FDL Book Salon Welcomes Philip Dray: Capitol Men

philip-dray-capitol-men.thumbnail.jpgWith the election of Barack Obama, the icons of the 1960s civil rights movement were given another moment in the sun.  The first black congressmen, who took office during Reconstruction in the nineteenth century, remained largely in the shadows.  In Capitol Men:  The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen, Philip Dray gives these men their proper place, as pioneers in the story of African American liberation. Dray, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for At the Hands of Persons Unknown:  The Lynching of Black America, has created a very timely book as well as an exceptionally good read.  

The history of Reconstruction has had an interesting trajectory. When Reconstruction ended in 1877, Southerners rushed to restore white rule and to justify their renewed oppression of blacks. By the twentieth century, historians had unquestionably accepted white Southern propaganda about Reconstruction.  In schoolbooks, historians portrayed Reconstruction as a tragic mistake and an unmitigated failure. They completely ignored the African American point-of-view.  In the 1960s, the civil rights movement forced a reappraisal of exactly why giving power to blacks seemed so evil to the white South..

As Dray explains: 

As long as forces largely inimical to Reconstruction dominated Reconstruction scholarship, black officials were depicted as incompetents and thieves, or worse, simply airbrushed from the historical record. Later, when greater objectivity was brought to the subject, the black representatives nonetheless often remained marginal figures, their role in Congress and on the national political stage considered largely symbolic.  Either view tends to invalidate black political initiative. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Ennis Carter, Author of Posters for the People: Art of the WPA

ennis-carter-posters-for-the-people-wpa.thumbnail.jpgPlease welcome Ennis Carter in the Comments — cen 

With the U.S. in the grip of an economic crisis that has some comparisons with the Great Depression, many people have called for another New Deal.  It is now an especially good time to examine parts of the New Deal, particularly the successful Federal Arts Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Posters for the People:  Art of the WPA by Ennis Carter is a lavishly illustrated coffee table book that features nearly 500 posters produced by FAP. These gorgeous posters, created in the 1930s and 1940s, promote positive social ideals and programs. As Carter writes: 

Beyond their promotional role, these posters can also be considered as a body of artistic work that displays not only the aesthetic impulses of the time but also the social climate and political agenda of the Roosevelt presidency.  The Poster Division was part of an effort to perpetuate a positive and proactive revitalization of the country. . . 

The posters originated as a response to joblessness during the Great Depression.  George Biddle, a former classmate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s, suggested that the U.S. follow Mexico’s lead and employ artists to paint murals on the walls of government buildings.  Biddle argued to Roosevelt that American artists would be eager to memorialize liberal social ideals. Biddle’s idea resulted in the formation of the Public Works of Art Project in 1933.  However, Roosevelt ordered the program to close in 1934 because of its costs.   (more…)