Martin Luther King’s Great Civil War Centennial Speech

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But 100 years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.

And so we’ve come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a cheque. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. . . .

Massachusetts Veterans Gather at Forbes House in 1924

One of the places that I still need to visit in my neighborhood is the Forbes House in Milton. In the 1920s the home was owned by Mary Bowditch Forbes, who amassed a sizable collection of Civil War and Lincoln related memorabilia. The family were strong Unionists during the 1860s and were responsible for the construction of a number of gunboats and the organization of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company A.

In 1924 Mary welcomed local G.A.R. members to the house to unveil an exact replica of Lincoln’s boyhood home. The film portion of the video begins at the 2:40 mark. It’s well worth your time. You will even notice an African-American G.A.R. member, which I know will warm the heart of Barbara Gannon. Enjoy.

Talking Lincoln in Civil War History

civil war historyToday I arrived home to find the new issue of Civil War History (September 2013). This most recent issue includes a roundtable discussion that I participated in about Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. Participants included Catherine Clinton, Allen Guelzo John Neff, Megan Kate Nelson, and Matthew Pinsker. We discussed a range of issues from how well the movie stacks up to recent scholarship to how it might be used in the classroom. Thanks to book-review editor, Brian Craig Miller for inviting me to participate. This is my first time appearing in the pages of CWH apart from a couple of book reviews I wrote a few years ago. It’s a huge honor for me to be included among such a stellar group of scholars.

The last roundtable was eventually made available for free online and I suspect this one will eventually be be posted as well. Of course, I will pass it along at that point.

Postscript: Welcome historian Timothy Orr to the blogosphere. Tim is a dynamite historian, who teaches at Old Dominion University. You can find his blog at Tales From the Army of the Potomac.

Libertarians and the Confederacy

We are all familiar with the libertarian perspective on the Civil War that views Lincoln as a tyrant and the Confederacy as the last bastion of limited government. It’s a strange cast of characters, including Thomas DiLorenzo and Walter Williams, both of who go out of their way to paint the Confederacy in the best light by minimizing the importance of slavery to secession and overlooking its own march toward a centralized state. Their limited understanding of historical scholarship comes through loud and clear in their books and/or Op-eds. In recent years there seems to be a realignment among those on the right regarding Lincoln and the war from folks like Glenn Beck to National Review editor, Rich Lowry, who recently published a new book on Lincoln

In this video Jason Kuznicki of the Cato Institute asks his fellow libertarians to reconsider their support of the Confederacy. Let’s ignore for a moment just how bizarre it is to be even talking about supporting the Confederacy 150 years later. I am less concerned with sound historical interpretation than I am with the fact that the Cato Institute believes there is a need for such a video. What do you make of it?

“True Slavery Was Never Practiced in the South”

EverythingYouWereTaught-COVER-2012You can’t make this stuff up. I’ve written about Sea Raven Press in the past, specifically in reference to their book on Nathan Bedford Forrest for teens. This particular title, Everthing You Were Taught About the Civil War is Wrong, Ask a Southerner, seems to be the most popular given the number of times I’ve seen it referenced on certain websites. Here is a list of a few of the corrections to what you learned. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites. I particularly like the claim that Abraham Lincoln both wanted to isolate blacks in their own state and transport them back to Africa. Apparently, these were not mutually exclusive options. 

• American slavery got its start in the North
the American abolition movement began in the South
• most Southern generals did not own slaves, and many, like Robert E. Lee, were abolitionists
• many Northern generals, like U.S. Grant, owned slaves and said they would not fight for abolition
• according to the 1860 Census a mere 4.8 percent of Southerners owned slaves, 95.2 percent did not Continue reading ““True Slavery Was Never Practiced in the South””