Beyond the Walled City

Beyond the Walled City
Beyond the Walled City

UC Press is pleased to present Beyond the Walled City: Colonial Exclusion in Havana, the first book by Guadalupe García. Havana has recently become the center of media attention as one of the world’s most rapidly changing cities. Beyond the Walled City chronicles its growth and expansion. It begins with the colonial founding of Havana in the sixteenth century and extends through the end of the US military occupation in 1902. The multiple maps included in the book visually illustrate how local and global forces shaped the topography of the contemporary city.

Through her study of Havana, García shows us how Spanish colonialism in Cuba relied heavily on the hidden spaces of the city. It was in and through these spaces that empires clashed long before nations were ever formed, but not before city residents defined the terms of their own local belonging. What readers will discover through this book is how colonial governing practices are connected to broader and contemporary debates on urbanization, and how the regulation of public space continues to define how cities are experienced. With global eyes focused on Havana, this is a timely book for understanding the contemporary city, as well as the colonial development of cities throughout in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Guadalupe García is Assistant Professor of History at Tulane University.

Letters from Langston

Although there are several books of correspondence between Langston Hughes and his contemporaries, none so far have closely explored Langston’s politics, from the early 1930s to his death in 1967. Letters from Langston, edited by Evelyn Louise Crawford and MaryLouise Patterson collects letters, postcards, and telegrams between Langston Hughes, Louise Thompson Patterson, William L. Patterson, Matt N. Crawford, and Evelyn “Nebby” Graves Crawford. Below are several excerpts from the book.



Our parents enjoyed a relationship with Langston that lasted over forty years, and they also had abiding friendships with one another that, in some instances, stretched for eight decades. The five shared many family experiences and a burgeoning intellectual and political curiosity, mostly focused on race and liberation. All of them came of age in a radical historical period marked by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the labor upheavals of the Great Depression, and the rise and defeat of fascism. It was a time bubbling over with an intensity, energy, creativity, and promise that came in the wake of a new revolutionary movement.

By 1932 Louise was working with the Communist party and other leftists in Harlem. She had been recruited to create a committee to support a film about Negro life in the United States, to be produced in Moscow. Its working title was Black and White. Some time in late March or early April 1932, Langston had agreed to have his name added to the committee.


April 24, 1932

My Dear Lang:

I am awaiting eagerly news of your various escapades in the land of sunshine, frameups and red terrorism. I look forward any day to seeing notice in the paper that Capt. Hynes and his brave boys have yanked you off the platform in the midst of a tirade on Scottsboro or Tom Mooney. Or are you doing the straight society act? Hope not.

But the purpose of this letter is to let you know how the Cooperating Committee is or is not cooperating. We have about given up on the idea of raising any money to pay the passage of people who may wish to go but have not the wherewithal and are concentrating on those who want to go and can pay their own way. There are several interested in this way and Ford says that he will send along the number that can go and let them recruit others in Europe.

So he asked me to write you about your going. Will you go in case there are only a few and when will you be ready to go? The same conditions hold, of course, and your own plans can be worked out as you have planned then. Also, have you run across anyone who wants to go and will pay his, or her, own way? What about Loren?

Write me as soon as you can, please, and let me know [y]our plans. I do wish that I was out there with you now. I had a letter from Nebby yesterday and she told me that they were looking forward to seeing you up north.

Remember me to all—friend or foe.

Always your pal,


Langston did go on the trip to the U.S.S.R., and even though the plans for the film had fallen through, the group did tour the country.

Langston Hughes, 1943. Photo by Gordon Parks




Langston Hughes

Lenin walks around the world.

Frontiers cannot bar him.

Neither barracks nor barricades impede.

Nor does barbed wire scar him.

Lenin walks around the world.

Black, brown, and white receive him.

Language is no barrier.

The strangest tongues believe him.

Lenin walks around the world.

The sun sets like a scar.

Between the darkness and the dawn

Rises a red star.

[Note below poem] Man, I have been to St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, as Narrator for the Music Festivals. Travelling with maestros and prima donnas!!! Sure did!



