“Atlanta in search of its children”

I was working for the Providence Journal-Bulletin, stuck in a little bureau in Johnston, R.I., when I typed out a two-page proposal for why a maniacal editor named Joel Rawson should send me to Atlanta to do a story on the missing and murdered children. It was early 1981, and national newspapers, magazines and television networks were all covering what was emerging as a pattern of serial kidnappings and murders. Poor black children, mostly boys, seemed to be the victims, once police recognized a pattern. Atlanta was my hometown. It was also the hometown of a terrific staff photographer on the paper named Rachel Ritchie. I proposed that Joel send us down for a week. He did.

I finally was able to introduce myself to one of the mothers of the missing children. She had become enough of a celebrity to have a black club in Cambridge, Mass., pay for her round trip to a disco marathon to raise money for the search for the killer. But other than that pending trip, she was still mired in poverty and grief. In fact, her welfare check was reduced from $221 to $193 a month. One less mouth to feed. That’s the only note she got from her caseworker, instead of a sympathy card.

Wolfe at homeLooking back, I see Tom Wolfe’s influence all over this story. Instead of the beginning being a tight little anecdotal lead, it’s a cinemagraphic setup, much longer than usual for a newspaper story. I start with a bumpy verité lens on Mrs. Catherine Leach taking a MARTA bus from her raggedy home, Building 947, Apartment 497 in Bowen Homes to downtown for sales at Zayre’s or Sunshine department stores, or her hopeless search for menial work at the big hotels. My literary camera pans back to show Atlanta as a city for conventioneers, with a sugar-coat of Southern spring in the air.

This past week the city was alive with spring. Dogwoods and cherry trees bloom like puffs of musketry in the wooded neighborhoods. There is a softness in the air. The weather is perfect for the searches that go on every Saturday now, like the ones for Mrs. Leach’s son.

 Wolfe taught us, by the mere gossamer influence of his marvelous pieces, to set scenes and have dialog, even if it’s just remembered and we come to the over-heated foul-smelling site later.

The screen door slammed as she reached the edge of her tenement.

At that moment she heard a distant voice say, “Momma, help.” She whirled and headed back to see which one of the boys was complaining.

Opening the door, she yelled, “What do y’all want. I’m trying to find your brother.”

One of them answered, with words that froze Mrs. Leach’s insides, “Momma, we ain’t call you.”

Dear Jesus. It was a premonition she had heard. Her ears “were blazing like a ton of fire,” she recalled. It was then that she knew, even though she spent the next hour checking McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Thriftown, everywhere.

 I also see now the influence of Wolfe’s eye for radical chic and Mau-Mauing, the leveraging of white guilt and liberal status-preening  — although the Atlanta version was not like New York’s. I was struck by the sad comedy of a black elite that had lost touch with the vision of Martin Luther King and with Atlanta’s underclass. And I was captivated by Wolfe’s amusement with media mayhem.

Man in FullAt a press conference where I lurked behind TV crews who had no idea why they were there, a California woman in white cowboy boots and a velvet jacket took the stage to explain why “Another Mother for Peace” had come to help. She was on the verge of tears.

“I’ve been so emotional since I’ve been here,” she said apologetically. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s menopause.”

Mrs. Avedon, and an older woman with her, mentioned several causes they support: ending all wars, withdrawing support from El Salvador, letting children build a beautiful world, shifting federal dollars from MX missiles to hot lunches.

As for the missing and murdered children: “If everybody would just keep silent and just let the police think clearly,” Mrs. Avedon offered.

Later in the press conference, the black writer James Baldwin appeared. Heads turned. Reporters murmured.

“James Baldwin,” Mrs. Avedon called gleefully from her chair. “I saw you across a crowded room in a restaurant in the south of France and I said out loud, ‘That’s James Baldwin.’”

Baldwin smiled at her.

The writer of “The Fire Next Time” said he didn’t have anything specific to offer regarding the missing and murdered children. He had come to cover the event for Playboy. Still, he stood at the podium. “It has,” he said, “something to do with the end of the dream of white supremacy.”

 It only took a little patience to hang out with Mrs. Leach enough to feel more a part of her life than with the mad carnival that had formed around the idea of sympathy for the missing and murdered children. No one had thought to arrange to get her to the airport for the disco fundraising trip, so Rachel and I took her to meet someone at the airport. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be with her at the airport. It was like Tom Wolfe had written the scene. This was obviously the end of my story.

When she walked into Atlanta’s Hartfield International Airport, the long space lined with ticket counters and baggage check-in scales spread before her. She shook her head. “Hoo-wee. This floor must take about two days to mop.”

Mrs. Leach was scared – she’d never been on an airplane before – so she had loaded herself up with tranquilizers. Through a mix-up, she and a volunteer traveling companion could not get on the 3:20 p.m. flight as planned and had to wait for a 5 p.m. flight.

Sitting on a chrome and leather bench, leaning against a Plexiglas wall, Mrs. Leach folder her arms and fell asleep. Her breathing was deep and steady.

Businessmen and mothers with baby carriages and security guards and stewardesses – some wearing the symbolic green ribbons – passed by. A black man with a familiar boyish face swept by in a tailored suit, his ticket in hand. It was Julian Bond, the former Georgia state senator who made his name as a draft resister and a symbolic nominee for vice president in 1968.

No one passing by glanced at the tired black woman sitting on the bench with her head nodding downward.

 The story ran on the front page of the Sunday paper, March 29, 1981, under the headline, “Atlanta in search of its children: A tragedy, feeding on itself, becomes a media event and tragicome.”

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A Free Market Isn’t Pain Free

More than two years of Trump’s presidency have passed since I wrote this op-ed that ran in the Roanoke Times (Feb. 5, 2017). The only thing that is surprising about the last two years is that there are few surprises about Trump. The personality that Michael Cohen sketched out to Congress — an enigma, a larger-than-life mix of bad and good but underneath, a con man and a cheat — was always there for all to see.

(To update references to our three children at the end of this: Our oldest has helped build Austin Coding Academy into a profitable business; our second son is now teaching welding at the community college where he studied it; and our daughter skipped Columbia J school to deal with health issues that have put her on a more creative path of songwriting, journaling and observing the miracle of this life in our world.)

I tell people I have a great future behind me.

I learned news reporting the old-fashioned way: on-the-job training in high-energy newsrooms. I was lucky to cover a number of beats in Raleigh, Providence and Atlanta during 25 of the best years ever for American newspapers.

So why was I studying for the Graduate Record Exam, and on one cold dark morning, driving off to take this entrance exam at some obscure little strip mall? Why was I leaving Atlanta, uprooting myself, my wife and our three children, a good job and good salary, to get a Ph.D. in mass communication at UNC in Chapel Hill?

This is the way things are with free-market capitalism. The news business was changing — in many ways, for the better, but it was definitely disruptive. And I wasn’t getting any younger. So I took the leap, the cut in pay, the pain of change. A few years later, old-style newsroom refugees like me who had scaled the ivory tower were joking about newspapers as “buggy whips,” an industrial product that had been overtaken by technological and economic progress. It was interesting to study this, and welcome it, from the classroom.

All this talk now about “bringing back” good jobs in manufacturing, coal and oil production has made me wonder if some people just don’t understand the bargain we make with a healthy capitalist system. It’s a beautiful system that brings creative ideas, improved technology, competitive prices, cultural innovation, choices and economic freedom. But it can be painfully disruptive, forcing unwanted change. “Who doesn’t get this?” as Garrison Keillor put it, writing in the Washington Post about President Trump’s inaugural address.

Free-market capitalism is our winning horse. Looked at historically, there has always been something wild and dangerous about it. It has always been global, from the Industrial Revolution onward. It has always needed to be put in harness to do us good, to help the nations and to pull us in the direction we want to go. (We don’t even need the buggy whips).

Adam Smith explained the beauty of the free market’s “invisible hand,” which is the paradox of the common good being served by individuals with “moral sentiment” pursuing selfish interests. His “Wealth of Nations,” a good companion to our Declaration of Independence with both from 1776, saw the necessity of regulations — from fire codes to workers’ protections — and the need to adapt this progressive force to national interests.

