Some of you are, no doubt, familiar with the story out of North Carolina involving H.K. Edgerton and Councilman Cecil Bothwell, who refused to cite God in his oath of office. Apparently, the good state of North Carolina has a provision that outlaws atheists from public office. Please correct me if I have the details wrong. To be completely honest I don’t really care about the details. What I find hilarious is that H.K. and others have decided to make this an issue. Of course any provision along these lines violates the U.S. Constitution which explicitly rejects any religious test for public office. That seems reasonable enough to me. Anyway, I didn’t think much of it at the time until I came across this wonderful cartoon that appeared in one of the local newspapers in Asheville, North Carolina.
Looks like anti-Neo-Confederate crusader, Edward Sebesta, is getting a head start on this year’s petition requesting that President Obama not send a wreath to the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery. I covered this in some detail on the blog and was very open in my opposition to such a petition. [You can read my commentary here and here.] To sum up, I didn’t see how a petition (written by Sebesta and James Loewen) against the laying of a wreath would lead to anything approaching a constructive and meaningful dialog about the Civil War, race, and memory. More importantly, it all but ignored the fact that we now have a president in office who is ideally suited to encourage and/or lead such a discussion.
Sebesta seems quite pleased with the impact of the petition, though I believe he exaggerates its affect. First, let me be clear that I agree with Sebesta’s general assessment of the problem with the Confederate monument at Arlington. It perpetuates a number of myths about slavery and black Confederates. The monument was dedicated at the height of Jim Crow and ought to be seen as one of the clearest expressions of the Lost Cause memory of the Civil War. While we may agree on interpretation we disagree on how best to engage the general public regarding such sensitive issues. [click to continue…]
I don’t know how I failed to comment on this, but the discussion early on in the interview is important. It is unusual to hear two African-American men talk about the importance of the Civil War as one of the most important democratizing events in American history. Of course, Coates is referring to the end of slavery and the service of black men in the United States army. It’s not that he acknowledges the history as much as that he acknowledges its importance within the sweep of the nation’s history rather than simply within the context of African-American history. Seems to me that this is an important mental step. In a recent post I offered a bit of advice on the shared goal of making the Civil War Sesquicentennial attractive to African Americans. I still maintain that this is going to be difficult given what I perceive to be a disconnect between the African-American community and the history of the Civil War or at least the suspicion among black Americans that the Lost Cause will continue to define public commemorations. It would be interesting to hear what Coates and Smith have to say about this challenge.
The 2009 Cliopatria Awards were announced yesterday evening as part of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. The awards are well deserved and reflect a format that remains vibrant and creative. [Note: Keep in mind that each category is decided by an independent committee, which explains why Georgian London won two awards.]
I have become a big fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s column over at Atlantic Monthly, especially his thoughts about what the Civil War means to a young African American male. [See here, here, and here] I’ve met Frank Smith a couple of times over the past few years, most recently in 2007, when I interviewed him as part of my research on black memory of the Crater. Mr. Smith has been involved in D.C. politics over the past few decades, but he is perhaps best known for helping to bring about a monument to United States Colored Troops in the city. He also established a museum a few blocks from the monument, which explores the history and contributions of black soldiers to the Civil War.
I just love the way they shrug off talk about black Confederates. We could take issue with Smith’s claim that no free black Southerners managed to join the army, but there is something refreshing about watching these two men discuss a subject that they understand.