Thursday, March 08, 2007

Steven Ross - Day 4

It is Wednesday, March 7th, which means I am in Clemson, SC at Clemson University.

Upon his death in 1886, Thomas Clemson willed a tract of land to be used to begin an agricultural college. Mr. Clemson - scientist, mining engineer, diplomat to Belgium, and considered the first secretary of agriculture - was the son-in-law to none other than John Calhoun. Calhoun lived here from 1825 to 1850. He served as a US representative (1811-1817), secretary of war to James Monroe (1817-1825), vice president to John Quincy Adams (1825-1829), vice president to Andrew Jackson (1829-1832), US senator (1832-1843), secretary of state to John Tyler (1844-1845), and again as US senator (1845-1850) at the time of his death. Calhoun pushed the theory of nullification, a states' rights theory under which states could declare null and void any federal law they deemed to be unconstitutional. He was an outspoken proponent of the institution of slavery, which he defended as a "positive good" rather than as a necessary evil.

I am confident that Calhoun was an advocate for the creation of the American Colonization Society, the organization that paved the way for freed former slaves to return to Africa and settle in Liberia. The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 as an attempt to satisfy two groups in America. Ironically, these groups were on opposite ends of the spectrum involving slavery. One group consisted of philanthropists, clergy and abolitionists who wanted to free African slaves and their descendants, and provide them with the opportunity to return to Africa. The other group was the slave owners who feared free people of color and wanted to expel them from America. The Society's members relentlessly pressured Congress and President Monroe (for whom Monrovia, Liberia's capital is named) for support. In 1819, they received $100,000 from Congress, and in January 1820, a ship, the Elizabeth, embarked from New York and headed for West Africa with three white American Colonization Society agents and 88 blacks. Eventually, this ship landed in an area that is now northern Liberia.

So it all seems fitting that I am showing the film here.

I have a great time at Clemson. The university has a similar feel to Ohio University, a land grant school with about 20,000 students. The screening is packed and my hosts are wonderful. What a vibrant group of young scholars - funny, engaged, committed - Amy Monoghan (English/Film Studies), Julie Huntington (French), John Smith (English/Film Studies) and Jonathan Field (English). Before the screening, we dine on classic Southern fare - sushi. (Eventually, I am confident that I will be getting more indigenous fare.) The dinner conversation is no slow-paced drawled affair. Amy (Boston) and Jonathan (Boston) are hard core northeasterners and the pace is frenetic. Jonathan's brother, Rick, I learn, was a former New York film technician - a boom operator - though I do not believe we crossed paths on any set. Now he has his own pickle business - Rick's Pics - and one of his venues is the open market in Union Square. This was about two minutes from where I cut the Liberia film in Manhattan, and I know, good Jewish pickle-loving boy that I am, that I sampled his wares.

Heading to Columbia, SC tomorrow.

Bye y'awl.