I just finished watching David Blight’s Fortenbaugh Lecture at Gettysburg College, which took place back in November. His lecture, “Ambivalent about Tragedy: Bruce Catton’s Civil War and Ours” is well worth watching. His thoughts on historical writing and tragedy are particularly interesting. As usual I could have listened to him for another 75 minutes. Definitely check it out when you have the chance.
In March I will co-lead a group of students on a 7-day trip through the South to explore the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement. It should come as no surprise that Montgomery, Alabama is on our itinerary. In preparation for the trip we are putting together a collection of documents that offer different perspectives on how these communities are coming to terms with their pasts. This New York Times piece about the placement of new historical markers throughout the city will be included in that list.
But Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation. The Alabama Historical Association, which has its name on many of the historical markers around the state, confirmed the accuracy of the research but declined to sponsor the markers, citing “the potential for controversy.” (The markers were eventually sponsored by the state-run Black Heritage Council.) Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, while acknowledging in a newspaper article several years ago that the sign referring to slave markets made him uneasy, gave the project his backing after a meeting with Mr. Stevenson.
I love the fact that the mayor admitted to feeling “uneasy” but still provided the necessary support for the project to move forward. These projects should make us feel uncomfortable. If they didn’t there would be little reason to carry through with it at all.
Sounds like there is a pretty intense backstory to all of this.
On this day in 1963 Medgar Evers was assassinated. His murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, is shown here in front of his Mississippi home in 1990. Click here for some incredible photographs of Medgar Evers on the civil rights trail and following his death.
As for this photograph, it should give you some idea as to why reasonable Americans (both black and white) have little patience for the public display of the Confederate flag. Petty chants and bumper stickers announcing “Heritage, Not Hate” do nothing to erase the history of this banner.
This photograph was taken in Brooksville, Florida in 1989. The caption reads: “Their backs turned to the Confederate memorial, more than 500 people rally in Brooksville before stepping off for a parade on Martin Luther King Day.” The inscription on the back of the monument reads:
This monument perpetuates the memory of our fallen heroes–We care not whence they came; wether unknown or known to fame; their cause and country still the same; they died and were the gray–leaving to posterity, a glorious heritage–an imperishable record of dauntless valor.
Although not directly related to the Civil War, it is safe to say that the war looms large in this documentary. “A Sleight of History” examines the significance of Foster Auditorium, the site of George Wallace’s infamous 1963 “stand in the schoolhouse door.” The film explores the issue of historical memory in the American South and questions how we memorialize aspects of our past. Marshall Houston and Sarah Melton produced “A Sleight of History” in Spring 2009 as part of the Documenting Justice program at The University of Alabama. Click here for Sarah Melton’s article accompanying the documentary at Southern Spaces.