A week later and I am still digesting Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, Between the World and Me. I read it in two sittings and it knocked me right on my ass. I suspect that for most white readers his is a world that can barely be glimpsed. What does it mean to live in a black body that can be taken away in the most violent of ways with no consequences. Before reading this book I rarely thought about what it means to live in a white body in such visceral terms. That is my privilege as a white American. [click to continue…]
The call to remove Confederate monuments shows no signs of letting up. Many people who supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia have articulated positions holding the line on removing monuments. For some monuments offer educational opportunities and function as important reminders of the community’s collective past. Others have staked a position around the claim that Confederate soldier monuments can be understood apart from the broader cause of the Confederate nation. In other words, we can honor the memory of the soldier, along with his bravery and strong sense of duty, without having to deal with the baggage of race and slavery.
What follows ought not to be interpreted in support of the removal of Confederate soldier monuments nor should it be interpreted as an attempt to demonize the common soldier or anyone else for that matter. My position on these matters has been consistent. [click to continue…]
I watched this live a few months ago and was hoping CUNY would eventually upload it for public viewing. It really is a wonderful conversation that considers our collective memory of Appomattox and, especially, Downs’s new book, After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War, which is a must read.
Gary Feis, a contractor from North Carolina on a week-long tour of Virginia battlefields, wore a camouflage cap embroidered with the flag and the words “100% Genuine Rebel.” The flag, he said, was nothing more than “a symbol of a rallying point during the battles, so they could know where their people were.” “People are very ignorant of history in this country,” he said as he perused books, bumper stickers and prints venerating the Civil War.
“There’s obviously a visceral reaction to this wave of cultural cleansing, there’s nothing else to call it,” said Ben Jones, the former Georgia congressman best known as the actor who played Cooter on the ’80s series about good ol’ boys in the rural South. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘This reminds me of Nazi Germany in 1933, when they started burning books.’ When you take ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ off the air, this internationally beloved show, and hint that it is because it is racist . . . it’s a bridge too far.” [click to continue…]
Things have quieted down to the point where I can finally get back to some serious work. To ensure that I get out of the house I renewed my membership at the Boston Athenaeum, which is really a wonderful place to work. In fact, I will likely head down there today in a couple of hours. Over the next few months I will explore opportunities beyond the high school classroom. They include teaching a research seminar at the American Antiquarian Society, helping an organization here in town train local history instructors to teach Reconstruction and looking into volunteering at local historic sites.
On the writing front the big project remains completing my book manuscript on Confederate camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The rise of the narrative in the wake of the debates surrounding the Confederate flag have all but confirmed to me that the project is still very relevant to our current conversation about Civil War memory.
I am also working on two smaller projects. The first is a much revised and expanded essay on Confederate military executions. I published a short article in Civil War Times a few years ago, but have decided to return to it to deepen the analysis. This will appear as a chapter in a forthcoming volume of essays published by the Louisiana State University Press. In addition, I am close to finishing a magazine essay on the 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments that focuses on the period from April to August 1865 in South Carolina. [click to continue…]