As I wait for my flight back to Boston I wanted to share a little bit about my experience this weekend in Richmond at the ASALH. First and foremost, I was self conscious throughout of the fact that for the first time I was in the racial minority at an academic conference. A good friend of mine jokingly remarked, “Bottom rail on top”. We shared a good laugh over it, but it left me with questions about what it must be like for African Americans, who are usually in the minority at most academic conferences focused on American and Southern history.
As I mentioned in the last post, the range of participants also adds a unique quality to this gathering. I heard talks from academics, a USCT reenactor, amateur historians, genealogists, and public historians. The quality of the presentations definitely covered a wide spectrum, but that was far outweighed by the enthusiasm by both the presenters as well as the audience. I would also say that the presentations leaned heavily toward the narrative as opposed to analysis. The discussions were incredibly animated. There was a buzz in the audience that I have not experienced before. It was so nice to engage in conversation with people with so many interests and backgrounds. I was especially struck by the emphasis on the recording of names. No doubt, some of this comes back to the genealogist presence, but I suspect that the interest is much broader within the African American community to record names that in many cases can only be uncovered through a great deal of archival work.
It’s really nice to be back in Virginia, even if it is just for a few days. I started the day off with a morning run along the beautiful Canal Walk and I am getting ready to check out a session on black Civil War soldiers before heading out to do some research. So far I am having a wonderful time. The ASALH is definitely less stuffy than what I’ve come to expect in a history conference. You can still pick out the academic types from a mile away, but this conference includes a wide range of participants from social workers to community activists, and clergymen. It definitely makes for a lively Q&A and for someone interested in historical memory it offers a wealth of perspective from within the African American community.
What I’ve heard thus far reinforces the obvious that there is no consensus among African Americans about how to remember the Civil War. While walking along the booths I noticed a number of copies of Lerone Bennett’s, Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, but I wasn’t able to gauge the extent to which it reflects anything approaching a consensus within the African American community when I raised the issue during one session on memory and the Civil War. For a Civil War enthusiast interested in the story of African Americans you can’t do much better. There is simply way too much to take in. I am very much looking forward to my session tomorrow morning at 10am on black Confederates with Ervin Jordan, Emmanuel Dabney, and Jaime Martinez. It should be a lively discussion and I will be sure to write up a full report.
In light of both these efforts, Ms. Sampson has asked me to publish a petition demanding that the SCV and UDC discontinue the practice of placing a Confederate flag and Iron Cross in front of Silas’s gravestone.
This video has been up on YouTube for a couple of days, but for some reason I didn’t bother to listen. Thanks to Brett for passing it along. He even manages to throw in a reference to black Confederates. I think you are going to enjoy it.