Our Faculty/Students in News

dubois naacp3 600x319 1

Monumental Hatred

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

Buick Entry to Holland Tunnel Interview Set Ventilation Tower Holland Tunnel


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.




bottom state goods


Through June 16. Andrew Freedman Home, 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx; 718-293-8100, andrewfreedmanhome.org.

Nicole Fleetwood became interested in prison art in the 1990s after her 18-year-old cousin was sentenced to life in prison, according to a wall text in “State Goods: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration” at the Andrew Freedman Home. Read  more: New York Times


Donald Trump is a Civil War Revisionist


"Often overlooked in the brouhaha about Donald Trump’s comments on Andrew Jackson and the Civil War is the revisionist perspective that he offers. The President suggested that Andrew Jackson would have prevented the Civil War and the conflict could have been avoided. “Had Andrew Jackson been a little later,” said the President, “you wouldn’t have had the Civil War.” - See more at: http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165846"

American Studies Senior Janine Puhak Reveals Other identity

23299 horsebackriderjeffreyf

At Senior Night, Janine Puhak ended her four-year career as the first female Scarlet Knight in history. During her time at Rutgers, she kept her identity a secret, living a high profile double life beneath the armor.

Click here to read more.

From China to Russia to the U.S. and Western Europe

 DSC 2561

"The New Jersey Department of State recognized 113 ethnic groups in New Jersey," Gillespie said. "What many people don't realize is that the receiving station for immigrants was Ellis Island, so New Jersey was a port of entry for immigrants - that's why New Jersey is one of the most ethnically diverse states."

Each year, the New Jersey Folk Festival highlights the culture and traditions of one of those 113 ethnic groups. The festival board of directors chose in 2011 to feature the Kalmyks and celebrate their multipronged expedition from Western Mongolia to a republic within the Russian federation called Kalmykia - and finally to Europe and the United States.

Click here to read more.

Crocker Memorial Lecture


Prof. Jeff Decker publishes The Other Rights Revolution: Conservative Lawyers and the Remaking of American Government

Oxford University Press Feature

In 1973, a group of California lawyers formed a non-profit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to defending conservative principles in court. Calling themselves the Pacific Legal Foundation, they declared war on the U.S. regulatory state--the sets of rules, legal precedents, and bureaucratic processes that govern the way Americans do business. Believing that the growing size and complexity of government regulations threatened U.S. economy and infringed on property rights, Pacific Legal Foundation began to file a series of lawsuits challenging the government's power to plan the use of private land or protect environmental qualities. By the end of the decade, they had been joined in this effort by spin-off legal foundations across the country.

The Other Rights Revolution explains how a little-known collection of lawyers and politicians--with some help from angry property owners and bulldozer-driving Sagebrush Rebels--tried to bring liberal government to heel in the final decades of the twentieth century. Decker demonstrates how legal and constitutional battles over property rights, preservation, and the environment helped to shape the political ideas and policy agendas of modern conservatism. By uncovering the history--including the regionally distinctive experiences of the American West--behind the conservative mobilization in the courts, Decker offers a new interpretation of the Reagan-era right.


232-041504 Rtgrs1