Regulation has been the way we have harnessed the wild stallion of capitalism. The traces were created by 200 years of trial and error: trust-busting reforms, government inspection of meat, a check on patent medicine advertising, clean air standards, worker safety and so on. Now, the Trump administration wants to flip that around. Regulation is no longer seen as the bridle and harness on capitalism, but a stranglehold. He says we can cut 75 percent of regulations. No doubt, that will goad the powerful beast in some ways that our forebears witnessed already.

And what will be the new check on the pain that capitalism tends to cause in its creative wake? Trump wants the very thing that Adam Smith warned against, what used to be called mercantilism: isolation, tariffs and government bullying of business.

It may sound strange to call our new businessman president an enemy of free market capitalism. But that’s the way it looks, with his promise to bring back dying industries and court a trade war.

Making America great “again” is a backward longing. It’s not facing the dislocations and generative energy of the market. I know the forward look is hard and risky. But I’m proud to see that our three children, the ones I uprooted to go for my Ph.D., are facing the reality of today’s economy with courage and imagination.

One son is helping build a business in Austin teaching computer coding on a night schedule that allows older students to learn these skills without having to quit their day jobs. Another son is studying welding at a community college on the GI bill, with the goal of welding at the brave heights of cell phone towers.

And our daughter, our youngest, has been accepted at Columbia University’s School of Journalism for a master’s degree. It turns out, this is an exciting time to become a new-media journalist.


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Cedar Hill Church: An Oral History

Louise Mikell is an 89-year-old black woman living in Lexington, Virginia. She graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore and received her master’s in education from George Washington University. She is considered the “unofficial historian” of both the black community of the Rockbridge area as well as Cedar Hill Church, a historic black Baptist Cedar Hill Churchchurch regularly active from 1874-1927.  Her father was a member of this church and Ms. Mikell, along with her associates, revitalized it, helping the church onto the National Register of Historic Places. Once closing down in 1927, the church had no use until 1965 when leadership, including Louise Mikell, established an annual meeting held in August to celebrate the history of this black community, which went on for fifty years.

On November 28, 2018, Ms. Mikell met with Washington and Lee freshman Nick Mosher in her home in Lexington to discuss Cedar Hill Church and her involvement with its preservation.

NM: I know you were born two years after Cedar Hill Church closed down but what caused you to become the sort of, unofficial historian of the church?

LM: Well, in 1965 the persons who were the children of the members of Cedar Hill decided to get together and open Cedar Hill and clean it up so we could have a summer place to go. And so the young people could all get there and have a chance to know something about Cedar Hill and their grandparents and great grandparents. The first group of persons who opened the church were the Ezans, Edna Johnson, John Johnson, Ophelia McCutchen, Hansford McCutchen, Alice Moore, and Sarah Cheek. They got together out there and decided they were going to clean up and fix up the church and have it as a place for the third Sunday in August for the young people to come and enjoy and have a picnic and have a service and just be together as family members. Basically, at that time the families that really participated were the Morrisons and the Johnsons and McCutchens, the Beals . . . [These] basically were the people who participated in opening the church again. And that was in 1965, so we opened the church and had activities and things for fifty years. And then during that particular period of time Ophelia McCutchen was most instrumental in putting a program together. Then after Ophelia I think it was Alice Moore who took over putting a program together for the summer program. And the date established was the third Sunday in August and that was in 1965 and then through the years Alice became the main leadership in putting the program together. And then I became the leadership in putting the program together after Alice passed . . . in 1998. But during the course of those years when I was the person pushing the program we had a lot of things that took place. The church became part of the historic preservation for the state and the National preservation. BibleWe had a lot of different persons who came to speak and we had children’s programs and persons in the family who were ministers and persons who were capable of bringing a good specialty of something they wanted to say to the group. And it was a delightful situation, we had so many people all through the county who came. It was just crowded really, and that went on for fifty years. And I guess it still could be going on but I just stopped it! [Laughs] I said I was tired of this and no one decided to pick it up! My daughter tried to pick it up . . . She did the last summer that we participated and got together. She had her husband to speak at First Baptist (the historically black church in Lexington) . . . We had the food downstairs at First Baptist because when [Cedar Hill] closed, the people all came to First Baptist because it was a Baptist church out there so they brought their membership to First Baptist.

NM: So you said the church closed in 1927 correct?

LM: Yes, in 1927.

NM: So what caused this once really popular church to close down?

 LM: Well, the black people died number one. And number two, they didn’t have a school out there for their children to go to school. And then number three, they didn’t own anything . . . and they couldn’t, they weren’t given the opportunity. So those were basic reason why the people left out there. They were working on the farms and that kind of thing. And they were making a good livelihood, but they weren’t able to own a house or anything of that nature so it was well that they made an effort to move so my father came here and bought this house and it has been in my family ever since 1915, and that happened to many families and by that time there weren’t many families left out there really.

NM: Where did a lot of them go?

LM: They came to Lexington and they joined First Baptist Church down there.

NM: What were some of the reasons for moving to Lexington?

 LM: Basically, because of the fact they couldn’t own a piece of property out there and for school, for their children and those were the basic reasons, for moving – living conditions and housing. They were looking for better situations, jobs, that kind of thing. And they joined First Baptist down there.

NM: When you revitalized the Church, was it used as a church or more of a community center?

LM: Well, we just went there one day in the year. And we would go to First Baptist and have a worship service and then have dinner in the yard and meet family and friends. It was just a great day, and it would be dark before we left. [laughs]

 NM: Would you say this celebration was a gathering of friends and family or a time to worship or would you say it was celebrating, sort of, the black community of Rockbridge County?

 LM: Well, no black people lived out there by this time.

NM: Right, sort of the history then I guess.

 LM: Yes, so we were just there to celebrate our ancestors. Because our ancestors had been living there in that community since 1840. And so we were there to sort of remember them, and meet family and friends and just have a nice day being together. And it was, it was a good day to be together. And people came from everywhere, folks came from California [laughing].

you just can’t imagine how it was, it was just wonderful really. Most of them lived away, they didn’t live here. But friends here in Lexington came too because it became a very popular day that everyone looked forward to over the summer and before.


LM: I have books where they have written down every penny that people gave years ago, in 1830 they gave one penny! Two pennies! Whatever they had, it was just wonderful really. So that history goes on for all of those years and I don’t know what’s going to happen to Cedar Hill, it rather disturbs me really . . . I really think it ought to be a meeting house in fact it was dedicated as a meeting house and a place of worship, that’s what the idea was. And no longer black people live out there, there was once a time when a group of people wanted to rent it for a church but Edlo and I talked, oh well, it didn’t go anywhere and we didn’t get that done so now it’s just sitting there I don’t know what’s going to happen to it ‘cause I’ll be gone. [laughing]

 NM: What caused you and the rest of the leadership to choose Cedar Hill Church, I guess my question is why Cedar Hill? What was the historical significance that made it your rallying point for those who wanted to celebrate their history?

LM: Well, it was because of the fact that that’s where our people came from. That’s where they went to church. And before that church was established they had church in their homes out there, along the creek banks, along the tree line in the mountain. In fact, before they had Cedar Hill they had church on top of a high hill where the big oak tree was and they had just sat around on logs and had service. In fact, I understand there is someone buried up there, and that’s on the Harris farm and that farm belonged to John Riplogle, and he gave the land because it was right attached to his farm.

NM: Taking it back a little bit, can you tell me the origins of Cedar Hill, sort of how it came to be?

 LM: I don’t know other than John Riplogle gave that land for a church. They were having service on the mountain, under the great big oak tree. And evidence was still there some years ago. I don’t know if the evidence is still there. And the houses were all along the base of the mountain. Years ago when my father and mother used to drive out there after I got to be seven, eight, ten years old – they would point out to the mountain, the side of the mountain and their used to be old houses there where those people lived . . . They used to point out some of the names of people who lived out there. Well it was just their home! And they just tried to stay close to their homes, really.

NM: What do you hope happens to Cedar Hill?

LM: What do I think?

