A Presidential Inauguration for the Civil War Sesquicentennial

The Presidential Inauguration exercises have been filled with references to the Civil War era, including President Lincoln, Union, the 150th anniversary of emancipation and the unfinished capitol dome.  I just saw Frederick Douglass and reenactors from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry march by the president’s reviewing stand.  We even heard a reference to Stonewall, though I don’t think it was in recognition of Lee-Jackson Day.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to make these references and remind the country that our history does include significant progress.

On a slightly different note, here is an interesting and even entertaining video of V. Bozeman singing Lynyrd Synyrd’s “Freebird” in a Confederate flag dress.  Here is what she had to say about the choice of song and dress:

I fell in love with the lyrics and thought it would be a great song to cover. When I discovered the band’s previous connection with the confederate flag, I was even more compelled to re-record this song and give new life to it.  Music is so powerful, it’s important for artists such as myself to use our platform to make a positive impact on the world. When I first heard the lyrics in this song, I could relate to its overall message, as I too have the desire to be a “Free Bird.”  The beautiful and most riveting thing about Art is that it speaks to the individual and everyone gets something different from it.

To me, the overall message in “Free Bird” is LOVE!  Something the world needs more of!  Something we ourselves need more of!  LOVE is accepting and understanding…  It’s healing; amongst many other powerful things…essentially, it’s FREEDOM!  Through my expression of “Free Bird,” I wanted to send a visual message to break the chains of negative stereotypes, racism, poverty, war, sexism, self hatred, etc. that hold us back as a people, as a nation.  I decided to release this visual during President Barack Obama’s inauguration because the significance of this historic moment aligns with the overall theme of the song. As an artist I’ve always had a perspective and a voice and its important to me that I always be authentic to not only my fans, but myself in my expression.

Christian McWhirter on Taking Lincoln and Django Seriously

django-unchained-poster-e1357542813658.jpegI’ve been thinking about the gulf between the public’s response to Spielberg’s Lincoln and Tarrantino’s Django Unchained and the overall commentary coming from professional historians and other public intellectuals.  I’ve commented on this before, but this morning I was pleased to read Christian McWhirter’s review of both movies in The Civil War Monitor.  Actually, it’s not really a review as much as it is a commentary on the value of the movies, which he believes has been overlooked by the academic community.  I couldn’t agree more.  Here are a few passages from McWhirter’s review that stood out for me.

Dismissing Lincoln is to effectively dismiss its vast audience, much of which is surely hungry for precisely the sort of information and interpretation we can provide.

I saw both films in packed theaters and the response to each was overwhelmingly loud and positive. This sort of reaction demonstrates that audience members were emotionally, and I suspect also intellectually, engaged. We cannot dismiss these movies because they do not adhere to the same rigorous standards we apply to historical monographs and documentaries. Instead of fearing the massive reach of bad films, we need to appreciate the potential for good films to help us educate the public and overturn resilient historical myths. Lincoln and Django Unchained will do more to change popular perceptions of American history than they will misinform or confuse. So, relax, enjoy, and ride this train as far as it will take us.

It’s safe to say that these movies will do more to influence popular perceptions of the Civil War and slavery than all the books published in the past twenty years combined.  Unlike others, I fully embrace this fact.  Much of the commentary about these films does little more than highlight individual historians’ current research projects and tells us very little about the films themselves.  It’s not that I have a problem with pointing out shortcomings in historical content, but that they fail to acknowledge why these films are so popular with so many people from a broad range of backgrounds.  Christian hits the nail on the head when he references the emotional and intellectual engagement of their audiences.  We haven’t seriously explored this as of yet.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out how I am going to use these movies in the classroom – assuming that I can use Django at all.  Beyond the classroom I do hope that public historians are also thinking about how they can take advantage of this wave of enthusiasm.  It’s a unique opportunity that could not have come at a better time.  We are smack in the middle of the sesquicentennial having just commemorated the 150th anniversary of emancipation.  The issues and subject matter raised by these two films are incredibly controversial and fraught will all kinds of landmines.  Just getting people to think about them is a challenge and, yet, that is exactly what millions of Americans are doing.  What more could we ask for?

All of us in the historical community should give Spielberg and Tarrantino a big Thank You.

As President Abraham Lincoln Explained…

secession

Jon Carson does a wonderful job of responding to the recent flurry of White House Petitions requesting that individual states be given the right to secede from the Union.

Thank you for using the White House’s online petitions platform to participate in your government.

That sentence alone defuses any credibility that these silly petitions might enjoy.  There is just a little irony in Americans utilizing their Constitutional rights through a website that encourages participatory democracy and that is maintained by taxpayer dollars.

But just in case you slept through your American history and civics classes Carson follows up with a reminder that the sacrifice paid by Americans during the Civil War and beyond guarantees your right to petition your government.

Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States “in order to form a more perfect union” through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government. They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it. As President Abraham Lincoln explained in his first inaugural address in 1861, “in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual.” In the years that followed, more than 600,000 Americans died in a long and bloody civil war that vindicated the principle that the Constitution establishes a permanent union between the States. And shortly after the Civil War ended, the Supreme Court confirmed that “[t]he Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.”

It’s almost as good as the White House response to the Death Star petition.

USPS Commemorates Emancipation Proclamation 150

Unfortunately, this may be the closest we get to any formal acknowledgement of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation by the federal government.  I love the broadside/poster theme and the use of one of the oldest letterpress print shops in the country to create the image.  In addition to the stamp, you can also purchase a limited number of signed copies of the poster.  Planning on picking up a sheet today.

Update: Thanks to the Virginia Civil War 150 Commission for reminding me that the White House released a Presidential Proclamation acknowledging the EP 150.

emancipation stamp

Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, 2012

From the video description:

For thirty two days, voices of veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars animated a bronze commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln that has stood silently in Union Square Park since 1870.

The memories and feelings of ordinary Americans spoke through Lincoln as part of an outdoor public art installation by Krzysztof Wodiczko, an artist renowned for his large-scale light projections on architectural facades and monuments. Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection marked a return of sorts to Manhattan for the artist, whose last monumental work here was the influential and still often cited Homeless Project (1988).

“As our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, this commemorative statue, commissioned just a few years after the Civil War, again becomes a place for dialogue about war,” says Micaela Martegani, founding director of More Art. More Art, an eight-year-old organization devoted to bringing new and innovative works of art into public spaces in New York City, is the organizer of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection.

In collaboration with many New York City veterans organizations, Wodiczko has engaged with dozens of veterans and their family members over the course of several months. He filmed fourteen of the veterans and their family members for the installation of Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection, recording conversations about their war experiences and the toll of duty on their family life. It was these points of views, presented in each person’s own words, voice, and gestures, that were projected via sound and light onto the figure of Lincoln.

In 1988 Wodiczko used the monument at Bunker Hill in Boston to share the stories from local mothers who lost sons to street violence.