Skip to content

Love will keep us together

I was invited to speak at the America: Love Will Keep Us Together rally in Crossett, Arkansas on August 1. There was a small turnout, but a lot of love.

Thank you, Chrissy Cone, for inviting me here today. I am honored to be up here with this great group of speakers. And it’s inspiring to see so many people out celebrating peace and understanding. I have moved around a lot. I started college in Lafayette, Louisiana and I moved here from Columbia, South Carolina. So I have been saddened and angered by the shootings and church burnings, not to mention the police brutality. I watched via my friends on Facebook as Lafayette mourned the loss of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson. I woke to the news of the shooting of Senator Clementa Pinckney, and yes, I’m going to say there names, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor, during our annual archeological training program. I had met Senator Pinckney while I was working in South Carolina and I was appalled that someone could take his life in his church. I have been a proponent of removing the confederate flag from the state house grounds for a long time. My partner’s band played a rally for its removal in 2010, so I stayed up all night following the House of Representative debates about removing it, and I admit, I celebrated when it came down.

I was in Columbia when the KKK rallied on those same grounds spewing hate. So when I heard that the KKK was gathering in Monticello my heart hurt. And I was annoyed, because I lack that southern gene that says if you don’t talk about it, it will go away. So when Chrissy contacted me while I was on vacation I said yes to be here today.

I believe that individuals acting toward a common good create change – not silence. State Trooper Leroy Smith is a great example. You probably saw his photograph on the news or on Facebook. Mr. Smith, an African American state trooper, helped an older white man wearing a swastika suffering from the heat of the day up the stairs of the South Carolina state house to cool off. Someone snapped a photograph and it went viral. When Mr. Smith was asked why he thought the photo resonated with so many people. He responded, with a simple answer: Love.

“I think that’s the greatest thing in the world — love,” said the burly, soft-spoken trooper. “And that’s why so many people were moved by it.”

I’m an archeologist and an anthropologist. I study culture; particularly what we can learn about people from the things they made and used, lost or discarded. I have worked on projects like you probably think of when you envision archeology. I’ve excavated Mayan sites, a pre-Incan site in Argentina, and lots of Native American sites in the southeast. But I specialize in the study of the more recent past. I’m particularly interested in the ways African Americans responded to emancipation and the building of African American communities and towns during Reconstruction. When I started my first project on this topic in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, it was something I had never thought about before. What kind of determination did it take for these former slaves to acquire land and build communities and towns? And how did so many of these places become erased from the landscape or blighted? Through archeology I was able to connect descendants of the people who once inhabited this small community with the things that their ancestors had made or used long ago. That is a cool feeling, because there is a joy in holding things that your ancestors may have used years ago. But I also had to write about the difficulties of these families – the lack of schools and the racism they faced in a community surrounded by white families during the Jim Crow era.

I will save this long complicated history for another time. But I bring it up to quote William Faulkner. He said, ‘The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.’ As President Obama notes in a 2008 speech on race, It is important to remember that so many of the disparities that exist in the African American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

One of my favorite thinkers and writers is Maria Lugones. She is an Argentinian American writer. When I was asked to speak today, I kept thinking about her concept of world traveling. She argues that we learn to love each other by traveling to each others’ worlds. She doesn’t mean this in a literal sense, although I would argue and I’m sure she would agree that visiting new places and seeing how people live makes people more compassionate.

To be a world traveler, you may read books by authors from different cultures. Or listen to salsa or Congo music. You may venture into a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant or learn another language. You may attend a religious service different from your own. But it also requires digging a little deeper, to use an archaeological metaphor. It requires you to see yourself in someone who is different from you. This can be difficult because when we step out of our comfort zones, we can feel vulnerable. The first time I traveled abroad alone, I got off the plane to be surrounded by people who didn’t speak English. What if I get lost? Hurt? How am I going to find my way? How am I going to communicate? But I learned to make fun of myself when I had to ask directions in broken Italian. It was through this playfulness or ability to make mistakes and sound foolish that I met people who showed me the way, who shared a cup of coffee, or a tidbit of local knowledge. In this sense, we met halfway. It was years later that I realized that some people experience this dis-ease or comfortableness everyday in the places that they live. When they walk into a room and everyone turns to stare, because they look or dress differently. When they speak with fear of not being understood, because English is their second or third language.

Traveling to someone’s world is a way of identifying with them. It is a way to see what it is like to be them. And what it is like to see ourselves from their eyes. It is by this knowing that we can love.

