Lawyer, Gator, Policymaker

Ask any Floridian who survived the 2004 hurricane season, and you will get an earful about the epic quartet of storms that ravaged the state. Mark Kaplan ’88 rapid-fires, without a breath: “Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne — but who’s counting?” Kaplan, who had previously worked for several years as a lawyer in different government-facing roles and leading the state’s affordable housing agency, “returned to government to help lead the permanent housing response after the four hurricanes hit Florida and damaged 700,000 homes.” The Jeb Bush administration was focused on finding permanent, affordable housing for the 16,000 families living in FEMA trailers and the many others impacted by the storms.

Kaplan served as chief of staff for Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings, then chief of staff for Governor Bush. Kaplan stayed on until 2007. “The volume and velocity of issues could feel overwhelming at times, but you have the ability to change people’s lives for the better based on programs you are driving, policy decisions you are helping to make — that was incredibly gratifying.”

Mark Kaplan returned to work at his alma mater in June.


“I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

Kaplan’s career has taken him from Gainesville to Atlanta to Tallahassee to Minneapolis to Tampa, and back to Gainesville again. His roles are many, among them, clerk to a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, a lawyer in a statewide law firm, executive director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, and senior vice president for public affairs at the Mosaic Company.

In June, Kaplan became the university’s new vice president for government and community relations, and he is ready for the job. “There’s a real focus on creating excellence in everything we do across the university, and that’s pretty exciting,” he says. “I want to share that excitement and engage partners in Tallahassee, Washington, and here in Gainesville to help us become a Top 5 public university.”

Kaplan says he still uses tools he learned as an undergraduate in political science professor Michael Martinez’ and Father Michael Gannon’s history classes and wants to bring the understanding of political behavior and storytelling to his new position. “I’m a big believer that we have to tell our story, and we have to do a lot of listening.”

The Kaplans are a Gator family — both his wife, Sherry ’89, and his daughter, Mary Summers ’20, are Gators. In fact, Summers lived in the same dorm Kaplan did and also has a major in political science (and Spanish).
“What really drew me back” he says, “is doing something that really matters — to me, my family, my state. There’s a lot of enthusiasm here right now, and I want to be a part of that.”

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Double Gator calls winning Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction an “unbelievable joy.”

Author James Grippando ’80, JD’82 says that winning the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2017 for his novel Gone Again (reviewed in the Fall 2016 issue of Ytori) was the most exciting thing ever to happen to him in his career as an attorney and as a best-selling novelist.

“I am honored and humbled,” says Grippando, who lives in Coral Gables, Fla. “The coolest thing is you get a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her old friends came to the ceremony [held at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa], and it’s pretty surreal to get this prize and congratulations from her friends.”

Gone Again tackles the issue of the death penalty and innocence, and in this novel, race. Attorney Jack Swyteck, the protagonist of 14 of Grippando’s 26 novels and a Gator himself, must defend Dylan Reeves, a man on death row wrongfully convicted of murdering teenager Sashi Burgette, whose body was never found.

“Having a character like Jack Swyteck in 14 novels and winning an award based on a Swyteck novel was an unbelievable joy for me,” says Grippando. “I would defy anyone to guess where I stand on capital punishment based on my novels, but people always ask. My view has evolved. In 2015, I was shocked to discover 58 convictions in homicide cases had been overturned and the average length of time a wrongly convicted person served was 141⁄2 years in prison.”

Grippando says he honed his writing skills in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honors program, led by English professor Sid Homan.

“We wrote a paper a week, and Sid would read them aloud to us,” recalls Grippando. “There’s nothing more painful than hearing and watching someone trip over your own bad sentence. I still edit my own work that way — reading it aloud. It stuck with me.”

Most of Grippando’s novels are set in Florida, and he frequently draws on his experiences from his college days, whether it’s tubing down the Ichetucknee River or observing student protests at Tigert Hall.

His latest novel, A Death in Live Oak, is set at the University of Florida where Jamal Cousin, the president of the preeminent black fraternity, is found hogtied and lynched, hanging above the Suwannee River. This act — inspired by a lynching in Live Oak in the 1940s — sparks a firestorm across the state and the nation, putting Jack in the Atticus Finch-like position of defending an unpopular client in a racially-charged environment.

