Archive for History

Apr
18

Lies, damned lies, and revisionist history

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David Neiwert is “celebrating” Confederate Heritage Month at Orcinus with posts on aspects of the War of Northern Aggression southern heritage buffs would prefer to forget (contra the lyrics to “Dixie”). His latest installment looks at “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags,” both Reconstruction-era pejoratives. The first for newcomers from outside the old Confederacy (many of those northern teachers offering literacy programs to freed slaves), and the second for southern whites who collaborated with the freed slaves in post-war governance. Being branded with either term was no mild smear. It essentially put a target on your back, according to Neiwert. (Scroll to the bottom of his page for links to earlier installments.)

At Buzzfeed, Adam Serwer debunks the history of an infamous tintype (above) now in the Library of Congress of two Confederate soldiers, one white man named Andrew Chandler and his black slave, Silas:

… an astonishing tintype of the two men, armed to the teeth in Confederate uniforms, taken in 1861. The image has helped bolster the claims of the community of amateur historians, hucksters, and Confederate sympathizers committed to defending the Confederacy from the charge of racism, who insist that thousands of black men fought and died for the rebel cause. “Ever since the SCV posthumously honored Silas,” Levin wrote in 2012, “accounts of black Confederate troops have surged in popularity.”

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Apr
05

Those were the days – Not

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Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia — by David Edward Cronin, 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Fugitive Slaves in the Dismal Swamp, Virginia — by David Edward Cronin, 1888. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Not long ago, Derek Thompson explored the origin myth surrounding Thomas Carlyle coining the term “the dismal science” for economics. Thompson writes:

But Carlyle labeled the science “dismal” when writing about slavery in the West Indies. White plantation owners, he said, ought to force black plantation workers to be their servants. Economics, somewhat inconveniently for Carlyle, didn’t offer a hearty defense of slavery. Instead, the rules of supply and demand argued for “letting men alone” rather than thrashing them with whips for not being servile. Carlyle bashed political economy as “a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing [science]; what we might call … the dismal science.”

Today, when we hear the term “the dismal science,” it’s typically in reference to economics’ most depressing outcomes (e.g.: on globalization killing manufacturing jobs: “well, that’s why they call it the dismal science,” etc). In other words, we’ve tended to align ourselves with Carlyle to acknowledge that an inescapable element of economics is human misery.

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Jan
15

Temporarily Harney County

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“The Oklahoma Land Rush, April 22, 1889”, by John Steuart Curry (National Archives)

If there is an American myth more toxic than the the prosperity gospel, that bizarre amalgam of Horatio Alger, Ayn Rand, and Jesus Christ that in some quarters passes for Christianity, it is the myth of the American frontier. Ammon Bundy and militia-occupiers and some “sovereign citizens” are playing out their version of that myth in Harney County, Oregon.

Bill McKibben wrote a decade ago about the depth and breadth of America’s self-reverential myths (pun intended):

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Jan
04

A “terrible legacy”

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Graves of Union soldiers who died at the Race Course prison camp in Charleston (1865). (Library of Congress)

While #YallQaida was in southeast Oregon looking for a liberty tree to water with the blood of BLM agents, we were weekending in Charleston, SC where bloody history is still fresh. It had been over a decade since I’d worked there. It took time to get reoriented.

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Jul
05

How is this still a thing?

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In Texas, they still think the Obama is planning to invade. Jade Helm 15 is coming. In Bastrop, Texas, some fear martial law and a white apocalypse. Using a variant of Fox News’ “some say” the county GOP chair tells the New York Times, “in the minds of some, he was raised by communists and mentored by terrorists.” Former mayor Terry Orr explains:

“People think the government is just not on the side of the white guy,” Orr said.

The current Bastrop mayor, Kenneth Kesselus, who also supports Jade Helm, agrees. Kesselus said the distrust is due in part to a sense that “things aren’t as good as they used to be,” especially economically. “The middle class is getting squeezed and they’ve got to take it out on somebody, and Obama is a great target.”

Others in town see the paranoia as “the logical outcome” (if the word even applies) of a political climate where “the state’s Republican leaders have eagerly stoked distrust of the federal government, and especially of Obama.”

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Jun
20

An overactive sense of history

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We were told during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s that some of the ethnic hatreds there dated back centuries. People in the Balkans were re-fighting battles lost 600 years earlier.

One knock against Americans is, it is said we have no sense of history. But during the Bosnian genocide, it struck me that the flip side to having no sense of history was having an overactive one.

Here in the South, there are some people with overactive senses of their own history. Specifically, a history symbolized by flying flags of the Confederacy from lawns, from pickup trucks, and in South Carolina, on the state capitol grounds. That particular flag flies on a pole from which, by law, it cannot be removed.

Why?

