Browsing "Historical Amnesia/Cleansing"

American Historians Today

American Historians Today

“Our Union rests upon public opinion, and can never be cemented by the blood of its citizens shed in civil war. If it cannot live in the affections of its people, it must one day perish.” President James Buchanan, 1860

“A poll of American historians, not long ago, chose James Buchanan as “the worst” American president. But judgements of “best” and worst” in history are not eternal and indisputable truths. They are matters of perspective and values, even of aesthetics. They can change as the deep consequences of historical events continue to unfold and bring forth new understandings.

These historians show their characteristic failure to pursue balance and their subservience to presentism and state worship. They think Buchanan should have ordered a military suppression of the seceded Southern States during the last months of his term of office in 1861.

Not only do they have no sympathy for a desire to avoid civil war, but they totally fail to understand the context. There was only a small army, most of the best officers of which sympathized with the South, and there were eight States that had not seceded but were averse to the action against the Confederacy.

More importantly, there was an immense and powerful and even predominant States’ rights tradition that had its followers in the North as well as in the South. For most Americans, even many who had voted for Lincoln, coercion of the people of a State was unthinkable until it became a fact. These historians prefer Lincoln as our “greatest” president.

He had less than two-fifths of the popular vote, but he had an aggressive rent-seeking and office-seeking coalition behind him, and he did not hesitate to make war, though he had egregiously miscalculated, expecting an easy victory.

That there was much intelligent and respectable opposition to him in the North is perhaps the biggest untold story of American history. Ex-president [Millard] Fillmore said that Lincoln’s election justified secession. Horatio Seymour, the governor of New York, asked pointedly why Lincoln was killing fellow Americans who, indeed, had always been exemplary citizens and patriots ready to defend the North against foreign attack.

A New York editor wanted to know exactly where Lincoln got the right to steal the possessions and burn the houses of Southern noncombatants. On July 4, 1863, while the battle raged at Gettysburg, Buchanan’s predecessor, former President Franklin Pierce, denounced Lincoln’s war in plain words in an extended oration in the capitol at Concord, New Hampshire.

The predominant American historical perspective among American historians today is that imported by communist refugees from Europe in the 1930s. American history is now Ellis Island, the African diaspora and Greater Mexico, and Old America has almost disappeared from attention except as an object of hatred.

For today’s historians, unlike James Buchanan, Southerners are not fellow countrymen and real people, but class enemies who should have been destroyed.”

(Updike’s Grandfather. A Review of “Buchanan Dying: A Play”; Clyde Wilson, Chronicles, January 2014, excerpts pg. 24)

Contemptible Familiarities

Contemptible Familiarities

“Would you guys like something to drink?”

I could not help smiling at the lad and two men sitting across the table from me in this California restaurant injected into the middle of North Carolina. We had just been deploring the use of this unisex slang expression to mean “ladies and gentlemen” and debating the possibility of asking waitresses to avoid it.

The waitress cocked her head and asked if something was wrong. After a few minutes of embarrassing hesitation, I told her, “This is a lady sitting next to me, not a guy, and the rest of us are men or even gentlemen, not guys or kids or fellows.”

“Then what am I supposed to say?”

When one Southern literary gent at the table suggested “You all,” she protested, “But then I’d sound like a cracker.” We assured her that the best people said “Y’all” and added that if she wanted to talk Yankee, she should talk old Philadelphia and not suburban Des Moines.

“Guy,” whether it is derived from the effigies of Guy Fawkes burnt on the fifth of November or, as Mencken believed, from the guy-rope of a circus tent, has nothing to recommend itself as a term of address. Chesterton objected to being called a “regular guy” when he visited America – perhaps he thought he was being accused of being a Catholic terrorist.

The real point in using “guy” is that it is a weapon in the war to eliminate distinctions and to level sexes, ranks and ages into one neutral category that probably includes domestic animals.

Like “citizen” or “comrade,” guys is a political term that does nothing to elevate the waitress but only denies the social reality constructed by men and women, young and old. If pressed, the sweet young thing from Concord might had said she was doing this 50-something old man a favor by treating him as “one of the guys,” but some us old bucks are proud to have got to where we are and can barely tolerate the society of the under-35 guys, chicks, dudes, and hey-mans whose philosophy of life is “I deserve a break today.” Did somebody say “stupid”?

