Thursday, July 30, 2009

2009 CWPT Teacher Institute: Fredericksburg, VA -Part 3

The final day of the institute started bright and early at 8 a.m. The first session on my schedule was "The Civil War and the Library of Congress: Best Practices for Searching the Library of Congress." This session was presented by Mr. David L. Manuell who was a long-time educator, but is now a Library of Congress Ambassador Fellow.

The main focus of Mr. Manuell's presentation was using the LOC's tool called TPS (Teaching with Primary Sources). He explained that the LOC's website is the most used educational sources for primary sources, but it is also one of the most difficult to navigate. First, he wanted to make sure that everyone knew what a primary source was. He explained that these are items that were witness to an event of the past that have not been filtered. He explained that most newspaper accounts are not considered primary sources, because they have often been rewritten or edited by the paper's editors. Primary sources are important because they they help students avoid the presentism trap, and they let students see the events first hand.

He suggested to avoid the first page of the LOC website other than to look for the "American Memory" link. This takes you to the good stuff. From the American Memory page you can look for the "Teachers" link and then "Primary Source Sets." There are a number of these primary sources sets on diverse topics in American history. He suggested that any number of subgroups in the American Memory section can be fruitful. For example, you might not think the "Advertising" section would have much to relate to the Civil War era, but it does contain some runaway slave ads and possibly army recruiting ads as well.

The final thing Mr. Manuell showed us was an 1850's children's book that he recently located. It is called the Truant Bunny. This moralistic tale told about a bunny that skipped school to do what he wanted to do and then wound up being hanged in the end. I guess the moral to the story is go to school. The illustrations were quite vivid. See if you can find it when you get a chance.

The second session was The Civil War and Fiction: Using Fictional Stories to Teach the Civil War," and was presented by Ms. Ranae Mathis, a California teacher of 24 years. Ms. Mathis' presentation was cross-curricular in that fiction (reading) was being incorporated to help teach history. This form of history is very popular with teachers because the interesting stories sometimes help keep students more engaged than traditional history texts. She used the novel Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit to show how historical novels can help increase student learning and interest. She shared a PowerPoint presentation that provided information on a number of female spys in the Civil War and then gave us several examples of the activities she uses, such as a vocabulary builder, a journal of the novel, and scrapbook of the novel.

She also shared a few other neat activities that uses with her students. One was to make a book out of paper grocery bags. The bags when stapled together make the pages that have pockets where inserts can be pulled out for further information on the topics that are on the pages. The other idea was to take a Pringles can and cut a vertical slit on it then have a scroll of paper taped to a paper towel tube inside the can that can be pulled out of the side of the can with historical information on it. She had one a student had completed about coopers. The can was decorated to look like a barrel, and inside, the paper had a description of the occupation and how barrels were made.

Due to my long drive back to Kentucky I had to cut the day's activities short. Unfortunately I missed the final session of the day, lunch, and Mr. Jack Davis' lunch talk. But, I must say that I had a wonderful weekend. I learned lots of new educational ideas that hopefully I can quickly incorporate, and I gained a significant amount of content knowledge as well. Hats off to the educational team at CWPT for putting on a first-rate event. I hope to go again next year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 CWPT Teacher's Institute: Fredericksburg, VA -Part 2

Saturday's main event was a "field trip" for educators to either the nearby Chancellorsville or Fredericksburg battlefields. I had previously been to both a number of times, but I had never been on a guided tour of Fredericksburg, so for that reason, and because it is one of my all-time favorite towns, I chose it.

We were greeted by our ranger/guide Randy Washburn at the Visitor's Center, where he gave a quick overview of what we would be seeing during the day and what we could expect time-wise. Ranger Washburn is a seasonal employee with the National Park Service, but had previously been a principal for a number of years in the Fredericksburg area.

The Battle of Fredericksburg was fought on December 13, 1862. Another action was fought on much of the same ground during the Chanellorsville Campaign the following May, but we focused on what happened in December of 1862. First, we were taken to the famous stonewall and Sunken Road (wartime picture above-but from 1863) which is just behind the Visitor's Center. Here we learned about the Union assaults against and Confederate defenses of this position. We heard about Thomas R.R. Cobb's mortal wounding and also got to go inside the Innis House, which still contains numerous bullet holes from the battle. On down the Sunken Road we heard the story of Sgt. Richard Kirkland of the 2nd South Carolina, who despite the dangers, after the battle and in the dark, took water out to the Union wounded. For his kindness Kirkland was later called "The Angel of Mayre's Heights." A beautiful monument is there in his honor.

Next we climbed Mayre's Heights and were able to get a better perspective of the field of battle. Up there we learned about how the important high ground helped the Confederate artillery devastate the numerous Union attacks that never got closer than 50 yards to the stonewall and Sunken Road. On Mayre's Heights also is now the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. We were allowed some time to view the cemetery on our own before meeting back up at the Visitor's Center to view the park's 22 minute film on the battle.

Lunch was held across the Rappahanock River at a recreational park. After lunch we went back across the river and toured the downtown Fredericksburg area where much of the street fighting occurred as the Confederates contested the Union river crossing on pontoon bridges on December 12. Our next move was back to the east side of the river where we toured Chatham mansion and its grounds. This lovely house was owned at the time by the Lacy family and served as Union general Sumner's headquarters. It had been visited by President Lincoln the previous spring when Union troops had occupied the area.

The next stop on the tour was to land recently acquired by the CWPT at the Slaughter Pen Farm. This part of the battlefield is south of Fredericksburg and it is where the most successful Federal attacks occurred during the battle. The land has kept much of its historical integrity and when you are out there in the soybean and corn fields, you get a real sense of what terrible fighting must have happened right were you stand. The objective of the Union attacks was to capture the Fredericksburg and Richmond railroad that ran right between the Union lines. A strong Union advance by some of Union general Meade's forces took advantage of a hole in the Confederate lines where a swampy area was left unprotected, and for a brief time broke the Confederate line until reinforcement came and sealed the breach.

Our last stop of the day was to Prospect Hill. This slight rise in ground on the far south end of the battlefield gave Confederate general Stonewall Jackson a fairly good advantage to use his artillery to break the disjointed Union attacks. This area is still in a very good state of preservation and only the rumble of modern trains break the sense of time.