“Since I’m writing a thriller, the stakes need to be as high as they can be,” says Grippando. “I knew it had to be set at the flagship university in whatever state I based it in. In this case, it was the University of Florida. I’m proud to say that I went to that flagship university.”

The idea for Live Oak percolated in Grippando’s mind for years, but it migrated to the forefront when his son, Ryan, was applying to colleges. Grippando was disturbed by the amount of racially-motivated hate crimes happening on college campuses throughout the country.

“Any writer will tell you the old adage, ‘Write what you know.’ It also means, ‘Write what you worry about,’” he says. “Jack Swyteck, as a character, had never addressed the issue of racism in America. I like to take on timely subject matters. I don’t preach. I present the topic as realistically as possible. I’m happy to say that many people think it’s the best book I’ve written.”

See book review. To learn more about Jack Swyteck and Grippando, visit www.

A restauranteur with a Texas-sized love for Russian gives back to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

The son of a physician, John Welsh ’75 began his UF career in the pre-med track and worked in an immunology lab. The elder Dr. Welsh was happy. The director of the immunology department was happy. Welsh himself, however, was not. “I hated it,” he says. Three years later, the young Welsh went to his father and said, “Dad, this is just not my thing,” a sentiment he also communicated to the immunology director. “John, you’re a hard worker, you have a positive outlook, always charging, business-oriented,” the director told Welsh. “Maybe medicine isn’t for you. You should be in business.’”

John ’75 and Sydney Welsh are no strangers to 12-hour days and 7-day weeks

Welsh was relieved he did not have to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he had spent three years taking science classes. It seemed a bit late in the game to change his major. An advisor looked over his coursework and told him the only thing he was missing was a foreign language. He says. “It was the beginning of the cold war, and I thought Russian might be fun.” Heck, why not?

Welsh credits Professor E.C. Barksdale with helping him get the necessary hours to graduate. He also started working with a UF ornithologist, who needed help translating papers from a Russian colleague, and discovered that all those science classes paid o after all. Armed with a major in Russian and a minor in physical sciences, he headed to Manhattan hoping to get a job at the United Nations. He learned you need a PhD to translate at the UN and instead worked at a hotel laundry with Polish immigrants, who could understand his Russian.

He soon left NYC and went west, ending up in Dallas in 1976. He took a job at the Railhead Restaurant and, within six months, informed the owners that he would like to go into management. Railhead was purchased by Victoria Station, which gave Railhead’s owners an opportunity to pursue their own concept restaurant: Cheddar’s Casual Cafe. As an operational founder, Welsh joined Aubrey Good and Doug Rogers to open the first Cheddar’s in Arlington, Texas. Today, there are 171 Cheddar’s in the U.S. Welsh is a franchisee with two stores and started another concept restaurant: Fish Daddy’s

When he opened his first franchise in 2000, his wife, Sydney, stepped in to “help out” for 30 days. Eighteen years later, she’s still helping out. They are first to tell you that being restaurant owners takes resilience, grit, and determination.

At the first location, they worked 12-hour days for nine months straight. When they finally got one day off, half way to a Houston respite, the back office’s shelving collapsed, rendering all of the computers useless. Making a bee line back to the restaurant, Syd said, “Nice day off, honey!”

When they opened their second Cheddar’s in Lufkin, Texas, they had a constant turnover in staff. “Your No. 2 store is usually make it or break it for small companies,” says Welsh. John visited weekly, and Sydney drove five hours back and forth twice a week for four years until the management and staffing were stable. They began remodeling a building to start their first Fish Daddy’s. Careless painters left rags in cans next to a wooden column — four months of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars went up in flame. John and Sydney couldn’t start reconstruction on it for a year. In the long run, all three restaurants prevailed.

