Few Thoughts About Confederate Iconography at #AASLH2015

Yesterday’s session on the role of public historians in the ongoing debate surrounding Confederate iconography at #aaslh2015 went extremely well. We had a full house and the comments were incredibly thoughtful. I love that the participants didn’t wait for the allotted time at the end of the session. They jumped right in, which suggests that public historians have a great deal on their minds and want to be engaged.

The question of how to proceed, however, is less than certain. I sensed a fairly sharp split among the audience and even the panelists. On the one hand there is the push for context and interpretation along the narrow lines of some form of wayside exhibit. This can take many forms, but the basic assumption at work here is that historical context has the potential to defuse the strong emotions on both sides by neutralizing the site. In providing historical context we acknowledge that what may have at one point represented a community no longer does so without removing it and offending those who still find meaning in its presence. Continue reading “Few Thoughts About Confederate Iconography at #AASLH2015”

The Washington Post “Airbrushes” Debate About Confederate Iconography

The editorial team at The Washington Post has decided to jump into the debate surrounding Confederate iconography. Unfortunately, they provide little more than the standard platitudes and offer nothing for communities that are in the midst of what is a highly emotional and divisive discussion.

At the center of the argument is the assumption that the changing of a name or removal of a monument represents the “airbrushing” of history. The term is never defined, but the author appears to believe that any alteration to a community’s commemorative landscape involves a conscious effort to look away or ignore history.  Continue reading “The Washington Post “Airbrushes” Debate About Confederate Iconography”

Evaluating the Civil War Sesquicentennial

Some of you who are interested in the question of how to evaluate the Civil War sesquicentennial may find the following panel discussion worth your time. The panel is from a conference that took place in Virginia over the summer and was filmed by C-SPAN. You will see some familiar faces. It should come as no surprise that the events in Charleston and the subsequent debate about the Confederate flag occupied a good deal of attention and it was interesting to hear how different people are thinking through some of these difficult issues.

My only concern is that at one point mid-way through the discussion, the topic of the vandalism of Civil War monuments appeared to be framed in terms of how whites and blacks think about and remember the Confederacy. The implicit assumption at work seems to be that African Americans are responsible for the defacing of Civil War monuments. I have yet to see any evidence suggesting that African Americans are more likely than whites to vandalize Confederate monuments.

Yes, a number of Confederate monuments have been spray-painted with “Black Lives Matter,” but regardless of what you think about the organization, it could just as likely have been carried out by a white individual. It’s time we move beyond this tired trope.

Why I Will Not Sign the Civil War Trust’s Petition

The Civil War Trust is asking members and others to sign a “Citizens’ Petition in Support of War Memorial Preservation,” which will eventually be sent to Congressional leaders. I will not be signing it. It is certainly not because I don’t support the spirit of the petition. Let me explain.

The petition asks the public to reduce all American wars and all soldiers as worthy of continued honor. All soldiers, including Confederates , according to CWT ought to be remembered as “young soldiers who defended freedom.” How we remember the freedoms that Confederates fought so hard to achieve is exactly what is currently being debated. It is a legitimate debate/discussion that relates directly to the meaning attached to many Civil War monuments from Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis to the standard soldier monument on the courthouse lawn. Continue reading “Why I Will Not Sign the Civil War Trust’s Petition”

Of Confederate Flags and Monuments

With the official end of summer upon us I decided to go back and list in chronological order all of the posts I have written about the ongoing debate about Confederate iconography going back to June.  I’ve been reviewing much of what I have written in preparation for a panel discussion that I will join in just a couple of weeks at the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History in Louisville. Participants include Bob Beatty, Dina Bailey, Steve Murray, W. Todd Groce and Eric Emerson. It promises to be an engaging discussion.

The other reason for going back is to try to make sense of what I’ve said and to see what threads, if any, can be discerned throughout. This brings me to an important point about blogging. Individual posts are very much time sensitive. They are opportunities to try out ideas and to see where things go. I’ve been pushed in different directions over the summer in response to various developments, many of which took me by surprise. In other words, you should expect that my thinking is going to evolve over time. Blogging is much more jazz improvisation than a carefully composed concerto. Continue reading “Of Confederate Flags and Monuments”