Some Thoughts about Public History, Monuments, and Teaching

Last summer I took part in an NEH summer workshop at the Georgia Historical Society called “Recognizing an Imperfect Past: History, Memory, and the General Public.” In addition to delivering a lecture on monuments and Civil War memory I sat down for a brief interview with the GHS staff. We covered a lot of ground related to the subject of my talk and other themes addressed during the workshop. [click to continue…]

“The Soldiers All Love McClellan”: Even Robert Gould Shaw

I am beginning to see the outlines of an argument. Our tendency to focus on the last six months of Col. Robert Gould Shaw’s military career in command of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry has left us with an incomplete and even distorted view of his place in Civil War memory. We tend to see his parents, specifically his mother, as pushing him to see the necessity of recruiting African Americans into the army thus transforming the very purpose of the Union war effort. [click to continue…]

What’s In a Confederate Name

While much of the media has focused on the debate about Confederate monuments, communities across the country have quietly taken steps to change the names of buildings, streets, and other structures named after Confederate leaders. The city of Petersburg is currently debating whether to change the names of two schools named after Generals Robert E. Lee and A.P. Hill. It is my hope they find the collective will to make this change. [click to continue…]

United Daughters of the Confederacy and Lost Cause Go Viral

Who says millennials aren’t interested in history? Back in September, during the height of the Confederate monument debate, I was contacted by Coleman Lowndes, who works on making short videos for the newsite, Vox. Coleman was hoping to put together a video on the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their influence on the Lost Cause that would offer some insight into the broader debate about the legacy of the Confederacy. [click to continue…]

What is The Root’s Position on Black Confederates?

Over the past week media coverage has spiked in response to the proposal from two Republican state legislators in South Carolina, who are proposing to erect a monument to black Confederates on the state house grounds. What is different about this latest wave of coverage is the clear denial that these men ever existed in South Carolina. Given the often poor reporting on this subject over the years this is certainly a welcome development. [click to continue…]

Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Future of Confederate Monuments

The recent removal of two Confederate monuments in Memphis, Tennessee suggests that this recent wave has yet to crest. We will likely see additional removals in 2018. As for specifics, it is difficult to say. I suspect that we have not heard the last from Charlottesville. Maintaining the Lee and Jackson monuments underneath a black tarp indefinitely is not a long-term solution. Richmond is a complete mystery to me. [click to continue…]

Uncivil Explores Black Confederate Myth

I have to admit to being slow in fully embracing the new world of podcasts. It’s only been in the last year that I have learned to appreciate this particular format. One of my favorite new podcasts is Uncivil, which explores different aspects of Civil War memory and other unusual or obscure narratives from the period. The hosts are quite entertaining and the guests are always thoughtful.

Last month I helped out with a new episode, titled “The Portrait,” on the black Confederate myth. Only a few minutes were used from our hour-long interview, but much of it was integrated into the overall narrative. The episode focuses on a former member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who was once seduced by this narrative and Myra Chandler Sampson, a descendant of Silas Chandler. The episode is not yet listed on their webpage, but you can click through in the “subscribe” section and listen on Spotify, iTunes, and the other providers listed.

The producers did an excellent job overall and I thank them for the opportunity to participate.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Monument Vandalized or Beautified?

This has been a pretty bad two weeks for Nathan Bedford Forrest monuments. Just days after the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest monument in Memphis, Tennessee another monument erected in his honor has been vandalized. The Forrest monument along I-65, just south of Nashville, was designed by Jack Kershaw, a co-founder of the League of the South and dedicated in 1998.

Kershaw’s monument stands out as one of the most hideous and even comical Confederate monuments ever erected. I am not sure if the pink paint ought to be seen as an act of vandalism or beautification.

The current owner of the property has no plans to remove the paint.