Black Labor, White Profits, and How the NCAA Weaponized the Thirteenth Amendment

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been in the news a lot lately, and not for the reasons they’d wish. An FBI investigation into illegal payments to recruits and other sordid transgressions has roiled NCAA men’s basketball, and already brought down one of that sport’s all-time winningest coaches, the University of Louisville’s Rick Pitino. Now new revelations from Yahoo Sports implicate the most prominent programs (such as Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, and Kansas) in the same sort of transgressions for which Pitino lost his job. The shocking negligence of Michigan State University in the matter of Dr. Larry Nasser’s serial sexual abuse has awakened the echoes of the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State–particularly in the increasingly vocal criticisms of the NCAA and its member institutions’ apparent inability to ensure the safety of their athletes. Continue reading “Black Labor, White Profits, and How the NCAA Weaponized the Thirteenth Amendment”

When States’ Rights were Progressive

As the proverbial blessing and/or curse foretold, we are living in interesting times. The Left finds itself rooting for executive-branch departmental bureaucrats and the Right launched a boycott of Budweiser. I don’t care how politically prescient you are–NO ONE saw this turn of events coming. Continue reading “When States’ Rights were Progressive”

An American Family Story in Ten Parts

1. In 1621, Thomas Prence arrived in Plymouth Colony and claimed “one akre” of land in the new settlement. Thirteen years later, a combination of ambition and a reputation for being one of the most ardent Separatist Puritans in a colony full of Separatist Puritans led to his election as governor, and he would remain a member of Plymouth’s political elite from that point forward. After the 1657 death of William Bradford-Plymouth’s original governor and more than any other man the motor that drove the colony-Prence once again became governor. Continue reading “An American Family Story in Ten Parts”

Constitutional Liberties and Race: Terms and Conditions Apply

A couple of weeks before the holiday, a robust debate emerged on the AAIHS blog about the Thirteenth Amendment, in particular the effects of its notorious “loophole” as described in the recent documentary 13th. Patrick Rael’s “Demystifying the Thirteenth Amendment and its Impact on Mass Incarceration” got the conversation started, and Dennis Childs’s “Slavery, the Thirteenth Amendment, and Mass Incarceration” was a scathing rejoinder to Rael’s post. For those who haven’t seen 13th, or are unfamiliar with the loophole, the Thirteenth Amendment, which “ended” slavery, reads as follows:

SECTION 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. SECTION 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Continue reading “Constitutional Liberties and Race: Terms and Conditions Apply”

Some Thoughts on the Electoral College


The American Revolution embodied, despite the misgivings of many of its leaders, some profoundly radical ideas. Rebelling against the world’s most powerful monarchy and replacing its authority with a clutch of homegrown republican governments (of varying effectiveness) was as fundamental a political change as one could imagine in the 1770s and early 1780s. It’s hard to see that from our contemporary vantage point, however; looking backwards through the French and–especially–the Haitian Revolutions, the revolution that created the United States looks tentative, even skittish, by comparison. Yet it’s also evident that the American Revolution and its early republican aftermath fell far short of fulfilling the truly radical potential inherent within the process of declaring independence from Britain and establishing a republic in place of an imperial sovereignty. Most glaringly, the revolutionary rhetoric of liberty and equality was notable more for who it excluded in practice–women, indigenous Americans, people of color both enslaved and free–than anything else.

And yet. Continue reading “Some Thoughts on the Electoral College”

In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning

As a scholar engaged in a study of the Civil War Era in the United States, It’s been my job lately to think about the way we remember and interpret this period. And the more I think about it, the more I believe we’ve been doing it wrong. Our national obsession with primarily Eastern, predominately politico-military events from April, 1861 to June, 1865, creates a refuge for bad history–teleology, really–that has had nothing short of a disastrous effect on the way we reckon with things like class, race, and freedom.  Continue reading “In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning”