Annette Gordon_-_Reed, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy. Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1997. xxiii, 288 pages. $29.95.
The most controversial topic that biographers of Thomas Jefferson have to deal with is whether or not he had a long-term sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. Hemings had several children who reportedly resembled Jefferson, and one of them identified himself as Jefferson’s son. The assertion has figured conspicuously in studies of American slavery, race relations, historiography, and, of course, the life of Thomas Jefferson.
There is little evidence, and most of it is either hearsay or circumstantial evidence. Writers who disbelieve the assertion have relied chiefly on the hearsay evidence of Jefferson’s white descendants and on their own interpretations of Jefferson’s personality and character, which, they conclude, would have made it unlikely that he engaged in such a relationship with a female slave who was probably his dead wife’s half-sister. Believers have emphasized the circumstantial evidence and the reliability of the hearsay evidence of Jefferson’s neighbors and of his alleged black descendants.
Gordon-Reed examines the nature and reliability of the conflicting evidence and analyzes how the leading students of the controversy have evaluated it. An attorney by profession, the author applies rigorous standards to the evaluation—more rigorous than the standards that historians have applied, although they ought to have used the same criteria and skepticism. She subjects to withering cross-examination previous analyses and deductions in order to understand better how the different interpretations have come into being and how writers of biography, history, fiction, and film have used them. In the process, the principal biographers of Thomas Jefferson and several leading students of the controversy take some pretty hard knocks.
Gordon-Reed’s study is the most thorough and careful investigation yet published on this topic. For example, she thoughtfully appends several of the major texts of the hearsay evidence. The book sets an entirely new standard for examinations of the topic. It is persuasive. Previously skeptical readers may conclude that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had an emotional and physical relationship that lasted more than thirty years and produced at least six children.
—Reviewed by Brent Tarter
Tommy L. Bogger, Free Blacks in Norfolk, Virginia, 1790–1860: The Darker Side of Freedom. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997. xiii, 265 pp. $35.00.
This book opens with a city and its community of free African Americans anticipating greater economic prosperity and political freedom. Norfolk’s community of free blacks grew dramatically in the post-Revolutionary era. Free African Americans arrived from surrounding counties looking for new opportunities and community. Some whites, inspired by the rhetoric of the American Revolution, emancipated selected slaves. Most important, African Americans grasped their own freedom through buying themselves and family members.
In Norfolk, most of the free blacks reflected their sense of themselves as Virginians through their rejection of African colonization. Yet even during the flush of revolutionary zeal and growth, Norfolk’s African Americans faced considerable obstacles. In Bogger’s interpretation, the shadow of the Haitian Revolution and Gabriel’s attempted insurrection hung over the port town, prompting state legislation restricting the rights of free blacks and the eventual waning of the promise of the freedom.
The author develops a picture of the social and cultural institutions that supported community members throughout the antebellum era. Bogger examines free blacks’ employment, participation in the legal system, and family structure. Despite legal restrictions, free blacks asserted their rights in the city courts by bringing cases against whites, ranging from freedom suits to complaints for assault and battery. However, such legal activity declined after 1805 with the passage of restrictive legislation.
Bogger rightly insists on viewing Norfolk’s free blacks as shapers of their own destiny, but his overall narrative emphasizes what he calls "the darker side of freedom." The city’s stagnant economy intensified competition for scarce jobs, and white artisans squeezed free blacks out of occupations they had traditionally held. European immigrants were quite willing to take jobs previously reserved for free blacks and slaves. White elites, especially the city’s newspaper editors, increasingly accused free blacks of being dangerous to a slave society, and their verbal assaults no doubt spurred the physical violence against blacks that increased on Norfolk’s streets. In addition, in the 1850s legal restrictions against free blacks multiplied and enforcement stiffened.
Free blacks responded in many ways. Some people left Norfolk; as a consequence, the free black community had a two-to-one ratio of women to men. Others retaliated against their oppressors, sometimes through the selective use of arson. Bogger succeeds in showing black agency in this local study, but his larger story tells of the decline and marginalization of both Norfolk and its free black community before the Civil War.
—Reviewed by Gregg D. Kimball
Alonzo Johnson and Paul Jersild, eds., "Ain’t Gonna Lay My ’Ligion Down": African American Religion in the South. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996. 141 pp. $19.95.
