All posts by Keith Harris

Confederate Monuments. What to do, what to do?

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Jefferson Davis on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia

You won’t get any great revelations or meaningful insights here today folks, but since you’ve asked, I have a few things to say…just to open up a discussion.

Readers of this blog will probably not be all that surprised, but guess what –  I am no fan of the Confederate States of America. Despite my family connection to the Deep South (Alabama) and my  Confederate ancestry (my ancestors fought in the 16th and 26th Alabama Infantry Regiments), there is no love lost between me and the boys in gray. They fascinate me to be sure, and I have spent a lifetime studying them – their motivations and their country…however short lived it might have been.

And of course the reason for my, shall we say, distaste for the “glorious cause” is simple. It boils down to why the Confederacy existed in the first place: to indefinitely perpetuate the institution of slavery.

This is where the Confederate apologists will check out (surely after a dramatic eye roll). Fine, if you don’t believe me, just read any contemporary newspaper, the secession documents, Alexander Stephens, etc, etc. To anyone with sense, the evidence is irrefutable. It was slavery, stupid.

And yet, all throughout the South (indeed, throughout the country) there are monuments to those who fought to ensure Confederate Independence and establish a slave-holding republic. How we got these monuments is an enthralling story, quite worthy of our investigation. While I will not digress, I can offer at least one recommendation to get you started: Ghosts of the Confederacy by Gaines Foster.

Now, these days there is a powerful movement to destroy public Confederate symbols, citing how they are offensive to a good number of residents – constantly reminded of the generals, politicians, and yes…soldiers who endorsed the white power structure and fought to maintain slavery. They have made a good deal of progress including the recent removal of monuments in New Orleans and elsewhere. Rather than me discussing the specific details of these removals, have a look at the work of Kevin Levin and others who have eloquently chronicled the events and offered their take.

Quite a few on the usual socials have been asking where I stand on the destruction of these symbols. Brace yourself…I think that Confederate monuments are very useful educational tools. As such, like any historical document, we should preserve them for posterity.

Well now, I bet you didn’t see that coming. But bear with me for a minute…there’s more to my story. And to my Confederate apologist readers that are still with me here, stop grinning. I’m not on your side. Not by a Confederate mile.

While would-be Rebels might think that these symbols preserve Confederate history, I think that they are confused. What they DO preserve is a history of oppression. Further, they perpetuate the memory of a romanticized Confederacy enshrined in the Lost Cause narrative. So why keep them around? Because that is a history worth knowing. I do not believe in the destruction of any historical documents, regardless of the form in which they come, and regardless of their power to offend.

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Yours truly and students at the monument to the Lost Cause in Los Angeles

First, I think that when we do this, we set ourselves up on a dangerous path. If we destroyed everything in this country that brushed up against oppression some way or another, be it racist, sexist, or whatever, well then…we would not have much left would we? Second, understanding what these monuments really mean in context (not of the war, but of the post-Reconstruction era) SHOULD make you uncomfortable. If they don’t, you might be missing a sensitivity chip. Discomfort challenges us to investigate and to understand. When I take my students to Confederate monuments (we have one in LA) that is my focus. We talk about the Lost Cause, the redeemers, reconciliation, and of course, Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement. The monument provides the setting and it leads my students to profoundly important questions.

But there are, naturally, problems. Most of the monuments offer no context. They are simply there and more often than not, in prominent public settings and maintained by tax dollars. To a great many of our citizens, they are powerful reminders of a past wedded in every conceivable way to slavery.

So if we should not destroy them, then what should we do? Well…some folks with very good intentions suggest that historians, better known to Confederate apologists as revisionist libt—s, should come together and create appropriate contextual plaques to place near monuments, explaining what these things are all about. I have offered to do this at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, where our local Confederate dead rest at the foot of their monument. Side note: they have not taken me up on my offer.

But even if this were to happen the monuments would still be there, looming over all of us  – and they would still be offensive. So others have suggested relocating them to museums or to private property far removed from heavily trafficked public areas. Not such a terrible idea, but a logistical nightmare. If you have ever visited Monument Avenue in Richmond, you will quickly note that many of these things are enormous…nearly as big as Confederate defeat itself (but not quite).

So in short, while I really really really don’t like Confederate monuments,  I do not think destroying them is the answer. To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do with them. So I am open to reasonable discussion (emphasis on reasonable) in the comments section. Until then…

Peace,

Keith

Please Help Us, Zombie Andrew Jackson

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 5.30.28 PMHelp us Zombie Andrew Jackson. Please.

In case you did not yet get the news on the other side, here’s what the man who currently holds your old gig had to say:

“I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later, you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart. And he was really angry that he saw what was happening, with regard to the Civil War. He said, there’s no reason for this. People don’t realize, the Civil War — you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question. But why was there a Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”

Is this for real? Was this an episode of Drunk History? I mean…honestly. Let me quote that one more time…just let it sink in.

“People don’t ask that question. But why was there a Civil War?”

Ummm….

IT WAS SLAVERY, STUPID!

