CMU professor teams up with MSU colleague to write book on racism, history

A Central Michigan University history professor has teamed up with a Michigan State University professor to publish a book on race and history.

After two and a half years of work, Stephen Jones and Eric Freedman, an associate professor of journalism at MSU, finished their book, "Presidents and Black America: A Documentary History," about racial misconceptions.

The book includes a chapter on each president and their interactions with black America, Jones said.

“The actions and the attitudes of the presidents are not always during the period in office,” Jones said. “Sometimes it comes before or after their term in office.”

The duo tries to provide the same amount of information on each president, but others were more difficult than others, Jones said.

“William Henry Harrison was more of a scramble to find than most," he said.

The relationships between presidents and black Americans in the book covers the colonial days through the current Obama administration, Freedman said.

The two former journalists knew each through reputation and a few phone calls at first.

“I knew his byline and we had a number of conversations during the newspaper strikes,” Jones said. “Eric was looking for someone to work with on this project, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

The first collaborative book came out in 2008 about black Americans in Congress. Shortly after its completion came the proposal for the second book, which would focus on the presidents and black America.

“We saw logic to continuing the line of research on the Congress book,” Freedman said. “There are a lot of misconceptions Americans have about race and presidents.”

Both books had a common theme about race, whether it was dealing with Congress or presidencies.

“We had some conversations during the first book where we came across some stories where we crossed the boundaries between the presidents and the Congress,” Jones said.

The two were then able to use some of the remaining notes in the next book, which, admittedly, included a few eye-openers. For instance, while most remember Abraham Lincoln for his work during the Civil War, he still had many racist tendencies.

“Lincoln made comments about how he didn’t believe in equality among races,” Freedman said. “He didn’t pull for political rights among African Americans.”

They both said one of the most interesting things found was something that did not make it into the book.

While researching in the Herbert Hoover Library in Iowa, Jones came across a letter between President Hoover and Walter White, former president of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People.

By 1932, the Great Depression had hit and people were struggling for food and shelter and an unidentified congressional source suggested that all unemployed black men should be shipped back to the South.

“I found this document that was a letter from Walter White to Hoover,” Jones said. “I had never heard of such a thing. White’s letter was breathtaking.”

In the letter, White expressed how much he disapproved of the idea.

It took the two professors thousands of hours of reading archives, looking at microfilms and old newspapers to complete the book.

As for future projects, both professors said they intend to take some time off.

“We haven’t talked about it yet,” Freedman said. “I’m still recuperating from the last project.”


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