The removal of the Confederate Flag from the SC statehouse grounds was one way that people showed love and respect for the people who experienced that flag as a symbol of hate during the civil rights movement. Mr. Leroy Smith, the SC state trooper, who aided the swastika wearing man, shows another way that people look beyond difference to love. On a smaller level, I think archeology as a tool for connecting people with their past is another. Everyday we make choices to love and to stand up for what is good and kind.

So now in the trend of all of these ten ways to do x, or the top five ways to become a better listener. Are you familiar with these? Well here is my list of 8 ways you can become a world traveler without leaving Arkansas.

  1. Learn more about history and culture. There is always more to know. You could visit a museum, take one of my anthropology courses, or come out on a dig – we have lots of opportunities for you to try your hand at uncovering the past.
  2. Attend a cultural or historical event. Okay, I admit I am plugging some of my own things here. I host a monthly speaker series about archeology and history at UAM. I am also hosting a cool event called Bend in McGehee about Japanese American internment camps. I have fliers if anyone is interested. We are always doing new things and are looking for people to get involved.
  3. Watch films that make you think, like Selma, and Milk, or Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Read novels from authors from far away places, or taste some new foods.
  4. Assume that the people you meet have good intentions. The media spreads too much fear; it is up to us to find understanding.
  5. Build community and get to know your neighbors. The next time you are in line at Walmart, greet the cashier genuinely; ask her about her day, say hi to the person in line next to you, or offer a helping hand to someone in need.
  6. Look beyond skin color, cultural and religious differences, or clothing and see people as individuals with experiences just like you.
  7. Speak up about injustice. Say their names. Silence does not create change.
  8. And most of all continue to do what you are doing today. Love and celebrate life.

These places matter: Remembering African American heritage sites

With the death of Senator Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, and Depayne Middleton Doctor, the burning of African American churches, and the planned protest by the KKK on the South Carolina statehouse grounds, it is evident that the long struggle for racial equality has not been won. I was hopeful that the  election of President Obama would provide the basis for new conversations about race relations and new strategies to remember the legacies of America’s color line—strategies that would bring the struggles for equality in the recent past to the present and provide a basis for social change in the future and I wrote about this in the introduction to the edited volume, The Materiality of Freedom: Archaeologies of Post-Emancipation Life, I published in 2011. But I did not imagine that it would take six years and the loss of nine lives for those conversations to begin.

As we start to talk about whether confederate memorials should be removed or the flag taken down (#takeitdown!), it is vital that we remember the places of African American heritage on our landscapes. The volume  is a collection of essays about archaeology projects that focus on Reconstruction, Jim Crow, urban renewal, and the Civil7034 Rights movement. These essays by archaeologists from across the United States are particularly relevant today if we are to use history as a manual to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. In the introduction of the volume, I quote President Barack Obama’s inaugural address. He said,

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions—who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

His words resonated with me because for many who experienced and remember segregation and the civil rights movement, his election was momentous. It demonstrated that the actions of men and women with courage and common purpose can create change. The lunch counter strikes, marches, and sit-ins of the 1960s are reminders of what ordinary women and men accomplished through imagination and necessity. Yet the building of African American churches, schools, communities, and neighborhoods—which were also constructed by ordinary men and women and physically mark our landscapes—are often taken for granted in the historical narratives of U.S. history, stand in neglect, and face gentrification. In a 2008 speech on race in Philadelphia, Obama stated,

As William Faulkner once wrote, ‘The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.’ We do not need to recite here the history of injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Archaeologists are increasingly recognizing that changes in the recent past are connected to contemporary conditions and that remembering and forgetting are political acts. The study of the recent past is necessary in order to move away from historical narratives that privilege the period of enslavement while enforcing silences about Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the building of African American communities, the Great Migration, urban renewal, and the fight for Civil Rights.  For many African Americans the memories of struggle and opportunity that are connected to the Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras are prolific, yet as Robert Paynter points out “the lack of historical places on our contemporary landscape that remind all persons of the omnipresence of African Americans throughout U.S. history . . . helps create a cultural amnesia and contributes to the recreation of racism.” Historical archaeology, with an emphasis on the recent past, is in a good position to make these historical places more visible and to reduce the cultural amnesia by addressing the painful histories of Reconstruction and Jim Crow or the more hopeful histories of the building of black communities and neighborhoods. These hopeful historical narratives, such as the building of New Philadelphia in Illinois or the material life of Harriett Tubman have been silenced within the constraints of everyday retelling of American history.

