Following Boston’s Civil War Memory Trail

I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to introduce students to some of Boston’s most important Civil War sites for some time. It almost didn’t happen given yesterday’s snow storm, but the city does an incredible job with snow removal from roads and other public spaces. It was, however, very cold this morning. The other problem was the lack of visibility at certain sites owing to the snow. No worries. We forged ahead and had a great day beginning at Mount Auburn Cemetery and ending at the Boston Common. Below is a photograph of my class at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.

These students are an absolute pleasure to teach.

Civil War Memory Class 2014

13 responses... add one

Just a few things. When you visited Boston Common, was there any mention of the fact that slave auctions were once held at the Common? Also, there doesn’t appear to be any students of African-American, Latino, Arabic, or Asian ethnicity in your class. Is your school segregated? The photograph of an all-white class in front of a man responsible for leading a black unit seems very, very wrong.

Hi Alyssa,

I don’t believe there is anything specific on the Boston Common itself, but a few blocks away is the African Meeting House, which is a significant site of Boston’s African-American history. I currently teach at a Jewish Academy, which is predominantly white. We have a few black students, but I can assure you that the school is not segregated. As a teacher I find this situation to be a bit of a challenge. By design the school poses a number of challenges for history teachers whose primary goal is to encourage students to see their world from different perspectives.

As for what you perceive as “very, very wrong” I see as an encouraging sign of young people coming to understand significant moments in history and how Bostonians have chosen to commemorate those moments.

“The photograph of an all-white class in front of a man responsible for leading a black unit seems very, very wrong.”

It’s a public monument. Whoever wants to see it is allowed to do so. Deciding who can or can’t based on race would just perpetuate the problem.

Strange? Hardly. What’s strange, even paradoxical, is a white, and segregated, group of students paying tribute to a champion of integration. No one said, or even remotely suggested, they were not permitted there. But our society is multi-cultural, and its members include African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, and Indians; none of whom are represented in the photo. Again, I think that that’s wrong, particularly at a symbol of progress, inclusiveness and social integration, such as the monument to the 54th.

Perhaps you can explain how you define what you mean by ‘segregated’. My school does not ban African Americans from attending. The school caters to a wide range of the Boston area’s Jewish population.

Robert Gould Shaw was not a “champion of integration.” That is not how he understood his own command of the 54th. Perhaps you should begin with reading some history. Start with Shaw’s own letters, which have been published as a book.

“Our society is multi-cultural, and its members include African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, and Indians; none of whom are represented in the photo.”

Alyssa,
I think you’re missing the forest for the trees here.

As you may know, legal segregation became the law of the land in 1896, thanks to Plessy v. Furgeson. The following year, the Shaw Memorial was dedicated. Others may know more but I seriously doubt there were many or any schools that were, in fact legally segregated that took field trips to this memorial from 1897 to 1954, when “separate but equal” was declared unequal. I don’t know anything about Kevin’s school but I’m going to guess that if the place was really committed to segregating out Black, Latino and Asian kids, the last place they would visit is a “symbol of progress, inclusiveness and social integration, such as the monument to the 54th.”

Nevertheless, I’m very glad to hear integration is important to you. And I hope you’re taking your own advice. I think it would be great to hear it if, say, you’re a White woman, that you’re married to a Black man and that you’ve adopted a Hispanic child, a Native American child, an Asian child and an Arab Muslim child. I hope that your friendships are just as diverse. I think it would be great if no picture of you and your relationships features too many people of any racial or ethnic group.

Speaking of pictures, belated congratulations to commenter Bryan Cheeseboro on his appearance in Union uniform standing before the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC, last Veterans Day. The photo was published on the front page of “The Washington Post,” above the fold.

Thanks, Mike! Standing in front of the African American Civil War Memorial last November was easy. Standing out in the cold yesterday drilling with the 3rd US Regulars for two and a half hours wasn’t bad either, except my hands were freezing (I had non-period gloves but they weren’t very good). Anyway, if you’d like to see pictures from yesterday, just send me an e-mail- bryanac625@yahoo.com.

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