Humpty Dumpty

(Contemptible Familiarities, Chronicles, February 2000, pg. 12)

Attacking the Confederate Battle Flag

One of the most important questions hovering over debates regarding the meaning of the Confederate Battle Flag is this one: “Precisely who instructed black people that this flag symbolized hatred of black people, and precisely who continues to speak this fallacy? And why?”

As the latter usually includes those pointing to the Klan, let’s look at that question. It is well-known that the initial Ku Klux Klan had no flag; the pre-WWI incarnation of the Klan carried the US flag and many images of their marches prove this. In the late 1950s resurrection of the Klan one sees the US flag, the Confederate Battle Flag, and the Gadsden flag prominently displayed in public. Not one flag, but three.

Add to this the fact that it was England and New England who populated the South with African slaves. Rhode Island surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade in the mid-1700s, and New England’s industrial base was built upon slave trading profits. It was Massachusetts tinkerer Eli Whitney’s invention in 1793 which made cotton production highly profitable, and New England mill owners became wealthy from slave-produced cotton.

If enslaving Africans is considered “hatred” of this race of people, then we should rightly condemn first the African tribes who enslaved Africans, as well as the Portuguese, Spanish, French, British and New England slave traders who brought the Africans to the New World in chains. How then, is the Confederate Battle Flag a “symbol of hatred and oppression?”  The following is an insightful article by Joseph E. Fallon, writing in Chronicles Magazine in 2000.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Attacking the Confederate Battle Flag

“The Confederate flag has become a heated topic this election year. As George W. Bush and John McCain battled in South Carolina for the Republican presidential nomination, the New York Young Republican Club invited Richard Lowry, the editor of National Review, to discuss the Republican Party’s prospects for November.

In the question-and-answer session that followed, Mr. Robert Hornak, the club’s president, asked Mr. Lowry why the Republican Party did not condemn the Confederate Battle Flag. Alleging the flag was a symbol of treason, sedition and slavery, Mr. Hornak maintained that, by not condemning it, the GOP alienates black voters, ensuring that they vote Democratic. Mr. Lowry agreed, adding that Republicans don’t condemn the Confederate flag because they want the “redneck” vote.

In attacking the flag, both gentlemen unintentionally aid their political opponents. For a more compelling case can be made against the “Stars and Stripes” as a symbol of slavery, treason and sedition than against the Confederate Battle Flag.

There was no legal right under British law for a colony to secede from the British Empire. The actions of the American revolutionaries, therefore, were treasonous and seditious; their flag was a symbol of treason and sedition.

The Stars and Stripes also symbolizes a country established as a slaveholding republic. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, the institution of slavery was legally sanctioned in all 13 colonies. There were twice as many slaves in New York as in Georgia. One of the grievances in the Declaration of Independence was London’s policy of freeing slaves – euphemistically phrased as “exciting domestic insurrection.”

In 1783, when the British army withdrew from an independent United States, at least 18,000 slaves freed by the Crown joined the British exodus.

The Stars and Stripes remained a symbol of sedition after the country achieved independence. Six years later, the first republic under the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union was overthrown by the Constitutional Convention.

The United States recognized the right of secession even after 1789. The right of secession from the second republic was explicitly reserved by the States of Virginia, New York and Rhode Island in their documents ratifying the Constitution.

It was the Stars and Stripes, not the Confederate Battle Flag that became the symbol of sedition in 1861. Lincoln overthrew the second republic established by the U.S. Constitution when he launched his war against the South [Note: Article III, Section 3, reads: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”].

As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the “Prize Cases” (December 1862): “[Congress] cannot declare war against a State or any number of States by virtue of any clause in the Constitution . . . [The President] has no power to initiate or declare war against a foreign nation or a domestic State . . .”

The Stars and Stripes became a symbol of total war against the innocent: Food and medicine were contraband; women, children, the sick, and the elderly became legitimate targets. The Emancipation Proclamation was not a call for liberty, but for race war [Royal Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia emancipated slaves who would rise against their owners and join the forces of the Crown in 1775 – Lincoln emulated this in 1863].

As Lincoln stated: “I have a right to take any measure which may best subdue the enemy; nor do I urge objections of a moral nature, in view of possible consequences of insurrection and massacre at the South.”

