Monday, July 4, 2016

Mount TBR #27

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory - David W. Blight

In  paper read before the American Historical Association's annual meeting at Charleston, December 29, 1913, historian W.A. Dunning reminded his learned compeers that, in many cases, “influence on the sequence of human affairs has been exercised, not by what really happened, but by what men erroneously believed to have happened.”

This book examines how African Americans and white Americans on both sides remembered the causes and effects of the Civil War in the fifty years after the conflict ended. Blight analyzes commemoration speeches, newspapers, magazines, memoirs, sermons, novels, letters, government hearings, and autobiographies as contributors to the profound processes and costs of remembering and forgetting the Civil War. How we remembered the war through pop culture, politics, and public rituals, has had a deep effect on the present in which we live.

Blight makes a strong argument that in forging national reconciliation after the Civil War, white Americans basically forgot about justice for African Americans and allowed the South to become exclusive custodian of popular memory on its own white supremacist terms. In America, we reconciled the nation in the 50 years after the war at the expense of the former slaves, at the cost of racial justice. To replace the institution of race-based chattel slavery, we created another kind of racial regime, American apartheid. Jim Crow, the state and local laws enforcing racial segregation, was an invention of the south, at the tacit agreement of the north that was quite content to allow states to run their counties as to civil and political affairs.

Blight’s thesis is that struggles over how to remember the causes of the Civil War and how it transformed our country were associated with whether an emancipatory or racialized reconciliation would shape influence policy and social life and dominate national discourse. Memory is social knowledge that influences how societies allocate resources. What we remember, what we think are facts, influence how we vote, who we hire, where we live, who we approve to marry our kids. Blight points out differences in memory among people in the North and the South; white and black Americans; Plantation School writers of Uncle Remus and intellectuals who supported racial justice; Confederate and Grand Army veterans; and Radical Republicans and states rights' Democrats. For instance, Blight reports instructive points about post-war Frederick Douglass' reaction of nausea in response to Robert E. Lee idolatry.

I can’t recommend this book enough to us readers who are finally waking up from the fog of The Lost Cause notion that has beguiled our romantic, mawkish culture since the last couple decades of the 19th century. Ashley Wilkes, my red Indian ass.

PS: I moderate comments to this blog. If I get any  puke, nonsense, or bilge I will, without remorse, trash them. 

I promise. 

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