One of the most common tropes embraced in reference to the post- Civil War period is the idea of a ‘white Northern retreat from Reconstruction.’ For many, the shift occurred during the mid to late 1870s for a number of reasons, including the threat of labor strikes, the fulfillment of Manifest Destiny or the realization that the South’s racial problems could only be solved locally. Reconstruction’s abandonment followed significant gains on the civil rights front from the passage of three constitutional amendments to military intervention that led to black political action. The white North’s abandonment of Reconstruction points inextricably to missed opportunities and our own inability to deal honestly with deep racial problems. Continue reading →
Yesterday while reading about the history of the Confederate monument vandalized for a second time in Charlotte, North Carolina I came across the United Confederate Veterans official program for its dedication. The event took place on June 5, 1929. The program is filled with what you might expect. There is a schedule of events, articles about Stonewall Jackson and other prominent Confederate, images of local and national U.C.V. members as well as words of support from various ladies auxiliary groups. Advertisements for Davidson College, Merrick’s Chocolate and Plexico can also be found. None of this surprised me.
What did surprise me, however, is a full-page feature on “Negro Schools” and “Negro Education in the South.” Why would this be in a U.C.V. program? Continue reading →
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 →