As a pre-teen in the ’70s, I was a fan of the show “What’s Happening” with Roger, Dee, their Momma, Rerun, and Dwayne. And let’s not forget Shirley. So, even though I’m writing about what’s happening with me as an author, I can’t help but think of that show.
I’ve got a few speaking/book engagements coming up, too.
University of Michigan, March 12th
Tennessee Williams Festival, March 25th
Univ. of Louisiana-Lafayette, April 10-11th
Seminary Co-op in Chicago, May 3rd
DePaul University, May 4th
Then, in May, Louisiana University Press will release the volume Reassessing the 1930s South, which I co-edited with Sarah Gardner, a professor of history at Mercer University. The volume is truly interdisciplinary as it brings together scholars of history, literature, and American Studies.
This summer, I’ll return to Natchez for local research on my newest project, which will examine the Rhythm Club Fire that took the lives of 209 African Americans on April 23, 1940. It was one of the deadliest fires in the history of the U.S., outranking the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911.
My travels to promote the book took me to Chicago, IL, Spartanburg, SC, Greensboro and Charlotte, NC, Mobile, AL, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA, and several towns in Mississippi, including Greenwood, Oxford, Jackson, and, of course, Natchez! I did so with the support of family, friends, and my press–especially Brandon Proia (my editor) and Gina Mahalek (my publicist).
Hub City Books, Spartanburg, SC
SIBA, New Orleans, LA
Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN
Spring Hill College, Mobile, AL
Louisiana Book Festival
Turnrow Books, Greenwood, MS
Square Books, Oxford, MS
With the Dick Dana lookalike in Natchez, MS
Charlotte Public Library
Along the way, I wrote some essays about the research that went into Goat Castle for Publishers Weekly, the Organization of American Historian’s blog Process, and an essay that linked my research to today’s incarceration of women of color for TIME magazine. I appeared on several podcasts, and did a number of Q&A interviews for book bloggers and even VICE magazine.
What I had not expected was Charlottesville.
In the midst of promoting my book, I got caught in the public whirlwind about Confederate monuments. That began in August after white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville under the pretense of defending the Robert E. Lee monument there. In response, I wrote op-eds for the New York Times (twice), The Washington Post, and CNN(twice), while also being interviewed by numerous media outlets including the BBC, i24 Israeli television, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Slate (France), the Los Angeles Times, and newspapers in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Japan. To be honest, I lost count of the interviews, because this issue became a global one overnight. I was also reminded of the fact that people don’t always appreciate what a historian writes. And yet, I also believe that historians must continue to write on issues for which they have expertise.
But, back to the goats.
Writing Goat Castle was the most rewarding endeavor of my career. I met wonderful people in Natchez, got to know descendants of one of the principals in the book, and was able to write a book that most people have found accessible. Everyone from my Aunt Wilma to my hairdresser seems to like it, and not just because they know me.
I’m frequently asked “what’s next?” I’m still trying to figure it out. When I do, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, Goat Castle has only been out a couple of months. And, it still has a future. Stay tuned.
Following the official publication date of October 9, 2017, the travel for Goat Castle, has begun in earnest. After an interview with Author’s Voice in Chicago, and a book signing at the Hub City Bookshop in Spartanburg, SC, I’m going to boot scoot over to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, being held this weekend! I’m on the panel “Murder, (In) Justice and the American Way: True Crimes that Captivated the Nation.” It’s on Sunday, October 15th from 3-4pm in the Nashville Library Auditorium. Hope to see some of you there!
Yes, yes, I’ve absolutely been excited about what happened to me this week. After 25 years of plugging away, and nearly 15 years after publishing Dixie’s Daughters, the national media decided that I “might” be an expert on the subject of Confederate monuments and so I finally got the opportunity to say something about a subject that has long been assumed to be the purview of male historians.
But guess what? A lot of folks didn’t like it.
I posted enthusiastically on my personal Facebook page (to the tsk tsk of some), because nothing like this has ever, ever happened to me in my entire career. My bone fides include a PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi. That alone made it hard enough to break into academia, much less write for newspapers with a national reach. So, I got a little excited. And as anyone knows, Facebook does not tell one’s entire story. It’s always the curated version.
So let me tell you what I didn’t post about. I was a little scared as the time approached for the op-ed to go online. I worried for my safety after what I saw unravel in Charlottesville over the weekend. I took measures to notify my chair and my dean about my concerns. I worried my mother who, I will state for the record, does not always agree with my public writing.
I also took a lot of heat online and via email for having dared to place these objects of southern heritage in their proper historical context. And I say heritage, because heritage is about memory and memory is not history. That is a hard point to make with diehard defenders of Confederate memorials. The fact that they are memorials, which by their very nature are about memory, ought to make that point clear.
On the very first day that my op-ed in the New York Timesappeared, I received this from a man named Edward Just:
While this vile, sexist, and racist email was the worst of the bunch, there were others who emailed to tell me I was an “opportunist,” “naive,” and that I had done nothing more than engage in a “pompous rant,” “unhinged hyperbole,” and “feminist agitprop.” “I find your NYT article repugnant and your views are Orwellian,” wrote another, and most perplexing of all came the question “when did white lives cease to matter?” In short: never.
There were also the more than 1300 online comments for the Times, which I barely looked at, because one should never look at the online comments. But there, as in emails, I still did not garner the respect of a professor. I was addressed as “Ms. Cox,” and complete strangers spoke to me and offered history “lessons,” calling me by my first name as if I was their neighbor from down the street.
To be fair, there were those who offered their thanks for my perspective and understood that while I was not on the front lines in Charlottesville, speaking truth to power in the context of our times takes some courage.
I say that knowing that whatever courage I showed pales by the courage it takes to simply be black in today’s America. I benefit from and am protected by white privilege. What I wrote about Confederate monuments cannot be equated with how black southerners must feel in seeing these tangible reminders of their treatment at the hands of people who did not, and still do not, care about their humanity.
And I never for one second forgot about the tragedy that befell Heather Heyer, and those still recovering from their injuries after a devastating act of domestic terrorism.
I’m simply a historian and I got a chance to write about something I know and have studied for more than two decades. And yes, I was honored that I could add my voice to something that is not only a national conversation, but an international one.