The disenfranchisement that resulted from the enactment of Jim Crow laws was an attack not only on Black political influence—of which there was little by the turn of the 20th century—but also on Black manhood, since 19th century Americans tied manhood and citizenship closely together. Both hinged on independence. Cast as naturally docile, unable to control their sexual passions, and economically dependent, Black men were labeled unfit for citizenship. For example, Megan Teague and James Davidson use mortuary data from the Freedman’s Cemetery to examine the connections between economic opportunity, race, and gender in Dallas, Texas. Since African American women worked in much greater numbers than Black men during Reconstruction and the immediate post-Reconstruction era, the dynamics between men and women’s relationships were altered, as masculinity is often represented as everything that women are not. Denying African American men the ballot further reinforced their exclusion from civic community.

Anna Agbe-Davies conducted archaeological research at Phyllis Wheatley Home for Girls in Chicago. The home was  funded by Black club women. The women’s club movement grew from the Woman’s Convention of the National Baptist Convention in 1900 and grew quickly. Membership in clubs like the National Association of Colored Women came mainly from the urban elite—generally teachers and wives of professionals, ministers, and businessmen. These women shared with their white peers a concern with upholding standards of morality and respectability amid the turmoil of the movement of people from country to city and changes in employment from farm to factory. The Black club women recognized that their destiny was inextricably intertwined with less-privileged African Americans. If they could elevate other Black women to their standards of morality and manners, then the overall population would be lifted up from the gutter of poverty and degradation. Archaeology at the Phyllis Wheatley Home showed that the women were reaching for freedom, while seizing responsibility.

For example, Chris Fennell uses community-based archaeology to provide insight into the ways African American communities combated various forms of structural and aversive racism that diverted economic opportunities. He worked with descendants and local community members to conduct research in three communities in Illinois—New Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and the Equal Rights settlement. Fennell’s research shows how our understanding of how racial ideologies, social networks, and developing economic structures influenced the ways in which individuals made choices in shaping their social and built environments and in developing economic strategies and cultural practices. Through community archaeology, he shows how archaeology can significantly aid the members of current-day communities to enhance the visibility of their African American heritage and accomplishments and to combat facets of structural racism they experience today.

Matthew Palus documents the structural inequalities created between Black and White households during the installation of sanitation infrastructure in Eastport, a neighborhood of Annapolis, Maryland. His research shows that access to municipal water in 1927 and sanitary sewers after 1934 broke down upon racial lines. Access to sanitary services in Eastport could be termed a privilege for White people and placed among those other privileges that convinced working class White people that they were different from their economic peers who were Black people.

The work of Paul Mullins Lewis Jones in Indianapolis, Illinois highlights the impact of urban renewal on African American places. In the 1940s and 1950s, federal funding made rapid expansion possible for many ambitious institutions, particularly universities. Some municipalities seeking federal funds partnered quite aggressively with universities, and in some cases those institutions rapidly leveled broad swaths of neighboring communities and targeted other spaces for eventual growth. Mullins and Jones conducted archaeological research on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus excavating households and corners stores on Agnes Street. They noted that urban renewal was a way to revitalize aging and decaying inner cities. Yet the practice also uprooted neighborhoods, and displaced African Americans who received little benefit from the programs.

This is only a small example of the research archaeologists have been doing. And there is more to be done. With current events, it is evident that the long struggle for racial equality in the United States and elsewhere has not been won or forgotten. The building of communities and institutions and the racial and social strife that people of African descent experienced while seeking civil rights are important aspects of American history that need to be remembered and commemorated. Historical archaeology has the potential to uncover the corpus of a largely forgotten past, to involve descendants and interested communities in the research process, and to provide the basis for new conversations about race relations and new strategies to remember the recent African diasporic past. These are stories that need to be told. The sites and places of African American history – the schools, churches, juke joints, communities, neighborhoods, towns along with the darker locations of lynchings and violence — need to be remembered. These places matter. They show “what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.” And if we are not going “to slip into a comfortable silence again” we need to work to make these places and stories visible.

20 Books for Aspiring Leaders

I was thumbing through my news feed the other day and I came across 15 Inspiring Books Every Leader Should Not Miss. Living in Arkansas with state representatives sending a letter to Iran and my older male student telling me (his professor) how to drive, I have been thinking about what it means to be a leader. Although the 15 Inspiring Books post opens with a photo of a girl reading a book and recognizes that the stories we read shape the leaders we become, the book selections read like a list of self help books for people pursuing a career in business or interested in learning about famous (white) men.