After we returned from the trip we had some time to relax and get cleaned up before that evening's dinner. The speaker for the evening was Mr. Hari Jones from the African American Civil War Museum in Washington D.C. I have been fortunate enough to speak personally with Mr. Jones on a couple of occasions about the African American soldiers' experience and I have always been impressed with this keen knowledge about this topic. The subject of Mr. Jones' talk was the Constitutional nature of the Emancipation Proclamation. He explained that Congress had given President Lincoln the war powers necessary to issue the proclamation by previously passing the Militia and Confiscation Acts in July. These acts allowed for the enlistment of black soldiers and the taking of Confederate property (including slaves) to use to the Union's advantage. Lincoln knew the increased numbers of African American soldiers would be needed to help ultimately defeat the Confederates. And, he pointed out that after issuing the initial Proclamation in September 1862, Lincoln did not have any significant successful military victories until the twin triumphs of Gettysburg and Vicksburg in July 1863.

Saturday's dinner and presentation topped off what was a wonderful day of education and history appreciation. The next post will cover Sunday's sessions.

Monday, July 27, 2009

2009 CWPT Teacher Institute: Fredericksburg, VA -Part 1

Last year I attended the CWPT's Teacher Institute in Hagerstown, Maryland, and I was so impressed with all the learning opportunities and information shared among educators that I promised myself that I would do everything I could to get to the one in 2009. Well, after just returning from this year's event, I'm pleased to say that I was just as impressed this year.

Friday's schedule included a warm welcome by CWPT CEO Ron Cogswell, a review of the newly enhanced CWPT website, and a wonderfully inspiring talk by renowned Civil War historian and professor Dr. James Robertson from Virginia Tech. Dr. Robertson's commitment to Civil War education is second to none as witnessed by his long term profesorship at Tech and the number of educational endeavors that he constantly contributes material toward. Lunch and Dr. Robertson's talk was followed by three breakout sessions.

My first session was "African American Leadership During the Civil War Era: Using Primary Sources to Create First Person Narratives," and was presented by LaNesha DeBardelaben. Ms. DeBardelaben, like me, works with Teaching American History Grants. I especially enjoyed her sharing the idea of students creating a "bio-poem" to learn more and make connections with historical figures. She also spoke about using the acronym SOAPSTone to analyze historical speeches. S is for subject of the speech, O-what is the occasion of the speech?, A-who is the audience?, P-what is the purpose of the speech?, S-who is the speaker?, T-what is the tone of the speech? And, then it is important to look at what is any impact the speech made - immediately or years later. She also performed a short monologue of Sojourner Truth, as an illustration of how performances can enhance learning.

The second session was on "Local Civil War History: How to Use Your Local History to Learn About and Teach the Civil War." Dr. Stephen Rockenback from Virginia State University spoke about the advantages of using local history to not only get students interested, but also show the complexity of the Civil War. He used his personal research on two communities (Frankfort, Kentucky and Corydon, Indiana) to illustrate his points. These two communities one in a free state and the other in a slave state, but both in the border region make for some interesting comparisons. Letters, newspapers (an great source in this type of study), memoirs, county histories, and census records all can help frame a community. He also suggested that those that didn't have a local community in the Civil War, say Utah, to pick one that did and research it.

The third and final session of the day was, "Math and the Civil War: Using Graphs, Charts and Statistics to Lean About the Civil War." Dr. James Paradis first gave background information on the 6th United States Colored Troops and then show how with computer programs and mathematical procedures students can take quantifiable information from the service records of any Civil War regiment and draw conclusions from that information. For example, most soldiers' service records give their height, eye color, hair color, place of birth, age, and occupation among other information. That information can then be transferred into usable statistical measures to find the mean, median, and mode of those descriptors for the regiment. It can then be shown in pie, bar, line, or other types of graphs to make the information more understandable.

All of the session information was made available to the educators on a resource CD. Resource work books were provided by CWPT for taking additional notes as well. The CD contains not only the information that the presenters offered, but also additional information and lesson plans that past teachers have found successful and submitted for other educators to use.

My next post will deal with Saturday's field trip to Fredericksburg National Battlefield and Sunday's class sessions.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Just finished reading - Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South by editors Craig Thompson Friend & Lorri Glover

Often when I really enjoy reading a book I will search for other titles that scholar has authored. That was the situation a few weeks ago after reading Lorri Glover's Southern Sons: Becoming Men in the New Nation. I found a used copy of Southern Manhood at a good price so I bought it, not knowing exactly what I would get.

Unfortunately, Glover only wrote one article in this book of essays, and it covered mainly what she examined in Southern Sons. But, I was pleased to find eight other essays - a couple from scholars that I am familiar with - dealing with diverse aspects of the Southern manhood topic.

One usually subconsciously thinks of white men when the topic of Southern manhood comes up, but editors Friend and Glover went to lengths to show that other cultures were represented in the Old South too, and thankfully they are covered in Southern Manhood as well.

Of special interest was "Trying to Look Like Men: Changing Notions of Masculinity among Choctaw Elites in the Early Republic." In this essay author Greg O'Brien explains that southeast Indians such as the Choctaws had to rework their understanding of manhood when they were conquered by whites. Whites encouraged the Choctaw men to become agriculturists, which had always been female work in their culture. The expansion of slavery into their former territory also challenged long held customs and practices.

"Refuge of Manhood: Masculinity and the Militia Experience in Kentucky," by Harry S. Laver was another thought provoking article that I enjoyed. Laver contends that the militia offered Kentucky men opportunities to display their masculinity by unifying the white community, excluding other races, displaying the marital spirit though weapons and uniforms, and continuing the hard-won legacies of the Revolutionary War and War of 1812.

Two of the essays focused on African American manhood. "The Absent Subject: African American Masculinity and Forced Migration to the Antebellum Plantation Frontier," by Edward E. Baptist looks at male slaves' lack of self decision and the severing of familial ties as they were both sold and moved to the cotton fields of the newly emerging states of Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas. And, Heather Andrea Williams shows in " 'Commenced to Think Like a Man': Literacy and Manhood in African American Civil War Regiments," that some black men gained a new sense of manhood by escaping slavery's confines by joining USCT regiments and taking advantage of opportunities for educating themselves while in the Union service.

