Discovery of USCT (55th Massachusetts) Burial Site near Charleston, SC

This is a video about the discovery and excavation of a burial site for soldiers from the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The site was found near Charleston, SC. The 55th Massachusetts was the sister regiment to the 54th Massachusetts that was portrayed in the movie “Glory.”

It’s fascinating to see the excavation process, although it might be a little grisly to some.


 
I encourage you to visit the Youtube page for the video and leave any comments you might have.

Bulldozing Reconstruction and Southern Voters


“Bull-Dozing” circa 1877.
Source: Library of Congress.

This is one of the more… stunning images that I’ve seen from the Reconstruction/Redemption era. It speaks to the practice of “bull-dozing” in the South. Bulldozing was the name given to the sometimes violent, always coercive methods that were used to suppress the southern black vote in the mid to late 1870s.

The Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War saw a profound growth in the political power of African Americans in the South. This included, for example, the election of over a dozen black men to the United States Congress. All of the these men were members of the Republican Party, AKA the party of Lincoln. The period also saw a disturbing amount of political corruption, not just in the South, but in parts of the North and the federal government as well.

This led to a white backlash, and black voters and the Republican Party in the South were the main victims. In 1875, the “Mississippi Plan” was implemented to limit black voting power in a state whose population was over 50% African American. As noted by Wikipedia, “The Mississippi Plan of 1875 was devised by the Democratic Party to overthrow the Republican Party in the state by means of organized threats of violence and suppression or purchase of the black vote, in order to regain political control of the legislature and governor’s office. The Mississippi Plan was successful in those aims… violence [against black voters] went unchecked… during Mississippi’s 1875 election, five counties with large black majorities polled 12, 7, 4, 2, and 0 votes, respectively. The Republican victory by 30,000 votes in 1874 was reversed to a Democratic majority of 30,000 in 1875.”

Whites in Louisiana and South Carolina, whose states were also at least 50% African American, followed suit. As noted in Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, by Murrin, Johnson, McPherson, Fahs, and Gerstle:

Democrats entered the [1876 presidential] campaign as favorites for the first time in two decades. It seemed likely that they would be able to put together an electoral majority from a “solid South” plus New York and two or three other northern states. To ensure a solid South, they looked to the lessons of the Mississippi Plan. In 1876 a new word came into use to describe Democartic intimidation techniques: “bulldozing.” To bulldoze voters meant to trample them down or keep them away from the polls. In South Carolina and Louisiana, the Red Shirts and the White League mobilized for an all-out bulldozing effort.

The most notorious incident, the “Hamburg Massacre,” occurred in the village of Hamburg, South Carolina, where a battle between a black militia unit and 200 Red Shirts resulted in the capture of several militia men, five of whom were shot “while attempting to escape.” This time president Grant did send in federal troops. He pronounced the Hamburg Massacre “cruel, blood-thirsty, wanton, unprovoked… a repetition of the course that has been pursued in other Southern States.”

The federal government also put several thousand deputy marshals and election supervisors on duty throughout the South. Though they kept an uneasy peace at the polls, they could do little to prevent assaults, threats and economic coercion in backcountry districts, which reduced the potential Republican tally in the former Confederate states by at least 250,000 votes.

The 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes resulted in disputed electoral vote totals, and neither man was immediately declared the election winner. After a series of political maneuvers and compromises, Hayes was determined to be the winner. But part of the deal was that Hayes had to remove all Federal troops from Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida (by then, troops had been removed from the rest of the former Confederate states).

Lacking the protection of federal troops, large portions of the southern electorate were disenfranchised, leading the way to the Redemption era and the creation of the Jim Crow South.

The image is from the Library of Congress’ William A. Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs. It was made by James Landy, a Cincinnati photographer.

Hari Jones on Celebrating vs. Commemorating the Civil War

Hat tip to the Interpreting the Civil War blog for this.