NM: What do you hope – or what do you think is going to happen, if those are two different answers.

LM: I don’t know what’s going to happen, I don’t know. It has been my thought that Cedar Hill Church – I tried to give Cedar Hill Church to First Baptist Church, down on Main Street. I tried to give that church to them. But of course First Baptist didn’t want it because of the fact that well, they were able to keep First Baptist. If they were able to pay the bills on First Baptist then they were lucky! So, I wasn’t able to get that done, I just always said well, First Baptist could use it as a retreat place and that kind of thing for their church and for the young people, et cetera. But now, the only thing I can see, if anyone wants to buy it, they need to sell it. Because nobody is going back out there to have service, they need to sell it to any congregation who wants it. Because of the fact that churches are churches and they are meeting places for friends in the neighborhood and the community . . . I hope it will be sold, really because the cemetery is there, and the cemetery could use the funds it got out of the church to keep it up . . . and do little things around there to make it a nicer looking place. [laughing] I don’t know what’s going to happen to it!

NM: What were the reasons behind the Church becoming a registered historic place?

AwardLM: The reasons were that it had been the religious place of worship for the group of black people who had lived in that community all of their life and it was used as a school at one time. . . . Those were the reasons that we put in the application to get a historic trust and the length of time that building has been sitting there. And that building was dedicated in 1874 but those people had been worshiping wherever they could before that building. See, that building was given to them by John Riplogle. And the first building burnt down, and they built the building that is there now because the first building was just a log cabin, in fact, it didn’t even have a floor in it I’m told, and so they built the second building and the church is in good shape!

LM: I hope this has been a help to you.

NM: It really has, thank you so much.


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Grace Honors Jonathan Daniels

Singing at dedication

Libby, at far left, was one of the grant writers on the UTO grant.

“An actual saint was in this place, think of that,” Col. Keith Gibson told fellow church members gathered in the new Jonathan M. Daniels Community Room underneath the sanctuary of Grace Episcopal Church.

The Sunday dedication and blessing, Feb. 3, was not only the official unveiling of the room honoring an actual Christian martyr recognized by the U.S. Episcopal Church – Virginia Military Institute valedictorian Daniels, murdered in Alabama in 1965 while protecting a fellow civil rights protester. The dedication service also moved into the larger restored space – now called the Brooke Family Undercroft.

Then it moved into a refurbished third room, the Sacristy, where sunlight played through old gothic windows onto fresh-painted walls. “Blessed may you be, O Lord,” recited the Rev. James Hubbard, the interim rector.

The $325,000 renovation has brought back to life the 136-year-old undercroft of the former R.E. Lee Memorial Church. This lower level of the limestone church building at 123 W. Washington St. had been virtually unused since it was outgrown in 2007 by the early learning center Yellow Brick Road.


L-R, Bob Glidden, Pat Mayerchak, Rev. McKinley Williams of First Baptist, Fr. James, Elizabeth Harralson, Jane Brooke, and Gail and Barton Dick.

Now it is the newest space in town for choir rehearsals, church meetings and community activities. It has even become the new home of the “Wednesday Morning Bluegrass Jam,” a local tradition that has survived some 25 years in various coffeeshops around Lexington.

The renovation, by Phoenix Construction, was supported by the second phase of the parish’s three-year capital campaign and by a United Thank Offering of $47,000 from the national church. The UTO grant was specifically to pursue the national church’s agenda of racial reconciliation under the motto of “Becoming the Beloved Community.”

An article last week by the Episcopal News Service described two years of intense debate over the church’s name. “The process of congregational soul-searching began in the wake of the 2015 massacre at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a racist gunman with a fondness for Confederate symbols.’”

The vestry of the church voted in September 2017 to restore the original name of Grace, replacing the name it had borne since 1903, R.E. Lee Memorial. Robert E. Lee, when he was president of Washington College, served as the senior warden of Grace Church.

Daniels plaqueJonathan Myrick Daniels, as a cadet at VMI, attended the church and sang in its choir. In 1965, while in seminary in Cambridge, Mass., preparing to become a minister in the Episcopal Church, Daniels heeded the call of Martin Luther King Jr. to join the fight in Selma for equal voting rights. After responding clergy left the area and Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, Daniels returned to work on voter registration and breaking down racial barriers. He was killed when he stepped into the line of fire to protect a young black woman who was the target of a parttime deputy’s shotgun. The Episcopal Church honors him with a Feast Day on Aug. 14 and his name is among martyrs (including King) named in a chapel of England’s Canterbury Cathedral.

The Brooke Family Undercroft honors a Lexington family involved in the church for six generations: John Mercer and Kate Brooke, George Mercer and Isabel Brooke, George M. Jr. and Frances Brooke (who died in December at the age of 101), George M. III (who died last April at age 73) and Jane Brooke, George M. IV and Erika Brooke, and their four children, Elise, Emma, John M., and Philip Brooke.

The refurbishing of the 1875 Sacristy was underwritten by the Helen S. and Charles G. Patterson Jr. Charitable Trust Foundation.

I wrote this for the Lexington News-Gazette, which ran it on its front page, Feb. 13, 2019.

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2018 History Division Annual Report



Submitted by Division Chair Douglas O. Cumming, June 9, 2018

1a. Division name: History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication

1b. Current Officers

Head/Program Chair

Doug Cumming
Washington and Lee University


Vice-Head/Research Chair

Erika Pribanic-Smith

University of Texas-Arlington


Second Vice Chair/Secretary (includes Newsletter Editor)

Teri Finneman

University of Kansas


Incoming Second Vice Chair (subject to vote of Division August 2018)

Will Mari

Northwest University


Teaching Standards Chair

Kristin Gustafson

University of Washington-Bothell


Personal Freedom & Responsibility Chair

Melita Garza

Texas Christian University



Membership Chairs

Will Mari

Northwest University



Amber Roessner

University of Tennessee



Grad Student Liaisons

Christopher Frear

University of South Carolina



Kenneth Ward

Ohio University



Book Award Chair

John Ferré

University of Louisville


Covert Award, Chair

Nancy Roberts




Joint Journalism & Communication History Conference

Nick Hirshon

William Paterson



AEJMC Southeast Colloquium History Division Research Chair

Cayce Myers

Virginia Tech




Keith Greenwood
Missouri School of Journalism




  1. Annual Demographic Form. See attached file: 2018_HIST DIV demographic_form. [Please add “History Division” to top of this form.]


  1. Overall statement weighting the division or interest group’s activities for this year in the Research, Teaching and PF&R areas.


As division head, I would weight our 2017-18 activities outlined below as follows: Research 60%; Teaching 20%; Professional Freedom and Responsibility 20%. If there is an imbalance, it is only for this one year because the most challenging and preoccupying activities were related to taking on the peer-reviewed quarterly Journalism History, which has operated independently since 1974, and naming its new editor. The division’s officers also spent time working out significant proposed changes to our bylaws and discussing difficulties that have come with the popularity of a joint media history conference we co-sponsor. These activities I would characterize as largely if not entirely research oriented. At the same time, a re-formating of our newsletter Clio Among the Media from a PDF quarterly to a monthly e-newsletter carries weight for all three areas, which each produce columns for the newsletter. Also, we are sponsoring conference panels from all three areas, as can be seen in the following reports.

  1. What are your most important goals for the upcoming year?
    • We will continue to facilitate the transition of the academic journal Journalism History from an independent publication to the division’s official journal. Further details on this process so far are outlined under RESEARCH below and in last year’s annual report.
    • A solid foundation of young historians will bolster our division and ensure its future. Therefore, the incoming chair aims to increase student involvement in the History Division by encouraging a more active graduate student committee, reaching out to universities (including both mass communication and history departments) that typically are not represented on the summer and spring conference programs, and publicizing financial awards available to student presenters.
    • The division has for many years co-sponsored the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference with the American Journalism Historians Association. The once-small conference has experienced growing pains, and its chief organizer is nearing retirement. During the coming year, the division aims to work with AJHA officers and JJCHC organizers to institutionalize the spring event, thus ensuring its future, and improve its function, especially the research paper submission and review process.
    • As history becomes an increasingly lower priority in journalism and communication curricula, it is important to emphasize that our division’s scholars have as much impact in the classroom as they do in the research community. As proposed by our teaching standards chair, the division will explore establishing a teaching competition to highlight best practices in history pedagogy.