This great selection of essays makes a solid contribution to scholarship on manhood in the Old South. I recommend it to anyone wanting to lean more about the diverse men that called the South home before the Civil War.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Learning with Artifacts: Part 2

4. Changes through time - Look at how the artifact has developed over time. Is it still being made? How has it changed? Why do you think it has changed? Do you think it will keep changing in the future? A good example is weaponry. Earliest firearms used what was called a matchlock, then the flintlock was developed, then the percussion cap evolved, then the breech loader, then multi-shot weapons emerged, then machine guns and so on.

5. Look at cross-cultural comparisons - Hats are a good example for this one. Why does one culture wear a top hat while another wears a feathered headdress? What does headwear say about a culture? Are certain hats even acceptable in certain places within the same culture while other hats are not? Why?

6. What are the roots of the artifact? - This one is much along the same lines as number five. Where does the artifact get its influence? Buildings are some of the largest artifacts and architecture is a great example of this one. Many styles of architecture go back in time to get their basic design and influence. Popular 19th century styles such as Greek Revival and Gothic Revival are obvious as to their roots.
7. Does the artifact have a special meaning or value? - Does the culture that this artifact comes from place a certain significance on this item? Religious items such as Bibles and crosses are good examples, but they can also be secular items such as flags or even sports team memorabilia.
Hopefully these give you some different ways to look at artifacts the next time you or your students visit a museum. Museums are special places that often house one-of-a-kind items that you are not likely to see anywhere else, and sure, you can learn lots by just browsing and reading the labels, but so much more can be learned by taking some time to stop and really think about the items you are seeing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Learning with Artifacts: Part 1

The power of learning through the interaction with material culture items is often overlooked in formal educational environments. Hands-on learning is too often relegated to field trips or to museums and historic sites; the places the have all the "old stuff." But, with little to no expense, educators can make history more fun for their students by including historic items into almost any educational format.

Many items are available in inexpensive reproduction form. Reproductions are good because it doesn't matter so much if they get roughed up a bit in transporting them or in handling them. Reproduction items are also often available from museums and historic sites in the form of leaning kits or traveling trunks. These are made specifically to loan out to educators. Also, many museums or historic organizations have programs where educators and curators will come out with certain items and do programs; a sort of professional "show and tell."

With those ideas in mind I would like to provide some ways that you might incorporate artifacts into your lessons or even your personal learning.

1. Let the hands do the learning - Hands-on learning should be so much more than just letting students touch the items; although that is highly encouraged. Can they learn how to make the item? For example, when teaching about the cotton gin, bring in a cotton plant and show what was necessary to get the cotton from the plant. Then give each student a cotton boll and have them attempt to extract the seeds by hand. Then explain how a machine made this so much easier and faster and how that machine then in turn impacted the rise of slavery and thus changes the American economy, politics, and culture. Or, have students try to card wool, dip candles, or show how a flint and steel made fire. If these activities are done before a visit to a museum or historic site, it will make the visit so much more special because they will know what goes into making some of the artifacts that they will be seeing.
2. How was this used back in day? - I have had lots of students ask this when showing an artifact. Curiosity is a great thing to inspire learning. If they don't know what an artifact is, they probably won't know how it was used. A little explanation and back-and-forth questioning goes a long way in figuring it our for themselves; and that's where real learning begins. Why was this item used in say the 19th century and not today? What has replaced it? Why? What had to happen to make what we have available to us today? Try this with an old sad iron.

3. Where did it come from? - What is this artifact's original environment? Sure, they are in a museum or historic house now, but where did these slave badges come from? Why were they used in that particular place? Were they used elsewhere? The same can be used for any number of artifacts. For example, shovels or pitchforks. Some children many not know all the places where shovels and pitchforks were used. Some may think they were only used on farms, but shovels and pitchforks were also used in towns to pick up horse droppings and in gardens for vegetable cultivation. As times change so do the places where items originate.
Hands on learning can prove to be some of the most memorable and influential educational opportunities for people of all ages, but especially children. Look for more ways to incorporate hands on learning for yourself as well. Go to antique stores and flea markets; there is a world of learning environments waiting to be explored.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Just finished reading - Race Relations at the Margins: Slaves and Poor Whites in the Antebellum Southern Countryside by Jeff Forret

Historians have generalized for years that slaves and poor whites in the Old South held an antagonistic relationship, but Jeff Forret, professor at Lamar University, has illustrated in Race Relations at the Margins, that that was not always necessarily so.

Using a diverse array of primary sources including court records, newspaper accounts, and slave narratives, Forret shows that slaves and poor whites often collaborated to survive in a world where they were marginalized by those in social and political power. Slaves and poor whites spent time drinking in taverns and bars, gambled together (also sometimes in taverns and bars - as well as hidden and out of the way locations), traded goods and services - sometimes stolen from those in power) and, of course, they sometimes met in more intimate ways.

Most all of these mentioned activities were against the law in the Old South, but as with many laws -even today - they were only enforced when deemed to negatively impact the community. What's the old saying? - all laws are local? Well, that was often the case in the rural areas of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the three states where Forret focuses his study. Slaves and poor whites met both secretly and out in the open at horse races, cock fights, behind haystacks, in barns, and in the woods depending upon what interracial activity was being pursued and how it might be viewed by the authorities.

Some of the most interesting stories that Forret relates are taken from court cases. These often highly detailed cases usually brought in a number of witnesses who didn't care to relate all they saw or thought they saw. Usually slaves were punished much more harshly than poor whites, when it was meted out in these cases. Rarely were poor whites whipped for their offenses with black slaves that were deemed harmful, but slaves on the other hand were dealt with much more strictly in order keep in them "in line," and "protect the public peace."

Forret continues to examine these relationships into Reconstruction and then on to the Jim Crow era of legalized state segregation, and he shows that the roots of many of those laws went back to slavery days.

This largely overlooked topic has now received the attention it deserves. One reason that it has been avoided is the belief that a study that looks at slaves and poor whites would be too challenging to find primary sources. But, by looking at unconventional primary sources Forret has written a thorough study that helps us better see the lives those that have previously been ignored.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Personality Spotlight: Henry Clay Pate

Like many youth in the 19th century South Henry Clay Pate was named for an esteemed American, and like many youth of the 19th century South, Pate considered himself the quintessential American man.

Henry Clay Pate was born on April 21,1832 in Bedford County, Virginia. His father, Edward Pate was a War of 1812 veteran and had served in the Virginia General Assembly. H.C. as he was sometimes called had preferred to be become a soldier, but his family wished him to be a lawyer, so in 1848 he matriculated at the University of Virginia to study law. Pate's time at UVA would be cut short as he left in 1850 due to troubles in the Pate family finances.

