It’s Hard To Think About Black Confederates…

when you are surrounded by so much history.  I’ve always been attracted to the history in my immediate surroundings.  It’s what connects me to my community and/or allows me to make sense of things.  Even when I travel overseas and for however brief a period of time, I find myself knee deep in local history.  Since moving to Boston three weeks ago I’ve been reading local history non-stop.  I just finished Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston by Michael Rawson and Richard Archer’s, As If an Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution.  I am now reading Stephen Puleo’s book about the second half of the nineteenth century, titled, A City So Grand: The Rise of an American Metropolis, Boston 1850-1900.  In short, I am overwhelmed by so much history.

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Remembering War as Reconciliation

Gary Casteel’s latest creation was recently unveiled in the new extension of the Virginia Capitol.  The sculpture is titled, “Brothers”, and depicts a reunion of two brothers following the heat of battle.  My problem with this piece is not that it fails to capture documented meetings between brothers and family members on the battlefield, but that it plays on our need to see the war and all of its bloodshed and violence as somehow washed away through reconciliation and reunion.  Simply put, it doesn’t push me to reflect about our past and that is what an important piece of public art ought to do.

What do you think?

Boston’s Two Freedom Trails

Looks like I’ve stumbled on my first public history scandal surrounding the Civil War since moving to Boston.  Before proceeding I should note that I am only vaguely familiar with the tours that are referenced in the article below.  On Wednesday I am off to Nashville to give two talks as part of the Civil War Preservation Trust’s Annual Teachers Institute, but when I return I hope to begin exploring much more of my new home.

The controversy surrounds the release of a new guidebook for Civil War Boston that was published by The Freedom Trail Foundation.  The Foundation is best known for its downtown tour of some of the most significant spots of the American Revolution, which may lead some to wonder why the organization decided to publish a short pamphlet on Civil War related sites.  Folks associated with the Black Heritage Trail are apparently not pleased with the scope of the pamphlet and its failure to acknowledge a number of important sites associated with the story of African Americans as well as the work of area institutions that are focused on black history.

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Civil War Memory in My Backyard

I pass by this monument every day on my way to Jamaica Pond for my morning run.  It was dedicated on September 14, 1871 and commemorates the 46 men of West Roxbury, “who lost their lives in the service of their country during the Rebellion.”  It has quickly become my favorite Civil War soldier monument.  I love the simplicity of it, including its smooth surfaces and clean lines.  The soldier embodies the virtues of the citizen soldier that northern towns embraced by war’s end.  He seems tired, but resolute as well as contemplative and just a bit sad.  In short, he did his duty when his nation called.

There are four names around its arches, including that of Lincoln, Farragut, Andrew, and Thomas.  The Jamaica Plain Historical Society suggests that the Thomas in question is none other than George H. Thomas of Virginia (the Rock of Chickamauga), who supposedly donated the land for the monument.  Perhaps someone can explain to me the connection given that he died in San Francisco and is buried in New York.  Now that would be an interesting Virginia – Massachusetts connection.

[Click here for more information about the monument from the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.]