The Civil War Centennial: A Personal Reflection

A reader left this incredibly thoughtful comment in response to my last post on our changing attitudes on the Civil War and Civil War remembrance.

Until five years ago I didn’t know that I had a Civil War ancestor. Most of what I know about that ancestor I learned on my own by way of the internet. I spent the first five decades of my life blissfully ignorant of the myriad ways in which that conflict shaped my life. I don’t remember anything about the Centennial celebration. I lived on the west coast from 1961 until 1965 and beyond in a state that didn’t become a state until fifteen years after the war had ended. The Civil War was simply not relevant to me. Then in 1970 I moved to Houston before my senior year in high school.

I was born in Lawrence, Kansas, and started school in Topeka, five years after the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Topeka, Board of Education. There weren’t any black kids in the schools I attended. The only black kid I ever met in Topeka was named George. His father worked with my dad at the V.A. hospital. We lived in a barracks called Sunnyside on the hospital grounds. My first memory of Halloween was trick or treating with George in the barracks. We both dressed as pirates. Continue reading “The Civil War Centennial: A Personal Reflection”

A Centennial Celebration Gone Very Wrong

GRAPHIC CONTENT: BLOOD & VIOLENCE

The Slasher Sequence Part XXXVI: The second part of HG Lewis’ Blood Trilogy involves Confederate ghosts who set out to capture and a slay a group of Northern tourists. The Yankees are sacrificed one after another as festivities for a centennial celebration. When the survivors alert local authorities, nothing is found where the Southern town once stood. The death scenes are pure, bloody, over the top entertainment. One man is tied to four horses and torn apart while another is shoved in a barrel implanted with nails and sent careening down the hillside. In this excerpt, one of the townsfolk gleefully lays down some gory, good old fashioned axe hacking action.

Here is a link for additional information on Herschell Gordon Lewis and this particular film.  Please pass on a link if you happen to find a longer version of this movie.  I must see it.

Civil War Trading Cards

For some of my older readers this post may bring back some fond memories of childhood and the Civil War Centennial.  Below is a small selection of Civil War cards that was released in 1962 by Topps.  Two additional collections of Civil War cards were also released which you can read about here.  Of course, I remember collecting baseball cards, but I am pretty sure that this series had been retired long before I took the weekly allowance down to the local candy store.  What I find so striking is the scale of violence depicted on some of these cards.  I have no doubt that they are responsible for fueling many a young boy’s imagination.  Click here for a much larger collection of cards as well as a price list.  Enjoy!

Lincoln in the Soviet Union

The other day my students brought in newspaper articles about the Civil War that were published in the New York Times between 1961 and 1965.  They were allowed to search any topic and then had to write up a brief analysis of what they discovered.  I asked them to staple the articles to their analysis so I could spend some time with their sources.  In our discussion about Lincoln this interesting little article came up which reports on a Moscow radio broadcast that references the president. The article was published on February 14, 1961:

Tribute Paid to Lincoln in Moscow Broadcast

Abraham Lincoln, the Moscow radio said today, is a name “dear to the heart of the Soviet people.”  A broadcast beamed at North America and heard here declared that the Soviet people “can sympathize with and understand Lincoln’s democratic views and his sincere and deep sympathy for the working people.”  “Today, when the peoples of all countries see as the main task the struggle to preserve peace,” the broadcast went on, “we return to the words of Lincoln.  Let us strive to do all that will achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”  “We honor the great President and United States citizen because he represented the revolutionary and democratic traditions of the American people, traditions which found expression during difficult years of the struggle against fascism.”

What followed was a nice discussion about why our supposed ideological enemy, during the Cold War, would honor one of our presidents.  One student suggested it was a clever piece of propaganda designed to undercut the American peoples’ self confidence.  In other words, if the Soviet people revere one of our own than than Americans may doubt that there is such a wide gulf between the two nations.  Another student argued that it was an attempt on the part of the Soviet Union to reach out in hopes of cooling tensions during the height of the Cold War.  Finally, another student hesitantly made the point that perhaps the Soviets really do revere Lincoln.  What followed was some very awkward silence, but I decided to ride it out in hopes that the conversation would continue.  The problem, it turned out, was that some of the students had difficulty considering such a possibility.  Even though they were born after the end of the Cold War they’ve been trained to remember this period by those who did experience it for different lengths of time.  We talked a bit about the connection between the plight of the slaves and how the working class fits into communist ideology.  I also reminded them that a large contingent of African Americans traveled and even settled in the Soviet Union as an alternative to the experience of living in a Jim Crow society.  It seems safe to suggest that hey would have brought strong views of Lincoln with them, but I am going to have to go back and check out Glenda Gilmore’s recent study to see if she has anything to say.

One of the more interesting points of discussion that came up was why Americans have such difficulty acknowledging that other nations are interested in our Civil War.  It’s true.  We see nothing unusual about history courses devoted to the study of another country, but we rarely imagine students in other countries studying our own history.  For those of you in the classroom who are interested in exploring this theme I highly recommend Dana Lindman and Kyle Ward’s History Lessons: How Textbooks From Around the World Portray U.S. History (The New Press, 2004).  The book is broken down by events and each section includes short excerpts from various history textbooks from around the world.  They make for some wonderful classroom discussions as students try to understand the reasons behind the various interpretations.