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A Different Kind of Thanksgiving Ritual

Posted on: November 21st, 2014 by mh6br 3 Comments

by Susan Bauer-Wu, PhD, RN, FAAN

Tussi and John Kluge Professor in Contemplative End-of-Life Care
Director, UVA Compassionate Care Initiative
University of Virginia School of Nursing
Adjunct Faculty, University of Virginia, Department of Religious Studies
Author, Leaves Falling Gently: Living Fully With Serious & Life-Limiting Illness Through Mindfulness, Compassion, & Connectedness (New Harbinger, 2011)

Susan_Bauer-Wu_05HR_DAThe Thanksgiving holiday brings us together with family and friends. It’s a time of pausing to count our blessings, sharing a delicious meal, and reaching out to the lonely and disadvantaged. And yes, there’s also watching professional football, which, according to a National Football League commentary, “has become as essential as turkey and mashed potatoes.” Now I will go out on a limb and offer a suggestion for another, different kind of Thanksgiving ritual:  having difficult conversations and talking with those you love about your end-of-life wishes.

In our society that is obsessed with youthful looks and staying alive at all costs, Americans avoid such conversations. It’s as if not talking about death will prevent it from happening to you. Clearly, on an intellectual level, we know that’s not the case. Nonetheless, the messages we get from the media plus our own discomfort with death delude us and leave us ill-prepared for the inevitable last breath.

As a professional nurse who has witnessed literally hundreds of deaths, some expected as is the case with terminal illnesses and some unexpected from fluke accidents, I can confidently say that having had such conversations about end-of-life wishes makes a difference, not only to the person who is dying but also to those trying to navigate and make decisions on the patient’s behalf—spouses, children, and grandchildren as well as doctors, nurses, and others on the health care team.

More than three-quarters of Americans would like to die at home, but fewer than 25 percent of us do. Of those who die in hospitals, many are in intensive and critical care units, who are delirious, connected to tubes and sometimes in pain, with distressed family members by their side — uncertain and sometimes unable to make decisions about their care. The primary reason why many people die this way is because they didn’t convey their wishes.

hands-in-prayerEven when illness is present, we hold back from having such conversations. The vast majority of “do not resuscitate” orders (DNRs) are written within two days of the end of life, often times when all heroic measures have been tried, family members are completely depleted, and the opportunity to die a peaceful death at home is lost. In a study that I led of advanced-stage cancer patients, more than half had not discussed their end-of-life wishes with their doctors or families, despite being given months to live. I am reminded of a young woman I knew well. Living with extensive metastatic cancer she was couldn’t bear to tell her family she was ready to die (for fear they weren’t ready to hear it). She confided in me of her readiness to pass. But between her husband’s hope for a miracle cure and her mother’s determination to nurse her daughter back to health, she died in the ICU. No one felt good about the way her life ended.

I also recall countless other instances when families had the conversations and the end of life was visibly more pleasant and peaceful. One example, a middle-aged husband and father was aware of his decline and worsening illness. He honestly explored his medical options, had a heart-to-heart talk with his family, and thoughtfully made a decision to stop intensive treatment. With wonderful hospice care and support from his family, he enjoyed sitting on his deck and feeling the fresh air and sunshine on his face, taking walks and naps with his dog, eating his favorite homemade meals, and sharing stories and laughing with his wife and children. He died quite comfortably a few months later, his beloved family and dog at his side.

Take a few moments to reflect on what is most important to you. And over the Thanksgiving holiday, take advantage of the time together and try a different kind of ritual. Have those difficult conversations. By taking the time to really listen to one another’s end-of-life wishes, you will not only be prepared for that unavoidable moment, whenever it may be, you will also be reminded of the preciousness of life and your relationships. May you pause in gratitude and not take anything for granted, including one another.

Visit to “Mr. Jefferson’s University”

Posted on: November 18th, 2014 by mh6br 2 Comments

A Message from Henry Spearman from Ken Elzinga’s The Mystery of the Invisible Hand


I recently visited with my friend Marshall Jevons at the University of Virginia, the place he calls “Mr. Jefferson’s university.”  Because I’ve heard the University of Virginia called “UVA” many times, Marshall’s term for the place seems odd to my ears.  I mean, nobody on the Harvard faculty, myself included, ever calls Harvard, “Mr. Harvard’s university.”

Sometimes Marshall will even refer to UVA as “the University,” as if every other school was just “a university.”  There must be something special about the place.  I’ve tried to lure Marshall to Harvard, but he won’t consider it.

This was my second visit to the campus (or what Marshall always calls, ‘the grounds’ – which I always associate with coffee).  I gave a talk in the “Dome Room” of the Rotunda, and I have to say: there’s nothing at Harvard to match that setting.  My wife Pidge came along for her first trip to Charlottesville.  She immediately fell in love with the architecture, at least the part designed by Thomas Jefferson – or what our friend calls “the Lawn.”

Marshall told us that Thomas Jefferson considered UVA to be an “academical village.”  I was struck at how the Lawn’s design efficiently reduces transaction costs among faculty and students.  But not all my colleagues at Harvard would want those costs reduced.

Marshall and I have been working on the whole question of art and economics.  When someone buys a cup of coffee, that’s a consumption good.  When someone buys 500 shares in Intel, that’s an investment good.  But when someone buys a painting, that acquisition could be a consumption good, an investment good, or both.

The economics of art is not unexplored terrain, but it raises important questions.  For example, if a consumer valued art purely as an aesthetic experience, and not as an investment, is that consumer better off or worse off because other buyers value art solely as an investment good?   We’ve also been asking ourselves: how many other assets have this dual consumption good/ investment good characteristic?

