While running for the presidency in 2008 Barack Obama made it a point to align himself and his campaign with what he viewed as Lincoln’s vision for the nation. For many, Obama was the heir to Lincoln’s legacy. Those connections were only reinforced following his victory. In that moment the Civil War and even Reconstruction made perfect sense and it felt good. Artist Ron English’s painting and popular print, “Abraham Obama,” beautifully captures this collapse of historical time. Look closely and it’s difficult to discern where one ended and the other began.
The promise of a post-racial society has all but collapsed with recent news stories of the shooting deaths of young black men by police and the overwhelming evidence that racial inequality is growing wider in the United States. Many Americans are disappointed in what they perceive to be a lack of attention to matters of race by the president himself. But if Obama disappoints, Lincoln is always available to point us in the direction of “the better angels of our nature.” As we approach the 150th anniversary of his assassination echoes of Lincoln’s role as our national moral compass will likely grow louder. We would do well to be cautious. Continue reading →
The sound of bells in the city of Charleston announced secession in December 1860. The tolling of bells served as a rallying point for Americans throughout the war. Soldiers marched off from their homes and some returned for final burial to the sound of bells. Bells marked important victories and the arrival of a slain president on his journey home.
In conjunction with a major event at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the National Park Service and its partners invite communities across the nation to join in this commemoration. The bells will ring first at Appomattox at 3:00 p.m. on April 9, 2015. The ringing will coincide with the moment the historic meeting between Grant and Lee in the McLean House at Appomattox Court House ended. While Lee’s surrender did not end the Civil War, the act is seen by most Americans as the symbolic end of four years of bloodshed.
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (which all but assured that our Union would be preserved) and the end of the sesquicentennial. Continue reading →
It would be more accurate to say that the city council will make official what is already the case in practice. As a resident of Charlottesville for eleven years before moving to Boston in 2011 I can say with confidence that very few people formally acknowledged the holiday. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find any formal recognition of the holiday throughout the state beyond the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other heritage groups. They will and should continue to honor Lee and Jackson in a way that they deem fitting.
The story will make the local newspaper tomorrow, but that will be it. Apart from a few people in and around town no one will take notice. The Virginia Flaggers may make good on their threat to raise a Confederate flag in town, but to the discerning viewer that will only highlight the inevitable retreat of Confederate symbols in public places around the Commonwealth and beyond. Continue reading →
Last Saturday Megan Kate Nelson, my wife and I went to see Suzan Lori Parks’s three-act play, “Father Comes Home From the Wars.” I don’t want to give too much away about the plot beyond the fact that the central character is a slave, who at the beginning of the first act struggles with whether he is going to go off to war with his master/Confederate colonel. Oh, and the slave, whose name is Hero, is also donning a Confederate uniform.
Following the show we enjoyed a talkback with members of the cast. Unfortunately, we missed another post-production discussion the following day with Parks, along with Henry Louis Gates and Eric Foner. The discussion kicked off with some thoughts about the current debate about black Confederates.
On one level the focus of the discussion was unfortunate. At no time is Hero’s struggle about whether he can support or serve the Confederacy and the decision has nothing to do with him serving as a soldier. Rather, it serves as the foundation for his relationship with his master, which evolves significantly during the show. It’s confusing, in part, because Hero wears a uniform, but we know of a number of slaves, including, most famously, Silas Chandler, who were outfitted in military dress. The opening act offers an opportunity to explore the complexity of the master-slave relationship and not that of the relationship between slaves and the Confederacy. Continue reading →
I hesitate giving this posting from the League of the South, announcing their intention to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, any more attention that it has already attracted, but it is useful in making a couple of points.
The League of the South looks to the present and future. However, from time to time we do look back at our past.
This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity.
Stay tuned . . .
First, it betrays a rather naive understanding of how Americans (North and South) responded to the actions of John Wilkes Booth. Continue reading →