Category Archives: Slavery

Catharsis and the Historical Imagination in Selma, Alabama

Student Group at Slavery and Civil War Museum in Selma, Alabama (not my school)

Student Group at Slavery and Civil War Museum in Selma, Alabama (not my school)

One of the highlights of my recent school trip through the Civil Rights South was walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge for the first time in Selma, Alabama. The bridge is one of the most iconic images of the struggle and the film of the marchers being assaulted by police on “Bloody Sunday” moves me every time. Continue reading

 

12 Years A Slave Wins Best Picture

Check out Mary Niall Mitchell’s Common-place essay on the backstory of 12 Years.

As many of you now know, last night 12 Years A Slave won Oscars for Best Picture, Actress in a Supporting Role, and Adapted Screenplay. Congratulations to Steve McQueen, John Ridley, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt, and the rest of the cast and crew for making this important movie.

“Everyone deserves not just to survive, but to live. This is the most important legacy of Solomon Northup,” – Steve McQueen

“Cruel, unjust, exploitative, oppressive, slavery bound two peoples together in bitter antagonism…” – Eugene Genovese

There are plans to bring this movie to classrooms across the country. Stay tuned.

 

Denmark Vesey – Trayvon Martin – Jordan Davis

A new monument to Denmark Vesey was recently unveiled in Charleston, South Carolina. The unveiling placed Vesey back in the news over the past two weeks with recent editorials by Douglas Egerton appearing in The New York Times and Honor Sachs at the Huffington Post. The two writers seem to disagree over whether there is sufficient evidence that Vesey intended to carry out a slave insurrection. That difference is reflected in how they frame the meaning/significance of Vesey’s legacy. Continue reading

 

“Each Section Preserved White Supremacy Differently”

Aaron AstorSince I don’t use a textbook in my U.S. History survey I am always on the lookout for relatively short excerpts from secondary sources that help me to pinpoint a specific historical question or problem. I’ve said before that one of the more challenging topics to teach is the distinction between race and slavery in nineteenth-century America. For most of my students (Virginia and Massachusetts) the lack of slavery in the North by the late antebellum period makes it difficult for them to appreciate the extent that racism permeated the region. They tend to see racism and slavery as two sides of the same coin, which is reinforced by their limited understanding of chattel slavery in the South.

This excerpt from Aaron Astor’s, Rebels on the Border: Civil War, Emancipation, and the Reconstruction of Kentucky and Missouri does a brilliant job of teasing out this important distinction. Wish I had come across it last week.

At the heart of Kentuckian and Missourian values was white supremacy, or more specifically, a belief that Western civilization was a product of characteristics unique to the white race and that all interracial relationships must protect the white race from subjugation or degradation by the black race. Failing to hold the line against attempts at racial equality would yield nothing less than complete reversion to barbarism, which whites believed inevitable wherever blacks lived without white authority. Most white northerners and southerners agreed with this racial order, but each section preserved white supremacy differently. Northerners simply excluded African Americans outright–states such as Indiana and Illinois legally banned black people from entering those states in 1860, and many other states placed onerous taxes on blacks who could not prove employment or property ownership–or failing that, segregated blacks and whites in all facets of social and economic life. White northerners protected white supremacy by monopolizing the property, power and labor force of the northern states. White southerners, living amid populations that often included large majorities of African Americans, embraced slavery as the natural system of racial and social control. Without slavery, white southerners feared, blacks would literally overrun and destroy white civilizations, re-creating either Haiti or Africa itself. (pp. 29-30)

I can’t help but think that this paragraph helps to frame – in so many ways -  the problem of race that our nation faced following the Civil War right down to the present day. This is a book that I’ve been wanting to read for some time and I am so glad I am finally getting around to it. Highly recommended.

 

Kickstarting the Myth of the Black Confederate Soldier

I am going to assume that this is the first Kickstarter campaign related to the myth of the black Confederate soldier. The project is the work of an African American man who lives in New York state. You will find a number of different threads from the Lost Cause narrative, but the inspiration for the project itself stems “came from a statement made by Malcolm X about the field and house slave.”

The project reminds me a bit of Ann DeWitt’s children’s book, Entangled in Freedom.

I came across this project while perusing one of the Southern/Confederate heritage webpages and although there are some enthusiastic responses, as of today no one has opened up their wallets. We shall see.