The Charleston Shooting and the Potent Symbol of the Black Church in America

Emanuel landscapeLast night, Dylann Storm Roof entered the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, sat through an hour-long meeting, and then opened fire on those in attendance. Reverend Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among nine individuals who were killed. Many are shocked at not only the grisly nature of the shooting, but also its location. “There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement, “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.” Yet this experience is unfortunately, and infuriatingly, far from new: while black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts. Continue reading

The Many & the One

Lexington DoolittleLike many, Amos Doolittle struggled to turn in a decent first draft of American history. The 21 year-old engraver, later known as the “Paul Revere of Connecticut,” arrived in Lexington and Concord shortly after April 1775. Anxious to capture the battles’ action and aftermath, he chatted with local residents. He sketched terrain. For Doolittle, a trained silversmith, it was a chance to experiment with a craft he had yet to master. Part of what he produced, a set of four views storyboarding the “shot heard round the world,” hangs in the Boston Public Library’s new exhibit, “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence.” By Doolittle’s lights, Massachusetts makes for a furious and frenzied tableau: gusts of redcoats’ gunpowder hazing the sky, and colonial ranks splintering on the advance. On the American side, it is hardly a picture of union. Patriots scatter, racing blindly to frame’s edge. In his rough draft of Revolution, Amos Doolittle demands that we unlock all hopes of what might come next. Continue reading

On Remembrance and Resurrection: Commemorating Portsmouth’s (NH) African Burying Ground

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A horse-drawn wagon, bearing coffins holding the remains of the Portsmouth Africans.

“I am the resurrection and the life.” From John 11:25 comes this Bible passage describing Lazarus’s miraculous rise from the death, as he addressed Martha, the sister of Lazarus. For Christians, this lesson is supposed to demonstrate that death is no obstacle to Jesus. This passage figured prominently into Igbo healer Chief Oscar Mokeme’s commemoration of the life of Portsmouth’s Africans, which featured a syncretic blend of Igbo and Christian funeral customs. Continue reading

Set in Stone

Stone LibraryEvery president has a past, and to his regret, John Adams did not save all of it for history’s sake. “Whatever you write preserve,” he directed his grandsons in 1815. “I have burned, Bushells of my Silly notes, in fitts of Impatience and humiliation, which I would now give anything to recover.” Continue reading

Natural Histories

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See the world through Hannah Winthrop’s eyes. Your gaze dips down into the high-polished tea table and shears past John Singleton Copley’s brush, into summer 1773. Shown here serenely grasping a nectarine branch, Hannah likely knew that her world—what she called the “same little peaceful circle”—was spinning into a new revolution. Continue reading

Guest Post: Why Shoes?

Kimberly Alexander is an Adjunct Professor in the History Department at UNH, Durham, where she teaches courses in museum studies and material culture. She earned her Ph.D. in Art & Architectural History from Boston University and was a founding Curator of Architecture and Design at the MIT Museum. She’s also served as Curator of Architecture and Design at the Peabody Essex Museum and Chief Curator of Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, NH. Dr. Alexander has published several books and essays, and has recently had papers presented at history of fashion conferences in London and Florence. Her current catalog and exhibition project is titled “Cosmopolitan Consumption: Georgian Shoe Stories From the Long 18th Century.”

How does one select a sampling of dozens of pairs of eighteenth-century shoes and translate the assemblage into a coherent museum exhibit housed in one charming, but tiny gallery? How does one translate a five-year study of eighteenth-century consumption patterns, cultural diffusion, and gentility in the Atlantic shoe trade into a show that will excite the imaginations of early Atlantic scholars yet appeal to the general public? How does present a material culture and fashion history exhibition in a refined Athenaeum situated in a corner of New Hampshire? Continue reading