Simply del.icio.us

I finally got around to setting up an account over at del.cio.us which is a social bookmarking service.  Many of you out there are already familiar with this site, but for teachers who do not have their own web pages this is a great place to save websites for classroom use.  Of course you can use the bookmarking options on your internet service provider, but de.licio.us allows you to manage these sites by attaching tags.  Once saved you can see who else has tagged a particular site.  If you browse my page you will only see a few websites listed.  Most of them are videos that I’ve been showing in my survey and women’s history courses.  I’ve always found it difficult to keep track of websites that I use in the classroom throughout the year.  Best of all, students have access to your bookmarks which makes it possible for them to take advantage of the material on their own time.

The site also makes for an efficient research tool.  How many times have you printed something and forgotten to write the URL?  Again, you can categorize everything and it’s there at your fingertips.  If you haven’t explored this site it is well worth your time.  I’m sure there is a lot more that I can do with de.licio.us, but give me some time.

I may be slow, but I eventually get there.

Mary Anna Randolf Custis: Artist

Ph2007032601504 Apparently the wife of General Robert E. Lee painted one of the family’s slave girls around 1830.  From the Washington Post article:

Before Mrs. Lee gave the portrait to West Point cadet James Ewell Brown Stuart, class of 1854, while her husband was commandant, she inscribed "Topsy" on the dress in pencil, a reference to the slave child in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s "Uncle Tom’s Cabin." The novel roiled the conscience of abolitionists such as Mrs. Lee, who had earlier defied strictures against teaching slaves to read.  According to historical background provided by the gallery, Stuart pasted the watercolor onto the back of a drawing of a cavalry soldier on horseback slashing a watermelon with his sword.  "Whether the attachment was a conscious act or whether Stuart was oblivious to its meaning, it fails to diminish the significance of pairing an innocent slave with the highly trained soldier a few years before the outbreak of war," the documentation says.  The real name of the child in the portrait isn’t recorded, but she is known to have been one of the slaves at the 1,100-acre Custis family plantation spread out along the Potomac River within view of Washington, D.C.

The painting went on sale in January for $400,000 and was purchased more recently by Colonial Williamsburg for an undisclosed amount. 

A New Vision

Yesterday instead of classes we had a school-wide meeting to discuss the future of the school.  After roughly 25 years my school has a new headmaster.  He is young, energetic, and passionate about schools.  I’ve had a chance to get to know him as he teaches a section of U.S. History in my classroom.  He proposed and helped organize the two-week interdisciplinary seminar on the Civil Rights Movement which we wrapped up last night.

I’ve sat through a number of these meetings in years past and was not optimistic about this one.  Those of you in the teaching profession know what I am talking about. Basically, you sit around, throw out some abstract feel-good/Oprah-esque concepts about the ideal school and what kinds of students you hope to shape.  In the end, however, you rarely follow up to put the terms of the mission statement into practice.   No wonder that some of us walked in having stuffed ourselves with danish and coffee, anticipating lunch and a chance to head out early. 

Well, I was pleasantly surprised by what our new leader had to say.  With the help of a committee made up of faculty, parents, students, and former graduates our new headmaster laid down a bold vision that includes goals that will hopefully change the overall atmosphere.  First and foremost we hope to make this the greenest school in central Virginia at some point in the near future.  We are already making changes related to physical plant issues and major changes are in the works.  The other goal that stood out was the intention to mandate that every student spend time overseas on work-related projects in a developing country.  What I like about both goals is that they are student-centered.  Our students are disciplined and respectful, but very self-centered and privileged.  Many of our students are grossly ignorant about current events or issues in their own backyards.  Given the quality of education at my school it is inexcusable that students can graduate without having the opportunity of experiencing the rewards and challenges involved in service.   

I am excited about the direction of the school. 

More Reasons for the Museum of the Confederacy To Stay in Richmond

The Roanoke Times today reports on the growing divide in Lexington and Rockbridge County over a petition that offers the Museum of the Confederacy a new home.  While Waite Rawls, the museum’s director along with Brian Shaw, chairman of the Rockbridge Area Tourism Board, are convinced that Lexington and the surrounding area would benefit economically there is skepticism just below the surface.

