Here is a wonderful little time capsule from the eve of the Civil War centennial in 1960. Those of you who teach courses on Civil War memory will find it particularly interesting. There are very few surprises in how the documentary frames the causes and consequences of the war along with slavery and emancipation. The need to maintain a national consensus at the height of the Cold War is clearly discernible. My favorite line is the claim that white northerners had difficulty on the battlefield early on owing to their unfamiliarity with guns. It turns out that before the war they were all working in shops and factories.
The current issue of The Civil War Monitor includes my top 10 list of Civil War-related sites in and around Boston. I fully realize that this is a subjective choice, but I do hope it reveals to Bostonians and visitors that the city’s Civil War commemorative landscape is worth exploring along with its rich history from the Revolution. Thanks to Terry Johnston for the opportunity to share a bit of the history from my new home. Click here for your subscription to the CWM.
In 2001, David Blight published Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. The book won numerous awards and helped to shape a wave of academic studies that soon followed. Blight’s depiction of a nation that by the turn of the twentieth century had largely embraced sectional reconciliation at the expense of a legacy of emancipation also found a voice outside academic halls on National Park Service battlefields and in museum exhibitions. Many have embraced the narrative of emancipation and its emphasis on African American soldiers throughout the sesquicentennial commemorations as part of an effort to overcome a nation’s willful amnesia. [click to continue…]
In this interview with 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, Steven Colbert finds a way to both playfully diffuse and explore Lost Cause themes related to slavery. At the beginning of the interview he comments, “I’ve heard the move makes slavery look really bad.” Later after sharing that he is from South Carolina Colbert admits to having learned that “I grew up hearing that some slaves enjoyed…the job security…” The audience laughs in response, but they do so unaware of the fact that there are plenty of people who still subscribe to the Lost Cause belief that slavery was benign.
While I suspect that Colbert is consciously referencing the impact of the Lost Cause on how Americans remember slavery, what is hard to determine is whether McQueen picks up on it. One gets the sense that he simply views Colbert’s comments as outrageous.
Interestingly, I have not heard anyone from the Southern Heritage crowd complain about the depiction of slavery in this movie. Perhaps the movie is still in limited release or there is a unwillingness to challenge a film that is so closely based on a slave narrative.