Here’s another puzzle my friend Marshall and I noodled over: when faced with a budget shortfall, why don’t museums sell those paintings they keep in inventory and never display to the public?  With my economist’s hat on, I can’t really explain this.

Our work on art and economics has not been without controversy.  Humanists worry about the intrusion of the economic way of thinking into the world of art.  Recently, when I was a visiting professor at Monte Vista University in Texas, I had a colleague who claimed that “once the wheels of economics commodify something… you may have a price, but you don’t have a value.”  My friend Marshall is a G.K. Chesterton fan – and he reminded me of Chesterton’s contention: “Price is a crazy and incalculable thing, while value is an intrinsic and indestructible thing.”

During my visit to UVA, I told Marshall about meeting a member of the Board of Trustees at Monte Vista University.  She told me something I never heard at Harvard: that universities should have artists on the faculty “not so much to teach as to inspire.”  Marshall and I wondered whether inspiration from a faculty member is limited to the field of art, or if it should be a trait common to faculty across all disciplines?  I see a problem, though: articles, books, and research grants can be counted. I asked my UVA friend how Harvard or “Mr. Jefferson’s university” could assess and reward a faculty member’s “inspirational output”?

Recently, I’ve gone back to reading Adam Smith.  That’s where I got my start in economics, and I may still read Smith after I quit trying to accumulate human capital.  Although this last time, I came across something I’d missed every time before.  Smith wrote that “power and riches produce a few trifling conveniences… which despite all our care, are ready every moment to burst into pieces or crush their possessor.”  Sounds like the hedonic treadmill principle that modern psychologists now teach.  With so many of my Econ students wanting to go into investment banking these days, I wonder what Smith would tell them?

OK: if you follow my blog, you may know I’m a night owl.  But it is 3 AM and I have a nine o’clock price theory class to teach tomorrow.

Definitely time to turn in.

So Good Night, Good Luck, and Go Hoos!

H. Spearman


Join HooReads! on December 10 for a live-stream interview with Ken Elzinga. You can submit your own questions for Ken.

South’s Oldest Rivalry Needs a Jumpstart

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by mh6br 3 Comments

By Kevin Edds

“No jokes, no flattery, no sympathy. This is a serious business.”

Kevin_EddsThese were the words spoken by U.Va. President Edwin Alderman to a crowd of supporters at a “football mass meeting”—or pep rally—in 1924.  The scene was the precursor to the U.Va.-UNC football game, a rivalry that was born in 1892.  That initial matchup was so popular they decided to play twice that season, with U.Va. winning the first, UNC the second.  The latter was part of a Thanksgiving week football tournament in Atlanta that included Auburn, Duke and Georgia Tech, with teams playing as many as three games in five days.  No joke.  And no sympathy for weary players.  Talk about a serious business.

I read Alderman’s notes for his speech (many thanks to Ann Southwell of the Special Collections Library staff for first discovering them) while researching my documentary “Wahoowa: The History of Virginia Cavalier Football” now available at The UVa Bookstore.  Alderman became U.Va.’s first president in 1904 but was a UNC graduate and its former president from 1896-1900.  After 20 years in Charlottesville, though, he bled Orange & Blue.  During the pep rally, he fanned the flames of the rivalry with the statement, “We praise Carolina for their constancy… in being good losers.”

It was true: Virginia had gone 18-8-2 in the annual clash with “Carolina”; no directional designation was needed amongst these fans.  The Thanksgiving timing of the contest began during the tournament in Atlanta and eventually came to be known as the “South’s Oldest Rivalry.” This is a bit of a misnomer, as Auburn and Georgia first played in 1892, too, six months earlier.  More accurately, U.Va.-UNC is the longest consecutive rivalry and the one with the most games played, as Georgia-Auburn did not play one year during WWII and have played one fewer game overall (117 compared to 118, which will be matched if Auburn and Georgia meet in an SEC championship game; U.Va. and UNC cannot achieve this as they are both members of the Coastal Division in the ACC’s conference split).

1950_NorthCarolina Game ProgramFrom 1892-1950, UNC and U.Va. met in the finale each year they played, save for seven (WWI and other scheduling issues getting in the way)—almost 60 years of history where this showdown was the most important game of the season.  Until WWI, the matchups were held in Richmond where fans from both schools could meet on a larger stage, and the two groups were an easy train ride away.  Eventually, the contests moved to their home fields, where the rivalry grew even fiercer.

Tensions between the two were bitter, never more so than in 1898 when a member of the UNC faculty scored the winning touchdown. Yes, eligibility rules were lax in those days (imagine if young ECON professor Ken Elzinga lined up next to the great Frank Quayle in the backfield during U.Va.’s amazing 1968 season!).  In 1904 Virginia tied the score late in the rivalry game but kicked the extra point too low—so low, in fact, it hit the back of the head of an offensive lineman.  The ball ricocheted up and through the uprights giving Virginia a 12-11 victory.  A heady play to say the least.

The Thanksgiving rivalry continued unabated until 1950.  Governors of both states regularly attended.  Lady Astor made appearances at Lambeth Field when UNC visited.  Even President Calvin Coolidge and his entourage took in a game in 1928.

But soon after the birth of the ACC, schedule-makers tried to create a border rival for Maryland.  They matched the Terrapins with Virginia as the season-ender from 1963-1989.  With the South’s Oldest Rivalry played earlier each fall, the intensity of the competition began to wane.  Younger fans today believe the U.Va.-Virginia Tech rivalry has been an ages-old way to end their college football season, but that scheduling matchup didn’t begin until 1990.  While that in-state battle has taken on a life of its own, old-time U.Va. and UNC fans will tell you their biggest rival in football is on the other side of the state line.