This book comprises six essays generated by a 1993 conference on the history of African American religion that the Center on Religion in the South, a program of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina, assembled. One of the six essays features a subject with a specific Virginia connection, and two are written by Virginia scholars; all of them contribute new perspectives on a broad and many-faceted topic.
Alonzo Johnson, one of the two editors of the book, writes about the folk traditions of the "pray’s house spirit" among the Gullahs of South Carolina’s low country. Jon Michael Spencer, a professor at the University of Richmond, offers an intriguing thesis in his essay. "African rhythms give rise to recurrent dominant traits in all Afro-diasporan cultures," he writes. "These rhythms especially undergird and distinguish black music, which comprises the fundamental source of movement, momentum, and momentousness in black religious ritual."
William Courtland Johnson studies the common folk figure of the trickster as told through stories of Brer Rabbit, specifically that character’s "prominent position within the slaves’ spiritual tradition." In "Motherwit in Southern Religion: A Womanist Perspective," Jacqueline D. Carr-Hamilton, a professor of religion at Virginia Tech, explores womanist theology through African American literature, history, religion, and folklore. Stephen W. Angell looks at three African American preachers in South Carolina between 1840 and 1866. And wrapping up the volume, Sandy Dwayne Martin presents a biography of James Walker Hood (1831–1918), a leading minister who encouraged the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Virginia and other southern states.
"The character of African American culture, marked as it is by many forms of oppression," writes co-editor Paul Jersild in the epilogue, "has enabled this community to plumb the depths of the rich redemptive motifs of the Christian message in a truly remarkable way." He and Johnson have assembled a thoughtful and varied message of their own with "Ain’t Gonna Lay My ’Ligion Down."
—Reviewed by Julie A. Campbell
Mary A. DeCredico, Mary Boykin Chesnut: A Confederate Woman’s Life. Madison, Wisconsin: Madison House Publishers, Inc., 1996. xv, 176 pages. $28.95 (hardcover), $14.95 (softcover).
Mary Boykin Chesnut’s status as the wife of a South Carolina planter, politician, and military advisor to Jefferson Davis led her to Montgomery, Alabama, when the Confederate States of America came into being, and to Richmond, Virginia, during some of the most dramatic hours during the Civil War. Chesnut, well known during her lifetime as a result of her friendships with leading Southern families, became widely known in the twentieth century because of the publication of the journal that she kept during the Civil War. Unlike much of the previous scholarship on Chesnut, which focuses on the journal and her postwar career as a writer, DeCredico places book and career in the context of Chesnut’s entire life.
Before the war, Chesnut enjoyed an affluent existence as a member of two wealthy slave-holding families. Following the war, Chesnut had a very different life. She took another unusual step and became a translator in order to earn much-needed money for herself and her husband. The contrast between Chesnut’s pre-war and post-war lives is great, and DeCredico, who writes in an easy, lively style, uses that contrast to good advantage in explaining the major events in Chesnut’s life, how she came to write the famous diary, and how she gave it the form that she did.
—Reviewed by Brent Tarter
Matthew W. Norman, Colonel Burton’s Spiller & Burr Revolver: An Untimely Venture in Confederate Small-Arms Manufacturing. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1996. xii, 137 pp. $22.95.
Norman’s brief study—the body of the work is only 99 pages—is a straightforward account of the development of a single arms manufacturer in the Confederate States of America. The Spiller and Burr pistol factory operated under various names between 1861 and 1865, opening first in Richmond and later moving to Atlanta and finally Macon, Georgia. Virginians Edward N. Spiller and David J. Burr brought the necessary capital and entrepreneurial skill to the business, but, as the title of this study suggests, the author considers James H. Burton to be the true father of the enterprise.
Much of the book charts Burton’s considerable skill and occasional cantankerousness as one of the Confederacy’s foremost experts on arms manufacturing. Born of English parents in Jefferson County, Virginia, Burton rose from the rank of machinist to acting master armorer at the United States armory at Harper’s Ferry. Dismissed due to political infighting, Burton traveled to England and eventually became chief engineer of the Enfield Rifle factory, one of the premier weapons manufacturers of the day. Returning to his native Virginia in 1860 to assist in defensive preparations, Burton joined the Ordnance Department of the Confederate States of America in 1861. He was instrumental in setting up machinery captured from Harper’s Ferry in Richmond’s burgeoning arms industry. Burton soon decided to join the Spiller and Burr firm, designing a facility for the production of small arms.