Northern whites should not dismiss the idea that the Stars and Stripes could be banned. The [United States] flag was temporarily removed from two schoolrooms – one in California, the other in Michigan – in response to the demand of Third World militants who claimed that the flag was a symbol of “racism” and “oppression.”

As Third World immigration transforms the United States from a European-American majority to a European-American minority nation, the demand to ban the Stars and Stripes will only grow. If the Stars and Stripes is banned, Northern whites will have no one to blame but themselves. For in attacking the Confederate Battle Flag, they have provided the very arguments that most effectively undermine the legitimacy of our national flag.”

(Cultural Revolutions, Joseph E. Fallon, Chronicles, August 2000, excerpts pp. 6-7)

Hollywood Censorship and Denatured History

The William Dieterle-directed film “Tennessee Johnson” released in January 1943, originally written to depict the epic post-Civil War political battle between Andrew Johnson and Thaddeus Stevens, is not available on video though according to the author “pops up now and then on Turner Classic Movies.” This was the same era when South Carolinian Jimmy Byrnes was told that despite his stellar career in the Democratic Party, a Southerner could not be added to FDR’s ticket as vice president in 1940 – but the Soviet-friendly Henry Wallace was.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Hollywood Censors and Denatured History

“Tennessee Johnson, an MGM biography of President Andrew Johnson . . . starred Van Heflin as the cussed tailor of Greenville and Lionel Barrymore (one of Hollywood’s great New Deal-haters) as Thaddeus Stevens, Johnson’s radical nemesis. The movie received the sort of respectful notices often given to earnest historical films. It was also one of Hollywood’s most craven moments.

The film was originally titled The Man on America’s Conscience.  The script . . . took the traditional Claude Bowers view of Reconstruction and Johnson’s impeachment: that is, that “Johnson fought the bravest battle for constitutional liberty and for the preservation of our institutions ever waged by an executive” against Pennsylvania congressman Stevens, the brilliant but hateful clubfoot who wished to mistreat the conquered Southerners like a vast peonage.”

Enter Walter White, secretary of the NAACP. When he learned that MGM was producing an anti-Reconstruction film, White complained to Lowell Mellett, director of the Bureau of Motion Pictures of the Office of War Information. The OWI, a propaganda agency created by one of FDR’s executive orders, requested a copy of the screenplay . . . [and] when Mellett and White previewed the unedited film, they hit the roof.

Mellett demanded that key scenes be reshot or removed. Thad Stevens, the screenplay’s villain, was humanized; one new scene had him kissing and petting Andrew Johnson’s grandkids. A scene in which Stevens plied Johnson with drink before his legendary incoherent vice presidential Inaugural Address was left on the cutting room floor. Rewritten dialogue assured us that Stevens was “sincere” if a mite vengeful.

The essential character of Lydia Smith, Steven’s mulatto housekeeper and probable mistress, disappeared. Despite the changes, a gang of Hollywood liberals – Ben Hecht, Zero Mostel, Vincent Price – petitioned the OWI to destroy the picture, in best fascist fashion, in the cause of national unity.

Tennessee Johnson – the OWI demanded a conscience-less title – was released in its denatured form. It’s a fairly standard biopic: Johnson, nicely played by Heflin, is the runaway tailor’s apprentice and self-styled champion of “poor white trash” who is only trying to act on his predecessor’s wise policy of malice toward none and charity toward all. With the exception of Jefferson Davis, secessionists are depicted as huffy churls and hotheads.

One consequence of Walter White’s protest was the omission of Lydia Smith, a meaty role for a black actress. The part was recast as the corpulent “laws a mercy!” black maid of stereotype. The excision of Lydia Smith not only warred upon the truth, it also made Steven’s Negrophilia less comprehensible. Love, after all, is always a higher afflatus than political principle.

Walter White’s autobiography makes no mention of his role in altering Tennessee Johnson. The title is absent from a full shelf of books on censorship and the movies; censorship, it seems, only worked one way in Hollywood.”

(The Hollywood Ten(nessean), Bill Kaufmann; Chronicles, October, 1998, excerpt, pp. 39-40. www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

History as a Tool for Manipulating the Masses

History as a Tool for Manipulating the Masses

“[Mitch] Landrieu’s speech praising his own actions in the advancement of the Eternal Reconstruction of his beloved “bubbling cauldron of many cultures” was hailed far and wide, and the local leftist paper, the Times-Picayune, proclaimed him the inevitable frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election.