Letters from Langston begins in 1930 and ends shortly before his death in 1967, providing a window into a unique, self-created world where Hughes lived at ease. This distinctive volume collects the stories of Hughes and his friends in an era of uncertainty and reveals their visions of an idealized world—one without hunger, war, racism, and class oppression.

Evelyn Louise Crawford, a retired arts administrator and consultant, and MaryLouise Patterson, a pediatrician in clinical practice, are the daughters of Langston Hughes’s cherished friends Evelyn Graves Crawford, Matt N. Crawford, Louise Thompson Patterson, and William L. Patterson. Hughes was a frequent guest in the homes of the two families and was like an uncle to Evelyn Louise and MaryLouise.


The Birth of Modern Sociology

We were taught that American sociology originated with the Chicago School.  What if we were wrong?

In honor of Black History Month, let’s consider a counterview posed by author Aldon Morris—that W. E. B. Du Bois developed the first scientific school of sociology at Atlanta University, a historically black institution of higher learning located in the heart of Atlanta’s black community. Read below from The Scholar Denied: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology.  And please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

The Du Bois–Atlanta school profoundly influenced sociology and the social sciences. While at times these influences have been acknowledged, in most instances they have been overlooked. It was relatively easy for mainstream sociologists to ignore Du Bois’s contributions because these were effectively marginalized by early generations of white sociologists and by succeeding generations who followed the established pattern. As generations of scholars passed, the school no longer required marginalization because the success of earlier efforts had caused it to drop from sight. Yet its intellectual impact could not be erased completely given the merits of its ideas and given that some scholars, especially blacks, documented the significance of Du Bois’s work for the historical record and elaborated its scientific paradigm. In a previous essay I assessed the lasting intellectual influence of Du Bois on generations of black scholars who came to maturity after Du Bois’s groundbreaking scholarship and journeyed in his footsteps. They, too, conducted research showing that black people had developed their own communities, race consciousness, institutions, and discontent with racial oppression and that they did not wish to be fully assimilated into white culture.

Black sociologists often appear to have been exclusively the students of white sociologists who served as formal advisers at prestigious white universities. Yet I have shown that the first generation of black sociologists was also mentored by Du Bois and his Atlanta school. It may appear that Du Bois and his school operated as an “invisible college” that quietly produced scholarship along subterranean channels. However, for Work, Wright, Haynes, Ovington, and numerous other members of the school, the scholarly work produced at Atlanta was highly visible and influential. These scholars did not view their work as insignificant labor performed on the academic periphery. Nevertheless, racism obscured the vision of white academics, causing them to overlook original sociological work produced early in the twentieth century.

Zouping and Chinese Urbanization

by Andrew B. Kipnis

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

From Village to City Cover

“Zhang Shiping (the founder of a large employer in Zouping, China) is our saviour. Along with Deng Xiaoping, he is one of the two “pings” who have brought our family happiness and prosperity.”

“Zouping is a miserable place, all anyone here cares about is money.”

How has Chinese urbanization affected the lives of its formerly rural citizens? In From Village to City, I examine the lives of people who live in a place that has grown from a small town to a mid-sized city over the past twenty five years. As the two quotes suggest, experiences of this social transformation vary greatly. Though the people who now live there now almost uniformly came from villages, their lives and feelings differ depending on whether they used to live in a village that was incorporated into the city as it expanded spatially, a village that is near to (but not inside) the expanding city, or a village that is distant from the city. Their experiences also depend on whether they came to Zouping for blue or white or pink collar jobs (or to start their own business), and on whether they came as unmarried youth or families with children.

In the book, I present the diversity of these experiences while theorizing the patterns of social transformation that Chinese urbanization has entailed. Mindful of criticisms of classic theories of “modernization” and “development,” I nonetheless insist on focusing on the problem of social transformation, that is, the set of interlinked social changes that have occurred during the process of urbanization. Addressing classic problems like alienation, class formation, changes in familial dynamics and the formation of new communities, I theorize these processes as “recombinant”, as always taking from the past as they incorporate the new.