1941_NorthCarolina Game ProgramWhen Alderman gave his pep talk 90 years ago, the country was in the midst of Prohibition, and UNC and Virginia were members of a new alliance called the Southern Conference.  Along with most of the original members of the ACC, they were joined by a majority of the founding members of the SEC in this 22-member super-conference that included VMI, Washington & Lee, and Virginia Tech.  It makes the 15-team ACC of today seem cute.

Bragging rights and conference hierarchy were at stake in 1924 when Alderman implored his team to “Fight this battle as you fought Georgia to the last inch” and “Don’t hold them. Wipe ‘em out!”  A college president giving strategy on holding penalties sounds unusual (President Sullivan and her advice to Coach London on the Cover 2 Defense notwithstanding), but Alderman loved football and saw it as a way to toughen young men and bind alumni more closely to the university.

That season, U.Va. was also sporting a new moniker, the Cavaliers, after a school contest for a new fight song the previous year resulted in “The Cavalier Song” taking top honors.  A new conference, a new mascot, and a new coach—Earle “Greasy” Neale—made Virginia Football an exciting property.  Neale was a major league baseball player who coached football in the offseason.  In 1924, he played for the Cincinnati Reds before heading to Charlottesville to lead the Cavaliers.

There were 12,500 ticket-buyers in attendance at the 1924 Thanksgiving game, which filled the athletic department coffers.  According to the Washington Post, temporary wooden stands were built to accommodate the overflowing fans, giving it “the same crowded appearance that New York [has] at midday.”  The Governors of both states were in attendance, as was Virginia State Senator N. B. “Bull” Early, a member of U.Va.’s team from the 1892 kickoff to the rivalry.  Despite 31 years’ passage of time, alumni were still keenly interested in the outcome of the South’s Oldest Rivalry.

Virginia won the contest 7-0 when a fumbled lateral by UNC was recovered by U.Va. near the Tarheel goal line and ultimately driven in.  U.Va. captain Sam Maphis had an 80-yard punt which still stands as a school record, tying his own 80-yarder against Virginia Tech the previous year.  The game was a punting duel, as Virginia gained only five first downs and UNC but one.  U.Va. was 0-for-5 passing and UNC not much better.  The Tarheels brought in one of their basketball stars at quarterback—no surprise, considering that a football more closely resembled a basketball in shape and size back in those days.  Only one of their eight passes was caught, though—which makes you wonder if the QB was throwing bounce passes instead of chest passes.

1941_Bill Dudley at UNCFrom defense-dominated clashes like the one in 1924, to showdowns with bowl game implications, the U.Va.-UNC rivalry has endured for well over a century.  So as Virginia and UNC renew their rivalry this Saturday, let’s make a plea to the athletics departments from both schools as well as the schedule-makers at the ACC:  Keep the U.Va.-Virginia Tech rivalry alive with a season-ending game when Virginia visits Blacksburg; but on odd years, rekindle the intensity of the South’s Oldest Rivalry with UNC visiting Charlottesville for the final game of the season.  Virginia Tech can be the penultimate game for U.Va. in those seasons—the gate receipts surely won’t suffer (in 2005 U.Va. ended the season with Miami, having hosted the Hokies the week prior. And that VT game is still the third-largest home crowd in U.Va. history.)  Scheduling UNC as the season-ending game may guarantee sellouts at Scott Stadium in both games—something we haven’t seen in Charlottesville in a while.

In an age of conference expansion, where century-old rivalries like Texas versus Texas A&M take a backseat to financial gain, let’s do something simple that would make President Alderman proud.  That would make “Bull” Early proud.  That could once again grab the attention of both governors.  No jokes, no flattery, no sympathy. This is a serious business.

Kevin Edds, COL ’95, is the director of Wahoowa: The History of Virginia Cavalier Football.  For an update on the release of his new film on the 1989-90 U.Va. football seasons please send an email to

The Future of Drone Warfare

Posted on: September 12th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

hitzSource: Harvard Law School, Harvard National Security Journal August 13, 2013

(Join us for More Than The Score on September 27, 2014 as Fred Hitz speaks on “What to do About Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency?”)

By Frederick P. Hitz, Adjunct Professor, University of Virginia School of Law; Senior Lecturer, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy; Former Inspector General, CIA, 1990-98.

“Relentless NON-humanity.” This is the term I have used to describe the impact of the Predator Drone as a weapon in the Afghanistan/Pakistan (Af-Pak) region in the U.S.’s Global war on Terrorism (GWOT). It is not just that the Predator is an application of lethal force that, without warning, annihilates suspected terrorists and sometimes innocent bystanders. Rather, my concerns stem from the fact that controllers target and dispatch these deadly weapons remotely, often while thousands of miles from the battlefield. One of my law students expressed it succinctly a year ago when he described his experiences “driving the Predator” for the previous seven years. “Where did you do that, Jonathan?” I asked him, to which he quickly replied, “outside of Las Vegas, and sometimes when I got off duty, I wandered into town to play the slots.

This is not Star Wars. This is the real thing. And, in my view, it is why drone warfare is increasingly, if mistakenly, compared by observers to the terrorist activity it seeks to suppress. Most scholars who sought to define terrorism unite on the basic principle that terrorism is hostile action designed to achieve a political goal by intimidating a civilian population, but not ultimately to defeat a state as Germany and Japan were defeated in World War II. It is to destroy the population’s morale, their will to resist, and to bring them into compliance with the wishes of the terrorist. What I am suggesting is that drone warfare has a similar goal. It is fighting fire with fire, terror with terror.

