". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Midwest -- Part 2, In Which My Personal History Shows Up

        . . .  Wednesday began with yet another 6 AM call – off to Madison.

 During the drive I read the entirety of the chapter that follows the Chattanooga campaign, which describes Grant receiving the revived rank of lieutenant general,previously held only by General Washington. This chapter further describes Grant's reorganization of the armies as General in Chief, most particularly the Army of the Potomac, which he took over personally in the field.  This in preparation for the Union campaigns of 1864, which Grant will initiate for himself as battlefield commander with what we now call the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania -- the following chapters, which both of us have been too spent to read yet. Maybe we'll get started tonight after family dinner, etc.

While both of us have done a great deal of study and research into what made slavery, secession, the War of Rebellion, the politics and economics, etc., neither of us have been much interested in the armies and the battles of the war.  For one thing, we agree neither of us had enough information yet to think productively about the military aspects of the war until quite recently. Living on the Chesapeake, and getting deep into the War of 1812 began the process of us getting some comprehension to comprehend battles and wars in the first place.  Though we think this process for us actually began with the Slave Revolution of Haiti, New Orleans and Napoleon and slavery, to which our War of 1812 is deeply connected.


We arrived at the Hampton Inn in Madison barely two hours before the 6 PM University of Wisconsin’s gig, and to which gig, due to Madison’s rush hour traffic, we arrived a bit late.  Entering the amphitheater, checking the microphones  I got a huge surprise. A youngish woman puts herself in front of me and stands there.

Stands there.


For . . .  .


It's another niece, the daughter of my dad's second wife's second daughter, mother of four children and always a go-getter, and always determined to make this weird,  poorly blended family accept her as a part of it. I blame my mother for her condition. Mom had a lot of the raising of her, did not treat her well, or respect her -- visiting the sins and character of this niece's mother -- who HATED my mother, and my mother hated her, and they were at WAR -- upon the daughter-child (Mom did not treat the other children of this step-daughter that way, raising them also -- but they were -- BOYS) as only my mother could.

How this niece found out where to go, and why she came -- this woman ought to be an historian herself, or even a private detective. Her tenacity and determination know no bounds.

It's a long and complicated story, but she may be the one person in this family who is actually and actively proud that we are her "aunt and uncle."

This, in combination with being back in Madison, where I was at school for nearly three years, is a place so far distant yet so formative in my own past, in which nothing is the same, all changed, re-located, disappeared, re-named, and become an enormous corporate campus - shopping mall -- stirred up all kinds of feelings and memories I'd rather have stayed drowned at the bottom of my psyche.

And so so we did the gig, and so exhausted that we did our best, but we weren't performing at our best. This didn't seem to matter to this audience of professors and scholars of African, Caribbean and African American studies and history.  This makes for a very different group – and even presentation by us – than a bookstore filled with predominately African American, well-educated activists, who, moreover, mostly have known each other for years.  It went well, and, even, unusually at an academic venue, where we get paid, some books were bought by the attendees.  The best part though, was that both niece and her friend were gob -smacked.  This was all brand new to them, and they found it fascinating.  It's pretty interesting that this niece is the only person in my entire family now has been present at something we do . . .  she's proud of that.

As the dept. chair who brought us to the U of Wisconsin was having us to his home for a sit-down, home-made dinner with other guests, it wasn’t right to invite two strangers along.  I felt badly sending off my niece (a very different kind of niece than the one whose wedding has made all this driving happen in the first place) and her friend, back to their own conference on nutrition, Menomonee Falls, that they’d driven over from North Dakota to attend. Which is why niece was able to come to Madison – but that was a two-hour drive for them.  As stated, she was determined to see us.  Maybe . . . this was a way in which to insert herself into the Other Niece’s wedding, to which she hadn’t been invited, though her grandmother (Dad’s second wife) and some of her other aunts and cousins had been?  I could tell she felt hurt by this.  Yah.  Family dysfunction already present.


By Madison I was physically wrecked from far too many hours of driving, as well as exhausted from far too little sleep.  So when we arrived in Rockford yesterday afternoon, there wasn’t much left. Thankfully it is a short drive from Madison to Rockford. Nor had we eaten.

