Update: James Loewen responds…well…sort of.
Since Edward Sebesta recently came up in a previous post I decided to check out his blog earlier today. Some of you may remember that not too long ago Sebesta publicly declared that he would not accept an award from the Museum of the Confederacy for his co-edited book with James Loewen, titled The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, which had been submitted by their publisher for the Jefferson Davis Award. Why? According to Sebesta, the MOC’s mission is to further the”Neo-Confederate” agenda. By accepting their award Sebesta believes that he would be legitimizing the museum as a legitimate historical institution. Yes, this is quite bizarre, but it gets even better. At the time Sebesta promised that he would explain his stance in a more detailed essay, which is exactly what I came across at his blog today. The post includes a link to a 4-part essay that was published at the Black Commentator. I am going to leave it to you to read through as I simply do not have the patience to do it. It is an incredibly incoherent rant and as far as I can tell there is no indication that Sebesta has ever visited the MOC or talked with its museum staff.
Here’s the deal. Most of you respect me on some level as a historian and teacher. I’ve taught United States history on the college and high school level for the past 15 years and I would like to think that I’ve established myself as a conscientious instructor who does his best to provide the best resources for his students. I say this to preface what I’ve come to know and appreciate and that is that the MOC is one of the most valuable resources in understanding the history of the American South, Civil War, and Confederacy. I have brought classes to the museum, done research in their library, and utilized all kinds of resources in my classroom. It is a first-class operation and I know plenty of other well respected scholars and public historians who would confirm this.
What I find most disturbing about Sebesta’s rant is that it will make the MOC’s job of reaching out to the African American community that much more difficult. They have come so far in broadening their interpretation over the past few decades and getting involved in the community around Richmond. Nothing I say here will make any difference, but this brings me back to Sebesta’s co-editor, James Loewen.
Many of you know Loewen from his best-sellers, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong, both of which point out shortcomings in our nation’s textbooks as well as the ways some of the most popular historic sites have been misinterpreted. I am not calling on Loewen to speak up simply because he is Sebesta’s co-editor. I am calling on Loewen because he has made a name for himself by pointing out irresponsible representations of the past and the institutions behind them. The Museum of the Confederacy is not one of them and I suspect that Loewen knows this. In fact, the MOC has done more than most institutions to enrich our understanding of the Civil War in a way that compliments the goal of the Neo-Confederate Reader.
I would like to invite Mr. Loewen to share his thoughts in the comments section below as a guest post on this site or even on his new blog at the History News Network. Let’s end this nonsense now.