The Welshes required their three adult children to work in management for a year in one of their restaurants. “We wanted them to understand where the money comes from,” says Welsh. The couple believes in both self-reliance and giving people a chance. This last year, they endowed a scholarship to Languages, Literatures, and Cultures for one student a year — “an individual like me,” says Welsh, “someone in Liberal Arts and Sciences who doesn’t know exactly what they want to do yet.” He credits the college with giving him a flexible concept of life, and not just because of “the immunologist who saw a businessman in me,” Welsh says. “Working through college, combined with having a broad landscape in the humanities, helped form my personality. Your personality gets shaped those four years.”


portrait of distinguished looking manAround 5 p.m. in downtown Washington, D.C., the city hits quitting time. Professionals stream out of large office buildings and many head to into the Capital’s (arguably) favorite pastime: happy hour.

J.R. Denson ’09 (Spanish BA with a minor in Teaching English as a Second Language) leaves his work as a health policy analyst and travels to a popular Latino bar.

Once a month, armed with a large roll of “Hola, me llamo ______” nametags, J.R. hosts one of the city’s most popular Spanish-speaking meetup groups. The group, regularly attended by 80-100 people, is a mix of native speakers and language learners. Although J.R.’s career has focused on health education and now health policy, he’s found time over the last several years to create a place for others to practice language skills … and he even finds time to teach salsa dancing!

Thinking back over his time at UF, studying abroad in Santiago, Chile, for two semesters was a clear highlight for J.R.. He remembers being glad he chose to live with a host family instead of with other students because “living there forced me to speak Spanish even when it wasn’t convenient or if I wasn’t ‘in the mood’ that day.” The experience paid off and his Spanish skills improved considerably.

Upon graduating, J.R. returned home to the Washington, D.C. area where he spent two years working with a community-based nonprofit that partnered with the DC public school system. His Spanish skills often came in handy in unexpected but often meaningful scenarios, such as tutoring ESL students in high school algebra and geometry.

Now having completed graduate school, he spends his days doing public health research and advocacy with a national think tank. J.R. continues to practice and deepen his Spanish skills to be ready to use them whenever the opportunity or need arises.

A Compelling Advocate

Even during his childhood, Chip Kunde ’87 had a love of politics, government, and history. “But little kids don’t think about becoming lobbyists when they grow up,” he says. “Actually, I wanted to be an architect, then I realized it required math.”

Chip Kunde urges students to be involved outside of the classroom. Joshua Mills

“The business touches government frequently, and it’s my job to make sure we have folks we can talk to when we have an issue that needs to be addressed.”

For the last 25 years, Kunde has worked in governmental relations, lobbying for the food and restaurant industry. Since April 2015, he’s been at Sysco Corporation, where he is the Vice President for Governmental Relations in Washington, D.C. “I’ve lobbied at the state level, at the national level. I’ve done work internationally,” he says. “All are different because of different processes and cultures. This work is perfect for me.”

Some of the issues Kunde negotiates include transportation, trade, tariffs, and taxes. “Many aspects of our business are regulated by the local, state, and federal government — everything from the trucks we drive, the employees we have, the buildings we operate,” he says. “The business touches government frequently, and it’s my job to make sure we have folks we can talk to when we have an issue that needs to be addressed.”

As an advocate for Sysco, it is Kunde’s responsibility to position himself as a knowledge partner to deal with ever-changing legislation. “The really neat thing about it is that there is not any one day that is exactly the same as the day before,” he says. He may spend days researching a piece of legislation, only to come to Congress and discover that the issue has been completely upended or dissolved. “There are definitely times that we may not see eye-to-eye on an issue, or you are dealing with a very emotional issue,” he says. His personal strategy for resolving conflict is “finding the way to ‘yes.’”

Maintaining balance and alacrity in policy negotiations requires Kunde to be both an apt communicator and conciliator. He credits UF with serving as a “launching pad” for his career. In addition to majoring in political science and government, he also actively participated in student government and Phi Kappa Psi.

Kunde says communication skills hold the utmost importance. “Also, get involved in organizations outside of your field,” he says. “What I do is about issues, but it’s really about relationships. Learning the skills to develop relationships and being able to engage one-on-one in groups is important to becoming a compelling advocate.”

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UF’s LitiGators win major national tournaments.

