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Gibbons House: A Story of Emancipation

Gibbons_House_Dedication_04_DA On June 12th, the University of Virginia held a special dedication at its newest residence hall, Gibbons House, named in honor of former slaves William and Isabella Gibbons for their contributions to the university and “their example of perseverance and accomplishment throughout their lives.” The dorm will house about 200 first-year students starting this August.

Remarking that it was his last official act as rector of the Board of Visitors, George Keith Martin—the first African-American person to hold that position—said of the Gibbons: “Their lives are examples of the power of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Slavery did not keep them from learning to read. With the freedom that emancipation brought, they sought out and pursed professional employment opportunities and continued their education.”

Kirt von Daacke, author of Freedom Has a Face: Race, Identity, and Community in Jefferson’s Virginia, served as co-chair of the commission with Dr. Marcus Martin, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity. As UVa Today reports, the two scholars “discussed the commission’s work as it involves related groups on Grounds and in the community, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the University and Community Action for Racial Equity, and as the commission prepares several educational activities.”

“This building represents an outstanding opportunity to educate many students and their families, staff and faculty and visitors about slavery and the contributions of the enslaved at the University for years to come,” Martin said.

Isabella became a teacher at the Freedman’s School—now the Jefferson School—and William became a minister at Charlottesville’s oldest black church, First Baptist, and several years later the Zion Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. When he died in June 1886, 10,000 mourners attended his funeral, the Washington Post reported in a front-page story.

The naming of Gibbons House is ‘one part of a broad, ongoing effort at U.Va.’ to investigate and propose ways to recognize the role of slavery in the University’s history, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said at the dedication.

In Freedom Has a Face, Von Daacke presents findings that argue against stereotypes of menacing free blacks that scholars have—until recently—taken as representative of white attitudes. Rather, he reveals the existence of a relatively easygoing interracial social order in Albemarle County from the Revolution to the mid-nineteenth century and beyond—despite fears engendered by Gabriel’s Conspiracy and the Haitian Revolution.

Posted in Featured, History and Political Science, Virginiana

‘Rock Creek Park’ Back to Press after IPPY Win

Melanie-Receives-Independent-Publishers'-Award   A Year in Rock Creek Park: The Wild, Wooded Heart of Washington, DC has received a 2015 Independent Publishers’ IPPY award—a silver medal for Mid-Atlantic nonfiction. The award was presented to author Melanie Choukas-Bradley at the Independent Publishers’ annual book awards ceremony on May 27th at the Historic Providence in New York City. A Year in Rock Creek Park is illustrated with 32 full-page photographs by award-winning photographer and author Susan Austin Roth. The book’s paperback edition has just gone into its second printing.

Reviewer Nancy Nye Hunt, author of Aldo Leopold’s Shack: Nina’s Story, wrote: “Evocative of Thoreau and grounded in Leopold’s land ethic, Melanie Choukas-Bradley in A Year in Rock Creek Park invites readers into an unexpected wilderness in the heart of Washington, DC. As a naturalist, her extensive knowledge and keen observations note seasonal changes, and the reader naturally falls in step, as if on one of her walks. Drawing on lessons learned from her deep connections to Rock Creek Park, she searches inwardly, reflecting on the interconnectedness of people and the land, realizing that our mutual well-being is dependent on the health of the land, which, in turn, is dependent on our responsible use. I have found another kindred spirit through this engaging book. ”

A Year in Rock Creek Park was launched at an Audubon Naturalist Society reception at the Woodend Mansion in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on December 11, 2014, to a standing-room only crowd. The author and photographer have given many book presentations in the Washington, DC area since that date, with more to come. On June 12th Ms. Choukas-Bradley will give a lecture titled “A Year in Rock Creek Park” at the U.S. Botanic Garden at the foot of Capitol Hill. Later this month, she will lead walking tours of Rock Creek Park for the Audubon Naturalist Society and Casey Trees. Other upcoming 2015 events will be sponsored by the Rock Creek Conservancy, the Cosmos Club, the Maryland and Virginia Native Plant Societies and many other organizations. A complete list of events can be found online.

Melanie Choukas-Bradley is author of City of Trees, which has been in continuous print in three separate editions since 1981. In 2014, she was awarded one of four inaugural “Canopy Awards” by Casey Trees for her efforts to educate people about the trees of Washington, DC. Ms. Choukas-Bradley is also author of two other highly acclaimed natural history books— Sugarloaf: The Mountain’s History, Geology, and Natural Lore and An Illustrated Guide to Eastern Woodland Wildflowers and Trees—and numerous articles. She teaches and leads field trips in the Washington, DC area for many organizations. Susan Austin Roth is the author and photographer of ten popular gardening books and was honored with three awards from the Garden Writers Association. She worked for seven years as a field editor and assignment photographer for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and her photographs appear regularly in books, national magazines, and calendars.

Posted in Environmental Studies, Featured, Virginiana

Archipedia Expands to N. Dakota

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We’re pleased to announce the addition of 409 building entries, illustrated by 424 photographs, from the just-published Buildings of North Dakota volume by Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay, with 100 of these freely accessible via SAH Archipedia Classic Buildings. This new content provides the first comprehensive overview of the state’s architecture, from the historic “prairie mosaic” of Native American cultures and European settlers to more contemporary sites dating from Progressive-era boom times and the New Deal to the present.

