Students at Gettysburg College have asked me to respond to a couple of questions about my blogging and research for their Gettysburg Compiler blog. I am going to do my best to respond in the next few days. One of the questions they asked is why, in the minds of some, has my blogging and other activities been interpreted as reflecting a hatred for the South and I assume Southern/Confederate heritage. Perhaps you’ve seen comments in this vein both on this blog as well as other places around the Internet.
I have some idea as to why a few people embrace this belief about me. What is funny, however, is that since moving to Boston I’ve found myself, at times, going out of my way to challenge overly simplistic generalizations about the South and its history as well as stereotypes that have recently been embraced by various television networks. What I find so disturbing is how so little of it reflects my time living in the region, first for two years in Mobile, Alabama and then in Charlottesville, Virginia for the next ten. Of course, it wasn’t always ideal, but my experience living in the South brought me a great deal of happiness. I rarely felt like a stranger or was made to feel like I didn’t belong. Quite the opposite was the case. My interest in history nourished a strong connection to my community, especially in Virginia and many friendships that I hold dear to this day. I always look forward to traveling in the region.
You can imagine how difficult I find it to reconcile the charge of being anti-South (or whatever you want to call it) and my experience living in the region and my short fuse around my new friends here in Boston.
For those of you who do believe that I harbor some kind of hatred for the South and its history here is your chance to share it. You can post whatever you like as long as it is not insulting or merely a rant. What I want is something that approaches a reasoned explanation however difficult that might be for you.
The Presidential Inauguration exercises have been filled with references to the Civil War era, including President Lincoln, Union, the 150th anniversary of emancipation and the unfinished capitol dome. I just saw Frederick Douglass and reenactors from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry march by the president’s reviewing stand. We even heard a reference to Stonewall, though I don’t think it was in recognition of Lee-Jackson Day. It’s a wonderful opportunity to make these references and remind the country that our history does include significant progress.
I fell in love with the lyrics and thought it would be a great song to cover. When I discovered the band’s previous connection with the confederate flag, I was even more compelled to re-record this song and give new life to it. Music is so powerful, it’s important for artists such as myself to use our platform to make a positive impact on the world. When I first heard the lyrics in this song, I could relate to its overall message, as I too have the desire to be a “Free Bird.” The beautiful and most riveting thing about Art is that it speaks to the individual and everyone gets something different from it.
To me, the overall message in “Free Bird” is LOVE! Something the world needs more of! Something we ourselves need more of! LOVE is accepting and understanding… It’s healing; amongst many other powerful things…essentially, it’s FREEDOM! Through my expression of “Free Bird,” I wanted to send a visual message to break the chains of negative stereotypes, racism, poverty, war, sexism, self hatred, etc. that hold us back as a people, as a nation. I decided to release this visual during President Barack Obama’s inauguration because the significance of this historic moment aligns with the overall theme of the song. As an artist I’ve always had a perspective and a voice and its important to me that I always be authentic to not only my fans, but myself in my expression.
This photograph was taken in Brooksville, Florida in 1989. The caption reads: “Their backs turned to the Confederate memorial, more than 500 people rally in Brooksville before stepping off for a parade on Martin Luther King Day.” The inscription on the back of the monument reads:
This monument perpetuates the memory of our fallen heroes–We care not whence they came; wether unknown or known to fame; their cause and country still the same; they died and were the gray–leaving to posterity, a glorious heritage–an imperishable record of dauntless valor.
Leave it to Lee-Jackson Day to bring out the crazies. According to Henry Kidd, Robert E. Lee saved this country by agreeing to surrender the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox rather than disband it to fight in a guerrilla war that would have turned this country into something like Bosnia. Perhaps I am mistaken, but wouldn’t a Confederate victory also have led to the fracturing of the United States? So much for Lincoln, Grant, and the Union army playing a role in saving this nation. At some point I was hoping to see the interviewer bust out in uncontrollable laughter in response to such a ridiculous statement. That we live in a society that grants any legitimacy to such a position is all the reason I need to continue to teach.