What’s in the December Issue of the Journal of American History?

January 6, 2023

The December issue of the Journal of American History is now available online and in print. Included are articles by Michael Magliari, Jonathan Lande, Sarah Phillips, and Nico Slate’s Editor’s Choice article, “Between Utopia and Jim Crow: The Highlander Folk School, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Racial Borders of the Summer Camp, 1956–1961.” The pieces cover topics ranging from legalized unfree indigenous labor in the Mexican Cession to Black Civil War deserters and gender, masculinity, and freedom. The issue also features four public history reviews. They highlight an array of public-facing projects that grapple with issues of reparative justice and the creation of segregated spaces.

Article Previews

Michael F. Magliari revisits the Compromise of 1850 to explore the little-known but momentous consequences of the U.S. Senate’s refusal to outlaw debt peonage in the Mexican Cession and to instead apply the principle of popular sovereignty to local laws permitting unfree Indian labor. Between 1850 and 1864, Congress stood aloof while legislators in California, New Mexico, and Utah legalized a panoply of unfree labor arrangements enabling white masters to bind Native Americans as debt peons, indentured servants, apprentices, leased convicts, or war captives. Collectively, such arrangements constituted America’s second “peculiar institution”: a racially based system of Indian servitude that flourished until after the Civil War.

Centuries of enslavers’ unanswered assaults emasculated perceptions of Black manhood and persuaded leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth that African Americans must fight in the Civil War. By the war’s end, the soldiers of African descent had triumphed, redeeming Black manhood. But, in addition to the forceful reclamation, Jonathan Lande contends that those soldiers born in bondage also liberated their manhood by deserting to relieve indigent kin. Analysis of these deserters exposes another facet of the serpentine journey from slavery to freedom while revealing how men performed myriad gendered practices to construct an emancipated masculine self. To the deserters and the freedwomen who abetted them, caregiving remained as critical to empowered manhood as battle-hardened valor.

Scholars of the civil rights movement, while acknowledging the centrality of young people to the movement, have yet to explore fully how young people challenged the boundary between childhood and adulthood at the same time that they transgressed racial borders. By exploring a racially integrated summer camp held at the Highlander Folk School in the hills of Tennessee, Nico Slate provides evidence that young people advanced the movement by simultaneously challenging the limits of Jim Crow and of prevailing conceptions of youth and childhood.

Contrary to perceptions that farm politics were unimportant after the New Deal, agriculture provoked one of the more dramatic and forgotten political showdowns of the 1960s. At the time, the federal government spent more money on grain storage than on any other item except defense and interest on the debt. As Sarah T. Phillips shows, these mountainous and expensive surpluses inspired strident efforts to throw agriculture back to market forces. They also inspired attempts to shore up the New Deal. President John F. Kennedy found himself defending a liberal proposal to restrict crop production, distribute more food, and tilt support away from the biggest farms. After the plan’s failure, agricultural policy became more market oriented, aligning it with other instances of New Deal erosion.