043: Jason Sokol, 29

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Visiting Assistant Professor of History and Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University
Area of Research: U.S. Since 1945, Political History, Civil Rights Movement
Education: Ph.D, University of California, Berkeley, History, May 2006
Major Publications: Sokol is author of There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975 (Alfred A. Knopf, Aug. 2006). Jason Sokol JPG He is currently working on The Northern Mystique: Politics and Race From Boston to Brooklyn, 1960-2006, the following book chapter: “To Fulfill These Rights: Governors and the Politics of Race, North and South (1954-2006),” in David Shreve, ed., A More Perfect Union: Governors and American Public Policy, 1901-2008, (University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming in 2008).
Awards: Sokol is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
There Goes My Everything selected as one of the 10 best books of 2006, Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World;
James Kettner Graduate Prize, For best dissertation, UC-Berkeley History Dept., 2006;
Jacob K. Javits Fellow, 2001-2005;
Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor Award, UC-Berkeley, 2003;
Heller Grant, UC-Berkeley History Department, 2003;
Phi Beta Kappa and Highest Honors in History, Oberlin College, 1999;
Comfort Starr Prize, For excellence in history, Oberlin College, 1999;
George and Carrie Life Fund, For excellence in American history, Oberlin College, 1999;
Michael Magdoff Award, For best paper on civil rights in the U.S., Oberlin College, 1999;
Christopher Dahl Prize, For best essay in Philosophy, Oberlin College, 1998 and 1999;
Nancy Rhoden Prize, For best essay in Ethics, Oberlin College, 1998.
Additional Info:
In 2005 Sokol served as a Non-Resident Fellow at Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute. In that capacity, he worked on assorted television projects dealing with African- American History.
Sokol has appeared on the following Radio broadcasts; Weekend All Things Considered (NPR), Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC), Michaelangelo Signorile Show (Sirius), John Batchelor Show (ABC), Morning Edition (WMOT Nashville), Afternoon Magazine (WILL Urbana), Morning Show (WAOK Atlanta), Local All Things Considered (WFCR Amherst), Jon Rothman Show (KGO San Francisco), Alvin Jones Show (WCBQ Raleigh), Paul Edwards Program (WLQV Detroit), and has also appeared on Book TV (C-Span 2).
Additionally Sokol has a background in journaliam having worked as Editorial Intern, The Nation, New York, NY, Fall-Winter, 1999; Intern, New Haven Advocate, New Haven, CT, Summer 1998; and as a Staff Writer/Intern, Springfield Union-News, Springfield, MA, Summer 1995, Summer 1997.

Personal Anecdote

In April 2001, Berkeley faculty members and graduate students strapped on their sneakers, goggles, and knee braces and hit the basketball court. I am proud to say that I co-founded the “Historians’ Classic,” and prouder still that the tradition persisted after I left the Bay Area. Days before the inaugural game, rumors flew about which historians would display their skills. Arguments flared over how to even out the teams. The event ultimately drew together professors from various fields – Waldo Martin, Jon Gjerde, Margaret Chowning, Peter Zinoman, and Bill Taylor among them – along with a gaggle of graduate students. After I passed along the leadership torch, the quality of the post-game barbecue improved – and so did the t-shirts. Because of the Classic, I now own a shirt that depicts Abraham Lincoln blocking George Washington’s shot.

The whole idea was to lure historians out of their offices and into the Berkeley sunshine – to foster some departmental spirit and celebrate the school year’s end. One other goal was just as plain. In organizing a basketball game among professional historians, I was attempting, however lamely, to join the wildest of my childhood fantasies with a fast approaching future.

I doubt very many of us can state that our original dream was to become a historian. Mine certainly was not; I wanted to be a basketball player. My hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts may possess several problems endemic to small Northeastern cities – poverty, a loss of jobs, escalating crime and racial tension – but it will always boast the Basketball Hall of Fame. My friends and I trumpeted that fact with both mockery and pride. In retrospect, I think that my childhood in Springfield’s well-integrated schools – and basketball courts – sparked my interest in America?s racial past.

I am five-feet eight-inches tall (on a good day), and I did not confront the implications of this reality until early in high school. Even in college, I played briefly for Oberlin’s basketball team. We won just a single game during my senior year. I warmed the bench for the worst team in the conference. I attended classes and practice by day, and wrote my honors thesis in the evening. As one career dream finally faded, another displaced it. I hurled myself into my new passion, and I feel as though I only recently came up for air.

