Jim Crow: Where and When?

Today I worked my way through the Richmond Daily-Dispatch looking for accounts of Confederate military executions when I came across this little item from February 17, 1865:

The negroes not to ride in the Philadelphia street cars.

–The Philadelphia Ledger contains the following account of the failure of the first regular effort to allow “colored” citizens to ride with whites in the street cars:

The Fifth and Sixth Streets-Railroad Company, with a view of testing how far public opinion desired, and would sanction, the carrying of colored passengers in the city railroad cars, four weeks ago passed an order removing all restrictions to passengers on account of color. The experiment has not been a successful one, and the company has been compelled to impose the restriction again, as the following [ annoucement ] of theirs show:

“At a meeting of the Board of Directors, held on the 6th instant, the following preamble and resolutions were adopted:

“Whereas, the Frankford and Southwark Passenger Railroad Company have been carrying colored passengers, without restriction, for the last four weeks, and the experiment has resulted in a serious prejudice to the company, arising from hostility to the measure on the part of the patrons of the road, and a want of sympathy on the part of other similar companies; and whereas, the directors, whatever their private views may be, cannot consistently jeopardize the pecuniary interests of the stockholders; therefore.

“Resolved, That the order admitting colored persons be rescinded from and after the 10th instant, except on special cars, to be appropriated.

“Resolved, That every fifth car be appropriated for colored passengers.”

One difficulty with the railroad companies is, that there are not enough colored persons disposed or able to ride in cars to make up for the loss
sustained by white customers refusing to ride with the colored persons, and it is not to be expected that business companies will sacrifice their pecuniary interests to carry out a political or social principle.

More On Dimitri’s Civil War Sales Figures

Yesterday I received a comment from a reader that was more a reaction to Dimitri’s most recent sales analysis of recent Lincoln titles.  First, here is the comment by Russell Bonds:

I don’t see how sales of Team of Rivals could be characterized as "poor" by
any standard. The book was the #1 New York Times bestseller and was on the
hardcover nonfiction bestseller list for 19+ weeks (and then spent another 15
weeks on the paperback bestseller list – see NYT Jan. 28). Team of Rivals had a
first print run of 400,000 (!); and it went to a second printing in hardcover.
Publishers Weekly puts sales at 620,000 copies for 2005 alone (!!) (see link
here: http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6318930.html?display=archive
) There is NO WAY that Team of Rivals sold only 14,000 copies in 2005 and made
#1 on the NYT list. Getting on the list at all ain’t easy; hitting #1 and
staying on the list for weeks–especially with a 900-page Civil War book–is a
real accomplishment.

The problem is with this revered but baseless "Ingram x 6" formula, which
does not take into account the fact that Amazon, B&N, and Barnes & Noble
all stock certain titles–especially large titles like Team of Rivals–direct
from the publisher or from other wholesalers and don’t go through Ingram at
all–not to mention library and book club sales (which for Team of Rivals must
have been huge). Even now, the book is still the #1 Civil War title on
Amazon.

Don’t you worry about Professor Goodwin; she’s doing just fine.

Here is the relevant section from Dimitri’s post on D.K. Goodwin’s sales:

This Simon & Schuster title came out at the end of 2005 and racked
up an Ingram sales total of 2,236 in the remainder of the year. If we
apply the industry rule of thumb to that number (multiply by six), it
indicates over 13,400. It is hard to compare partial data, so the more
interesting Ingram number is the complete year’s sale for 2006: 1,535.
Applying the Ingram factor to the total for 2005 and 2006, we surmise
that through Dec. 31, 2006 this title sold under 25,000 copies. If a
blockbuster was anticipated – and remember, Hollywood bought the rights
to this title sight unseen – an initial press run of 50,000 would have
been conservative. Publishing and other entertainment industries do not
forgive failure on this scale.

