Update: I didn’t see this one coming, but it is nice to see the SCV and NAACP working together in opposition to the Klan’s planned rally in Memphis next month. Millar shows that he should have been included in the city’s panel to re-name Forrest Park. Pastor Norman is quite impressive in his own right. Last week Millar described Forrest as a “benevolent slave trader” and in his interview suggests that Forrest disbanded the Klan, which really didn’t have much to do with white supremacy to begin with. It’s a tough sell and ultimately a losing proposition. Regardless of how you interpret Forrest’s personal history the excerpt below clearly shows that the dedication of the monument had everything to do with Memphis’s racial climate in 1905.
A number of you have emailed me requesting additional information on the historical context of the unveiling of the Nathan Bedford Forrest memorial in Memphis in 1905. I mentioned the other day that the best source I’ve found is Court Carney’s Journal of Southern History essay, “The Contested Image of Nathan Bedford Forrest” (August 2001).
According to Carney the Forrest memorial in Memphis can be traced to a number of factors, most importantly, the economic downturn that the city faced in the period immediately following the war and especially the yellow fever epidemic of 1878. The epidemic hit the white community especially hard and by the end of the century African Americans had risen to constitute half of the city’s population. The elite white population that was lost during the epidemic was replaced, according to Carney, by an influx of rural whites, who were much “less racially tolerant than their urban contemporaries.”
As the report indicates, notably absent is any representation from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This is a huge mistake. Yes, spokesmen such as Lee Millar have made some absurd claims about Forrest, but the SCV is an important stakeholder in this discussion and their perspective deserves to be heard. The Memphis City Council should embrace every opportunity to openly discuss the relevant historical, social, and racial issues surrounding these public parks and their continued maintenance. Keeping the SCV out of these discussions will only fuel suspicion and outrage among a certain demographic. I for one would love to see the SCV make the case for their preferred position to the entire city of Memphis.
With this latest news it looks like the city council has taken a giant leap backward.
I recently accompanied a group of students to Washington, D.C. to take part in a mock Congress. With a few hours to kill I decided to take a stroll through the National Gallery of Art. Included in the collection is a reproduction of the Shaw Memorial, which is located on Beacon Street here in Boston. I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of students sitting with a museum teacher, who did a wonderful job of interpreting the monument and engaging the group. The kids talked about the history of Shaw and the 54th as well as the rich symbolism contained in Saint-Gaudens’s relief. At one point she asked the kids to share sounds that might be heard in such a scene. It made my day.
Those of you living in the Richmond area will find this documentary to be particularly interesting. In 1993 the city organized Healing the Heart of America, which among other things included a walk through Richmond in an attempt to address lingering tensions over slavery, race, and history. Some of the interviews are quite interesting. You can see the legacy of this walk in such programs as The Future of Richmond’s Past as well as the incredible work of Virginia’s Sesquicentennial Commission. It is interesting to see the changes to the city’s commemorative landscape in the last twenty years.
This week I am going to write an essay for my column at the Atlantic on the recent controversy surrounding the renaming of Forrest Park in Memphis, Tennessee. Court Carney’s 2001 JSH essay on Forrest and historical memory has been incredibly helpful in placing this most recent incident within a much broader context. I highly recommend it to those of you who are interested in Forrest and his place in our collective memory.
We just want everyone to know that we are here to protect and preserve our history and do it in a gentlemanly fashion. [emphasis added]
You may remember that a few weeks ago Millar referred to Forrest as a “humane slave trader.” What I find interesting is Millar’s and the SCV’s appropriation of Forrest’s history as their own. The problem is that no one individual or organization can claim sole ownership of Forrest’s legacy and in this case it seems to me that the KKK has a legitimate claim to honoring the man. They will likely want to single out Forrest’s growth during the antebellum years into one of Tennessee’s wealthiest slaveholders as well as his presence at Fort Pillow and early leadership of the Klan itself. That seems to me to be as legitimate a claim as one will find among the major stakeholders who admire Forrest.
As I pointed out before, this places the SCV in a very difficult position. Nothing that Millar or anyone else in the SCV has said challenges the Klan’s embrace of Forrest. This could prove to be a very messy and uncomfortable event for the SCV given that they agree with the Klan’s position that the park should not have been renamed.