“I’m not sure it’s going to be as income-producing for our citizens as people think it is,” said Lexington City Council member Mimi Elrod, who voted against the city submitting a proposal to attract the museum. “I have real questions about the numbers.”  Elrod is among those who view the museum’s focus on the Confederacy, which fought to preserve slavery, to be as divisive now as it was during the Civil War.  “My concern with the Museum of the Confederacy is it is celebrating a cause that was established to maintain the enslavement of people,” she said. “I don’t want to celebrate the Confederacy.”  Elrod said the museum would be more acceptable if it were a Civil War museum that represented both sides of the war.

There are two issues to consider in Elrod’s comment.  First, Elrod expresses concern that the museum will not attract the kinds of numbers that will make the move economically worthwhile for the community.  I am not convinced either.  I don’t see how anyone can argue that Lexington will attract more visitors compared with Richmond.  There are more schools in the Richmond area that could be brought to the museum as well as other organizations.  Tourism and population in the Richmond-Petersburg-D.C. corridor reinforce this point.  The second problem is much more significant and will stay with the MOC regardless of whether it moves or remains in Richmond.  The MOC has an image problem that must be addressed head-on.  If a city councilwoman has a distorted view of the mission of the MOC than what can one expect from the average citizen?  Rawls seems to think that the MOC does a competent job of outreach and education:

“It’s therefore vital that our educational mission be emphasized,” he said. “I think we do a very good job of making people understand better the causes of the war, the aftermath of the war, how it was conducted, who fought it, what they believed in at the time.”

I simply disagree with Rawls here and it seems clear that the MOC’s predicament is a direct result of that message not getting through to the general public.  Rawls and the rest of the staff must make educational outreach their number one concern, and it should do so in the former capital of the Confederacy.

The public misconception surrounding the MOC’s mission along with the very emotional debates surrounding the Confederate flag will surely take place in Lexington and this could lead to problems.  Is the city of Lexington prepared for this?  Ted DeLaney, a history professor at Washington and Lee University and a Lexington native who is black, said such a prominent display of the Confederacy at the museum would create division in the community.

“Even during the days when Lexington was a segregated community … Lexington was a civil place,” he said. “I don’t see anything that is positive in the museum relocating to a community like this. The tenor of the debate so far indicates to me that there is great potential for a lack of civility.”

I recently talked to a restaurant owner here in Charlottesville who is moving operations to Lexington.  She hinted that there are more people who have expressed concern than what is making it into the newspapers.  The Roanoke Times includes a statistic showing 80% of respondents to a local poll supported the relocation of the MOC to Lexington.  I am not surprised by this poll given that most of the museum’s supporters would be more likely to declare their approval compared with those who have doubts.

I continually come back to two essential points when thinking about this complicated issue.  First, it is not clear to me at all that the Museum would enjoy a noticeable increase in visitors if it moved to Lexington.  Second, but more importantly, its mission is best understood in Richmond where it can address the tough questions that continue to divide us surrounding issues that stem from our Civil War.

Something Worth Celebrating

This week England acknowledged 200 years without the slave trade.  The church in England is considering some kind of reparations for the slave trade and a church in East Lancashire held a special service marking this important moment:

Church and civic leaders marked abolition at an Ecumenical Evensong and heard a sermon from Archbishop Gomez.  He said: "I am pleased to give thanks for the abolition of slavery 200 years ago. The trade of slaves deprived between five and 20 million of their dignity, their freedom and ultimately their lives, something which is beyond imagination for us."

I can read over 250 online articles on this subject in contrast with next to no coverage when it comes to our own history of abolitionism.  Why is it that in a nation that prides itself on freedom and equality we do not focus more attention on certain dates?  There is rarely any acknowledgment of the Emancipation Proclamation, Thirteenth Amendment or other Reconstruction Amendments.  Instead we engage in debates as to whether Lincoln intended to free the slaves or whether Reconstruction was a violation of states’ rights.   Perhaps we are ashamed of our history given that Emancipation and the end of slavery eventually led to Jim Crow.  To look at our history is to be reminded that freedom and civil rights do not always move inextricably in a more expansive or progressive manner, but sometimes takes a turn in the opposite direction. 

We do not necessarily have feel shame when looking at our national past as it is filled with brave men and women who worked tirelessly to bring about social and political change.  Sometimes the federal government worked to undermine that process, but at other times it did act admirably.  We can acknowledge those moments without becoming too self-congratulatory and in a way that provides perspective on how far or how little we’ve traveled since.