Remembering that Historical Actors Looked Forward

Gone With the Wind

There is a danger when we remember or imagine the past or treat historical actors as static or stuck in a particular moment as opposed to dynamic and forward looking.  We make an implicit assumption that since we are preoccupied with a particular historical moment that the individuals were as well.  The recent history and memory of 9-11 ought to be sufficient to reveal the mistake that is involved in this imaginative act.  Roughly ten years later and a visit to the city suggests that New Yorkers have moved on with their lives.  Think of the language we used in the immediate aftermath that nothing would ever be the same.  Perhaps we build monuments and memorials because deep down we acknowledge the fickleness of memory.  [click to continue…]

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The Social and Cultural Significance of Black Confederate Pensioners

confederate veteran, black confederateAs we all know one of the most misunderstood aspects of the debate surrounding the existence of black Confederate soldiers is the existence of pensions that were given by former Confederate states to qualified black citizens at various points during the postwar period.  For the uninformed or those working primarily from a narrow agenda the existence of these pensions is proof positive of the existence of black soldiers and the fantasy of a multiracial army.  The pensions have been used on numerous occasions by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage types to justify new grave markers and other monuments to these men.  I am not interested in returning to this debate. My position is clear.

What I am interested in doing is posing a few questions about these pensions, which is the subject of chapter 3 in my manuscript on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier.  My goal is to use the pension records and other sources to explore how white Southerners chose to remember the Civil War and specifically the role of camp servants at the turn of the century.  The questions posed clearly assume that the applicant was present as a non-combatant; in other words they are not classed as soldiers.  Regardless of the state the vast majority of black pensioners were servants and cooks.  What is even more revealing is that pension applications make no inquiry as to whether the individual in question was wounded on the battlefield.  This does not mean that such information never made it onto an application, but that it did not change the status of the applicant.  This is a crucial point given the emphasis that black Confederate advocates place on battlefield prowess.  Again, it apparently made no difference to how white Southerners viewed these men during the postwar period.  [click to continue…]

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New To the Civil War Memory Library, 04/12

Milliken's BendLinda Barnickel, Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory, (Louisiana State University Press, 2013).

Earl J. Hess, Kennesaw Mountain: Sherman, Johnston, and the Atlanta Campaign, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

William A. Link, Atlanta, Cradle of the New South: Race and Remembering in the Civil War’s Aftermath, (University of North Carolina Press, 2013).

Hampton Newsome, Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864, (Kent State University Press, 2013).

Caleb Smith, The Oracle and the Curse: A Poetics of Justice from the Revolution to the Civil War, (Harvard University Press, 2013).

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Rand Paul’s False Civil War Memory

Well, I guess you have to give the guy credit for taking the time yesterday to visit Howard University and engage students in a little politics and history.  I was particularly interested in the latter.  One of the problems that Senator Paul ran into was his insistence on giving the student body a history lesson, but even worse was that the history itself was fundamentally flawed.  Senator Paul attempted to draw a straight line from the modern Republican Party to Lincoln and the party that ended slavery and passed the Reconstruction Amendments.  The guiding question throughout was why black Americans to not identify with the Republican Party given its history.  All of the roadblocks, according to Paul, were instituted by Democrats.  No mention of Nixon’s Southern Strategy or Lee Atwater’s work on using race as a political wedge or even Ronald Reagan’s famous references to “welfare queens” and his embrace of “states’ rights” while campaigning in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

I always get a question in class when we get to the first political parties in the 1790s inquiring about modern connections. I do my best to explain that while many of the issues that Americans debated remain consistent the parties themselves have evolved over time.

Paul’s collapse of the past 150 years constitutes not only a superficial understanding of American history, but a false Civil War Memory.  Take a look for yourself.

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Hello University of Wisconsin

Update: I couldn’t be more pleased to learn that the class in question is being taught by Steve Kantrowitz. Professor Kantrowitz is the author of More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889, which was my pick as the best history book of 2012. The book is of particular interest to me given that it focuses on the black community here in Boston.

For the past few days a group of students from the University of Wisconsin has been scouring my posts on black Confederates.  I think it’s safe to say that collectively they have read every post on the subject.  I don’t know much at all about why they have been assigned my blog or what they are getting out of it beyond a few tweets from one of the students.  If I am not mistaken one of the students left a comment on an old post.

As an educator this makes my day.

Hey guys.  Please let me know if you have any questions about anything related to the relevant history, the public debate, and the role of the Internet in spreading this myth.  I am more than happy to talk with your class via Skype if interested.  As a historian, blogger, and educator I would love to know what you are getting out of this exercise.  Good luck.

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