About Art Menius

About Art Menius Art Menius received both the B.A. (1977 with honors) and M.A. (1982) in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Following three and one-half years as an Interpretations Specialist for research at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Menius entered the music field as a writer and production assistant for the Nashville Network bluegrass and old-time music series, “Fire on the Mountain.” In September 1983 he began publishing reviews and features about roots music for publications ranging from Bluegrass Unlimited to the [Raleigh] News & Observer. Other adventures along the way have included editing and desktop publishing books for the Forest History Society, promoting a live performance bluegrass radio series on 117 commercial stations, emceeing and stage managing at dozens of music festivals in USA and Canada, and serving as a consultant on the acclaimed film, “High Lonesome.” During 1985 Menius helped create the International Bluegrass Music Association. Late that year he became the new trade association’s first executive director. Menius returned to IBMA’s Board of Directors for two terms running from 1998 through 2004. He served on the board of directors of the Old-Time Music Group, publishers of the Old-Time Herald, from 1991 thorough 1998, including six years as president. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Folk Alliance International. In 1990 the North American Folk Music & Dance Alliance elected Menius the President of its first board of directors. In April 1991 he became its first manager, serving in that capacity until June 1996. Following a period as an artistic representative, Menius became Associate Festival Coordinator for MerleFest, the enormous outdoor folk festival presented by Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. Following a decade there, Menius served as Director of Appalshop, the acclaimed Appalachian media and arts center in Whitesburg, Kentucky from July 2007 until March 2010. On November 2, 2011, Menius completed his work as Director of Development for Common Ground on the Hill. From 2012 to 2014 he served as Executive Director of The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, NC before semi-retiring to freelance due to health issues.

The Yamikah Under the Cowboy Hat


This time around I have explored the experience and identity of a group of Jews who live, like myself, a life defined by conflicting dualities: They are Jews and they play and rely on the music industry of the American South.

My research specifically explored the identity and experience of Jewish musicians who grew up in the American South, or currently rely on the music industries of the South to support their career. 

The Jackson Project Reviewed in History


History: Reviews of New Books

Volume 45, 2017 – Issue 3

US and Canada

The Jackson Project: War in the American Workplace: A Memoir

Cohen, Phil, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press 375 pp., $26.95, ISBN 9781621902430 Publication Date: July 2016

Pages 64-65 | Published online: 10 Mar 2017

From widening disparities in wealth and income to the growing power of conservatives and business, the decline of the labor movement has cast a long shadow over American politics and society. Over the past half century, a wide range of scholars has documented the role played by weak legal protections, strong business opposition, global competition, and bureaucratic union leaders in reducing organized labor to a state of crisis.

Phil Cohen’s compelling memoir combines and complicates these explanations. A thirty-year veteran of the labor movement in the South, Cohen is well positioned to recount the successes and the failures of organized labor in the region. After moving from his native New York City to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the late 1970s, Cohen found employment as a municipal driver. His work with his own local labor union eventually drew the attention of the southern regional staff of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU), which he joined in 1987.

With the exception of the opening chapter and occasional flashbacks, most of the narrative covers an eleven-month campaign in Jackson, Tennessee, in 1989–1990. Charged with stabilizing and rebuilding Local 281, Cohen encountered a flagging interracial union in a capital-starved, competition-swamped textile mill of just under 400 employees. In sometimes grim, often moving prose, Cohen recounts the local union’s subsequent efforts to navigate managerial opposition, rank-and-file splits, and corporate restructuring, taking the reader from the bargaining table to the courtroom to the picket line.

At its best, the book offers an unusually vivid and accessible window into the practical operation of American labor law. In recounting the give-and-take of negotiation, the marshaling of evidence for arbitration, and the resolution of a seemingly endless number of individual and collective grievances, Cohen conveys a sense of the power of the contract. Yet in recalling the inaccessibility of the bankruptcy process, the secrecy of new foreign investors, and the flagrant violation of workers’ right to organize, he also reveals its inefficacy. Though a dedicated group of picketers managed to restrict the plant’s access to raw cotton, win surprisingly positive coverage from the press, and garner significant support from the local community, the campaign ultimately failed. Bankruptcy proceedings displaced the old union, the new owners blacklisted the old union members, the regional office pulled Cohen, and the firm went under soon after. In the end, the local’s leadership was trapped by the same dilatory, insulated legal structures that otherwise afforded their members a modicum of protection from arbitrary action.

There is a throwback quality to the book, which sometimes has the feel of a rust-belt drama with a southern accent. Cohen recognizes that organizing drives are emotional, as well as tactical, and that workers respond to empathy and passion as much as to bread and butter. Demonstrating a remarkable capacity for resisting simplification, Cohen humanizes the struggle without romanticizing it. The law is both useful and broken. The employer is both greedy and trapped. The workers are both desperate and resilient. The union is both committed and pragmatic. Organizing is hard. The firm’s troubles owe much to global developments beyond anyone’s comprehension, much less their control. Though a sometimes callous, incompetent management exacerbated these macro-pressures, there are more victims than villains in a sad story that ultimately underscores the human costs of the war on workers.

That story is worth telling. Scholars and observers of the labor movement will find much of the account familiar, but the memoir has potential to be useful as a teaching tool. At a time when few students are familiar with the world of unionized labor, Cohen’s memoir offers a compelling starting point.

    Rural voters lose in Trump’s budget plan – POLITICO


    ““Rural America elected Trump. His message to rural America is, ‘I don’t care,’” said Dee Davis, founder of the Center for Rural Strategies, a Whitesburg, Kentucky-based nonpartisan group that advocates on behalf of rural communities….”

    Segregation in the South – The Atlantic


    But what few people know is that the South wasn’t always so segregated. During a brief window of time between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the 20th century, black and white people lived next to each other in Southern cities, creating what the historian Tom Hanchett describes as a “salt-and-pepper” pattern. They were not integrated in a meaningful sense: Divisions existed, but “in a lot of Southern cities, segregation hadn’t been fully imposed—there were neighborhoods where blacks and whites were living nearby,” said Eric Foner, a Columbia historian and expert on Reconstruction. Walk around in the Atlanta or the Charlotte of the late 1800s, and you might see black people in restaurants, hotels, the theater, Foner said. Two decades later, such things were not allowed.