In a little over three weeks I will be heading out with roughly 35 students on a civil rights tour of the South. Our trip will take us from Atlanta, Georgia to Memphis, Tennessee. Along the way we will stop at some of the most important sites related to the civil rights struggle and talk with various participants, including a Freedom Rider who was on the bus that was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama. My primary responsibility along the way will be to help students make connections with the Civil War and Reconstruction era through the interpretation of various public sites including monuments and buildings. It promises to be an enlightening and enjoyable trip for all involved and yet I have some concerns. Continue reading
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.
The other day I briefly noted my surprise by how little the war was being discussed in a conference devoted to Massachusetts and the Civil War. What I am struck by now looking back on the three days of talks at the MHS is the overwhelming emphasis on Boston’s abolitionist community. That should not come as a surprise given the location of the conference and the place of the abolitionists in local memory. I learned quite a bit about them and I accumulated a nice list of books and article from the papers, which were wisely precirculated.
By the end of the conference the abolitionists’ agenda had emerged as the dominant narrative of the Civil War. In fact, if this conference can be defined as reflecting a Civil War memory it would have to be that of the abolitionists themselves and their agenda beginning in the antebellum period through the war and into the era of Reconstruction. It was so palpable that even our understanding of the war’s meaning and the success or failure of Reconstruction had little chance of being critically examined without Garrison, Douglass, and the rest of the gang looking over our shoulders. There was little consideration of the importance of Union, as recently analyzed by Gary Gallagher in his new book, The Union War>, nor was there much of an attempt to distinguish between the goal of ending slavery and the question of civil rights. The war had been reduced to an agenda with racial equality as its ultimate goal. In short, it was all or nothing. Continue reading
I moved to Boston in July 2011 and I’ve loved every minute of it. It’s a beautiful city and for a history buff it really does feel like I am a kid in a candy store. That said, I’ve lived two lives since arriving here and I am now wondering if it is time to give in and embrace this thing called the American Revolution. Over the past year I’ve halfheartedly explored a few potential Civil War research projects that are centered here in Boston. They include a regimental history of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and a Civil War biography of Governor John Andrew. Both are projects that would, no doubt, be interesting to explore and I have no doubt they would be embraced by both scholarly and popular audiences.
The problem is that beyond a few trips to the archives I can’t seem to maintain my excitement level. I walk to the archives or wander through the city and I am distracted by a very different history. Downtown Boston is defined by the sights/sites and sounds of the American Revolution. There is no escaping this and since I have always viewed history as a way to connect to my surroundings I want to know more. This includes not only the physical landscape, but the community of people who are involved in its interpretation and maintenance. Continue reading