As with most, for me the past few months have been a time of transition and adjustment to new norms in the way we work, live and communicate. Though challenging, once settled I found myself with not only more time to read but also to reflect before moving on to the next book. As a historic preservationist, I focus most of my reading on expanding my knowledge of history and culture and how it relates to the built environment. There are two books I recently finished that have served that purpose but also allowed me to reflect on how the past is never truly the past and knowledge of the past can greatly enhance our understanding of current events but also how we see and express ourselves in the modern world.
Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter. Carter uncovers the history of his grandmother Eunice Hunton Carter and her role as an African American female lawyer and society leader in early-20th-century New York. It is an amazing historical narrative that explores issues of civil rights, education, African American society and culture. However, I have spent more time reflecting on the subtheme of politics and the declining relationship between the early-20th-century Republican party, the African American community and the commodification of the Black vote.
They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South by Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers. As a historian, I was intrigued by the author’s research method, which not only tells history but makes a case for using primary resources and documentation to counter prominent narratives in our history. This resonates today as recent events have sparked debate as to how interpretations of history have become the dominant story and shaped our physical landscapes. It also shows that even the highest standards of research cannot easily undo what is publicly accepted and systematically woven into our cultural fabric.
Lastly, I am currently rereading a book I discovered in graduate school. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America by Kirk Savage.During this time of quarantine, I have spent a lot more time outdoors, walking my community and using the sidewalks, trails, parks and lakefront amenities for exercise. This has allowed me to reflect on public open spaces and how easy it can be to overlook how they can disenfranchise parts of our communities. As the conversation continues around monuments nationally, it is important to not just think of the past but also the future and how development of public spaces can truly be welcoming for all.