As much as I Iove living in Boston I’ve missed the opportunity to take part in sesquicentennial events here in Virginia over the past few years. Spending the week here in Petersburg for the 150th anniversary of the Crater has been especially gratifying. It was so nice having the opportunity to spend time with friends and interact with fellow Civil War enthusiasts on the battlefield and other programs.
My talk last night at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church could not have gone any better. A sizable crowd showed up in pretty bad weather and overwhelmingly the reception to my talk on race, memory and the Crater was positive. By far the best part was the Q&A, which included a comment by Reverend Powell of Gillfield Baptist Church that left me and the rest of the audience speechless. Thanks to Chris Bryce for ending the program with his words. I couldn’t be happier that C-SPAN was there to film it. It should be aired in the next two weeks.
One local gentleman attended who was very upset that I had been asked to speak as part of the commemoration. In fact, he felt so strongly about it that he wrote a mean-spirited letter to Park Service officials calling me a “South hater” and “race baiter.” He apparently couldn’t bring himself to admit it to me following my talk, but I later learned from the NPS that although he still doesn’t like me, I gave him a good deal to think about. Overall, he admitted, I did a good job.
I’ve never been interested in convincing people to adopt my ideas. I much prefer thoughtful disagreement. My hope is that I can move an audience to consider something that they had not thought about before. That I was able to achieve that goal with this particular individual is a pleasant surprise and serves as a reminder of why I love to engage others about these topics.
Thanks to everyone at the Petersburg National Battlefield for a great week and for inviting me to be a part of it.
It was a pleasure to meet you this past week at the Crater commemoration Wednesday morning and again at your talk on Friday night. You did an excellent job condensing your work on the Crater and its historical portrayal into a clear presentation. The questions were good; like you I was expecting a hostile question or two but only the first raised resentment at your treatment of historical memory. There was a lot of interest in the post-war career of William Mahone whom you also find fascinating; if you don’t take one a new biography (despite his chicken scratch handwriting–I had the same problem with Thurlow Weed and William Henry Seward), who will? He is worth the attempt and you have a running head start! John Kirn
Same here, John. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in Mahone. You are not the first to suggest taking on a Mahone project, but like I said, it would be a massive undertaking and now I am that much further away from the archives at Duke. All the best.
So what was the comment by Reverend Powell of Gillfield Baptist Church?
You are going to have to wait for the C-SPAN broadcast which will air the week of August 18. I don’t want to butcher his words. Thanks.
Obviously it’s far easier to read what others say about you than to actually take the time and effort to read your book. 😉
Kevin – It was truly a pleasure meeting you last night after all these years online. Your presentation was first-rate and as you mention, the final comment by Rev. Powell was a fitting conclusion that, hopefully, gave the audience much to consider. I took last night’s “handout” and placed it into my copy of your book as a humorous reminder of your so-called “hate” and “race-baiting.” 😉 Keep up the good work!
Thanks so much for making my talk. It was really nice finally having a chance to chat in person. Best of luck with your research.