I am quite curious to see what the turnout will be this weekend in Montgomery, Alabama for the sesquicentennial commemoration of Jefferson Davis’s oath of office. According to Thomas Strain Jr. of Tanner, a member of the national board of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “We are trying to present a historical account of what happened 150 years ago.” They are hoping to have hundreds of reenactors march up Dexter Ave. toward the state Capitol. Strain doesn’t perceive this reenactment to be at all controversial. Fortunately, Mr. Strain doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial. This commemoration cannot simply mark a discrete moment in the past independently of the events that took place in that city in more recent years. In this case that includes a history of civil rights protest by the very citizens of Montgomery – descendants of people that would have remained enslaved had the Confederate experiment in rebellion been successful. Because of this, Saturday’s commemoration will look nothing like the Montgomery of 1937 and that is something that we should all be thankful for.
A few days ago I mentioned that I was in contact with a 7th grade history teacher in Boston, who wanted to introduce the subject of black Confederates as part of a unit on the Civil War. Well, today the instructor reported back with a detailed overview of the lesson. I think it’s a wonderful example of how this subject, along with the related issue of media literacy, can be introduced at the middle school level. A number of school districts in Virginia have had difficulty addressing the recent scandal involving the 4th grade history textbook that included false claims about the service of slaves in the Confederate army. This need not be the case. In fact, it’s a golden opportunity to address some of the fundamental misconceptions of the war as well as the veracity of the sources of these claims. Here is an example of a teacher making a difference.
Again, Kevin, I owe you tremendous thanks for your guidance on this topic; your suggestion to follow the UVA lead on “Retouching History” along with your own coverage of the websites purporting to educate the online community about Black Confederates were invaluable. Here’s a detailed overview of what we’ve been up to:
1) For homework last Thursday, I asked kids to conduct some research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the Confederacy. In case you want to see how I framed the question, here’s the text of the email I sent them:
During the flag project, Heather sent a representative of the Sons of Confederate Veterans an email asking for his perspective on the Confederate flag. In Mr. Barrow’s response, he mentioned that one way to show that the flag is not necessarily a symbol of slavery is to consider that Blacks actually fought for the Confederacy; if this was the case, he reasoned, how could the cause of the South been to preserve slavery?
This presents an interesting opportunity. Let’s figure out if he is correct in his statement that large numbers of Blacks fought for (not against) the South. Your homework, then, is to conduct about a half an hour of research into the topic of Blacks fighting for the South.
One of the more difficult aspects of blogging for me has been the maintenance of Online relationships. I’ve never had much patience in dealing with problematic scenarios and my tendency has always been to find a way to distance myself from certain individuals as quickly as possible. This usually involves ceasing any and all contact both on the blog and via email. We have the potential to get so emotionally worked up and words on a screen seem like an inadequate way of addressing it so why bother. In all honesty, in five years I haven’t gotten much better at it.
It’s no secret that Kevin and I have had our share of differences over the years, and at times, they have been of a personal and vitriol nature. Both of us are guilty in this regard and I myself have fanned the flames on more than one occasion. Frankly, there are still many issues that we do not agree upon, although I believe that there are many others that we do. Regardless of our past, I vehemently agree that Kevin’s blog has made a big impact on the CW blogosphere while bringing many important issues to light, such as the Black Confederate myth. I myself have posted on this subject with the same frustration that Kevin has. In my declining health, I find myself needing less conflict in both my professional and personal life, especially conflict that serves no greater purpose. Perhaps even Kevin Levin and I can come to terms and express a mutual respect for one another. That would show everyone on all sides of the argument that the blogosphere is not only a place where historical opinions and truths can be shared with the masses, but also a domain where stubborn historians can find a way to work toward a common goal. That goal of course is the proper preservation and presentation of our Nation’s precious history. As we begin to acknowledge the Civil War’s Sesquicentennial, we must celebrate the reunification of our country. If our forefathers could find a way to come together after four years of horrific fighting, why the hell can’t we find a way to get along too…eh Kevin?
I think Michael is right. It’s time to move on and put the past behind us. More importantly, I want to wish Michael a speedy recovery. I’ve known for a few weeks that Michael’s health was in decline. This is an opportunity to break through the silliness to what matters.
YouTube is probably the most popular social networking tool currently being utilized in history classrooms across the country. The vast majority of them are simply put, horrible. They reflect very little understanding of the medium by the student as well as their teachers. In my view it’s the clearest example of what is wrong with the way history teachers utilize social media in the classroom. While there has clearly been a push to embrace these tools over the past few years, many teachers have not thought enough about how they enhance students’ understanding of the past as well as the analytical skills involved. Once in a while, however, a video stands out. In this case two students offer a visual representation of the Seven Days Battles accompanied by a little ballad. It’s clever and fun.
Thanks to Brooks Simpson for a thoughtful post about the visceral reaction that Civil War Memory engenders in certain folks. I’ve also thought a bit about this question over the years. Certainly, the vitriol is something that I did not anticipate. Brooks correctly notes “that there are people (including me) who take a much more confrontational public stance on various issues, and who have not been the targets of nearly as much abuse.” We could look at any number of things that certain readers have trouble with, including my place of birth, perceived political biases, as well as the standard litany of vague references to “anti-Southern”, “anti-Confederate”… blah, blah, blah. Actually, I think there is something else at work here. Brooks writes:
In short, admitting the quality of Kevin’s blog, one of the factors contributing to his influence is the reaction he engenders from people who assume he possesses such influence … which, ironically, has contributed a great deal to his influence. If people are afraid of him, then he must be saying important things, and maybe we ought to listen to him given the reaction he sparks. By assuming his influence, Kevin’s critics have helped make him influential.
I don’t doubt that the attention I receive from these quarters fuels interest in the blog and has contributed to my popularity. In fact, some of my most loyal readers are counting the days until I leave the South forever. In the end, however, this does not explain the popularity of the blog or suffice as a reason for my increased notoriety. I suspect that what energizes this particular base is the fact that my blogging has resulted in increased opportunities to teach beyond the confines of my classroom (public lectures/workshops/advisory roles) as well as all kinds of professional writing opportunities. I would like to think that it is the quality of my blogging as well as published work that is responsible for this success. It is the blog, however, that has allowed me to showcase this work to a broad audience that includes a small handful of folks that are offended by what I do. It’s impossible to imagine being offered a writing gig or an opportunity to work with high school history teachers if I wasn’t perceived as a competent teacher as well as a competent practitioner of the historical craft. To put it another way, it turns out that my blogging matters to a great many people from a wide range of backgrounds. I suspect that this is what drives these folks to lash out in various ways. My success is a reminder to the folks that Brooks cites in his post that their conversations have no significance beyond the walls of their blogs, listservs, and Facebook pages.
One final point. Let’s not exaggerate the importance of the folks that Brooks references. As far as I can tell they represent such a small sample of my readership that they don’t even appear on the radar screen. They do not represent a significant constituency and they are not engaged in serious discussion about American history and memory. They are at best a sideshow. I would much rather focus on the people who have embraced my blog and helped me to better understand a crucial time in our nation’s history.