What goals did your group set this year that you were unable to reach? Why?

  • We have accomplished all goals set for 2017-2018, although the transition of Journalism History is ongoing. The two other goals set last year by incoming head Doug Cumming related to developing a deeper “bench” among membership for serving as officers and distributing the work load (e.g. Research chair, Program chair, newsletter editor, etc.) more broadly and giving those roles more than a year’s tenure, where appropriate. The idea was to make leadership of the division more deeply experienced and more sustainable over the long run. These goals are met by a number of proposed changes in our bylaws as the three officers agreed on, and sent to membership in June for discussion and vote at our business meeting at the conference in August.

How may any or all of the Standing Committees help you to achieve your goals in the coming year?

  • The Publications Committee might be able to assist our continuing effort to find a satisfactory arrangement with an academic publisher for the division’s newly acquired scholarly journal, Journalism History.
  • The Research Committee might help with our efforts to strengthen the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference, especially as we explore better mechanisms for receiving, reviewing, and organizing submissions of abstracts.
  • The Teaching Committee might help with our efforts to establish a history teaching competition.




  1. Number of faculty research paper submissions 32; number of acceptances 20; 62.5%. (NOTE: Two of the faculty research paper submissions were co-authored with students; both were accepted.)


  1. Number of student research paper submissions 15; number of acceptances 6; 40%.


NOTE: The division received a total of 50 research paper submissions, one of which was disqualified and not counted above. Two of the papers submitted were not designated as student or faculty and also are not counted in the above questions; both were rejected. The overall acceptance rate for the division was 53% (26 of 49 qualified papers).


  1. Overview of judging process (see attached review form).

The research chair solicited judges with a variety of research interests within the field of journalism and communication history and made sure that each judge received papers within his/her area of expertise so that authors could receive the most knowledgeable feedback possible. Each paper had three reviewers. Reviewers scored papers on the attached form, and the papers to be programmed were selected based on ranking of total scores. Student and faculty papers were considered equally. Slightly more than 50% of papers were selected because the last few papers around the 50% mark were extremely close.


  1. Total # of judges 71; 2 papers per judge.


  1. Did your group conduct any other type of refereed competition? N/A


  1. In-convention activities related to research.
  • Presentation and discussion of 26 research papers.
  • Three research panels.
  • Member tour of the Library of Congress.
  • Member Q&A and tour at the National Press Club.
  • Outreach to graduate students through a jointly sponsored (with GSIG) reception at the annual convention.
  • Presentation of awards at business meeting for top papers, book, and article.
  1. Out-of-convention activities related to research.
  • Annual Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference, sponsored by the AEJMC History Division, the American Journalism Historians Association, and NYU, March 10, 2018, NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York City.
  • 43rd AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, hosted by the College of Communication & Information Sciences, the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, March 8-10, 2018.
  1. Research goals and activities of your division.


  • The big goal for the division this year was to implement the adoption of the academic journal Journalism History as the division’s official journal. Based on the investigative work of an ad hoc committee in the previous year, the division leadership recommended adoption, and the membership approved via an online vote immediately following the 2017 conference. AEJMC approved the adoption at its December meeting. Over the past several months, the ad hoc committee has continued work, ensuring the financial stability of the journal, conducting a successful search for an editor, and exploring publishing options. Our executive committee approved the recommended journal editor and began the process of setting up a journal oversight committee within the division’s leadership.
  • Another goal for the division this year was to restructure the officer positions, which relates to research because it affects the selection of Research Chair. Currently, the top three positions are Chair/Program Chair, Vice-Chair/Research Chair, and Secretary/Clio Editor. If the membership approves the officers’s proposed amendment to the bylaws, the leadership will be more in line with other divisions, as follows: Chair, First Vice-Chair/Program Chair, Second Vice-Chair/Research Chair.
  • The Clio newsletter published three times in its traditional PDF form before launching as a monthly e-newsletter. Research-related content includes journalism history book excerpts, columns related to research activity, and profiles of individual members and their research.
  • Listserv emails to promote particular events and opportunities.
  • Social media, including a Facebook page devoted to the group, allows members to discuss research in progress as well as make announcements.
  • Promotion of paper submissions through awards for top three faculty papers, top three student papers (plaques for top two places, certificates for third).
  • $500 cash prize, top academic article of the year.
  • $500 cash prize, top academic book of the year.
  • Creation of the Michael S. Sweeney Award for the best article of the year in Journalism History, with the first winner selected by Division officers from nominations by outgoing editor Sweeney.




  1. In-convention activities related to teaching. For the upcoming 2018 AEJMC convention, the History Division’s three teaching panels bring together the work and ideas of 14 scholars (panelists, moderators, discussants) and five journalism practitioners. The Division co-organized three teaching panels—two that teaching chair Kristin Gustafson co-organized and one that membership co-chair Amber Roessner organized. In the space below, Gustafson describes how they each will fulfill the Teaching Standards Committee’s focus on curriculum, leadership, course content and teaching methods, and assessment collectively.


The first 2018 panel, “Contextualizing Media Credibility in 2018,” will specifically address Teaching Standards Committee’s focus on curriculum, course content and teaching methods, and assessment. Our panelists will offer ideas for how professors can provide historical perspective on the current era, when the U.S. president frequently charges that reporting on his administration’s shortcomings is “fake news” and many citizens doubt the truth and believability of journalism. We see the panel as taking into account changing notions of balance, fairness, objectivity, and credibility in journalism education and the news industry, as well as addressing histories of media relationships with government and other power-wielding entities.

The second 2018 panel, “Innovating ideas that foster a community and its history,” addresses the Teaching Standards Committee’s focus on curriculum, course content and teaching methods, and creates an opportunity for AEJMC members to interact directly with community journalists and the community stories they produce. We sought newspapers from a variety of audiences: LGBTQI, race, language-based, economic (homelessness), religious, and geographically-bound neighborhoods. Journalism educators attending the panel will learn about fresh news projects happening in the D.C. area and come away thinking about how they might replicate these strategies in their respective classrooms ranging from Race and Media to Introduction to Journalism to Mass Media History.

The third 2018 panel, “Remembering, Forgetting and Nostalgizing 1968: The Year that Rocked Our World,” addresses the Teaching Standards Committee’s focus on curriculum, course content and teaching methods, and possibly assessment. The panel brings together historians and memory scholars to explore how earlier waves of anniversary memory have addressed certain moments and movements, such as the Tet Offensive, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy assassinations, the anti-war movement, and the Civil Rights, Black Power, and Women’s movements.


  1. Out-of-convention activities related to teaching.


AEJMC History Division’s out-of-convention activities related to teaching standards have taken up the Standards Committee’s focus on curriculum, leadership, course content and teaching methods, and assessment. Primarily this has been through my quarterly columns in our Division’s newsletter Clio Among the Media: Newsletter of the History Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. This year’s four columns brought forward the work of 34 scholars/practitioners and featured several multi-media projects featuring student work and/or serving student research projects. As journalism educators and media historians, we have excellent classroom practices and curriculum designs. Since taking on the teaching standards chair position in 2015, Gustafson has invited Division members to share their best practices that encourage pedagogies of diversity, collaboration, community, and justice. The ideas and examples matter to our work and stretch us to explore new strategies.


  1. Teaching goals and activities of the History Division


In addition to the teaching panels and Clio columns, Gustafson proposes that we consider a special competition that highlights best practices in history pedagogy and/or scholarship of teaching and learning. As described earlier, the History Division’s teaching goals and activities focused on four pedagogies of diversity, collaboration, community, and justice. This focus supported the Teaching Standards Committee of AEJMC’s focus on curriculum, leadership, course content and teaching methods, and assessment. Our collaboration with three other AEJMC groups—Newspaper and Online News Division, Community Journalism Interest Group, and Cultural and Critical Studies Division—added breadth and depth to our division’s reach. The senior scholars who moderate panels or serve as panelists do important mentoring that supports our division’s efforts to reach out to new scholars and invite new members. As we move into the new AEJMC year, the teaching standards focus will continue to support our History Division’s goals.