While such preparations were underway, George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac came within miles of the city, and Confederate officials realized the danger of consolidating so much of their weapon-making potential in the capital. Accordingly, the Spiller and Burr operations moved to Atlanta in 1862. The factory moved from Atlanta to Macon in early 1864, when the principals sold the enterprise to the Confederate government, and the pistol factory became part of the newly constructed Confederate arsenal in that city.
The book documents in microcosm many of the larger problems of Confederate arms manufacturing and supply. Skilled workers were difficult to find and retain, raw materials hard to acquire, and the Confederate bureaucracy often slow-moving and inefficient. The biographical material Norman provides on artisans shows an itinerant work force moving frequently between arms-making facilities. Likewise, the disagreements between Burton, his partners, and the Ordnance Department reflect similar conflicts outlined in other studies of Confederate arms-makers.
—Reviewed by Gregg D. Kimball
William H. Turner, Chesapeake Boyhood: Memoirs of a Farm Boy. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. xvii, 234 pp. $14.95 (softcover).
Sculptor William H. Turner recounts the people and events of his childhood on the Eastern Shore of Virginia during the 1930s and 1940s. Each of the short chapters is a reminder of a rural community that no longer exists and a wildlife habitat in danger of disappearing. Life in Buzzards’ Glory and Belle Haven was seasonal; just about everyone had a subsistence farm with chickens and hogs.
Turner describes his childhood matter-of-factly, without analysis, historical context, or chronology. He remembers the variety of activities open to him and the people who impressed him. Hunting and fishing occupied much of his leisure, and Turner recounts the thrill of the chase as well as the moment when he stopped enjoying the killing of wildlife. He vividly describes his neighbors and hunting and fishing companions such as Mitt Bundick, a live animal trader; Johnny Wilkins, who worked in a garage with his brothers; his uncle Obadiah; and his friend Cabell Mapp. Humorous episodes reflect a child’s sense of humor—unsophisticated, sweet, and at times cruel. His encounter with R._H. Rockwell, a former taxidermist and sculptor who encouraged Turner to explore sculpture, and their trip to New York’s Roman Bronze Works, reinforces Turner’s dislike for urban places. When Turner’s parents moved to Newport News during World War II, Turner, who preferred country living, spent much of his time on the Eastern Shore with aunts and uncles.
A pleasant book that evokes memories of childhood with a minimum of fuss, Chesapeake Boyhood does not require intensive or uninterrupted concentration. It captures the fun of romping through the woods and wetlands before the onslaught of tourists, automobiles, and mechanized farming. The drawings, especially the one of Uncle Melvin carrying a raccoon down a tree, are straightforward and do not distract the reader.
—Reviewed by Barbara Batson
Alexander S. Leidholdt, Stand Before the Shouting Mob: Lenoir Chambers and Virginia’s Massive Resistance to Public-School Integration. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997. xii, 172 pp. $29.95.
In the fall of 1958, the nation focused its attention on Norfolk, Virginia’s largest metropolitan area. Home to the largest naval base in the world and headquarters for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, it was a bustling port city with an excellent natural harbor. However, Norfolk was in the spotlight for very different reasons. On 27 September 1958, Governor J. Lindsay Almond ordered Norfolk’s six white secondary schools closed rather than comply with Brown v. Board of Education. Schools in Charlottesville and Warren County were also shut down. Backed by Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr.’s powerful political machine, Almond literally locked nearly ten thousand city students out of their classrooms.
In Stand Before the Shouting Mob, Alexander Leidholdt examines the role of Lenoir Chambers—editor of the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot—in supporting the peaceful implementation of desegregation. In this slim volume, Leidholdt offers a biographical sketch of Chambers, a North Carolina native whose judicious influence enabled Norfolk to emerge from conflict without violence. The Virginian-Pilot’s stance placed it alone among the state’s white newspapers in arguing against extremism. In part because of Chambers’s editorials, Norfolk’s schools reopened after much debate, political wrangling, and judicial decisions, thereby paving the way for the peaceful collapse of resistance in Virginia. In 1960, Chambers won a Pulitzer Prize for his editorial campaign opposing massive resistance.
