Dear Governor, There is Still Time To Do the Right Thing

Governor Robert McDonnell

In addition to my post from this past Thursday both Robert Moore and Andy Hall have noted that Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell has yet to come through with his promise to issue a proclamation setting aside April as “Civil War in Virginia Month”.  I hope that this can be explained as an oversight having to do with a busy schedule more important matters, but I am beginning to doubt it.

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Confederates Need Not Apply

One of my readers pointed me to an interesting public commemoration of the Civil War that is set to take place in Baltimore, Maryland on the weekend of April 16.  If you click on “Civil War Procession Application” [pdf] you will notice something quite interesting.  It plainly states that event organizers will only accept the following to take part in the parade: Union Re-enactors, Military Bands, High School/College Marching Bands, Fife & Drum, Equestrian and Honor/Color Guards.

Because I have been unable to locate a website it is impossible for me to draw any conclusions that might help to explain the decision to omit a Confederate representation.  Of course, some folks, including the individual who pointed me to this story, will revert to the standard explanation of revisionism, political correctness, etc, etc, etc.  Unfortunately, that won’t do it.  One possibility is that the organizers of this commemoration intend to hold an event that emphasizes good ole fashioned patriotism by remembering the men who helped to preserve the Union.  Of course, as we all know, Maryland sent men to both armies.  However, our decisions about how to publicly commemorate the past always involve a certain amount of remembering and forgetting.  We don’t expect places such as New York City to include an acknowledgment of the large numbers of Loyalists that lived in the city during the Revolution in their Independence Day celebrations.

That is quite a statement on the part of the event organizers if something along these  is true and it would be another indication that our collective memory of the war has turned a corner.

Token Confederates

Unfortunately, today I stumbled upon the new line of Dixie Outfitters t-shirts.  I was particularly impressed with their emphasis on the Confederacy’s diversity.  It was also interesting to see who made the cut for their “Modern Day Southern Heritage Heros” as well as the quotes for the “Reveal the Truth” lines of t-shirts.

April is “Civil War in Virginia Month”

Well, at least that is what Governor McDonnell announced at a recent conference sponsored by the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission.  With April right around the corner, however, we have yet to see a proclamation outlining the scope of the commemoration.  Perhaps the governor’s advisers are studying a recent Harris Poll on how Americans identify with this history.  Whatever is announced, I trust it will be as thoughtful as this speech.

What I Will Miss

This last trimester I am working closely with a very talented senior, who is experimenting with historical fiction set during the Civil War.  The story is set in Virginia and told through the eyes of a young Virginia girl.  We decided that it might be helpful to base the story on some primary sources so today the two of us headed on over to the Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia.  We decided to take a look at Sara Ann Graves Strickler’s wartime diary, which is incredibly rich.  I’ve known about the diary for some time, but this was my first opportunity to read it for myself.  It was a real treat having the opportunity to share that inexpressible joy that comes with holding an important piece of history.  As I like to say, in those brief moments time collapses.  We took turns reading random entries to one another and looking to see if Sara addressed specific events during the war.  Diaries such as Sara’s get us up close to individual lives and force us to confront the contingency that defined their lives and many of the same hopes, dreams, and fears that animate our own.  For my student that connection was reinforced in a shared interest in the French language and literature, the references of which were sprinkled throughout the diary.

Interpreting Homer’s “Near Andersonville”

Actress Tia James portrays the enslaved African American woman represented in a painting in the Newark Museum’s collection. “Near Andersonville” was created by famed American artist Winslow Homer in 1866. The painting depicts the young woman on the ‘threshold’ of the future as she considers her freedom and views her liberators (Union soldiers) being led off to the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Homer presented an anonymous figure, but Ms. James researched published narratives of enslaved people to create her own character named Charity. Charity tells her story and comments on the dangers of the Underground Railroad, facing fear, and the hope to reunite with her husband, Walter. The gourds presented in the picture are symbols of the North Star (the guide for runaways) and the video includes a rendition of the folksong “Follow the Drinking Gourd”. The video is a component of the Newark Museum’s curriculum, “Civil War@150,” a teaching resource recognizing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War.

If you are looking for more on the painting you will want to take a look at Peter H. Wood’s concise study, Near Andersonville: Winslow Homer’s Civil War (Harvard University Press).

How Should the Civil War Be Commemorated?

Or perhaps I should have asked what sorts of activities ought to be avoided over the course of the next few years.  I just came across the results of a Harris Poll of 2,566 adults surveyed online between January 17 and 24, 2011 concerning the commemoration of the American Civil War.  Judge for yourself:

“Some states, particularly those in the South, have announced plans to remember and commemorate national as well as specific local events surrounding the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. When asked, however, a majority of Americans say that a parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy (68%), and parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy are not appropriate (58%) ways to remember the Civil War. In addition, majorities say that flying the Confederate flag (61%) or designating a Confederate History Month (53%) are also not appropriate. Americans who live in states which were neither formed nor recognized during the Civil War are most critical of these ideas (between 59% and 74% say each is not appropriate), yet adults who live in states which were part of the Confederacy are opposed to them as well (between 51% and 69% say each is not appropriate). However, White adults living in the former Confederacy have a different mind regarding flying the Confederate flag and designating a Confederate History Month–at least half say each is appropriate (51% and 57%, respectively). Most Americans, including those in the South and the former Confederacy (91% for all) say that reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is, on the other hand, appropriate.”

Click through to the Online article and scroll down for the full report.  It is quite interesting.  Perhaps I will something to say about it once I’ve had a chance to think about it some more.