Category Archives: Slavery

Let the Documents Speak For Themselves

This really is the best possible time to host a blog on the Civil War and historical memory.  If the next four years follows the past year we are in for a wild ride.  At the same time there is something rather depressing about the level of discourse surrounding many of these high profile events.  Consider the upcoming Secession Ball, scheduled for next Saturday in Charleston South Carolina.  The event marks a specific event in the history of South Carolina and the nation.  While organizers trot out the standard arguments distancing their event from the role that slavery played in helping to bring about the very event that is being celebrated the NAACP is working hard to distort and butcher their own version of the past.

NAACP State President Lonnie Randolph had this to say about the upcoming gala:

“There is nothing to celebrate about killing a million people. South Carolina still lives under the rule of the Confederacy today,” Randolph said.  He compared the Secession Ball to celebrating Sept. 11, Adolf Hitler, or the American Indian massacre at Wounded Knee.   “We want some consistency. We want South Carolina — and America — to be consistent in the way it treats and honors all its citizens.” Randolph said the argument that secession was about states’ rights misrepresents the facts of slavery.  “The state wanted to right to buy and sell people. Tell the whole truth,” he said.  He spoke at a news conference at the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he was surrounded by area leaders of the organization and ministers.  Handouts at the meeting encouraged attendance at the march and mass meeting with the admonition: “A Call for Unity: Don’t Celebrate Slavery and Terrorism.”

and

Participants will watch segments of “Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 silent film that portrayed Ku Klux Klan members as heroes….  “The states wanted the right to sell human cargo,” he said [Randolph], adding the public would not tolerate similar disrespect of other minority groups – a Holocaust celebration or an event celebrating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “The reason this can take place so easily is we’re still suffering the effects of the Confederacy in this state,” Randolph said.

The NAACP is not going to win any converts by pushing a narrative of the war that is heavy on emotion and rhetoric and short on historical content.

Here is what I would do to protest this event.  Station both black and white residents of Charleston in different sections of the city and at a scheduled time, during the Secession Ball, have them read the actual document that was approved by South Carolina’s secession convention.  You could organize literally hundreds of people for this.  I think it would be quite powerful to see South Carolinians take ownership of what South Carolinians in 1860.  As Larry Wilmer noted the other night on the Jon Stewart Show, highlighting the role of slavery in this event is not “politically correct, it’s correct correct.”  And that’s it.

Let the documents speak for themselves.

 

The Edward Sebesta Circus Continues

Thanks to my readers, who are forwarding me links relevant to Edward Sebesta’s recent announcement that he does not want and will refuse the Museum of the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis Prize for best book on Confederate history if it is awarded.  Turns out that Sebesta is blanketing listservs seeking advice on how best to proceed.  Here is an example from H-Public:

Unfortunately the Museum of the Confederacy (MOC) wants to consider giving my newest book an award. This is a book designed to expose the real nature of the Confederacy and the neo-Confederate movement as being about slavery and white supremacy.  No doubt they think that by giving this award they can co-opt James Loewen and myself and position themselves as different from the rest of the neo-Confederates.

As you know, institutions give awards because by honoring others they honor themselves. I don’t want to honor the Museum of the Confederacy, I don’t want my name or my book be used to legitimize them.

John Coski has approached my co-editor and asked for copies of the book, and despite my strenuous objections copies are going to be sent.  I also wrote five certified letters, four to the judges telling them that I don’t want the award and one with copies of the other four letters sent to the Director of the MOC. One would think this would result in my book being thrown out. However, I got an email from Coski saying basically I had no say in the matter.

I am asking for advice on how to prevent this award from happening. The two strategies I have adopted so far are:

1.    Make my opposition public so that they are more likely to reject my book.

2.    Use this consideration of my book as an opportunity to make my criticisms of the Museum of the Confederacy more widely known.

And there is information on the MOC. A speech by Ludwell Johnson III, given at the Museum of the Confederacy, on his being made a Fellow of the Museum and reprinted in the 3rd quarter 1994 issue of “Southern Partisan” is an appalling denigration of African Americans and African American scholarship. Their book “Before Freedom Came” is explained as a rebuke to Carol Moseley-Braun in his speech.