Pate relocated to Louisville, Kentucky where he wrote newspaper articles and continued to informally study law. In 1851 he moved to Cincinnati where he wrote a short book praising the University he had to leave. The book was titled The American Vade Mecum; or, The Companion of Youth, and Guide to College. While the book credited UVA for turning out excellent students and citizens, it criticized what he saw as the current stagnant state of Virginia's progress and once proud place as a leading state in America.

While in Cincinnati Pate earned enough money to purchase a newspaper, but then sold it in 1855 for a profit and moved to Westport, Kansas (present day Kansas City), and stated editing and publishing a newspaper called The Star of the Empire, and also opened a law office.

Pate brought his Southern sympathies with him to Kansas, and in 1856 he joined Shannon's Sharp Shooters named for Kansas territorial governor Wilson Shannon. In the aftermath of the murders of pro-slavery settlers in the Pottawatomie Creek area, Pate and other pro-slavery Kansans and Missourians went to find the killers of these citizens. The nation later would come to know the perpetrator of these murders as none other than the militant abolitionist John Brown. Pate succeeded in arresting some of Brown's men, but upon moving the prisoners he became involved in a battle with Brown and more of his men. After a protracted fire-fight Pate issued a flag of truce. When Pate came out to parlay with Brown, the old abolitionist called for Pate's surrender. Pate refused at first, but after noticing that his men had abandoned him, he had no choice but to give up. Pate remained Brown's prisoner for several days until he was turned over to the U.S. Army and then he was released.

Pate was an active recruiter and fund raiser for the pro-slavery Kansas settlers. He made a number of trips back to Virginia for these purposes. While on one of these trips he met Miss Sue Thomas of Norfolk, who he married in 1859. He permanently moved back to Virgina in 1860 where he settled in Petersburg, printing the Petersburg Bulletin.

When war came Pate sold his business and raised a company of Virginia cavalry that was initially mustered into the Wise Legion, and served in western Virgina. He later served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 5th Virginia cavalry under JEB Stuart's command. Pate's Confederate military record included a dust up and longtime quarrel with Colonel Thomas Rosser, but he ended up dying a soldier's death in the Battle of Yellow Tavern. During the battle Pate was shot in the right temple; his commander, JEB Stuart, witnessed his death and would also die in the battle after being shot in the stomach. Pate was 32 years old; Stuart was 31. After an initial burial Pate was later re- interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Pate's story is like so many other Southern young men during this era. Disillusioned with the direction America was headed and looking to make a name for themselves, they often chose the life of a soldier when war came. Many, like Pate, didn't live to see the Cause lost.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Just finished reading - Diehard Rebels: The Confederate Culture of Invincibility by Jason Phillips

Professor Jason Phillips of Mississippi State University has written one of the best books that I have read in quite some time. In this work Phillips examines why many Confederate soldiers continued to not only battle on, but keep the faith that the South would eventually triumph, despite the serious reverses from mid-1863 to the end of the war.

Phillips's work in primary sources from archives all across the South is quite impressive. His look into the lives of soldiers fighting it out in the trenches of Petersburg and Atlanta especially reveal the Southern soldiers' desire to return home (and many did), but why they stayed and fought and believed they would win until they were surrendered by their commanders.

Phillips credits evangelical religion as being the number one motivator in keeping Confederate soldiers confident that they would prevail. Despite enormous losses in territory and manpower, Southern soldiers believed that God was on their side and would reward them for their suffering and religious faithfulness. When setbacks did occur, they believed they were being chastised by God for their shortcomings and repented at massive revivals held in the camps.

The Federal army's system of total war also contributed to the Confederate soldiers' efforts to stay the course. By applying to Union soldiers, what Phillips refers to as the "Mask of Cain," they believed that such wanton destruction and unconventional warfare would not be blessed by God, and would also turn wavering Southern civilians to greater resistance and enlistments.

Rumors too figured into the Confederate sense of invincibility. When rumors of success emerged, however false or insignificant they eventually proved to be, they seemed to bolster flagging confidence and spurred greater effort and belief in "the Cause."

Seeing the numerous deaths by wounds and sickness also caused many Confederate soldiers to soldier on. Many soldiers believed that they had been through too much not to see it all the way through. They had lost so many comrades and suffered so much, that to many, to desert late in the war was unhonorable and unthinkable.

Time after time, Phillips shows that Southern soldiers expressed their hopes and dreams of an independent nation in which they would make their own laws and handle their own issues without the influence of prying Yankees. When those hopes and dreams were finally smashed at Appomattox and Durham Station they carried those dreams with them into Reconstruction and beyond. Many Confederates who had suffered and sacrificed so much couldn't think of giving in to Federal authority without a fight on some level...even after the war was over.

Diehard Rebels is a book for both the serious and amatuer student of the Civil War. We all seek a better understanding of what the war meant to the men who fought it, and Phillips has shown what at least some thought and fought for...and against.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 5

Frederick Douglass (Michael Crutcher, Sr.) and me at Camp Nelson, Kentucky. Below - The Oliver Perry House, also know as the White House, which served as an officers' quarters at Camp Nelson and now has been restored to interpret both military occupation and a civilian residence.

For our final day of touring we left Shaker Village after have a hearty Southern breakfast that included what is fast becoming one of my favorites; cheese grits. Before breakfast I took an early morning stroll through the Shaker Village. It was almost like walking back in time (other than the grounds crew mowing that is). The numerous period buildings, stone walls, and white painted fences, all make for a very special atmosphere.

Upon arriving at Camp Nelson (I won't give a history of this location as it is discussed in two other previous posts) we were directed to the newly constructed reproduction barracks for a talk by Alison Hart, an author that specializes in young adult historical fiction. She has recently completed a trilogy about the Civil War that incorporates African American horse racing and training in Kentucky in the mid 19th century and weaves Camp Nelson into the story as well. She discussed the positives of including historical fiction into class assignments; for reading comprehension, for better understanding history, and in building a better vocabulary for students.

Camp Nelson park manager Steve McBride next spoke to us about the history of Camp Nelson, the creation of the park and its mission and purpose. Not surprisingly the African American story was largly ignored after the Civil War. The highway makers that were placed at the location years ago gave no mention of Camp Nelson being the third largest USCT recruiting and training camp during the Civil War. It wasn't until Highway 27 was constructed close to the grounds, that efforts were made and appeals were presented to keep the area perserved and as develpment-free as possible.

