The Corner


1861 and All That

I have stepped into a hornets’ nest — I have written about the Confederacy and its monuments (here). I had a head full of steam, and I’ve released it. The issue is multifaceted. There are of course complications. But I have exactly zero sympathy for the Lost Cause. My article is not for everyone. (When are my articles? Or anyone’s?)

In the course of this article, I quote Barbara J. Fields, my beloved college professor. She is an eminent historian of the American South. Recently, she was the president of the Southern Historical Association, and in November 2015 she gave a presidential address. Here it is, though behind a paywall.

In my article, I don’t quote her address — I quote something she said in class, long ago. But here on the Corner, I’d like to quote a bit of the address. What she says does not accord completely with my own views. But (a) so what? and (b) others will like it. So, this Bud’s for you!

BJF warns against

the effort to disinfect places of the remaining traces of an ugly past by removing historical scoundrels’ names from streets, intersections, and buildings. Such gestures, which cost nothing and, for the most part, change nothing, produce a glow of moral satisfaction. Meanwhile, piece by Orwellian piece, they build a public landscape that is a lie.

Sorting out such matters will entail controversy, anger, and wounded pride. Personally, I would feel no pang if Andrew Jackson disappeared from our national currency, he who hated paper money in the first place, who expropriated allies and enemies alike in his campaigns against indigenous people, and who, arguably, did more than anyone else to make the Union synonymous with slavery. At the same time, I would feel more than a pang at a banishment of Thomas Jefferson, who, though he fought hard to make the United States and the world safe for slavery, yet gave voice to larger ideas than he was able or prepared to live by or ask white fellow Americans to live by …

I’ll be back soon with less controversial issues in our circles. Mattress Girl, maybe?

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