Just finished a brief exchange with a public historian that I highly respect. He sent me a brief note regarding a recent story that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the ongoing controversy at Stone Mountain. The reporter contacted me to comment on claims made about the existence of black Confederate soldiers that are being made by heritage organizations to counter a planned exhibit on black Union soldiers. Continue reading “The Other Side of Stone Mountain”
My good friend, John Hennessy, has a way of encapsulating in just a few sentences what typically takes me months to articulate on this blog. John added his voice to a post I wrote on the role of public historians in the current debate about the public display of Confederate iconography:
The dog has bitten its tail, and it hurts.
Historians have worked hard to help Americans see and understand the past more clearly. Now that Americans by and large do, some of them want to obliterate the symbols of the history that historians have labored so hard to help them understand.
Most of us in this business have espoused, loudly, that people should accept the complexities of the past.
Sometimes, though, we as historians have a hard time accepting the complexities of the present.
The complicated landscape in which historians work–subject to changing values, newly empowered voices, and shifting political and societal winds–means that some people, some sites, some communities, some states, and perhaps even some government entities will choose not to view these icons and sites as historical tools of learning, but as present sources of pain and discord.
Indeed, despite historians’ best efforts, the larger part of the milieu that will determine the fate Confederate icons resides not in the past but in that complicated present, which we as historians can little hope to influence.
The messy, boisterous marketplace of the American mind will figure this out. In the meantime, public historians ought to continue doing what we do, recognizing the limits of what we can do–that sometimes the history of things like the windows at St. Pauls is not all that matters. Sometimes, to some eyes, the present matters more.
Update: I highly recommend Christopher Graham’s response and thoughts about Luskey’s essay. Thanks again to Ashley for a thoughtful post that ought to give all of us much to think about as we work through these challenging questions.
This week Ashley Luskey added her voice to the discussion about the public display of Confederate iconography. Ashley focuses specifically on the debate within Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church about what to do with its beautiful Tiffany windows, which honor Confederate leaders and their Lost Cause. The essay is well worth your time. Ashley does an excellent job of laying out the wartime history of the church, its connection to Confederate leaders during the war and its role during the postwar period in memorializing their actions.
Like other public historians Ashley worries about the implications of removing these windows for our collective memory of the war and history generally as well as our ability to address contemporary problems such as race. Ashley also makes a compelling case for the importance of place in interpreting the windows rather than removal to a museum or other educational setting. Continue reading “St. Paul’s Episcopal and the Limits of Public History”
The Civil War Trust is asking members and others to sign a “Citizens’ Petition in Support of War Memorial Preservation,” which will eventually be sent to Congressional leaders. I will not be signing it. It is certainly not because I don’t support the spirit of the petition. Let me explain.
The petition asks the public to reduce all American wars and all soldiers as worthy of continued honor. All soldiers, including Confederates , according to CWT ought to be remembered as “young soldiers who defended freedom.” How we remember the freedoms that Confederates fought so hard to achieve is exactly what is currently being debated. It is a legitimate debate/discussion that relates directly to the meaning attached to many Civil War monuments from Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis to the standard soldier monument on the courthouse lawn. Continue reading “Why I Will Not Sign the Civil War Trust’s Petition”
Although it was organized last minute, I thought some of you would like to know that I will be co-moderating a discussion on the ongoing controversy surrounding Confederate iconography at the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville, Kentucky next month. The other moderator for this discussion will be Bob Beatty, who is the chief operating officer for the AASLH. A few years ago I took part in an AASLH roundtable discussion on the Civil War sesquicentennial and had a wonderful time. Continue reading “Discussing Confederate Iconography at Annual Meeting of AASLH”