Dear Professor Gates

Correction: One of my readers noticed some very sloppy writing in this post that I wish to acknowledge and correct. I wrote that the SCV did not reference Clyburn as a slave, which is untrue. Interviews with members do include such a reference. What I should have said was that there was no clear reference to his status in the brief clips that show the actual ceremony. Even Earl Ijames references Clyburn as a slave, but like the SCV their  language is unclear and inconsistent, which was the point I was trying to make. The crucial distinction between a soldier and slave has all but been lost in all of this.  Thanks to the reader for keeping me honest and I apologize for the confusion.

I wanted to share some thoughts with you about last week’s talk by John Stauffer on black Confederates.  I had a number of problems with his presentation, which you can read here.  One of the questions I’ve had since the talk is why the W.E.B. DuBois Institute would be interested in such a subject and then I remembered that you have had some exposure with this narrative, most recently while filming your PBS documentary, Looking For Lincoln.  As a former high school history teacher I want to thank you for this series.  At the time I was teaching a course on the Civil War and historical memory so the show fit in perfectly.  My class was able to watch individual segments as a basis for further discussion or other activity.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.

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How Did Stonewall Jackson Really Get His Name?

Once again, it is my job to bring to your attention various interpretations of the past that reflect how Americans have remembered the Civil War.  They take many forms and, yes, some are truly bizarre.  Consider the following documentary. Stonewall creates a revisionist / historical parallel between Civil War hero Thomas Stonewall Jackson and the monumental Stonewall riots of New York City. It repositions him as a proud leader in the fight for gay civil rights.

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Choosing To Become a Slave

Woodcut from Nat Turner's Rebellion (1831)

Every once in a while you will read about free blacks petitioning local or state government to become a slave.  In the wrong hands such accounts reflect a lingering Lost Cause view that slavery was benign.  Why else would a free black individual choose bondage?  Many of these requests were made in the late antebellum period following John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry.  Many southern states, especially in the Deep South, worried about the effects of the raid on their black populations, both free and enslaved.  In addition to worrying about the ramifications of the Brown raid memories of Nat Turner’s bloody insurrection were easily recalled.  Visitors from the North were suspected of inciting blacks and were often forced to leave.  The smallest acts of violence and arson by blacks were met with swift and brutal punishment to prevent what many perceived to be the beginning of a more general uprising.  In many localities this response included a severe crackdown on the movement and rights of free blacks.  Free blacks already occupied a precarious position in the South, but the increased focus on their movement may help to explain why some chose slavery over freedom.

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Southern Heritage Group Declares War On the South

What happens when you put into practice on a local level the principle behind states rights and Jeffersonian Democracy?  Well, according to these folks you’ve violated one of the central pillars of Southern Heritage.  Some of my favorite quotes of the day:

  • From what I’ve been told (and from the “no-response” I received from the Lexington Chamber of Commerce) I don’t think we have a prayer of support from the business community. The whole town is gone, frankly, and should be boycotted. If folks go to pay respect to Lee and Jackson, they should go through the town, pay their respects and leave. Maybe a sign on their car – we don’t support scalawags and carpetbaggers so we don’t shop in Lexington – might get the point across, but who knows? These people are blind to anything but their ideology.
  • I’m thinking about massive, massive “pilgrimages” to pay respects to Lee and Jackson maybe four times a year; and I mean huge crowds — who don’t spend one red cent in the city.
  • You should also advocate that others join in this boycott of that city too.
    I for one know I never intend to go there…except maybe for Lee/Jackson Day, and even then NOT ONE DOLLAR of my money is going to Miss Elrod’s coffers or those of the trash that put her in high office.
  • Amen!! I’ll stand with ya’ll…locked and loaded too…Lees do not start fights (unless they need to be started…LOL), but we sure as heck give the fight all we got!! John is right (see prayer below)…satan works to discourage God’s people…the closer to God our hearts, the harder we will be attacked…so, I say, BRING IT…I am a Daughter of the South and a soldier in God’s Army…and I do NOT back down ;o)
  • Our Father, Thank you for another day in which we can serve you! Thank you for strength to stand tall for truth! Thank you for such a great salvation that purchases for each one that trusts you as Lord and Savior, a home in heaven – with you – for eternity! Help us, I pray, to realize that Satan’s tactics never really change. While he might use closed minds and brute force to seemingly get his way, the light of truth cannot be extinguished through his tactics. May we be reminded that on the day that it appeared to the world that he had won, that you brought about your greatest victory by revealing your redemptive purpose by rising from the grave 3 days later! Thank you for being the champion of TRUTH!
  • Well, I sure am glad I have been to see Gen Lee’s final resting place there because i will never go back to that hsitoric city anymore. I guess with all the discrimination us Southerners have to endure we now have to endure the loss of our First Ammendment right.

Oh, what a complex web of Civil War memory we weave.

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Quick Thought About the Confederate Flag Controversy in Lexington

Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia

I’ve taken a little time this morning to check out the responses surrounding the Confederate flag in Lexington, Virginia.  I am struck by the over-the-top/vitriolic nature of much of what is being posted around the Internet.  Blanket generalizations are being issued about what motivated the city council as well as emotional statements promising never to return to the city.  It seems to boil down to the belief that Southern heritage has been violated or the rights of southerners have somehow been cruelly violated.  What are we to make of this?

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