Leidholdt presents a compelling outline of an episode in Virginia history and illuminates the life of a man while placing him in the larger context of southern journalism. He also draws attention to the enormous practical problems caused by the school closings: of the 10,000 students displaced by resistance, only 6,400 returned when classrooms reopened on 2 February 1959. Nearly 2,000 had received no schooling at all while their homerooms were locked and dark. Other, more fortunate, students attended private school, were tutored at home or at church, or transferred to schools in other districts or states. Despite these measures, the closing ended the education of many students: some went to work, joined the military, married, or simply dropped out, drifting into delinquency and unemployment. Chambers agonized over the situation, criticizing the administration for putting their prejudices before the needs of thousands of students. "It remains now for the people of Virginia," he wrote, "to ask themselves whether this distinguished commonwealth means to go on with the tragedy of legislative pretense that in practice has been legislative injustice." Chambers saw no positive benefits, only "permanent impairment to thousands of Virginia children," from massive resistance.
Stand Before the Shouting Mob offers a solid introduction to the conflict, its resolution, and its political and social context. The volume is illustrated with photos of some of the players in the controversy and closes with a detailed bibliography and handy index. The battles that Chambers fought at the helm of the Virginian-Pilot are still in the relatively recent past—as a result, Leidholdt was able to interview some people who were involved. Their words tell the story: "The city was split wide open," recalled local politician Sam Barfield. Lenoir Chambers helped to put it back together, using the newspaper that arrived on doorsteps across the city every morning. Stand Before the Shouting Mob is important and sobering reading for students of Virginia and the South.
—Reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid
Chris Colston, Hokies Handbook: Stories, Stats and Stuff About Virginia Tech Football. Wichita, Kansas: The Wichita Eagle and Beacon Publishing Co., 1996. 160 pp. $9.95 (softcover).
If you were pleased when San Francisco drafted quarterback Jim Druckenmiller in the first round this year, you are a Hokie fan. If you hope that Druckenmiller does as well in the National Football League as Don Strock did, you are a good Hokie fan. If you suspect that Hunter Carpenter, whose last season was in 1905, could outplay them both, you are a great Hokie fan!
This is the book for any type of fan of Virginia Tech football, as well as for reference librarians who might be asked questions about the exact team colors (Chicago maroon and burnt orange) or which Tech player had the most 100-yard rushing games (Cyrus Lawrence, sixteen). This handbook is the work of Chris Colston, the former editor of the Hokie Huddler, a newsletter about Tech football, who claims to have attended 178 Tech games since 1971. The book covers pigskin matters in Blacksburg from the first game on 21 October 1992 to the school’s greatest victory, over the University of Texas in the Sugar Bowl after the superlative 1995 season.
Colston covers the first fifty years in a single chapter, closing with the 1950 squad that lost all its games and set a national record for the most kickoffs received (for non-fans—that is not good). From that nadir, the program slowly arose. Chapters recount the best anecdotes, the finest players, and the most exciting games. Coaches at Tech have tended to stick around, and such luminaries as Jerry Claiborne, Jimmy Sharpe, and Bill Dooley produced excellent teams. The current coach, Frank Beamer, and his highly regarded teams of recent years get most of the attention in the narrative. The game’s the thing here, and the book’s subtitle describes the contents well. For ordering information, call Midwest Sports Publications at (800) 492-4043.
—Reviewed by John T. Kneebone
Carol Burch-Brown and David Rigsbee, Trailers. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996. xiv, 93 pp. $16.95 (softcover).
Trailers is a visual and literary meditation on mobile homes in Montgomery County, Virginia, with photographs by Carol Burch-Brown, an associate professor of art at Virginia Tech, and an essay by writer David Rigsbee, a native of North Carolina. Burch-Brown’s forty-eight photographs, which she took in Montgomery County between 1983 and 1990, are of people now scattered and trailers now replaced by conventional apartment buildings.
The photographs offer glimpses of the confines of trailer-living as well as of manipulation of space. Trailers are wysiwyg—what you see is what you get. They are boxes with similar floor plans and similar furnishings. As the photographs show, within those limitations, however, collections of key chains, dolls, and photographs—the personal clutter of human lives—is symmetrically arranged. Where Rigsbee sees the use of framed photographs and prints of landscapes as attempts to negotiate the interior spaces of the trailer with the outside environment, Burch-Brown’s photographs also show an imaginative use of every surface for display of personal objects.
Burch-Brown presents the residents as straightforward, unpretentious people who choose to live in trailers. In her introduction, she warns readers not to look for narrative; rather, she imagines the photographs and the text as a conversation. Noting that trailers are often banished to the outer borders of a city or town and snubbed for their lack of aesthetic appeal, Rigsbee wryly points out that trailers also are dwellings of choice for vacationers and owners of mountain property who prefer not to disturb the view with a fixed-site house.
