Sunday, September 26, 2010

Charles Eagles Accepts Lillian Smith Book Award for 2010

The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss

From the time that the Southern Regional Council initiated the Lillian Smith Book Awards in 1968 until this year, only two have won the award twice. The first was acclaimed author and poet Alice Walker in 1973 and 1984. The second was civil rights activist and writer Constance Curry in 1996 and again last year for her work on Bob Zellner’s memoir. This year Dr. Charles Eagles becomes the third.

Dr. Eagles is the William F. Winter Professor of History at the University of Mississiippi. He first won the Lillian Smith Book Award in 1993 for Outside Agitator; John Daniels and the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. This year we lift up a new scholarly accomplishment, The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss.

Most with a basic familiarity with the events of the Civil Rights Movement know something of James Meredith’s admission to the University of Mississippi and the violence that followed, but never before has the story been recounted with such detail and in a manner that is as thoroughly grounded in its historical context. In reviewing the book, Gary Lavergne wrote that, to the extent that an institution can be an actor in a drama, Charles Eagles’ character development of Ole Miss is first rate. Dr. Eagles provides the most insightful characterization that we have of the controversial and enigmatic James Meredith. His coverage of Ross Barnett is so even-handed and so credible as to have the effect of making Governor Barnett seem even less sympathetic than if he had used hyperbole in describing him. Dr. Eagles has written a remarkable and unflinching history of the institution for which he works.

Charles Eagles on the Haley Barbour Controversy

In the summer of 2010, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was considered a serious contender for the Republican Presidential Nomination. He gave several interviews at that time as part of an effort to re-introduce himself to a national audience. In the course of those interviews, Governor Barbour attempted to distance himself from his State's segregationist past, noting among other things that he had even gone to "an integrated college."

As part of her effort to fact-check Governor Barbour, Rachel Maddow spoke with Charles Eagles, Professor of History at the University of Mississippi and, in one of her nightly broadcasts, she reported on her conversation with Professor Eagles.

Those who attended the 2010 Lillian Smith Book Awards Ceremony got a chance to hear directly from Professor Eagles. After accepting an award for his recent book "The Price of Defiance," Professor Eagles was asked to share his thoughts about Governor Barbour's recent comments.

After noting that "he is my employer," Professor Eagles observed that Governor Barbour's view of his generation is "not the view of many people of that generation" and that he didn't think it would sell.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Amy Louise Wood Accepts Lillian Smith Book Award for 2010

The Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book presented a 2010 Lillian Smith Book Award to Amy Louise Wood, author of Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890 - 1940.

Between 1880 and 1940, more than 3,000 African Americans were lynched in the U.S., often in very public displays of torture and suffering. Amy Louise Wood is not the first to document these atrocities, but in her book, "Lynching and Spectacle," she gives us an entirely new perspective on this difficult and horrific subject.

Dr. Wood places lynching within the “larger culture of spectacle” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which arose out of other highly public events such as executions and religious gatherings. Depictions of lynching in the emerging medium of the motion picture and via widely distributed still photography made it an intensely public activity. These popular visual representations of lynching initially promoted the crime, but ultimately contributed to its decline. The overall effect of Lynching and Spectacle is to portray a region and a nation engaged in a painful and often brutal transition to modernity.

In his review of Lynching and Spectacle, Guy Lancaster calls the book “phenomenal.” Michael Pfeifer asserts that it should be read by “all who are interested in the cultural relations of lynching.” For J. Vincent Lowry, Wood “helps us better understand why the freedom struggle took so long.”

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Remembering Ron Walters

Ron Walters - A Scholar and a Gentle Man

By Jualianne Malveaux

Ron Walters was a gentle man. Yes, he was brilliant, insightful, a political genius with a passionate love for African American people and for our advancement. But he was also gentle and kind in a way that many with genius are not. He balanced life skillfully, caring for issues, but also for people. He was my friend, sometime my partner in activism. I will miss him.

Indeed, I cannot adequately express my disbelief upon learning of his death. He was sick, and in these last months, even frail. We were together when Dr. Ron Daniels convened a Capital Hill meeting of the Shirley Chisholm Commission on Presidential Accountability, a group on which Ron Walters and I both served. He came in, looking a bit thinner than usual, with a voice softer than usual, and when I voiced concern, he said he had been ill. While there was evidence of illness in his physical countenance, there was none in his spoken presentation. Indeed, he was awesomely incisive in raising questions about issues of accountability and questions that must be raised to judge the Obama Administration. Always fair, he was also clear that the Chisholm Commission was not about holding this administration to a harsher standard than any other. Indeed, he was clear that accountability is something that is to be expected of any leader.

