Journal of American History addresses early black film, immigration, Chicago's 'tippling ladies'

  • Jan. 15, 2015


BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The early history of black film played out not in movie theaters but in lodges, in schools and especially in churches, Indiana University historian Cara Caddoo writes in the most recent issue of the Journal of American History.

Caddoo, an assistant professor of American studies at IU Bloomington and the author of “Envisioning Freedom: Cinema and the Building of Modern Black Life,” describes how black church leaders organized films showings to attract worshippers and raise money in an era of Jim Crow segregation and mass migration from farms to cities. Films were a vehicle for messages of racial progress and a method for building community in unfamiliar urban settings.

“Black film exhibition was not simply borrowed from a world of white producers and exhibitors nor was it merely a cinema counterculture created in response to the white film industry,” Caddoo writes. “African Americans embraced the moving image before many of their white counterparts because it was suited to the needs and public spaces of modern black life.”

The quarterly Journal of American History is published by the Organization of American Historians, based at Indiana University Bloomington. Also in the December 2014 issue:

  • James D. Rice of State University of New York at Plattsburgh argues that Native Americans are the key to understanding Bacon’s Rebellion, which convulsed Virginia in the years 1676-77.
  • Emily A. Remus, a visiting scholar with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, focuses on alcohol consumption by Chicago’s “tippling ladies” in restaurants, cafes, tearooms and soda fountains in an examination of pleasure-seeking at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • A.K. Sandoval-Strausz of the University of New Mexico challenges the usual paradigm of post-World War II urban history, arguing for a new narrative that puts U.S. cities in a pan-American context of unprecedented urbanization and migration.

In his presidential address to the 2014 Organization of American Historians annual meeting, published in the journal, Alan M. Kraut of American University combines the story of migration to the U.S. with that of medicine and public health to explore new aspects of the assimilation of immigrants.

The December issue also features a “state of the field” essay by Michael J. Pfeifer of City University of New York on American lynching scholarship, with responses from five other scholars. Historians of the South effectively discovered and re-examined lynching in the late 20th century, Pfeifer writes. In recent years, historians broadened their analysis to include other regions of the country and earlier eras.

In the Journal of American History Podcast for December, journal editor Ed Linenthal speaks with Pfeifer about changes in lynching history scholarship. See the Journal of American History website for podcasts, online content, resources for teachers and other information.