Yesterday I posted a video on the Civil War Memory Facebook page about the recent controversy in Jacksonville, Florida concerning Nathan Bedford Forrest High School. The short documentary tells the story of the steps that one local community college professor took to change the name of the school. The center of the story is Professor Steve Stoll, who encouraged a couple of his students to take on the project to fulfill a class requirement. While Stoll claims that at first he simply threw out the idea of doing a survey of the community on the possibility of a name change, his reaction following the school board’s vote [14:30] suggests that he had much more invested in this project. It became more of a personal crusade as opposed to an academic exercise and one which I find troubling.
The documentary provides more evidence that we are moving beyond the old battle lines of north v. south and white v. black regarding our attitudes toward the symbolism of the Civil War. Even though the school community is predominantly black they voted not to change the name, not because they revere Forrest, but because they have other things on their mind [[9:30]. In contrast to Stoll’s agenda and the vote taking by the school board the perspective of the students suggests that these kids are not internalizing these old feuds as part of their own self-identity. In short, memory of Forrest is a battle ground that engages their parents and grandparents. The kids have moved on. [This is an aspect of the story involving the black college students in South Carolina who flew at Confederate battle flag in his window that was missed as well in all the coverage.]
These stories are neither defeats for those who are still fighting these battles nor are they victories for those who style themselves as defenders of Southern Heritage; rather, they point to the extent to which each generation re-negotiates its relationship to the past.
A couple weeks ago I linked to a video of Ron Paul lecturing a group about the Civil War and today I came across another segment from that same talk. It’s more of the same nonsense. I don’t know what is worse, not knowing any history or butchering it in the way that Paul does. He doesn’t seem to know the first thing about Jefferson, the Hartford Convention, the relative importance of the tariff as a cause of the war and even the fact that both the United States and the Confederacy instituted a draft.
What I find more troubling, however, is that someone like this has any interest in leading this country. I truly do not understand why someone who is this antagonistic about the role of the federal government would want to serve in its highest office. The ease with which people throw around words like nullification and secession disgusts me. In today’s climate it is used as little more than a scare tactic and reflects a defeatist attitude.
This morning I awoke to a pretty nasty private email from a reader who was disappointed that I did not take the time to respond. I certainly understand the frustration, but while I do my best to respond to as many blog comments as possible, I simply cannot respond to each and every private email that I receive. On average I receive somewhere around 20 emails a day and on some days it can double and even triple. It would be impossible for me to get anything constructive done if I responded to each and every email. That said, I do read your email messages and I do appreciate you taking the time to write. Thanks for your understanding.
First, a big shout out to my new friends at the Olde Colony Civil War Round Table in Dedham. I had a wonderful time last night. It was an enthusiastic crowd and they asked some excellent questions. The meeting was brought to order by the ringing of a bell that was used to signal the end of the war on Boston Common. Very, very cool. The Endicott Estate is an ideal place in which to give a talk and I look forward to my return in May to talk about the battle of the Crater.
Speaking of the Crater, I finished reviewing the publisher’s copy edits and finalized the chapter titles, which are as follows:
Chapter 1 – The Battle: “Until Every Negro Has Been Slaughtered”
Chapter 2 – The Lost Cause: Maintaining the Antebellum Hierarchy
Chapter 3 – Virginia’s Reconstruction: William Mahone, “The Hero of the Crater”
Chapter 4 – Reinforcing the Status Quo: Reenactment and Jim Crow
Chapter 5 – Whites Only: The Ascendency of An Interpretation
Chapter 6 – Competing Memories: Civil War and Civil Rights
Chapter 7 – Moving Forward: Integrating a Black Counter-Memory
Despite the release date on the book’s Amazon page it looks like the book will be available by June 1.