Out of slavery, nowhere near freedom

BOOKS&AUTHORS

April 25, 1993|By James H. Bready

A20th-century American has always been able to regain a degree of balance by looking back. During that largest event of the 1800s -- the ending of slavery -- things were incomparably more stressful.

Any one year in the Civil War "seemed like a century," wrote a soldier quoted by the editors of "Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom and the Civil War" (The New Press, $27.50).

The situations that led these people to write their letters, testimonies, reports and other documents reduce complaints about most modern irritations to whiny pickiness.

"Free at Last" is the latest accomplishment by a group within the history department at the University of Maryland College Park, plus associates.

Four scholarly volumes have appeared, of a projected nine, in a ** documentary history of emancipation (1861-1867); the basis is some 40,000 items from the National Archives. Ira Berlin, Steven F. Miller and Leslie S. Rowland are the UMCP editors.

"Looking back" (which began in 1865) has generally meant visualizing whites in conflict with whites. In "Free at Last," black men, women and children tell what it was like to be slaves, to be soldiers, to be free but still subject to white contempt and cruelty.

*

Three of the half-dozen recipients of honorary doctorates at Johns Hopkins University's commencement exercises May 24 are or were Baltimoreans: Louis L. Kaplan, retired president of Baltimore Hebrew University; the filmmaker Barry Levinson; and Josephine Jacobsen.

This is another big year for Ms. Jacobsen. A short story of hers is in the annual O. Henry Awards anthology; a poem is in the annual Best Poems anthology, out next month. In August, she turns 85.

*

History again restores the major road signs in "Removing a Badge of Slavery: The Record of Brown v. Board of Education" (paperback, $18.95). As the United States nears the 40th anniversary of "the most important American governmental action of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation," here is the constitutional clamor, starting in 1849, reprising 1954's Brown vs. Board of Education, summarizing the aftermath.

Mark Whitman of Towson State University is the book's editor.

*

Contest time:

* May 15 is the deadline for this year's $1,000 Towson State Literature Prize. Any entry (book-length fiction, poetry, drama or "imaginative nonfiction") must have been published since 1989 or be scheduled for 1993 publication; the author must have been a Marylander since 1989 and must not be past age 40. The prize honors Alice and Franklin Cooley. Entry forms are available from: Annette Chappell, Towson State University, Towson 21204.

* June 1 is the deadline for this year's Baltimore Writers' Alliance contest in unpublished fiction, nonfiction and poetry (maximums: words, 30 lines).

Each author may submit one entry per category. A $5 fee per entry

will be charged, if the entry is submitted by a BWA nonmember. Do not put your name on your entries, just your Social Security number. Prizes are $50 for first place, $30 for second, and $25 for third.

Mail to Literary Contest, P. O. Box 410, Riderwood 21139. Information: Ned Young, 433-3704.

*

As the crumbling of books and reference material continues, a task force to coordinate preservation planning and funding has been formed. Its leaders include John Sondheim of Enoch Pratt Free Library and Doug McElrath of Maryland State Archives.

A survey of more than 1,000 Maryland libraries and archives is under way. Chemicals, microfilming, digitizing, simple boxing -- "the need is urgent," Mr. Sondheim said last month at an organizing meeting.

*

Are the construction of a minor league ballpark and acquisition of a franchise worth a smaller city's effort and expense? About 200 U.S. and Canadian communities now have teams and "dozens of others" want to, Arthur T. Johnson writes in Minor League Baseball and Local Economic Development (University of Illinois Press, $34.95).

A new team has chic (go, Baysox!).

However, says Mr. Johnson, a University of Maryland Baltimore County political scientist, the cost of building a new minor league park is now $10 million to $12 million.

"The economic impact . . . is not sufficient to justify" the outlay, public or private, says Mr. Johnson; "neither will a stadium alone reverse urban decline."

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