The Challenge of Contextualizing Confederate Monuments

Calls for the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces continues at a steady clip. Yesterday, the president of the University of Texas at Austin decided to remove a monument to Jefferson Davis, while leaving two monuments to Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston in place. Last night, after a public forum, two committees for the New Orleans city council voted to remove monuments to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and one commemorating the Battle of Liberty Place. Confederate monuments continue to be vandalized as well.

Public historians and other commentators in this ongoing debate have called for the contextualization of monuments regardless of whether they are moved or remain in place. The president of the University of Texas stated that all of the Confederate monuments on campus will be properly interpreted for the benefit of the community and future visitors to campus. On more than one occasion I have suggested that contextualization is a viable way forward. I still believe this, but how to move forward is not so clear. Continue reading “The Challenge of Contextualizing Confederate Monuments”

Jefferson Davis Goes, While Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston Stay

The debate at the University of Texas at Austin over the presence on campus of monuments to Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston is not a new one. In 1969 a group calling itself Afro-Americans for Black Liberation made a list of demands on the campus administration that included removing these statues. Jump to August 2015 and in the wake of the mass shootings in Charleston and the very public and emotional debate about the place of Confederate iconography, including monuments, in public places it should come as no surprise that action would be taken. Continue reading “Jefferson Davis Goes, While Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston Stay”

“They Preserved the Anglo-Saxon Civilization of the South”

A monument in Charlotte, North Carolina commemorating a Confederate reunion, which took place in 1929, has been vandalized for the second time this summer. While the tag #BlackLivesMatter has been seen on other Confederate monuments the message left in this case relates directly to the Charleston murders. The names of all nine victims were spray painted on one side while the message, “‘The Cause For Which They Fought—The Cause of Slavery Was Wrong'” was left on the other.

Confederate Monument, Charlotte
Continue reading ““They Preserved the Anglo-Saxon Civilization of the South””

National Park Service Needs a Stricter Confederate Flag Policy

Update: Sorry to see that the staff at the Stones River National Battlefield chose to remove the post featured below from their Facebook page. That’s disappointing given the many perspectives shared in the comments section.

I fully support the recent decision to remove gift items featuring the Confederate flag in National Park Service stores. In fact, I believe this policy should be extended to include a ban on Confederate flags from park ground except in situations that are strictly controlled by the NPS for the sake of public education. Of course, there are First Amendment concerns, but the events of this summer have clearly demonstrated that the many meanings attached to the Confederate flag extend beyond its role as a soldiers flag in a war that took place 150 years ago. Park visitors ought to feel safe when visiting Civil War sites and that simply cannot be guaranteed given the violence that has taken place around the Confederate flag this summer and throughout its history stretching back to the 1940s. Continue reading “National Park Service Needs a Stricter Confederate Flag Policy”

A Visit To the Royall House and Slave Quarters

I’ve said before that if I could do it all over again I would have pursued a career in public history and worked at a historic site. The deepest connections with- and opportunities to encourage careful thinking about the past has the best chance of taking hold on site. Having left the high school history classroom this past spring I am hoping to join a historic site in the Boston area in some capacity.

This morning I traveled to The Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, which is just a few miles north of downtown Boston. I’ve known about this site for some time, having read recent news coverage of their efforts on the interpretive front and in a very good book about the Royall family and slavery in New England by C.S. Manegold. I was met by Gracelaw Simmons, a longtime volunteer, who took me around the the Royall home and slave quarters, which is the only surviving structure of its kind in the northeast. Continue reading “A Visit To the Royall House and Slave Quarters”