I think that they still give a Jefferson Davis award is appalling. The man was vile. I read a section on the congressional record where they wanted to help out Africans who were on board a captured slave ship and Jefferson Davis is simply appalling in his opposition to helping out these poor persons sweltering in a slave ship off the coast of Florida.

I am going to write up some essays about the MOC and their activities. I have a file which I am going to review. Perhaps some of the members of this listserve would like to write essays on the MOC.  Again, I am open to some advice to make sure this award doesn’t come to my book. I feel it would be a stain on my reputation. Letter follows my name.

I still have no idea why Sebesta has taken this stance.  As I stated in my last post he seems to be ignorant of the good work that the museum has done to further a scholarly understanding of the Civil War – the very thing that Sebesta and Loewen claim to support.  If the MOC was nothing more than an extension of some “Neo-Confederate” organization than why would they consider his book?  Even more bizarre is the reference to their publication, Before Freedom Came, which I am quite familiar with and have used in the classroom on numerous occasions.  It’s obvious to me that Sebesta does not own a copy nor is there any indication of its contents.  This is an edited collection that includes essays by Drew G. Faust, John Michael Vlach Charles Joyner, Deborah Gray White, David R. Goldfield, and Theresa A. Singleton.  Anyone familiar with the historiography of slavery and the history of the South would be hard pressed to describe these individuals as promoting anything other than a scholarly view of the subject.

As far as I am concerned Sebesta is doing little more than engaging in the slandering of an institution that deserves our full support.  I understand that James Loewen will accept the award, if given, but in the name of education and the promotion of scholarly history Loewen ought to reign in his erratic co-editor.  This must be incredibly embarrassing for him.

 

“Yours For Liberty”

[Thanks to Vicki Betts]

Vicki found this document during her research into the Confederate Citizens and Business File in Footnote.com.  This particular letter struck her as important and decided to pass it on to me, which I greatly appreciate.  The letter was written by John D. Berry, Schuyler County, New York and sent to the governor of South Carolina, probably late 1860 or early 1861.  Berry is listed as a (col) barber in Schuyler County.

Watkins, Schuyler Co. NY

To the Governor of South Carolina.  Sir I hope you will excuse me for ben so forward in droping you a few lines.   Sir I am no a Scoler.  My dear parents Sent me to School & paid $3 per [     ]  And There It would bee imposseble for me to Say more than one leson a day & Some times not that for Pregdise was So Strong in this Country Against the Colored rase that it was imposable for me to Get justice done me in School.  Sir this was on the Acount of Slavery & the arguments that you Southern men are obliged to youse to kepe us back & to Corupt the whites of the norther States & this Sir you have done perty efeculy for Clay to Lead of with Compromise After Compromise & then all you have to do is to buy Dou fases & that you Did be guining with Webster[.] but Sir I respect Mr. Colhoun for we new where to find him & his corse wodent of Dun us as much harm as has ben dun us by Henry Clays Corse for if the South had declared Slavery to be the Eakual of Liberty then as now the blood which is to brake on you now wold of brok then in sted of now & the Crash would have been So great that it wold have cosed you and every other Slave holder to Shake with fear[.]  your proclamation wodent Save you nor all the Governers in the Slave States.  For we Abolitiones have got the North rite & Justice is to be Dun to all men kind north & South & like bfore quiet will come to this Government[.]  this is so & you may as well begin one time as Another for the [        ] is rapidly at werk & your Proclomation is [       ] here at the north your bst [?] laff at it with the exception of Benet of the herald & we have Got him tite for he hasent Got eny Enfleuence[.]  he is used up Sir & this is so[.]  the Crises is upon you & you must Do my People Justice with the rest of mankind & this Sir will save you and your State will flourish & wax with wealth.  I Dow respect  Southern Gentlemen ten times ye one hundred times more than northern doufase for They Deceive Both north & South & you cant Depend on them[.]  all they want is Ofise[.]  Sir the South Dun rong when they Sanctioned the Outrage on Sumner it was Bad for you & it was bad for you when you Sanction the execution of J. Brown and his follower & Sustained Walker as the South and Administration did for you have made thousands of votes & people raise their voises & hart & hand Against you I mean your instituatain.  But Sir the Day has come for the Deliverance of my people & now humane Agency Can prevent it[.]  I thank God I am down on Slavery & in the words of Oconel when he first herd the idea of property in man it Sounded to him as if Some one was Stamping upon the Grave of his mother and so it Seams to me[.]  I am for Liberty Every time & care not how it comes either with or with out blud shed[.] Yours for liberty

John D. Berry Schuyler Co.