On Saturday morning, at the National Council of Negro Women prayer breakfast, the gathering was abuzz with news of Ron’s Friday evening death, voices somber and shaken at the magnitude of our loss. We have lost a phenomenal analyst, a caring advocate, an inspirational mentor, and a dazzling teacher. Ron Walters was not only a leader; he was an adviser of leaders. His relationship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 campaigns he played pivotal roles in, is an example of the groundbreaking work he has done, both as a political scientist and as a political activist. At the NCNW breakfast, someone asked how long I’d known Ron Walters. After some reflection, I had to reply that I simply didn’t know.

I do remember a call from him, though, back in 1984. We didn’t know each other well, then. I was a professor in San Francisco and had been involved in the Jackson campaign. He was one of the campaign leaders and keeping things together. One of the San Francisco radio stations had asked that a Jackson, Mondale, and Hart representative do a morning conversation each day during the convention about its happenings. Ron Walters asked me if I’d speak for Rev. Jackson and I, of course, enthusiastically agreed. I’m as volatile as Ron is calm, so after my first radio appearance I got some coaching on how to “tone it down”. The coaching was offered so gently that it had to be considered. I still chuckle at the memory.

We worked together, again, during the 1988 Jackson campaign. I’m not sure what all Ron Walters had me doing, but I remember both writing about the convention and running from one meeting to another to be helpful to the campaign. Our paths continued to criss cross over the years, more so when I moved to Washington in 1994 and we saw each other more frequently. We presented on panels together, worked on causes together, and sometimes connected just because each of us needed to bounce ideas off a like-minded colleague. Whether we spoke one on one or in a group, my recollection is that Ron had plenty to say and was measured in how he said it. Again, the word “gentle” comes to mind.

Our gentle friend left a legacy of excellent and thorough political analysis. He was more than a political analyst and teacher, though. He was the “scholar activist” that WEB DuBois so often spoke of, the person who takes information and data and uses it to empower a people. Ron Walters was not about the bloodless political analysis that manipulated numbers to come up with results. Nor was he about the passionate pronouncements some pundits offer that often come out of nowhere. Instead, he balanced the two with gentle grace. He cared about black people, about inequality and injustice. He cared about historically black colleges and universities. (A graduate of Fisk University, he spent much of his career at Howard University. When we last spoke, he was considering an invite to come to speak at Bennett College for Women in the spring). We will miss his gentle caring. We will miss a gentle man. And we are so very aware of how blessed the African American community has been to have him with us for the 72 years of his amazing life.


Former Southern Regional Council Board Member Ron Walters - who served as director of the African American Leadership Institute and Scholar Practitioner Program and Distinguished Leadership Scholar at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership, and respected professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland - passed away on September 10, 2010.


Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author and commentator and the fifteenth President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. She can be reached at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Remembering the 2010 Lillian Smith Book Award Ceremony

From "Bill's Book Blog" by the Georgia Center for the Book

Lillian Smith was one of Georgia’s most distinguished — and certainly controversial — writers. Sh e was white, liberal and outspoken about racial issues at a time, in the 1930s and 40s, when her native region remained in the tight grip of Jim Crow laws. She boldly and insistently called for an end to segregation. And her 1944 novel “Strange Fruit” focused on illicit interracial love.

In 1966, shortly after her death when the South struggled with the desegregation effort, the Southern Regional Council created a book award in her name: the Lillian Smith Award would recognize books of outstanding accomplishment, whether for literary merit or moral vision, that honestly examined the people, promises and problems of the South. Since then, more than 50 books have been honored with a Lillian Smith Award, and among the authors are Eudora Welty, John Egerton, Natasha Trethewey, Anthony Grooms, Peter Taylor, Will Campbell and C. Vann Woodward.

The Southern Regional Council now shares the administration of the Lillian Smith Award with the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Together, we honored this year’s winners at the AJC Decatur Book Festival over the Labor Day weekend.

Two books were chosen for the award this year. Charles W. Eagles, a long-time history professor at the University of Mississippi, was honored for his powerful, compelling book, “The Price of Defiance: James Meredith and the Integration of Ole Miss” (University of North Carolina Press). This is a definitive moment-by-moment account that traces in all its complexity ”James Meredith’s courage against the intransigent white racism of a university that surely knew better.” It is a significant, deeply researched narrative of the 1962 desegregation of Ole Miss that remains one of the landmark events in the struggle for African American equality and justice.

The other book recognized this year was “Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890-1940″ (University of North Carolina Press) written by Amy Louise Wood, who is assistant professor of history at Illinois State University. Utilizing an amazing number of resources, including early films and photographs, she writes insightfully about the culture of lynching and those who watched the brutal executions of more than 3,000 African Americans during that period. Her book is “an important contribution to our understanding of the American South and violence there” and demonstrates how beliefs in white superiority were reinforced by the spectacle of lynching.

Both of these books give lie to those who find history dry. While written by scholars and buttressed with careful research, they explore with riveting perspective events and people from our past whose lives and decisions have helped create our region, our nation. They reflect vividly on conversations about race in America we confront today, whether those conversations focus on President Obama or Dr. Laura. They are also reminders of the deep truths of William Faulkner’s words: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”