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. . . .
Today my wife and I spent the day on Georges Island in Boston harbor. I gave a brief presentation for the National Park Service on Boston’s Civil War memory, which went really well. Afterwards, we spent some time walking through Fort Warren.
A number of prominent Confederate officials, including James Mason, John Slidell and Alexander Stephens were held as prisoners for various periods of time. In addition, Richard Ewell, Isaac Trimble, Simon Bolivar Buckner and a small number of Confederate soldiers were also held as prisoners during the war.
I knew all of this, but what truly surprised was this monument to those Confederates who died as prisoners, which was dedicated by the Boston chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1963. Yeah, that’s right, there was a UDC chapter in Boston. Continue reading →
This is a fabulous film from 1963 of the U.S. Army Band and Chorus commemorating the Civil War Centennial. The narrator makes it clear at the beginning that the “Union found itself split in two over the issue of states rights.” There is not one mention of slavery or black Union soldiers exactly one hundred years later. Songs include “Down By The Riverside”, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”, “We are Coming Father Abra’am”, “Lorena”, “Tenting On The Old Camp Ground”, “The Battle” (new music & spoken word piece), “In the Sweet By-and-By / The Army Bean”, “Yellow Rose of Texas”, “Bonnie Blue Flag”,”Home! Sweet Home!”, “Dixie” & “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
Those of you in the Richmond area should make it a point to check out Ray Carver’s one-man show, “Gettysburg 1963″ which will premier at the Gayton Kirk Presbyterian Church on Saturday February 23. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the show, but the organizer didn’t realize that I no longer live in Virginia. It’s times like these that I really miss the Old Dominion. There is just so much going on in the Richmond area alone.
If your interest in the Civil War has its roots in the early 1960s than chances are that it was American Heritage’s Picture History of the Civil War that sparked your imagination. It’s not just the frequency with which it comes up in conversation, but the way in which it is remembered. I’ve heard a number of historians reflect on the book’s influence on them at an early age. Whether it was the photographs, illustrations or the battle maps, the book clearly made an impact. [My own interest in WWII was sparked by reading the Time-Life Series when I was in grade school.] It serves as a reminder that a healthy and lasting passion for history begins with a youth’s imagination.
It’s worth asking whether there is anything equivalent to the American Heritage book that will stir the imagination of a new generation of Civil War enthusiasts. Kids today have more resources at their disposal than any previous generation – much of it in digital format. While I am a huge fan of the digital turn I do wonder whether these products will have the same impact. Than again, these may simply be the words of an old fogey, who can still remember a time before the digital age. I look forward to the day when we will learn, for example, that the technology contained in the Civil War Trusts Battlefield Apps has made its mark.