 

Coming To Terms With Garrison and Radicalism

This week my AP classes are tackling the various reform movements of the Antebellum Period.  It should come as no surprise that we spend a great deal of time on the Abolitionist Movement and William Lloyd Garrison in particular.  This morning I began class with a fairly vague question to get the ball rolling that asked students to assess Garrison’s philosophy and goals.  Their responses are fairly typical and express a collective belief that Garrison ought to be admired for his perseverance and that his goals were laudable.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with such a response, but we should not pass up the opportunity to work to understand Garrison’s place both within the broader anti-slavery community and the society as a whole.  We do this by first sketching out the goals of the American Colonization Society, which united a broad swath of the population as well as notable political figures from around the country.  I then asked students to think about the implications of their goals of gradual abolition followed by colonization; what do these goals tell us about how Americans viewed slavery and race.  Most of the students were able to see that the program was intended to cause the least amount of harm to slaveowners while colonization suggests that many Americans were unable to imagine a racially integrated society.  This is the context in which to understand Garrison:

On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. No! no! Tell a man whose house is on fire, to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hand of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen; — but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest — I will not equivocate — I will not excuse — I will not retreat a single inch — AND I WILL BE HEARD.

This broader picture allows students to move beyond their own narrow interpretation of Garrison’s words and actions to a clearer understanding of the extent to which his understanding of race challenged the very foundations of American society.  This move from the personal to the historical is the bread and butter of historical inquiry and it is important, but it should not constitute the end of any classroom discussion about Garrison and the radical abolitionists. Continue reading

 

John C. Winsmith’s Black Confederate

As many of you know I am in the beginning stages of a book-length project on the subject of black Confederates.  While much of my blogging has centered on countering the nonsense coming out of certain camps concerning numbers and vague references to “loyalty” and “reconciliation” my real interest in this subject is firmly grounded in the war itself.  I am particularly interested in how the Confederate war effort shaped the master-slave relationship.  As I type this I am staring at rows upon rows of books that explore slave life and culture during the antebellum period.  I’ve learned a great deal from these books.  However, what I want to better understand is how the exigencies of war shaped the institution during its final few years, particularly in an environment away from what both parties had grown accustomed to.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time re-reading the John C. Winsmith letters, which I’ve finished transcribing and hope to publish at some point soon.  You can read about Winsmith in an earlier post, which includes one of the roughly 250 letters that he wrote over the course of the war.  Winsmith’s letters, which detail his relationship with his personal servant, Spencer, presents historians with a rich spectrum of experiences that deserve closer study.  One gets a sense of how close proximity between master and slave drew both closer.  At the same time the eventual outcome of this story raises profound questions about the extent to which the two truly understood one another.

At no point does Winsmith refer to Spencer as a soldier and at no point in this collection of letters does he refer to black Confederate soldiers.  Reading these letters one gets the sense that Winsmith would have been horrified to learn of black men serving as soldiers.  I’ve written quite a bit about these references, but I am curious as to what you see.

Sullivan’s Island, April 26, 1861

I have been doing very well in my quarters here in the Moultrie House, having a comfortable room [etc].  Spencer has proved himself an excellent cook and our mess cannot listen to the talk of his leaving: he was a little home-sick for the first few days, but is now anxious to remain; and believe he is making more money than any of us: he has become washer [?] and is adept at every sort of duty.  The time that I do not require his attention, I give him for himself.

April 29, 1861

Spencer has had a cold, but is now better.  He sends howdye to Peg and the other negroes.  He was very glad to get those nice things from home, and they were so much better than what we have been having. Continue reading