  1. The History Division organized and was the single sponsor for the 2018 AEJMC Conference PF&R panel session “Connecting Industry and Ivory Tower: Advertising, Journalism and P.R. Executives Tell Professors How to Matter.”
    This PF&R panel offers AEJMC members insight from leaders of the industries that represent a basis for our research and for which we prepare the future workforce.

The fields of journalism, advertising, and public relations, though distinct, share a place in the academy as professional disciplines that train students for particular media careers. Increasingly, however, these are often overlapping. Beyond offering tips on how to better prepare students for the workplace, this panel explores how professors can make their research and creative activity more accessible and useful to related industries. Given the issues confronting media industries currently, we expect this panel to touch on ethical challenges of inclusion and diversity both in messaging and issues. We have recruited a highly diverse panel by race and gender to further these goals. Other ethical issues for the panel’s consideration concern the pressures on the free and independent press at a time when the media is increasingly a target of the Trump administration.

History Division Head Doug Cumming of Washington and Lee University is the scheduled moderator. Confirmed panelists from the industry include Mizell Stewart III, Gannett and USA Today Network; Elite Truong, Washington Post; Chuck Alston, MSLGroup; Wendy Melillo, American, and Jodie Warren, MDB Communication.


  1. Out-of-convention activities related to PF&R. The PF&R committee of the History Division supported the draft AEJMC statement on hate speech. At this writing, the statement is still in draft format, and though it was spurred by the incident in Charlottesville, it still provides timely, necessary, and useful recommendations for helping journalism students and working journalists in their coverage of these issues.


The History Division also endorsed the American Historical Association’s statement condemning the Polish law banning discourse about Polish complicity with the Nazis. As a member of the AHA’s Council of Affiliates, the division made this endorsement with agreement from the officers and previous head.


Additional out-of-conference activities included PF&R columns in our division newsletter, as detailed below.


  1. PF&R goals and activities. The 2017-2018 year represented a transition in the History Division PF&R chair, with Melita M. Garza replacing Tracy Lucht in the role. A primary focus of the new chair was to highlight issues related to diversity and inclusion of racial and ethnic minorities in the journalism field. Another was to extend the dialog surrounding significant PF&R events of the prior convention to help establish a continuity of ideas, rather than to simply present a one-off PF&R activity. Dr. Garza wrote two newsletter articles that elaborated on the 2017 PF&R Panel: “Where Do We Fit In? The Beginnings of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists; the National Association of Black Journalists; the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association,” which was held at the August 11, 2017, AEJMC 100th Annual Conference, Marriott Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois. It was a joint Minorities and Communication and History Division PF&R Panel.

The first of these columns examined the much-overlooked history of Native American journalists, and featured an interview with panelist Mark Trahant, a key figure in the founding of the Native American Journalists Association (NAJA). A second column centered on a post-convention interview with another panelist, Vinicio Sinta, who discussed the challenges of researching Latino journalism history.

One prime goal of the current PF&R chair is to try to highlight areas for more inclusive research concerning media history, and to try to expand the conception of journalism history beyond the black-white race binary. Developing a more complete understanding of American journalism history is particularly important in light of the country’s ongoing racial and ethnic conflicts.

General Information:

  1. Please see the four attached issues of the Division newsletter, Clio Among the Media. Starting in May, our newsletter converted from a quarterly PDF to a monthly e-letter as an experiment in making it more timely and flexible for digital use.


AEJMC · Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication · AEJMC
234 Outlet Pointe Blvd. · Columbia, SC 29210-5667 · 803-798-0271 (voice) · 803-772-3509 (fax)



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2017 History Division Meeting Mintues

History Division 2017 Business Meeting Minutes, Chicago

(Printed in Clio Among the Media, Fall 2017, pp. 5-8)

By Erika Pribanic-Smith, University of Texas-Arlington
Vice Chair/Research Chair

Outgoing Chair Mike Sweeney (Ohio) called the meeting to order at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11.

The membership accepted the minutes from last year’s meeting as reported in the Fall 2016 Clio.

Book Award: The winner this year was Robert G. Parkinson, assistant professor of history at Binghampton University, for “The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution” (University of North Carolina Press). Book Award Chair John Ferré (Louisville) indicated that the judges selected from among 26 nominated books. Judges were Fred Blevens (Florida International), Kathy Roberts Forde (Massachusetts-Amherst), and Linda Steiner (Maryland).

Ferré described the book as “chilling and gripping,” centered on the argument that those leading the American Revolution united the colonies by turning them against a common enemy that had to be more than just England. By unifying the public against Native Americans and African-American slaves, the book argues, the nation’s founders built racism into the country’s foundation.

Parkinson said he wanted to write something about the Revolution and race, so he started by reading all the colonial newspapers. “I was really shocked about what I found,” Parkinson said, “and that’s a massive amount of material in the middle pages of the newspapers—what everyone else has overlooked.” Parkinson argued that the Revolution’s leaders needed to scare people into fighting, and they did that by preying on people’s fear and outrage.

Newspapers allowed those leaders not only to strike while the iron was hot but to keep striking, Parkinson said. They did that in part by reprinting the same items in every newspaper. Parkinson advised young researchers not to rely on databases; he said he never would have reached the argument he did if he had just “dipped in” to the available resources. “I needed to read them all, one after the other,” he said.

Covert Award: For the second time, Sheila Webb (Western Washington) received the division’s Covert Award for best mass communication history article. Her piece in Journalism Monographs, “Creating Life: ‘America’s Most Potent Editorial Force,’” was selected from among eight nominees. Webb said she became interested in Life magazine as a graduate student; she described hauling issues home from the library in garbage bags to go through them. In total, she viewed 55,000 images, of which she ultimately coded 4,500.

“I was always interested in the start-up of media forms,” Webb said. “My project was on the first decade of Life magazine, which was a new pictorial, and how does a magazine position a cultural moment in order to become the most successful magazine launch in history.”

Webb acknowledged the late James Baughman for his assistance with her research.

Conference Papers: Outgoing Research Chair Doug Cumming (Washington and Lee) reported that the division received 50 paper total paper submissions. The division accepted 28 faculty papers and 3 student submissions for a total acceptance rate of 62 percent. None of the papers had to be scrubbed for identification, which was a problem in the previous paper competition.

Each paper had three reviewers. Cumming thanked the judges for their feedback and role in the process of generating knowledge.

The following authors received awards for their work: Linda Lumsden (Arizona), first-place faculty paper; Ken Ward (Ohio), first-place student paper; Stephen Bates (Nevada, Las Vegas), second-place faculty paper; Steven Holiday (Texas Tech), second-place student paper; Kenneth Campbell (South Carolina), third-place faculty paper; Jane Weatherred (South Carolina), third-place student paper.

Elections: The membership confirmed the appointments of Teri Finneman (North Dakota State) as Secretary/Newsletter Editor and Melita Garza (Texas Christian) as PF&R Chair. These officers had been nominated by the division’s leadership. The membership made no nominations from the floor. [NOTE: The following additional appointments were made after the convention: Amber Roessner (Tennessee), Membership Co-Chair; Christopher Frear (South Carolina) and Ken Ward (Ohio), Graduate Student Co-Chairs.]

Journalism History: Frank Fee (North Carolina, emeritus) chaired an ad-hoc committee Sweeney appointed to investigate the division’s adoption of the scholarly journal Journalism History. Forde, Garza, and Will Tubbs (Western Florida) also served on the committee.

Journalism History has been operating as an independent academic journal since its inception in 1974; Sweeney has been the editor for several years. Based on its research over the past year, the ad hoc committee recommended that the division adopt the journal. Fee said that because of Sweeney’s health and the journal’s finances, Journalism History will survive perhaps 2-3 years if something is not done to secure its future.

“If we lose Journalism History, we lose a significant place for us to publish our work, which is important to the field at large for the dissemination of knowledge and to journalism history scholars for tenure and promotion opportunities,” Fee said.

