Christopher Hitchens on Jerry Falwell

I rarely agree with Christopher Hitchens and even here I think he is a bit over the top.  Still, as someone who lost a family member on 9-11 I appreciate his sincerity.  From an interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN:

HITCHENS: The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend. Who would, even at your network, have invited on such a little toad to tell us that the attacks of September the 11th were the result of our sinfulness and were God’s punishment if they hadn’t got some kind of clerical qualification?

People like that should be out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup. The whole consideration of this — of this horrible little person is offensive to very, very many of us who have some regard for truth and for morality, and who think that ethics do not require that lies be told to children by evil old men, that we’re — we’re not told that people who believe like Falwell will be snatched up into heaven, where I’m glad to see he skipped the rapture, just found on the floor of his office, while the rest of us go to hell.

How dare they talk to children like this? How dare they raise money from credulous people on their huckster-like Elmer Gantry radio stations, and fly around in private jets, as he did, giggling and sniggering all the time at what he was getting away with?

Do you get an idea now of what I mean to say?

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A Monument Worthy of Virginia’s Capitol

Hill On Monday four Lucy Addison Middle School children assisted Governor Tim Kaine in unveiling plans to construct a new monument to 16-year old Barbara Johns who in 1951 "launched a two-week strike at her all-black Robert R. Moton High School in Farmville to protest the separate and unequal conditions in her school."  The protest eventually resulted in a court case that became part of Brown v. Board of Education which was argued by Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson.  Their likenesses will also be reflected on the memorial.   The story of the Moton High protest can be found here.

I recently met Oliver Hill, who is now 100-years old, at the Annual Meeting of the Virginia Social Science Association.  I served on the Board of Directors and this year we decided to award Mr. Hill with a special service award.  It was an honor to meet the man and I had a chance to thank him for his important contributions to civil rights in Virginia and throughout the country.   You can browse the website for the memorial for additional information and even make a contribution.  This is a worthy cause and one that will enrich the landscape of Capitol Square in Richmond. 

Much can be inferred about a community based on the events and individuals that it chooses to honor.  Here is a project that honors the actions of Americans who worked to bring this country closer to its founding ideals and beyond a perspective weighed down by a deep-seated racism.  I can’t wait to see it. 

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Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Civil War: Part 2

Last year I blogged about Jesse Jackson Jr.’s opening remarks at the NPS’s "Rally on the High Ground" conference which took place back in 2000.  The conference resulted in a book that included the various presentations.  I spent last night rereading Congressman Jackson’s remarks and this morning I emailed his office to see about conducting an interview as part of a final chapter for the Crater manuscript which I discussed yesterday.  I’ve already been in touch with a number of people; all have been supportive and are willing to sit down for interviews.  One individual that I talked to yesterday described interest in the Civil War and the NPS within the black community of Petersburg as one of "apathy" as opposed to the city of Richmond.  If this is true I want to better understand why this is the case.  I suspect that much of what needs to be explained will be done by looking closely at the recent history of the city of Petersburg. 

Following Congressman Jackson’s remarks is a question and answer section.  I found one particular question and response to be quite intriguing.  The questioner was apparently with the NPS and asked Jackson what made him qualified to "impose" his views of the Civil War on the NPS given that he admitted to having no experience in historical interpretation and had only come to an interest in the Civil War four years previous. 

Answer: I don’t quite see my views as an imposition on the National Park Service, but consistent with what one of the directors of one of the sites shared with me–the will of the people, an act of Congress.  So now that we have an act of Congress, that is the will of the people.  At one level or another, the will of the people is at the site to interpret its broader implications and put it in historical context.  That is much broader than left and right obliques.  An act of Congress created the Department of the Interior and an act of Congress created the National Park Service.  Furthermore, an act of Congress created your job and an act of Congress decided that local as well as state municipalities would not encroach upon this space because an act of Congress determined this space to be sacred.  So, acts of Congress, long before I got to Congress, created these sites and made determinations about how these sites would be shaped to keep local governments and state governments from encroaching upon these sites.  Acts of Congress also are responsible in one way or another for the interpretation.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about the supposed tension between the NPS and Southern heritage groups as a result of Jackson’s legislation.  I may, however, have exaggerated the extent of the disagreements.  In a phone conversation the other day with a NPS historian he suggested that problems arise only when the question is debated abstractly.  This individual said that there are very few complaints about some of the changes that can currently be seen at NPS battlefields.  And why is that?  I suspect that there are few complaints because most people who visit battlefields don’t know to complain.  They are looking for a solid interpretation that helps them understand what happened on a particular battlefield and how that site fits into a larger context. 

By the way in browsing Congressman Jackson’s website I came across a list of books that cover the Civil War, slavery, Lincoln, and race.  He describes the list as follows: "Books that have greatly influenced the decisions and arguments I make on behalf of the people of the Second District of Illinois." I have to admit to being quite impressed with the range of books cited.