UF’s Mock Trial team, the LitiGators, celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2017 in grand style — by having its winningest year in the team’s history, placing in several regional meets. In only its second trip to nationals, the LitiGators placed 8th out of the 48 top teams at the American Mock Trial Association tournament in Los Angeles in April. The team’s coach, Associate Professor of Political Science Laura Sjoberg, says this young team has done impressively well. “The students are incredibly dedicated,” she says. “They spend 20 hours a week preparing.”

“It came up in every interview that I did … it was a major selling point for me … About an eighth of my class at Harvard has some Mock Trial experience.”

Each year, the students work with 200 pages of the same case material. This year’s mock topic is an attempted murder from online dating. Team members play both attorneys and witnesses. “The witness will have an affidavit but no specifics, so the students get to create the characters,” says Sjoberg. “The individual can play up or down the flaws in the affidavit and mold the character. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons for the courtroom.”

Matthew Solomon ’18 is applying to law school and plans to become a lawyer. “Being a member of the UF Mock Trial team has prepared me more than I could ever properly explain. This organization teaches you fundamental lawyering skills: how to think abstractly and analytically about problems, how to write and speak with purpose and brevity, and how to ‘think like a lawyer.’ Being able to analyze evidence and possessing an advanced understanding of the intricacies of trial advocacy allow former Mock Trial competitors to excel in law school and beyond,” he says. “Members of the Mock Trial attend some of the most prestigious law schools in America and become members of legal journals, law school trial teams, and law school moot court teams.”

Brian Kitchen ’15, a second-year law student at Harvard, says, “Aside from GPA and LSAT, Mock Trial is one of the biggest predictors of law school admittance,” he says. “It gives you an easy way to demonstrate genuine interest and to pivot back to a selling point on your résumé. It came up in every interview that I did, and I’d say it was a major selling point for me. So, from just a logistics standpoint, it’s very advantageous. About an eighth of my class at Harvard has some Mock Trial experience.”

To support Mock Trial, contact the Office of Advancement at 352-294-1971 or

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This geographer does it all.

Nick Dowhaniuk PhD’21 has a shaded illustration of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes in East Africa, tattooed on his forearm. “Ever since I went to Africa, I fell in love with it,” he says. He once lived at the base of the mountains and got the tattoo to remind himself of his second home even while stuck at a computer in an office an ocean away, he says.

“One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words.”


young man beams as he hangs from a round structure with a sign reading "Uganda" and "Equator"
Nick Dowhaniuk’s dissertation research is on Ugandans’ access to healthcare.


Pursuing both a PhD in geography and a Master of Health Science degree at UF means that Dowhaniuk indeed does quite a bit of office work, but he is no stranger to adventure. A National Geographic Explorer, Dowhaniuk studies the sociocultural and spatial effects of oil development in Uganda, as well as conservation issues there and in South Africa. His dissertation research on Ugandans’ access to healthcare serves his career goal of founding an NGO devoted to community-based health intervention.

“Having a statistics background has really helped me to work on a bunch of different projects,” he explains. His passion for a diversity of projects centers on his deep love for Africa, and “a big school like UF just fit my crazy interests going everywhere,” he says with a laugh.

He began with a BA in geography at the University of New Hampshire, adding a minor in intercultural communication for good measure, then continued at UNH for a master’s in environmental conservation and a graduate certificate in statistics. There, he met his adviser and mentor Joel Hartter ’07, who introduced him to both his Uganda work and the NatGeo Explorer program. Dowhaniuk says. “It wasn’t until I got involved on the Uganda project that I saw what I wanted to do. When I find something interesting, I gravitate toward it and see what happens.”

Recently, Dowhaniuk participated in NatGeo’s “Sciencetelling Bootcamp,” a weeklong intensive program designed to help researchers engage the public with their findings. As a self-taught photographer, Dowhaniuk embraced the opportunity, and he recently joined documentary filmmaker Dan McCabe on a hike through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, studying the fallout of the 2002 eruption of Mount Nyiragongo in the context of civil strife. “One thing I love about photography is I can give people a global sense, break down some misconceptions about sub-Saharan Africa, and tell stories that aren’t as easily told with just words,” he says.