As an anthropologist and a teacher, I don’t think leadership means – how do I become a CEO? A student recently said to me (I’m paraphrasing here), I’d love to have your job, but I don’t think I can do what you do. I’m not as tough and I don’t want to lose my femininity to be a leader. I was taken aback by this statement. Am I a leader? If so, does that mean I am less feminine. As a female professional in a non-traditional career, I have to make tough choices about how to respond to sexism and inequality. But for me that does not mean I replace the 15 Inspiring Books Every Leader Should Not Miss with 15 Must-Read Books for Women in Leadership. Anyone who has seen Miss Representation knows that young women do not need books like How to Use What You’ve Got to Get What You Want or Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. Young women (and young people in general) need inspiration and to be able visualize themselves as leaders (as themselves). The student could not see herself as a leader, because the picture of a leader she saw did not resemble her.

Books can help people SEE and IMAGINE themselves as leaders, because they show the diversity of ways that people lead. The top down business model inspires a particular type of leadership model (and there are plenty of books out there for people who are seeking to improve these kinds of skills). But leaders are not just CEOs or politicians; they are teachers, farmers, and activists. They are chefs, managers, and writers. Leaders inspire. They are culturally and socially aware. They know the importance of history and difference. They know how to share power. They recognize that the best model for a good work environment involves communication, collaboration, learning new skills, and the sharing of ideas. Leadership is about giving, not receiving. It is about compassion, passion and determination, strength and courage. For me, it is about working toward positive social change.

There are plenty of books that could be added to this list. But here are a few books that I think have the potential to inspire new leaders.

PedagogyOppressed1.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. Paulo Freire’s methodology for teaching has helped to empower countless impoverished and illiterate people throughout the world. Freire offers a way to think about learning and living in the world that is critically aware of oppression and works to move beyond the status quo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed has the potential to inspire a new generation of educators, students, and general readers.

the-lorax-poster-and-cover2.  The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. Before “going green” became mainstream, Dr. Seuss’s Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In this cautionary rhyming tale, we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots (“frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits”), and how his harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever. Dr. Seuss’s classic tale has educated young readers not only about the importance of seeing the beauty in the world around us, but also about our responsibility to protect it.


3. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. First published in the New Yorker in 1962, this book, which appeared in September of that year, caused an outcry that forced the banning of DDT and spurred changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson’s passionate concern for the environment reverberated powerfully throughout the world, and her eloquent book was instrumental in launching the environmental movement. It is without question one of the landmark books of the 20th century.

94183274.  Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.

Tina Fey provides a glimpse into her life – from her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her work on Saturday Night Live; from her halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon. She shows us that you are no one until someone calls you bossy.

5.  I, Rigoberta Menchu by Rigoberta Menchu. 233292This book recounts the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a young Guatemalan peasant woman. Her story reflects the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America between the 1960s and the 1990s. Rigoberta suffered injustice and hardship in her early life: her parents and brother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and campaigned against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan armed forces.

The book is a result of interviews conducted by anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. After the publication of I, Rigoberta Menchú, anthropologist David Stoll investigated Menchú’s story and claimed that Menchú changed some elements of her life to meet the publicity needs of the guerrilla movement. Historians and anthropologists have critiqued Stoll’s work and pointed out the importance of Menchu’s story for reminding us of people’s human agency, or their ability to act and make change. Rigoberta’s Menchu’s story provides a glimpse into the life of a courageous and passionate woman.

nelson-mandela-long-walk-to-freedom-800x12616. Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. Nelson Mandela is an international hero whose lifelong dedication to the fight against racial oppression in South Africa won him the Nobel Peace Prize and the presidency of his country. After his release from more 25 years of imprisonment in 1990, Mandela became the president of the African National Congress and head of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement; he was instrumental in moving the nation toward multiracial government and majority rule. Long Walk to Freedom is his moving autobiography that tells the extraordinary story of his life–an epic of struggle, setback, renewed hope, and ultimate triumph.

7. Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues. 139569This internationally acclaimed novel looks at the world through the eyes of Jess Goldberg, a masculine girl growing up in the “Ozzie and Harriet” McCarthy era and coming out as a young butch lesbian in the pre-Stonewall gay drag bars of a blue-collar town. Stone Butch Blues traces a propulsive journey, powerfully evoking history and politics while portraying an extraordinary protagonist full of longing, vulnerability, and working-class grit. This once-underground classic takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride of gender transformation and exploration and ultimately speaks to the heart of anyone who has ever suffered or gloried in being different.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings-08.  I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya Angelou and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned. Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