Andrew B. Kipnis is Professor of Anthropology in the School of Culture, History and Language of the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University. From Village to City: Social Transformation in a Chinese County Seat is available for pre-order now.

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Between the Sea and the (Historian’s) Problem of Humanity

by Keith David Watenpaugh

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and Janu

Bread From Stones CoverEarlier this year I wrote a blog post on the movement of refugees and others across the waters of the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels and why when they take on water or begin to sink fishermen and captains of great seafaring container ships risk their own lives and livelihoods in an effort to save those who had gone overboard.

I argued that it had less to do with largely-unenforceable international maritime law, which requires rescues at sea, than with the humanity of the sailors themselves. These are men (mostly) who had grown up on the sea and knew not only its immense beauty and generosity, but also its fearful and deadly power. They also knew that they possess the unique ability to effect rescue, by dint of training and location.

The Mediterranean took a terrible toll this year, over a million crossed it and about 4,000 are missing or drowned, a number that would have been much higher had it not been for private and military assistance pulling so many to safety. Yet the horror and inherently unnecessary nature of that crossing was brought home by news reports that many of the most recently drowned had done soon because they had been sold PFDs (life jackets) that didn’t float by a Turkish firm .

The financial and emotional toll on those rescuing is immense: A burly Greek fisherman Costas Pinteris, who owns a small inshore trawler he sails from the tiny Levos port city of Skala Sykamias told PBS Newshour’s Malcolm Brabant

When I see someone in urgent need when I’m out fishing, I drop everything and go to help, because my work is not as important as saving human lives. The worst thing is the drowned people, drowned mothers, drowned children … The pictures I saw during those incidents which I was seeing almost on a daily basis would come back to me while I was trying to sleep in bed at night. I kept seeing repeated pictures of the same incidents as nightmares. I couldn’t sleep at all.

I’ve had that experience, but it wasn’t after pulling someone from the sea. I had been working on collection from the Aleppo Rescue Home of intake surveys of trafficked Armenian Genocide survivors stored in the League of Nations archive in Geneva. The forms, which is all they really were, were used to collect data on young people who had been rescued or rescued themselves from the households into which they had been sold during the genocide and during which, usually, most of their family had been murdered. In the upper right corner there is a photograph of the young person appearing just as they would coming in off the desert, often before they were processed, given a haircut and Western-style clothes. The bulk of the document includes a narrative told in the third person about what he or she had gone through from the time they were separated from their family until they entered the Rescue Home.

In the beginning of the deportation, Zabel’s father was separated from her family and was sent in an unknown direction. Zabel was exiled with her mother, 5 sisters and a younger brother. The caravan which consisted of men, women, boys, girls and infants, was formed to go on foot 3 months, wandering upon the mountains, passing through the villages, crossing the rivers and marching across the deserts … The gendarmes had received the order to kill the unfortunate people by every means in their power. Near Veranshehir, they collected all the beautiful girls, and distributed them among the Turks and the Kurds. The rest of the caravan had to go further on in the deserts to die. Zabel had been the share of a Kurd, who married her. She lived there 11 years, unwillingly, until an Armenian chauffeur informed her that many of her relatives still were living in Aleppo. Having made her escape in safety, she reached Ras al-Ain, from where by our agent she was sent to us.

Over a couple hot, sweaty days in the UN’s Geneva compound I read about 2000 of these entries. Most weren’t as detailed as that of Zabel. But they all told of the horror of forced migration, the murder of families, serial rape, involuntary motherhood and brutal servitude. These young people look like people I know; the Rescue Home is in Aleppo, Syria where I had lived for much of the 1990s and returned to often until the Syrian war began. The young people telling me the stories were knowable and familiar.

I left the UN compound in a haze at the end of the week—the stories battering me in a jumble of images. That night I slept fitfully and awoke screaming from a dream I can’t remember, thankfully.

