Teach Reconstruction

Set in South Carolina and released 100 years ago, D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” glorified the Ku Klux Klan as defenders of white Southerners against a black population that was deemed to be unfit for citizenship in the United States.

Actors costumed in the full regalia of the Ku Klux Klan chase down a white actor in blackface in a still from 'The Birth of a Nation,' the first feature-length film, directed by D. W. Griffith, California, 1914.

Last week a photograph taken at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina showed cadets dressed in Klan hoods, who were reportedly singing Christmas Carols.

citadelcadetsOf all the places for this to happen, especially after the racial violence perpetrated by an individual who identified closely with another symbol of this nation’s racist past. Most, if not all the Democratic candidates have called for the removal of a Confederate Navy flag from The Citadel’s Summerall Chapel.

I would be happy if the school’s instructors spent a bit more time on Reconstruction.

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Lynched With a Confederate Flag

Last night I gave a talk at the GAR Hall in Lynn, which is the home of the General Lander Civil War Round Table. My topic was the history and memory of the Confederate flag. I presented a fairly broad  interpretation that highlighted the different stages from the war years through to the current controversy involving flags and monuments. [click to continue…]

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‘Every Student Her Own Historian’

AAS SeminarIt’s hard to believe that my American Studies Seminar at the American Antiquarian Society has come to an end. I first want to thank Paul Erickson for the invitation to teach the seminar. The invitation was both a surprise and an honor. The class could not have been possible without the assistance of Marie Lamoureux and the rest of the curators, who graciously gave of their time each week to talk with my students about the different areas of the AAS’s archival holdings. [click to continue…]

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The Anniversary Americans Ignore

Henry_P._Moore_(American_-_Slaves_of_General_Thomas_F._Drayton_-_Google_Art_Project

Today is the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. It was the former Confederate state of Georgia that sent the amendment over the edge. Unlike other anniversaries acknowledged over the course of the Civil War sesquicentennial this one has unfortunately garnered very little attention.

I offer some thoughts about this in my latest essay at The Daily Beast. You should also take time to read the excellent op-ed by Blain Roberts and Ethan Kytle in The New York Times.

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The 250th is Coming! The 250th is Coming!

MIDDLESEX COUNTY, MA - APRIL 18:  A painting depicting Paul Revere warning  patriots of the impending British landings in Lexington on April 18, 1775 in Middlesex County, Massachusetts.  (Illustration by Ed Vebell/Getty Images)

On Monday evening I attended a panel discussion at the Old North Church, sponsored by Revolution 250 to discuss the anniversary of events leading up to and including the American Revolution. Events have already marked the anniversaries of the Stamp Act Crisis and other events in the early years of colonial protest, but the big push will come in 2025-26 with the anniversaries of Lexington, Concord, etc. Boston will certainly be a popular destination for heritage tourists from the United States and beyond.

Panelists included William Fowler, Northeastern University; Martha McNamara, Wellesley College; Robert Allison, Suffolk University and Representative Byron Rushing. I didn’t have any expectations, beyond an interest in how the presenters were framing the anniversary. On this score I left just a bit disappointed. [click to continue…]

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Confederate Flags Return to W&L’s Lee Chapel

Well, not exactly, but John Paul Strain’s latest effort at realism is the next best thing for those people upset with the recent removal of Confederate flags from the chapel room. It’s a curious print and while it may do well within a certain community Strain’s choices distorts the history and identity of Lee Chapel.

Lee ChapelYes, Edward Valentine’s beautiful marble recumbent statue depicts Lee in his military uniform, but as far as I know there are no other symbols of the former Confederacy present when the room was first dedicated. More problematic, however, is the addition of images of Stuart and Jackson on the rear panels. Strain makes it appear that their images have been etched into the panels, but as many of you know, they are in fact clear.

Lee’s burial site was not intended to be a Lost Cause shrine to the Confederacy and the flags that adorned the space, before they were removed last year, only arrived in the 1930s. In my mind the attempt at realism with the addition of Stuart and Jackson does a disservice to the purpose of the space and perhaps even the way Lee wanted to be remembered.

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