[That] oration at Gallier Hall was scheduled to coincide with the conclusion of the removal of the 16’-6” Robert E. Lee statue, which had, since 1884, presided over Lee Circle atop a column some 70 feet tall.

In its obituary [of Lee’s passing in 1870], the New York Times praised Lee’s character and singular talents, though it decried his participation in the “rebellion” and referred to his perceived duty not to “raise his hand against his relatives, his children, and his home” as an “error of judgment,” a participation in a “wicked plot.”

Two days later, the Times declared that “The English journals are teeming with eulogistic obituary notices of Gen. Lee.” One week later, it reported glowingly on a gathering at none other than Cooper Union, “in a tribute to Robert E. Lee.”

It is noteworthy that none of these papers, Northern, Southern, or European, mentioned a war prosecuted either to extinguish or to defend Southern slavery, let alone a conflict to settle the future of “white supremacy.” For the South, it was a defensive war against an overweening, nationalist invader. For the North, it was a war to quell a “rebellion” against a Union that was somehow sacred and indissoluble.

Abraham Lincoln, remembering his revenues, had not threatened slavery where it already existed, had promoted an amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing that the peculiar institution would live in the South in perpetuity (the “Corwin Amendment”), and in his 1862 Emancipation Proclamation held out the promise that any State in “rebellion” which would rejoin the Union could keep its slaves.

White supremacy was quite simply the status quo in every State, North and South, whether blacks were enslaved or free, before and after the war.

[So long] as race-baiting politicians can incite resentment to garner votes from a near-permanent black underclass and (now) a generation of white adults taught to hate their ancestors and view all history through the lens of Critical Race Theory. It is a clever means of changing the subject while the percentage of blacks in New Orleans living in poverty (and subject to violent crime) soars above that of the rest of America, a reality attested to by Ben C. Toledano in “New Orleans: An Autopsy” ten years ago.

The rule of Leftist Supremacists, from Moon Landrieu in the 70’s through six black Democratic mayors and up to Moon’s son Mitch, hasn’t altered these deplorable conditions, nor has the removal of Confederate monuments which, Landrieu admits, he never paid any mind to when growing up in New Orleans. The past is only a tool for manipulating the masses in the name of Progress, which translates into power for men like Landrieu.”

(The Discarded Image, Aaron D. Wolf, Chronicles, July 2017, excerpts pp. 36-37, www.chroniclesmagazine.org)

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

By the year 1750, Rhode Island had become the center of the transatlantic slave trade as it surpassed Liverpool — while also angering British shipbuilders as their workmen left for New England and better pay. Boston’s Peter Fanueil made his wealth through slaving, and the famous Redwood Library in Newport was built with land and money from Abraham Redwood, who grew rich in the slave trade. The Brown family of Newport, Nicholas, John, Joseph and Moses, who established Brown University, made their fortune in the slave trade.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Boston and Newport Slave Merchants

“British commercial relations with the northern colonies, though important, were less close than with the South and the West Indies. New England had no staple exports to England at all comparable with West Indian sugar or Virginia tobacco. Her fish and lumber were marketed largely elsewhere, chiefly in the West Indies but also in other colonies, in the Azores, and in southern Europe.

From the American point of view the British government ought to have encouraged the trade with the foreign West Indies instead of trying to check it with the Molasses Act. The English authorities were, however, less impressed by [New England arguments] than by the smuggled European goods which came in through this “back door.”

Before, as well as after, the passage of the Molasses Act, sugar and molasses from the foreign West Indies continued to supply the distilleries of New England, whence rum was sent out for use in the Indian trade and in the purchase of African slaves. In this latter trade, Boston and especially Newport merchants competed with those of the mother country.

In the first half of the eighteenth century, Newport became the chief base in North America for the African slave trade. The round of this trade began with the rum manufactured from West Indies molasses. What followed may be illustrated from the correspondence of some of these Newport merchants.

In 1755, for instance, the firm of Wilkinson and Ayrault sent Captain David Lindsay to the African coast, where he was to exchange his cargo for gold and slaves. With his human freight he was to sail to Barbados or St. Christopher, where the slaves were to be sold, provided he could get an average price of twenty-seven pounds for them all, “great and small.” The captain did this business on commission, getting among other things five slaves for his own share.

