More Trouble For Henry Louis Gates

This story just continues to get jucier with each passing day. The website Gawker now has the original script for Ben Affleck’s episode of “Finding Your Roots.” Henry Louis Gates has maintained that the decision to focus on another of Affleck’s ancestors had nothing to do with the actor’s request to steer clear of his slave-owning ancestor. The release of the script and the timing of the changes render that explanation as untenable.

0423toonwassermanGates clearly has more explaining to do. Given when the edits to the episode were made it now becomes more likely that additional staff members with the show were aware of Affleck’s request and understood why the changes were being made.

The integrity of the show and Gates’s reputation as a public intellectual have both been jeopardized.

Ben Affleck, Henry Louis Gates and Oprah Winfrey’s Couch

Update: Gawker got hold of the original script for Affleck’s segment. It looks like the editorial changes were made in response to the actor’s request to remove references to his slave-owning ancestor.

Late yesterday Ben Affleck released a statement apologizing for requesting that ties to a slave-owning ancestor be edited out of an episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates. In the statement Affleck admits to feeling uncomfortable about the connection: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

As I stated in a previous post about this controversy, my concern is not so much with Affleck’s request as with the way Gates handled it. Continue reading “Ben Affleck, Henry Louis Gates and Oprah Winfrey’s Couch”

New to the Civil War Memory Library, 04/21

forthcoming, September 2015
forthcoming, September 2015

Terry Alford, Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth (Oxford University Press, 2015).

Lisa T. Frank, The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers During Sherman’s March (Louisiana State University Press, 2015).

Gary Gallagher and J. Matthew Gallman eds., Lens of War: Exploring Iconic Photographs of the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2015).

Earl J. Hess, Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness (Louisiana State University Press, 2015).

Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War (Hill and Wang, 2015).

Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (Basic Books, 2015).

Note: Cold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, which contains an essay of mine on the Crater now has a cover.

What Happens When Henry Louis Gates Censors the Past?

A report that has now gone viral, based on a recent Wikileaks dump, reveals that Ben Affleck requested that the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” – hosted by Henry Louis Gates – not mention that one of his ancestors was a slaveowner. As far as I am concerned, Affleck has every right to request such a change even if there is no reason for him to feel ashamed or if he believes that such a revelation will damage his public image.

I am more interested in what this might mean for the show and, more specifically, Gates’s reputation. “Finding Your Roots” is more than just a personal journey for the subject of each individual episode. Individual stories uncover not just unpleasant facts about our past, but also point to the many ways in which it shapes subsequent generations and ultimately impacts the present. Collectively, these individual stories suggest that many of the perceived divisions within our society, including class and race, are illusory. We are all interconnected and share a common past. Continue reading “What Happens When Henry Louis Gates Censors the Past?”

Are Texas Confederates Heroes?

This week the Texas House Committee on Culture, Tourism and Recreation held a public forum on legislation that would remove “Confederate Heroes Day” and create a new holiday called, “Civil War Remembrance Day.” The sponsor of the bill is Jacob Hale, an eighth grader in Austin, who convinced his local representative to sponsor the bill. Coverage of the bill’s public discussion begins at the 2:42:50 mark.

While a few supporters of the bill spoke out that vast majority of people in attendance took a stand against it. What is so striking is that while the bill and at least the stated intent by the bill’s sponsor do not revolve around a concern over slavery, practically every speaker brought it up. The position against the bill turned into a collective attempt to get Confederates right on the issue of slavery. It was an admittance of the centrality of slavery and in the case of Texas they are absolutely right on target. Continue reading “Are Texas Confederates Heroes?”