Trial Date Set for Teens in Confederate Monument Vandalism

The three white teenagers arrested for vandalizing a Confederate monument in Montgomery, Alabama will go to trial in April

Montgomery attorney Richard Keith said the teens had their
initial appearance in juvenile court Thursday and are set to
go to trial on April 10, but he hopes that won’t be necessary. My intentions are to resolve this case without a
trial, Keith said. "Basically, these are good
kids who have never been in trouble. These are not
terrorists, they’re not extremists."

Keith said the teens were good kids from good families. Any
punishment along the lines of community service with
restitution and an apology would be appropriate in such a
case, Keith said, adding that all three teens are very
bright students.  "That’s the irony with smart teenagers," he
said. "They’re intelligent but they’re
teenagers and can be immature."

That seems right to me.

American Civil War Center at Tredegar Announces New Director of Education

I am pleased to see that the American Civil War Center has been able to find a new director of education.  The staff is passionate about its mission and committed to bringing the museum to a national audience.  Howell has a diverse background that bridges both an interest in scholarly and public history, which is just what the museum needs.  Hopefully an announcement for the position of Executive Director is not too far in the future.  Here is the official announcement:

RICHMOND, Va. – The Board of Directors of The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar is pleased to announce the addition of Mark Howell as director of education.

Howell has worked in the museum field since graduating from the College of William and Mary in 1979 with a Bachelor of Arts in Colonial American Studies. He earned his Master of Arts in American Studies in 1994 from the same institution.  He worked for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for more than 20 years, serving in capacities as varied as bookbinder, staff trainer, dancer, artilleryman, and director of program planning.

Mark was most recently the president of Howell Consulting where he served the museum industry since 2002. His clients ranged from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s newest acquisition, Villa Finale in San Antonio, to Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville. Locally, he has served as a consultant for Maymont, Historic Polegreen Church Foundation, and Heritage and History of Hanover County, Inc.

Howell will be responsible for developing and implementing the Center’s school and public programming as well as educational outreach initiatives, including digital and web-based projects. “We are glad to have Mark join our staff and are eager to work with Mark to spread the Center’s mission and to launch the new Digital History Website,” said Adam Scher, the Center’s interim director and vice president of operations.  The website is designed for teachers and curriculum specialists and has been designed in partnership with the University of Virginia Center for Digital History.

Through the education department, the Center served more than 6,300 students during its inaugural year 2006-2007 including a summer institute for teachers sponsored by New York’s Gilder Lehrman Institute.  Howell is also an active participant in the museum and history fields, having served on the council of the Virginia Association of Museums and as chair of the National Awards Committee for the American Association for State and Local History. He and his wife, Katherine, reside in Williamsburg.

Ida B. Wells, Lynching, and the Burning of Black Bodies

My Women’s History course is progressing nicely.  We are currently exploring the experiences of women in the post-Civil War era with much of our attention focused on the split over the wording of the 15th Amendment between the National Women’s Suffrage Association and American Women’s Suffrage Association.  We looked at Susan B. Anthony’s famous New York trial over her decision to vote in the 1872 presidential election based on the "New Departure" theory along with the 1876 Supreme Court case of Minor v. Happersett

Today we examined the experiences of black women during Reconstruction and into the Jim Crow era with a focus on the exposes written by Ida B. Wells on lynchings in the South.  We read a short selection from her autobiography which describes her introduction to the horrors of lynchings and the realization that many of these cases involved accusations of black men raping white women.  Wells found it ironic that white men were so concerned about interracial sexual conflict given the history of sexual relations between the slave owner and female slave.  We discussed the difficulty, which Wells references, for white men to acknowledge that white women may have been sexually attracted to black men and what that meant in a Jim Crow society.  It was a very interesting discussion and one that I hope we can continue tomorrow.  What prompted this post, however, is a question that one of my students asked which I could not answer satisfactorily.  She asked why so many lynchings ended with the burning of the body.  Can anyone help?  I’ve looked through a few sources, including Fitz Brundage’s study, but I am not having any luck. 