What does it mean to be historians who works on mass violence (especially against children), rape, torture and enslavement in the recent past, a past that they can catch glimpses of themselves in? I caught that glimpse when looking at photographs of rescued Armenian young people and it made me feel. That research led to an AHA article and forms the basis of a chapter in my book, Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism but it also forced me to think about the role of what I call the empathetic imagination as a tool of historiography. his way of imagining is central to what makes our discipline humane and helps the historian retain the humanity of his work (and himself) when confronted with hate, violence, and inhumanity. It can bring history and the historian into broader conversations about justice, acknowledgement, and reconciliation, which is one of the promises of human rights history.

Keith David Watenpaugh is a historian, Associate Professor of Human Rights Studies, and Director of the Human Rights Initiative at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Being Modern in the Middle East and has published in the American Historical Review, International Journal of Middle East Studies, Journal of Human Rights, Social History, and Humanity. Bread from Stones: The Middle East and the Making of Modern Humanitarianism is available now.

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Migrants, Neighbors, and Contests over Georgia’s ‘Limited Resources’

by Clif Stratton

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

Education for Empire Cover

In the wake of the November attacks in Paris, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued an executive order prohibiting state agencies from resettling Syrian refugees in the state. In a letter to President Obama, Deal cited “intelligence gaps” in the federal resettlement program that threatened “the security of Georgians” and “the state’s valuable limited resources.”

Deal was not alone in his defiance of federal authority. Twenty-six other governors penned similar refusals.

Prominent Georgia clergy denounced Deal’s politicization of the Syrian civil war and the Paris attacks as an attempt to define the state’s borders and populace by national origin. In an act of defiant neighborliness, Bryan Wright, pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA—along with World Relief Atlanta—helped organize the December resettlement of one Sunni Syrian family: Mohammad, Ebtesam, and their four-year-old son Hasan. The family arrived in Georgia after two and a half years of US and UN screening.

Wright argued that despite the governor’s efforts to freeze the application process for refugees seeking much needed public benefits, “the Church’s role and the calling of the Christian is to reach out with love for our neighbor, and our neighbor includes everyone, and especially those in need.”

Ebtesam told Atlanta’s WABE that “[we] want to live a full life. I want my son to have a good education and health.”

One cannot help but wonder whether education and health—the two basic human rights Ebtesam hopes to secure for her son—are two of the “valuable limited resources” Governor Deal argues he was elected to protect from outsiders.

Deal’s rejection of Syrians fleeing US-backed war and Wright’s defiance of the governor’s order recall earlier battles in Georgia over publicly funded resources—limited or otherwise—including education.

At the turn of the twentieth century, school officials and their allies brought to bear the politics of immigration, race, and colonialism on the schools they argued were vital to social harmony, state security, and economic development. Speaking before the legislature in 1889, University of Georgia Chancellor William Boggs made clear his anxiety over continued public support for black education. After falsely claiming that the state divided its school appropriation equally among whites and blacks, Boggs charged the legislature with upholding white nationalism: “We mean to hold this country. We, the white people.” He continued: “What shall we do with this alien [black] race? Nothing unkind or unchristian, but something to teach them and the nations of the world that we shall live in this country and rule it.” In its coverage of the speech, the Atlanta Journal noted “continued applause” from the legislators.

Writing in the Atlanta Constitution in 1906, chief editor Clark Howell warned against the surge in black school attendance despite underfunding, overcrowding, and double sessions. Howell saw black empowerment as a foreign intervention fomented from within the nation and as a threat to white supremacy: “While the Negro becomes a full-fledged CITIZEN, the white man, native to the soil and intelligent though unlettered, remains to all intents and purposes an ALIEN.”

Is Hasan’s eventual attendance at a Georgia public school a threat to the political power and sense of national identity of Deal and his supporters in the way that African American uplift threatened Bogg’s and Howell’s cherished notions of white supremacy after the end of Reconstruction? While Deal’s recent rhetoric about Syrian refugees is certainly not as overtly racist as that of Boggs or Howell (or current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump), it nevertheless carries with it the historical legacies of racial inequality and outward projections of US imperial power that continue to shape debates about who can and cannot become part of the social and political life of communities, states, and the nation.