Fee said the committee has identified several reasons adopting the journal can and should work. Contracting with an academic publisher would increase the journal’s profitability and provide some opportunities that the journal doesn’t have now. The committee has talked with two publishers (SAGE and Oxford) as exemplars. Interest has been lukewarm, but Fee suggested that the publishers would like to see the journal firmly in the division before moving forward.

AEJMC requires the division to show an interest and willingness to take on the journal under any circumstances (self-publishing if necessary). AEJMC would have to approve the adoption as well as any publisher contract. The AEJMC board next meets in December. Fee anticipated that the division would be ready to adopt the journal by then and possibly have a contract with a publisher prepared.

Fee said a contract with a publisher would put Journalism History on equal footing with other AEJMC divisions’ journals.

The committee proposed a two-step process: First, those in attendance at the meeting would vote on a resolution that the committee should conduct an official vote of the membership on adopting the journal. Second, the committee proposed would conduct a vote via SurveyMonkey on the question, “Should the division adopt the scholarly journal Journalism History and, if possible, contract with an academic publisher to produce it?”

Fee noted that the committee conducted a straw poll via SurveyMonkey earlier and found that 91 percent of the membership favored moving forward with adopting the journal.

Fee said Sweeney promised American Journalism Historians Association that Journalism History would not pursue a contract with Taylor & Francis, which publishes AJHA’s journal American Journalism.

In response to questions from meeting attendees, Fee noted that changes in format and flexibility would be potential trade-offs of contracting with a publisher. But, Garza added, the current model is unsustainable.

“It’s not a choice between having what we have now with the beautiful illustrations and having something else that’s not as nice visually,” Garza said. “It’s a choice between not having a journal or having a journal that’s perhaps not as pretty.”

Forde suggested creating a website where supplementary material such as illustrations could be published.

Sweeney pointed out that a publisher could attach Digital Object Identifiers (DOIs) to articles. He explained that DOIs are URLs that are guaranteed to persist forever, and an independent publisher cannot offer that. Sweeney said tenure and promotion committees increasingly are looking to see if candidates are publishing in DOI journals.

Fee added that an academic publisher can promote the journal better than an independent publisher can, raising the number of article downloads and citations.

“The benefits are considerable and the trade-offs as we’ve found them are insignificant in comparison,” Fee said.

Fee said if the division takes on the journal, it’s an all or none proposition; it’s not dependent on getting a contract with an academic publisher. The committee recommended that the division form a publications committee to scout the territory further and investigate other publication options.

Attendees at the meeting voted 45-0 in favor of conducting an official vote of the membership via SurveyMonkey.

Committee Reports

Teaching: Teaching Chair Kristin Gustafson (Washington-Bothell) mentioned the panel she co-organized with the Newspaper and Online News Division. She also asked that members send ideas for Clio teaching columns to her at gustaf13@uw.edu. She seeks ideas for teaching that involve diversity, inclusivity, collaboration, community, and justice.

Membership: Membership Co-Chairs Finneman and Will Mari (Northwest) reported that they focused on member relations over the past year. They featured members in Clio columns and social media posts, organized a tour at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, and facilitated Media History Engagement week, which resulted in 330 Twitter posts from 110 people and reached 40,288 followers. They also noted that membership has climbed slightly from 284 to 294.

Tom Mascaro (Bowling Green) expressed dismay at the condition of some of the media in the basement of the broadcast museum and asked if the division might encourage the museum to store their films better to preserve the history in the museum’s holdings. Sweeney indicated he would contact the museum to relay the concerns.

  1. Joseph Campbell (American) asked how many students were members of the division. Though that information was not available during the meeting, Sweeney reported after the convention that the division has 25 student members.

Website: Keith Greenwood (Missouri) reported that with the widespread use of social media, most updates to the website have been posting new issues of Clio. He noted that the website is the institutional history/archive for the division; he plans to fill in more of the division’s history over the next year to make it a more useful repository.

Financial Report: Sweeney reported that the division has just about broken even this year. The starting balance was $8,160.42, and income from dues as of Aug. 1 was $1,927.50. Expenses included the museum tour fee, a reception the division co-hosted at the convention with the Graduate Student Interest Group, plaques and certificates for award winners, and $500 each to the winners of the Covert and book awards.

New Business: The Council of Divisions proposed four cities for the 2021 AEJMC conference: Kansas City, MO, Austin, TX, St. Louis, MO, and New Orleans, LA. Sweeney mentioned that the NAACP recently had issued a travel advisory indicating Missouri may be unsafe for minorities, and the state of California had issued a travel ban that would prevent California institutions from reimbursing their faculty and students for travel to Texas (among other states) because of sexual orientation-based discrimination.

Among the points brought up during discussion were that AEJMC had a memorable meeting in New Orleans 20 years ago; other divisions had requested that the Council of Divisions provide further choices; it was unfair to paint everyone in the banned states with the same broad strokes; and the bans may be lifted by 2021.

Sweeney offered to report the vote to the Council of Divisions with “rich qualitative” comment expressing the division’s concerns. Thirty of the division members voted for New Orleans, seven for Austin, and one for Kansas City; St. Louis received no votes.

New Leadership: Effective Sept. 1, Cumming and Erika Pribanic-Smith (Texas-Arlington) are promoted to division chair/program chair and vice chair/research chair, respectively.

Cumming relayed his goals for the coming year, the first of which is to carry out the will of the membership regarding Journalism History.

The second goal is to deepen the bench for incoming officers in the years to come. He noted that the top officers hold multiple positions: chair/program chair, vice chair/research chair, and secretary/newsletter editor. In other divisions, those positions are separated, and spreading the roles among more people would lighten the load on the division’s leadership while providing more service opportunities for the division’s members.

Cumming thanked Sweeney for the tremendous help he had given him and others in the division over the past year. Cumming said he counted Sweeney among his heroes for taking on the task of division head as well as editing Journalism History while battling terminal cancer. Cumming presented Sweeney with a button he had found in the apartment of his father, who had been a Newsweek bureau chief during the Civil Rights movement. Cumming said he treasured the button, and “a real gift is when you give something that you treasure.” The button also was fitting to Sweeney; coming from James Meredith’s 1966 march in Mississippi to defy racism, the button said in large letters, “March Against Fear.” The membership met the gift with lingering applause.

Announcements: David Bulla (Augusta) announced that he and his colleague Debbie van Tuyll are reviving the defunct Atlanta Review of Journalism History, renaming it the Southeastern Review of Journalism History. They aim to publish an edition in Spring 2018 and are seeking submissions of research papers and book reviews. Bulla said the journal strongly encourages student submissions.

Cayce Myers (Virginia Tech), the division’s research chair for the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, announced that the regional conference will be March 8-10, 2018, in Tuscaloosa, AL. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 11. Details are available at https://cis.ua.edu/sec18/

Nick Hirshon (William Paterson), the division’s co-coordinator for the Joint Journalism and Communication History Conference, announced that Pamela Walck (Duquesne) is the new JJCHC co-coordinator from AJHA. They are going to continue the practice begun last year of having an early-bird deadline of Nov. 1 to receive a response by Thanksgiving. Final deadline will be Jan. 4, 2018; the conference is March 10, 2018. Details are available at https://journalismhistorians.org/

American Journalism Historians Association is meeting in Little Rock, AR, Oct. 12-14. Details are available at ajhaonline.org.

Cumming announced that during the research paper competition next year, the research chair from each division will select papers most relevant to the journalism profession and submit them to a conference-wide competition with a large cash prize.

Tim Vos (Missouri) announced that the University of Missouri Press is seeking proposals for a new book series entitled “Journalism in Perspective: Continuities and Disruptions,” which he is editing. Contact Vos at vost@missouri.edu for information.

Garza reminded members about the AEJMC Trailblazers of Diversity oral history initiative. The initiative is seeking subjects; they are particularly interested in hearing from people in public relations, journalism, and the academy who have done work to promote diversity in the profession.

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Something for Democrats to Run On

A terrible premonition dawns on my Democratic friends: Their party could fail to win either the House or the Senate this November.