Recognizing that the Government of Pakistan will never allow U.S. troops on Pakistani soil to pursue the Taliban in the disputed regions of the North-West frontier and Afghanistan, the U.S. has been able to strike the Taliban effectively with Predator drones guided from two continents away. In fact, the U.S. gained access to Pakistani airspace by helping the Government of Pakistan eliminate an Al Qaeda leader in the North-West frontier that the Pakistanis had spent years trying to chase down. The predator’s distinguishing characteristic is its ability to hover indefinitely over a given target area and when it catches sight of its target to strike instantly and without warning. Nobody is certain of the precise numbers of bystanders who have been killed in the drone attacks but because there is no warning of its presence, innocents are bound to have been included.

This was not in the mind of the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) when he purchased six Predator drones from the General Atomic Corporation in 1997. DCI James Woolsey was buying a sophisticated surveillance device with a negligible radar profile, powered by a golf cart engine that could hover endlessly and silently over a remote target, sending precise images back to its control. Soon thereafter, the U.S. Military fitted the Predator with a Hellfire missile, turning it into a formidable killing machine!

Its use in the Af-Pak region has been game changing. CIA officials have stated that the Predator has decimated the Al Qaeda command structure in both Afghanistan and Pakistan with a minimum of casualties on the U.S. side. This is a formidable achievement. But as desirable as it may be as a military goal, it recently became an issue in and of itself. It is almost too effective a weapon. According to the international media, it has excited strong opposition among citizens and tribals in the entire Af-Pak region, ostensibly because of civilian casualties but really because of its effectiveness, what I call its “relentless non-humanity.”

Is the Predator drone a “legal” weapon under the laws of war? U.S. Government lawyers defended its use under the President’s authority to use all military force at his disposal to pursue and kill the 9/11 attackers – the “Authorization to Use Military Force” (AUMF) of September, 2001. Until recently, the President’s primary international lawyer, adviser to the U.S. State Department, and former dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, prominently defended use of the Predator drone in the Af-Pak theater. Recently, however, he and others raised questions about usage of the Predator for “targeted killings” in the region. Mr. Koh and some of his colleagues are now on record demanding a more transparent process for authorizing drone strikes that target suspected Al Qaeda operatives and U.S. citizens.

This came to a head several months ago when the United Press published a 10-12 page document obtained from U.S. Government files that sought to describe the process followed before American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, was targeted and assassinated in Yemen in 2011. The question is simply – does anyone in the U.S. Government have the authority to target for assassination a U.S. citizen or enemy terrorist, and if so, by what process is the decision made? Is it the President alone? And if so, does this occur because of his Constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief or because of the AUMF? Further, is this targeted assassination of Al Qaeda leaders, American citizens or otherwise, congruent with the laws of war generally, proportionate to the threat posed by Al Qaeda and suitably limited in purpose? These are good questions that deserve some scrutiny. For example, the state of Israel has been in the targeted killing business in its struggle with the Palestinians for many years and the Israeli Supreme Court has never okayed the practice. What that says is that even Israel in fighting for its life in a dangerous region has felt the necessity of embarking on a campaign of assassinations of suspected terrorists with or without the approval of its highest court. This is clearly a tough business.

There are many unsettled questions, legal, political, and otherwise surrounding the use by the U.S. of the Predator drone in combat. But I keep coming back to the one issue that most captivates me as a lawyer, U.S. citizen, and teacher. In the case of the GWOT, by our continuing and conspicuous use of the Predator drone, the United States is fighting terror with terror. We are confronting hostile acts of terror such as the 9/11 hijackings and deaths of over 3,000 people with warning-less Predator drone strikes on Al Qaeda’s suspected leaders and operatives – and, deservedly or not, we are giving rise to the identical reactions of outrage in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of the most effective method we can devise to counter Al Qaeda terrorism in the region, but it has complications and consequences. I believe it is the obligation of the U.S. to explain more fully our policy for using the Predator in the manner we have thus far in the War on Terror, the process we follow in target selection, and the safeguards in place against making mistakes. It may be that the United States will enjoy a dominant position indefinitely in the utilization of drone strikes for targeted killings, but while we are in the driver’s seat, to make a bad pun, we ought to be transparent in our reasoning. Otherwise, we may find that the “relentless non-humanity” of drone warfare makes our international actions to combat terrorism as repugnant as the acts of the terrorists themselves. We have an obligation to pursue zealously and effectively those who attacked the U.S. on 9/11, but as a leader of the world’s strongest democracy and a proponent of the rule of law, we must be conscious of the need to explain ourselves when we are as dependent as we have become on such an unanswerable, terrifying and heavy-handed weapon as the Predator drone.

(Join us for More Than The Score on September 27, 2014 as Fred Hitz speaks on “What to do About Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency?”)

Farewell, for Now

Posted on: June 24th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

By John Ragosta

ragostaI think that I am still recovering from the 2014 Summer Jefferson Symposium. While it was all great fun, speaking for myself, the intense mental focus for several days on Thomas Jefferson’s personal relationships, and how they help us to understand him and the politics of the early republic, was mentally very tiring. To unwind, I spent some time Sunday afternoon in one of my favorite pastimes: wild black raspberry picking – a relatively mindless activity with great ancillary benefits.