The profits of this trade, legal and illegal, were building up at Boston, Newport, Salem, and elsewhere a rich merchant class of decidedly cosmopolitan interests.

“[The] Narragansett planters” of Rhode Island had also a reputation for generous living.  Indentured servants came in from England and Ireland . . . Prosperous families, especially in the larger towns, often had one or more Negro slaves and there was no general feeling against the practice, though a few protests were heard. Rhode Island had the largest proportion of Negroes and the Narragansett planters used slave labor more than any other part of New England.

Generally speaking, the small farmers of New England could not use Negro slaves to much purpose.”

(The Foundations of American Nationality, Evarts Boutell Greene, American Book Company, 1922, excerpts pp. 246-247; 262-263; 266)

Southern Baptist Public Relations Stunt

Southern Baptist Public Relations Stunt

“Last summer [2016], the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] leadership sparked controversy within the church’s declining ranks by erecting a Golden Calf of political correctness. [It] launched an all-out offensive against many of the church’s members by repudiating the Confederate Battle Flag. The attack was orchestrated by two of the SBC’s clergy . . . Dr. James Merritt and Dr. William Dwight McKissic, Jr . . . I have no reason to doubt that these two men truly love God; but they are lousy historians.

Instead of [Dr. McKissic suggesting] a moment of silence or performing an act of Christian charity (e.g., making a monetary donation to the family of the victims), he came to the conclusion that it would better to insult tens of thousands of faithful members of the SBC.

The connection between Resolution 7 [“On Sensitivity and Unity Regarding the Confederate Battle Flag”] and the murder of the Charleston Nine is this thin: Dylann Roof posed for a photograph with a Confederate flag.

Of course, it is ridiculous to think that any SBC member, including those who honor their dead and the cause of Southern independence, would hesitate to condemn Roof’s actions in unequivocal terms.

Charlton Heston gave a speech at Brandeis University in 2000 in which he observed, “Political correctness is tyranny, just tyranny with manners.”  I think if Mr. Heston were alive today, he would agree that the proponents of political correctness have lost their manners.

Present-day ideologues forget that the act of secession was peaceful. However, President Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to invade the South was indeed an act of war – a hostile act that caused other States to secede.

Nearly all of the documentary evidence indicates that Southern men volunteered in order to fight a second American revolution against a tyrannical centralized power. And the average Union soldier fought to save the Union.

In reviewing the evidence, even James M. McPherson, a prominent, mainstream Civil War historian, admitted that “the letters and diaries of many Co0nfederate soldiers bristled with the rhetoric of liberty and self-government and the expressions of a willingness to die for the cause.” Novelist and historian Shelby Foote was more direct: “No soldier on either side gave a damn about the slaves.”

I called many of [the SBC leadership to give an interview and discuss the details of the resolution], but only one was willing to speak to me . . . if he was granted anonymity. When I asked him what he thought about the resolution, he told me he thought it was just a public-relations stunt, an attempt to get attention. Since the resolution was not binding on the churches, it amounted to nothing more.

If the SBC refuses to obey the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother,” in order to appease people who have no desire to understand the SBC’s living connection to the South, what other compromises will its leaders be willing to make? What sort of gesture would please anyone who would demand that Southern Baptists dishonor their ancestors?

We only want to recognize the sacrifices of our family members who fought simply to defend their homes. For them and for us, the battle flag has been a symbol of rebellion against an overweening centralized government. It has nothing to do with racism.”

(Southern Baptists Versus the South, S.A. Litteral, Chronicles, March 2017, excerpts pp. 39-40)

 

 

 

A Great Intellectual Silence

The message sent to us today when reading the biography and accomplishments of Jefferson Davis of Mississippi include the following: West Point graduate, married to Sarah Knox Taylor, daughter of General and President Zachary Taylor, colonel of Mississippi Volunteers in the Mexican War, served in both the United States House and Senate, Secretary of War, pleaded for peace between North and South in 1860-61 as a Unionist, and served as president of the Confederate States of America, 1861-65. Few Americans exhibited as distinguished a career as Davis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

A Great Intellectual Silence

“So the anti-Confederate backlash has come to Dallas . . . but, then, maybe not. Maybe that isn’t fundamentally what happened when the Dallas school board, in June [1999], voted to rename mostly black and Hispanic Jefferson Davis Elementary School for Barbara Jordan, the late Houston congresswoman.

