“Make Sure You Tell Them We’re Not All Racists Down Here”

On Wednesday morning I got up early and walked to a nearby IHOP for breakfast rather than run the gauntlet of 40 hungry students scrambling for something to eat at the hotel. As I usually do I brought a book with me, which on this occasion was a book I picked up on the civil rights movement in Tuskegee, the day before. Within a few minutes three elderly white men sat at a table to my left. One gentleman noticed what I was reading and we struck up a conversation. I mentioned that I was with a group of students from Boston traveling from Atlanta to Memphis to visit civil rights sites. We chatted for a bit longer, but the last thing he said to me was, “Make sure you tell them we’re not all racists down here.” Continue reading

Take It Down!

Mississippi_Capitol_Flag_AP_MI48
Mississippi State Flag

Last night I returned from an incredible 5-day trip through the civil rights South with a wonderful group of students. Among other things, we sat together in the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, visited Sun Records and got a sneak peak at the new exhibit at the American Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which opens to the public next month. We met with civil rights activists such as lawyer Fred Gray, Selma marcher, Joann Bland, and Freedom Rider Charles Person.

Our trip focused not just on history, but on current racial inequities throughout our country. While visiting with lawyers at the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery we discussed the prosecution of minors as adults and the fact that many of these kids are African American. While in Jackson, Mississippi we met with the district attorney of Hinds County, where we discussed the incarceration of children as minors from the perspective of a prosecuting attorney. We met in a courtroom. Once again, our discussion returned to racial inequities in the system. Continue reading

John Marszalek Reflects on 1864′s Person of the Year

This past February the Museum of the Confederacy hosted its annual “Person of the Year” for 1864. As you already know the audience selected William T. Sherman. The event was broadcast this weekend on C-SPAN. Here is John Marszalek reflecting on Sherman’s victory. Marszalek offers some interesting thoughts at the beginning in response to a question of whether he was surprised by the audience’s choice. I agree with his response in that it tells us as much about the profile of the audience as it does about the relevant history.

Again, congratulations to “Uncle Billy.”

“The Knighliest of the Knightly Race”

Grounds of the Alabama State House in Montgomery
Grounds of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery

In addition to the Jefferson Davis monument I am also going to talk briefly about the Alabama Confederate Memorial Monument (1898), which commemorates the 122,000 men from the state who fought for the Confederacy. Students will be asked to reflect on the ways in which these monuments reinforced the politics of Jim Crow through a selective memory of the past.

THE KNIGHTLIEST OF THE KNIGHTLY RACE/WHO SINCE THE DAYS OF OLD,/HAVE KEPT THE LAMP OF CHIVALRY/ALIGHT IN HEARTS OF GOLD.”

What do inscriptions such as the one above tell us about who these monuments were meant to include or welcome to the grounds of the Alabama state capitol and who they were meant to exclude? To what extent do these monuments reflect the nature of the legislation that took place inside the capitol throughout the period leading up to the civil rights movement? What does justice mean in such an environment?

I am also going to ask students to reflect on the fact that the four granite figures, representing the four branches of the Confederate military, were completed just south of Boston in Quincy.

So looking forward to heading out tomorrow morning with some incredibly thoughtful students.