Klan members are likely to parade in Memphis with the Confederate flag on March 30. The SCV can bring their own flags as well, but they run the risk of being identified with the Klan. If they decide to stand up against the Klan in a show of solidarity with the general public they not only will be aligned with those who believe the park should be renamed, but they also will have acknowledged the very facts about Forrest that they have spent so much time either minimizing or denying.
Earlier this week my class took part in a simulation that required them to advise the President on what to do with the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter. Below is the assignment and the list of documents that they used to construct their essays. The discussion went extremely well. One thing that I will do next time is have students come to class with outlines of an argument and allow them to use the class discussion to help with a final draft. A number of students were swayed from their original positions. The majority counseled that the fort should be resupplied and they argued mainly based on Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address. They agreed that some kind of conflict was inevitable, but they also believed that a strong stance in the name of the Union was warranted.
Background: On March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States from the new Republican Party. Between his election on November 6, 1860 and February 9, 1861, seven states in the Deep South seceded and formed a new nation – The Confederate States of America. President Lincoln has scheduled a meeting of advisers for March 29, 1861 to discuss the looming crisis in Charleston Harbor at Fort Sumter, where Major Robert Anderson is surrounded by Confederate forces and desperately short of provisions. He reports that by mid-April he will be forced to surrender unless relieved.
Assignment: As a member of the cabinet you are requested to advise the president on a course of action. The meeting will take place on Tuesday February 12 and you will come prepared with a 2-3 page essay outlining your recommendation. Your essay should be addressed to the president and can be written in the first-person voice. References to individual documents can be made indicating the doc # in parentheses at the end of the sentence. (Doc. #)
Questions that you will likely be asked by the president:
Evacuate or reinforce Fort Sumter?
Send only supplies or send additional troops as well?
What are the likely consequences of reinforcement or abandonment?
Is there any hope of South Carolina and the rest of the Deep South returning peacefully to the Union?
What is the likelihood of losing the Upper South (especially Virginia) if the decision at Sumter leads to fighting? What is the feeling in that part of the country?
In the likelihood of war, how will the military situation change if we lose the Upper South? (territory, industry, population, etc.)
What is the state of morale in the North. How is a decision at Sumter likely to effect support for the president and the Republican Party?
How important is it to show strength at Sumter and reinforce the president’s commitment that the Union will be preserved?
Selection from James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom — This will provide you with an overview of events leading up to and following Sumter. Pay careful attention to quotes that McPherson uses. They provide a window into what people were thinking at the time about a possible crisis.
“The Choice is Charybdis”/NYTs Disunion by Jamie Malanowski — What important information does Stephen Hurlbut add to Lincoln’s decision?
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address — What does Lincoln’s speech reveal about his view of the Union and a possible course of action? Does he anticipate violence?
Jefferson Davis’s Inaugural Address — What does Davis’s speech suggest in terms of policy toward Sumter and does it include anything that Lincoln should consider?
Positions of official cabinet members
Secretary of State Seward counsels restraint for the sake of the Republican party and the nation.
Lincoln to William Seward, April 1, 1861
Lincoln to Winfield Scott (Commanding general of United States forces in 1861), March 9, 1861 and Scott’s response to Lincoln, March 11, 1861
Virginia State Representative Chapman Stuart’s address to the secession convention on April 5, 1861 — According to Chapman at this time is there sufficient reason to secede from the Union over slavery? Why or why not? Why might this be important information for Lincoln to know and how do you think it should fit into his decision making re: Sumter? In other words could the opinions of those in the state legislature like Chapman change if Lincoln were to threaten a fellow southern state? [Note: Virginia’s secession convention has been in session for over two months. During that time they took one vote for secession on April 4 and those against won (88-45).
Diary entries by New York City resident, George Templeton Strong — Does Strong’s pessimistic attitude (an attitude likely shared by others) pose any problems for Lincoln?)
Congressman John A. Gilmer of North Carolina (March 1861) — reports on the situation in his state between those pushing to stay in the union and those advocating secession.
A Marylander Rejects Disunion – Maryland congressman Henry Winter Davis on secession and the firing on The Star of the West in Charleston Harbor
Entries by Charleston newspaper editor William Gilmore Simms
Diary entry (January 30 and February 28, 1861) by Keziah Goodwyn Hopkins Brevard
Maps/Charts — See the class blog for a series of maps on Fort Sumter and Secession
Below is a very short video of Oakes offering his own understanding of the popular question of who freed the slaves. His answer offers a concise overview of the main argument in his book. I am going to include this video for my students to consider as they work through a collection of primary and secondary sources on emancipation.