William Prince Ford & Stonewall Jackson: Black Man’s Friend

12-Years-a-SlaveIt is being reported that some of the descendants of slaveowner William Prince Ford are not happy with how he has been portrayed in 12 Years A Slave.

One was his great-great-grandson, 77-year-old William Marcus Ford,  who described the film as ‘too dark  and exaggerated’. He added: ‘By all accounts, my great-great-grandfather treated his slaves well and did his best for them. ‘He was born at a particular time in history when slavery was accepted throughout the South. ‘It wasn’t illegal. That doesn’t make it right or moral by today’s standards but back then it wasn’t an ethical issue. Northup saw him as a kindly person. He was a highly moral man.’ The film, says Mr Ford, ignores the fact that ‘slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property and that it wouldn’t be in an owner’s interest to treat his slaves badly’. He said: ‘Good field-hands had worth. They were valued. A skilled craftsman like Northup would have been valued. There might have been a few bad apples, but I don’t think there was widespread brutality.’

The past few decades has witnessed an incredible outpouring of scholarship on the complexity of the master-slave relationship. The institution varied widely depending on both time, place and a host of other factors. No one should be surprised that as much as 12 Years A Slave has made room for meaningful discourse about the history of American slavery, it has also reinforced deeply entrenched positions and ideologies. For many a continued defensive stance is the only response. [click to continue…]

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Psychosis of a Civil War Soldier: An Online Course

I know a few of you are currently enrolled in Stephanie McCurry’s online course on slavery and the Civil War. I will be very interested to see how that goes. In the mean time here is another online offering from something called the Center For Historical Research Studies. The following course is being offered by Tim Daniel, who is the center’s director of history.

I don’t think I will be taking this course.

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Nothing Worth Reading Since Benjamin Quarles?

USCTYesterday I caught a panel discussion on race and the challenges of teaching Civil War history from a recent conference at Wake Forest, which aired on CSPAN. I didn’t find the panel discussion to be particularly interesting, but what struck me was a comment from Hari Jones, who argued that nothing that has been written about black Civil War soldiers since the publication of Benjamin Quarles’s The Negro in the Civil War (1953) is worth reading. [click to continue…]

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Defending Lee-Jackson Day from Me and My Followers

I haven’t linked to my Old Virginia Blog buddy in quite some time, but in recent weeks my site has received a great deal of attention from his little corner of the Shenandoah Valley. With that in mind I thought I would quickly return the favor by pointing out that Richard William completely missed the mark in reference to my recent post on Lee-Jackson Day:

Kevin Levin, who has expressed the view he saw no reason to celebrate Lee-Jackson Day, posed the question noted above. Kevin and many of his followers would like to see the tradition of honoring Lee and Jackson in Virginia (and other places in the South) thrown on the trash heap of history.

This is news to me. I don’t see how any reasonable reading of the post could warrant such a conclusion. While I don’t have much of anything invested in Lee-Jackson Day I have absolutely no problem if others wish to acknowledge it in some shape or form. I attended a couple of Lee-Jackson Day events in Charlottesville, Virginia during my time there and even over the years brought a couple of my classes to view the ceremony. Whether it ought to be acknowledged by the state is something that Virginians themselves must decide and for now I think the holiday is safe. [click to continue…]

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Alvin C. Voris Connects Military Service to Race Relations

Alvin C. VorisAlvin C. Voris rose through the ranks in command of Ohio troops and by the end of the war was brevetted major general. Below are a few excerpts from his letters which were published a few years ago as A Citizen-Soldier’s Civil War: The Letters of Brevet Major General Alvin C. Voris and edited by Jerome Mushkat.

I find the evolution of Voris’s thinking on the conduct and service of black soldiers to be quite interesting and reflective of a broader trend within the Army of the Potomac and Army of the James. By November 10 Lincoln had been reelected and Voris had taken temporary command of a black unit. The Crater represents the nadir of white perceptions of their black comrades in arms. There is no questioning the fact that Ferrero’s Fourth Division was scapegoated by both those who were on the battlefield that day and those who learned later about it later, but a closer look suggests that the condemnations were relatively restrained and short-term.

It’s a more complex story and one that I am currently exploring for an essay that I need to finish in the next few weeks.  [click to continue…]

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