Dreams_from_my_father9.  Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama. Written before Obama’s 1997 Senate campaign this memoir tells the story of Obama’s struggle to understand the forces that shaped him as the son of a black African father and white American mother. The story opens in New York, where Obama hears that his father has died in a car accident. The news triggers a chain of memories as Barack retraces his family’s unusual history: the migration of his mother’s family from small-town Kansas to the Hawaiian islands; the love that develops between his mother and a promising young Kenyan student, a love nurtured by youthful innocence and the integrationist spirit of the early sixties; his father’s departure from Hawaii when Barack was two; and Obama’s own awakening to the fears and doubts that exist not just between the larger black and white worlds but within himself. As Obama talks about his work as a community organizer in Chicago, his story becomes one with those of the people he works with as he learns about the value of community, the necessity of healing old wounds, and the possibility of faith in the midst of adversity. He travels to Kenya and meets the African side of his family, but also sees a country racked by brutal poverty and tribal conflict whose people are sustained by a spirit of endurance and hope.

Davis_ArePrisonObsolete_large10.  In Angela Y. Davis’s Are Prisons Obsolete? she outlines the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (and lucrative) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions. Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.Davis illustrates that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. Davis, who was actively involved in the Civil Rights movement and was incarcerated herself, speaks out about injustice and actively seeks. She challenges us to challenge ourselves, to ask ourselves hard questions and be willing to face up to the difficult and uncomfortable answers.

thingsfall11. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe tells two overlapping, intertwining stories that center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” from an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo’s fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and provides a powerful fable about the conflict between the individual and society. The second story concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo’s world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. Things Fall Apart is an illuminating monument to the African experience. It is a story about cross-cultural contact that everyone should read.

.12. Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa by Jacques E. Levy.image_mini Mexican-American Civil Rights and labor activist Cesar Chavez (1927–1993), comes to life in this vivid portrait of the charismatic and influential fighter who boycotted supermarkets and took on corporations, the government, and the powerful Teamsters Union. Jacques E. Levy interviewed Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union in writing this account of one of the most successful labor movements in history. This book can serve as a guidebook for social and political change.

319wroot4UL._BO1,204,203,200_13. From Liberal to Labour with Women’s Suffrage: The Story of Catherine Marshall by Jo Vellacott. By 1913, Catherine Marshall was uniquely placed as a lobbyist, with inside information and sympathetic listeners in every party. Through her the dynamically re-organized NUWSS brought the women’s suffrage issue to the fore of public awareness. It pushed the Labour Party to adopt a strong stand on women’s suffrage and raised working-class consciousness, re-awakening a long-dormant demand for full adult enfranchisement. Had the general election due in 1915 taken place, NUWSS financial and organizational support for the Labour Party might well have been substantial enough to influence the final results. These impressive achievements were forgotten by the time Catherine Marshall died in 1961. This book offers a lens into the suffrage movement in England, but also the ways similar struggles for women’s rights were addressed differently.

1785188514.  I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai. When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education. On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the price with her life. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive. Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate. I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.

25079215.  Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks. At nineteen, bell hooks began writing Ain’t I a Woman, a classic analysis of the impact of sexism on black women during slavery, the historic devaluation of black womanhood, black male sexism, racism within the women’s movement, and black women’s involvement with feminism. hooks shows us how to see the world from a different perspective and inspires us to build bridges.

414QnqWzriL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_16.  Lay Down your Arms by Bertha von Suttner.

Baroness Bertha von Suttner, the first woman to be awarded the Peace Prize, wrote one of the nineteenth century’s most influential books, the anti-war novel Lay Down Your Arms in 1889. The title was provocative to many, but the anti-militaristic message caught on. Suttner  remind us that leadership isn’t always about leading people into battle. It can also be helping people find peace.

51HjdjJ8IgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_17. Wangari Maathai‘s Unbowed. Born in a rural village in 1940, as a child Wangari Maathai was determined to get an education even though most girls were uneducated. Her memoir tells the story of her education — studying with Catholic missionaries, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States, and becoming the first woman both to earn a Ph.D. in East and Central Africa and to head a university department in Kenya. Despite numerous run-ins with the brutal Moi government Maathai establish the Green Belt Movement in 1977. This book illustrates the political and personal reasons that compelled her to help restore indigenous forests while assisting rural women by paying them to plant trees in their villages in Kenya and across Africa. Maathai also served as assistant minister for the environment and as a member of Parliament and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 in recognition of her “contribution to sustainable development, human rights, and peace.” In Unbowed, Wangari Maathai offers an inspiring message of hope.

