Yesterday’s post about the unveiling of three plaques honoring Virginia’s post-Civil War black politicians has me thinking about my old buddy, William Mahone. While Mahone is best remembered as the “Hero of the Crater” his role in launching and leading the state’s most successful third-party political movement has largely been forgotten. In Virginia it was intentionally ignored because what came to be known as the Readjuster Party (1879-83) was bi-racial. The arc from Mahone’s role in preventing a Union breakthrough outside Petersburg that left scores of black Union soldiers massacred on the Crater battlefield to creating an opportunity for the largest number of black Virginians to vote, go to school and serve in positions of local and state government just a few short years later could not be more striking. Could anyone in 1865 anticipate that it would be a former Confederate general who would bring Reconstruction to Virginia?
Is it time to recognize William Mahone publicly in some shape or form? I say yes, if for no other reason than it would help to bring into sharper focus a piece of Virginia’s history that places yesterday’s dedication in its proper context. In other words, post-Civil War Virginia makes absolutely no sense without a reference to Mahone and the Readjuster Party. It matters, not simply because it’s part of Virginia’s history, but because it has something important to teach us as well. The period following the official years of Reconstruction (1865-1877) did not inevitably lead to Jim Crow. Interracial cooperation was not only possible in the South between 1877 and the turn of the twentieth century but a reality for a few short years in Virginia. Virginia’s Reconstruction was not forced on it by “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags” but by legitimate stakeholders, who believed that a brighter future could be forged for both races. Finally, there is something juicy about all of this being introduced by a former Confederate general. Continue reading
Update: Click here for additional information from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission’s website.
The plaques include the names names of 24 African-Americans who took part in Virginia’s constitutional convention of 1867-68 and the names of 14 black people who served terms in the state Senate between 1869 and 1890. Two additional plaques list the names of 85 African-Americans who served in the House of Delegates between 1869 and 1890. Just the kind of heritage you want to see commemorated in the Richmond area. Read the story here.
I was browsing some web pages and came across a very interesting link to a website that seems tailored (no pun intended) to Civil War reenactors/enthusiasts, with an interest in uniforms. This photograph of a young black man was taken in Richmond in April 1865. He is wearing what was called a sack coat. The description that accompanies the image offers a few interpretations.
Picture 10: A very distinct image taken in occupied Richmond, Virginia, April 1865, depicts a group of black freedman, some of them wearing Confederate uniforms. Those wearing the uniforms may have acquired them from government store houses at the fall of Richmond, or they may have been serving in Confederate Army in some capacity. It is possible that may have been in the Confederate “Black Brigade,” formed in the last months of the war, that consisted of two or three battalions of infantry. In any case, one of the freedmen wears a Confederate military sack coat and matching fabric pants. The coat has four brass military buttons, but no exterior breast pocket. It is similar to the Brooke coat in that the bottom edge extends almost down to the cuff. The stand collar has no contrasting facing. What is certain about this coat is that it represents the type used by the Army of Northern Virginia at the close of the war. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
I would love for this to be a photograph of a soldier. The few black recruits that marched through the streets of Richmond at the tail end of the war are an incredibly elusive bunch, which I suspect will remain so. More than likely the uniform was acquired following the evacuation of Richmond. I am no expert, but that uniform looks to be in pretty good condition.
Here is the second part of Patrick Young’s guest post on the Virginia Flaggers. Today Brooks Simpson explains Flagger founder Susan Hathaway’s silence. It’s a doozy.
4. Adding to the need for those who support the preservation of the chapel to reconsider the conflictive approach taken by the Virginia Flaggers is the inherent marginality of the site itself. It is a memorial. Essentially, nothing happened here.
People want to preserve battlefields because they are places where something happened. Ford’s Theater and the Lorraine Motel are filled with people pointing out where the assassins stood. People visit these places and imagine what they would have seen in 1863, or 1865 or 1968. They fire the historical imagination. What do people imagine when they go into the chapel? Men at prayer? Continue reading
Long-time commenter and blogger, Patrick Young, offers some thoughts about what he sees as the likely effects of the Virginia Flaggers’ actions on the preservation of the Confederate Memorial Chapel on the grounds of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Updated as of 4:39pm [see #2 and #3 below]
I like to visit the different Civil War blogs, but I often feel like a tourist. I live in a world where no one argues about the right to secede or whether slavery was not as bad as it is made out to be. I never meet people with views similar to those of the flaggers and white Protestants make up roughly 6% of the population of my region of 2.8 million people. When I read Civil War blogs, the frames of the discussions take some getting used to. As an ex-girlfriend observed last year “They are white people arguing with white people.” This discussion of the chapel and other discussions of the flaggers have that feel to me sometimes. Continue reading