Over the course of several days, I learned a lot, and as I suggested on Thursday evening, I think that the learning has just begun. The topic – Thomas Jefferson: Family, Friends, and Foes – is so broad, that we will never exhaust the insights that it provides. Not only can we use his interactions with those around him to see more clearly who Jefferson was and what he hoped to accomplish, but as we think about the developing American political system in the early republic we can gain insights by recognizing the central role of the politics of the personal, a discussion which pervaded our discussions during the symposium. As Joanne Freeman writes, “The political significance of friendship sheds light on the question of Jefferson’s political involvement…. If Jefferson’s active socializing is recognized as ‘subterranean’ political activity, then Jefferson was indeed more political than previously believed….” Each of the persons whom we explored tells us something new and interesting not only about Jefferson’s relationships, but about how he was constantly and consistently working to manage relationships – whether in France, in the nation’s capital, or atop Monticello – as part of a broader agenda of fighting monarchy and promoting a free republic, religious freedom, and liberal education.


We can often understand political figures better through their “conversations;” the dialectic of human interaction can be a far more effective tool to comprehend the past, even when those actions may be infused with posturing.

This, though, is to repeat myself from Thursday and Saturday. I write, however, because of another discussion that several of us shared Saturday evening.

When I teach college students, I “cold-call” on people who have not raised their hands and insist that they all participate in the discussion. I acknowledge on the first day of class that this is very uncomfortable for many people, but it seems to me that it is an essential element of a liberal arts education. We cannot sit by and simply observe – otherwise we could replace the lecture hall with MOOCs (massive online open-enrollment classes); we must engage with our colleagues and become part of the intellectual exchange. This is part of becoming not only an educated individual, but a participant in our society, our nation, and our world.

Conversation – listening to hear what others are saying and responding appropriately, and respectfully – is a skill and habit that is needed today more than ever. While Jefferson was no demi-god, and had personal animosities and political enemies – and could throw an insult with the best of them, he never stopped participating in the dialogue. By encouraging a liberal arts education, and fighting “every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” he promoted the type of civil engagement that our nation continues to need. Programs like the Summer Jefferson Symposium, more than educating us about a long dead Founder, albeit one who contributed to our nation and world greatly, are intended to do the same.

Thank you all for participating in our conversation.


Lessons of Civil Rights Movement Still Relevant

Posted on: May 23rd, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

by Alberta Phillips

Posted in the Austin-American Statesman Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Over the years, I’ve studied the civil rights movement, reading such books as Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters” and watching documentaries such as “Eyes on the Prize.” And last month, I was fortunate to hear from some of the heroes of the movement during the Civil Rights Summit hosted by the LBJ Presidential Library to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Next year will be another milestone for LBJ’s legacy, when the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

I’ve observed history through many portals. But nothing prepared me for a weeklong civil rights tour, from Atlanta to Montgomery by way of Birmingham and Selma. During the tour that ended last week, I along with 27 other participants witnessed history that startled and amazed, hurt and inspired. Talks with people who participated in those events at the very places in which they occurred brought to life ghosts of the South.

They were eye-opening experiences, which filled in many of the gaps left out of history books. Doors were opened for us because, after all, it was Julian Bond, himself a civil rights legend, who led our tour organized by the University of Virginia. In reliving those tragedies and triumphs, we gained a deeper knowledge of a past that still is shaping the present. In a world of instant gratification and abundance, it was humbling to see close-up the sacrifices made by ordinary people — black and white — to advance equality. They leaned in, even as they marched into a burning house.

I asked people such as Joanne Bland and Georgia Congressman John Lewis, both survivors of Bloody Sunday, how they summoned the courage to brave dogs, nightsticks and water hoses. It was their faith in God and their cause that steeled their nerves. Indeed, the black church was the center of the movement throughout the South. And four churches in particular stood out: Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, led by a then 25-year-old Martin Luther King Jr., was the focal point for the Montgomery bus boycott; First Baptist Church, led by Ralph Abernathy, founded in 1867, two years after the Civil War ended, became a refuge in Montgomery for the 1960s freedom riders; Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma was ground zero for the voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery; and Trinity Lutheran Church in Montgomery, whose black congregation was led by a white pastor, Robert Graetz. Graetz was the secretary of the Montgomery Improvement Association, founded to support the bus boycott. He told our group that his skin color did not shield him from a violent white backlash: His home, like those of King and Abernathy, was bombed.

In Atlanta we visited the King Center, which houses the King Library and Archives, chronicling the life of King and other major civil rights leaders and events. A crypt that houses the bodies of King and his wife, Coretta, sits in a reflection pool next to the old Ebenezer Baptist Church, an historic site and museum. The King family home is a short walk away. We attended Sunday services at the new Ebenezer across from King’s gravesite. To our delight, King’s sister, Christine King Farris, chatted with us about growing up a King.

The first thing you see when you enter downtown Birmingham’s Kelly Ingram Park is a bronze sculpture of four girls. One kneels behind another as she ties the bow on her friend’s dress. Another is seated on a bench reading the Bible. One girl, dressed in her Sunday best, stands behind the bench. A pair of shoes stands nearby. It is Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. The girls are preparing for a youth program at church. That image of innocence is shattered in the pews of 16th Street Baptist Church, as a church member recounts the bombing by KKK members that killed Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.

Justice was delayed, but not denied. Birmingham lawyer Doug Jones provided a riveting account of how he, as U.S. attorney, led the team, which reopened the case and won convictions of two former KKK members in the murders of the four girls — some 38 years later.

