The following clip was pulled from a recent NEH panel on the legacy of emancipation. It included Ed Ayers, Gary Gallagher, Christy Coleman, Eric Foner, and Thavolia Glymph. I highly recommend viewing the entire session if you have the time, but for now check out this short clip from the Q&A. In it an African-American student asks if we should still associate racism with Confederate heritage. I am not surprised that Christy Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center, decided to respond and she does so in a very fair and balanced manner. Coleman’s response reflects both the difficulties of her position as a black woman running a Civil War museum in the former capital of the Confederacy and someone who has listened closely to visitors hailing from very different backgrounds. Yeah, count me as a fan of Christy Coleman.
I like the idea behind this short film. Young African-American woman gets an A on an essay she wrote about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry after having viewed the movie, Glory. Her adviser suggests that she visit the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, D.C. to talk with curator Hari Jones. The two walk through the exhibit to address some of the inaccuracies in the movie.
So why does this movie, and Hari Jones specifically, feel a need to lash out against Gary Gallagher? Gallagher offers extensive commentary of the movie’s historical basis in Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War. I suspect that Jones knows this, which makes his comment all the more bizarre. Jones strikes me as a knowledgeable and passionate historian. Perhaps this script was written by someone else. I fear that the result, including the embracing of the self-emancipation thesis without any reference to the Union army and other factors, is as much a distortion as Glory.
The other thing that struck me as awkward was the pointing out that you will not find any quotes from historians on the exhibit panels. According to Jones, if you weren’t there than your words will not appear. Fair enough, but it is worth pointing out that their exhibit is built on the backs of decades of careful research on the black experience during the war from professional historians, including Gary Gallagher.
Brooks’s question is a good one, but I think we can extend it south of the Mason-Dixon Line as well. Paul Quigley does a brilliant job in his new book of analyzing how white southerners negotiated their own deep ties to union during this period, including those who remained loyal and those who came to identify closely with the Confederacy.
My question is a slightly different one. Why do we find it so difficult to appreciate the concept of union for millions of Americans (north and south) in 1861? It’s also challenging to teach it and as I contemplate my own return to the classroom in a few weeks I look forward to the opportunity to take another crack at it. In the meantime here is a lecture by Gary Gallagher in which he explores some of these questions based on his latest book, The Union War.
To commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and Emancipation, the Gilder Lehrman Center’s 2012 David Brion Davis Lectures on the History of Slavery, Race, and Their Legacies features a roundtable discussion with five major historians and writers, moderated by GLC Director, David W. Blight. The group takes up questions of the changing character and controversies over the memory of the Civil War and Emancipation over the past 150 years, as well as dwell on the place of the conflict’s legacies in our own time, nationally and internationally.
Last night I heard some rumblings on Facebook and Harry Smeltzer’s blog that the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times includes an editorial on Civil War blogging by Gary Gallagher. With my curiosity piqued and the issue not yet in stores I decided to secure a copy of the editorial from the author himself. I should point out that Gary and I lived up the street from one another in Charlottesville and had plenty of time to talk about all things Civil War. He was always very honest about his view of the blogging world, as well as my interest in the black Confederate myth, and I was always straightforward about why I thought he was wrong. Nothing that I say here would make me feel uncomfortable sharing with Gary over a beer. As for the column itself, it may ruffle a few feathers, but it is relatively harmless.