Category Archives: Culture

Black History, White Guilt, and 28 Reasons

Screen shot 2014-02-05 at 9.23.12 AMUsually during this time of year I will (re)post Morgan Freeman’s claim that Black History Month is Ridiculous. You know…he makes a compelling argument and asks a pointed question: Black history is American history. Why relegate it to a single month?  Fair enough. But now that that has sort of been played to death on the Internet I would like to have a look at something else. Today I offer SNL’s Black History Month highlight – a list of 28 reasons to hug a black guy. In case you missed the skit, a trio of black high school students recite a Black History Month project enumerating said 28 reasons. The punchline?  Reasons #2-28 are slavery. Yes – not only the baggage associated with the institution but the word itself makes their white classmates and white teacher really really uncomfortable and admittedly guilty.

White people – does this seem accurate to you? If a black person mentions slavery do you feel guilty? Would a frank discussion about the institution or even a mention of the word make you stare at your shoes?

I am extremely interested everyone’s take on this skit. I personally would be happy to discuss the skit, racism, and the social, political, and economic resonance of slavery with anyone (black, white, or whatever). I promise not to get all fidgety.

With compliments,


PS – in case you haven’t seen it yet…

Hush’d be the Camps To-day

97r/36/vica/8084/03As we hear so much these days about the death of one president, I am reminded of Walt Whitman’s reflections on the death of another.

HUSH’D be the camps to-day;
And, soldiers, let us drape our war-worn weapons;
And each with musing soul retire, to celebrate,
Our dear commander’s death.

No more for him life’s stormy conflicts;
Nor victory, nor defeat–no more time’s dark events,
Charging like ceaseless clouds across the sky.

But sing, poet, in our name;
Sing of the love we bore him–because you, dweller in camps, know it

As they invault the coffin there;
Sing–as they close the doors of earth upon him–one verse,
For the heavy hearts of soldiers.

With compliments,



Elvis, Hollywood, and the Civil War

love_me_tenderFor all the years I’ve listened to Elvis Presley, for all the years I’ve studied the Civil War, and for all the years I’ve lived in Hollywood…I’m a little embarrassed to reveal that I had no idea Love Me Tender was (sort of) a Civil War film. That’s right – the King’s 1956 acting debut was set during the Civil War. The rough plot: Clint Reno (Elvis) stays behind to watch over the family while his brothers go off to fight for the Confederacy. When Vance Reno returns from the army, he discovers (much to his irritation) that his younger brother Clint has married his sweetheart, Cathy. You see…the family thought Vance had been killed in battle so Clint made his move. As you might guess that leads to some uncomfortable scenes. I won’t spoil the ending – but things get ugly.

There’s more too. All of this takes place against a backdrop of high drama. You see…the Reno brothers, serving as Rebel Cavalrymen, had robbed a train carrying a Federal payroll jut one day after the end of the war (imagine that!). A moral dilemma ensues…do they return the money or keep it as spoils of war? You’ll just have to watch the film to find out.

And just for fun, the film’s title song – a HUGE hit for Elvis – is actually set to the music of Aura Lee, an 1861 tune written by George R. Poulton and W. W. Fosdick. Have a listen…it might sound familiar.

And of course…Elvis

With compliments,

The Birth of a Nation – an Unfavorable Contemporary Report

I have received a few questions lately about the unfavorable reports of D. W. Griffith’s epic 1915 film about the Civil War and Reconstruction, The Birth of a Nation. So often, modern scholars suggest that this film stood for the broad consensus at the time of its premiere. Granted, a fair number of Americans North and South saw this film as accurate history – that the well worn Lost Cause narrative and the travails of Reconstruction rang true in this film adaptation of Thomas Dixon’ s novels, The Leopard’s Spots and The Clansman.

But despite the film’s popularity and a certain level of acceptance for the film’s analytical bent, others did not take so warmly to Grifith’s “sensational photoplay” at all…especially Union Picture 2veterans. The clip above is one of the film’s most notorious – it depicts a legislative session in the South Carolina statehouse during the Reconstruction period. Here we witness what some would claim was the absurdity of Black legislators. The racist stereotypes are all there – black lawmakers, shoeless, intoxicated, eating chicken and leering at white women. The hall erupts in near riotous fervor at the passing of a bill allowing interracial marriage – what white South Carolinians feared most.

To underscore reactions by those who had fought for, and thus celebrated Union and Emancipation, I have included a report from the magazine, The Moving Picture World – dated August, 1915.

A state-wide fight on “The Birth of a Nation” is urged by Col. J. M. Snyder, of Canton, 111., who is department commander of the Grand Army of the Republic In Illinois. Three reasons are offered for Its suppression, one of which is that it is not fair to the Union soldiers.
A copy of a resolution passed by a Chicago post has been sent to every post in Illinois with a request from the state commander that a similar resolution be adopted. The resolution is as follows:
“The George H. Thomas Post, No. 5, Department of Illinois. G. A. R., protests against the exhibition called ‘The Birth of a Nation.’
“First. Because It contains slanderous representations as to the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union, and caricatures the history of the war.
“Second. It represents the infamous Ku Klux Klun as a society of patriotic and chivalrous men.
“Third. Its whole Influence Is to excite and Intensify hatred of the negro race and to perpetuate sectional bitterness.”

The GAR were hardly impressed by this film, which is not hard to imagine.

With compliments,


I Can’t Let Tara Go…


Well, Scarlett – I’m afraid Tara is gone…long gone. And it never stood in Georgia either. But it did eventually (sort of) make it there. Yes indeed – the old Tara set, really just a facade, stood for quite some time in a horrible state of disrepair on a David O. Selznick studio back lot in Culver City, California. And it remained there after the lot changed hands from Selznick to RKO to Desilu.

In 1959, the set was dismantled and shipped to Atlanta for use in a theme park that never came to be – the plywood and paper pieces were stored in a barn for years, where – as the story goes – they deteriorated beyond any usefulness to anyone. I know not what became of the remnants. For all anyone knows, they still rot away in some barn in Georgia. Tara’s front door and the large oil painting of Scarlett have found a home in Atlanta…at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum.

For all of you film buffs, the old Selznick Studios main building still stands – now the Culver Studios – in Culver City. The building was used in the film, but only during the credits as the backdrop for the David O. Selznick logo.The entryway was used for the formal walk up to Scarlett and Rhett’s new Atlanta home and is virtually unchanged. You won’t see the building, though – it was covered by a giant matte painting. Below is a video clip of Culver Studios today

With compliments,