A lesson in racial profiling and historical relevance

people at meeting

Don Denard is hugged by supporters as he arrives at the Decatur City Commission meeting, February 18, 2014. Photo by author

In December 2013, an African American man was detained by Decatur, Georgia, police after he was seen leaving his home. An officer issued a suspicious person alert based on the “reasonable articulable suspicion” premise–the legal basis for many states’ “stop and frisk” laws.

Don Denard has lived in the Decatur home he was seen leaving since 1987. He is a former school board member and an active participant in Decatur’s civic life. Yet on December 15, 2013, he was just another black man walking in a community that is becoming steadily whiter and wealthier and where all such men are regarded, as Denard says, with the presumption of guilt. Continue reading

Rethinking a local historic site

Long Branch’s fields once produced vast quantities of wheat. Today, these fields are home to a herd of retired horses.

Long Branch’s fields once produced vast quantities of wheat. Today, these fields are home to a herd of retired horses. Photo credit: Cassie Ward

Every day I am asked, “You’re a public historian–what the heck is that and what do you do all day?” I smile from ear to ear, climb on top of my soapbox, and begin to talk about how fortunate I feel to have turned my love of history into a challenging and fulfilling career.  I then begin to talk about the many great triumphs and challenges that I have experienced in my new position as the Director of Public Programs at Long Branch Plantation, a local Virginia historic site, located a little over an hour from Washington, DC.  Long Branch, nestled in the shadow of the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains, preserves an over 200-year-old stately plantation home and nearly 400 acres of rural Virginia land.

In February 2013, I joined the small staff at Long Branch with the full understanding that the historic site was in the middle of a major year of transition and reorganization. While the site had operated as a museum for the past 20 years, the home’s furnishings and tours represented only a small chapter of Long Branch’s 200-year history–that of the last owner, Harry Z. Isaacs, the successful Baltimore textile executive who had performed a massive updating of the home in the 1980s.  Isaacs purchased Long Branch with the intent of making it his full-time residence; sadly, however, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and did not have the opportunity to live at Long Branch full time.  Upon his death, Isaacs left Long Branch and a portion of his estate to a foundation he created to keep Long Branch open to the public for the community’s benefit and enjoyment. Continue reading

Collecting Guantánamo Public Memory

Editor’s Note: This piece continues a series of posts related to the Guantánamo Public Memory Project, a collaboration of public history programs across the country to raise awareness of the long history of the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay and foster dialogue on its future.  For an introduction to the series, please see this piece by the Project’s director, Liz Ševčenko.

Soccer Ball

Outdoor cages at the detention center, 2006, courtesy of Christopher Sims

When I began working as a researcher with the Guantánamo Public Memory Project (GPMP) in 2011, I knew very little about the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay (GTMO) and its uses prior to 9/11. Tasked with compiling resources for university teams across the country to use in the production of their exhibit panels, I commenced an unconventional “tour” of GTMO’s long history through the countless images, manuscripts, and other objects donated by individuals with experience on the base.

Today, as we work to build GPMP’s archives on the Digital Library of the Caribbean and at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library through its Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, information about new sides of the base continues to emerge.  In contrast, the GTMO I first learned about from the evening news remains mysterious and impenetrable, and many personal possessions are considered classified intelligence; they are certainly not yet public records of the past. But because the snapshot photographs, letters, and other personal artifacts included in the archives uniquely document the expansive range of lived experiences GTMO cultivated prior to 9/11, they play an important role in our efforts to understand it today and to envision its future. Continue reading

The meeting of two Marxists on the 40th anniversary of the Chilean coup

people around tables

A human rights workshop with university students at José Domingo Cañas (Photo: Yenny Aros). Read more about this site here.

I do not know how many of the learned people who follow this forum know that 40 years ago today the United States government—and to point political fingers at political figures: President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and CIA Director Richard Helms—actively and illegally supported a bloody military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government in Chile.  A lot, I suppose and hope.  But I feel compelled to write not only in order to gently remind History@Work’s audiences of the historical importance of this, but also to draw attention to the public history work that has happened to make it worthy of the international attention that it so rightly deserves—and receives. Continue reading