Confederate Heritage is Alive and Well in Brazil

The gradual erosion of open celebrations of Confederate heritage throughout the United States stands in sharp contrast with a vibrant memory for the residents of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and neighboring Americana, in Brazil’s south-eastern São Paulo state. Following Confederate defeat somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 white Southerners left for the promise of land and even the possibility of one again attaining slave-owning status in a foreign country. For close to thirty years the residents of this community have organized a celebration of their Confederate roots.

The images are right out of the Civil War centennial era, including the uniforms, dresses, dance, and large Confederate flags. All of it has a campy feel at best. Their memory of the Confederacy and the South is framed by a love for buttermilk biscuits and the “Dukes of Hazzard.” Very little attention appears to be focused on their ancestors themselves, many of whom were absorbed into Brazilian culture shortly after arrival. In fact, it’s not even clear what percentage of male immigrants actually served in the Confederate army. It also makes me wonder just how many of their ancestors wanted to put the whole Confederate experiment behind them and move on with their lives. Continue reading “Confederate Heritage is Alive and Well in Brazil”

Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?

It’s been noted on this blog more than once that we currently do not have a historic site devoted to Reconstruction. Today in the Atlantic Greg Downs and Kate Masur announced that the National Park Service has undertaken a study to rectify this oversight. As the authors note, this project is fraught with challenges associated with the complexity of the history itself and the many myths that still influence how we remember this period in our history. The larger problem is that Reconstruction has largely disappeared from our collective memory.

So, where should such a site be located? Given the time period that needs to be covered (roughly 1863 to 1877) the site needs to be flexible in its potential to cover more than just an event. It needs to be able to convey change over time and multiple narratives. The site will also need to convey both the successes and setbacks of Reconstruction.  Continue reading “Where Should the National Park Service Interpret Reconstruction?”

Confederate Memorial Day Under Assault in the Heart of the Confederacy

The other day I solicited your thoughts about the winners and losers of the Civil War sesquicentennial. The post generated a very helpful discussion, which I very much appreciate. One thing is clear: the Lost Cause narrative of our war is on the defensive and will likely continue to be the case as we move forward. There are any number of places that you can look for evidence of this development from city councils distancing themselves from publicly acknowledging certain holidays to refusing to display the Confederate flag in public places.

This pressure is not emanating from outside Southern communities, but from within. It’s a community that includes new transplants from other parts of the country and beyond, but it also includes individuals who can claim direct ancestors from the war. It’s an organic process that has nothing to do with erasing the past and everything to do with clarifying how a community draws meaning from the past. Continue reading “Confederate Memorial Day Under Assault in the Heart of the Confederacy”

Winners and Losers of the Sesquicentennial

I am in the process of going through old posts in preparation for an essay on the Civil War sesquicentennial. I’ve identified a number of themes that I will explore as I try to place the past few years within a broader context stretching back to the Civil War centennial.

Here is your chance to offer some thoughts about what we’ve experienced since 2011. Who or what do you think were the big winners and losers of the Civil War sesquicentennial? You can be as specific or as broad as you choose. You can identify individuals (past or present), organizations, events and even historical themes/narratives. Feel free to be as creative as you want in formulating your response.

For example, in my opinion one of the big winners of the 150th was the history and memory of the United States Colored Troops. On the other hand, the clear loser was the veneration for and display of the Confederate flag.

So, what do you think?

Ben Affleck, Henry Louis Gates and Oprah Winfrey’s Couch

Update: Gawker got hold of the original script for Affleck’s segment. It looks like the editorial changes were made in response to the actor’s request to remove references to his slave-owning ancestor.

Late yesterday Ben Affleck released a statement apologizing for requesting that ties to a slave-owning ancestor be edited out of an episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Henry Louis Gates. In the statement Affleck admits to feeling uncomfortable about the connection: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth.”

As I stated in a previous post about this controversy, my concern is not so much with Affleck’s request as with the way Gates handled it. Continue reading “Ben Affleck, Henry Louis Gates and Oprah Winfrey’s Couch”