In Selma and Montgomery, we experienced the daily indignities blacks faced as recently as the 1960s because of Jim Crow codes. We knew about segregated water fountains. But we were stunned to learn that separate Bibles were used in courtrooms to prevent white people from soiling their hands on Bibles touched by blacks.

It’s easy to forget how young much of the movement was, until you are confronted by photographs of the many hopeful faces of “freedom riders,” students of all races who boarded interstate buses across the country to go south to help register voters. Consider that Lewis was 25 in 1965, when he led 600 orderly protesters across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge. Bland was 11. Lewis still bears the physical scars from the beating on the bridge by Alabama state troopers.

Today, we complain about long lines at the polls. Today, young people are apathetic about voting. Today, many states, including Texas, have resurrected barriers to the ballot box. That all seems immoral, given the price so many paid to win the vote. As Lewis told us, “We gave a little blood on that bridge.”

They didn’t make excuses. And we shouldn’t either. Cast your ballot.

Christine King Farris and Julian Bond

Learn more about the U.Va. Lifetime Learning Civil Rights South Seminar 2014 and view event photos.

Virginia Connections

Posted on: May 22nd, 2014 by jragosta No Comments

thomas-jefferson-quotes-i-never-considered-a-difference-of-opinion-in-politics-in-religion-in-philosophy-as-a-cause-for-withdrawing-from-a-friendby John Ragosta

Thomas Jefferson, on his way to college at William and Mary, first met Patrick Henry at a holiday party in 1759 at the home of Nathaniel West Dandridge. (The home, known as Oldfields, still stands.) Henry, six years older than the aspiring student, was already married with several children. Yet, with good food, charming company, and a lot of fiddle playing, one suspects that they both enjoyed the festivities a great deal.

The party is noteworthy, though, for another reason: it shows how closely-knit the various personal communities were in colonial Virginia. Dandridge was not only a Hanover County neighbor of Henry’s, but he was married to Dorothea Spotswood, the daughter of the former governor, Alexander Spotswood. Much later, Henry’s second wife would be the daughter of Nathaniel and Dorothea, another Dorothea, although she was only a toddler at the time of the 1759 party. Another Dandridge daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Payne who, again, much later, comes to live near Patrick Henry at Red Hill in Charlotte County and becomes one of the executors of Henry’s will.

I was thinking about this party this week when looking into the Reverend John Thompson, long-serving minister at Little Fork Church in Culpeper County, who married Butler Brayne Spotswood, the governor’s widow. Initially the Widow Spotswood resisted Thompson’s advances, believing that the position of a rector’s wife was below her station. A rather emphatic letter from Thompson, though, insisted that there was no calling above that of minister and that being a minister’s wife was a highly respected position (both in heaven and on earth). Their marriage produced several children, half-siblings to the Dandridge matron.

Dandridge was also a first cousin of Martha Washington (although there is no indication that George and Martha, married early in 1759, attended the Christmas festivities in 1759) and brother-in-law of John Campbell of Williamsburg, who married Mary Dandridge Spotswood, the widowed daughter-in-law of Governor Spotswood.

This litany of relations could easily be expanded, but you can certainly be excused if all of this is starting to cause your head to spin. While genealogists revel in these connections, they can often contribute to a certain glazing-over of the eyes.

There is, though, in all of this, another example of an important lesson: in colonial Virginia, and in the early republic, many of the leaders were intimately connected by a web of family and personal relationships. How these relationships grew and faced strains often became topics of more than personal interest. Political relationships moved along these same webs.

These type of relationships, and their influence on Thomas Jefferson, will be the subject of the 2014 Summer Jefferson SymposiumThomas Jefferson: Family, Friends and Foes – on June 19-22. The festivities should produce a good deal of fun, but fiddling is not expected.

Morven, the University of Virginia, and the Summer Jefferson Symposium

Posted on: March 10th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By John Ragosta

Earlier this week, Althea Brooks from Lifetime Learning in Alumni and Parent Engagement sent me an article concerning Morven, the 3,000 acre property which John W. Kluge donated to the University of Virginia, most of which had in its time been purchased by Thomas Jefferson for his secretary, William Short. Those that had the opportunity to attend the Summer Jefferson Symposium in 2012 will remember a delightful evening exploring the grounds and buildings at Morven before a wonderful dinner and lecture concerning William Short’s plans to emancipate his slaves and experiment with tenant farmers.

The article is about a team of architects who are trying to re-imagine how UVA can best use Morven to connect UVA to the world, consistent with the bequest. Morven Article. Kluge saw the property, with its extraordinary grounds, buildings, and gardens as a place that would serve to gather thinkers and innovators in Charlottesville who would “bring their ideas, their culture.” The UVA Foundation website describes it as “A venue for critical thinking and creative problem solving.” A quick perusal of the website shows that scores of interesting conferences, programs, and visits are hosted at Morven each year. Still, one gets the sense from the architects’ project that while the possibilities are endless, how best to use the property is still up in the air.

I don’t mean to be critical, and I don’t envy them their task. Still, while absolutely clueless as to what their report will suggest, I am confident that it will be an exciting opportunity for UVA, the region, and beyond.

When we focus our attention on ideas, culture, problem solving, and critical thinking, we cannot help but to advance the effort. What effort? That of a liberal arts education. Of course, it is hard to define what exactly that is, but, to paraphrase a Supreme Court opinion in a very different area, “I know it when I see it.” One of the best definitions, one that I think of often when I am teaching, is to promote a life well-lived. To give vision, meaning, advancement to the human condition. To serve, because certainly service is an essential part of a life well-lived. Jefferson once described William Short upon returning from an exploratory and research trip to Italy: He was “charged, like a bee, with the honey of wisdom, a blessing to his country and honour and comfort to his friends.” Not a bad description of lifetime learning (and I always appreciate references to bees).

