Tag Archives: slavery

The Absurdity of #AllLivesMatter

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 8.37.52 AMI suppose the social media hashtag #AllLivesMatter is well-intentioned.  Of course, everyone’s life matters. But as an offering in response to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and philosophy, which is how people seem to be using it, the hashtag is insensitive,  a gross misunderstanding (or ignorance) of history and its legacy, and entirely absurd.

#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that American heritage reflects 400 years of institutionalized enslavement, oppression, and murder directed specifically toward – wait for it – black folks. And here’s the real sticker: for the most part, white America has stood silently by and let it happen…for four centuries.

Have “all” people been singled out for enslavement? Have “all” people had their children stolen and sold? Have “all” people had to resign themselves to arbitrary beatings and rape? Have “all” people faced a lynching for simply exercising their Constitutional rights?  Have “all” people faced the humiliation of legal public segregation? Have “all” people been denied a seat at a lunch counter or on a bus or in a theater? Have “all” people faced the reality of being singled out by law enforcement when they leave their homes? Have “all” people been criminalized for their manner of dress?  Have “all” people had to instruct their children that they will be treated as potential threats and thus take especial care not to be killed? No.

Many white Americans understand the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow era racism as things of the past – terrible yes, but over. And these folks suggest that we all move along; that if everyone obeys the law, there will be no trouble. And we will all live in peace – all of us. But anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is not the case. Anyone who reads the news and still believes things are fine is confused. Using #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that other lives do not matter – it is an acknowledgement of a history of brutality, its legacy, and its modern manifestations.

#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that the unseemly American tradition of enslavement, oppression, and murder is still with us. And until “all” Americans can admit this, little will change.

Just in case you need a reminder…

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Peace be with you,

Keith

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American Civil War Web-Course

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 8.04.38 PMGreetings all! I have been posting updates on Twitter of late chronicling the progress of my next web-course: The American Civil War. I am very pleased to announce that the launch date is May 14, 2016. The course includes nearly forty video lectures and other projects covering military, social, political, and economic aspects of the conflict.

I am most excited to offer this course to my founding web-students for a 50% discount off the already reasonable price. You won’t find this deal anywhere but through this site – and the offer goes away on launch day. So you had better get on the stick. Here’s what you need to do:

ONE – be a current student or enroll now in either my Gettysburg or Reconstruction Era web-course for the regular discounted price available only from Keith Harris History.

TWO – sign up to be part of the Keith Harris History CREW so I can be sure to get you the info you need.

Get that all squared away and on launch day you will receive your discount code via email. And that’s it. Easy right?

With compliments,

Keith

 

A Letter from a Freedman to his Former Master

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 9.05.56 AMI was looking through my Reconstruction Era documents this morning and came across this one – a letter dictated by Tennessee freedman Jourdon Anderson to his former master. I find the candor most fascinating, and the power dynamic renegotiation is unmistakable. Have a look…your comments are welcome.

Dayton, Ohio, August 7, 1865

To my old Master, Colonel P. H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee.

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin’s to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, “Them colored people were slaves” down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

I wonder if he ever got the money he demanded….I have my suspicions. At any rate – I discuss folks like Anderson and others who asserted their freedom in my web-course on Reconstruction HERE.

With compliments,

Keith

Reconstruction, Revolutions, and the Economy

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.02.36 AMI often speak with my students about the various “revolutions” that transpired over the course of the Reconstruction Era. Freedom, citizenship, and suffrage for former slaves are without question revolutionary. But there was an extent to just how revolutionary things would get – and thus we have the notion of revolutions unfinished. Black people enjoyed civil equality but not social equality; they got the vote, but not political determinism. Generally speaking, by 1868 Republicans (with only some success) shifted their attentions to moderation and economic development. Some might think that they wholesale abandoned freedmen – that getting the South on its feet and once again engaged in the national economy took precedent over black peoples’ definition of freedom . Here is a question for current students of the period: is it safe to say that Republicans were more interested in catering to outside investors than blacks’ rights as Americans?  Was equality before the law enough?

With compliments,

Keith

Plantation Stereotypes in The Birth of a Nation

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.52.37 AMScreen Shot 2015-09-12 at 11.52.57 AMIn a section of my current book project on the D. W. Griffith film, The Birth of a Nation, I will be interrogating the notion of the plantation trope, if you will, as it appears in the first scenes of the film. Many early-twentieth century musings on this subject are clear reflections of a romanticized “Old South” plantation life that conjured up images of the benevolent white patriarch and the happy but simple-minded darky.

Griffith enlisted the film medium to  enshrine this mythos as visual…or if you like, living history. And he is in near perfect step with a prevailing white sentiment concerning the antebellum South that took root with the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and spread to a national audience by the end of the nineteenth century. While there are a number of notable exceptions – groups and individuals who rejected the film’s interpretive bent, I question how such a sectional narrative took hold and captured the imaginations of (and “historically” educated) a national audience.

In an effort to move beyond insular academic circles and engage the general public on the idea of visual representations of history, I ask: what cultural, ideological, and intellectual tendencies informed the “making” of The Birth of a Nation?

Of course, such a question can get tricky – so I welcome all comments and suggestions in the comment section below. This week, I will be working on so-called scientific studies that supported the racist sensibilities running throughout the film.

With compliments,

Keith