Here, likely, is what happened: Within the community at large, a failure of nerve occurred, a moral power outage, leaving residents plunged in darkness. The same failure of nerve afflicted New Orleans over a year ago, when the name of infamous slaveowner George Washington was removed from an elementary school, to be replaced with – I don’t recall and don’t care to; Sojourner Truth or some like luminary.

You could say, and I wouldn’t argue the point, that on both occasions the antebellum South received deliberate kicks in the groin, and that this form of reprisal was unfortunate and unjust. Davis, Washington: prisoners in a kangaroo court, due to peripheral association with the peculiar institution of slavery. Malarkey!

Also, you can bet your bottom dollar this species of malarkey is sure to spread, two large Southern cities having capitulated so cravenly.

Now, to begin with, we’re talking here about education. Well, about public schools at least. You might expect, in the context of a controversy over the naming of a school, some attention to historical accuracy. Ah, no.

“The name sends a very bad message,” says Se-Gwyn Tyler, who represents the city council district in which ex-Jefferson Davis Elementary is located. Well, ma’am, do you really know that?

Ever read a biography of Davis? Know where he lived, what posts he held before the war? How historians evaluate him? If this is the standard of knowledge regnant at the decision-making level in Dallas, how can one be sure the Davis critics are right that Barbara Jordan is the ideal role model?

Are we to sit quietly while a dead man is vilified and misrepresented? While history itself is distorted? We’re not to utter a peep or reproach? Not so much as a civil objection? That would seem the case.

The major fault in the Davis matter, it seems to me, doesn’t attach to those who sought a name change. The major fault attaches to those who sat through the name-change procedure with eyes and mouths resolutely closed, believing apparently that expiation was a larger public good than truth. Failure of nerve indeed! Cowardice on the half-shell. Hush, we mustn’t offend.

Well, actually, it’s all right to offend those who retain some reverence for the dead; we just mustn’t offend members of cultures and subgroups arguing for affirmation.

A great intellectual silence descends over modern society. We can’t talk about everything; we certainly can’t talk in a spirit of honesty. And we know it. This is what rankles: We know we can’t, and we pass it off as of no great or immediate consequence. Failure of nerve.”

(Roll, Jordan, Roll; Letter from Texas, William Murchison, Chronicles, October 1999, excerpts pg. 37)

Wilful Ignorance and Contempt for History

The last people to raise a furor over the American South’s evil slaveholding past would be New Englanders, who after the British, were most responsible for populating North America with African slaves. For example, the Puritans enslaved the Pequot Indians; General Nathaniel Greene was a Rhode Islander, a colony which had wrested prominence in the transatlantic slave trade from England by 1750; cotton gin inventor Eli Whitney was a Massachusetts man. Had the latter not perfected his machine, cotton production would have remained a time-consuming enterprise and the New Englander mills would not have perpetuated African slavery in the United States.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Willful Ignorance and Contempt for History

“You may have missed the teapot tempest of PC hysteria that inaugurated the campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. The nine announced candidates gather today (May 3) in Columbia, South Carolina, to unveil their charms in a public forum. The show was scheduled to take place at the Longstreet Theater on the campus of the University of South Carolina.

Then someone discovered that the building is named for Rev. Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, one time president of the University’s predecessor institution, South Carolina College. And, Horrors! Mr. Longstreet in the period before the War for Southern Independence defended slavery and advocated secession! Of course, the august aspirants for World Emperor could not be expected to meet on such unhallowed ground, so the gathering was shifted to another building . . .

Let’s set aside that the Longstreet Theater has been the scene previously of numerous public occasions in which at least two Presidents of the United States, the current Pope, and numerous other world dignitaries have appeared. No one ever complained about the name before.

What strikes most is the astounding ignorance of, and contempt for American history that the political leaders and the press exhibit on this and similar occasions. They act as if some dark and terrible secret had been discovered.

But it gets funnier. The carnival has been moved to the theater in a nearby campus building, Drayton Hall. I do not know which member of the Drayton family Drayton Hall is named. I do know the Draytons, who produced prominent leaders from the Revolution to the Southern War, including a Confederate general, were for generations among the largest slaveholders of South Carolina.

Drayton Hall is bordered by College Street, Main Street, Greene Street, and Sumter Street. Greene Street is named for General Nathaniel Greene of the American Revolution, who was awarded a large Georgia plantation for his services (the plantation on which, by the way, Eli Whitney perfected the cotton gin.