[I should note that the above image was taken in Omaha, Nebraska.]

High School Students Choose Top 10

[Hat-Tip to Ralph Luker]

Two thousand high school juniors and seniors from around the country were recently asked to choose the top ten most influential famous Americans, excluding presidents and their wives.  The results are interesting:

1. Martin Luther King Jr.: 67%

2. Rosa Parks: 60%

3. Harriet Tubman: 44%

4. Susan B. Anthony: 34%

5. Benjamin Franklin: 29%

6. Amelia Earhart: 25%

7. Oprah Winfrey: 22%

8. Marilyn Monroe: 19%

9. Thomas Edison: 18%

10. Albert Einstein 16%

The results are interesting when analyzed along racial and gender lines, although the way the question was asked no doubt shaped the responses.   One could argue that the shift in focus within the historical profession over the past few decades and the gradual filtering into textbooks on both the college and high school level helps explain the list.  My AP textbook by Eric Foner does an excellent job in both areas.  One of the more significant gaps in our historical understanding is pointed out in the article:

The study acknowledges that the emphasis on African-American figures by the schools leaves behind not only 18th- and 19th-century figures but others as well, such as Hispanic icon Cesar Chavez, Native American heroes such as Pocahontas and Sacagawea and labor leaders such as Samuel Gompers and Eugene V. Debs.

Apart from Pocahontas and Sacagawea the list points in the direction of the difficulty involved in teaching the history of communism and socialism. Americans generally have trouble acknowledging the violent history of class conflict at the turn of the twentieth century along with the popularity and influence of socialist ideas.  While I am not a card carrying member of the communist party I sometimes feel as if my students assume some level of sympathy or support for the movement.  After all I am just as animated when discussing the political success that Debs enjoyed during his presidential bids or his defiance while in jail as I am when commenting on Barry Goldwater and the rise of modern conservatism.  The other problem, as any high school teacher knows, is that it is so damn difficult to teach this period of American history during the Gilded Age.  Finally, though the responses are refreshing in their diversity it would be even more impressive if students could take it one step further.  I would like to think that a number of my students might be able to list W.E.B. Dubois, Tom Watson, Lucy Stone, or even Ida Wells – not your bread and butter profiles.  The full report is slated to appear in the March issue of the Journal of American History which I will be sure to comment on when it arrives.

While our high school students seem to be learning a bit more about non-traditional topics in American history that not too long ago were completely disregarded, it is worth noticing that these  subjects are fast becoming attractive to more popular audiences.  Consider the noticeable increase in popular histories of Reconstruction that have appeared over the past 8 years.  A few that stand out are Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War by Nicholas Lemann, Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America by Garrett Epps, and the Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky.  I suspect that part of this is due to the war in Iraq and language of Reconstruction that is being bandied around by the administration.  Many of these titles are authored by journalists and while professional historians have been quick to criticize for the lack of analytical rigor it is important to note that they are being written at all and are being consumed by non-academics. 

An Overlooked Civil War Memory Study

Somehow I overlooked Thomas Brown’s The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration for my proposed course on Civil War memory.  The book is part of Bedford/St. Martin’s "The Bedford Series in History and Culture" which covers a broad range of subjects in American history.  The nice thing about these books is their length which makes them ideal for classroom use.  The chapters are short and include an excellent selection of primary sources.  Thomas Brown’s book will be perfect for my course as it includes chapters on Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, Lee, the 54th Massachusetts, and women.  The primary sources include inscriptions, paintings, statues, monument designs as well as public addresses and two perspectives on the public display of the Confederate flag.  The book will also be very helpful in preparation for day-long trips through Charlottesville and Richmond, which will include stops along Monument Avenue and Hollywood Cemetery.  This is going to be an awesome class.