Last Saturday Megan Kate Nelson, my wife and I went to see Suzan Lori Parks’s three-act play, “Father Comes Home From the Wars.” I don’t want to give too much away about the plot beyond the fact that the central character is a slave, who at the beginning of the first act struggles with whether he is going to go off to war with his master/Confederate colonel. Oh, and the slave, whose name is Hero, is also donning a Confederate uniform.
Following the show we enjoyed a talkback with members of the cast. Unfortunately, we missed another post-production discussion the following day with Parks, along with Henry Louis Gates and Eric Foner. The discussion kicked off with some thoughts about the current debate about black Confederates.
On one level the focus of the discussion was unfortunate. At no time is Hero’s struggle about whether he can support or serve the Confederacy and the decision has nothing to do with him serving as a soldier. Rather, it serves as the foundation for his relationship with his master, which evolves significantly during the show. It’s confusing, in part, because Hero wears a uniform, but we know of a number of slaves, including, most famously, Silas Chandler, who were outfitted in military dress. The opening act offers an opportunity to explore the complexity of the master-slave relationship and not that of the relationship between slaves and the Confederacy. Continue reading →
Just finished reading Jill Ogline Titus’s thoughtful essay on the Civil War sesquicentennial and its renewed focus on the themes of slavery and emancipation in the most recent issue of The Journal of the Civil War Era. Jill surveys how various institutions have interpreted these controversial themes through their exhibits, symposia, and websites. Continue reading →
Looks like the story of Andrew and Silas Chandler is now the subject of a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa, which appears in the collection, Lines in Long Array: A Civil War Commemoration: Poems and Photographs, Past and Present. There is something satisfying about the story of Silas making it into such a collection and some of the stanzas are quite beautiful, but it is unfortunate that Komunyakaa makes so many mistakes. More to the point we are presented with the story of Silas as the loyal slave whose world is defined by service to Andrew and the Confederate cause. Continue reading →