Thousands of Americans are expected to crowd the streets of Columbia, South Carolina today to demand the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. This is the 10th such rally in South Carolina. I published this post back in 2008, but thought it might be appropriate to highlight it once again.
By now most of you are aware that the NAACP is once again pushing the state of South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. In 2000 the flag was removed from atop the Capitol dome to a position near the Confederate Soldier Monument. First, let me say that I believe the NAACP has the right to protest a symbol that they believe to be offensive. Anyone who knows the history of that flag, especially during the era of “Massive Resistance”, must understand the perspective of African Americans. The idea that any one individual has a monopoly on the proper interpretation of such a divisive symbol is simply to fail to understand the epistemology of public symbols. I also want to say that I support the mission of the NAACP even though I do not agree with all of their programs and public positions. I say this this to preface the fact that I do not understand their decision to continue this protest in South Carolina. Continue reading “The NAACP and the Confederate Flag”→
It’s difficult to tell whether much of anything is going to happen here in Virginia this weekend in acknowledgment of Lee-Jackson Day. Yes, there is the parade tomorrow in Lexington, but that’s not surprising given the fact that the city serves as their final resting place. It would be very strange indeed if the city didn’t mark the day with a public celebration, especially one organized by the SCV. Given the apparent lack of interest, perhaps we need a new holiday. So, which Virginians do you believe deserve his or her own day as a state holiday? Don’t be shy.
I’ve been giving this some thought, not so much in the context of a state holiday, but in reference to our collective memory here in the good state of Virginia. We have such a rich history here and there are plenty of important and obscure individuals who deserve to be remembered in one way or another. It seems to me that the one glaring omission is the lack of any kind of monument to Nat Turner. That’s right, I said Nat Turner. I’m not suggesting that what is needed is something overtly celebratory, but some kind of acknowledgment of his role in Virginia history and the broader civil rights movement. The fact that we still do not have a public site dedicated to Turner (even in Southampton County) tells us quite a bit about how we choose to remember our past. More specifically, it tells us what we as a community have difficulty coming to terms with. We will see this on Monday as the nation remembers Martin Luther King, Jr. Schools will perform the mandatory rituals and local news teams will cobble together the standard narrative that celebrates King’s commitment to non-violence and his role in singlehandedly bringing an end to racial injustice. Perhaps we will see a few hoses from Birmingham. The point is that most Americans would much rather celebrate the expansion of freedom in this country as emerging through non-violent means rather than through violence.
Turner raises all of these issues and more. Can you imagine a Nat Turner day here in Virginia?
Update: Thanks to everyone who stopped by today. Friday is usually slow around here, but yesterday’s- and especially today’s posts clearly made an impact. My stats counter went through the roof. There is something quite powerful about blogging. On this Lee-Jackson Day I managed to steer at least a small portion of the public discussion in the direction of another Virginian who I believe deserves to be acknowledged in a more public way. [Please keep in mind the nature of a blog post. Most of my posts reflect topics that I think about over time and rarely reflect conclusions that are set in stone. Please feel free to challenge me and offer a different perspective. I have nothing to lose, but ideas that I had not considered.] A number of Yahoo groups picked up the post as well as the Civil War Talk Forum. Even my friend in Fredericksburg, who never fails to point out how unimportant I am, chose to link to one of my comments. It’s a sign of just how unimportant I am that he would devote his blog to me on this Lee-Jackson Day. I am truly blessed with so many devoted readers.
Over the past few days I’ve been rummaging through research files that cover the history of the Crater during the 1950s and 60s. Thankfully, I’ve been making steady progress on my manuscript revisions. I am playing around with an opening to this post-WWII chapter that tries to imagine what a family would have seen and read between the visitors center and wayside markers at the Petersburg battlefield. Perhaps I will share it with you to get some feedback. Anyway, here are some notes I took while looking at a collection of Civil War Centennial pamphlets.
UVA: Civil War Centennial Information: “Virginia’s Opportunity: The Civil War Centennial, 1961-1965” [published by the Virginia Civil War Commission, Richmond, Va, 1960] Manual was prepared for Civil War centennial committees and teachers “who are trying to interpret the meaning of this momentous era to the youth of Virginia.”
“But the Centennial is no time for finding fault or placing blame or fighting the issues all over again. Americans from every section produced the divisions which led to war. These divisions grew out of hate, greed and fear, ignorance and apathy, selfishness and emotionalism—evils from which this generation is not free.” “This is the time to recognize these divisive forces; but this is also the time to honor dedication and devotion, courage and honor, integrity and faith—qualities plentifully demonstrated in the War of 1861 to 1865—and needed for our survival in the years to come.” (from the Foreward)
Opening day, Sunday, January 8, 1961
Va’s opening day: April 23, 1961 on the day that R.E. Lee accepted command of Virginia armed forces.
“The chief purpose of the Centennial is to strengthen the unity of the country through mutual understanding—an understanding derived from the realization that there was dedication and devotion on both sides. North and South, there were those who gave all they had in support of what they sincerely believed was right.” “In the Centennial the spotlight will be on character in men—for was is the ultimate test of character. The stories of the Civil War are full of lessons for present-day living. By these examples we can teach children and adults the moral values so needed in America today. (p.8) Continue reading “A Civil War Centennial Education”→
I don’t know how I failed to comment on this, but the discussion early on in the interview is important. It is unusual to hear two African-American men talk about the importance of the Civil War as one of the most important democratizing events in American history. Of course, Coates is referring to the end of slavery and the service of black men in the United States army. It’s not that he acknowledges the history as much as that he acknowledges its importance within the sweep of the nation’s history rather than simply within the context of African-American history. Seems to me that this is an important mental step. In a recent post I offered a bit of advice on the shared goal of making the Civil War Sesquicentennial attractive to African Americans. I still maintain that this is going to be difficult given what I perceive to be a disconnect between the African-American community and the history of the Civil War or at least the suspicion among black Americans that the Lost Cause will continue to define public commemorations. It would be interesting to hear what Coates and Smith have to say about this challenge.
I am not too surprised that my students are enjoying Gone With the Wind. The discussions have been pretty good thus far. For Monday they must bring in a newspaper article about the movie and share it with the rest of the group. I am hoping that they come in with articles from different decades so we get a sense of how the movie was received/interpreted at different times. Today I began the class by playing Hattie McDaniel’s Oscar acceptance speech for best supporting actress in 1939. I asked my students to think about the sharp contrast between the woman who accepted the award and the character she plays in the movie. There is something very sad and disturbing about this scene once we acknowledge that McDaniel was given an award for her ability to depict a character that was the product of a racist society – one that satisfied the needs of white America. I want to know what it was like for Hattie McDaniel and the other black actors to have to depict these characters on film. To what extent were they aware of the racist stereotypes that lay behind these characters? Are McDaniel’s tears in her acceptance speech any indication of this realization. I am so curious about these and other question that I decided to purchase a biography about her.