The civil rights movement long captivated me with tales of inspiring heroes, austere racists, and prodigious feats. Entering graduate school, I assumed I would write a dissertation on one more local struggle or another unknown individual. But ultimately, I sought to craft a study that would rethink the black freedom struggle in light of its interracial impact and its influence on everyday life. I believed that only this added perspective enabled us to see the civil rights movement for the wide-ranging social and political revolution that it was. I explored how the plights of whites and blacks informed one another, and found the heart of the story in the tensions and ambiguities on both sides.

When I talked before southern audiences about my book, many inquired why someone with my background would write on white southerners. I explained that I had a deep interest in how race shaped politics and society, and that the history of the South was so rich in this area. I felt a deep connection to these southern stories. I also knew that they were national stories, not simply regional ones. And in the back of my mind, I always wanted to learn more about race and politics in the North ? to understand my own roots, as well.

My next project will begin in Massachusetts, whose voters elected Ed Brooke to the Senate in 1966. During that campaign, many white citizens (and 97 percent of the Bay State was white) pictured their politics as somehow beyond race. Of course, the Boston busing crisis of the 1970s soon exposed the opposite truth. In the years since, Massachusetts politicians have come to embody all of American liberalism’s perceived faults – just as many of the Bay State’s mid-sized cities, like Springfield, have struggled through the underside of the “urban crisis.” From 1991 to 2006, this famously liberal bastion elected Republican governors. Deval Patrick now graces Beacon Hill. He holds the hopes of Northeastern liberals and African-Americans alike. This saga blends political history, urban history, and civil rights – and in a very real way, this history is my own.

While it is true that I never really aspired to become a scholar when I was younger, I think that all of us — at some point — decide to become historians. In the end, we all want to know where we come from.

Quotes

By Jason Sokol

  • The civil rights movement possessed a rare ability to transform all it touched. When African-Americans struggled for civil rights, they also struck at the very foundations of southern life. The civil rights movement altered race relations, subverted traditions, ushered in political change, transformed institutions, and even turned cities upside down. The impact of the civil rights movement differed from person to person, family to family, town to town. In the end, few escaped its long reach. Change seeped into life – in ways whites had barely conceived and scarcely contemplated. There Goes My Everything JPGMost white southerners identified neither with the civil rights movement nor its violent resisters. They were fearful, silent, and often inert. The age of civil rights looked different through their eyes. Few white southerners ever forgot the day they first addressed blacks as “Mr.” or “Mrs.”; the times their maids showed up to work, suddenly shorn of the old deference; the day they dined in the same establishments as black people; the process by which their workplaces became integrated; the autumn a black man appeared on the ballot; or the morning white children attended school with black pupils. Taken together, these changes amounted to a revolution in a way of life.

    Experiences overwhelmed words, events swallowed ideas, and a whole society struggled to catch up with the civil rights movement’s rapid march. Some white southerners embraced the novel aspects of this world; others refused to accept the nascent social order; still more walked gingerly across its threshold. Jason Sokol in “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975″