So, we wish the architects the best in their endeavors and look forward to their report.

What does this have to do with the Summer Jefferson Symposium? I think much.

Why come to Charlottesville for several days to learn about Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Burr and other “dead white males” (and a few dead females as well)? It is all part of continuing to learn and explore and think. Mind you, I do not mean to suggest that we should or can take eighteenth century wisdom and apply it uncritically to twenty-first century problems. Any good historian would eschew that. Yet, history does teach us about the human condition, in this case, how one of America’s greatest thinkers and politicians worked with, struggled with, family, friends, and foes. Even more fundamentally, simply the chance to learn, relax, think, and enjoy in Charlottesville and the Piedmont can nurture ideas and culture, critical thinking and problem solving. I don’t mean to be Pollyannaish, but I think that is what we’re doing in a symposium like this. In June, scholars from Monticello, Montpelier, UVA, and Louisiana State University will gather for a few days to think about Jefferson and his relationships with those around him and to try to have a conversation about that with visitors from around the country. For those of us in the academy, it is a chance, as John Kluge sought, to connect with the broader world.

Hope to see you this June at Summer Jefferson Symposium!

Sex and Monticello: Jefferson, France and the politics of secrets.

Posted on: March 6th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning No Comments

By Andrew Burstein


In the final years of Thomas’s Jefferson’s life, America’s best friend in Europe was also the last surviving commander of Continental Army forces. The Marquis de Lafayette was a fatherless French aristocrat, inspired by the Declaration of Independence, who outfitted a vessel and sailed the Atlantic to commit to the American cause. Widely identified as General Washington’s “adoptive son,” Lafayette survived not one, but two revolutions (our nation’s and his). After an absence of four decades, he returned to the United States in 1824, accompanied by his son, George Washington Lafayette.Throughout the marquis’ triumphal tour, newspapers reported his every move, his every speech, as he symbolically set foot on the soil of each of the 24 states–nearly drowning when the boat his party was traveling on up the Ohio River went down in the middle of the night. All a person had to say was “the Nation’s Guest,” and everyone knew who was meant. Lafayette was so beloved that multiple cities and counties were named after him. For extended moments, France loved America, America loved France. On Nov. 4, 1824, Lafayette’s coach arrived at Monticello, to the accompaniment of trumpets. Jefferson emerged from the house and the two men embraced. Eyewitnesses wept. Jefferson’s nephew arrived late: “I would have given my best coat to have witnessed the meeting,” he said. No one will marvel at the sublime when Francois Hollande is received Monday at Jefferson’s villa, but the French president undoubtedly knows of the “special relationship” our two countries enjoyed at the time America’s moral identity was being forged. Hollande’s visit to the mountaintop with President Obama will conjure warm feelings and reveal familiar artifacts. Jefferson was a noted connoisseur of French wines, which he continued to import for decades after his tenure as U.S. minister to France ended in 1789. Monticello’s signature dome was copied from the Parisian architecture he had lovingly inspected. When Jefferson was in office, a French chef ran the kitchen at what was then called the President’s House. As to that moral identity, which Jefferson helped to forge with his rich patriotic script and French Enlightenment influence, much can be said. Jefferson has always been freedom’s philosopher, but over the past half-century, his position along America’s political spectrum has shifted from one end to the other. From the New Deal through the 1960s, he was plainly a champion of liberal government. The patrician Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw Jefferson as he saw himself, “a great gentleman … a great commoner.” In combating the conservatives who regarded his programs as a government takeover, FDR insisted: “Jefferson realized that the government must intervene … not to destroy individualism, but to protect it.” Yet no president loved Thomas Jefferson more than Ronald Reagan, who collected Jefferson quotes, peppered numerous speeches with them and was thoroughly convinced that the third president was, like himself, a champion of small government. At the Jefferson Memorial, on July 3, 1987, he said: “Jefferson so fervently believed that limited government was vital to the preservation of liberty that he used his influence to see to it that the Constitution included a Bill of Rights, 10 amendments that spelled out specific governmental limitations.”


One thing has never changed. Jefferson’s is the first name Americans associate with representative democracy. He is the founding father whose political sentiments reverberate loudest. Here and around the world, he is democracy’s muse. When former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev visited Monticello in 1993, he remarked that he had conceived Russian reform by referring back to what he’d read in college about Jefferson’s political thought.Politicians gravitate to Jefferson for obvious reasons. His expressions of hope for the future of the republic—and republics abroad—remain integral to Americans’ collective sense of purpose. Over the years, he has provided an ennobling vocabulary that members of Congress draw upon when they seek support for anything from the latest farm bill to patent reform. He is an oracle of sorts, with near-biblical authority. In the mid-1990s, for example, Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire rose in the Senate chamber, and proclaimed: “Lest there be any doubt where Thomas Jefferson would have stood on the balanced budget amendment, that doubt ought to be laid to rest by the following statement he made in 1798: ‘I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution … an additional article taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.’”

But back then, the Democratic Party had a spokesperson with a special claim to the third president. It was right there in his middle name: William Jefferson Clinton. Speaking at the Jefferson Memorial on the occasion of Jefferson’s 250th birthday, President Clinton called attention to one of the panels inside the national shrine that resonated with model liberalism: “Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…. Manners and opinions change. With the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” If Reagan’s Jefferson was a symbol of an admired past and a simpler, more manageable government system, Clinton’s Jefferson was sensitive, experimental and oriented toward the future. He was a protector of the environment, too.

