Annette Gordon-Reed on Growing Up With De Facto Segregation

Question: Were your parents protesting when they decided to send you to a white school?

Gordon-Reed:    Well, not actually protesting, they decided when the school district came up with this sort of plan for desegregation efforts so called freedom of choice plan were white was supposed to choose white schools and blacks to choose black schools, they decided to send me to the white school instead of choosing the neighborhood black school.  So, they were not protestors in the sense that they were out, you know, doing anything.  As a matter of fact, the agreement was that my parents would not, you know, make a big deal about it and the school district wouldn’t make a big deal about it and I would just go and everything would be as normal as possible under the circumstances.  I was there by myself.  It was pretty tough at first.  There were people who sort of went out of their way kids, you know, how kids are.  Anybody who’s different in a way in a lot of times, there’s some kids who fixate on that, but there were a few who, I guess, whose parents told them, you know, to make sure that they play with me, but by far it was a very tough situation.  The teachers were fine.  They were wonderful, but it was a very tense moment.  My mother said at one point that I broke out in hives.  I don’t remember that but it was certainly a stress reaction I think to what was going on.

Question: How did you schooling inform your perspective as a historian?

Gordon-Reed:    Well, I think it made me think at a very early age about race.  I think lots of black people in the South during that time period did, this is in the mid-60s, thought about race but I was very conscious of there being some sort of movement in the world.  That something was changing in the world because I was at the school and I was sort of on display.  Delegations of people would come by and stand in the doorway and sort of look inside to see this, you know, big experiment, you know, this one black person in the roomful of white.  So, I had a sense of… Well, mission is to messianic but a sense that there was a purpose and that black people were going somewhere, I mean, from a very early age that there was some place to go.  That there was something that was wrong that had to be changed.  So, I started thinking about those things pretty early on.  This kind of forced me into that.

Going to an all-white school in east Texas made Annette Gordon-Reed aware of race from an early age.

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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.