I have to assume that the P.W. number is closer to the target than Dimitri’s figures.  This is anecdotal, but I remember walking in to my local bookstore a few days after the book was released and remembered hearing that around 100 copies had been sold.  Goodwin gave a talk here last May and attracted a crowd of upwards of 200 people.  I would have to say that at least 100 copies of the book were sold that day.  And this is in the small city of Charlottesville, Virginia.  I know little to nothing about this side of the book world, but something is wrong with the way Dimitri is making these calculations – even if sales overall continue to suffer.

Are You A Civil War Buff?

Over at Civil War Power Tour blogger Joshua Blair provides a nice outline of the recent debate over the distinction between professional and amateur historians.  He identifies himself as a Civil War buff but is uncomfortable with the label: "I am considered your regular, old Civil War buff.  Here we go again with the labels.  A label, I might add, that I scoff at.  It sounds so mid-nineteenth century beefcake to me."  I read this and was reminded of an earlier post on "Civil War buffs." This was originally posted in December 2005

As I was putting the finishing touches on my AHA paper a few weeks ago I reread parts of Stephen Cushman’s book, Bloody Promenade: Reflections on a Civil War Battle. The book is about the Battle of the Wilderness and was published in 1999. I’m sure you Civil War bibliophiles out there are probably wondering how you could have missed a recent examination of this battle. Well, don’t worry; this is not your typical Civil War battle history. In fact, it’s not a battle study at all, but a reflection on the way the event has been represented or imagined in letters, diaries, memoirs, public celebrations, and histories. And Cushman is not a historian, but an English Professor at the University of Virginia. Although it may be tempting to dismiss him because of this, I find that Cushman brings a fresh perspective, fueled by his background in literary analysis and a solid grasp of the historiography surrounding this battle. The combination makes for a very enjoyable and reflective read.

There is a very short chapter in the beginning of the book which examines the meaning of the label “Civil War buff.” Cushman notes that the word “buff” is defined by Webster’s New International “As an enthusiast about going to fires”, and by the Third New International as a “Fan, Enthusiast, Devotee.” A recent Random House Dictionary defines “buff” as “a devotee or well-informed student of some activity or subject.” Cushman then proceeds to explain what troubles him about these definitions:

What’s wrong with the definitions above, or, more accurately, what is incomplete about them, immediately becomes apparent when we try to use buff as though it were merely a neutral synonym for a well-informed, enthusiastic, knowledgeable person. If, for example, one were to call a well-informed, enthusiastic, knowledgeable student of Christianity “a Jesus buff,” that epithet would sound disrespectful and offensive to many ears. Or if we called a passionately committed specialist in the history of the Nazi concentration camps “a Holocaust buff,” the tasteless trivializing behind the phrase would be palpable. We would never think of describing Abraham Lincoln as a “Union buff,” Jefferson Davis as a “states rights buff,” or Frederick Douglass as “an abolition buff.” (p. 22)

The problem with these definitions, if I understand Cushman, is the tension between the seriousness on the one hand and the playfulness or hobbyist nature of the buff. It is this latter quality that I was trying to point out in my earlier post, “Civil War Entertainment.” Cushman is correct to point out that it is only with the passage of time and the accompanying psychologically safe space that one can be entertained by the Civil War.

It is only in the safety of peace that people can have fun with war. When a man plasters his pickup truck with bumper stickers reading, “Happiness Is a Northbound Yankee,” “I had rather be dead than a Yankee,”. . . . “Southern by the Grace of God,” he seems to be carrying out a kind of deep memorializing that keeps the war present in his mind and that of anyone who sees his truck. But in fact he’s having it both ways, since it is only because the war is so long gone and absent from most people’s awareness that he can afford to brandish these inflammatory slogans. He appears to urge remembrance, but he does so in terms that depends on forgetting. (p. 25)

