Dressed in Her Sunday Best

Source: Library of Congress, Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-124808 (click on the link for identification and other information)

This beautiful image, probably taken in 1899, is part of a collection of African American photographs assembled for the 1900 Paris Exposition by scholar/activist W. E. B. Du Bois. The girl’s name is unknown. The picture was probably taken in the Atlanta, Georgia area.

The picture collection is maintained at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Many of the photos have been digitized and can be viewed on line – go here.

Virginia Brochure Touts “Richmond Burning”: Emancipation as a Tourist Destination

From the “On to Richmond.com” website.

I had to do a double-take when I saw it. In big letters and bold colors, this Virginia travel brochure seems to loudly – and proudly – say that, yes, Richmond burned to advance the cause of freedom – and you ought to come visit and check it out.

The above image is from a travel brochure by the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau in partnership with the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Petersburg Area Regional Tourism. In 2009, they launched the Web site OnToRichmond.com, which is titled after the Union battle cry, “On to Richmond!” The website has Civil War and Emancipation itineraries for landmarks and other items of interest in the Richmond/Petersburg area.

Two things are of interest to me. First, this brochure is not just marketing the Civil War to tourists; it is marketing the Civil War and Emancipation to tourists. They are positioned as two searate and equally important themes which might draw a visitor’s interest.

Second, I am surprised at how aggressively the Emancipation narrative is used to attract visitors. To be sure, many Confederate sites and landmarks are identified in the brochure; in addition to places related to slavery and freedom, such as the Richmond Slave Trail, the Slavery Reconciliation Statue, and the Black History Museum Cultural Center of Virginia. But, a travel brochure that seems to glorify the burning of Richmond to achieve the goal of freedom might be seen as incendiary to some folks; so, too, might be the use of a Union battle cry to name a site about southern tourism. Although I take no offense at these myself. (Note that, the cities of Richmond and Petersburg have majority African American populations.)

But I do think that this approach to promoting the Sesquicentennial, which offers inclusion for the African Americans and many non-southerners, is positive and useful. There is more to the Civil War than just emancipation and freedom; and there’s more to emancipation and freedom than just the Civil War. While these things are clearly related, and interrelated, there are aspects of each that deserve their own consideration, commemoration, and reflection.

I wonder how successful this particular promotional campaign has been in attracting visitors to the area? I suspect that the pull of such materials will get stronger as the anniversary of the final Emancipation Proclamation approaches, and as the role of black soldiers (who were not widely used as combatants before 1863) comes into focus.

Off Topic: Feeling Like Summertime

It’s been hot during the past few days here in Washington, DC, making everyone think we’ll have an early and long summer.

And that brings to mind the song Summertime from the Gershwin, Heyward, and Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess. This excellent version features Ella Fitzgerald and singer/trumpet player Louis Armstrong. I believe this is from the album Porgy and Bess done by Armstrong and Fitzgerald in 1958.

Here’s another great version of the song by DC’s own Billy Stewart:

An Irish American View of the Colored Soldier

Union enlistment posters for Irish Americans in New York and coloreds in Pennsylvania

Last year, I posted a blog entry about conflicts between African Americans and Irish Americans during the Civil War. It’s an interesting read that can be found here.

This is an excerpt from that blog post:

      During the antebellum and Civil War eras, free negroes and Irish immigrants often had a strained relationship. Both were subject to racial or ethnic bias by the white Protestant majority (anti-immigrant bigots were called “Nativists”), and were considered the “bottom rungs” of American society. (Blacks were on the very bottom.) Given their lowly status, blacks and Irish often competed for low-wage jobs, and the stress of that competition led to outright hostility… or worse.

      Tensions between the two groups were further inflamed by heated and hateful rhetoric from the Copperhead faction of the Democratic Party, to which most Irish Americans were aligned. These Democrats argued that the emancipationist policies of President Lincoln and the Republican Party would cause a “stampede” of freed blacks to the North that would undercut and devalue white labor.

      The Democrats also argued that it was unacceptable for whites to fight and die to free black slaves. That argument was echoed even by the Irish religious leader New York Archbishop John Hughes. As noted by historian James McPherson in his book Battle Cry of Freedom, Hughes stated that “we Catholics, and a vast majority of our brave troops in the field, have not the slightest idea of carrying on a war that costs so much blood and treasure just to gratify a clique of Abolitionists.