Americans with no sense of history will not appreciate how in the South the loss of the Civil War is, a mere 150 years after the fact, still the source of a gnawing, grinding anger for a minority with an overactive one. The myths of the Lost Cause, the Bloody Shirt, “heritage not hate,” “states’ rights,” “Forget, Hell!” and all the other post hoc rationale for whitewashing slavery, treason, Jim Crow, and decades of lynchings and other domestic terrorism are still alive, if only in small pockets. But they won’t let it go. Call it pride. Call it Scots-Irish stubbornness. (And a lingering inferiority complex.) But it is toxic. The defeat went down hard, and the memory of a defeated people runs deep. Ask the Serbs.

Enough.

After the mass shooting in Charleston this week, one South Carolina state legislator, a Republican, proposes removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds once and for all:

South Carolina state Rep. Norman “Doug” Brannon announced on Friday night that he would introduce a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol, citing the death of Sen. Clementa Pinckney during the terrorist attack in Charleston earlier this week.

“I had a friend die Wednesday night for no reason other than he was a black man,” Brannon, a Republican, told MSNBC host Chris Hayes in a phone interview. “Senator Pinckney was an incredible human being. I don’t want to talk politics, but I’m gonna introduce the bill for that reason.”

He showed more integrity than many of his cohorts this week.

John Fugelsang has one of the best (and upbeat) takedowns of Confederate flag-waving and why the South ought to let it go:

Of all the periods of your history, why do you want to celebrate those four years? … You are better than them! You are better than your ancestors who quit America because they wanted to keep people as pets.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Striking find find in the time capsule recovered from Pack Square’s Vance Monument:

The Colored Enterprise, a newspaper representing about a third of Asheville’s population in its day, lay concealed in a box at the base of the Vance Monument for more than a century.

It was put there secretly by Masons in 1897, when the monument was dedicated, and recently discovered during restoration efforts.

The time capsule contained the only known copy of The Colored Enterprise. Although scholars such as Dr. Darin Waters, a professor of history at UNC Asheville, have found references to it during their research, they’ve never actually seen a copy.

Fascinating read.

Categories : History, Local
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May
01

Freedom’s untidy

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So in light of recent events in Baltimore, a friend dredged up this nugget from the memory hole:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave that explanation for the looting in Baghdad at a briefing on April 11, 2003. He followed those remarks by saying:

… freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things. They’re also free to live their lives and do wonderful things, and that’s what’s going to happen here.

[snip]

The task we’ve got ahead of us now is an awkward one, because you have to go from a transition — from a repressed regime to an unrepressed regime that is free to do good things and also do bad things, and we’re going to see both.

Notice how easily the untidiness in Baltimore knocked ISIL, a.k.a. Rumsfeld’s Baby, right off the front pages? Yes, ISIL is that much of an existential threat to America.

The scary thing for Iraq and Syria, however, is that now the media-conscious ISIL will want to do some “bad things” that put them back on the front pages.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Apr
08

Bringing back the nightmares

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Matthew Yglesias yesterday reminded us of how just a dozen short years ago Donald Rumsfeld took time out from overseeing Moe, Larry, and Curly in Baghdad to send this memo to Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith. Rummy had a few extra things he needed Doug to clean up for him:

Rummy

The first time I recall seeing Feith’s name was in a Salon expose a year later on the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans. Feith, described as “a case study in how not to run a large organization,” and OSP stovepiped raw intelligence to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office for use in building a public case for the Iraq invasion. Gen. Tommy Franks was less kind in his assessment of Feith.

Where are they now? Still waiting for the “sweets and flowers,” are they?

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Feb
23

On the origin of “lynching”

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Two postings this weekend involving lynch mobs led me to an interesting bit of history from the Revolutionary War. Reading the L.A. Times op-ed title, “Southern ‘Hanging Bridge: A monument to Judge Lynch,” made me gasp. It had never occurred to me that lynching derived from someone’s name.

Jason Morgan Ward, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, begins:

On Feb. 10, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization Equal Justice Initiative released “Lynching in America,” a searing report that documents 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. The researchers note that their count exceeds that of previous studies by at least 700 victims. The news media seized on the numbers and paid less attention to what the group characterized as an “astonishing absence” of lynching memorials in communities that boast monuments to Confederate soldiers and architects of the South’s Jim Crow regime.

As it happens, an abandoned, rusted bridge on a dirt road near Shubuta, Mississippi stands as a makeshift monument to the lynchings that occurred there between 1918 and 1942. When Ward asked locals if the new road bypassing the “hanging bridge” had anything to do with its history, a local told him, “People don’t need to see that.”

But Ward’s op-ed did not explain who Judge Lynch was.

It was news last week when Oklahoma legislators voted to cease funding an Advance Placement history course, echoing a key critic of the curriculum who believes “the concept of American exceptionalism has been deliberately scrubbed out of this document.”

At Crooks and Liars, Dave Neiwert suggests that one motivation for the legislation may be that Oklahomans do not want to see their own unflattering history revisited: the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the Osage Reign of Terror, also from the 1920s. In the first, white lynch mobs obliterated a prosperous black neighborhood – even dropping fire bombs from airplanes (one might consider that exceptional) – and in the second, white fortune hunters exploited and murdered Osage tribal members to gain control over oil rights. Combined, hundreds died. Neiwert explains:

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