We enjoyed a catered lunch in the barracks and then we received a special treat; a visit from Frederick Douglass as portrayed by actor Michael Crutcher, Sr., who lives in nearby Nicholasville, Kentucky. The performance was outstanding to say the least. As Douglass, Mr. Crutcher recounted his life history from being born into slavery, to running away, to his start in abolition oration, and on to his later life. His character portrayal is truly believable, and his visual appearance is about as close as one could come to Douglass as you can see from the top picture.

Above - an exhibit of a refugee shanty at Camp Nelson in the park's interpretive center. Many women and children family members followed the enlisting men to Camp Nelson. Later, 16' X 16' cottage style duplex dwellings were built to house many of these refugees.

Above - an exhibit of a hospital ward at Camp Nelson.

Above - a quartermaster office exhibit. Camp Nelson was largely a supply depot and quartermaster distribution center for many of the western theater campaigns after mid-1863.
So, this ends the around Kentucky summer bus trip. I had a great time and got to see and experience many of the places I have wanted to see of a long time. I have certainly learned a lot and have met some great people along the way. I encourage you to take time to explore Kentucky's rich antebellum and Civil War history as well. A good source for information is the Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trail. You can find more of that information at the following link:

Friday, July 10, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 4

I was unable to post last evening due to technical limitations at Shaker Village, but I will pick back up where I left off last; entering Day 4.

We left the Brown Hotel in Louisville Thursday morning after another wonderful breakfast and traveled to Bardstown to visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park (formally known as Federal Hill and pictured above). We toured the house, the first part of which was built in the late 1700s, and were provided with some special information about the ongoing effort to present the African American story at Federal Hill. Over the years the park has for whatever reason not discussed the enslaved people at My Old Kentucky Home, but now with the help of one of our visiting scholars, Dr. Gerald Smith of the University of Kentucky, they are learning and telling more and more of that story. As was the custom on plantations and manors, slaves and the master family were usually buried in separate cemeteries. At Federal Hill, the slave cemetery is now in the middle of the park's golf course. Golfers hit balls into what should be a respected area on a daily basis, and walk disinterestedly among the graves looking for errant shots. The staff is looking into measures to stop this disrespect and also include the slave cemetery in their grounds tours without visitors being subjected to flying golf balls.

A monument placed in the slave cemetery on July 4, 1945, was the focus of our discussion there. The monument says "This Memorial is Dedicated to the Faithful Retainers of Judge John Rowan Immortalized in the Songs of Stephen Collins Foster. Erected July 4, 1945 By the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels 'Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant' St. Matthew 25-27." What was possibly meant to be respectful in 1945, now sounds very patronizing and paternalistic in a post-Civil Rights Movement world, especially considering that the largest lettered words on the monument are JUDGE JOHN ROWAN. In the present, the words of choice..."Faithful Retainers" just seem wrong somehow. We have come a long way in historical understanding and in race relations since 1945.

After leaving Bardstown we traveled toward Hodgenville, Kentucky the closest town to where Lincoln was born in 1809. Before arriving in Hodgenville we stopped at the Lincoln Boyhood Home at Knob Creek Farm (pictured above) where we were presented a talk by Ms. Brooks Howard whose husband's family owned the land for many years where the park is now located. She gave some interesting first-person information about the site and how it has changed over the years.

The cabin that is now there is not the Lincoln's family dwelling, but, many of the logs were taken from the Austin Gollaher cabin. Gollaher was Lincoln's boyhood friend and he once saved Lincoln from drowning in nearby Knob Creek. The Lincoln's never owned the land that they farmed there; they rented the 30 acres. They had moved from the Sinking Springs farm about eight miles away (where Lincoln was born) to the Knob Creek farm while a boundary dispute was being settled on the Sinking Springs farm. The Lincoln's left Knob Creek farm in the fall of 1816 after they lost the case and moved to southern Indiana.

We were next treated to a catered lunch of Kentucky products at the Lincoln Museum, which is on the square in Hodgenville. After lunch we toured the museum individually and had a group picture taken with the Lincoln monument on the square.

The next stop was at the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site (Sinking Springs Farm). Here we saw a short 15-minute film on Lincoln and his birthplace and boyhood home places and then we were given a tour of the grounds that included visits to the spot of the "Boundary Oak," the Sinking Springs, and the Memorial building which houses the "symbolic" (not the real deal) Lincoln birth cabin. The get to the memorial we had to walk the 56 steps, which are there for the 56 years of his life. Five presidents have visited the site, the last being Eisenhower in 1954.

Our next stop was to Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site (pictured above), which was the largest battle in Kentucky during the Civil War. On October 8, 1862 the Union and Confederate armies stumbled into each other while searching for water along Doctor's Creek. This encounter eventually brought the two armies into a deadly battle that left almost 8,000 soldiers as casualties, of which 1,422 were killed outright. Due to the drought being suffered at the time, many of the wounded eventually also died from exposure and disease associated with their wounds.
Today the battlefield is one of the best preserved in America, largely due to its rural setting. While there we saw an excellent video presentation, toured the park's small, yet still impressive, museum, and had costumed interpreters demonstrate items related to the common soldier's life.

After what was a very full and fun day, we made our way to Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. The village is a real gem if you are a preservation enthusiast. Over 20 buildings the Shakers used have survived, a number of which have been converted into guest rooms. Other buildings are used to create the crafts and tend to the period-type livestock that populate the village.
Getting to see all of these sites leaves me wanting to return to spend more time. Hopefully I will get to do just that in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 3

Today we started our touring with a stop at the Confederate Monument on Third Street in Louisville. But, before viewing the monument, we were treated to a talk on antebellum and Civil War Louisville by Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, the dean of Arts and Sciences at UofL. Dr. Hudson also spoke about the plans for a future "freedom park" to tell the Louisville Union and African American story, both of which he believes have been ignored. He contends that a number of ex-Confederates moved to Louisville after the Civil War and took business and political positions that helped influence the Confederate interpretation of the war in memorial form. Although the city did have some Confederate sympathizers during the war, the majority of the population was Union in sentiment and in support.

