Wednesday 6 March 2024

Resources for Week Ten: Cultural Challenges to White Supremacy



Set in a Texan community during the 1930s, this excellent film features a Black teacher who hones the debating skills of some of his students. They excel in a milieu that seethes with racism. The youngest student becomes a superb debater who later in life became a political activist. 

Two worthy 1972 films that feature Black characters in major roles are Sounder about a loving family set in rural Louisiana during the Depression and Buck and the Preacher, a Western that Sidney Poitier also directs. In the former, what is most memorable is how a Black family struggles with Jim Crow racism and still maintains their humantity. One interesting twist in the latter is its presentation of the relationship between Blacks and native peoples and its difference with traditional Westerns. 


 Based loosely on the life of a butler who served Presidents from Truman to Reagan, this moving film narrates both his life and the civil rights movement from the horrors of Jim Crow to the election of a Black president. 

Based upon the book with the same name by David Gram, this powerful film available on Apple TV, focuses on Molly Burkhart and her Osage family and the men who murder her family in order to acquire the oil rich land; whereas Gram widens the lens and places Tom White, the chief investigator of these murders at the centre of his absorbing study. I recommend seeing the film and reading the book in tandem.  

Likewise, Spike Lee's wonderful film is based on the autobiographical account of Ron Stallworth, a Black officer in 1970s Colorado who infiltrates the Klan. Lee makes a number of changes that render the film stronger and more compelling than his source material.
Set in contemporary upper state New York, Jordan Peele's Get Out is part comedy, horror and racial commentary. This wonderfully directed film is a must see.

12 Years A Slave, based on a memoir of the same name, is the most realistic film on slavery but it is artfully crafted by director Steve McQueen. It may be difficult to watch at times but this film should disabuse viewers of any trace of the romanticized Gone-With-The-Wind representation of slavery. Even a relatively humane slaveholder becomes terribly compromised by a vicious, cruel system. 

Selma, based on the struggle to secure voting rights in 1965, may be the most familar film on this list but
it is well worth a second viewing in part because it gets the history mostly right, and part because of the solid performances that director Ava Du Verney draws from the actors.

The heart of the film Till is not the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, a sequence that avoids exploitation but his mother Mamie Till-Mobley who channels her grief into becoming a civil rights activist by seeking justice for her son. Danielle Dealwyler provides an unforgettable performance. 

                  Novels and Television Productions

Whitehead's superb novel and the Barry Jenkins Amazon television production compliment each other so well that the novel, that transcends the conventions of a historical novel and the ten-part series should be read first and seen second. Jenkins makes some astute changes from the source material without in anyway violating the spirit of the book. The first episode that closely follows the first chapter contains a most disturbing but not unrealistic scene. Collectively, the novel and the series do more than expose the cruelties of slavery; they provide insight into the history of racism in America.

Octavia Butler's Kindred and Percival Everett's The Trees are both genre-bending superb novels. Kindred is part science fiction, historical novel and political commentary while The Trees is part a contemporary police procedural and a Gothic novel. The former is about a 1970s Black Californian woman who is repeatedly drawn back into the early nineteenth-century slave state of Maryland and finds her humanity tested. The latter is a powerful riff on the legacy of the murder of Emmet Till.

S. A. Cosby specializes in crime noir, novels set in contemporary rural Virginia which feels like the Jim Crow era. His latest and best is All The Sinners Bleed in which a police chief tries to win respect from the Black community and the larger white community that is bent on celebrating Confederate events. His job becomes more difficult when a Black student kills a beloved white teacher who has successfully hidden from the public a dark history of killing Black children. And a serial killer is still at large. Cosby uses the crime genre to explore racism in his state and how the past infects the present.

A young scholarship student difficult encounter with a police officer  disabuses him that his accomplishments will protect him from racism. Not knowing whom to turn to, he begins writing letters to Martin Luther King. This is the premise behind a very good novel that is billed for young adults but any adult could profit from.


Perhaps two lesser known Toni Morrison novels but both are well worth reading. In A Mercy, Morrison explores the early history of enslavement in the seventeenth century in which an enslaved mother encourages a white visitor to acquire her young daughter because she believes that she will have a better life if she is no longer under the control of her current owner. In Home, a Black damaged Korean veteran returns home to his small community in Georgia to save his younger sister from a doctor who conducts dangerous experiments. Along the way, he encounters the racism widely prevalent in the Jim Crow era.


