Wednesday, February 9, 2011

African Americans and the Sesquicentennial

Dana Shoaf interviewed James Robertson, professor of history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in the April 2011 issue of the Civil War Times. The interview touched on problems the Centennial Commission encountered during the 1961-65 celebration.

Robertson gave the following response to Shoaf's question, "How did African Americans react to the commission's efforts?"

"It was just one of those tragic coincidences of history that the Centennial and the civil rights movement came at the same time --- and that produced friction, understandable friction, certainly."

"We tried as hard as we could. We were not as successful as we would have liked to have been. I think that many black Americans wanted to be involved with the Centennial, but their leaders said otherwise."

Eric Wittenberg, published an entry in his blog entitled "An African American's perspective on the Sesquicentennial." He reproduced an editorial by Harold Jackson of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Mr. Jackson urged Americans to "Commemorate, don't celebrate Civil War's 150th." Jackson fells that we should honor those to who "fought to preserve the Union and end slavery." Mr. Wittenberg counters that to say the war was not about slavery alone, and that the Confederate soldiers fought to defend their states and pursue a vision of states rights."

First of all, the war was initiated for economic reasons. The end of slavery meant the loss of wealth to the richest men in the South. I will not dwell on this here and refer you to the web page, Causes of the Civil War, where you can read my arguments.

The issue of states rights was a common theme after the war. The abrogation of the Civil Rights Amendments with the passage of Jim Crow laws illustrates that many former Confederate states wanted to maintain de facto-slavery in the form of economic and political disenfranchisement. Southerners were not convinced that African Americans should be treated as equals. That struggle for equality continues today.

Unfortunately, the celebration of the Civil War 150th anniversary brings reminders to the African American community of slavery and the 150 year struggle for human rights. They see the commemorative activities as a reminiscences by some Southerners about the "good old days." They miss the pivotal role that African Americans played in winning the war, ending slavery, and preserving the Union.

The Civil War should be remembered as a history lesson. We should honor the sacrifices of the Americans who lost their lives in this terrible war. Soldiers fought in this war, like all wars, to save their lives and those of the men fighting with them. African American leaders should celebrate the war as the beginning of the ongoing struggle for equality and make sure that activities in their community remember the horrors of slavery and the honor of those who fought to stop it.

1 comment:

Dan Walker said...

Very nice blog, but it lacks fundamental awarenes of what the war was about, as described by Southern leaders and Southern newspapers at the time.