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Moonshine the dolphin is a special cetacean. Although a chronic liver problem has confined him to human care for the rest of his life, an interdisciplinary team that includes UF professor of psychology Nicole Dorey and alumna Barbara Perez ’14 has developed an enrichment program that includes several custom-made toys. The study, published on Oct. 25, 2017, in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, examines how socialization and environment help Moonshine feel happier in his artificial environment.

Perez, then an intern at Mote Marine Laboratory, where Moonshine resides, brought him to Dorey’s attention. Moonshine is the only pantropical spotted dolphin in captivity in the U.S. Perez, Dorey, and their collaborator Lindsay Mehrkam PhD’15 at Monmouth University saw an opportunity to study both the potential for enrichment of Moonshine’s habitat and daily experience— and provide guidance for other species captive for rehabilitation or long-term care — and the mental well-being of these intelligent creatures.

Members of the clade Cetacea, which includes dolphins, whales, and porpoises, have shown ample evidence of social–emotional intelligence, as well as problem-solving skills and a capacity for communication. The methods of psychological inquiry can illuminate how and why cetaceans interact with their environment and other creatures, including humans, and respond to stimuli, or lack thereof. “Since my background is in behavior analysis — and UF has one of the best behavior analysis departments — I love that we can use behavior analytic methodology, normally used with autistic children, to improve the welfare of animals in captivity,” says Dorey. Perez, now a lab manager at UC San Diego Comparative Cognition Lab, intends to pursue graduate work in applied cognitive science for animal care.

Enrichment is hypothesized to mitigate “stereotypic” behaviors, i.e. aberrant behaviors that among captive cetaceans include rubbing themselves across the bottom of the tank and popping their jaw — a normally aggressive act that, in isolation from conspecifics, denotes boredom and irritability.

Moonshine is the only permanent resident dolphin at Mote, which rehabilitates beached and injured marine life in its Dolphin and Whale Hospital. He arrived in June 2003 for physical therapy needed for his injuries from being stranded. During his otherwise successful rehabilitation, he continued to show elevated liver enzymes. Because the cause was never determined, the National Marine Fisheries Service deemed Moonshine unreleasable and Moonshine became Mote’s resident dolphin, sharing his tank with other patients on occasion. Mote researchers, including Moonshine’s trainer and the paper’s co-author Amanda Foltz, have tracked his behavior over the years. Mote interns designed three environmental enrichment devices (EEDs) that provided Moonshine with play and tactile opportunities. This study was the first time Moonshine’s responses to the EEDs were scientifically measured.

The researchers offered the EEDs to him in conjunction with “training,” i.e. when scientists were interacting with him. They measured Moonshine’s engagement with the EED, randomly chosen for each session, and whether it made a difference if the EED was tossed into the pool or presented to him by a trainer. They then observed whether or not Moonshine then engaged in stereotypic behaviors.

For Moonshine, playing with others made him feel better than playing alone. He interacted with the EEDs more when they were enticingly given to him, and he was less likely to start rubbing himself on the bottom of the pool when he had the opportunity to play, especially if a trainer enticed him with the EED.

The researchers note that much more research is still needed to design adaptive enrichment programs for captive cetaceans. In addition to its important contributions to the body of knowledge about their socialization and play needs, this research produced an optimal enrichment program for Moonshine, making him a happier, healthier dolphin.

See full photo story on Exposure.

Two UF alumni archaeologists unearth the home and legend of a freed African Muslim slave who became a financier in Georgetown at the turn of the 19th century.

By Rachel Wayne

Among the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of 19th-century oil portraits of esteemed men, one stands out. Painted by Charles Willson Peale, who also captured luminaries such as George Washington, it is an 1819 portrait of an older gentleman with a traditional Muslim kufi and a worn but triumphant gaze hinting at an unusual piece of Washington, D.C., history. The painting is of Yarrow Mamout, a financier who sat for two such portraits and owned a sizable property in the Georgetown neighborhood. His remarkable success might be unexpected, as he spent 44 years a slave.

oil painting of kindly elderly man with brown skin and kufi capPortrait of Yarrow Mamout (Muhammad Yaro), Charles Willson Peale


Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout.

