Tomorrow at 12 noon [E.S.T.] Myra Chandler Sampson and I will be interviewed on the Voice of Russia radio to discuss our recent Civil War Times article about Silas Chandler and Black Confederates as well as other issues related to Civil War memory. The interview will be about 45 minutes long and you should be able to listen live. If not, I will make sure to make it available once it is archived. Myra and I are looking forward to it.
I thought we might have a little fun in light of the lawsuit that was filed yesterday by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the city of Lexington. Many of you are no doubt familiar with Michael Bradley’s poem, “I Am Their Flag” as well as H.K. Edgerton’s powerful interpretation that he will be happy to deliver if the price is right. I would like to see us expand on this great work. Take a shot at writing your own stanza that places the flag at any point in time from Reconstruction through the present day. What would the flag say in 1915, 1939, 1954, 1964, 1993, 2012?
“I Am Their Flag”
In 1861, when they perceived their rights to be threatened, when those who would alter the nature of the government of their fathers were placed in charge, when threatened with change they could not accept, the mighty men of valor began to gather. A band of brothers, native to the Southern soil, they pledged themselves to a cause: the cause of defending family, fireside, and faith. Between the desolation of war and their homes they interposed their bodies and they chose me for their symbol.
I Am Their Flag.
Their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took scissors and thimbles, needles and thread, and from silk or cotton or calico – whatever was the best they had – even from the fabric of their wedding dresses, they cut my pieces and stitched my seams.
I Am Their Flag.
Let’s not get all worked up about George Lucas’s recent interview on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show over his comments about the the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Lucas talked about the difficulties in securing Hollywood financing for his new film, Red Tails, owing to the film’s all-black cast. Lucas told Stewart:
I wanted to make it inspirational for teenaged boys. I wanted to show that they have heroes, they’re real American heroes, they’re patriots that helped to make the country what it is today. And it’s not Glory where you have a lot of white officers running these guys into cannon fodder. It’s like a real, they were real heroes.
Lucas is not suggesting that the men of the 54th were not brave in battle or do not deserve to be remembered. He is commenting on the way in which they are remembered in film and he is right to point out that the story is told largely through the eyes of a white protagonist. Does anyone seriously believe that Glory could have been made any other way?
The Second World War is largely remembered as a white man’s war, so we shall see if Lucas is able to tell a story with no white leading roles. Click here for an extended movie trailer.
A reader just posted this comment in response to the last post that featured a crucial section of Florida’s declaration of causes following its secession from the United States. One of things that I’ve learned over the years is that differences in interpretation often have little to do with strictly historical concerns, but with much broader assumptions about the nature of power and the relationship between citizens and government. This is a perfect example:
What do you base your concerns on the Government by? Isn’t it based largely on what has already taken place with a real and present estimation on what might happen? You surely vote. Is not your vote a gamble, on what good or calamity might happen if you choose one candidate vs. another? Consider this has a group, political candidate or party ever threatened your livelihood and well being? Are you so different from being a Confederate, that if a very real threat affected your very livelihood and families well being, that you would not defend them? They did so in accordance with the laws and the Constitution. When their rights were threatened they seceded.
The questions point to a picture of government that I have real trouble identifying with. While I believe a healthy skepticism about federal power and our elected officials is essential to any democracy, this seems to border on paranoia. I live in a democracy and I do my best to ensure that my voice is heard through elections and other forms of political activism. I don’t necessarily view the election of someone I disagree with as a “calamity” since their terms of service are not indefinite. My government is not my enemy. Of course I have strongly disagreed with actions taken by my government in recent years that straddle party lines, but at no point have I ever entertained nullification or secession as a solution. Our system of government is not perfect, but it has served us pretty well so far and I can see no reason to alter it beyond its amendment.
What I now understand is that my disagreement with this individual over how to interpret Florida’s declaration has little to do with whether slavery was or was not central. What do you think?
It should come as no surprise that a National Air and Space Museum exhibit centered around the Enola Gay and the dropping of the Atomic Bomb would cause controversy in the mid-1990s. Many of the veterans of WWII were still alive and the issue itself tugged at how Americans saw themselves as moral leaders on the world stage. Ignoring some of the legitimate concerns with how the event was interpreted by the NASM, it is clear that Americans were simply too close to the event in question to allow for the kind of historical objectivity that the historians, curators, and other professionals hoped to bring to the exhibit. The debate that took place in the halls of the Senate, House of Representatives as well as countless newspapers and magazines provides the perfect case study for what happens when a historical interpretation comes up against a narrative that is rooted in a personal connection to the past that is still very much part of the event itself. We can see this at work in how the events of 9-11 are commemorated as well.
It is interesting that after 150 years many Americans are committed to framing some of the central questions about the Civil War in personal terms. Typically this connection is framed as a defense of an ancestor who fought on one side or another; implied is a belief in some sort of privileged connection to historical truth. I’ve argued in a number of places that our collective understanding has undergone profound shifts in recent years and that we are beginning to take on a more detached stance in regard to the events of the 1860s, but the cries of “heritage violations” can still be heard. While I have some respect for those who take themselves to be deeply rooted in a personal past, the rhetoric is itself sounding more and more anachronistic.