How Should the 150th Anniversary of Emancipation Be Commemorated?

Emancipation Day Parade, Richmond, Va

Today I came across the Remembering Slavery, Resistance, and Freedom Project, which is a partnership between The College of William and Mary and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Association.  This really is a wonderful example of how technology can promote and shape a community’s efforts to commemorate its past.  What I like most about this project is the grassroots element.  Organizers are not just looking for Facebook likes or Twitter followers; rather, they are encouraging involvement through attendance at any number of community meetings across Virginia.  Here is a list of their goals:

  • To publicly recognize sites throughout the Commonwealth associated with slavery, resistance to slavery, and emancipation from slavery
  • To foster respect for the lives of enslaved persons and to contribute to an honest and informed public understanding of the consequences of the enslavement of Africans and African Americans
  • To assist in the public’s recognition of “slaves” as complete persons who recognized and asserted their own humanity by memorializing their dead, who should be credited for what they produced, and who, by their very humanity and personalities, naturally resisted attempts to turn Africans and African Americans into property
  • To reveal the pervasive historical presence of African and African American lives and experiences
  • To provide events of remembrance that contextualize Virginia’s commemoration of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, Lincoln’s relevance to Virginia and the Emancipation Proclamation
  • To design a commemorative website based on the messages and goals identified by regional communities

Whether you like it or not, Lincoln is central to Virginia’s story of emancipation.  You may remember that the Virginia Assembly recently failed to pass a resolution honoring Lincoln.  With the Assembly’s backing of this project I have to wonder whether they had any influence on the goals listed here.  It will be interesting to see whether the meetings and other forms of feedback lead to any substantial recognition of his place in this story.

This project is a positive sign given that I have not heard much on the Emancipation 150 front.

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“The American Juggernaut”

In a dramatic image worthy of Goya or Daumier, the terrible carnage of Grant’s campaign against Lee in Virginia during the summer of 1864 is represented by an enormous cannon mounted on a gun carriage with studded wheels, rolling unchecked over the bodies of hapless Union troops and leaving their mangled forms in its train. The “American Juggernaut” looms ominously out of roiling clouds of black smoke, driven onwards by the Three Furies of Greek tragedy, who hold aloft flaring torches. This powerful image expresses the uneasiness that many Europeans felt over the mounting death toll across the Atlantic, which led many to urge a British attempt to mediate a peace settlement on humanitarian grounds, even as the War entered its final stages.”

Punch, Volume 47, September 3, 1864, pp. 96 – 97

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Remember Confederate History

A SENATE RESOLUTION
TO DESIGNATE MAY AS CONFEDERATE HISTORY AND HERITAGE MONTH IN SOUTH CAROLINA AND TO ENCOURAGE ALL CITIZENS AND GUESTS OF OUR STATE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS CRUCIAL TIME IN THE HISTORY OF OUR PEOPLE.

Whereas, the years Two Thousand Eleven through Two Thousand Fifteen mark the Sesquicentennial commemoration of the War Between the States; and

Whereas, South Carolina became the first state to adopt an Ordinance of Secession on December 20, 1860; and

Whereas, South Carolina cast her fate with her sister southern states in ratification of the Confederate Constitution and became a faithful partner in the Confederate States of America; and

Whereas, South Carolina provided proud examples of leadership during truly trying times such as the statesmanship of Governor Francis Pickens and the heroism of General Wade Hampton, III whose dashing cavalry exploits were known far and wide; and

Whereas, the men and women of South Carolina, both civilian and soldier alike, sacrificed so much and contributed so greatly in the defense of their state; and

Whereas, the commemoration of South Carolina’s invaluable role to the Confederacy is still today a source of pride among our people and a major reason for citizens and visitors alike to explore the history of our great State; and

Whereas, the lessons to be learned from this period of our history are so important, even in matters facing America today. Now, therefore,

Be it resolved by the Senate:

That May is officially designated as Confederate History and Heritage Month in South Carolina and to encourage all citizens and guests of our State to learn more about this crucial time in the history of our people.

So, did South Carolinians do a good job of remembering their Confederate history this weekend?  I would say so.

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Neil Young’s “Jesus Chariot”

Click here for more information about the song and video.

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On Jefferson Davis’s Capture

Yesterday I finished reading Yael Sternhell’s wonderful book, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South, which explores various aspects of mobility in the Confederate South.  The author argues that what could be seen on the roads throughout the South tells us quite a bit about Confederate nationalism, the collapse of slavery and a strictly defined racial hierarchy, and defeat.

Her brief discussion of the capture of Jefferson Davis caught my attention:

On May 10, while camping outdoors in the piney woods near Irwinville, Georgia, Davis and his party were captured.  Two Union cavalry regiments, searching for the presidential party, raided their camp at daybreak with no specific knowledge of who was staying there.  In the confusion of the raid, Davis tried to escape from his tent and into the woods, but a Federal officer noticed him attempting to get away and called him to stop.  With a carbine gun pointed at him, Davis had no choice but to surrender.  Much has been made of the fabricated story that he was dressed as a woman when caught.  Yet the true significance of the circumstances of his capture lies in the fact that he was apprehended not only in flight, but in the woods.  Davis was forced to follow the ways of his former slaves and take refuge within the alternative geography they had used for generations to hide from the bloodhounds and armed patrollers who chased them without mercy.  The Civil War did not end with Robert E. Lee’s dignified surrender at Appomattox.  It ended with Jefferson Davis, in the forest, staring in fear at a group of white men who were coming to get him.  The war had reduced even the most elevated of masters, the Confederate president, to a desperate runaway. [p. 192]

This is one of the most insightful books I’ve read about the Confederacy this year.  I only wish I had this when writing my own essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia.

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