Sumter is named for General Thomas Sumter, one of the heroic South Carolina partisan leaders of the Revolution. He was also a large slaveholder and as an old man in the late 1820s advocated the secession of South Carolina from the Union.

In fact, it is not easy to find a building built on the campus before the 20th century, or a street in the central area of the capital city of South Carolina that is not named for a slaveholder or secessionist!”

(Defending Dixie, Essays in Southern History and Culture, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, excerpts pp. 321-322)

 

New England’s Hidden History

New England’s Hidden History – More Than We Like to Think, the North Was Built on Slavery.

By Francie Latour 
(excerpts) September 26, 2010

In the year 1755, a black slave named Mark Codman plotted to kill his abusive master. A God-fearing man, Codman had resolved to use poison, reasoning that if he could kill without shedding blood, it would be no sin. Arsenic in hand, he and two female slaves poisoned the tea and porridge of John Codman repeatedly. The plan worked — but like so many stories of slave rebellion, this one ended in brutal death for the slaves as well. After a trial by jury, Mark Codman was hanged, tarred, and then suspended in a metal gibbet on the main road to town, where his body remained for more than 20 years.

It sounds like a classic account of Southern slavery. But Codman’s body didn’t hang in Savannah, Ga.; it hung in present-day Somerville, Mass. And the reason we know just how long Mark the slave was left on view is that Paul Revere passed it on his midnight ride. In a fleeting mention from Revere’s account, the horseman described galloping past “Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains.”

When it comes to slavery, the story that New England has long told itself goes like this:

Slavery happened in the South, and it ended thanks to the North. Maybe we had a little slavery, early on. But it wasn’t real slavery. We never had many slaves, and the ones we did have were practically family. We let them marry, we taught them to read, and soon enough, we freed them. New England is the home of abolitionists and underground railroads. In the story of slavery—and by extension, the story of race and racism in modern-day America—we’re the heroes. Aren’t we?

As the nation prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War in 2011, with commemorations that reinforce the North/South divide, researchers are offering uncomfortable answers to that question, unearthing more and more of the hidden stories of New England slavery—it’s brutality, its staying power, and its silent presence in the very places that have become synonymous with freedom.

With the markers of slavery forgotten even as they lurk beneath our feet—from graveyards to historic homes, from Lexington and Concord to the halls of Harvard University—historians say it is time to radically rewrite America’s slavery story to include its buried history in New England.

“The story of slavery in New England is like a landscape that you learn to see,” said Anne Farrow, who co-wrote “Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery” and who is researching a new book about slavery and memory. “Once you begin to see these great seaports and these great historic houses, everywhere you look, you can follow it back to the agricultural trade of the West Indies, to the trade of bodies in Africa, to the unpaid labor of black people.”

It was the 1991 discovery of an African burial ground in New York City that first revived the study of Northern slavery. Since then, fueled by educators, preservationists, and others, momentum has been building to recognize histories hidden in plain sight.

Last year, Connecticut became the first New England state to formally apologize for slavery. In classrooms across the country, popularity has soared for educational programs on New England slavery designed at Brown University. In February, Emory University will hold a major conference on the role slavery’s profits played in establishing American colleges and universities, including in New England. And in Brookline, Mass., a program called Hidden Brookline is designing a virtual walking tour to illuminate its little-known slavery history: At one time, nearly half the town’s land was held by slave owners.

“What people need to understand is that, here in the North, while there were not the large plantations of the South or the Caribbean islands, there were families who owned slaves,” said Stephen Bressler, director of Brookline’s Human Relations-Youth Resources Commission.

“There were businesses actively involved in the slave trade, either directly in the importation or selling of slaves on our shores, or in the shipbuilding, insurance, manufacturing of shackles, processing of sugar into rum, and so on. Slavery was a major stimulus to the Northern economy.” Turning over the stones to find those histories isn’t just a matter of correcting the record, he and others say. It’s crucial to our understanding of the New England we live in now.

“The absolute amnesia about slavery here on the one hand, and the gradualness of slavery ending on the other, work together to make race a very distinctive thing in New England,” said Joanne Pope Melish, who teaches history at the University of Kentucky and wrote the book “Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and ‘Race’ in New England, 1780-1860.”