Deal might tout the security of Georgians as paramount, but the question of who has access to resources (limited or otherwise) and therefore to political power is really what is at the center of these debates about Syrian refugees.

Along with half of his fellow governors, Deal has raised the specter of terrorism and brandished his national security credentials in order to guard the economic and political clout that he certainly enjoys and that many of his supporters believe themselves to possess as well. They argue that closed borders and awesome American military power is the only choice if we are to live in prosperity and security.

The choice is a false one. Expanded access to quality education and good health, along with a recognition of the dignity of marginalized people fleeing conflicts not of their own making is absolutely essential to achieve the kind of security Deal claims to hold dear.

Clif Stratton is Clinical Assistant Professor of History and Assistant Director of the Roots of Contemporary Issues program at Washington State University. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Georgia State University in Atlanta. Education for Empire: American Schools, Race, and the Paths of Good Citizenship is available for pre-order now.

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Immigrant Labor and American Progress

by Ryan Dearinger

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

The Filth of Progress CoverImagine the struggle to build an American empire without the use of transcontinental railroads.

If ever public knowledge of a relevant historical topic was needed, it is now. Americans must develop a better understanding of the vital role played by immigrant workers in U.S. society. The historical evidence is clear and convincing. If racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity have always been woven into the fabric of our nation, it is high time that we learn from the experiences of these men and women. We should heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who once remarked that “whenever [people] are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.”

A decade ago, as I began research on The Filth of Progress, which tells a nineteenth century story of the immigrants who toiled in the muck and mountains to build America’s greatest internal improvements, a fierce debate over immigration gripped the country, influencing politics at every level. Of course, that debate was about much more than immigrants. It encompassed race and ethnicity, culture, religion, labor, citizenship, and more. Today, in the midst of yet another election cycle, politicians and pundits, many of them angered by the increasing diversity of American society, are recycling stories peppered with fear and loathing. Audiences all over the country are interpreting these fabrications as histories, facts, and warnings. The similarities to the nineteenth century debates are eerie, involving only a different cast of characters. At long last, can we learn from our history and live up to America’s professed ideals?

No historian would dispute the fact that migrants from all parts of the world accelerated the building and expansion of America’s continental empire, its major industries and infrastructure. Yet diverse groups of immigrants have recently been depicted as anchor babies, losers, criminals and terrorists who, with no desire to assimilate, have a vested interest in taking Americans’ jobs. Donald Trump’s plan to “take back our country” and “make America great again” involves what he might call internal improvements. Yet he’s not talking about roads and bridges. He’s talking about walls, gigantic walls—physical and cultural ones. Trump’s conservative counterparts have echoed his calls to end birthright citizenship and create all sorts of obstructions to basic human rights. As global migrations to the U.S. continue and America’s political and economic empire expands throughout the world, too many of the nation’s leaders and citizens take pride in being the worst type of neighbors.

The hard-working armies of laborers who dug the canals and spiked the rails that eventually knit together a transcontinental United States were by and large immigrants. The Filth of Progress brings to the forefront the suffering of the Irish, Chinese, and Mormons, each group held in some degree of contempt by “free” and “white” Americans. While I weave a collective narrative of their survival on the economic fringes of society, the book also moves beyond the trenches of construction labor to address the popular writers, artists, and statesmen who performed the important work of celebrating progress. This work was most problematic, because it contested and rewrote history, distancing perceived outsiders from the fruits of their labor and from any scrap of credit or dignity. This was as wrongheaded as the contemporary notion that immigration should be restricted to protect the country and make it great again. Social scientists have thoroughly debunked the myth. Immigration has, in fact, long made America great, creating economic prosperity and cultural vibrancy unparalleled in world history.

