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TCU Magazine "Academe"
Articles:  A novel idea | Reporting (almost) live

A call to arms

Black soldiers fought valiantly for U.S. freedom during the War of 1812, but History Prof. Gene Smith says the war only escalated slavery in the South.

By Nancy Bartosek

History Prof. Gene Smith has a statue of Patrick Henry on his desk, a picture of George Washington on his shelf, and paintings of wooden war ships on the walls.

He's made a career of studying how wars and the military affected life during the early years of our new republic. He has a spot on his wall for another picture, one he can't seem to find.

One that might not exist -- an artist's depiction of one of the thousands of black soldiers who fought for U.S., British or Spanish armies in the 18th or 19th centuries.

"African Americans made a valuable contribution to various war efforts on both sides of the conflict," Smith said. "But despite their belief they were fighting for their own freedom, they actually only opened the door to future race-relation problems in the U.S."

It's a phenomenon that will be explained in a book Smith is working on, Sons of Liberty: Race, Liberty, and Power During the War of 1812.

His research paints a sad picture of exploitation and dashed expectations. Smith believes that slavery in this country may have ended sooner had the U.S. not been involved in the War of 1812.

Slavery was first brought to America in 1619 when about 100 slaves were deposited in Virginia. But as the country moved toward independence in the next century, slavery became less financially viable. By the late 1700s, slavery was on the wane in the North.

When Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, his "equality" extended only to white, land-owning males. But soon equality included all white males and ideas about freedom and civic participation began to settle into the country's conscience.

"I've discovered that to understand the history of African Americans is to talk about more than just slavery," he said. "It's a story of civic obligations and daily lives.

The blacks that served were not only fighting with the hope of gaining their individual freedom, they were fighting for the right to participate in the community as equals."

Unfortunately, that's not what happened.

The rapid opening of vast tracts of land after the War of 1812 only cemented Southern attitudes toward slavery. Lands were now available for cotton farming. And harvesting cotton was labor-intensive. Slavery was not only desirable, it was necessary.

"This provided a new impetus for slavery," Smith said. "The economic motive was lost in the North, but the South now had financial reasons for the continued growth and expansion of slavery."

During the Battle of New Orleans, the last great battle of the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson gathered a contingent of black soldiers, whom he referred to as the "sturdy sons of freedom."

A poignant term, Smith said.

"It was one of those times when the institution of slavery was relegated toward greater goals -- goals of freedom for the United States," he said. "Those Ôsons of freedom' were giving their lives for the rights of the citizenry, but until they got their own freedom, those doors were closed to them."

A Novel Idea

Academic fiction. Grinning between figments of his imagination, Senior Tim Skaggs hopes characters like Bryant Baxter (left) and Lucy Walker (right), from his book Business as Usual, will eventually evolve into a career and a genre of writing he may have created.

Speech communications senior Tim Skaggs calls his recently finished book, Business as Usual, academic fiction.

Yet, his fellow students say Skaggs' first book, off to publishers now, has turned dry, theoretical concepts into nothing short of an "edu-drama."

The book began as an independent study for Skaggs and serves as a supplement to Speech and Communication Chair Will Powers' organizational communications course. It's a story about the people at Baxter, Brickhouse and Jones, a fictional Fort Worth marketing firm.

And while students immerse themselves in the relationship antics of characters such as highly charged vice president Lucy Walker and crotchety 77-year-old CEO Bryant Baxter, they get an insider's view of various styles and attitudes about organizational communication.

"While my students are learning about concepts and philosophical ideas from the class," Powers said, "they are able to relate to the characters in Tim's mini-novel, which is based on the information in the text book."

The response has been overwhelmingly praise worthy. On the class website, where the book currently resides, Junior Abigail Allen wrote: I liked all of the twists and turns the plot took and was interested in the way things unfolded in the organization over time. That is an excellent way of showing that corporate communication is definitely something that has to be worked at, but is in a constant state of change!

Powers and Skaggs see the application of this genre to many other subjects.

"It would be the cat's meow if Tim would make a career out of an independent study class," Powers said. "It's been wonderful to see the students saying Eureka! as the concepts come alive."


Reporting (almost) live

Senior Teeley Dipple discovered it takes about six hours to produce a one-minute, 30-second television news clip.

That exhausting real-life lesson the budding TV news reporter gained through SkiffTV, a new convergent media enterprise for broadcast journalism students.

"SkiffTV is preparing us, through practical experience, for exactly what TV stations want," Dipple said.

Students write, tape and produce news packages and then upload them to the Web. It's a new spin on broadcast education that gives the students an extra edge in the marketplace.

"This is what is happening in journalism," said Suzanne Huffman, hired last fall to head the broadcast journalism sequence. "Students will be expected to work in the multimedia world."

Junior Chris Gibson, for one, now knows what to expect. "It's harder than I thought," he said. "You have to be a news person first and be able to put it on TV and the Web second."

Workforce ready. Sophomore Tyson Trice, junior Chris Gibson and senior Tealy Dipple say SkiffTV experience has readied them for the work force. You can find their newsclips at