Why African Americans will never accept the black Confederate myth: “If, for example, one managed to change the curriculum in all the schools so that Negroes learned more about themselves and their real contributions to this culture, you would be liberating not only Negroes, you’d be liberating white people who know nothing about their own history. And the reason is that if you are compelled to lie about one aspect of anybody’s history, you must lie about it all. If you have to lie about my real role here, if you have to pretend that I hoed all that cotton just because I loved you, then you have done something to yourself. You are mad.” — James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers” (1963)
Here are a couple of updates that I thought you might find interesting. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star published my response to a recent editorial by Calvin Crollier and Kevin Crowder. The paper decided to title it, “Black Confederate Soldiers? In Your Dreams“, which I thought was kind of funny. In a little over a week I will travel to Richmond to take part in the annual meeting of the Association For the Study of African American Life and History. I will take part in a panel organized by Emmanuel Dabney, titled “Black Confederates in the Civil War: History, Myth, Memory, and Make-Believe”, which will also include Ervin Jordan and Jaime Martinez. I recently learned that C-SPAN will cover the conference so there is a chance that you may be able to catch this at some point. This should be a lively session.
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Tomorrow my wife and I are going to head over to Cambridge to the Harvard Bookstore to hear a talk by David Blight. I tend not to take my wife to hear Blight as she has what I would say is an unhealthy attraction to his voice. Hopefully, she will be able to exercise sufficient self control. Blight is going to talk about his new book, American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era, which explores the writings of Robert Penn Warren, Bruce Catton, Edmund Wilson, and James Baldwin. Each of these writers struggled to come to terms with America’s collective memory of the Civil War during the civil rights era. Like much of everything else Blight has written the book is well worth your time.
One of the things I find interesting is the lack of a prominent Civil War historian or literary figure, who occupies the same space as did Penn Warren, Catton, Wilson, and Baldwin. In terms of historians of that era I would also include Allan Nevins and Douglass Southall Freeman, though he died in 1953. Perhaps you disagree, but if so, I would be curious to know who you think fills those roles and speaks for our generation’s memory of the war. If you agree with me, I would also like to hear why.
Let’s get things started: Nothin’ more relaxin’ than throw’n back a cool one after a long day of killin’ Yankees.
Confederate Monument at Arlington National Cemetery sculpted by Moses Ezekiel
Over the weekend I was informed of an editorial on black Confederates that appeared in The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia by Calvin Crollier and Kevin Crowder. I have no idea who these individuals are or why they felt a need to wade into this discussion. In fact, I probably would not have taken the time to write a response except for the fact that I am referenced, along with Bruce Levine, as examples of historians who have “attempt[ed] to set the record a little too straight.” I have no idea what this is suppose to mean. I have no problem with publishing a wide range of opinion on any subject in a newspaper’s opinion column, but it seems to me that there is a difference between thoughtful and responsible commentary and commentary that does little more than obscure and mislead the public. It is safe to say that this essay by Crollier and Crowder is an example of the latter. You can read my response here.
I recently accepted an invitation to take part in the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College, which will take place from June 22-26, 2012. Unfortunately, my move to Boston prevented me from taking part in this past year’s institute so I am very excited about being able to attend this time around. The theme this year is “The Civil War in 1862″ and it will explore, among other things, Civil War tactics in 1862, The war in the West, debating self-emancipation, and the 1862 campaigns of U.S. Grant. I’ve seen a preliminary schedule and the sessions look to be very interesting and the presenters are all well-respected scholars. I will be taking part in a panel with Brooks Simpson and Keith Harris on Civil War blogging so that should be a lot of fun.
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