One can reduce Cushman’s explanation to what all of us already know, that bumper-stickered vehicles are driven by shallow people. The bumper sticker indicates that the individual is not serious about the past or at least unwilling to move beyond a set of simplistic and emotionally-laden assumptions. This crowd is perhaps the clearest example of a more diffuse population that relishes in the entertainment side of Civil War remembrance. Here is how Cushman closes this chapter:

As for me, though I confess there are many moments when I can manage to forget the war and think about something truly amusing, the war itself is not a source of amusement. I’m not enthusiastic about chasing firefighters, and the word buff does not describe me. For one thing, I don’t feel as secure about the boundary between war and peace as I’d like to, for reasons I’m still trying to discover. In the meantime, what word does describe my condition and that of people like me however many or few we are? I’m not sure, but I think it might be the word “sufferer,” as in the phrase “allergy sufferer.” I think I must be a Civil War sufferer. How else can I explain the itchy throat and watery eyes when I pass the Wilderness sign?

So are you a Civil War buff?

Slavery and Reconciliation in Virginia

Most of you are no doubt aware of the recent debate here in Virginia over a proposal by the state legislature to issue some kind of apology for slavery.  The amended resolution calls for the legislature to “hereby acknowledge withcontrition the involuntary servitude and call for reconciliation among all Virginians.”  This simple acknowledgment raised the ire of Delegate Frank Hargrove (R-Hanover) who attacked the idea by suggesting that blacks “get over” slavery and went on in an attempt to draw an analogy by suggesting that perhaps the Jews should apologize for killing Christ.

To be honest I don’t know where I stand on this issue; it’s not clear to me what would be accomplished by issuing such a statement.  However, it is not uncommon for individuals, organizations or public institutions to acknowledge mistakes in order to foster reconciliation.  In the 1980′s the federal government apologized to Japanese Americans for their forced internment in 1942 following the attack at Pearl Harbor.  What I find interesting is the way individuals are responding to this proposal.  Here are a few examples:

King Salim Khalfani, head of the NAACP  in Virginia, commented, “You’re damned right they owe us an apology.  They need to repair the damage.”

Frank Earnest of the Virginia Chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans had this to say: “Not every black person in this country is a descendant of slaves. Not every
white person in this country is a descendant of people who owned slaves.”

A comment from another blog: “Should Southerners ‘apologize’ for slavery? Only if everyone else including the
Africans who sold black slaves to whites, the New England mariners who ran the
‘Triangle Trade’ (molasses to rum to slaves), the governments – including that
of the United States – which permitted the trade and everyone else who was
complicit in the matter ALSO apologize. But since no one who actually WAS
involved in slavery (at least the particular type of slavery under discussion)
still lives, it is pointless to demand that the descendents of only ONE aspect
of the institution ‘apologize’ for all of those involved in the entire system.”

An apology for slavery would also help, but “the government’s not gonna do it,”
said black city resident John Alexander as he paused near a statue of
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. “The average white person feels they don’t owe
us nothing.”

While the four passages are evenly distributed between two white and two black individuals, they all have something in common and that is that they reduce this question of an apology down to the level of race.  The third passage does just this before making the strange assumption that unless everyone apologize no one need apologize.  The question on the table is not whether whites should apologize to blacks or whether blacks deserve an apology from whites.  The issue is whether in 2007 the state of Virginia should acknowledge its role in the history of slavery as it existed within its borders.  The resolution – as I understand it – does not ask anyone to take responsibility for slavery and it does not ask that any one individual or group feel guilty for what happened in the past.  It is a resolution, which if approved, would be issued by a bi-racial institution in acknowledgment of a past that it played an important role in.  It was the colonial government in Williamsburg that passed laws between 1680-1720 that grounded the institution of slavery into its economic and social structure; later it was the state government in Richmond which debated and almost abolished its “peculiar institution” in the 1830′s and later during the first few years of the twentieth-century passed its first Jim Crow laws – an extension of slavery.

There is nothing wrong with having a debate about this issue, but let’s get over this childish insecurity that masks some important questions that could be addressed.