“So Foundational to the Country”

Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ta-Nehisi Coates

The consequences of 250 years of enslavement, of war upon black families and black people, were profound. Like homeownership today, slave ownership was aspirational, attracting not just those who owned slaves but those who wished to. Much as homeowners today might discuss the addition of a patio or the painting of a living room, slaveholders traded tips on the best methods for breeding workers, exacting labor, and doling out punishment. Just as a homeowner today might subscribe to a magazine like This Old House, slaveholders had journals such as De Bow’s Review, which recommended the best practices for wringing profits from slaves. By the dawn of the Civil War, the enslavement of black America was thought to be so foundational to the country that those who sought to end it were branded heretics worthy of death. Imagine what would happen if a president today came out in favor of taking all American homes from their owners: the reaction might well be violent.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations” in the Atlantic

Son of a Confederate Veteran That We Should All Celebrate

Judge Waites Waring Statue Outside Federal Courthouse in Charleston, SC
Judge Waites Waring Statue Outside Federal Courthouse in Charleston, SC

On April 11 at statue to Judge Julius Waites Waring will be unveiled in Charleston, South Carolina. Waring was the son of a Confederate veteran, who was eventually appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to the federal bench. He is best remembered for his dissent in the 1951 case, Briggs vs. Elliott, which anticipated the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Ed a few years later. In his dissent Waring concluded that, “segregation in education can never produce equality and it is an evil that must be eradicated . . . . Segregation is per se inequality.” Continue reading “Son of a Confederate Veteran That We Should All Celebrate”

Can the Lost Cause and Civil Rights Narratives Co-Exist in the South?

Update: This story from yesterday’s New York Times on Mississippi’s planned Civil Rights museum slated to open in 2017 fits right into this post.

Unidentified Photo From Civil Rights Era
Unidentified Photo From Civil Rights Era

While interpreting the Jefferson Davis and Confederate Soldiers’ Monuments on the Alabama State House grounds a little over a week ago I couldn’t help but wonder whether this Lost Cause narrative and a growing commitment to remember the civil rights movement can co-exist. It’s hard to miss the latter in a place like Montgomery and other Southern cities. Jefferson Davis now looks down on the Rosa Parks Museum and a number of markers that remind folks of the slave trade and civil rights era. On the one hand these monuments, museums, and markers represent an evolving story about how communities choose to remember their collective pasts. At the same time it is hard not to feel the rub between the competing values that these sites represent. Continue reading “Can the Lost Cause and Civil Rights Narratives Co-Exist in the South?”

The Invisibility of White Southerners on the Civil Rights Tour

Photo by William Eggleston (1971)
Photo by William Eggleston (1971)

A Civil Rights tour of the South can be a transformative experience for students. I know it has been for a number of mine, who took part in last week’s trip. There is no better place to teach this material than at the very sites themselves. They allow for the kind of identification, empathy and understanding that is impossible to teach in the classroom. The experience is only heightened when in the presence of those people who took part in the struggle. On our trip those participants were almost all African American. They included folks on the front lines and those behind the scenes. They afforded an intimate look into the lives of African Americans and the black communities in which they lived at the time. Continue reading “The Invisibility of White Southerners on the Civil Rights Tour”