Hari Jones is the curator of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum in Washington, DC. He is a great resource on the subject of the US Colored Troops, and gives powerful lectures on the subject. In the following video, he has some thoughtful comments on the subject of celebrating versus commemorating the Civil War:


 

Secession in South Carolina: Celebrate or Commemorate?

“One group held a gala ball to celebrate the 150th anniversary of South Carolina’s secession from the Union. Another contingent rallied in opposition to that ball. South Carolina is a state that is divided on how we should remember this undeniably historic event.”

So begins a discussion on South Carolina’s public affairs program Connections about whether to celebrate or commemorate South Carolina’s secession from the United States in 1860. Program host P. A. Bennett talks it over with Michael A. Allen, a public historian and member of the National Park Service; Jannie Harriot, co-chair of the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, executive director of the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation; and Dr. Lonnie Randolf, president of the SC State Conference of the NAACP.

It’s nice to see a discussion that includes somebody from the National Park Service, given the NPS’ role in developing the interpretation and presentation of the War on government owned and managed sites.

Click here or on the graphic below to see the video for the program.

Scenes from the US Colored Troops Symposium at Kinston, NC


USCT Reenactors Joseph Becton and Mel Reid. This was taken at the CSS Neuse / Gov. Richard Caswell Memorial Museum State Historic Site in Kinston, NC.

I just got back from the Seventh Annual US Colored Troops Symposium in Kinston, NC. It was held in conjunction with Kinston’s Blue-Gray Civil War Living History Weekend in commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. The event included several lectures, storytelling, a dedication to Kinston/Lenoir County US Colored Troopers, and a (very loud) live weapons demonstration.

I brought a camera, but due to a battery problem, I couldn’t get it to work. I was able to use my iPhone to take a few photos, which I’ve posted here. It’s a previous generation iPhone that doesn’t take the best of pictures, but I think these came out well.

The most interesting part of the event for me was the spirited exchange that followed a presentation given by Earl Ijames, the curator of African American and Community History at the North Carolina Museum of History, on “The Myth of Black Confederates.” Ijames’ spoke about the role of NC slaves and freemen during the Civil War, including some who acted like soldiers – although Ijames noted that he didn’t use the term “black Confederate soldier” in his talk. Ijames was immediately followed by Asa Gordon, the Secretary General of the Sons and Daughters of United States Colored Troops, who challenged the notion of the widespread existence of willing and loyal black Confederates. This is clearly a very controversial subject, and I expect we’ll see more discussions like this as the War’s sesquicentennial observance continues.

Although there wasn’t a huge turnout, I was heartened to see this much participation in a Civil War related event from what was largely a black audience. I am not yet sure that African Americans are taking an interest – great or small – in the War or its 150th anniversary, notwithstanding academics, professional historians and archivists, and War hobbyists who will always follow this subject. This was a good way to garner more attention and enthusiasm for what is an essential part of American history in general, and African American history in particular. The symposium was produced by Kinston’s Cultural Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to the commemoration of the role of blacks in the military, especially colored troops (and white Union soldiers) during the Civil War; and to other aspects of African American history.


Cannon at the Kinston-Lenoir County Visitors and Information Center


Colored Soldier Figurines. The figure at the rear is the ever-elusive Black Confederate Soldier.


The Littlest Trooper
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Training School for Wives and Mothers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1888

This photograph is from the book “In Christ’s Stead”: Autobiographical Sketches, which is the memoir of Joanna P. Moore, a white missionary who dedicated her life to improving the condition of African Americans in the South. A summary of the book is here.

This is from the book, which tells of how Moore’s training school in Baton Rouge was shut down:

After the close of the school at Point Coupee, I moved with all my belongings to Baton Rouge, where I opened under promising auspices a school which I hoped might be permanent, but which continued but two years and a half.

I was very enthusiastic, as were also all the teachers associated with me. The Women’s Baptist Home Mission Society paid my salary and that of Miss Button while she was with me. Besides this expenses were provided for by God who thus set the seal of His approval on the work.

