A Forgotten Battle For the Second Amendment

Thomas NastOne of the most interesting sections of Carole Emberton’s new book, Beyond Redemption, is her analysis of the relationship between gun ownership among newly-freed slaves, voting, citizenship and violence in the postwar South. By 1860 service in the military had already expanded the suffrage to include a large percentage of white men. The right to vote, achieved through military service defined what it meant to lay claim to citizenship in the United States. The defense of home and nation not only opened the doors to voting for many white men, but the weapons used proved to be extremely useful in the often violent world of political campaigns and gatherings on election day.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the claims to citizenship and the vote by a formerly enslaved population rested directly on the right to bear arms. Former black Union soldiers often purchased their weapons upon leaving the army while many others purchased weapons with what little money they earned. They did so to protect themselves, but also as symbols of freedom and independence. The right to own a weapon constituted a tangible break with a past in which masters controlled the conditions in which their slaves could shoulder a gun. Most importantly, gun ownership was understood as a direct claim through the Second Amendment to the rights of citizenship and the vote. Continue reading “A Forgotten Battle For the Second Amendment”

A Black Confederate We Can All Live With

black ConfederateEarlier this month Schuyler Kropf shared the story of Polly Sheppard, who was surprised to find the grave of a black Confederate soldier in the cemetery of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston. The individual in question is Louis B. Middleton, whose grave is marked with a soldiers’ headstone. This has all the earmarks of another in a long line of distorted stories about blacks who somehow managed to evade Confederate law and a society committed to keeping weapons out of their hands. Continue reading “A Black Confederate We Can All Live With”

Medgar Evers Visits Vicksburg National Military Park

Medgar Evers, VicksburgThis morning I was perusing through the September 1963 issue of Ebony Magazine and came across this remarkable photograph of Medgar Evers and his family on the Vicksburg battlefield. Apparently, they spent a great deal of time on the battlefield. This particular issue centered on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which included a story about Evers on why he chose to live in Mississippi.

Outside Vicksburg, in the national military park, which entombs hundreds of Civil War dead–from Mississippi, Illinois, both sides of the struggle–Evers strolls with sightseers over the bones of the dead, is drawn to “our spot” where he and his wife courted, politely answers the questions of a white man, whose ten gallon hat and deep drawl identify him as one of the “enemy.” (pp. 146-47)

Martin Luther King’s Great Civil War Centennial Speech

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But 100 years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

And so we’ve come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .

Remembering W.E.B. Du Bois

Du BoisWhile this week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington it is also the 50th anniversary of the passing of W.E.B. Du Bois. It is unfortunate, though not surprising that he has all but been forgotten to our memory of the long civil rights movement. Was there anyone more important and for such a significant amount of time through the first half of the twentieth century? I make it a point to introduce Du Bois in my classroom every year, usually through one of his essays or a selection from The Souls of Black Folk.

At least he has not been entirely forgotten in his home town of Great Barrington, MA. The photograph above comes from a local eight grade class, which recently spent some time exploring a local public mural done in honor of Du Bois.

Du Bois on Robert E. Lee: ”  “Either [Lee] knew what slavery meant when he helped maim and murder thousands in its defense or he did not” — From an essay on Lee (1928)