Robert Khayat on Banning the Confederate Flag at Ole Miss

olemissThis is a very interesting interview with former Ole Miss chancellor Robert Khayat on the decision to ban the Confederate flag at Ole Miss.

The perception created by the Confederate flag was causing people to look on us in a negative way and remember us from 1962 (when James Meredith integrated Ole Miss and riots broke out on campus). It was being used by our opponents — not only in athletics, but in the general recruitment of students, as a negative to say that Ole Miss was still in the past. . . .

Most people want progress, but most people don’t like change. And that just became so apparent. The idea of changing something was traumatic for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. Some of it just had to do with good memories, of days when we were students and had winning football teams. But some of it had to do with hate and this feeling that existed between black and white people. Continue reading “Robert Khayat on Banning the Confederate Flag at Ole Miss”

History of the Slave South With Stephanie McCurry

I certainly understand the concerns expressed by many regarding the impact of MOOCs on higher education. At the same time, for those people who are interested in furthering their understanding of American history, it is impossible for me not to see the value of spending some time online with a scholar of Stephanie McCurry’s caliber. The course begins in January 2014.

The issue seems to be how MOOCs are utilized and assessed within a college curriculum rather than the educational value of the course itself.

Silas Chandler Redux

Silas Chandler
Descendants of Silas Chandler Reading About Their Famous Ancestor

You didn’t really think that I would allow the publication of a column on Silas Chandler in The New York Times to pass without comment, did ya? Thanks to Ronald Coddington for bringing the story of Silas (r) and Andrew (l) to the Disunion blog. [Ron and I shared a stage last year at the Virginia Festival of the Book to discuss our research.] As many of you know it is the story of Silas and Andrew that launched me down the road of taking the myth of the black Confederate soldier seriously. My relationship with Myra Chandler Sampson and our subsequent essay published in Civil War Times about her famous ancestor reinforced for me on so many levels why it is important that we correct these stories of loyal and obedient slaves that continue serve the interests of a select few. Continue reading “Silas Chandler Redux”

Slavery Was Money

OK, so I decided to take the plunge and read the first chapter of Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. It’s incredibly dense and I will likely have to read it again to more fully grasp the argument. What I do understand is quite fascinating. In the process of showing how future slaveholders gradually supplanted Jefferson’s idea of a west that would guarantee a republican vision of small and independent landowners, Johnson emphasizes the connectedness of the new slave economy to international market forces. For Johnson, slavery must be understood as helping to forge a vibrant capitalist economy.

What held these regional, national, and international economies together over space and time and across time was money. The abstract scale of dollar values allowed business to take place in a space not strictly delimited by the physical properties of the thing being traded. The value of a barrel of salt pork, which would go bad if it sat on the levee waiting for the crop to come in, could be noted and paid off in sugar when it finally did; the value of a young woman in Virginia in May might be compared to that of an old man in Louisiana in September, although their bodies were distant in time and space, and distinct in physical proportion and capacity; the value of either might be compared to a bale of cotton in Liverpool in January, a barrel of sugar in New York in June, or a plot of land that was for sale down the road two days hence. Yet money sometimes moved while things stood still: the ownership of a bale of cotton in a warehouse in New Orleans or a descendant’s claim to a particular slave in a share of an estate on the Red River, for example, might be transferred several times, although the actual bale of cotton or the actual slave was never carried away. Nothing in this economy moved without money. The real problem, it sometimes turned out, was moving the money. (pp. 42-43)

There is quite a bit to unpack in this short passage and the rest of the chapter, which I am not going to do. I suspect that Johnson is not the first historian to emphasize the international economic context in which American slavery existed and thrived. The passage beautifully captures the interconnectedness of it all over time and space. It also leaves you appreciating the extent to which the value of even the most mundane material items was somehow connected to the value of cotton and slaves. More importantly, Johnson is forcing me to reconsider my tendency to think of slavery as somehow backwards or pre-modern. Far from it. Johnson paints a picture of slaveholders engaged in creative speculation in numerous domestic and overseas markets. Yep, sounds pretty modern to me.

Perhaps in a nation that fully embraces capitalism as a moral system we resist the idea that it was responsible for generating an exorbitant amount of wealth and suffering. In other words, there was nothing incompatible between capitalism and slavery.

Honoring Black Virginians Who Served During Reconstruction

Black Virginians Honored in Richmond

Update: Click here for additional information from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission’s website.

The plaques include the names names of 24 African-Americans who took part in Virginia’s constitutional convention of 1867-68 and the names of 14 black people who served terms in the state Senate between 1869 and 1890. Two additional plaques list the names of 85 African-Americans who served in the House of Delegates between 1869 and 1890. Just the kind of heritage you want to see commemorated in the Richmond area. Read the story here.