement. This is an incredibly limited view of Black mobility, and viewing African American travelers as solely political travelers means that researchers miss out on understanding their full experiences. Researchers render them heroes or martyrs rather than families and individuals, and they strip them of their joy.
pdf "Wherever We Please, and Without Embarrassment”: Black Leisure Travel During the Jim Crow Era (130 KB) examines Black leisure travel during the Jim Crow era, with a specific focus on Victor Hugo Green's The Negro Traveler's Green Book. The Green Book treated black travelers as travelers, contributing to the normalization and enjoyability of travel. This thesis emphasizes leisure over politics, as much of the research surrounding this era fails to do so. The major sources used in writing this thesis include archived versions of The Negro Motorist's Green Book from 1937 to 1964, archived editions of the NAACP's magazine The Crisis, archived issues of The Defender, and a number of secondary sources on the automobile, sundown towns, the Great Migration, leisure, segregation, and mobility.
I stumbled across The Negro Motorist Green Book my freshman year. Junot Diaz had shared an article about the New York Public Library's acquisition of the nearly-complete run of the guidebook. I knew right then that if I ever wrote a thesis, that would be my focus.As my junior year came to a close, Professor Masur asked me if I had any subject in mind for an honors thesis. I immediately remembered The Green Book. Holding a facsimile of the guidebook in my hands this year, I finally realized that this was more than a year-long writing project. The book that I held in my hands had literally saved lives, and I wanted to do it justice in my writing. For the better part of a year, I poured over The Crisis, The Chicago Defender, The Green Book itself, and sources concerning black leisure travel, segregation, the automobile, and sundown towns. I am so incredibly proud of what I've done this year.
pdf “Vinyl: A Visual History” (1.90 MB) is a piece of graphic non-fiction that seeks to understand why vinyl LPs remain a part of contemporary American popular culture. This piece acts in defense of nostalgia, citing its power to build communities through what may be considered an “outdated” form of listening technology. Following the trajectory of sound recording from its inception until today, this senior thesis seeks out what the materiality of vinyl LPs does for listeners. “Vinyl: A Visual History” uses the form of a graphic non-fiction to build upon the tradition of artwork used for albums. Taking cues from artists like Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman, this graphic non-fiction grapples with vinyl LPs history, present, and future through visuals.
How I Became Interested:
As a visual artist and a student of American Studies, I wanted to find a way to combine my passions and create a thesis that allowed me to explore American pop-culture. I am also a fervent music lover, and so making this project about a facet of musical history just made sense. Because I took a less conventional approach to the senior thesis, I had to find a way to make my work as academic as it was creative. I decided to first approach writing “spec scripts” — scripts that detailed the writing of each page and what the drawings would look like — of the thesis, make edits, and then go forward and draw the visuals. While the process could oftentimes be arduous, it ended up becoming a body of work I can say I am very proud of.
Old Ways in NJ States of Incarceration
Angus Kress Gillespie speaks with Andrew Urban about the "States of Incarceration" exhibit at the Douglas Library at Rutgers University.
During World War II, 2,500 Japanese Americans, deemed a threat to national security and incarcerated by the government because of their race, came to a small town in South Jersey for a chance at freedom.
They entered a work-release program that offered low- paying jobs at Seabrook Farms, a pioneering business in Cumberland County that produced frozen vegetables. But they still found themselves bound by what one worker called “invisible restraints.” They had no option to leave, put in long hours and paid most of their salary back to the company to cover food and housing costs.
Their story, a little-known chapter in New Jersey history, has been brought to light by a group of students at Rutgers University-New Brunswick as part of a national traveling exhibit called States of Incarceration. The goal of the exhibit, on display at the Douglass Library, is to start a dialogue to bring about change...
Most prisons and jails across the United States do not allow prisoners to have access to cameras. At a moment when 2.2 million people are incarcerated in the US, 3.8 million people are on probation, and 870,000 former prisoners are on parole, how can images tell the story of mass incarceration when the imprisoned don’t have control over their own representation? How can photographs visualize a reality that disproportionately affects people of color, and, for many, remains outside of view?
The ongoing struggle against white supremacy
by Louis P. Masur
A slaveholder wrote the Declaration of Independence and a man who believed in black inferiority later transformed the ideas it laid out into universal gospel. Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were men of their times, of course, times in which the idea of white supremacy was far more prevalent than in the 21st century. Or so it seemed.
White supremacy is more visible and vocal than it has been in decades. Its reemergence can be traced to several developments: a reaction against the Black Lives Matter movement that began in 2013, the massacre of black worshippers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015 that led to a reexamination of the meaning of Confederate symbols, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016. These issues fused tragically in Charlottesville on August 12.
Unfortunately, many Americans fail to realize that white supremacy is not an aberration in this country but for most of its history the norm, forced into retreat only by the actions of those who struggle to make liberty and equality, not slavery and racism, the polestars that guide the nation.
My guess is that Jefferson would have been appalled by the events at the University of Virginia, which he considered one of his greatest achievements along with the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and the Declaration of Independence. Those accomplishments alone grace the monument above his grave.
But Jefferson, like many Americans in his time, never shed his belief in black inferiority. Blacks, he thought, were incapable of self-governance, “as incapable as children of taking care of themselves” and free blacks were “pests in society.” He feared servile insurrection and believed the only solution to the problem of race was to remove free blacks from the United States, “beyond the reach of mixture.” Jefferson recognized that slavery as an institution was “a hideous blot,” but he never emancipated his slaves, except for relatives of Sally Hemings with whom he fathered children, and he showed few qualms about breaking up families and selling off slaves to reduce his indebtedness.