The monument was erected in 1895 by the Kentucky Women's Confederate Monument Association at a cost of $12,000. The monument is over 70 feet tall and represents the Confederate infantry, artillery, and cavalry with different bronze figures. The monument is owned by the city of Louisville and has drawn a firestorm of protest over the years according to Dr. Hudson.

We have asked the teachers to view the Civil War from the perspective of memory during their time on the trip. They have been asked to view the different parks, homes, monuments, and other sites, and determine which form of Civil War memory is being invoked in its interpretation. David Blight's three categories of Civil War memory for his book Race and Reunion are; the Lost Cause, Reconciliationist, or Emancipationist.

After spending some time at the monument we then drove out Bardstown Road to Farmington Historic Plantation. I have been wanting to visit Farmington since moving to Kentucky a couple of months ago, and finally got my chance today. My half of the group was treated to an informative tour of the house by Rachel Fautz. The house was built in 1815-1816 for John and Lucy Speed by architect Paul Skidmore. The Speeds were both Virginia natives whose families had relocated to Kentucky in the 1790s.
Farmington was primarily a 500 acre hemp plantation, although they grew other crops as well. The productivity and profitability of the 50 plus slave work force is shown in the elegance of the home and outbuildings. Only a few of the original outbuildings still stand, including a stone barn/stable and the spring house.
John Speed died in 1840 and left the house and 123 acres to his wife Lucy; the slaves were divided among the children and Lucy. Joshua, one of the Speeds sons, who had been the roommate of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, returned to Louisville to manage the plantation shortly thereafter.
In 1841 Lincoln visited Farmington for about three weeks in the late summer to recover from a bout of depression. This was Lincoln's only real extended stay on a slave plantation during his lifetime.
Austin Peay, wife of a Speed daughter named Peachy, bought Farmington in 1846, but died three years later of cholera. Peachy owned Farmington until 1865 when she began to sell off pieces of the land. The Henry Dresher family bought the house and 43 acres in 1865 and they owned it until 1908 when it was sold to Joseph Bischoff, Jr. Historic Homes Foundation bought the house in 1958 and it opened as a house museum the following year.
While at Farmington, we also were able to experience their new exhibit in honor of Lincoln's Bicentennial called, Lincoln and Farmington: An Enduring Friendship. The exhibit features a theatre-in-the-round type experience that uses an audio soundtrack that relates to objects and panel highlights around the room. The exhibit is very professional in appearance and research.
I suggest that if you haven't been to Farmington try and get to see it the next time you are near Louisville, it is certainly worth your time and money.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 2

As I hoped and expected, day two of our bus trip has been just as educational and enjoyable as day one. We started off the day with wonderfully big breakfast at the French Quarter Inn in Maysville, Kentucky, and then headed off down river to Fort Wright. Fort Wright was one of over twenty forts and artillery batteries that defended the city of Cincinnati south of the Ohio River during the Civil War.

In Fort Wright a relatively new museum - the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum (pictured above)- is in operation that interprets the role of northern Kentucky in the war. The museum is in a former 1940s home that was built on what was during the war Battery Hooper. The battery was named for a wealthy Cincinnati businessman who provided funds to help construct the defensive works there. The original earthworks are being uncovered in archaeological digs that the site hosts.

During the Confederate offensive into Kentucky in the late summer of 1862, Confederate forces under E. Kirby Smith made it as close to Cincinnati as Fort Mitchel(l), where there was a small skirmish before determining the defenses of the city were too strong and retreated. During the scare, a large number of free blacks from Cincinnati were brought over to the Kentucky defenses to provide additional manual labor. General Lew Wallace named them the Black Brigade, and although they didn't fight with rifles and artillery, their efforts did help keep Cincinnati in Union hands. Many of the Black Brigade joined United States Colored Troops units when African Americans were finally allowed to enlist in large numbers in 1863. A number of these men joined the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry, and one member, Powhatan Beaty, who later joined the 5th USCT, won the Medal of Honor at Chaffin's Farm (or New Market Heights, Virginia) in September 1864.

Our next stop was at the Dinsmore Homestead, just outside of Burlington, Kentucky, in Boone County. The home (pictured above) and farm was bought by James Dinsmore, a transplanted cotton and sugar planter from Louisiana who moved there in 1842. Dinsmore ran a diversified farm that grew wheat, corn, barley, hay, and potatoes, along with a number of other crops and livestock.

To provide most of the labor on the farm Dinsmore brought eleven slaves from Louisiana. Dinsmore also employed a number of German immigrant tenant farmers. After Dinsmore died in 1872, his daughter Julia (born in 1833, died in 1926) managed the farm for over 50 years. Julia never married, but kept a detailed journal that she wrote in almost every day from the 1870s to the 1920s. The staff is currently working on transcribing the journal but have only made it into the late 1800s so far. On the property is also the family cemetery, a winery, the original cabin kitchen, and a number of other outbuildings. Everything in the house is from the Dinsmore family as the house was passed to nieces after Julia died and had always remained in the family until it became a historic home museum. I especially liked the very numerous books that made up the family's eclectic library.

An interesting family story is that of "Aunt" Nancy McGruder who was born about 1810 and died in 1906. She was purchased by James Dinsmore in the 1820s after having previously been a slave of the Minor family in Natchez, Mississippi, and was brought to Kentucky when Dinsmore moved there in the 1840s. She ran away to nearby Ohio in September of 1865, before the 13th Amendment went into effect, but returned to the Dinsmore family in 1878 when she could no longer make a living to support herself. She lived with the Dinsmore's until her death.

The final stop of the day was to the Louisville riverfront to view the recently erected Lincoln statue, and hear a talk from the sculptor, Louisville native Ed Hamilton. The piece (pictured above) is very impressive and is meant to be from the time he visited his friend Joshua Speed in 1841. Lincoln had met the Kentuckian Speed in Springfield and the two became fast friends for a number of years. Speed moved back to Kentucky to run the family hemp plantation, Farmington, and Lincoln visited after a beak up with Mary Todd. The Speeds helped console Lincoln and provided encouragement and moral support, during what Lincoln said was one of the worst periods of his life.

Along with the statue of Lincoln are four granite blocks that feature bas relief impressions of three periods in Lincoln's life; when he was a youngster eager to read and learn; as a young man and visitor to Lexington; and as president - attempting to keep the country together and comforting Mary whose family largely supported the Confederacy. The final block is depicts a coffle of slaves, as Lincoln commented on seeing such a group on his travel back to Illinois after leaving Louisville on a steamboat.