“If you have obliterated the historical memory of actual slavery—because we’re the free states, right?—that makes it possible to turn around and look at a population that is disproportionately poor and say, it must be their own inferiority. That is where New England’s particular brand of racism comes from.”

But to focus on crusaders like [William Lloyd] Garrison is to ignore ugly truths about how unwillingly New England as a whole turned the page on slavery. Across the region, scholars have found, slavery here died a painfully gradual death, with emancipation laws and judicial rulings that either were unclear, poorly enforced, or written with provisions that kept slaves and the children born to them in bondage for years.

Meanwhile, whites who had trained slaves to do skilled work refused to hire the same blacks who were now free, driving an emerging class of skilled workers back to the lowest rungs of unskilled labor. Many whites, driven by reward money and racial hatred, continued to capture and return runaway Southern slaves; some even sent free New England blacks south, knowing no questions about identity would be asked at the other end.

“Is Garrison important? Yes. Is it dangerous to be an abolitionist at that time? Absolutely,” said Melish. “What is conveniently forgotten is the number of people making a living snagging free black people in a dark alley and shipping them south.”

If Concord was a slave town, historians say, Connecticut was a slave state. It didn’t abolish slavery until 1848, a little more than a decade before the Civil War. (A judge’s ruling ended legal slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, though the date is still hotly debated by historians.) It’s a history Connecticut author and former Hartford Courant journalist Anne Farrow knew nothing about—until she got drawn into an assignment to find the untold story of one local slave. Once she started pulling the thread, Farrow said, countless histories unfurled: accounts of thousand-acre slave plantations and a livestock industry that bred the horses that turned the giant turnstiles of West Indian sugar mills.

Each discovery punctured another slavery myth. “A mentor of mine has said New England really democratized slavery,” said Farrow. “Where in the South a few people owned so many slaves, here in the North, many people owned a few. There was a widespread ownership of black people.”

Perhaps no New England colony or state profited more from the unpaid labor of blacks than Rhode Island: Following the Revolution, scholars estimate, slave traders in the tiny Ocean State controlled between two-thirds and 90 percent of America’s trade in enslaved Africans. On the rolling farms of Narragansett, nearly one-third of the population was black—a proportion not much different from Southern plantations. In 2003, the push to reckon with that legacy hit a turning point when Brown University, led by its first African-American president, launched a highly controversial effort to account for its ties to Rhode Island’s slave trade.

As Brown’s decision made national headlines, Katrina Browne, a Boston filmmaker, was on a more private journey through New England slavery, tracing her bloodlines back to her Rhode Island forebears, the DeWolf family. As it turned out, the DeWolfs were the biggest slave-trading family in the nation’s biggest slave-trading state. Browne’s journey, which she chronicled in the acclaimed documentary “Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North,” led her to a trove of records of the family’s business at every point in slavery’s triangle trade.

If New England’s amnesia has been pervasive, it has also been willful, argues C.S. Manegold, author of the new book “Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North.” That’s because many of slavery’s markers aren’t hidden or buried. In New England, one need look no further than a symbol that graces welcome mats, door knockers, bedposts, and all manner of household decor: the pineapple.

When New England ships came to port, captains would impale pineapples on a fence post, a sign to everyone that they were home and open for business, bearing the bounty of slave labor and sometimes slaves themselves.

“It’s a symbol everyone knows the benign version of—the happy story that pineapples signify hospitality and welcome,” said Manegold, whose book centers on five generations of slaveholders tied to one Colonial era estate, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, Mass., now a museum.

The house features two carved pineapples at its gateposts. By Manegold’s account, pineapples were just the beginning at this particular Massachusetts farm: Generation after generation, history at the Royall House collides with myths of freedom in New England—starting with one of the most mythical figures of all, John Winthrop. Author of the celebrated “City Upon a Hill” sermon and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop not only owned slaves at Ten Hills Farm, but in 1641, he helped pass one of the first laws making chattel slavery legal in North America.

“In Concord,” Lemire said, “the Minutemen clashed with the British at the Old North Bridge within sight of a man enslaved in the local minister’s house. The fact that there was slavery in the town that helped birth American liberty doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate the sacrifices made by the Minutemen. But it does mean New England has to catch up with the rest of the country, in much of which residents have already wrestled with their dual legacies of freedom and slavery.”

Francie Latour is an associate editor at Wellesley Magazine and a former Globe reporter.

 

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