An even darker vexation follows: Trump is re-elected in 2020 (after winning the Nobel Peace Prize).

My wife, shaken by this foreboding, challenged me to think of something the Democratic Party can do to stop this train wreck. It’s not enough, she says, for us just to be against Trump. We need to be FOR something.

I usually vote Democratic as an old family tradition. I’m more loyal than liberal.

But this doesn’t work for most voters. And being appalled at what we have now isn’t good enough.

So I came up with something.

I’m thinking of a busy community college campus full of people of all ages, high school dropouts, single mothers, blue-collar workers. They are struggling and sacrificing for a better future, not just for themselves but for family and that deep American impulse to rise a notch or two.

This is not like the elite university where I teach, Washington and Lee, but is much more common and important for America’s future. Take, for instance, Surry Community College, with a campus in Mt. Airy, N.C.

One of our sons, after four years in the Marines, just completed his training at SCC on the GI Bill for three types of metalworking. The school asked him to come back and teach welding. He has taken out a mortgage to buy a farm and is waiting for his first child to be born.

A few years ago, after fighting in Iraq, he was hopping trains, Dumpster-diving and protesting police oppression. But there’s something about the future that calls us all, at some point, to improve our position, to plant fruit trees or raise children, to do something not only for others, but for our own not-yet-born.

The Democratic Party should claim this. It should be the party that honors the American will to build and plant and sacrifice for our future. It should point out the contrast between this impulse and the live-for-the-moment hedonism that, oddly enough, has become the Republican brand.

Yes, Trump promised rebuilding infrastructure. But since his actual plan is such a disappointment, the Democrats should re-claim it, 10-fold. Better roads and bridges, yes, but also public transportation.

Democrats have an opening here. They should face the disaster of traffic in cities like my own  hometown Atlanta by being smart about the future, finding the good balance between preservation, recycling and engineering.

Today’s technology is neither good nor bad in itself, or rather, both very good and very bad. We don’t know what kind of future it will bring. But Democrats can talk about making it good, with time horizons going out 50 years and more.

I don’t have a slogan as catchy as Make America Great Again, but I have this idea: invest in the future beyond our selfish, crazy present. Creating a huge deficit on tax cuts that feel good, temporarily, is not future thinking. Supporting children and ordinary people’s drive for education and health is future thinking.

Seeing global alliances as an investment and not squandering our privilege as the world’s last super power, that’s future thinking.

Spending on Medicare and Social Security is related. It’s keeping a promise made by our future-thinking (Democratic) forebears.

The GOP agenda seems to be driven by a fear of the future and a reliance on TV’s emotional present tense.

I understand that. The future is scary and the present is stimulating, like Reality TV.

But the future is also something Americans have always believed in. That was the genius of the Founding Fathers. It’s why we fought a savage Civil War. Robert Frost liked to say in lectures that we don’t just believe IN the future – we believe the future IN.

We don’t control it, of course. This is not about a five-year plan or the perfectibility of man, but about actionable belief – planning and trusting at the same time.

In his poem “Carpe Diem,” Frost jokes that “seize the moment” was a hoax imposed by old poets who liked to imagine young love that way. But in reality, the poem says, life lives in the past and in the future. The present, he says, is too confusing, too much for the senses.

If Democrats could steer their party toward the future, in rhetoric and in faith, then the tail winds of the GOP breakdown will get them somewhere for sure.

This ran in the blog on Southern culture and politics “Like the Dew.”



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A Tory ghost on the Lower East Side

Last July on the Lower East Side of New York, I was draining the ice cubes of my second cocktail at Schiller’s Liquor Bar on Rivington Street when I fell into a trance. Rivington himself seemed conjured up from the vasty deep of history.

Time: July 1, 1802. Place: Hanover Square, New York

Rivington etchingGreetings, honored colleagues of the American press. I am James Rivington, or Jemmy Rivington to my friends. A “Judas” and a “servile wretch” to my old enemies. But that was a quarter century ago, during the tumultuous years of the American Revolution. I am an old man now, 78 years of age, and I have made my peace with God and my fellow man. I wish only to set the record straight on a few points of my character and my actions during those heady years when I published one of the finest newspapers in America.

I was born in London in 1724, an age when wit and fashion met in the coffeehouses and taverns, and everywhere, presses were cranking out magazines and books.

I grew up to learn the ways of a gentleman – which meant settling into my father’s business and enjoying life. Since my brother John was handling the family publishing business well after Father’s death in 1742, I eventually started another publishing shop with a partner named John Fletcher the playwright.

By temperament, I was a gambler. Many gentlemen are gamblers, but my love of gambling was inordinate. I lost as much as 10,000 pounds on one trotter at Newmarket! But then Fletcher and I made that much in profit publishing Smollett’s magnificent History of England. The life of a gambler is a life of sudden turns in the wind.

A favorable wind blew me out of England to seek my fortune in America in 1760. I landed in Philadelphia, set up a bookselling shop there, and tried my luck setting up similar businesses in Boston and New York. I helped devise a wonderful scheme for selling land in Maryland by a lottery. But this investment collapsed utterly, and I was left in ruin.

I started my New York print shop right here in Hanover Square in 1773 and launched my weekly newspaper, the New-York Gazetteer. It was a fine newspaper, lovely typography, the royal arms on the masthead, written in the King’s English, and a vital balance to the radical non-sense being printed up in Boston around this time. I printed all sides of the issues, “Open and uninfluenced,” “to please readers of all views and inclinations,” and I protected the identity of any author who wished to be protected. I had an astonishing circulation of 3,600.Rivington hung in effigy

Publishing the only major Tory newspaper, I decided to reach the widely dispersed readers of that political stripe. So to the name The New-York Gazetteer I added or the Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser. I even considered adding “West Indies,” but it wouldn’t fit on the masthead.

Well, 1775 proved quite a tumultuous year. The more I sought to give a calm, balanced account, the more the so-called Patriots attacked me. A mob from New Jersey hung me in effigy. To show my contempt for this insolence, I printed a woodcut of myself hanging from that same tree, well-dressed and bewigged, as always.

Then came that thug “King” Sears, a leader in New Haven of one of those so-called Sons of Liberty gangs. He led a rabble to come attack my press. Soon, I was under arrest, but was pardoned.

Now let me tell you another story. You will be astonished when I tell you that I helped General Washington win the War of Independence in 1781.

I returned to New York in 1777, when it was safely in the hands of the British Crown. General Washington had been ignominiously routed. The Crown promised me 100 pounds a year to be the official newspaper of the royal government here. I resumed my bookstore business and opened a coffee shop. The latter was very popular with the British officers, which made it an excellent place to gather the freshest news for my paper. This also made it a perfect place to gather intelligence for the Patriot cause. Yes, that’s right. I was engaged in espionage for the other side.

By 1779, I could see which way the Fates were tending. I was a gambling man and I bet on your great country.

I knew Washington, and his spies knew me.

In 1783, Washington entered New York in triumph. The British soldiers had withdrawn, and virtually all Tories had fled to Canada or back to England. Except me. Now why do you think I was protected? And why do you think Washington came straight to visit me in my bookshop? I took the general into a back room, telling him I had an important agricultural book on order for his plantation work in Virginia. The door was slightly ajar, and two of Washington’s aides heard the clinking of two heavy purses of gold being placed on the table. That was my payment. I took it, only because I was in terrible debt. The Crown had failed to pay me what it promised.

Call it the fair settling of accounts between gentlemen, for a gamble that won the day.

I am again in poverty. My paper and other businesses failed. I was in debtor’s prison a few years ago. But I am a loyal American, and will remain so until I die. In fact, I will make one more bet – and that is that I will expire in three days, on the exact day of this country’s glorious statement of independence, July 4. Then you will know, that I was a true blue American, and a damn good bettor.

I finished a scrumptious dessert and drifted out onto Rivington Street. Schiller’s Liquor Bar closed down the following month, victim of rising rents in the most economically stratified neighborhood in Manhattan.

[published in “Clio Among the Media,” the quarterly newsletter of the History Division of the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, spring 2018.]