As of 2012, over 40 million immigrants resided in America, among them 11.7 million undocumented. Economists have challenged claims such as Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s that immigration to the U.S. is an “economic calamity.” Towns, cities, entire regions and their industries have been transformed by the hard work of recent immigrants. Far from crippling economic progress, local and regional economies have benefited from population and consumer growth. Instead of driving down the wages of native-born citizens or taking their jobs, evidence suggests that previous immigrants, not white citizens, are the most at-risk population, for newer immigrants (particularly the undocumented) are funneled into substitutive positions in agriculture, landscaping, and other service industries where they are often willing to work for lower wages. Similar dynamics occurred on the country’s greatest canals and railroads of the nineteenth century—the much heralded symbols of American progress, built by immigrants and outsiders.

Ryan Dearinger is Associate Professor of History at Eastern Oregon University. The Filth of Progress: Immigrants, Americans, and the Building of Canals and Railroads in the West is available now.

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The West African Rhythm Brothers: The Sounds of Black London

by Marc Matera

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

Black London Cover

A couple of months after the release of my new book, Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century, I heard “Egbe Mi” for the first time. It was the theme song of London’s most popular African band during the late 1940s and ‘50s, the West African Rhythm Brothers. The band, which figures in my book, recorded the track but never released it. In 2015, it appeared on the compilation, Highlife on the Move, and I could finally get my hands on it. Although the song is beautiful and compelling, it’s easy to see why it wasn’t released previously. The lyrics, sung by bandleader Ambrose Campbell, consist of the group’s roster. The song’s Yoruba-language title, “Egbe Mi,” means “my club,” “my society,” or “my group.” It is the type of song intended for a live performance setting. Obviously, the title refers to the band itself, but it also indexes a much larger collectivity of Yoruba-speakers and the more ephemeral community of band and audience in the space of London nightclubs where blacks of all classes and from across the Atlantic world congregated.

Like “Egbe Mi,” Black London links the migration of people and ideas, the formation of political affinities, and spaces of daily interaction, offering an urban micro-history of transnational networks of anticolonialism, a walking tour of black anticolonialism in the imperial metropolis. London was not only the center of the British Empire, but also a place where movements for colonial freedom converged and a site of black intellectual and artistic production and political organizing. As the South African writer Peter Abrahams observed, “London was the critical point of contact where Pan-African, socialist and anti-colonial ideas were shared and enlarged.” Intellectuals and activists from the colonies “shared classes, meals, parties,” and much more, and in the process, they “got to know each other and each other’s problems intimately and personally.”[1] Quotidian encounters and activities yielded expansive political imaginaries and rerouted lives.

Far from simply responding to British caprice, black artists and agitators espoused conceptions of Africanity built from their cultural resources. While demanding full rights as citizens of the British Empire, Nigerians in London drew upon a conception of Yoruba identity that had developed since the 19th century through on-going transatlantic exchanges between the continent and the Americas, especially Brazil. The general secretary of the Camden Town-based West African Students’ Union (WASU), Ladipo Solanke, traced a long history of intra-African cultural exchange, including a capacious history of Yoruba-ness, which animated the WASU’s call for a self-governing regional federation and its commitment to black internationalism in general.

“Egbe Mi” conjured these wider horizons and layers of identification, as if suggesting the interactions within the club extended this long history of black Atlantic mixture. The West African Rhythm Brothers frequently performed at the WASU’s events and, like a generation of largely Afro-Caribbean jazz musicians before it, built its reputation in Soho’s clubland. When Campbell arrived in Britain, his abilities on the guitar were limited, and he took up the instrument in a serious way only after he began taking lessons from the Trinidadian virtuoso Lauderic Caton, whom he honored as a respected elder and forebear in a Yoruba ceremony when they met. Many of the group’s recordings, including “Egbe Mi,” feature the Barbadian horn players Willy Roachford and Harry Beckett. In sum, as the band’s sound became more self-consciously “African,” it became progressively more diasporic in its influences. In this way, black musicians in London also traced a history of connections between people of African descent and formed new ones, articulating a black international in sound.