It took Lincoln to salvage the Jefferson we desire from the one who lived. Lincoln grounded his understanding of the nation on the Declaration of Independence and argued time and again that the phrase all men are created equal included blacks. “All honor to Jefferson,” proclaimed Lincoln. The Declaration “set up a standard maxim for free society . . . constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere.”
Lincoln embraced gradual, deliberate change and exemplified that approach. He too had believed in white superiority: “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. … There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together.” Lincoln supported colonization, though he realized it was not possible on a large scale. He always hated slavery, but as president refused at first to act against the institution or make provisions for whites and blacks to live peacefully in freedom.
The Civil War compelled Lincoln to bring Jefferson’s maxim of a free society to fruition. We can watch him change his mind over time. He moved from saying he could not attack slavery where it existed to freeing slaves in Confederate areas not under Union control, and then advocating for a 13th Amendment abolishing it throughout the United States; he shifted from embracing colonization to authorizing the enlistment of black soldiers; he stopped believing that blacks could not attain political equality and, in the last speech he ever gave, publicly endorsed black suffrage. Thinking about Lincoln, civil rights activist and historian W. E. B. Du Bois exclaimed, “I love him not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet triumphed.”
In the aftermath of the Civil War, Southern states began erecting monuments to the leaders and events of the Confederacy. Many of them went up decades after the war, well into the 20th century. Try as some Southerners might to claim that the statues merely celebrated Confederate heritage and the principles of duty and honor, that heritage is inseparable from support for white supremacy. Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, declared that the cornerstone of the Confederacy “rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented more than 1,500 public symbols of white supremacy in the former Confederacy. And not only there: a statue of Alexander Stephens is displayed in the U.S. Capitol, along with fellow Confederates Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.
Some of those memorials, such as the recently removed Liberty Monument in New Orleans, honored violent white supremacist groups such as the White League, which sought in 1874 to take control of the state government. In explaining its removal and that of various statues to Confederate leaders, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said, “These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror that it actually stood for.”
Those memorials were meant to send a message to the black population. In case they did not receive it, in the decades following the Civil War and reaching well into the 20th century, white supremacists lynched thousands of free blacks. In the 1920s and 1930s, Du Bois, who served as director of publicity and research for the NAACP, flew a flag from its Fifth Avenue offices that read “A Man Was Lynched Yesterday.” There are many aspects of American history that are inexplicable and unconscionable, perhaps none more so than the failure of Congress to pass antilynching legislation in the 20th century. In 2005, the Senate formally apologized for not acting.
In the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, many Americans believed that Jefferson’s maxim had at last become policy. Legal segregation had been defeated. Equal rights had been recognized. White supremacy had been forced into the shadows. But it seems it hasn’t taken much for an assault on people of color and the erosion of the principles of the Declaration of Independence to begin again.
So it is time to renew the battle, to continue the struggle. White nationalists can’t be convinced, but perhaps white moderates can. This was the thrust of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. Religious leaders must step forward. Moderates must take a stand. White supremacists, and the politicians who support them, will be defeated only by those willing to continue to fight for what King called “the sacred heritage of our nation,” a heritage not of hate but of hope.
Louis P. Masur is distinguished professor of American studies and history at Rutgers University. His most recent book is Lincoln’s Last Speech: Wartime Reconstruction and the Crisis of Reunion.
Holland Tunnel Interview with Prof. Gillespie
HOLLAND TUNNEL TO BE FEATURED BY PBS
Rutgers Professor Interviewed
Be sure to watch for the upcoming PBS broadcast of "10 Modern Marvels" that will air on July 24 at 8:00 pm. The producer, Geoffrey Baer, selected ten heroic works of American civil engineering to feature in this segment. One of those ten was the first underwater vehicular tunnel, namely the Holland Tunnel, featuring Angus Gillespie as the on-air expert.
On Friday, August 11, 2017, a video team from Chicago came to New York City to interview Rutgers Professor Angus Kress Gillespie, author of “Crossing under the Hudson,” about the history of the Holland Tunnel. The team from WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago, was working on a series called “10 That Changed America,” with a close look at the Holland Tunnel, one of ten American engineering marvels.
The Holland Tunnel is a highway tunnel under the Hudson River between Manhattan in New York City and Jersey City, New Jersey. An important conduit within the New York metropolitan area, its two tubes carry eastbound and westbound traffic. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operate it.
The first part of the interview began at Pier 34 of the Hudson River Park on the west side of New York. Geoffrey Baer, an Emmy Award winning producer for WTTW, conducted the interview. Pier 34 provides access for authorized personnel to the large ventilation tower in the Hudson River on the New York side. The massive, seven-story, art deco tower faced with yellow cathedral brick made an ideal backdrop for the interview.
The interview focused on the ventilation system. The engineers designed a system to force fresh air from underneath the roadway and to remove expended air from the ceiling. The system thus avoided the lethal hazard of motorists breathing the carbon monoxide generated by motor vehicles.
The second part of the interview featured a vintage 1930s Buick that was driven on three roundtrips through the tunnel, with Geoffrey Baer and Professor Gillespie riding in the back seat of the vintage car, continuing the interview, while being filmed by the videographer riding in the front seat. Then there were two additional trips through the tunnel filmed out the side of an accompanying van with the doors open.
The forthcoming program focused on ten engineering marvels that changed America will air in 2018. It follows three earlier programs on the built environment. In an episode called “10 Homes that Changed America,” they explored American housing through the ages. In “10 Parks that Changed America,” they presented a history of landscape architecture in the United States. “10 Towns that Changed America” is the story of how Americans have planned their cities over time.
The Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation makes funding for the series possible, in part. Joan and Robert Clifford, The Walter E. Heller Foundation, and other generous supporters, also provide major funding.