Phony or For Real: The Confederate Colonel or the Boss N*****?

OK, both, or one, or neither of the following movie trailers is fake. Can you guess which is phony and which is for real?

First, there’s the southern colonel who’s cooked up a recipe for revenge:

Then there’s the fugitive slave who’s gone out west for freedom, fame, and fortune:

The answers are below the jump. Continue reading

Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino tackles slavery in the upcoming movie “Django Unchained”

Is anybody ready for Pulp Fiction creator Quentin Tarantino’s take on slavery in the Old South? It’s coming.

Tarantino, a director and screenwriter whose films are known for earthy and witty dialogue, eccentric story lines, and violence (and eccentric violence) is currently making a movie titled Django Unchained about a freed slave who seeks revenge against his former slavemaster. Django Unchained follows on the heels of Tarantino’s World War II movie Inglourious Basterds, about a group of Jewish American military operatives who seek to assassinate members of the Nazi leadership. That movie garnered positive reviews and was Tarantino’s highest grossing film.

Wikipedia says this about the Django Unchained:

The film stemmed from Tarantino’s desire to produce a spaghetti western set in America’s Deep South; Tarantino has called the proposed style “a southern,” stating that he wanted “to do movies that deal with America’s horrible past with slavery and stuff but do them like spaghetti westerns, not like big issue movies. I want to do them like they’re genre films, but they deal with everything that America has never dealt with because it’s ashamed of it, and other countries don’t really deal with because they don’t feel they have the right to”.

…Jamie Foxx has since been confirmed to play Django. Tarantino regular Samuel L. Jackson will play Stephen, a wise, proud house slave. Leonardo DiCaprio has also been officially cast in the role of Calvin Candie, the primary antagonist in the film. Kurt Russell had been cast as Ace Woody, a “vile and sadistic trainer of slaves who are forced to fight in death matches for a plantation owner.” Kerry Washington has been cast as Broomhilda, the “long-suffering slave wife of Django.”

Other cast members include Dennis Christopher as Candie family lawyer Leonide ‘Leo’ Moguy, Laura Cayouette as Candie’s sister, Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, M.C. Gainey and Tom Savini as Big John and Ellis Brittle, two of the slave owners who separate Django and Broomhilda, Anthony LaPaglia and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Australian brothers, Jano and an unnamed character, respectively, who encounter Django while escorting slaves to a fight. However, Gordon-Levitt has not fully committed to the film, due to possible scheduling issues, and Gerald McRaney and Michael K. Williams in unknown roles. Tarantino-collaborator RZA was cast as a slave named Thadeus. According to ReservoirWatchDogs.com, Sacha Baron Cohen was cast in the role as gambler Scotty Harmony who wishes to purchase Django’s wife from Calvin Candie.

The film is scheduled for release on Christmas day, 2012, but don’t let the release date fool you: this will not be a film for the whole family to enjoy. If it’s a Tarantino movie, there will be blood. In fact, I can see the puns already: “What’s black, white, and red all over? It’s Quentin Tarantino’s new film about the Old South!” (Well, that seemed punny to me.)

PS: Black filmmaker Spike Lee has criticized Tarantino for the frequent use of the N-word in his movies. It will be interesting to see what the N-word count will be in this new film.

PPS: In an earlier interview, Tarantino said that among historical figures, he was most facsinated by the violent white abolitionist John Brown. Brown is most famous for trying to incite a slave rebellion in western Virginia.

Now, a Tarantino movie featuring John Brown… I’d pay to see that, no questions asked. I can only dream it will happen.

Note: See the follow-up to this story: Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” Hits the Big Screen

Henry Highland Garnet’s Call to Rebellion: “…rather die freemen, than live to be slaves… let your motto be resistance!”

The African American abolitionist and activist Henry Highland Garnet (1815-1882) was a religious man. And on this day, he was raising Hell.

Garnet was all of 27 years old when, in August of 1843, he addressed the National Negro Convention in Buffalo, New York. The meeting was part of the decades long National Negro Convention Movement, in which northern free blacks met to discuss strategies for achieving racial equality and civil rights for freemen in the North, and emancipation and liberty for enslaved blacks in the South. These discussions often centered on the benefits of using “moral suasion versus political action” – that is, whether or not blacks and whites should use moral persuasion to convince American society to end racial prejudice, or, engage in direct political action to gain liberty and equality for people of African descent. (The influential white abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was among those who eschewed political activism.)