If you get a chance to visit any of these sites I highly encourage you to do so. All of these places offer opportunities to learn about our history and remember the terrible struggles our nation has had to endure and overcome.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Democratic Visions Bus Trip Day 1

Today was the first day of our Teaching American History grant -Democratic Visions - summer bus trip to Civil War related sites around the state of Kentucky. We actually started the trip last evening with a dinner and short introductory program at Berea College, and had a nice stay at the Boone Tavern hotel (pictured above).

We got started bright and early this morning after a nice breakfast, that was also at the Boone Tavern. Our first stop was at the Battle of Richmond Visitor's Center, which just opened in October of last year. The Center is in the restored Rogers House, an 1811 Federal-style house, that was involved in the fighting. The Battle of Richmond (Aug. 29-30, 1862) was the first major engagement during the Confederate offensive into Kentucky during the late summer of 1862, and is known for being the most complete Confederate victory of the war. During the battle the Confederates took over 4,000 Union prisoners and opened Kentucky for further operations that did not end until the Confederates retreated back to Tennessee after the Battle of Perryville (Oct. 8, 1862).

While in Richmond we also vistied Zion Christian Church which was a focal point of the battle, as well as a hospital after the battle, and Pleasant View (the Armstrong family House). All of these sites are being interpreted by the Battle of Richmond Association, a grassroots organization that is very dedicated to preserving and interpreting as much of the Richmond Battlefield as possible. I would like to congratulate them for their hard work and their wonderful Visitor's Center.
Our next stop was at the Lexington History Museum for lunch and an informal self guided tour of their galleries. The LHM is in the converted historic courthouse in downtown Lexington. Their exhibits on Lincoln, and Lexington's involvement in the Civil War are quite well done. Also interesting was their exhibit on Civil Rights.

After lunch we made our way a couple of blocks down Main Street to the Mary Todd Lincoln House (pictured above). This is the house where young Mary grew up and lived before moving to Springfield, Illinois where she would meet and later marry Abraham Lincoln. The house is furnished very nicely with a number of rare original pieces both from the Todds and the Lincolns.
Our next stop was a drive-through tour of a number of significant African American historic neighborhoods, and then a stop at African American Cemetery Number 2. This historic cemetery was started in 1869 and contains a number of Lexington's African American community leaders. One individual that really interested me was a soldier from the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

Finally, we drove from Lexington up beautiful highway 68 to Old Washington, Kentucky, which is just south of Maysville, Kentucky. This charming old town has a number of connections to the Underground Railroad and historic figures in the antebellum and Civil War eras. We were treated to a talk by University of Louisville professor Dr. Alicestyne Turley, who specializes in Underground Railroad research, especially as it pertains to Kentucky.

As you can see it was a very full day, but one a very enriching and educating one as well. I can only hope the other five days are just as good.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Just finished reading - A History of Blacks in Kentucky, Volume 1: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891 by Marion B. Lucas

Although I have deep Kentucky roots through both of my parents, before moving here I had not taken the time to study the different facets of the state's history. Upon my relocation to the Bluegrass state I was happy to find a book that covered one of my favorite histoical topics, African American history - as it relates to the history of Kentucky.

The author, Professor Marion B. Lucas earned his Ph.D. from The University of South Carolina, which has one of the most respected Southern History programs in the nation, and was a long time instructor at Western Kentucky University.

A History of Blacks in Kentucky recounts many episodes that have been lost or forgotten about African American contributions to Kentucky's story. Blacks accompanied whites into what became Kentucky from the time of the earliest explorations. In 1751 a slave went with Christopher Gist on his exploration down the Ohio River. On this trip Gist and his crew found also found a black man living with a group of Indians on the Scioto River. Slave explorers came with Daniel Boone in 1760, and defended Fort Boonesborough against Indian raids in 1778. One interesting early story is that of Monk Estill. Monk was a slave at Estill's Station when the fort, occupied mainly by women and children at this time, was surrounded by Wyandots. During the siege the Indians captured Monk, but he falsely convinced them that the fort was too strongly held and the Indians retreated with the black man as a captive. When the Estill Station pioneer men returned, they caught up to the Indians. During the skirmish Monk shouted the Indian's numbers and battle plans to them and they recaptured Monk. For his bravery he was given his freedom. After his emancipation Monk started is own saltpeter mining business in Madison County.

Professor Lucas vividly recounts slavery days in Kentucky. First, with Kentucky being a former county of Virginia, and secondly, being settled largely by peoples from Virgina and North Carolina, slavery was written into the first state constitution. During slavery the black population continued to grow. The black population percentage reached a high in the 1830s when it was almost 25% of Kentucky's population. Kentucky had the distinction of being third in number of slaves among the states that allowed slavery; only behind number one Virginia and number two Georgia in 1860. But, Kentucky was characterized by its low number of slaves per owner. The average owner in 1850 had approximately 5 slaves each.

Unlike say Virgina, Louisiana, or South Carolina, antebellum Kentucky never had a large free black population. Free blacks never made up more than one percent of the state's population during these years before the Civil War. But, with Kentucky being an upper-South state that bordered on Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, opportunities abounded for slaves to runaway to the free states and then to Canada, particularly from the heavily slave populated counties of the Bluegrass and northern Kentucky regions.

The Civil War and Reconstruction were pivotal times in Kentucky's black history. Although Kentucky slaves were not freed by Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, limited opportunities arose when blacks started being recruited into the ranks of the Union army in the state in 1864. By the end of the war over 23,000 Kentucky African American men served in the Union army. The 13th Amendment finally outlawed slavery in Kentucky and hopes climbed for a new day for the freedmen, but those hopes were often crushed by the white controlled state government who were not ready for racial and social equality among the races.

Blacks instead turned to their own traditional community strengths of family and religion to make their way. A number of local educational facilities emerged during Reconstruction with the assistance of the Freedmen's Bureau and Northern philanthropic organizations. Black populations in Kentucky cities such as Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green, and Newport boomed as freedmen left the fields in search of better opportunities. What they met was normally more of the same; limited jobs and racist ideals.