While in Baton Rouge I received one hundred dollars from the Happy Thought League, under the care of Mrs. P. G. McCollin, who is now in heaven. That money came in a time of great need. I would weary my reader if I told of the many answers to prayer in so many ways during my short pilgrimage. The money came pouring in, so that I had $2,000 in my hands with which to purchase the home in which my school was held, but the bargain was not closed when all my hopes were shattered and my school destroyed. This is the sad part of my story. God help me to tell it wisely, kindly, and truthfully.

I find among my records a conversation I had with one of my pupils about two months after this calamity:

“Sister Moore, is our school for colored women really closed?” “Yes, my scholars all went home, and so far I find it impossible to have them return.”

“Why did any one disturb your school?” “I cannot tell; I thought everything was peace and safety. I did not think any of the white people had very serious objections to my school.”

“What was in the notice put on your gate?” “There were the emblems of death–a skull and cross-bones and the notice stated that I was ordered by the ‘White League’ to close my school and leave the place.”

“Why did they do such a cruel thing when we were having such a blessed, quiet school and not molesting any one?” “The reason given in the notice is exactly in these words, ‘You are trying to educate the niggers to consider themselves the equals of the white people.'”

“Oh, I am so sorry! What do the white people mean? If we steal or fight they punish us, and then when some one comes to tell us in a kind loving way how to be good and do right, then they want to drive her away.”

“I don’t understand it myself, all that seems to be now in my power, is to ask the Lord to open some other door by which my dear women may get an education, and be taught the Bible and the duties of home life.”

“What did you do when you found the notice at your gate?” “I got my bonnet and went down town and showed it to three or four of the best white people in town.”

“What did they say?” “They were indignant, and said it was an outrage, and promised they would do what they could do to protect me. I also showed it to the mayor and other officials, and they promised the same.”

“Have they made any effort to find the guilty persons?” “I don’t know that they have.”

“Oh, Miss Moore, what will become of the colored people?” “God will take care of them, my dear child, if not on earth, there is a safe place up in heaven. Persecutions are a part of the bargain God makes with His children. Let us be patient. God knows it all, and Rom. 8:28 is true. “All things work together for good to them that love God.” This trouble will in some way work together for good. We must trust God’s promises.”

The above is a sample of many conversations with my women.

The photo is from an online version of the book at the University of North Carolina’s Documenting the American South website. It is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which had made it available to be freely used by individuals for research, teaching and personal use.

What’s My Name?

Since they were first brought to the shores of America, people of African descent have struggled with issues of identity.

Africans who came to America were de-cultured of their language, religion, family practices, and other customs and behaviors of their homelands. Their role as slaves led to them being seen as genetically inferior, Biblically shamed, docile, childlike, dishonorable, and otherwise degraded. Even free blacks were seen as inferiors who were denied citizen rights and subjected to discrimination. For almost all of their time in America, the identity of African descendants was established and controlled by European Americans, in a way that seemed to always work to the disadvantage of African peoples, and eventually, the growing number of people of mixed African and European descent.

One consequence of this history has been an ongoing controversy within the African descent “community” over an appropriate collective name for themselves. Should they “accept” titles that had been chosen for them by whites, or should they choose a name that represents their own views and concept of themselves? And what is their own concept of themselves, anyway?

These questions and issues are reflected in the following comments from African descent persons that go back to the antebellum era, and come forward to today. They end with a salient note from W.E.B. DuBois, a leader of the “New Negro” movement, who tells a high school student “it is not the name — it’s the Thing that counts. Come on, Kid, let’s go get the Thing!”


Well, not only “colored”…
 

“A Subscriber” has suggested the appropriateness of the term “Afric-American.” The suggestion is as absurd as the sound of the name is inharmonious. It is true that we should have a distinct appellation we being the only people in America who feel all the accumulated injury which pride and prejudice can suggest. But sir, since we have been so long distinguished by the title “men of color,” why make this change, so uncouth and jargon-like? A change we do want and a change we will have. When it comes, we shall be called citizens of the United States and Americans.

