Based on my review of a Blackboard excel sheet, 201 of 231 students in my “American Civilization to 1865” course have turned in either a traditional or video essay for an assignment requiring them to make connections between a vintage vinyl record and long-held ideas (some of them debatable) about what it means to be “American.”
Not bad. That means the other 30 still have time to get a passing grade. The letter grade drops a quarter letter grade for each day this project is late and the due date was October 1, yesterday.
After a quick scan of the papers and videos coming in via Blackboard, I can see that some students were able to home in on the assignment’s aims while others generally produced good work, but they do not quite “take it to the bridge” a la James Brown. And taking it to the bridge means having a stronger thesis and deploying the evidence in a coherent and organized manner.
What I find most striking: students from varying backgrounds connect with historical actors of varying backgrounds and find meaning in persistent cultural, social and political ideas.Whether the students excelled or, I am simply glad they tried. I’m also glad, too, to be rid of 200 plus albums.
If you want to try this assignment, proceed with enthusiasm and lots of patience. The rewards are there. Some of the documents used for this project can be found in an earlier posting. At some point, I may place them prominently on this page. Other things beckon for now.
For now, I invite you to check out two more student examples. In the above video, Courtenay Brooks, one student, analyzed the “American” spirit against Barry Goldberg’s Street Man. For Brooks, the idea of a tough urban “street man” brings to mind the resilience seen in Americans across time. James Stroud, another student, took Shirley Caesar’s 1989 Live in Chicago album and juxtaposed Caesar against Deborah Sampson, a woman who fought in the American Revolutionary War (Sampson is the subject of this course’s second required reading). James’s essay follows. I am grateful to James and Courtenay and other students for allowing me to share their work with a broader audience.
One more week and me and three other colleagues leave for The Teaching Professor Technology conference in Denver. I will be glad to have a break from Alabama’s goldenrod. Allergies, allergies.
A Woman’s Revolution: Live in Chicago
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This powerful statement from the Declaration of Independence contains the words that the United States of America was founded on – the only issue is it strictly says men are created equal. What about the women? Deborah Sampson wanted the answer to that same question. Sampson is an 18th century American woman, who pioneered the thought of equal rights for women. With the help of her tall body frame, she successfully disguised herself as a man to join the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.Along with Sampson, yet years later, Shirley Caesar upheld the same motivation to overcome these biases. Caesar, a 20th century pastor, eventually produced the gospel record Live in Chicago. With all the suffering and hardships in the world, Shirley believed that people would hear her songs and be encouraged to keep going. With songs like “Things Are Going To get Better,” “Yes Lord, Yes”, and “Peace in the Midst of the Storm”, this gospel album and Shirley were true inspirations to many people. This paper will address the quest of equality by Deborah Sampson and how her perseverance poses tensions with many American women including Shirley Caesar.
On December 17, 1760, Deborah Sampson came into this world to start her quest for equality. As a child her father failed to return from a voyage, forcing her mother to place Deborah and her six siblings in various houses. She grew up in Middleborough under the roof of Deacon Benjamin Thomas, where she self educated herself unlike her foster siblings who attended school. After financially supporting herself as an indentured servant, a teacher, and a weaver, Deborah had the idea to join the Continental Army – the concept of a woman in the army was completely unheard of. So to bypass this issue, she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in 1780 under the name of her deceased brother. This was the start of a Deborah Sampson’s quest for equality. She fought for three years under the names of many famous Generals until she was honorably discharged from the army. Later, Deborah filed a petition against the Government to receive pay for her services. Congress eventually approved her petition.
A century passes before the birth of famous pastor and gospel singer Shirley Caesar. On October 13, 1938, right before World War II broke out, Shirley was born. She is most well known for her career as a recording artist that expanded of six decades; her stint as a musician was well represented by the many accomplishments including eleven Grammy awards and seven Dove awards. Known as “the first lady of gospel music,” Shirley truly inspired her followers.
On her record Live in Chicago, the songs “Peace in the Midst of the Storm” and “Born Again” stand out amongst the rest. Although these songs were recorded well after the death of Deborah Sampson, they still conveyed Sampson’s message. In these songs, Shirley preaches to people to persevere and overcome the hardships in life with the help of the Lord. Deborah Sampson was a religious person – she was an avid member of the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts. When rumors of Deborah dressing as a man circulated back to the church, she was excommunicated and looked down upon for her actions. Shirley’s gospels would have inspired Deborah to continue on her journey just as they would have inspired the many other women’s rights activists in Shirley’s time. To put into perspective the time Shirley lived in, one must realize that Shirley as a woman had just gained the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, about eighteen years before Shirley’s birth, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote.
Deborah could be considered the “Rosie the Riveter” of the Revolutionary war. She proved that women are just as strong and worthy as men and served as an icon for all American women. She proved that not only can women fight for their country, but can do it with many achievements. Her actions were the start of a revolution that she didn’t know she started; she was able to suffer in a society dominated by males and push through to achieve equality. Later Equal Rights movements, reveal the resilience of women like Sampson, and allowed Shirley Caesar the ability and freedom to spread her inspiring gospel. Today’s society has transitioned to a more gender equal social structure, thanks to the inspiring actions of woman like Deborah Sampson and Shirley Caesar, but women still have a ways to go to push through their hardships and struggles to make it equal for everyone.
Deborah Sampson is an 18the century American woman who joined the Continental Army disguised as a man. Her life style was unique in this time during colonization. See Alfred, Young. Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier. New York: Vintage Books, 2004.
Live in Chicago was produced by Bubba Smith and Shirley Caesar and released in 1988. The album was recorded live at Christ Tabernacle Baptist Church, Chicago, Illinois. See Caesar, Shirley, Live in Chicago. With Reverend Milton Brunson and Thomspon Community Singers. 1988,1988 with Rejoice.
 Williams, Armstron. “Gospel Music Singer Shirley Caesar: ‘God Has Been so Good to Me'” Washington Times, August 27, 2014, Faith & Family sec. Accessed September 29, 2014. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/aug/27/gospel-music-icon-shirley-caesar-god-has-been-so-g/?page=all.
 Ibid, see page 75