51O5LjozmAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_18. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement to veteran writer and journalist Alex Haley. In a unique collaboration, Haley worked with Malcolm X for nearly two years, interviewing, listening to, and understanding the most controversial leader of his time. Raised in Lansing, Michigan, Malcolm Little journeyed on a road to fame as astonishing as it was unpredictable. Drifting from childhood poverty to petty crime, Malcolm found himself in jail. It was there that he came into contact with the teachings of a little-known Black Muslim leader renamed Elijah Muhammad. The newly renamed Malcolm X devoted himself body and soul to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the world of Islam, becoming the Nation’s foremost spokesman. When his conscience forced him to break with Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity to reach African Americans across the country with an inspiring message of pride, power, and self-determination. The Autobiography of Malcolm X defines the African American struggle for social and economic equality. Malcolm’s fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time.

{4D53C5B7-C4C2-461F-87D7-71A5FB3B760A}Img10019. Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi.  Aung San Suu Kyi, the winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, is the inspirational leader of attempts to restore democracy Burma. In these fifty-two pieces, originally written for a Japanese newspaper and begun soon after her release from house arrest, she paints a vivid, poignant yet fundamentally optimistic picture of her native land. She evokes the country’s seasons and scenery, customs and festivities, and describes an inspirational pilgrimage to the Buddhist abbot of Thamanya. She celebrates the courageous army officers, academics and actors who have supported the National League for Democracy, often at great personal risk, and she sets out a comprehensive program for economic reform. A passionate advocate of better health care and education, and the need for ethical foreign investment in Burma’s future, Aung San Suu Kyi reveals an acute insight into the impact of political decisions on ordinary people’s lives.

giving_tree20.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein is beautifully written and illustrated. Every day a boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave. This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.

Cassie21.  Cassie Premo Steele’s Earth Joy Writing draws upon her work as a teacher of writing, literature, and mindfulness to help writers foster a greater connection between the natural world and their own creativity. Earth Joy Writing is a writer’s guide to reconnecting to the earth. In chapters divided by seasons and months of the year, this book guides you through reflections, exercises, meditations, and journaling prompts designed to help you connect more deeply with yourself, others, and your natural surroundings.


Pedaling: The rural side

photoI love bicycling, the wind through my hair and the world up close and personal. I moved to rural Arkansas from a city with a growing bicycle and pedestrian program. My bicycle was my preferred mode of transportation. I had options about where to ride — roadways, bicycle paths, and mountain bike trails. I had my preferred bicycle shop. I helped organize events with bicycle rides to concerts and bicycle valets. I was a part of a community that saw the importance of bicycling.

Now I live in a place with very few cyclists. I am the lone person in my area participating in the National Bike Challenge. Most roads don’t have shoulder. Cars  speed by without checking for oncoming traffic. It often feels unsafe. I’ve found routes that avoid the more dangerous roads. I bicycle roads with beautiful scenic views, rural architecture, grazing horses and cows, wildflowers, and wildlife. I’ve even found a few people who like to ride. Despite this, there is still that fear that a log truck will round the corner in the wrong lane or a car will speed passed and collide with another car.  375069_10152854070820083_714035844_n

But I still ride. I travel to nearby cities and participate in group rides. I commute to work and I ride around my community. I believe that people seeing me and my friends on the streets everyday makes a difference. I’ve thought about starting a bicycle club or organizing group rides. But it’s daunting in a place without the infrastructure — without bicycle shops, mechanics or vocal bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees.

I know there is still a lot to do to improve bicycling in urban areas. Yet if we are going to create safer roads, stronger communities, and a bicycle-friendly America, it is important to reach out to rural areas. It would be great if we could create bicycle and pedestrian programs that connect rural towns with larger cities. These programs could provide workshops and training in bicycle mechanics and safety, show people how much fun it is to ride in groups and organize rides, and teach people to be advocates for cycling in their community. The countryside is a beautiful place to ride. It’s important to build the infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists here too. I’m volunteering to help. Anyone want to lend a hand?


I dig Arkansas archeology

I just returned from the Arkansas Archeological Society’s Annual Training Program. It was hot. We worked long hours. I have poison ivy. But when people ask me how I like living in Arkansas, the fact that we have this program is one of the reasons I love being here. The Arkansas Archeological Society in partnership with the Arkansas Archeological Survey holds the training program for two weeks each June. Not only are participants in the field excavating a cool site and participating in laboratory activities, the program offers evening speakers and a number of seminars. It is public archeology at its finest.

Jessica Howe & Matt Comer excavating at the Training Program.

Jessica Howe and Matt Comer excavating during the Annual Training Program.

