Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Tobin Miller Shearer's "Two Weeks Every Summer"

Tobin Miller Shearer is Associate Professor of History and African-American Studies Director at the University of Montana.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Two Weeks Every Summer: Fresh Air Children and the Problem of Race in America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Some programs allowed children who had developed an especially close relationship with their host family to be re-invited until they turned sixteen. Children could be placed with new hosts until the turned twelve, but after that point Fresh Air Staff no longer arranged new hosting sites. Only a re-invitation from a prior host could bring a teenager to the country.
Age was everything for the Fresh Air programs. Page 99 of my book gets to the heart of that story.

My book explores the racially transformative years between 1939 and 1979 when administrators and boosters from the Fresh Air movement switched from sending white children from the city to the country for summer vacations to sending black and brown children from the city to the country for summer vacations. Key to the success of the hosting initiatives was the practice of cutting children off from further visits once they became adolescents.

I provide evidence of the hosts’ preference for younger children, program-wide distrust of teenagers by both hosts and administrators, and the problems of homesickness resulting from this drive to send out ever-younger children. Encapsulated in the second theme of the chapter’s title, “Sex, Seven, Sick,” the text on this page also connects to the theme of innocence that I address more specifically in the book’s final chapter. I contend that the Fresh Air programs tried to market an opportunity where everyone could be innocent of the complex burdens foisted on those attempting to address this country’s history of race relations.

This 99th page does exemplify the book as a whole in that it emphasizes archival evidence, critically engages its topic, and sweeps aside publicity claims in favor of insider information. For 140 years the Fresh Air Fund and its imitators ran their programs free of scholarly criticism. Seldom did they have to deal with public criticism of any kind. This page, and the book as a whole, also show how I have sought to examine Fresh Air initiatives with a balanced but critical eye.

A program dependent upon cutting children off once they became teenagers requires no less careful scrutiny.
Learn more about Two Weeks Every Summer at the Cornell University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Two Weeks Every Summer.

--Marshal Zeringue