Jefferson can sound thoroughly cautious and practical in his pronouncements, and usually does. But he also indulged in hyperbole. From France, some years before that nation plunged into the time of Terror, he wrote fatefully: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh wore a “blood of tyrants” T-shirt on the day he blew up the Murrah Federal Building.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

As a unifier, Jefferson came into play after Sept. 11, 2001, when a number of congresspersons repeated the iconic phrase that encircles the inside of the Jefferson Memorial: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” We would persevere whenever tyrannical threats loomed. And then flowed stern recollections of President Jefferson’s response to state-sponsored terrorism: In 1801, despite his policy of holding down the defense budget, he opted to defend the national honor by dispatching marines to “the shores of Tripoli,” where Islamic pirates kidnapped and demanded ransoms. In 2004, with leadership responsibilities front and center in that fraught election year, Time devoted its Independence Day cover story to Jefferson, the “philosopher-president.” Would he have invaded Iraq?, the editors asked.

How odd that an 18th-century man should retain such a hold on our political culture. What would cause a people to turn to him as often as they do, and on so may levels? How can he be at once the founder of the modern Democratic Party and the Tea Party’s darling? Everyone wants to claim him. Except when it comes to private behavior, that is.

From Paris, in 1785, Jefferson wrote to a young Virginian to warn him of the temptations a male faced in France: “He is led by the strongest of all the human passions into a spirit for female intrigue destructive of his own and others happiness, or a passion for whores destructive of his health, and in both cases he learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice and inconsistent with happiness.” Given President Hollande’s ongoing tussle with the scandal sheets, Jefferson’s old advice is given new life. But, of course, Jefferson himself, who lacked the prescience to anticipate DNA, continues to endure a similar scrutiny over his sexual activity with Monticello house servant Sally Hemings.

As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” How romantically our two nations are intertwined! It was generally assumed, in 1824, that the 66-year-old French marquis was more than “just friends” with his traveling companion, the women’s rights activist and free love advocate Frances Wright. Jefferson’s prim and proper daughter Martha found Fanny Wright to be frightfully immoral.

When the “Nation’s Guest” was riding in the neighborhood of Monticello with the aged Jefferson, at the reins of their carriage sat Israel Jefferson, a slave, who was to be sold after Jefferson died in deep debt. Lafayette had been writing regularly to Jefferson over the years, decrying the persistence of American slavery, and Israel was eavesdropping on just such a conversation. The two leaders were so intimate that years later, during his final visit to the American patriarch’s home, Lafayette promised to send Jefferson a superior French “bougie,” or catheter, to assist the Virginian in treating an enlarged prostate.

Today, the eavesdropping on world leaders’ private conversations is quite another matter. Last summer, Hollande joined German Chancellor Angela Merkel in calling for the United States to stop eavesdropping on its allies. Presumably, Messieurs Obama and Hollande will guard their tongues and speak pleasantries at Monticello.

Presidents used to imagine they could keep their secrets–and build their legacies–without having to adjust for prying eyes. Freedom-loving Americans expressed shock at European liberties—those that were personal, yet exposed. And so Jefferson took his secrets to the grave. But we know the way these things go: Some years later, Israel Jefferson confirmed that his late master had been on “intimate terms” with his attractive biracial chambermaid. Sometimes the past reawakens. Reputations change.

As Hollande steps into Jefferson’s home, he will be mulling over a dismal 19 percent approval rating back in France. In that vein, it is curious that Jefferson the Francophile, though he adored Lafayette, also confided in James Madison that the pro-American marquis had one giant flaw. It wasn’t a taste for younger women, but a “canine appetite for popularity.” So it’s hard to know what Monsieur Hollande will obtain by channeling Jefferson. At least, he’ll get to see hanging in the parlor of Monticello the same portrait of Lafayette that the marquis himself saw when he last visited.

Andrew Burstein is Manship professor of history at Louisiana State University. He is author of Jefferson’s Secrets, coauthor of Madison and Jefferson and will publish Democracy’s Muse: Thomas Jefferson and His Modern Fate next year.

Learn more about Thomas Jefferson at the Summer Jefferson Symposium in Charlottesville, VA June 19 – 22, 2014.

Thomas Jefferson’s Friends, Family and Foes

Posted on: February 12th, 2014 by Lifetime Learning 1 Comment

Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends:

Every person tends to fit others into their own worldview. In our minds, we shape them to our own understanding. This tendency was particularly strong in Jefferson. Thus, when George Washington became concerned that Jefferson’s and Madison’s Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions threatened the union and convinced Patrick Henry to enter his last political campaign as a Federalist, Jefferson had to declare Henry an “apostate” to Republicanism – nothing else could explain Henry’s political opposition. Not only did Jefferson shape his own understanding of people, but he also tried to shape people themselves to his idealized understanding. He wrote letters to his daughters telling them that, to earn their father’s love, they needed to meet his exacting standards. The people around Jefferson were a palette on which he tried to paint, and a palette on which he can be read.

Jefferson’s vision of early America lived on after his death, not just in his political philosophy, but in those whom he had shaped and who helped to define what Jefferson’s world was and was not. Studying Jefferson through those around him – friends, family, and foes – is a wonderful way to better understand his world, and our own.

I hope that you will join us in Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont in June to continue this discussion of Jefferson’s family, friends, and foes. Learn more and register.

Best regards,

John Ragosta

Faculty Director, Summer Jefferson Symposium
Robert C. Vaughan Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
University of Virginia