So,  Mr. President…no, not you Easy D, but Zombie Andrew Jackson. Can you please arise from the dead and help rid us of our pestilence…that plague of imbecility that has descended upon our nation’s most hallowed office…before another epic conflagration erupts? We need your help. I will put aside the fact that while you were alive, you were an Indian-murdering slave-owning sociopath. Because apparently, you are the right man for the job.

With compliments,
Keith

Please stop calling these three a-holes the Beverly Hillbillies

Screen Shot 2017-04-21 at 12.35.34 PM I am not offering a partisan post here. Just a request to those who were, shall we say, disappointed by the recent image of Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock mocking former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a White House visit with Mr. Trump.

Folks keep referring to the trio as the Beverly Hillbillies, in reference to the 1960s television sitcom featuring a family of rural Arkansas farmers who struck it rich and moved to sunny Los Angeles. This odd juxtaposition, as you might guess…led to all sorts of hilarity.

But I would hate to think that modern critics would lump rural southerners in with the intolerant, ignorant, Confederate flag waving rednecks that seem to support the three pictured above. Yet that is what is happening. Please stop.

Here’s the thing. The Clampett family (said 1960s “hillbillies”) were uneducated, simple, country folks – but they were kind, considerate, and compassionate. They represented the very best of rural America, which, for all its campiness, was what the show was about.

For those of you who were not around during the 60s, or perhaps did not catch the 1970s reruns of this show, The Beverly Hillbillies was part of a comedic television genre, which included Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and a number of others. Sure, there was some tongue-in-cheek ribbing when it came to rural southern simplicity (Jethro Bodine…). But beyond that, these shows underscored the character of rural Americans. These were shows about virtuous people.

The three pictured above are the opposite of that. They are disrespectful, purile, gloating imbeciles. It makes no difference to me what you think of Hillary Clinton’s politics, but Americans on both sides of the aisle should have the good sense to condemn this childish behavior….just please stop calling them the Beverly Hillbillies. You are missing the mark.

Thanks in advance,

Keith

Racy Tune from the 18th Century – Oh MYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 1.27.12 PMRecently, I spoke with archeologist and historian Damian Shiels for the Rogue Historian podcast. We had a great talk – mostly about Irish immigration in the 19th century and about Irish in the American Civil War. Good stuff. But something came up when we were discussing odd things one might find in the archives. Damian mentioned a previously unpublished song that was loaded with – shall we say – bawdy lyrics.

I asked to publish the song here…how could I resist. Read if you will…and try not to blush…just watch out for the Shilealy.

‘A New Song’

Murtagh O’Blany & Jenny O’Donely

Both went together to thresh in the barn

He laid her down and her so bonnily

Arra says he but I’ll do you no harm

O but says Jenny I fear you’ll be In me

And what if I am I’ll do you no harm

O Murtagh be easy I faint

Be quiet my Jewel my door

For by St. Patrick our Saint

I’ll give you no reason to fear

Then with a look so engaging and gently

He to her bosom his hand did apply

Both her snowy mountains he tousled so daintily

That with her passion caused many a sigh

O But says Jenny I fear you’ll be in me

By Jesus says he if I don’t I shall die

O’ Murtagh be easy I pray

Do prithy be gone from my sight

By Jesus my virtue’l give way

I’m lost in a flood of delight

He then beholding her eyelids thus quivering

Scarcely from pity his heart could refrain

Fearing to anger her he stood a wavering

But was resolved to attack her again

Then Mr. Blaney pulled out his Shilealy

A weapon he ne’er show’d a woman In vain

Staring she lift up her eyes

And gently she rear’d up her head

What is it O Murtagh she cries

That looms so stately and red

Sweet one says Murtagh I’ll show you the use of it

Gently fall backwards your legs open wide

No girl in Munster to big it as you so fitt

It with your hand you’d vouchsafe it to guide

Then Miss O’Donnely strok’d it so bonnily

Arrah says she but I’ll down with your pride

Then closing with eager embrace

They soon reach’d the end of their joy

Jenny now alter’d her gaze

No longer was she squeamish and Coy

With sweet raptures and soft dying murmurings

Lifeless they lay as it was in a trance

Eager he drove but could drive it no further in

Jenny had shiver’d the lance

Oh what’s that says Jenny

Felt so warm in me

That makes all my bowels to prance

‘Tis loves luscious Balsom my dear

Says Murtagh the tulip of life

A cordial that banishes care

Curd cures the worst scold of a wife’

Wow. Original available at

National Library of Ireland MS. 3240: ‘Notebook of an Irish Ensign Gilbert King serving with the British Forces in Canada & Containing Personal Accounts, Copies of letters & two songs, 1761-68.’

 

With compliments,

Keith

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Poem

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-6-28-25-pmI have many talented colleagues – some of whom do much more that one might think…like write poetry.

One such individual shared this with me yesterday…

 

The End

by Jeremy Shine

 

If I had to choose a way to die,

I think I would like to go

In the form of a house-fly,

Who meets his end

By way of the hard-cover

Of a well-read and much liked

History, one whose prose

Could sweep you into

A world long past, and yet

With clear relevance to our own;

Continuity being of the essence.

And the comforting thought

That life goes on, the Future assured.

As it is written:

Just as we are now and those that were are to us,

So we will be then to those to be.

(On the other hand,

Maybe a newspaper would be best.)