We ate at a Golden Corral! Blessed the city that has Golden Corral. Their salad greens and other choices to make salads from are always so fresh and there's such a variety. We love the Golden Corral, even when, like me tonight, there's not much appetite there. Something will always appeal that is right for how one's feeling.

I love how now every town and small city can have these available at a moment's notice for even the most casual traveler. It makes my traveling so much more interesting and fun. The whole country is filled with small cities like this, all of whom existed for a good  reason -- and have managed to continue existing for good reasons. As soon as one looks at their past one gets sucked in -- it's all so fascinating, and really tells the story of the U.S. from so many angles.

Rock River is what gives Rockford its name. It was on the original portage route for furs etc. to the Ohio, presumably, on the way to the Mississippi. Then, later, with the Erie Canal to the canal a town was founded, and with Chicago, the goods and commodities could go directly to the railways -- instead of as in the fur days, down to New Orleans. "Our people," the scands, didn't show up until after the Civil War.

After we ate, we went down to the Historic River District that every town has now, and, like every town now, it was filled with Friday night fun-seekers. So we walked about and looked at the re-purposed into brew pubs old architecture and so on. Enjoyed the big sky, but not the emerging mosquitoes. Plus not feeling very well and being exhausted, we came back here.  I was such a wreck, I canceled relatives and went to bed at 9 PM, slept until after 8 AM (DCST).

Gotta say – the weather’s beautiful – perfect for a wedding weekend.  I have even painted my nails in honor of it all.

The Midwest - Part 1

     . . . Here we are, in an Hampton Inn room in Illinois on a Saturday morning, listening to a draft of the music Donald Harrison is composing for the Symphony Space Slave Coast performance.

A friend hand-delivered the script to him at a jazz venue in NYC two nights ago. This morning one of those internet 'drop box' things for which Ned has accounts had some music in it already.

We're reading from the script, not the book, on this leg of Slave Coast tour -- and saying so before we begin. So this is particularly hair-raising (in a good way) for audiences interested in these matters. I'm presuming the news of this Symphony Space thing with Donald Harrison as music composer will be particularly of interest to the Chicago audience.

We’re currently in family and wedding mode, which means, since we’re wedding guests, not of the wedding party, we are getting some necessary r&r.  The days prior, and even before leaving, were grueling, and they took their toll, even with all the incredible, positive energy – feedback we have received.


Arose at 6 AM on Tuesday; headed out finally for the Holland Tunnel about 11 AM. (Among errands that had to be run before leaving included the copy shop to make copies of the Slave Coast script for Donald.)

Delaware Water Gap Scenic Overlook

Once we got out of Jersey City and Chris Christie’s gangland fiefdom, the drive got enjoyble. The Pennsylvania landscape of beautiful, for one thing.  For another, when one knows a lot about our national history and literature, even on interstates and turnpikes just the names on the signage bring up hosts of interesting subjects to think and talk about -- the past ghosts along with us in that car. Pennsylvania – colonial history, the War of Independence, the War of the Rebellion, coal, politics, art, religion.  Among other eras of U.S.history, Michigan's part of significant War of 1812 territory on the other geographical side of the war as conducted on the Chesapeake and in the South.

As well on that 13-hour drive I read aloud the entire Chattanooga campaign chapter over a couple - three hundred miles, from  our current read-aloud book, Grant (2001) by Jean Edward Smith, the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University (Toronto).  This stuff is exciting, since the author concentrates on the armies and the military campaigns, not the people of the places that are affected and suffer. Unfortunately though Smith does quote without question from Shelby Foote.

Foote's popular history of the War of Rebellion, The Civil War: A Narrative, reads like a novel.  This is because he is a novelist, not an historian. Thus he makes shit up, yet the publisher still catergorizes it as history. Why is this accepted?

Like the novelist Foote was, he has these historical figures say what he thinks they should say – or wants them to say. Those of us who know more about these figures know Foote is making up these words, but those who don't read deeply in primary historical sources take Foote’s books as gospel truth. Thus, at the run-up to the Chattanooga campaign Grant says he doesn't care about slavery and is anti-emancipation, for instance -- while later, Lee states he's anti-slavery and pro-emancipation. These men speak these words ONLY because Foote made them speak these words.  Foote should never be called an historian, and should never be used as a citation. He's a southern story-teller which is a very different thing.