The first of her six memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explores the early life of Maya Angelou when she experienced the devastating effects of a childhood marred by ugly racism and a violent death that effected her for years. Yet by the time she graduates from high school, she has acquired a love for language and confidence that enables her to rise above her terrible early experiences. 
Imani Perry's wonderful part memoir, travellogue, history and literary criticism, South to America, is one of the best books I have read that grapples with racism in America today. Her three chapters on Alabama are perhaps the most moving in a great book. 

This powerful coming-of-age memoir by a white American history professor does not fit into this week's overview of Black creativity.  But it could serve as emblematic of what I have attempted over the last ten weeks. In terms of chronology, her account of her own life born into a conservative rural family in Virginia combined with her insightful social history of the 1950s and 60s is a meaningful contribution to the Jim Crow and Civil Rights weeks. But on a deeper level, her moving account of her challenges to the racial and gender arrangements of white supremacy, reverence for the Confederacy and female subordination that her parents and grandparents believed were immutable, exemplifies on a micro level what I have attempted on a macro level. Because of her white privileged background, it may be presumptious to suggest that Gilpin Faust's courage to challenge the status quo from the age of nine is reminiscent of Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Diane Nash to name a few. It may be more accurate to place her along a Derek Black and a Tim Wise. James Baldwin once wrote that he wanted whites to work with Blacks not for them. Gilpin Faust fits his criterion as she was no white saviour.

Travel Note: In this series I mentioned a Civil Rights Tour I took in 2023. For anyone interested you need to google The Nation Travels Civil Rights Tour. If you wish to see their other tours, including a new trip "From Slavery to the Civil Rights Movement" you only need to google The Nation Travels.

Wednesday 28 February 2024

Resources for Week Nine: A Divided America



Created by Nikole Hannah Jones, who has assembled a wide assortment of historians, poets and fiction writers, The 1619 Project  is a controversial but thoughtful compendium that has shaped my own thinking in the development of these presentations. Anyone with a curious and open mind would benefit from reading essays such as on crime, medicine, music and justice to name only a few.

The Atlantic writer Adam Serwer has collected a series of essays that focus on the Trump era and reveals insightful connections from the past, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. For example, he shows that Trump's incitments of violence at his rallies is not something new but resembles the photographs of whites enjoying the lynchings of Black people. 


Adam Hochshild, " History Bright and Dark," New York Review of Books, May 25, 2023. This is the cover that prefaces Hochshild's excellent review of how history can be taught, which explores the dark historical corridors of America, and from a more conservative perspective that highlights American exceptionalism while ignoring or minimizing its uglier features.

                                   Fiction and Film          

Rarely does a film based on a book excel the resource source but I think the film is exceptional. It is about a teenage girl who tries to keep her homelife in a Black community separate from her school life which is largely white private school. A tragic event makes that no longer possible as her two worlds collide. A powerful film about the difficulties that Blacks face with the police that whites are impervious about.

The following presents the title of a disturbing article and link to that article. 

Student 'slave auctions' illustrate the existence of a hidden culture of domination and subjugation in US schools

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Resources for Week Eight: Racial Reckoning


    The former mayor of New Orleans in his part memoir and part       political commentary recounts his struggle to dismantle the Confederate monuments that disfigured his city. He includes his powerful speech that went viral after they were dislodged.


Journalist, author and poet Clint Smith offers several compelling essays about former plantations, a slave site in New York, a Confederate burial suite and one essay about Senegal in Africa, the gateway for the enslaved that were dispatched to the Americas. Highly recommended.

Ty Seidule, a former senior military officer and a current history professor at West Point, grew up imbibing an idealized image of Robert E. Lee until his historical research challenged his  preconceptions. He showed great courage to often unsympathetic Southern audiences when he spoke publicly about the historical Lee, a flawed man with racist views who disdained African Americans. Highly recommended.   

King an academic, novelist and short story writer has written a unconvential overview of Indigneous North American history with no footnotes and several personal anecdotes. Yet he engages with historians and offers insightful comments on popular culture: films, television, art and novels. A natural story teller, he spices humour and wisdom into his account that vigorously challenges the settler version of history.

Two novels on the damaging effects of Residential Schools

 Indian Horse explores how one young Indigneous boy finds an outlet for his traumatic experiences in a residential school through hockey, but even as the years pass and he achieves success on the rink the ghosts of that trauma continue to haunt him. The novel was turned into a powerful film.

 Five Little Indians is a compelling novel that tracks the lives of five  adolescent survivors of a residential school as they transition to the world outside, some coping better than others.

This powerful and moving account of Derek Black's transformation from the son of a far-right white nationalist to a committed believer in a multiracial society, that must regard everyone with respect, dignity and endowed with equal rights, is one ot the most memorable books that I have read in my study of white supremacy.