For Burch-Brown and Rigsbee, trailers are simply dwelling places different from traditional fixed-site houses. Lacking architectural features and tediously angular, trailers have given rise to a distinctive style of living that, for the authors, is viable and needs to be understood, not as a lifestyle to be snubbed or pushed out of view. Indeed, for Rigsbee, evoking Emerson, trailers may represent a "more authentic American house" because of their potential for mobility, although Rigsbee notes that trailers rarely move more than once.
—Reviewed by Barbara Batson
Mitchell Bowman and David Doody, Where Banners Flew: An Aerial View of Virginia’s History. Williamsburg, Virginia: StellaCorp Publishing, 1997. 87 pp. $26.00.
Author Mitchell Bowman and photographer David Doody join forces for this attractive volume, which opens and closes with a handsome view of Richmond, showcasing Jefferson’s classical Capitol, the turreted Old City Hall, and the art deco building of the second Library of Virginia, all nestled in greenery. Where Banners Flew creatively uses aerial photographs as living maps of Virginia history, arranging them chronologically in chapters named for wars: the book begins with early colonial conflicts, moves on to the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars, and covers the War of 1812 and the Civil War before concluding with more modern conflicts. Bowman here writes the history of Virginia almost solely by its military history, because the state was and is, in the author’s words, "a cornerstone in securing America’s hard-fought freedoms."
Doody’s striking pictures speak eloquently to Virginia’s past. Seen from the air, sites familiar to generations of Virginia schoolchildren seem new. In Hampton, star-shaped Fort Monroe, with the graceful Chamberlain Hotel nearby, sits squarely prepared to defend the coast; Confederate earthworks and entrenchments near Richmond, dusted with snow, outline a long-ago struggle for life and death; and a Federal cemetery, with its white gravestones arranged in stark, concentric circles on a green lawn, offers a sobering commentary on the human costs of war. Familiar sites like Jamestown, Carter’s Grove, and Monticello are nicely balanced with the less familiar, such as City Point, the ruins of the Chancellorsville Inn, and Green Spring.
With 78 four-color aerial photographs by Doody packed into 106 pages, Where Banners Flew makes for pleasant page-turning. Regretfully, the photographs are not always clearly identified in the accompanying captions, and neither they nor the text are indexed. However, Virginia’s natural beauty and historic past are here handily combined for our viewing pleasure.
—Reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid
Diane Asséo Griliches, Library: The Drama Within. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. xi, 132 pp. $35.00.
Two Virginia libraries appear in this volume, but what justifies this review is that the book is a beautiful and powerfully moving representation of libraries and the glorious things that go on within them. Diane Asséo Griliches is a photographer who bound her love for books and libraries into her art. She hit the road with a copy of the American Library Directory and her cameras. The results, all of them black_-_and_-_white photographs created using only the ambient light, will stir the soul of anyone who cares about libraries.
The nearly 100 images show some of the great libraries of the world, such as the reading room of the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Widener and Houghton libraries at Harvard University, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, and the central reading room of the Library of Congress. But the photos of other libraries are just as fine. Among them, Griliches pictures the "tiniest library I’ve ever seen" at Pembroke, in Giles County, and the Emma Yates Memorial Library, in Tazewell County. Some images focus on details—the curve of a chair back, the ornate wooden feet of an old card catalog, a unique window. Others show people using libraries—bright faces of youngsters, the preoccupied look of a scholar, and the sharp eyes of the elderly. The saddest image is that of the bombed-out interior of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, which Serbs destroyed with incendiary grenades about a year after Griliches photographed students walking down one of that library’s sun-swept stairways.
Each library image is accompanied by a paragraph explaining something of the circumstances behind the photograph. Griliches is a reader, too, and apt quotations from various authors also grace each photograph. The book is published in association with the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, which John Y. Cole, its director, described in the pages of this journal last year. As an introduction, the book reprints an essay by Daniel J. Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress, that became the genesis of the Center for the Book. Entitled "A Design for an Anytime, Do-It-Yourself, Energy-Free Communication Device," his essay eloquently makes the case for books and for libraries. This is a volume that every librarian should have on hand for the bad days, because the words and the images ennoble the profession.
—Reviewed by John T. Kneebone