“Southern History is a Custody Battle Still in Litigation”

In March I will co-lead a group of students on a 7-day trip through the South to explore the history and memory of the Civil Rights Movement. It should come as no surprise that Montgomery, Alabama is on our itinerary. In preparation for the trip we are putting together a collection of documents that offer different perspectives on how these communities are coming to terms with their pasts. This New York Times piece about the placement of new historical markers throughout the city will be included in that list.

But Southern history is a custody battle still in litigation. The Alabama Historical Association, which has its name on many of the historical markers around the state, confirmed the accuracy of the research but declined to sponsor the markers, citing “the potential for controversy.” (The markers were eventually sponsored by the state-run Black Heritage Council.) Todd Strange, the mayor of Montgomery, while acknowledging in a newspaper article several years ago that the sign referring to slave markets made him uneasy, gave the project his backing after a meeting with Mr. Stevenson.

I love the fact that the mayor admitted to feeling “uneasy” but still provided the necessary support for the project to move forward. These projects should make us feel uncomfortable. If they didn’t there would be little reason to carry through with it at all.

Sounds like there is a pretty intense backstory to all of this.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

6 comments… add one
  • Patrick Young Dec 10, 2013 @ 4:52

    Always funny to think how non-controversial it is to mark where men killed to preserve white supremacy and how controversial it is to mark where men and women struggled non-violently to end it.

  • James F. Epperson Dec 10, 2013 @ 4:46

    When you cross from TN into AL on I-65, there is a rest stop/tourist info center. On the grounds of the center is a stone plaque that says something like, “Alabama—we defend our rights!”

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2013 @ 4:51

      Any idea when it was placed there?

      • Tom Ward Dec 10, 2013 @ 7:39

        That is the state motto; I believe it dates from before the Civil War

        • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2013 @ 8:39

          Thanks, Tom. Ashamed to admit that I did not know that.

          • James F. Epperson Dec 10, 2013 @ 9:36

            The rest stop would date from the completion of that stretch of I-65, which would be late 50s-early 60s, so the decision to put that plaque up could connect with resistance to integration. The motto dates to 1923, according to Google.

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