Garnet had a much more radical approach to the problems of those in bondage. The son of a fugitive slave (one source indicates his grandfather was a Mandingo warrior prince), the youthful Garnet and his family were always fearful of being taken by slave catchers; his father once made a narrow escape from slave hunters, and his sister was taken into slavery for a time. His life experiences may have made him more open to solutions that went beyond suasion and politics, because in August of 1843, Garnet was openly calling for a slave rebellion.

Garnet’s speech was not just some angry rant. He grew up in New York City, with acquaintances such as Alexander Crummell, Samuel Ringgold Ward, James McCune Smith, Ira Aldridge, and Charles Reason, men who are among a who’s who of early 19th century northern black leaders. He attended a free school in New York, and sailed on ships to Cuba as a cabin boy. He had theological training and served as a Presbyterian pastor. Garnet was educated and worldly, and his speech reflected that, with references to pride in African heritage, slavery policy in the colonial and Revolutionary War eras, and the global context of abolitionism. This was in addition to his speech’s major themes that slavery was anti-Christian, and resistance to slavery pro-Christian; and that manhood and honor dictated that (male) slaves use “every means” necessary to liberate themselves.

It’s probably too much to say that in tone, Garnet sounded to his contemporaries like Malcolm X did to his. But Garnet’s righteous and religious anger, and his open call for manhood-based armed resistance, was surely uncomfortable to the more pacifist natures of current day black and white abolitionists. Fellow convention attendee Frederick Douglass, who was associated with William Lloyd Garrison, made a rebuttal to Garnet’s speech; unfortunately, Douglass’ speech did not survive for us to read it today.

An abridged version of Garnet’s speech is below. More about Garnet can be found here, here, and here. More about Garnet’s speech is here, here, and here (full text).

(Notes: The phrase “Rather Die Freemen, Than Live to be Slaves” is used on the flag of the 3rd Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. The phrase “let your motto be resistance” is the title of a book and an exhibit of African American portraits.)

This is an abridged version of Garnet’s speech to the 1843 National Negro Convention, which is often referred to as his “Address to the Slaves”:

BRETHREN AND FELLOW CITIZENS: Your Brethren of the North, East, and West have been accustomed to meet together in National Conventions, to sympathize with each Other, and to weep over your unhappy condition. In these meetings we have addressed all classes of the free, but we have never until this time, sent a word of consolation and advice to you. We have been contented in sitting still and mourning over your sorrows, earnestly hoping that before this day your sacred liberty would have been restored. But, we have hoped in vain. Years have rolled on, and tens of thousands have been borne on streams of blood and tears, to the shores of eternity. While you have been oppressed, we have also been partakers with you; nor can we be free while you are enslaved. We, therefore, write to you as being bound with you. Continue reading

Negro G. A. R. Veterans Parading, New York City, May 30, 1912

Negro G.A.R. veterans parading, New York City, May 30, 1912
Source: Library of Congress; Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-132913; see more information about the photo here.

This is a photograph of black Civil War veterans, and family and friends, marching in a Grand Army of the Republic parade in New York in the early twentieth century. The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) was an organization of United States (Union) veterans of the Civil War, including men from the Army, Navy, Marines and Revenue Cutter Service. Wikipedia discusses the GAR:

After the end of American Civil War, organizations were formed for veterans to network and maintain connections with each other. Many of the veterans used their shared experiences as a basis for fellowship. Groups of men began joining together, first for camaraderie and later for political power. Emerging as most influential among the various organizations was the Grand Army of the Republic, founded on April 6, 1866, on the principles of “Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty,” in Decatur, Illinois, by Benjamin F. Stephenson.

The GAR initially grew and prospered as a de facto political arm of the Republican Party during the heated political contests of the Reconstruction era. The commemoration of Union veterans, black and white, immediately became entwined with partisan politics. The GAR promoted voting rights for black veterans, as many veterans recognized their demonstrated patriotism. Black veterans, who enthusiastically embraced the message of equality, shunned black veterans’ organizations in preference for racially inclusive groups. But when the Republican Party’s commitment to reform in the South gradually decreased, the GAR’s mission became ill-defined and the organization floundered. The GAR almost disappeared in the early 1870s, and many divisions ceased to exist.