The program began in 1964 as an annual activity of the Arkansas Archeological Society under the direction of archeologists at the University of Arkansas Museum. Since 1967, the program has been under the supervision of the Arkansas Archeological Survey’s archeologists. The Survey archeologists schedule the field sessions to coordinate with ongoing research. The sessions are held at various sites throughout Arkansas to provide Society members with varied archeological experiences. People travel from all around the country to attend.


Basic Excavations students practicing their profiling skills.

This year we continued the research at 3MN298 in the Ouachita Mountains. The site is multicomponent, with Middle Archaic (circa 6000-5000 B.C.), Woodland (circa 1000-0 B.C.), and Mississippian (circa 1450-1650 A.D.) period occupations. A variety of seminars were available for participants to take including Paleoethnobotany, Ceramics, Site Survey, Basic Lab, and Basic Excavation. I taught Basic Excavation in a Caddoan house site. We had a combination of classroom lectures and field experience. We practiced mapping profiles on a bell at the Oden high school and we excavated a cool feature in which a stone bead fragment, pottery sherds, burnt corn cob, and other plant remains were recovered through flotation.

10406979_10154338280405083_5387713315869614031_nIt was a lot of fun, but it was also challenging as I had to balance difficult fieldwork with teaching for various ages and ability. The class consisted of three adults and three children (9, 12, and 14). There were things I could have done better with additional preparation (and advance knowledge of the age range of my participants). But overall, it was a great week in which I spent a week in the mountains, learned a lot about teaching archeology to the public and about archeology in the Ouachitas, and got to visit with colleagues and meet new people who care about archeology and Arkansas’s rich past. I dig Arkansas archeology.


Celebrating heirlooms


The Bradley County Pink Tomato Festival is this weekend! Second to watching local politicians face off in a tomato-eating contest, my favorite part is sampling locally grown heirloom tomatoes. Not only were there the celebrated pink tomatoes that have been grown in Bradley County since the 1920s, but also Purple Cherokee, Red Zebra, Traveler, and Brandywine tomatoes. photo 1

An heirloom is any variety that is at least fifty years old and is open pollinated. Heirlooms often have improved taste and the seeds can also be saved and replanted each year (where hybrid breeds cannot use the same seeds year after year). In the 1980s, there was a major shift in the tomato industry as red tomatoes gained prominence in the commercial market. Today, red tomatoes are the primary tomato being produced, but a number of farmers are still growing the pink tomato and some farms, like Deepwoods Farm, are trying their hand at heirlooms. The flavor of an heirloom tomato does not compare to the mealy red tomatoes that you find on the grocery store shelf.

Tomatoes are not the only heirloom crop being produced. Recentlyphoto(1) I cooked a batch of Anson Mills’ Antebellum Coarse White Grits with crimini mushrooms stuffed with zucchini, kalamata olive and feta. Anson Mills is producing their grits with Carolina Gourdseed White corn which was prized historically for its exceptional flavor and texture and, until recently, it was nearly extinct. The milling company is seeking to reintroduce the diverse and flavorful foodways of the Carolinas.

As their website states, Seedsmen of the 19th century bred for flavor—not for transport, not for visual appeal, not for shelf life, not even for disease resistance. Agriculturists of the period sought to impose the maximal beneficial effect of terroir on their ingredients.

Terrior is the set of special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place, interacting with plant genetics, express in agricultural products. Tomatoes have a rich history in southeast Arkansas and Bob Stark and Paul Francis from the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) are conducting research to examine how heirloom tomatoes can help the economic growth of southeastern Arkansas and are working with farmers and other supporters to promote heirloom breeds in Arkansas. The Pink Tomato Festival is a reminder of the importance of the tomato in Arkansans diet. Maybe like the Carolina Gourdseed corn, the name recognition of popular heirloom tomatoes, such as the Arkansas Traveler, will play a significant role in reincorporating heirloom tomatoes into the diets of local Arkansans and reinvigorate tomato farming.


The raw and the cooked: Grilling cucumbers in the summertime

How do we decide which foods should be cooked and which ones should be eaten raw? For some raw tuna is a delicacy and for others it’s unfathomable to eat raw fish. I have always eaten cucumbers raw, usually in a salad. While at Edisto beach recently, my friend Jonathan Sharpe, a foodie and photographer, introduced me to grilled cucumbers. I don’t know why I hadn’t tried this before.