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Jesse Jackson Jr.’s Civil War: Part 2

Last year I blogged about Jesse Jackson Jr.’s opening remarks at the NPS’s "Rally on the High Ground" conference which took place back in 2000.  The conference resulted in a book that included the various presentations.  I spent last night rereading Congressman Jackson’s remarks and this morning I emailed his office to see about conducting an interview as part of a final chapter for the Crater manuscript which I discussed yesterday.  I’ve already been in touch with a number of people; all have been supportive and are willing to sit down for interviews.  One individual that I talked to yesterday described interest in the Civil War and the NPS within the black community of Petersburg as one of "apathy" as opposed to the city of Richmond.  If this is true I want to better understand why this is the case.  I suspect that much of what needs to be explained will be done by looking closely at the recent history of the city of Petersburg. 

Following Congressman Jackson’s remarks is a question and answer section.  I found one particular question and response to be quite intriguing.  The questioner was apparently with the NPS and asked Jackson what made him qualified to "impose" his views of the Civil War on the NPS given that he admitted to having no experience in historical interpretation and had only come to an interest in the Civil War four years previous. 

Answer: I don’t quite see my views as an imposition on the National Park Service, but consistent with what one of the directors of one of the sites shared with me–the will of the people, an act of Congress.  So now that we have an act of Congress, that is the will of the people.  At one level or another, the will of the people is at the site to interpret its broader implications and put it in historical context.  That is much broader than left and right obliques.  An act of Congress created the Department of the Interior and an act of Congress created the National Park Service.  Furthermore, an act of Congress created your job and an act of Congress decided that local as well as state municipalities would not encroach upon this space because an act of Congress determined this space to be sacred.  So, acts of Congress, long before I got to Congress, created these sites and made determinations about how these sites would be shaped to keep local governments and state governments from encroaching upon these sites.  Acts of Congress also are responsible in one way or another for the interpretation.

I’ve blogged quite a bit about the supposed tension between the NPS and Southern heritage groups as a result of Jackson’s legislation.  I may, however, have exaggerated the extent of the disagreements.  In a phone conversation the other day with a NPS historian he suggested that problems arise only when the question is debated abstractly.  This individual said that there are very few complaints about some of the changes that can currently be seen at NPS battlefields.  And why is that?  I suspect that there are few complaints because most people who visit battlefields don’t know to complain.  They are looking for a solid interpretation that helps them understand what happened on a particular battlefield and how that site fits into a larger context. 

By the way in browsing Congressman Jackson’s website I came across a list of books that cover the Civil War, slavery, Lincoln, and race.  He describes the list as follows: "Books that have greatly influenced the decisions and arguments I make on behalf of the people of the Second District of Illinois." I have to admit to being quite impressed with the range of books cited.

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Update on Crater Manuscript

Crater I recently received the reviews of my manuscript from the publisher and there is both good and not-so-good news.  As for the latter I still need to make some changes to the manuscript before I am given a contract.  The good news is that both reviewers offered first-rate comments and criticisms that will no doubt improve the overall quality of the manuscript.  I am no stranger to the peer review process; the care that academic presses take in ensuring that their publications are solid is the main reason I went this route.  So, over the summer I will address the comments of the reviewers and put everything else on hold that I am currently working on.  This was the first time that the entire manuscript had been reviewed since I submitted an earlier version for the M.A. in history at the University of Richmond back in 2005.  All in all my prospects look good.

One thing that I need to do is distance my study a bit more from the work of David Blight who stresses the extent of consensus achieved nationally and among white Southerners regarding memory of the war.  My work suggests that this is anything but the case as both ex-Confederates debated over who could claim credit for success and the Crater and during the Readjuster years which witnessed bitter debates among veterans of Mahone’s brigade surrounding their commanders foray into politics.  The chapter on the creation of the Petersburg National Military Park in 1936 also needs to be refined in a way which reflects local economic concerns rather than the broad theme of national reconciliation.  I tend to agree with one of the reviewers who suggested that while the first five battlefield parks created at the turn of the twentieth century may have been the result of reconciliation the Crater came much too late.  Northerners may have been involved, but were probably not the prime movers. 

The most interesting suggestion and one which will involve a substantial amount of work involves writing a brand new chapter on the post Rally the High Ground/NPS changes in battlefield interpretation.  The goal of the chapter would be to explore the relationship between the city of Petersburg and its large black population and the NPS.  At one point in the manuscript I speculate as to why black Americans have not taken more of an interest in the Civil War.  From the manuscript review:

While I agree that there has been and continues to be resistance to including the black story in Civil War history, the fact remains that academics and the National Park Service have reached out to all people in attempt to tell a more complicated and inclusive story.  NPS frontline people that I have spoken to are bewildered and confused by the lack of black reaction to this interpretive shift.  It is controversial to question why so many African Americans are reluctant to embrace their Civil War past when there are so few impediments in their way as had been the case prior to 1970.

Since most people interested in such issues fall back on educated guesses (as I did) the plan is to conduct extensive interviews with former and current NPS staff as well as members of the local community.  This would be the first time that anyone has taken such an approach and it has the potential to steer dialog in a more promising direction.  I’ve already contacted a few NPS personnel and the archivist at Virginia State University and all are willing to help.  If Park Service personnel are indeed confused by the lack of response from the black community six years after the Rally Initiative than it would be important to know why. 

On the one hand it would have been nice to get a contract, but given the time that went into the reading of the manuscript and the constructive criticism that resulted it is difficult not to feel positive about the final product. 

Now I need to look into a decent digital recorder.  Any suggestions?

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