Before these mansions were built in 1891, the land was owned by a man who experimented with developing better seeds for vegetables and fruits.

At 11 PM we gratefully got into our rooms (they gave us a suite) in The Inn on Ferry Street, situated in a set of the historical Detroit (founded 1701 out of the fur trade) homes erected by Gilded Age Michigan lumber barons, land developers, shipping tycoons, etc.  As an example, think of the Grand Rapids, MI, lumber millionaire in Gene Stratton Porter’s novel Freckles (1904), and Freckles himself in Girl of the Limberlost, busy denuding Indiana’s Limberlost Swamp of every valuable tree his crew can find, and destroying the rest of the swamp environment, trees and creatures as collateral damage – not that the novels mention this aspect. 

Lights out by 11:30. Had another 6 AM call on Wednesday to be breakfasted, showered and caffinated before arriving for the radio station call of 8:45 AM for the 9 AM start of Stephen Henderson's talk and call-in show. It can be heard here.

The radio program was followed by a long tour of Detroit, past and present, by a deeply knowledgable resident, who happened to be instrumental in getting us to Detroit. He even wrote another piece on Slave Coast for Alternet that went up the same day.  I took lots of notes.

He concluded the tour by taking us to his and wife's home for lunch. The other lunch guests made for an excellent mix of company – male, female, black white – in about equal numbers, everyone local, and the artists, local yes, but with national and international careers. The hosts had some Slave Coasts available for sale for the convenience of the guests who weren't able to come to the bookstore for the evening event. These people, professional activists and organizers for years, think of everything.

These kinds of gatherings make one believe that history really matters, and not just to ones self. several of Detroit's local heads, including the director of the African American Museum.  They did all this despite leaving town themselves very early the next morning. And these were only two of the wonderful people who did so much to make our Detroit visit such a success.

The call for the event at the Source, a community bookstore, was .for 6 PM.  Standing room only, many atending who had heard us on Stephen's show that morning, many of whom have known each other for many years, and who have been working together to not only save Detroit's African American and less wealthy communities from the Disaster Capitalists grabbing as much real estate as they can, but since what is called locally, the Rebellion of 1967.  Which bevels nicely into our argument, that from the perspective of African American history, the Was of Independence, the War of 1812, and particularly the War of Rebellion, whatever else they might have been, were also the great African American rebellions against the state sanctioned legal and economic systems created to keep them in a state of being 'merely' resource extraction.

After the reading, there was a long, interesting and productive q&a, which means we learned a great deal -- from people who have wisdom to impart.  We talked with people and signed books until the owner shooed everyone out about 10 PM.  Any place that had food that wasn’t covered with (phony) cheese, mayo, bacon, etc. was closed, as is the general thing in most places.  We wasted time looking for one before in desperation going into a local brew put and having burgers from which we tried to scrape off the other stuff, and salads, that could not be served with dressing and condiments on the side, and thus drowned in more fat and cholesterol, so not worth eating.

Back to the Inn and the showers -- another long drive ahead of us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Off Off & Away

Off in another hour for 10 days in the Midwest,  Currently listening to the Detroit radio station where we'll be talking for an hour tomorrow morning.

The Midwest, where I've not been in years.

Normally we are in the yellow and red part, with occasional jaunts into the blue.

Stripped down itinerary, so far


9:00-10:00 a.m.: Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

Lunch with Frank Joyce 313 510 8941

6:00 p.m.: Source Booksellers, 4240 Cass Ave.


5:30 p.m.: Event: L140 Elvehjem at U Wis, 5:30pm-6:30pm

09/16-19 /2016

Wedding + Family

We will be visiting historic spots in our own downtime, including the house the good people of Galena, IL built for General Grant and Mrs. Grant.

The house Galena built for General and Mrs. Grant after the war.


7:30: event, Stony Island Arts Bank (6760 S. Stony Island Ave.)

Event listing here.


Time? location? event at IUPUC

afterward: leave Columbus, IN for Columbus, OH travel time: 3 hrs.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Labor Day

  . . . . We've finished the American Slave Coast at Symphony Space script.

El V's getting the script copied now, as I make dinner.   I also did all that Cuban sweat-soaked laundry.

Labor Day. We labor.

Fortunately, in a sense, storm Hermine swerved away from us.  Unfortunately this means no rain, rain which we desperately need.