Yesterday I was contacted by a descendant of a family that included a very well known “black Confederate.” The individual in question had read some of my commentary on this man and volunteered to answer any questions I might have. We had a pleasant conversation and I asked a few questions. I think my caller was much more interested in making sure that I understood that his ancestor and slave were very close and that the family treated their property humanely. Yes, I understand all too well. While I appreciated his reassurances I was much more interested in documentation than I was in family stories.
Then I was asked where I was educated. The question surprised me and I asked why a response was important. I was told that it would help to better understand what I believe about this subject. Of course, I quickly shot back that it has absolutely nothing necessarily to do with what I believe about this topic or any other aspect of the Civil War. It’s not that I have a problem with where I was raised and educated. You can easily find out where I was educated if that is of interest to you, but I don’t feel a need to encourage the kind of judgment that I know would ensue if I had responded. You want to talk history? Let’s talk history. The conversation ended shortly thereafter.
What I should have said is that while the region of the country in which I was educated is irrelevant, the historians that have shaped my thinking about the Civil War, Reconstruction and beyond are fair game and very relevant. Given their personal backgrounds it is safe to say that I was educated by white and black Southerners: Edward Ayers, David M. Potter, C. Vann Woodward, William J. Cooper, John Hope Franklin and the list goes on.