This morning I was reminded that today is the first day of the sesquicentennial of the War in 1864. As I alluded to this past spring, it is going to be very interesting to see how the final sixteen months of the war will be commemorated and remembered. There are practical issues of funding, but there is also the turn that the war itself took in 1864. Those of us on the education/public history side of things will have to think long and hard about how we engage the public about some of the more important and challenging issues of the war. Continue reading “Welcome to 1864”
Last week I pointed out what I interpreted as a racist comment from a prominent member of the Virginia Flaggers. A few days ago they offered the following response, which included a photograph of an African-American man carrying a Confederate flag in front of the Museum of the Confederacy.
I certainly don’t want to be known for casually accusing people of being racist, but I fail to see how this photograph assuages concerns. The Richmond community – who the Flaggers claim to be improving through their efforts – deserve a response to these types of statements. What exactly did the statement mean? How would this specific Flagger explain it to the individual in front of the MOC and the rest of Richmond’s black community?
Who are the Virginia Flaggers?
In March I will co-lead a group of students on a 7-day trip through the South to explore the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement. It should come as no surprise that Montgomery, Alabama is on our itinerary. In preparation for the trip we are putting together a collection of documents that offer different perspectives on how these communities are coming to terms with their pasts. This New York Times piece about the placement of new historical markers throughout the city will be included in that list.
But Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation. The Alabama Historical Association, which has its name on many of the historical markers around the state, confirmed the accuracy of the research but declined to sponsor the markers, citing “the potential for controversy.” (The markers were eventually sponsored by the state-run Black Heritage Council.) Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, while acknowledging in a newspaper article several years ago that the sign referring to slave markets made him uneasy, gave the project his backing after a meeting with Mr. Stevenson.
I love the fact that the mayor admitted to feeling “uneasy” but still provided the necessary support for the project to move forward. These projects should make us feel uncomfortable. If they didn’t there would be little reason to carry through with it at all.
Sounds like there is a pretty intense backstory to all of this.
The following documentary about the history and controversy surrounding the Confederate flag in South Carolina was released in 2001. Glad to find this as I am putting my Civil War Memory course together for the spring semester. The documentary does a great job exploring the raising of the flag atop the state capital and the influence of both the Civil Rights Movement and Civil War Centennial. John Coski gets a good deal of air time to discuss the popularity and evolution of the Confederate flag as well as the fact that ordinary Americans utilized it as a symbol of “massive resistance” during the 1950s and 60s. He also does a first-rate job of dismantling the black Confederate narrative at the 27:00 min. mark.
Most people here know that I am a big fan of American Civil War Center Director Christy Coleman. She is a passionate advocate for Civil War history and the city of Richmond. More importantly, Christy is an advocate for the healing power of history and its potential to bring communities closer together. The recent news that Christy and Waite Rawls of the Museum of the Confederacy are joining forces to open a new Civil War museum in the city means that we will be hearing much more from her in the coming months.
This is a talk that Christy gave back in September as part of a local TED talk in Richmond. The video was made available on YouTube yesterday. Enjoy.