ImageClaude Lévi-Strauss wrote about the “raw” and the “cooked” in his seminal work in 1964. The raw and the cooked signify what is found in nature (the raw) and what is a product of human culture (the cooked). Lévi-Strauss believed that this dichotomy exists in all human societies and that part of what makes us human is our need to reconcile those opposites, or to find a balance between the raw and the cooked. Although anthropologists have critiqued Lévi-Strauss’ structuralist theory as ahistorical and that it doesn’t address the dynamic aspects of culture, what is considered edible varies from one society or religious group to another. But all have binary structures that separate the raw and the cooked, the fresh and the rotten, the moist and the dry or burned.

So as you cultivate those cucumbers this summer maybe you will reconsider yours. Slice the cucumbers at a bias, add a little salt and pepper, brush them lightly with olive oil and white balsamic vinegar, and put them on the grill!

Grave Matters: A Cemetery Mapping Workshop

10321684_290408097809595_1310456837197585221_oNeed ideas on how to start your cemetery project? Historic cemeteries are irreplaceable landscapes. In Arkansas, many cemeteries are neglected and in need of care. One of the first steps in preserving a historic cemetery is recording and documenting it. The UAM Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program are hosting a one-day workshop on mapping and documenting historic cemeteries. The workshop will be held at Oak Grove Cemetery, an African American cemetery located near Winchester, AR. It will provide hands on experience that you can apply to a cemetery in your area. The 4-hour workshop will focus on:

Mapping skills using a tape measure and compass
Photographing and recording gravestones
Gravestone care
Identification of fraternal headstone symbols
Completing state site forms. What is the National Register? Is funding available? And what are the next steps?

The workshop is limited to 20 people. For additional information and to sign up, email Dr. Jodi A. Barnes at or call 870-460-1290.


Returning to the Taylor House

DSC_0615Did you miss the opportunity to join us for the 2014 Spring Break excavations? Or did you attend and want to work on this cool historic site again? We will be returning to the site in July to complete the excavations around the house.

July 21- August 1 (excluding Sunday, July 27)
We will meet at the site at 8 AM and working until 3 PM

For more information, contact Dr. Jodi Barnes at or 870-460-1290


Kiss my grits: An anthropologists tale of acquiring the taste for a southern favorite

As an English girl, I didn’t grow up eating grits. A traditional breakfast with my mom’s family was boiled eggs and soldiers. My dad is from Missouri and grits were not a part of his diet either. When I returned to South Carolina in 2008 and was reintroduced to grits, they started to grow on me. I rarely order them as a side for my breakfast. The quick grits that most restaurants make don’t appeal to me. They are often lumpy, runny or too something. But I began experimenting with different kinds of grits making shrimp and grits or grilling eggplant and serving it on top of a bed of feta grits.

I also met a number of people who work in mills producing high quality grits in South Carolina. Columbia, South Carolina is the home of a number of mills that are returning to the art of milling corn, rice and other grains. Because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to try a variety of grits. As I’m living in the cotton belt these days and rice is the state’s top agricultural export, I know it might be odd that I’m writing a blog about grits, but there is more to it than the grits themselves.

photo 1I recently acquired a number of items from Anson Mills. Some of the grits and grains are for sale to the public and some are specialty items available wholesale. I’ll write more about Anson Mills in my next post. I was most intrigued by the Speckled Whole Grain Yellow Grits. The most common version of grits found in supermarkets is “quick” grits in which the germ and hull have been removed. “Speckled” grits are whole kernel and most of the natural germ and bran are preserved in the cool stone-grinding process, enhancing the nutrition and flavor of the grits.

I returned from South Carolina Thursday night with an empty fridge and a ton of grits. I hopped on my bicycle and rode to the nearest grocery store. The Cash-Saver is close, but it’s produce isn’t the freshest. I came home with crimini mushrooms, spinach and a zucchini. I grabbed a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes from the cabinet, sauteed some garlic, onion and chipotle pepper in a pan, added mushrooms and later spinach. I put this over the slow cooked speckled grits for a delicious meal. The grits were amazing. I loved the creaminess combined with the texture of the different sized grains. photo 3I saved the leftovers for grit cakes!

The decisions we make about what we are going to eat and what we avoid are culturally specific. These decisions are connected to ease of acquisition and preparation. Taste, age, concerns about health, income, and ethnic background all play a role. Looking at the tradition of milling corn provides a way to examine the reintroduction of a cultural practice of preparing foods. On a more personal level, it offers a look at how tastes change and the things we can create with minimal ingredients. Stay tuned for more about grits, foodways, and other happenings in southeast Arkansas.


farther along...

Jamie Chad Brandon's Home on the Web... an anthropologist living, researching and teaching in Arkansas

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.