[1] Peter Abrahams, The Coyoba Chronicles. Reflections on the Black Experience in the 20th Century (Kingston: Ian Randle, 2000), p. 36.

Marc Matera is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, coauthor of The Women’s War of 1929: Gender and Violence in Colonial Nigeria (2012), and author of Black London: The Imperial Metropolis and Decolonization in the Twentieth Century (UC Press, 2015).

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Sunrise Cooperative Farm: A Depression Era Kibbutz in Michigan

by Andrew Cornell

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and January 10th.

Unruly Equality cover

At its high point in the decade before the First World War, the anarchist movement in the United States was composed primarily of immigrants from Italy, Spain, Russia, and Eastern Europe, many of them Jewish. The Yiddish language anarchist weekly, Fraye Arbeter Shtime (Free voice of labor), circulated an estimated 30,000 copies per issue in 1914, while most other anarchist periodicals topped out at 3,000.

As outspoken critics of capitalism, nationalism, and imperialism, anarchists suffered harsh repression at the hands police, federal agents, and vigilantes during the war. Though diminished in size and left strategically disoriented, anarchists maintained a rich institutional life in New York and other large cities during the 1920s and 1930s. Although the 1930s are widely remembered as banner years for the “Old Left” in the United States, little has been known until recently about the ways anarchists—anti-statist socialists—reacted to the Great Depression and the rise of the New Deal. Perhaps most intriguing among their varied efforts was the attempt by Jewish anarchists to establish an agricultural commune northeast of Detroit as a means of circumventing the dismal wage economy while putting their ideals into practice.

In the fall of 1932, Fraye Arbeter Shtime editor Joseph Cohen published a prospectus explaining that in such a venture, “The land, the means of production and the things that are in common use must belong to the community as a whole; the individual should own only objects of personal use (clothes, furniture, books, works of art) and share of the common income.”

When a 10,000 acre farm, replete with buildings, equipment, and livestock, came on the market for a reasonable price, the group snapped it up, with families buying in for $500 a piece. By May of 1934 one hundred fifty adults and fifty-six children lived at the Sunrise Cooperative Farming Community year round. Despite their inexperience, this inspired crew managed to bring in a crop of peppermint, sugar beets, and grains worth nearly $50,000 during its first season.

Despite promising beginnings, however, difficulties and conflicts quickly arose. Promotional meetings for the colony had been conducted in Yiddish and many participants had assumed the colony would function with Yiddish as its primary language, as a means of retaining Jewish identity. Labor Zionism was growing in popularity, and to some, Sunrise appealed as an opportunity to experience kibbutz life. Yet Cohen argued for English as the primary language since the colony had “several” non-Jewish members and was home to dozens of children who spoke little Yiddish. He may also have been mindful of the anarchist movement’s growing desire to appeal to native-born English speakers. Residents eventually agreed to conduct meetings in English, with language choice at other times a personal matter, but the debate remained an open sore.

Acts of nature also created setbacks for Sunrise residents. The commune’s second season was severely marred by the same drought that uprooted farmers throughout the country. The following summer brought heavy rains, which flooded the low-lying land, followed by an invasion of crop-eating caterpillars. As the economy began to improve after 1936, a stream of colonists abandoned the farm to return the city life with which they were more familiar. Faced with financial disaster, the remaining colonists agreed to sell the entire operation to the government as a means of extricating themselves from the venture.

Despite these setbacks, many Jewish anarchists continued to view kibbutzim as the best way to put anarchist values into practice, leading some to endorse or join the politically fraught settlement of Jews in the British Mandate of Palestine. Twentieth century U.S. anarchism is replete with similar stories of global migrants proposing intensive forms of “neighborliness” as solutions to structural challenges, while attempting to balance the cohering properties of national identity with a severe antipathy towards nation-states. 

Andrew Cornell is an educator and organizer who has taught at Williams College, Haverford College, and Université Stendhal-Grenoble 3. He is the author of Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the 20th Century (UC Press, 2016) and Oppose and Propose! Lessons from Movement for a New Society (AK Press)..

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