How Will We Imagine Slavery in 2015?

Mural by George Beattie (1956)

Here is another story for those of you who doubt that we are witnessing a radical shift in our popular perceptions of the Civil War and the history of slavery.  Gary Black, the newly elected agriculture commissioner in Georgia, has ordered that a series of murals depicting slavery be removed from the building.  The murals were painted in 1956 by George Beattie to show the evolution of agriculture in the state from Native Americans through the twentieth century.  I do hope these murals find a new home so they can be appreciated and even interpreted for their historical value.  According to the news story, Black is replacing a commissioner who occupied the position since 1969.

This shift in popular thinking about slavery is still, in my mind, best understood in terms of what it finds offensive or problematic.  The Lost Cause view of slavery, with its emphasis on paternalism, has already been put to rest by scholars and we can begin to discern the consequences of this from the controversies surrounding Governor McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation to the recent coverage of the sesquicentennial of South Carolina’s secession.   What is not clear is whether the next few years and a more rigorous engagement with the history and legacy of slavery will leave us with any lasting impressions.

On this day 148 years ago the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and yet as a nation we do nothing to mark the occasion.  How strange in a nation that celebrates a narrative of the gradual embrace and expansion of freedom.

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Final Thoughts?

Once again, you’ve been a very attentive and supportive audience this past year, which is always appreciated.  So, to end 2010 I want to give you the last word.

Happy New Year!

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Can the NAACP Get Right With the Civil War Sesquicentennial?

NAACP Protest in Charleston, SC, December 2010

In a recent post, Ta-Nehisis Coates is critical of the NAACP for its continued boycott of South Carolina as well as its struggle to remove the Confederate flag from state house grounds.  I couldn’t agree more with Coates:

There is something that really strikes me as wrong about urging people to not visit South Carolina on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. I was listening to the radio a few days ago, and the mayor of Charleston was discussing the significance of the city’s slave ports in American history. I haven’t seen this on paper, but he claimed something like 20 percent of all African-American have an ancestor that came through Charleston. Whether that’s true, or not, you’re talking about a state with a unique place in black history, in particular, and American history at large…. At some point we have to stop telling people what they can’t believe in, and start telling them what they can. At some point we have push a positive view of history, not in the sense of white-washing, but in the sense of something beyond debunking. I don’t know that you can banish the Confederate flag from the South. I don’t know that you can make Tennessee come to terms with Nathan Bedford Forrest. But surely you can shine a light on Ida B Wells, Prince Rivers, Cassius Clay and Elizabeth Van Lew.

[click to continue…]

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How Does This Fit Into the Lost Cause?

Update from a Reliable Source: “One porn catalog mailed out to the Army of the Potomac advertised dildoes. A dildo was found in the wall of a house of a Nantucket captain’s widow. The first vibrator was marketed in 1870. The traveling device salesman sounds perfectly plausible.”

I Guess She Didn't Need Him After All

I just wrapped up a wonderful visit with a former student from Alabama that I have not seen in ten years.  It’s always nice to see how these kids turn out.  Anyway, this student comes from a fairly prominent Alabama family with its share of family stories.  One of those stories struck me as very interesting and I am curious if anyone can recommend further reading.

It turns out that this woman’s great grandfather supplied southern widows with adult novelties in the wake of the Civil War.  I know, I know…this is not something we want to acknowledge at least for those of us who harbor conservative views of women or images of Melanie Hamilton.  It turns out that this drastic change in profession eventually cost him his marriage.  The story has stayed within the confines of the family for the obvious reasons and I have no reason not to believe it, but I am curious if anyone has done serious research on this aspect of widowhood.  I am familiar with Thomas Lowry’s book, but I don’t believe he addresses this.

Given Victorian attitudes toward sex I assume that evidence of such a market would be hard to come by.  What do you think?

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Stacy D. Allen Responds

This afternoon I received a response from Stacy D. Allen, who is the Chief Ranger at Shiloh National Military Park, regarding their photo exhibit on Andrew and Silas Chandler.  As I indicated in the post I never had any doubt that I would receive a response as well as an indication that the necessary changes would be made.

We greatly appreciate you contacting us concerning the Andrew and Silas Chandler photo exhibit at the Corinth Civil War Interpretative Center in Corinth, Mississippi, in conjunction with the continuing research you are performing on the relationship of Andrew and his slave Silas.  Attached is a proposed rewrite I have drafted to replace the incorrect text accompanying the Chandler image on display at the Center, to more accurately reflect Silas’ service as a slave with his master during the conflict. Please feel free to comment on the proposed draft.  We would be most interested to know if your research into the master – slave relationship of Andrew and Silas has discovered whether Silas was or was not present with Andrew at Shiloh?

I looked over the proposed rewrite and can report that the necessary changes were made to reflect their relationship as well as the type of pension that Silas received in 1916.  While Silas indicates in his pension that he accompanied Andrew on August 8, 1861 I cannot confirm that he was present at Shiloh.  Of course, I will keep them updated as my research progresses.  Special thanks to Stacey Allen – a top-notch historian in his own right – and the rest of the staff for giving this the attention that I believe it deserves.  It’s a testament to the hard interpretive work that they do on a daily basis.

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