In the 1880s, the organization revived under new leadership that provided a platform for renewed growth, by advocating federal pensions for veterans. As the organization revived, black veterans joined in significant numbers and organized local posts. The national organization, however, failed to press the case for pensions for black soldiers.

I recently purchased The Won Cause: Black and White Comradeship in the Grand Army of the Republic, by Barbara Gannon. Like so many books I don’t have time to read, this might sit on my shelf for a while. But it promises to offer some interesting insights into race relations and the GAR. This is from a description of the book:

In the years after the Civil War, black and white Union soldiers who survived the horrific struggle joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)–the Union army’s largest veterans’ organization. In this thoroughly researched and groundbreaking study, Barbara Gannon chronicles black and white veterans’ efforts to create and sustain the nation’s first interracial organization.

According to the conventional view, the freedoms and interests of African American veterans were not defended by white Union veterans after the war, despite the shared tradition of sacrifice among both black and white soldiers. In The Won Cause, however, Gannon challenges this scholarship, arguing that although black veterans still suffered under the contemporary racial mores, the GAR honored its black members in many instances and ascribed them a greater equality than previous studies have shown. Using evidence of integrated posts and veterans’ thoughts on their comradeship and the cause, Gannon reveals that white veterans embraced black veterans because their membership in the GAR demonstrated that their wartime suffering created a transcendent bond–comradeship–that overcame even the most pernicious social barrier–race-based separation.

By upholding a more inclusive memory of a war fought for liberty as well as union, the GAR’s “Won Cause” challenged the Lost Cause version of Civil War memory.

Trivia: Sumter’s Law and the “Black Currency”

Most of us know from American history class that the shooting war between the United States and the Confederate States started at Ft. Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Here’s some trivia about the man who gave Ft. Sumter its name.

Thomas Sumter (1734–1832), nicknamed the “Carolina Gamecock,” was a Revolutionary War hero and a member of the US Congress. As noted in wikipedia:

Portrait of American Revolutionary War militia...

Thomas Sumter by Rembrandt Peale, via Wikipedia

In February 1776, Sumter was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line of which he was later appointed Colonel. He subsequently was appointed Brigadier General of the South Carolina militia, a post he held until the end of the war. He participated in several battles in the early months of the war, including the campaign to prevent an invasion of Georgia. Perhaps his greatest military achievement was his partisan campaigning that contributed to the decision by Lord Cornwallis to leave the Carolinas for Virginia, where Cornwallis met his fate at Yorktown in October 1781.

He acquired the nickname “The Carolina Gamecock” for his fierce fighting tactics, regardless of his size. A British General commented that Sumter “fought like a gamecock,” and Cornwallis paid him the finest tribute when he described the Gamecock as his greatest plague.

After the Revolution, Sumter served South Carolina as a member of the U. S. House of Representatives… (and) was elected a U. S. Senator…

“Gamecock” is one of the several traditional nicknames for a native of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina’s official nickname is the “Fighting Gamecocks,” though since 1903 the teams have been simply known as the “Gamecocks.”

Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor was named for Sumter after the War of 1812.

What I’ve found interesting is the enlistment bonus policy that Sumter used to attract men in South Carolina to fight for the Patriot cause. As Michael Lee Lanning notes in his book African Americans in the Revolutionary War,

Although neither South Carolina nor Georgia permitted black enlistment, both states did allow slaves to be used as bounties to induce white volunteers. In April 1781, Gen Thomas Sumter of South Carolina offered slaves to any white man volunteering for ten months of service. New recruits were to receive one grown, healthy slave, while those with prior service could receive up to four blacks for reenlisting.

In February 1782 the South Carolina legislature formalized “Sumter’s Law.” In addition to promising a healthy slave between the ages of ten and forty to any white who enlisted, the legislature ruled that recruiters were to receive a bonus of one slave for every twenty-five whites enlisted during a two-month period.Since neither Sumter nor the South Carolina legislature had any slaves of their own to barter for enlistments, they honored the bounty with slaves captured or confiscated from Loyalists (to the British).

Georgia broadened the scale of the use of slaves as enlistment bonuses. The state rewarded white soldiers with slaves for their part in successful battles, paid public officials with slaves, and used slaves as tender in exchange for military provisions and supplies. Again, the source of this “black currency” was the plantations of the Loyalists.

How ironic that the “black currency” used to wage the Revolutionary War would be the spark that led to the Civil War.

FYI, Virginia also used slaves as an enlistment bonus – see here.