Many of us are familiar with the logic that argues that since a majority of white southerners did not own slaves, secession (and the Confederacy) must have been about something other than slavery. After all, why would a non-slaveholder fight to preserve slavery?
Of Memory and Myth
In December 2005 I was sitting in my office at ASU, minding my own business, tying up loose ends from the fall semester, when the phone rang. It was a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor. He wanted to discuss with me the findings of a recent inquiry into the Wilmington (NC) Race Riots of 1898. A historian working for the state had just completed a report that cast light upon the origins of the riot, which might be better termed a coup d’etat in which white Democrats conspired to overthrow a biracial Republican municipal government.
Recently Andy Hall offered a post as part of a larger series that I think is well worth highlighting. It reprints Frederick Douglass’s powerful remarks offered about remembering the Civil War dead some six years after the war’s end.
The monument in the photograph deserves your attention as well. It is the tomb of the Civil War unknown soldiers. Most of the remains buried here (just a short distance from Arlington House) were gathered in 1865 from the battlefields of the Overland Campaign of 1864. More on that in a forthcoming post.
I see where my posting of a short exchange of views in three part harmony on Fox has sparked a discussion at Kevin Levin’s Civil War Memory over exactly how to engage such folks in debate. Kevin asserts:
While those of us familiar with this Lincoln scholarship might enjoy a good laugh, we would do well to keep in mind that DiLorenzo and Woods are probably influencing the general public more through their publications and activism than all of the recent scholarly studies combined.
Word comes from various sources, including Eric Wittenberg’s Rantings of a Civil War Historian and local press coverage, of efforts by the Mississippi chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to propose several new special vanity plate designs, including one for Confederate general and KKK terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Over the past several years Kevin Levin’s blog, Civil War Memory, has become one of the most-consulted blogs in Civil War era history: it also enjoys a broader audience among historians and teachers of all stripes and a public interested in history. Over that time the blog has shifted focus a bit and become more focused on several issues, each relating to the blog’s title. At the same time, Kevin’s gained a reputation in certain circles for his discussions of Lost Cause historiography, the evidence concerning “Black Confederates,” and the relationship between present issues and understandings of the past.
… this is an opportune time to discuss the views of your family or guardians as it relates to the American Civil War. Find out how the events between 1861 and 1865 shaped the lives of your family and/or community. Have an open and honest discussion on your views about slavery and why the United States of America and the Confederate States of America went to war. Do you and others agree or disagree that African-Americans served in the Confederate States Army during the War Between the States? Read Entangled In Freedom as a conversation starter.
The book certainly became a conversation starter on one blog.
You hear it all the time. You hear it here, in an article detailing Florida’s commemoration of secession; you hear it here, in the words of a Gilbert, Arizona middle school teacher who is a member of the UDC; you hear it here, where I went to college; indeed, you hear it frequently, and odds are you will hear it a great deal over the next four years … some variation of “each side fought for what they believed in” or “they fought for what they believed in,” and so on.
What exactly is that supposed to mean?
Today I introduce a new feature at Crossroads: “Keeping It Honest.” The title (which may be subject to change) is adapted from a feature on Anderson Cooper’s show on CNN, although I’ve replaced the “them” with “it.” I’m still toying around with other labels.
This week, we look at a quote from Ed Bearss, who served as Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. The following statement is often attributed to him:
I don’t want to call it a conspiracy to ignore the role of Blacks both above and below the Mason-Dixon line, but it was definitely a tendency that began around 1910.
In 2000 the Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed me about neo-Confederate distortions of Civil War history. The interview came the year before David Blight’s Race and Reunion appeared, and years before blogs became an established part of the scholarly landscape. I recall that many of the people who seemed to pay the most attention to the piece were folks who espoused the arguments I was challenging. If you read the piece, you’ll see that several of the themes people argue about today are far from new, and they’ve been contested for some time.