I am making my way through Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book, Imperial Life in the Emerald City. I’ve caught myself yelling out loud at least twice today. It is a disturbing portrayal of the lack of serious planning that went into Iraq’s reconstruction and its consequences through 2004. If Chandrasekaran’s picture of life in the Green Zone and the way in which officials both in Washington and on the ground in Iraq went about their jobs then it is clear to me that the present state of affairs was inevitable. I actually feel sick to my stomach reading this book and thinking about the men and women who have given their lives for this failed policy.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Robert E. Lee as I have two presentations to get ready for in October and November. I am going to focus on African-American perceptions of Robert E. Lee over time with an emphasis on recent years. As I mentioned in a previous post I may begin with the Chapel incident which supposedly took place in Richmond in the summer of 1865 in which Lee takes communion next to an unknown black man. The other possibility is to look at black newspaper coverage of the unveiling of the Lee statue in Richmond.
Here is where I am in thinking about my topic, though please keep in mind that this is a work in progress. We start off with the observations of so many past and present who claim that Lee is the embodiment of the Christian gentlemen or virtue in general. Aristotle has some interesting observations in his Nicomachean Ethics in which he argues that instances of virtue ought to be recognizable by anyone trained to acknowledge the action or behavior which is a manifestation of that virtue. If we start with these assumptions than it seems to me that what needs to be explained is why African Americans tend not to identify Lee in such a way. The answer to this question, I believe, has little to do with a stand on the morality question one way or the other because I suspect that most black Americans simply don’t think Lee is relevant as a ethical/moral figure. Now let me say that I have no interest whatsoever in arguing about whether Lee is or isn’t the embodiment of all things good or evil. As a historian the question is almost entirely irrelevant and uninteresting. My goal is to better understand how Lee is or isn’t perceived by a a section of our population.
now has a website.
I am pleased to report that today I was contacted and asked to join the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission. It is truly an honor to be asked to take part and, of course, I accepted without hesitation. My introduction to the commission will be next Wednesday when I will take part in a workgroup meeting in Richmond. This is a great opportunity as it will give me a chance to bring ideas that I’ve developed as a historian and educator to a public setting. I will be joining a workgroup whose responsibilities include "signature events and activities." This is surely going to be a learning experience for me.
What a great way to start the weekend.
My previous update once again needs updating which is why I decided to blog a separate post. During my interview yesterday with PNBP Historian Chris Calkins I was given the name of a living historian who portrayed a USCT in the late 1980s. Little did I know that my conversation today with this individual would clarify this morning’s post on the placement of the USCT monument in Petersburg. The individual in question was a graduate student at Virginia State University in the late 1980s who saw a need to address the lack of attention to USCTs on the Petersburg battlefield. In addition to working as a living historian of the USCT experience it turns out that this individual spearheaded the push to commemorate the service of USCTs with a monument. Of course I asked why the marker was not placed at the Crater.
While there was talk of placing the monument at the Crater the decision to place the monument at Stop #3/Confederate Battery 9 was to point out that USCT participation went beyond the Crater. More interesting was the concern that a monument at the Crater would raise additional issues that may have moved the focus away from emphasizing the service and sacrifice of USCTs and their role within the broader story of black freedom.