Despite his accomplishments as a freed African Muslim, Mamout faded from history, relegated to the two portraits and local lore. In 2004, his biographer, James H. Johnston, spotted Mamout’s second portrait, a James Alexander Simpson work at the Georgetown Public Library, and he wanted to know more about the man in the picture. Two blocks away, at 3324 Dent Place NW, a small lot is a mystery of rubble, its Reconstruction-era house crushed by a tree as Johnston was finishing his research. Although the legend of Mamout permeated the area, the link between the smiling man in the Peale portrait and the decrepit lot was unconfirmed until Johnston completed his work. The D.C. Historic Preservation Office began excavating the former site of Mamout’s home in June 2015, following several years of research by the office’s interns.

For one graduate student at UF, the excavation was an extraordinary opportunity, and in the face of persistent racial and religious tensions in America, a chance to flex archaeology’s muscles to tackle a pressing social problem. Mia Carey PhD’17 initially came to UF on a McKnight Fellowship to pursue zooarchaeology under the mentorship of Professor Susan deFrance. As she moved forward in her studies, she began volunteering with the D.C. Historic Preservation Office in 2011, with internships in 2014 and 2015. The district archaeologist, Ruth Trocolli PhD’06, invited Carey to join the dig on Dent Place. “We didn’t really know what to expect. Nobody had ever excavated a known African Muslim site in the U.S.,” says Carey, who served as a field director on the dig. Trocolli told The Washington Post that in lieu of time travel or written records, archaeology illuminates the stories of slaves’ lives.

19th century etched map of city of Washington
Georgetown, a historic neighborhood in Washington, D.C., lies adjacent to the Potomac River. 3324 Dent Place NW, marked in red, was the residence of Yarrow Mamout.


These stories are not well documented in history, and those of African Muslims taken as slaves even less so. Mamout was well educated, which afforded him some reprieve from harsh conditions, although he was kept in servitude for most of his adult life as a brick-maker and butler. In 1800, a few years after gaining his freedom at age 60, he purchased 3324 Dent Place NW. After his death, the house was eventually replaced by another, which sat empty until an oak crushed it in 2011, trapping artifacts of a fascinating life in the ground below. The Historic Preservation Office prevented the permanent obscuring in the face of potential development; a common role for contemporary archaeologists is to uncover secrets in the soil before new construction covers them up. This case was indeed a chance to give voice to the voiceless, as Trocolli put it.

According to Johnston’s research, it was likely that Mamout had been buried on the property; his remarks on this possibility at a development board hearing helped secure the stay on renovations. The dig commenced with mixed feelings about the potential discovery of human remains on the property, reported The Post, but none were found, likely due to the acidity of the clay-based soil. Moreover, the archaeologists found no evidence of burial.

Archaeology has a way of fleshing out what written records have not. The excavations brought a physical reality to the legend of Mamout. However, “the sometimes overemphasis on artifacts, data, and reports is what limits our ability to connect the past to the present in real and meaningful ways,” says Carey. Importantly, the excavation allowed the team to conduct public outreach that challenged the often reductive and sanitized narrative about both slaves and Muslims in American history. The researchers hosted “fence talks” with passersby during the dig and launched a Facebook page, the Yarrow Mamout Archaeology Project, to share their findings and tell Mamout’s story in an innovative way.

According to the dissertation Carey wrote from her Georgetown fieldwork, the excavation was much more than digging holes. There now was an opening to “puncture the silences” created by “white privilege” in society — the “common thread through literacy tests, immigration, South Asian religious movements, the Nation of Islam, and the racialization of Islam,” she says. Excavating Mamout’s residence brought material culture into conversation with oral history and ethnography, filling in the many blanks that speckle America’s convoluted and brutal history of slavery. Although Mamout’s story was unusual, it illustrates that freed slaves did not vanish from society, and their threads of history are crucial to understanding the artifacts, both material and ideological, of race relations in the United States.