Jacqueline Jones

Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

A Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, during a talk sponsored by the Littlefield Lecture Series in the Department of History on Monday, said many historical facts about the Underground Railroad have been obscured by popular legend. 

Eric Foner, Columbia University history professor, said the Underground Railroad was not a single secret entity but rather a coordination of quasi-public efforts by abolitionists. Foner, who has written books on the history of emancipation and served as president of several national historical associations, discussed his upcoming book, “Rethinking the Underground Railroad,” during the first of two presentations he is giving on southern history this week at the Blanton Auditorium. 

“Even people who know very little of American history have heard of the Underground Railroad,” Foner said. “At a time of renewed national attention to the history of slavery and the Civil War — subjects that remain in many ways contentious — the Underground Railroad represents a moment of our history when black and white Americans worked together in a just cause.”

Jacqueline Jones, history department chair and professor, said Foner is the preeminent historian of the Civil War–Reconstruction era.  

“Dr. Foner is unusual in that he is a scholar who has reached a broad and appreciative audience for his work, and, as scholars, citizens and lovers of history, all of us are the better for it,” Jones said. 

Foner said his book will focus on the Underground Railroad primarily in New York City, through which he said some of the most famous fugitives in history passed. Among them was Henry Brown, who famously shipped himself in a packing crate from the South to the Philadelphia anti-slavery office.     

“Since, by definition, the Underground Railroad spreads beyond one locality, I also discuss what I call the metropolitan corridor: a set of networks stretching from Virginia through Washington, D.C., Maryland, southern Pennsylvania and to New York City,” Foner said.

Foner said he is interested in the political significance of slaves running away. 

“The fugitive slave issue was central in bringing on the Civil War and too many accounts of the causes of the Civil War ignore slave resistance, as exemplified here, as a contributing factor to the conflict,” Foner said. 

Moriah Walter, a master’s candidate in history at UTSA, said she agreed with Foner that the Underground Railroad was important to talk about as a moment when whites and blacks worked together. 

“It hasn’t received the amount of academic attention that it should,” Walter said. “So, the fact that he’s devoting attention to it I think should let us know that it is important.”

Foner will give his second lecture, “Journeys to Freedom,” on Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. His book is due for release in January. 

A group of professors held a discussion panel over important controveries in the book and film "Gone with the Wind."

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

A faculty panel discussed the controversy and historical background surrounding “Gone with the Wind” on Wednesday as part of the Harry Ransom Center’s ongoing exhibition, “The Making of Gone With the Wind.”

“Gone With the Wind” was originally a book written in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell but was brought to the big screen in 1939 and was directed by David Selznick. The film was referred to as a classic of the golden age of Hollywood movies. At the time, it sparked controversy over how it portrayed sex, race and
violence in the South during both the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.

According to Jacqueline Jones, history department chair, “hate mail” was sent before and during production of the movie from radical labor groups, veteran groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“They were eloquent statements about the book and how the Union veterans were depicted and how African-Americans were depicted,” Jones said. “They gave a sense of the real controversy that began even before production.”

History associate professor Daina Berry said that during the 1920s and 1930s, many African-Americans were frequently interviewed by media outlets because they were the last descendants of slaves. Despite this, African-Americans were typically portrayed by white actors in films.

“We didn’t have a lot of visual representations of African-Americans during this time period,” Berry said. “This was a film that you finally had African-American actors and actresses playing slaves on stage.”

The protagonist in the film is Scarlett O’Hara, a southern belle who is the daughter of a plantation owner in Georgia. According to Jones, a sort of “melodrama” ensues from Scarlett’s romance and conflicts. Jones said that Scarlett, played by Vivien Leigh in the film, starts out as a spoiled brat on a plantation and transforms into a self-reliant lumber dealer.

“Scarlett embodies this new South,” Jones said. “She’s very enterprising, becomes obsessed with money and really lost touch with the value of the land. She’s become self-reliant, and that’s what some young women reacted to.”

Radio-television-film professor Thomas Schatz said that during the time period the movie was one of the first to have a female lead.

“The female audience was so important to Hollywood at the time,” said Schatz. “What this movie was doing with race and gender was so wonderfully complicated, and it’s the way Hollywood intended it to function.”

The exhibit for the film includes on-set photographs, audition footage and fan mail. It will be available for free tours at the Harry Ransom Center until Jan. 4.

Members of the International Justice Mission Longhorn Chapter at the University of Texas encourage students to support their movement against modern slavery at Gregory Plaza on Wednesday. They urge students to join their petition against slavery and donate to their cause, because though it is masked, slavery is still present in the world today. 

Photo Credit: Claire Trammel | Daily Texan Staff

Modern slavery is a growing problem worldwide, according to Emma DeCaro, vice president of the International Justice Mission’s UT chapter.

The organization held an event Wednesday to encourage students to sign a petition against modern slavery and to raise funds for and awareness of people who are enduring slavery. Last year, the Global Slavery Index estimated that nearly 30 million people are enslaved worldwide. The event, Stand for Freedom, started at Gregory Plaza at 11 a.m. and was scheduled to run for 24 hours.

DeCaro said slavery can happen anywhere, taking the form of manual labor, sex trafficking and sweatshop labor.

“There’s no country left untouched by this,” DeCaro said. “Even in Austin, the police department has an undercover human trafficking unit where they go and conduct raids, usually at massage parlors or where brothels are disguised.”

History professor Jacqueline Jones said she defines slavery to include people who are made to work against their will, people who are denied their rightful compensation and people who are prevented from contacting family or the authorities to rectify the situation.

“By that definition, slavery certainly exists today,” Jones said. “I think it is hidden from the middle class, who don’t see this kind of thing in the normal course of the day [because] it’s easy to exploit people when it is done in the shadows — for instance, in private homes, rural areas, brothels.”

Jones said the exploitation of cheap labor is a result of companies focusing on maximizing profits at the expense of employees. 

“It has to do with the quest to get cheap, exploitable labor,” Jones said. “It’s a criminal enterprise, obviously, but I think it tells us a lot about where we are as a society. The American consumer wants the cheapest possible [goods]. It is a reminder that people will go to great lengths to find the cheapest labor possible and to pay those labors as little as possible or nothing at all.”

Kara Rollins, management and youth and community studies freshman, said she has heard personal stories about slavery and wants to help fight modern slavery.

“I know a lot of people don’t realize there are still slaves in the world,” Rollins said. “That’s just something that kind of hits close to home with me because I feel like I buy things and don’t really think about where they come from or who’s making it. So we need to raise awareness because it is a big deal.”

History professor Jacqueline Jones was named as one of two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in history Tuesday.

Jones said she had no clue her book, “A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America,” was even in contention for the award. Alan Taylor, author of “The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832,” won the award.

“I had no idea I was even under consideration, so it was quite a surprise, and a nice one, I might add,” Jones said.

The book researches race as a social invention that has retained its power to harm the lives of Americans.

“The effects of this fiction have been devastating throughout history,” Jones said. “The idea here is that this myth or idea has been a very powerful one in justifying the exploitation of [people of] African descent and other people as well.”

Jones said growing up in a small town in Delaware and seeing the inequality African-Americans faced made her curious about this subject.

“There were separate black and white churches — black kids being bused to an all-black school, black kids not being allowed to go into the general store in town — so I was always very curious as a kid why that situation existed,” Jones said. “In a way, my interests in history have kind of grown out of those experiences.”