- The Liberator, 1 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

****

The term “colored” is not a good one. Whenever used, it recalls to mind the offensive distinctions of color. The name “African” is more objectionable yet, and is no more correct than “Englishman” would be to a native-born citizen of the United States.

The colored citizen is an American of African descent. Cannot a name be found that will explain these two facts? I suggest one, and I beg your readers to reflect on it before you reject it as unsuitable. It is “Afric-American” or, written in one word, “Africamerican.” It asserts that most important truth, that the colored citizen is as truly a citizen of the United States as the white.

- The Liberator, 24 Sept. 1831
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

****

That we are colored is a fact, an undeniable fact. That we are descendants of Africans is true. We affirm there is nothing in it that we need to be ashamed of, yea, rather much that we may be proud of.

For ourselves we are quite well satisfied. And we intend, in all our public efforts, to go to the power-holding body and tell them, “Colored as we are, black though we may be, yet we demand our rights, the same rights other citizens have.”

- The Colored American, 6 or 13 March 1841
Source: National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox – The Making of African American Identity: Vol. I, 1500-1865

1862
****

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”
–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

More concretely, within the context of the racial looking glass, the question is whether one can make the word “Negro” mean so many different things or whether one should abandon it and use the words “black” or “Afro-American.”

This question is at the root of a bitter national controversy over the proper designation for identifiable Americans of African descent. (More than 40 million “white” Americans, according to some scholars, have African ancestors.) A large and vocal group is pressing an aggressive campaign for the use of the word “Afro-American” as the only historically accurate and humanly significant designation of this large and pivotal portion of the American population. This group charges that the word “Negro” is an inaccurate epithet which perpetuates the master-slave mentality in the minds of both black and white Americans.

An equally large, but not so vocal, group says the word “Negro” is as accurate and as euphonious as the words “black” and “Afro-American.” This group is scornful of the premises of the advocates of change. A Negro by any other name, they say, would be as black and as beautiful–and as segregated. The times, they add, are too crucial for Negroes to dissipate their energy in fratricidal strife over names.

But the pro-black contingent contends, with Humpty Dumpty, that names are of the essence of the game of power and control. And they maintain that a change in name will short-circuit the stereotyped thinking patterns that undergird the system of racism in America. To make things even more complicated, a third group, composed primarily of Black Power advocates, has adopted a new vocabulary in which the word “black” is reserved for “black brothers and sisters who are emancipating themselves,” and the word “Negro” is used contemptuously for Negroes “who are still in Whitey’s bag and who still think of themselves and speak of themselves as Negroes.”

This controversy, which rages with religious intensity from the street corners of Harlem to the campuses of Southern colleges, has alienated old friends, split national organizations and disrupted national conventions…

But it was obvious that the controversy touched deep emotions in the black community where many segments, particularly the young, are engaged in an agonizing search for self-identity and self-determination…

- Lerone Bennett, Jr., What’s In a Name? Negro vs. Afro-American vs. Black, Ebony Magazine, November 1967
****

We’ve gone through the names-Negro, African American, African, Black. For me that’s an indication of a people still trying to find their identity. Who determines what is black?

- Director Spike Lee
****

Dear Sir:

I am only a high school student in my Sophomore year, and have not the understanding of you college educated men. It seems to me that since THE CRISIS is the Official Organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People which stand for equality for all Americans, why would it designate and segregate us as “Negroes,” and not as “Americans.”… The word “Negro,” or “nigger,” is a white man’s word to make us feel inferior. I hope to be a worker for my race, that is why I wrote this letter. I hope that by the time I become a man, that this word, “Negro,” will be abolished.

Roland A. Barton

My dear Roland: Continue reading