How Does Confederate History Mesh With Black History?

The following documentary by filmmaker Shukree Tilghman will air on New Hampshire Public Television on February 12, 2012.  It looks to be pretty interesting.  Watch the trailer for some truly bizarre claims made by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.  My personal favorite: “After the war there was a major move to squash Confederate history.”  Only someone completely ignorant to the trajectory of Civil War memory could make such a ridiculous claim.

Thoughts From An Alabama_Girl

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I came across a playful, but thoughtful comment this morning from one of Ta-Nahesi Coates’s readers, who goes by the name, Alabama_Girl.  Here is an excerpt from the comment:

The other day I went through the last books left on the shelves of my parents home and there was one about Stonewall Jackson. Now, as a child I loved that story. Shot by mistake, the brilliant soldier whose death might have turned things? I found it fascinating as a child, not yet delving into the cause of the battle or his beliefs. And Southerners know how to spin a tell [tale]. There’s a reason those live while tales of Grant languish. As an adult, I have to look at the cause he was fighting for, so was his death a sad thing, or thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.

I love the way her story transitions from the child’s fascination with a key element of the Lost Cause narrative to a more mature reflection that acknowledges that the war was about something and that it mattered who was victorious.  Substitute any high level Confederate officer and you arrive at what I take to be her conclusion: “thank you Baby Jesus that the dude died.”  It’s not about celebrating any one individual’s death, but it is a simple acknowledgment that ‘death happens’ in war and that it matters who dies.  In the case of Jackson’s death it reflects the obvious point that the right side won the Civil War given the consequences of a Confederate victory.

Studio 360 Interview

My interview on Studio 360 about Newt Gingrich’s Crater novel is now available.  Unfortunately, they decided to go with another guest for the actual airing of the show, but they kept my segment as a bonus track.  After listening to myself I can certainly see why.  I’ve done a few radio interviews, but I still need to learn to slow down just a bit and choose my words more carefully.  You may just want to read my review in The Atlantic.  My next essay will be published on Monday, which offers a brief assessment of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

Thanks again to Michele Siegel and host, Kurt Anderson for inviting me.

Ta-Nahesi Coates’s Civil War Memory

It’s nice to see that Ta-Nahesi Coates’s contribution to the The Atlantic’s special Civil War issue is getting so much attention.  It nicely sums up why I am now a regular reader of his blog and why last week I went to meet him in person at MIT.  Coates’s essay is a very personal and thoughtful reflection on why the African American community appears to have lost interest in the Civil War.  The essay tracks the gaping hole in his personal memory of the Civil War as a child to his discovery of it later in life and his subsequent reading of a wide range of primary and secondary sources.

Coates locates a collective lack of interest among African Americans in a narrative that has become all too familiar.  Popularized by David Blight in Race and Reunion, this narrative traces a gradual embrace of reconciliation among white Americans by the turn of the twentieth century, an acceptance of the Lost Cause view of the war, and ending with the tragic loss of of what Blight describes as an “Emancipationist” view of the war.  From there Coates jumps briefly to the Civil Rights Era and later to such popular interpretations of the war such as Gone With the Wind, Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the war and Ken Burns’s PBS documentary.

There is much to ponder within this framework, but it only gets us so far to understanding what many people working in the public history sector are reflecting on as well.  As I read Coates’s essay part of the problem seems to be in the assumption that the process of reunions gradual ascendency functioned to cut off African Americans from memory of the Civil War only to have it re-emerge on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  The danger here is that Coates runs the risk of painting a picture of blacks as emasculated from history and I know that this is not his intention.

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What Did You Read This Year?

Oxford University Press

I am beginning to think about my “Best of 2011″ list, which will be published at the end of the month.  A few of the titles that are likely to be included were recently highlighted as part of a best of list that can be found in the most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor.  I had plenty of time to read this year, which has made this year’s list much more difficult to nail down.

With Christmas fast approaching I wanted to thank those of you who have purchased books from Amazon by clicking through my affiliate link in the sidebar.  As many of you know, I make a small percentage on each sale and thus far I’ve done fairly well.  For the past four quarters I was able to purchase anywhere between 3-5 hardcover books.  I just started my latest acquisition, which is Paul Quigley’s, Shifting Grounds: Nationalism & the American South, 1848-1865 (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Enough about what I’ve read.  What did you read this year that you can recommend?  Of course, I am interested in Civil War books, but please feel free to share anything that you think is worth spending some time with.  Thanks.