Eighth week of the semester in my rear view. Exhausted after last week and Homecoming, but energized by this week’s lectures. In my American Civilization Since 1865 class, I turn to the Great Depression with Miami’s Liberty Square, the first public housing project for African Americans in the South (a.k.a. the Pork n Bean projects), in view.
This New Deal era development opened in 1937 with largely middle class blacks as residents and under the leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In fact, it was during the 1930s that we see African Americans realigning themselves politically with the Democrat party which had long been associated with Andrew Jackson and everyday white men. Their ongoing ties to that party figure into the introduction of Roosevelt Franklin, an African American muppet, to the cast of Sesame Street on PBS. This network was made possible, ironically, under the Republican administration of Richard Nixson, who would be seen as a moderate today.
Lessons like this coming week’s energize me as I push my own thinking on racial and spatial politics on the Florida peninsula, my next book project. When I say racial and spatial politics, I am thinking about how the most unlikely people make claims to power with space in mind. Liberty City, the neighborhood that sprung up around the Liberty Square housing development, happens to be the place where more NFL players are raised than any other place in the country. This dynamic figures into “Warriors of Liberty City,” a docu-series presently airing on the Starz channel.
I will ask my students tomorrow what do we do with the possibilities and limits of government aid as displayed in such a housing project, but other ones, too, into which whites moved in the 1930s? What do we make of who gets aid? For what reasons? And for how long? And with other ongoing systemic hurdles as part of the equation?
Meanwhile, I return to the issue of women, but also civility in my Antebellum America class as we consider the travels of British writer Frances Trollope.
The movie before us – if it arrives in time – is Amma Asante’s 2013 Belle.
If not that, the 1992 film My Cousin Vinny will have many openings to address across time tensions concerning the way in which learning how to behave in public spaces is a historical idea.
We really see civility becoming urgent in the nineteenth century as the middle class emerges.
What happens when gender, nation and race enter the discussion? I look forward to learning more with my students.
Lastly, I so enjoyed reconnecting with Katherine Richter Edge, Director of the Mildred Westervelt Warner Transportation Museum. She’s pictured below with me and Molly, History Department extraordinaire. Katherine told me about an upcoming exhibit at her museum to which I will take my Antebellum America class. Tuscaloosa’s Embassy Suites sits on the former site of a Confederate P.O.W. camp. We will read the diary of a Union P.O.W. who was housed there during the Civil War for our second to the last class meeting.
Meanwhile, other fun homecoming moments included learning the Chinese word for love at one Arts & Science table on the Quad, seeing an old Alabama at Oxford friend who attended UA’s stepshow with me and seeing former students, among them History major alum Terrance Lewis, former president of UA’s Omega Psi Phi chapter who is getting his MA in Education in Columbus, GA, and a former Bebop to Hip Hop student who is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho! These kids just grow up too quickly!
I also loved watching the Tide on my side of the bed with the remote control (gave away our tickets for this game and Auburn. Speaking of Auburn….hurts so good). Roll Tide! And it’s still all about the U, too!