    About Jason Sokol

  • “It’s difficult not to approach Sokol’s book with sheer astonishment that it has been written by one so young…but in truth, just about any scholar in the field would be happy to claim There Goes My Everything as his or her own work.” — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World (One of Jonathan Yardley’s 10 best books of the year.)
  • “It’s as eye-opening a look at race relations in the Civil Rights Era as anything this side of Dr. King’s own Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” — Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviewing There Goes My Everything
  • “A young historian provides a fascinating and remarkably empathetic assessment of how white southerners experienced the civil-rights movement.” — The Atlantic reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “There Goes My Everything is a richly documented, often compellingly dramatic narrative, whose strength is its absence of polemic….It’s not that Mr. Sokol is sympathetic to bigots, but that he understands their humanity, that the roots of hatred and ignorance can be deep and obscure. It’s a book that celebrates a change brought about by striking at those roots.” — The Dallas Morning News reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “This is one of the few books about the civil rights movement of the United States that gets it right….Sokol weaves historical analysis with firsthand accounts. The result is simply stunning….It is an important book and one that deserves to be read by every American.” — Tucson Citizen reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “The major premise of this book is extraordinarily important. Sokol recognizes that the full dimensions of the civil rights movement can only be grasped if Southern whites…are incorporated into the master narrative. His book, therefore, points the way to a fuller, more satisfying history of one of the most important dramas of 20th Century America.” — James Ralph, Chicago Tribune reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Sokol offers a rich, varied story of how different individuals reacted to the revolutionary changes surrounding them. It is a complex…story told very well. There Goes My Everything belongs on the same bookshelf with the other outstanding works on the most wonderful and transforming movement of twentieth century America.” — Lucas A. Powe, Jr., University of Texas Law School reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Sokol is an elegant, engaging writer, and he approaches his subjects with empathy, if not always sympathy.” — Nashville Scene reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “His book spills with complex and nuanced stories culled from oral histories, newspaper archives, unpublished letters…details piled upon details told with a storyteller’s skill. It takes you from classrooms to soda fountains to church pews.” — Springfield (Mass.) Republican reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Jason Sokol’s book…is an ambitious attempt to describe the attitudinal changes that the civil rights revolution engendered in white southerners….He has many interesting and insightful things to say.” — Nicholas Lemann, The New Republic reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Sokol handles the material so well — the personalities and the large stakes found in the smallest of places….’There Goes My Everything’ is stark in its portrayal of racism and spirited in its celebration of large and small victories toward freedom for all.” — Minneapolis Star-Tribune reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “To his credit, Sokol…never judges his subjects, and instead concentrates on exploring the book’s chief theme…the divide between conscious, moral choice and human fallibility.” — San Francisco Chronicle reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “An apt and even arresting narration of the ways that the white South included hard and soft racism, iron certainty and deep doubt.” — David Roediger, The Chronicle of Higher Education reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “In focusing largely on the perspectives of common men and women across the states of the former Confederacy–businessmen, teachers, ministers, housewives, small-town politicians, officers of the law–he makes visceral the convulsions produced when most everything white southerners believed about blacks proved mistaken… Sokol’s case study of the 9th Ward, in particular his portrayal of those parents who braved ranting mobs to enroll their white children in integrated schools, vividly captures the turmoil of a community divided against itself…Thanks to Jason Sokol, we now have a richer understanding of the hard, soul-searching journey undertaken by southern whites to get on the right side of black freedom.” — Weekly Standard reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Jason Sokol…is determined that we not forget how far the South had to go to expel the poison of racism. He does not rely on…memory to remind us how widespread such thinking was, but presents his evidence – oral histories from libraries and universities across the South, books and articles on the civil rights era, and a paper trail of apparently thousands of records left from the period… He means to let no skeptic get away unpersuaded.” — Roy Reed, The Wilson Quarterly reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “His book is remarkably prescient….the depth and nuance of what Sokol does capture in his new book is nothing short of breathtaking.” — Tuscaloosa News reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “There Goes My Everything is a story neither of triumph nor tragedy — though it contains both — but a story whose most insistent moral is that there’s more of the story left to be told.” — Daniel Oppenheimer, Valley Advocate (Mass.) reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “The marvelous There Goes My Everything…is eminently readable, sometimes surprising, often blunt…and thoroughly excellent…This is an important and overdue book.” — Blue Ridge Business Journal (Va.) reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Jason Sokol…offers a deeply researched and superbly written chronicle….It is a sensitive, nuanced, and balanced look at how Southern whites dealt with one of the most remarkable…social revolutions of modern times….Readers looking for moral certainties or for reinforcement of popular stereotypes of white Southerners will find Sokol’s account disappointing—and this is precisely the book’s strength.” — American Heritage reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “This exceptionally well-balanced first book by Cornell University Professor Jason Sokol….shows there is no stereotyping that fits the varied responses of Southern whites….Sokol explains, outlines and gives clarity to the nuances.” — Decatur (Ala.) Daily reviewing “There Goes My Everything”
  • “Jason Sokol did an excellent job. It is evident that he has a passion and talent for history, and I think it resonated throughout the class. He covered and surpassed my expectations.”… “Jason Sokol taught me more in an eight week summer seminar than I have learned in most long, full length courses. I honestly enjoyed coming to class twice a week even in the middle of summer vacation. Thanks for reminding me why I enjoyed history.”… “I found Jason to be very engaging and knowledgeable about his subject. I was fascinated by the material and looked forward to every class meeting. This was my favorite class at Berkeley.”… “He was thought provoking and insightful. The material comes easy to him but he doesn’t show that off or condescend.”… “I think his greatest value as an instructor was his willingness to be open-minded about our ideas.”… “Jason has been an excellent instructor. He’s probably one of the most intelligent young scholars I have met at the Berkeley campus. He set a new standard for me on how to write well.” — Anonymous Students
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