It’s difficult to tell whether much of anything is going to happen here in Virginia this weekend in acknowledgment of Lee-Jackson Day. Yes, there is the parade tomorrow in Lexington, but that’s not surprising given the fact that the city serves as their final resting place. It would be very strange indeed if the city didn’t mark the day with a public celebration, especially one organized by the SCV. Given the apparent lack of interest, perhaps we need a new holiday. So, which Virginians do you believe deserve his or her own day as a state holiday? Don’t be shy.
I’ve been giving this some thought, not so much in the context of a state holiday, but in reference to our collective memory here in the good state of Virginia. We have such a rich history here and there are plenty of important and obscure individuals who deserve to be remembered in one way or another. It seems to me that the one glaring omission is the lack of any kind of monument to Nat Turner. That’s right, I said Nat Turner. I’m not suggesting that what is needed is something overtly celebratory, but some kind of acknowledgment of his role in Virginia history and the broader civil rights movement. The fact that we still do not have a public site dedicated to Turner (even in Southampton County) tells us quite a bit about how we choose to remember our past. More specifically, it tells us what we as a community have difficulty coming to terms with. We will see this on Monday as the nation remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. Schools will perform the mandatory rituals and local news teams will cobble together the standard narrative that celebrates King’s commitment to non-violence and his role in singlehandedly bringing an end to racial injustice. Perhaps we will see a few hoses from Birmingham. The point is that most Americans would much rather celebrate the expansion of freedom in this country as emerging through non-violent means rather than through violence.
Turner raises all of these issues and more. Can you imagine a Nat Turner day here in Virginia?
Update: Thanks to everyone who stopped by today. Friday is usually slow around here, but yesterday’s- and especially today’s posts clearly made an impact. My stats counter went through the roof. There is something quite powerful about blogging. On this Lee-Jackson Day I managed to steer at least a small portion of the public discussion in the direction of another Virginian who I believe deserves to be acknowledged in a more public way. [Please keep in mind the nature of a blog post. Most of my posts reflect topics that I think about over time and rarely reflect conclusions that are set in stone. Please feel free to challenge me and offer a different perspective. I have nothing to lose, but ideas that I had not considered.] A number of Yahoo groups picked up the post as well as the Civil War Talk Forum. Even my friend in Fredericksburg, who never fails to point out how unimportant I am, chose to link to one of my comments. It’s a sign of just how unimportant I am that he would devote his blog to me on this Lee-Jackson Day. I am truly blessed with so many devoted readers.
Tomorrow is Lee-Jackson Day here in Virginia. What that means for Virginians is a day off for many state employees. [I am proud to work at a school where we have Monday off in honor of Martin Luther King.] For the rest of us it should be a day without having to deal with parking meters. Unless, of course, you live in the city of Norfolk. It turns out last year the city continued to issue tickets to meter violators. Luckily a local news channel pointed out the problem to the city, which promised to make the necessary corrections. Let’s just hope that the city doesn’t make the same mistake this year and that all proud Virginians are able to embrace the true meaning of Lee-Jackson Day.
In all seriousness, I’ve never attended a Lee-Jackson Day event. Perhaps it is time to head on over the Blue Ridge Mountains to Lexington for Saturday’s festivities. It looks like the SCV has cooked up a real Lost Cause love fest. Interestingly, a PBS affiliate will be filming a documentary on the history of Lee-Jackson Day. That could be quite interesting.
Over the past few days I’ve been rummaging through research files that cover the history of the Crater during the 1950s and 60s. Thankfully, I’ve been making steady progress on my manuscript revisions. I am playing around with an opening to this post-WWII chapter that tries to imagine what a family would have seen and read between the visitors center and wayside markers at the Petersburg battlefield. Perhaps I will share it with you to get some feedback. Anyway, here are some notes I took while looking at a collection of Civil War Centennial pamphlets.
UVA: Civil War Centennial Information: “Virginia’s Opportunity: The Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965″ [published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, Richmond, Va, 1960] Manual was prepared for Civil War centennial committees and teachers “who are trying to interpret the meaning of this momentous era to the youth of Virginia.”
“But the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again. Americans from every section produced the divisions which led to war. These divisions grew out of hate, greed and fear, ignorance and apathy, selfishness and emotionalism—evils from which this generation is not free.” “This is the time to recognize these divisive forces; but this is also the time to honor dedication and devotion, courage and honor, integrity and faith—qualities plentifully demonstrated in the War of 1861 to 1865—and needed for our survival in the years to come.” (from the Foreward)
Opening day, Sunday, January 8, 1961
Va’s opening day: April 23, 1961 on the day that R.E. Lee accepted command of Virginia armed forces.
“The chief purpose of the Centennial is to strengthen the unity of the country through mutual understanding—an understanding derived from the realization that there was dedication and devotion on both sides. North and South, there were those who gave all they had in support of what they sincerely believed was right.” “In the Centennial the spotlight will be on character in men—for was is the ultimate test of character. The stories of the Civil War are full of lessons for present-day living. By these examples we can teach children and adults the moral values so needed in America today. (p.8) [click to continue…]
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…]