Tim Wise's book, more autobiographical than his DVD, convincingly conveys how structural racism is baked into the education, justice and prison systems, as well as in housing and employment practices. An excellent companion to his DVD.

Magazine Article

The June 2014 edition of The Atlantic contains an in depth, historically grounded, article on reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coates that offers the best overview of the case for reparations.

                                         Films and Television

Based on his memoir of the same name, this moving film dramatizes Bryan Stevenson's attempt to save Black men who have been sentenced to die in Alabama.

Based on Bob Zellner's autobiography, The Wrong Side
of  Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom  Movement, this film portrays how a Southern young man with family roots in the Klan became immersed in the Civil Rights movement and was regarded by whites as a race traitor. This film that has not received the attention it merits is worth seeing. 

This powerful film dramatizes how an interracial couple,
  Richard and Mildred Loving, challenged the miscegenation law in Virginia by eventally taking their case to the Supreme Court of America and winning.  

An extremely powerful film about the mother of the fourteen year old Emmett Till, who was brutally murdered in 1955 Mississippi, and channelled her grief into social activism as she sought justice for her son's killers.

This Netflix minseries is an excellent part drama, part documentary about the former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernik, who looks back on his youth and the difficulties he experienced as the adopted child of white parents. Directed by the talented Ava DuVernay.

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Resources for Week Seven: Trump's Gaslighting of America

This insightful slim volume is especially relevant for our times.

 The January/February 2024 edition  of The Atlantic contains twenty-four sobering articles warning about a second Trump presidency. It also contains a moving personal essay by Tim Alberta "The Church of America."

                                    This is an excellent study of authoritarism  in which Ben-Ghiat demonstrates that the former President has much in common with his totalitarian predecessors and shares similar traits to contemparies such as Putin and Orban whome he admires


Imani Perry's South to America - part memoir
, part travelogue and part social commentary - is an excellent overview for much that we have explored in this series.

I mentioned this wonderful book in week one but it should be underscored because Maddow explores fascism in America during the 1930s and 1940s in America  and the book serves as a warning for what could happen in the near future. What she also highlights is how ordinary people challenged this dangerous movement.

I do not usually recommend books that I have not yet read but I will make an exception for these two books written by two conservatives who have challenged the former president when so many Republicans have been unwilling. 


Sunday 4 February 2024

Week Six: Resources on the Responses to Civil Rights


                  Documentaries and Feature Films

 Some students in the program have asked me about the Civil Rights Tour that I travelled with last year. Below is the website. I  noticed that only the new tour "From Slavery to the Civil Rights Movement" is advertised at this point not the original civil rights tour. I think that is the case because that tour is currently taking place. I expect in the near future that the Nation will be advertising that trip.

These two feature films are valuable because the first focuses King at the centre at the effort to achieve the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the more recent drama portrays Bayard Ruskin as the architect of the 1963 March on Washington whose energy and organizational skills made that historical event happen. 

A stirring film about the life of the remarkable John Lewis

                 Tim Wise offers a compelling portrait of                                               white privilege that reveals vivid clips and insightful                            comments, a film that should be seen.                                        

Freedom Summer is a powerful documentary about the Summer of 1964 when Northern University Students travelled to Mississippi  to assist Blacks in voting registration and teach at Freedom Schools, an experience that was both rewarding and terrifying. 

Canadian Paul Salzman's compelling documenary is about what happened to him when he first visited  Mississippi in 1965 and his return forty-six years later when he engaged in a conversation before the camera with the man who assaulted him, a Klansman who was the son of the man convicted of killing Medgar Evers.

This film follows King in the last years of his life as he encounter hatred in the North and a split in the movement as many young Blacks are drawn to the Black Power Movement.


This 2022 account of the Civil Rights movement may be the best overview of that struggle, and Ricks provides a military lens to view that effort and I think it works. There is a particularly good chapter on the Summer of 1964 and the last chapter on Memphis 1968 offers some illuminating and moving passages on how so many of the movement's participants suffered from PTSD.

A memorable new biography about a giant of the Civil Rights           movement that contains fresh new material that reveals both King's strengths and his flaws. Much he writes about is new: how President
  Johnson connived with  J. Edgar Hoover in an effort to destroy         King's reputation, and the relationship between King and Malcolm X. The book also contains some moving passages, especially on the 1963 March to Washington.


A fascinating crime novel that explores the racism between the Irish and the Blacks in Boston during the busing crisis. Highly recommended.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander has become a classic as she persuasively argues that the current system of mass incarceration that disproportionally sends Black men of colour to prison  has much in common with the                                     historical  Jim Crow era.