Posted in Art and Architecture, Press News, Rotunda

LISTEN: A Decent Interval

nixon-and-troops Despite agreement among Richard Nixon and his advisors by 1971 that the Vietnam War was a lost cause, the president took the advice of his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, and decided to leave American troops in Asia until he had won reelection. The inevitable fall of Saigon—so the thinking went—must not happen in an election year. And so thousands more American soldiers lost their lives in a military action that their president had lost faith in. This disturbing story is part of Ken Hughes‘ findings for his new book, Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection. There is, unfortunately, even more to the story.

A researcher at the Miller Center and an expert on the White House tapes (“Ken Hughes is one of America’s foremost experts on secret presidential recordings.”—Bob Woodward), Hughes explains how the decision to prolong American involvement in Vietnam to help ensure a second term for Nixon opened the door for a second, equally reprehensible, decision. If South Vietnam were to fall to the North too soon after American troops were finally removed, it might reflect badly on the president. Kissinger felt there needed to be a “decent interval” between these two events, and so he secretly met with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (along with the Soviet Union, China was one of the two largest suppliers of military aid to the North Vietnamese) to ask him to use his influence in Hanoi to delay an invasion of South Vietnam. What could Kissinger offer in return? A clear path to the South, with no American intervention. What would constitute a decent interval? Eighteen months, said Kissinger. Give us eighteen months.

The conversations surrounding these historic, largely secret, events are available on a dedicated web site as transcripts and audio files, so readers may hear for themselves. On October 6, 1972, months after Kissinger’s confidential meeting with Zhou, he and the president reflected on the inevitable fall of South Vietnam, which they had in effect set up. As Kissinger acknowledges, the deal they have negotiated would “collapse the South Vietnamese.” What are the odds Saigon will prevail? “I think there is one chance in four,” Kissinger admits. “Well” says Nixon, “if they’re that collapsible, maybe they just have to be collapsed. That’s another way to look at it, too.” You may listen to the entire conversation here.

Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection is available now.

Posted in History and Political Science, Main, Rotunda

LISTEN: “To Put It Brutally…”

NixononCambodia On this, the fortieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, the Vietnam War seems like a distant dream and America’s actions during that long tragedy are as inscrutable as ever. As early as 1971, one would have said President Nixon should remove American troops from Vietnam for political reasons alone. After all, nearly three-fourths of Americans favored a withdrawal. And yet, the troops remained. This would seem to jibe with the view, cultivated by Nixon himself, that he wanted to win the war but that Congress tied his hands. As Ken Hughes reveals in his latest book, however, Nixon and his advisors privately agreed the war could not be won.

In Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection, Hughes investigates many remarkable conversations from the Oval Office to show, among other revelations, how national security advisor Henry Kissinger convinced the president that maintaining a presence in Vietnam was in the best interest of his reelection hopes. Were South Vietnam to fall before the election, he reasoned, it could have a negative impact on the campaign. If this sounds like a paltry, not to say shocking, reason to persist in a war, you’ll understand the urgency of Hughes’ findings.

Nixon and Kissinger express their feelings about a withdrawal’s impact on the campaign quite openly in a conversation from March 19, 1971. You may listen to it, and read the full transcript, here. Nixon is negotiating for the release of POWs and considers the North Vietnamese demand of complete pull-out of American troops. Kissinger reminds the president that such a withdrawal would result in the “knocking over” of Saigon—that is, its untimely capture by the enemy.

Kissinger: Our problem is that if we get out after all the suffering we’ve gone through—
President Nixon: And then have it knocked over. Oh, I think—
Kissinger: We can’t have it knocked over—brutally—to put it brutally—before the election.
President Nixon: That’s right.

This view would prevail and guide the president’s course in his decisions on Vietnam. And so American involvement in the war continued, and thousands more lost their lives in what even the president privately agreed was a lost cause.

Like its predecessor, Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair, and the Origins of Watergate—a book the Washington Post called “the best account yet of Nixon’s devious interference with Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 Vietnam War negotiations”—Fatal Politics is based on Hughes’ unparalleled knowledge of the secret White House tapes and offers the most penetrating look yet at the inner workings of Nixon’s Oval Office.

For more of Ken Hughes on Nixon and Vietnam, read his current pieces for Salon and for the History News Network. Hughes will be appearing at the 92nd Street Y in  New York on Wednesday, May 7. Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, the Vietnam War, and the Casualties of Reelection is available now.

Posted in History and Political Science, Main, Rotunda

Meet Martha Washington

Martha_Washington_1 Although she famously burned all but two of the letters from her husband George, Martha Custis Washington amassed a correspondence that is sizable, articulate, and—as it reached out to numerous people in Virginia and beyond—a fascinating window on colonial America and the post-Revolutionary republic. As the Washington Post reports, Martha’s letters will now be added to the ongoing Papers of George Washington project. The University of Virginia Press will publish the letterpress editions, and the content will ultimately go into the digital edition of the Washington Papers, published by our electronic imprint, Rotunda.

The letters will reveal a shrewd and engaged woman who, owing to her husband’s frequent absences, was often the true head of the complex operation that was Mount Vernon. Martha had one of the largest personal fortunes in Virginia, and her wealth played a crucial role in the estate’s many activities. Martha’s papers will be joined by those of other members of the Custis and Washington families, as well as George Washington’s Barbados Diary, which covers his sole trip outside of America and which historians have long needed an accessible edition of. UVA Today has published an excellent overview of this exciting new addition to the Washington Papers.

Posted in History and Political Science, Press News, Rotunda

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