African American History · connections · iceland


Still of fish leather. The textures here remind me of the textures of my life in days of late.

This morning, while I fight with my iPhone (need to go to the Apple Store and get a replacement battery. After that last upgrade, I think this is my last iPhone) I am prepping for class and thinking over so much that has occurred.

Thinking through what’s still ahead.

And while I sort through it all, I am playing with fish leather purchased from a tannery in Iceland during my research trip last there last summer. I am indeed making a pair of earrings to share at a silent auction at the March 29th Lunafest, a traveling film festival being sponsored by the University of Alabama Gender and Women Resource Center.

Work in progress.

I create still sorting through what I learned last summer in my colleague Dr. Heather Kopelson’s “Handmade Nation” class. In that course, I was reminded of how things made by hand are often not legitimized by the dominant culture unless made by factories or by a particular group or a particular person.

This dynamic is worth thinking through when we consider what kinds of crafts and works of fashion get coverage and support. And what gets promoted and for which interests? Ugliness remains. The latest H & M news confirms as much.

What good things can happen if we honor the next person and all of their struggles? Or what good things could happen if we, at the very least, try to build community? These ideas are conveyed in a linoleum cut I made 13 years ago. I did so while participating in a contest sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. I was a grad student then. My dear friend in Hungary just shared a photo of one of the prints I made for her back then.  I want to copy it and give to a friend here in Alabama. In this image, one can see representations of people from different backgrounds.

Print of linoleum cut I made in 2005 in honor of diverse bodies and the pain felt by the Scottsboro boys.

The print was made in honor of reaching across the aisle and also the wrongly accused Scottsboro boys. For more, see this webpage.

I look forward to thinking about handmade items and discussing the politics around them with students enrolled in my “American Civilization to 1865” class this spring when we get to women’s labor on the home front during the colonial period, or the decline of artisans during urbanization in the nineteenth century.

When the students meet with me, or with “Miss Lucy,” they can talk about anything.

But before then,  we press on this week with an examination of native Americans. “Who were they really?” I asked my Am Civ class.

Yesterday, a couple of students visited me during office hours and I enjoyed getting to know them. I told them it would be so cool if we could all make dream catchers during class as I continue discussing the beginnings of Am Civ and how native culture is reappropriated in good and not so good ways.

Those students were joined in my office by a new grad student in my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” course. Indeed, it was so great just sitting there, permitting them to see how a recent undergrad is now a grad. Conversations across disciplines and personal and professional ranks are so important.

In my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” course this week, we turn to biracial politics in Atlanta since the 19th century, but especially in the years since Maynard Jackson’s arrival as the city’s first African American mayor in 1974 as revealed by my colleague Maurice Hobson of Georgia State University, an UA and University of Illinois alum.


When I was a child, and possibly during that very year, my family visited dear friends of my grandmother, in that city. At the time, I did not know that Atlanta was a place where the ability of blacks to vote unharmed led to the white and black elite being forced to work together (and often without the needs of the working class in mind, as Hobson tells us).

The way in which people on the bottom give voice to their oppression is revealed, as Hobson also argues, in cultural expressions including the work of Atlanta’s own Outkast, a hip hop group (“I try to just throw it at you,” as was heard in that group’s controversial cut “Rosa Parks“).

I am hoping we will have a lively conversation on Thursday as we also entertain the idea of “reverse migration,” or the way in which African Americans returned “home” after earlier leaving the South for opportunities elsewhere.

I am thinking now of how my grandmother loved Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia.” Such a beautiful song. It begins with lyrics concerning how “L.A. became too much for the man” who left on a train for Georgia. See Knight and the Pips singing this very song in 1974 below.

African Americans who had earlier left the South (or ones who had never even lived in the south) headed to southern states like Georgia and southern cities like Atlanta after unrealized dreams. This trend was in view by the 1960s, especially on the heels of urban rebellions following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.


With the temps a bit better (so much so, my husband started building a tiny pond, uncovering a seashell in Alabama’s red clay), I turn to all of this, and more.

PS Received news today that an interview about the jazz documentary on which I had been working appeared today. on the website for a magazine published out of Barcelona. Check it out here. Another example of the work that has been before me in these tense times where not all human beings are found worthy.IMG_0132.JPG

What happens when we look beyond Grant Green’s music and truly try to understand the lessons his difficult experiences can teach us? His life has to be about more than money.

Meanwhile, teaching and research continues. On my things to do list is continuing to learn about the Seminoles, people of African descent and the University of Miami football program in terms of how oppressed groups claim power by moving through space. With the fish leather in hand, and memory of my time in Iceland on my mind, I press on (“I met a gypsy and she hipped me to some life game“).


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