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Southern Crescent

Yes I guess the gate of heaven
is everywhere.
But you had to see on your cellphone
in the dark
that the train would be two hours late
turning us three back home
at exactly the right moment so that
from your side
of the turned-around car you saw
that shooting star.

Thank you, whoever made the train late,
and made the sun rise later
throwing winter light on your image
in my rear-view mirror:
The face of an angel and the bare patch
from radiation
showing a crescent scar, gateway
to consciousness.
And out there, a celestial ocean of cloud filling
the Shenandoah Valley

hilltops popping out like islands
in a bay.

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How to change the “Confederate” name of a church

Confederate symbols in churches, especially Episcopal churches in Virginia and the National Cathedral in Washington D.C., have followed a pattern of controversy parallel to, but distinct from, the civic battles over their removal from public spaces.

Lee's church -- finally! copyIn Episcopal churches directly associated with Robert E. Lee, the controversy has been a deeply emotional, semi-private clash of sensibilities, one side claiming to respect the sacredness of history and the other, the history of sacredness.

It has been, under the surface, a re-litigating of Lee’s terms of surrender at Appomattox.

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond is the church Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended during the Civil War. Five months after the mass shooting in a black church in Charleston by a neo-Confederate waif in June 2015, the church began removing images of the Confederate flag from kneelers, bookplates and plaques. “This decision is completely asinine,” one reader commented online in the Times-Dispatch. “These are monuments to the dead and have a deep and direct connection to the history of this building. Burning books and removing historical markers will not help you resolve your juvenile white guilt, self-hatred, or racism.”

The rector of St. Paul’s, the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, resigned on Sept. 15 amid speculation that the church’s embrace of Presiding Bishop Michael C. Curry’s call for racial reconciliation had played a part. St. Paul’s own commitment to the national project is called History and Reconciliation Initiative (HRI), which some felt was somehow behind Adams-Riley’s resignation. A statement from the vestry refuted these rumors.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the vestry said. “HRI is the most vibrant and energized project St. Paul’s has undertaken in many years. This work is a mandate of the Presiding Bishop and was Wallace’s gift to the church, and we intend to live it forward fully, without reservation.”

Meanwhile, at Christ Church, Alexandria, a 1773 Episcopal parish that claims George Washington and the Lee family as former worshippers, a relatively new rector was pushing for the removal of heavy memorial plaques to Lee and Washington on either side of the altar, both donated by parishioners after Lee’s death in 1870. The Rev. Noelle York-Simmons, suggesting the church needed to be “radically welcoming,” had run into resistance. “The discussion about the appropriateness of the plaques in our worship space caused friction in our parish family,” said an Oct. 26 letter signed by York-Simmons and the vestry. “We understand that the discernment process has felt confusing and exclusive. We hope all parishioners will be more fully involved as we move forward.”

In Lexington, Va., the friction began for R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in 2015 after the Charleston shooting. A parishioner who teaches Shakespeare at Washington and Lee University next door wrote a letter to the rector, the Rev. Tom Crittenden, and the senior and junior wardens calling for a “frank, Christ-centered discussion about the name.”

Father Crittenden believed that compromise was possible, with enough love and forbearance. It turned out to be a far more difficult and costly belief than anyone imagined. But in the end, he was right.

I was on the vestry of the parish for all three years of the controversy.  On Sept. 18, 2017, my final year, I voted with a bare majority 7-5 to change the name to Grace Episcopal Church.

To me, it felt like a miracle, considering how unbending the resistance had been since 2015 among some lay leaders and how empty the church’s youth program had become because of the alienation of younger families. The defense of Lee’s memorial name, which would have mortified Lee the traditional churchman, had become a gothic battlement against the shifting cultural winds.

“Grace” seems the right word, a return to what it was called in the 19th century when Lee was senior warden after he joined the church in 1865. (“Memorial” was added after he died in 1870; it became R.E. Lee Memorial in 1903).

In 2015, Father Crittenden did not try to stop the issue at the church door. But neither did he push toward a foregone conclusion. He summoned a special vestry meeting. He helped organize house meetings and parish meetings for well-run discussions. Instead of a vote, there was a survey. Nearly a third of the congregation felt there was something wrong with the name, from a Christian perspective.

Despite all of this effort at dialog – or maybe because of it – most members were unhappy with the process. Although the vestry had imposed a super-majority requirement on itself for such an upending change (falling one vote short, 9-6, in November that year), neither side felt that the vote settled anything. The church ended the year in a dark funk.

In the face of a fractured church that one vestry member compared to our national political discourse, the rector sought outside help that turned out to be based on radical peacebuilding techniques from the pacifist Mennonite branch of Christianity.

Cooperative by Design, LLC, is a consortium of “peacebuilding practitioners,” most of whom have connections with Eastern Mennonite University, an hour northeast of Lexington in Harrisonburg. Father Crittenden researched the group and, with the vestry’s approval, invited two of its consultants (one an Episcopal priest) to the vestry retreat in January 2016. Two things were memorable about their visit to that retreat: A technique of giving an individual the power to speak while others listened and secondly, the idea that conflict was not something to be “resolved” but was a kind of energy that could be used for “transformation.”

Such conflict-transformation was to come from recommendations by a group of six parishioners who would experience that transformation themselves. It would be expensive: The original contract was for up to $12,000, but the work took more time and effort than the consultants had planned on. In the end, Cooperative by Design submitted bills totaling more than $16,000.

It was hard, wrenching work for the six on the committee. They all said as much, although they were reluctant to speak as individuals about the experience. After nine months of two-hour meetings every two weeks, plus leading about a dozen focus groups with more than 100 parishioners, this “Discovery and Discernment Committee” formed a bond of confidentiality: No grandstanding. When they submitted their final 15-page report in April, they seemed to me like castaways rescued from an island after a powerful common experience.

Father Crittenden was seeking healing and reconciliation, so did not put a limit on where God might lead the committee. But even he did not expect the committee to come back with a recommendation to change the name, or that it would cost him his job. When they first came, the consultants had insisted that the name-change was only a symptom, a “presenting” issue of conflict underneath. What the underlying issue or issues might be was anybody’s guess.

Robert E. Lee as symbol, a symbol generations of white Southerners invested with almost Christ-like qualities (as historian Emory M. Thomas has noted), has been hard on the rectors of Lee’s churches. The reason Father Crittenden resigned after it was all over is complicated, and in some ways, inexplicable. A steady, patient, gifted man, Father Crittenden announced his resignation after 10 years at R.E. Lee Memorial, and three and a half weeks after the name change.

In one of his last sermons, he called the D&D report our “John the Baptist moment.”

To many parishioners, it seems he was chewed up unfairly by the name-change controversy. He was faithful to a middle way, a way that worked beautifully for him in his previous parish in Tallahassee. There, his church flourished and weathered liberal-conservative battles over doctrine that had caused six other Episcopal churches to split or close down.

In the fullness of time, it was his middle way that changed the name from R.E. Lee to Grace. The Discovery and Discernment Committee had found “identity” as an underlying issue. The answer to that identity could not be a stark binary choice, dividing “winners” and “losers.” It had to be compromise. The committee’s recommendation was to restore the historical name of Grace, but also create a subcommittee “to honor Lee and the history of this parish in meaningful and significant ways.”

It took the vestry five months to accept that compromise, and even then, it was with a close, bitter vote. But the D&D committee’s recommendation became the map. No more argument was needed. Now a sign hangs out front for “Grace Episcopal Church, 1840,” and a history committee I chair, dominated by church members who opposed the name change, is discussing an interpretive sign for the front of the Parish Hall with brief sketches of famous people who worshipped in the church. That would include Lee, of course, but also could include Jonathan Daniels, a former VMI cadet who was martyred in Alabama in 1965 while helping register blacks to vote.

Father Crittenden’s farewell sermon was on All Saints Sunday. He said that he prays we will continue to implement the Discovery and Discernment Committee’s recommendations — “all of them,” he added. “Last April, the vestry ‘tabled’ some of the recommendations. People of God, we don’t, we can’t table the work of the Holy Spirit!”


This ran as an opinion column on Religion News Service.


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