In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning

As a scholar engaged in a study of the Civil War Era in the United States, It’s been my job lately to think about the way we remember and interpret this period. And the more I think about it, the more I believe we’ve been doing it wrong. Our national obsession with primarily Eastern, predominately politico-military events from April, 1861 to June, 1865, creates a refuge for bad history–teleology, really–that has had nothing short of a disastrous effect on the way we reckon with things like class, race, and freedom.  Continue reading “In the Shadow of the Civil War’s Beginning”

I Will Not Argue About the Confederate Flag.

The murder of nine Americans by a terrorist in Charleston Wednesday night, besides being a monumental tragedy, also gave us the absurd spectacle of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (a woman of color) telling us “that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another” as pictures emerged of the killer wearing flags of apartheid regimes on his jacket, sitting on his car with a Confederate States faux license plate, all in a state where the only flag not lowered to half-mast was the Confederate Battle Flag that sits astride the front approach to South Carolina’s capitol. The mental gymnastics it took for Haley to blithely claim we’ll never know the motives of a killer who actually told victims what his motives were as well as literally wearing those motives on his sleeve defy imagination. She has since added more nuance to her public statements on the tragedy (for which the bar was set remarkably low), but still ignores one area in which much of the state–and nation–has focused on: the continuing official presence of the Confederate flag on the State House grounds in Columbia. How can one try to explain away the racist motives of Dylann Roof in a state where the flag of an actual racist regime occupies such pride of place? The short answer is that one cannot do so without extraordinary exertions of willful ignorance. But we also know that this hasn’t stopped racists before. Continue reading “I Will Not Argue About the Confederate Flag.”

They Shackled Children.

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They’re on display in the “1863” half of the 1863/1963 exhibit in the African American History Gallery on the second floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. In a display case, next to the ads for a slave auction and text describing the ways in which humans were bought and sold as chattel in the American South, they sit: a petite-sized set of cast-iron leg shackles, the spare, stark description reading “shackles used for slave children.” Continue reading “They Shackled Children.”