Dr. Lucas provides many stories of black achievement along with those of struggle, abuse, and disappointment for African American Kentuckians. He ends the book with a fitting concluding paragraph:

"With declining support from white liberals and diminishing national concern over their fate, black Kentucky leaders possessed few options in 1891. As in the past, leaders placed their hope for future equality in the false premise that full acceptance in Kentucky society only required that they build respect for their race by becoming responsible, hard-working citizens. Such good citizenship in a democracy should win favorable response form the white community, they reasoned. The future would provide the answer."

After reading Lucas's book, I am certainly looking forward to reading George C. Wright's, Volume 2: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-1980, in the near future to learn more about this subject.

Flashback Moment: July 4, 1863

Two years ago I had the opportunity to visit Vicksburg, Mississippi and see the actual site where General Grant met General Pemberton between the Union and Confederate lines to discuss surrender. The monument placed there is an upturned cannon that is humbly, yet incorrectly, marked. It says the two generals met on July 4, 1863, when actually they met on July 3rd. The actual surrender was conducted on the 4th.

It has always seemed strange to me why General Pemberton allowed his Vicksburg army to be surrendered on the Fourth of July. Surely, he would have known what the act would mean symbolically to the Federal forces, and how they would capitalize on its historical significance...but he chose to go through with it anyway. Pemberton, a transplanted Northerner, caught more than his fair share of criticism by Southerners for the surrender well past the war years.

Maybe we let presentism and hindsight creep into our judgement of Pemberton. He was certainly in a pickle if there ever was one. He had all but given up hope for assistance from Joseph E. Johnston, who did not act with a sense of urgency. And, with about 10,000 of his soldiers sick or unable to perform their military duties due to wounds and malnutrition, Pemberton was expecting a major assault on the city's defenses that he felt he couldn't hold back due to a lack of men and supplies. The city itself has been shelled by Grant's forces for days and many of the people had become gophers; living in dugout caves to protect themselves from the artillery bombardments.

So, on July 3, Pemberton sent out a squad under a flag of truce to deliver a message to Grant that he wanted to discuss surrender. At 3 PM the generals met under the shade of an oak tree that had somehow survived the combat and there they talked. The meeting ended without resolution, but through the staff officers of the two generals, and correspondence later in day, an agreement was finally reached.

The following morning, July 4, the Confederates marched out of their trenches, stacked their arms. furled their flags, and were formally paroled. The 47 day siege of Vicksburg was over. When informed of the fall of Vicksburg, President Lincoln exclaimed, "The Father of Waters [the Mississippi River] again goes unvexed to the sea."

The victory at Vicksburg effectively split the Confederacy in two. And, along with the significant defeat of General Robert E. Lee's army at Gettysburg the day before, the Confederacy had reached its high tide. Vicksburg was yet another feather in Grant's cap. Only the victory at Chattanooga lay ahead before he was transferred East to command all Union armies.

The people of Vicksburg were defiant to the end. They had suffered through so many privations and sacrificed so much, only to see the "Bluff City" surrendered. And, while the myth that Vicksburgers did not celebrate the Fourth of July until World War II is not entirely true, fireworks must have caused a certain amount of ill feeling to those that survived the siege.

Friday, July 3, 2009

100th Post - Flags of Our Forefathers

Throughout history flags have served numerous purposes. They have symbolized individuals, religions, and represented national pride. Flags have the unique ability to convey a shared history. Since earliest times, flags and colors have been carried by military units for identity. They affirm group distinctness and help create solidarity. Unit flags build pride and morale, and serve to represent the unit's honor.

In Civil War battle situations, flags served as a guide to keep company and regimental lines straight, as well as a rallying point when formations became broken or disjointed. Soldiers gathered around the the colors to regroup, make an attack, or when necessary, retreat. Flags marked specific individuals, locations, and functions, such as headquarters, hospitals, and ambulances. Flags were even used to relay messages by a special signal system.

Civil War regiments, both North and South, often held flag presentation ceremonies upon leaving their communities and being accepted into Union or Confederate service. The regimental colors early in the war were usually created and stitched by the town or county women where the unit was raised. These occasions often included a patriotic speech by the mayor or other local dignitary and then paraded up and down the line of assembled citizens to a regimental band; all in effort to reinforce the importance of the colors to the men who would fight beneath them.

A color guard usually made up of non-commissioned officers protected the flag. To carry the flag was a post of honor, but often a deadly one. Enemy soldiers targeted flag bearers in effort to disrupt the continuity of the battleline and demoralize the foe. The unit's flag was always held in great reverence; as a regiment's honor was displayed in, and often on, its flag. Battle names were sometimes painted on the regimental or national colors to show that the unit had been in the thick of the fight and had displayed them bravely. Of course, the entire regiment was disgraced if its colors were lost in battle.

Union soldiers who captured enemy colors or saved their own unit's flag from the enemy was often awarded the Medal of Honor. Soldiers of both sides were mentioned in battle reports, listed on rolls of honor, and sometimes given furloughs for these feats of heroism.

Original Civil War flags are a historic treasure. Many of these banners had a rough existence in the war, and many others were not given proper care after the war. All that remains of some colors are just tiny bits of fabric. But, thanks to special care at places like the Museum of the Confederacy, the Smithsonian, and other respected museums, these symbols of bravery continue to exist to inspire future generations to appreciate the freedom we enjoy here in America.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

As we enter the 2009 edition of the 4th of July weekend, it is important to remember why we celebrate this day. Our declaring independence from the mother country of England was a first step in truly becoming a nation. And, while the document explained that all men were created by God as equal, and that all men had the rights of life, liberty (freedom), and the pursuit of happiness, there were individuals not free here in what would become the United States of America. Unfree people were black and red slaves, and white indentures too.

Appropriately, 76 years and one day later -on July 5, 1852 - abolitionist and former fugitive slave, Frederick Douglass, gave a speech at Corinthian Hall in Rochester, New York. Douglass, never one to bite his tongue, emotionally poured out his feelings on what he saw as the hypocrisy of asking African Americans to celebrate the 4th of July.

Please read the following excerpts without the influence of presentism. Please realize that this was written when there were over 3,o00,000 slaves held in bondage, and in my opinion is not meant to apply in our day and age. Obviously, so much has changed since 1852.

"...For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!"

Douglass continued that:

"...What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour."

Douglass spoke much longer and on many more themes than I have room to include here, but I think that every American would benefit from reading this speech in full. I can only image what it would have been like to hear it in person. If you are interested in reading the full text of the speech you can find it at the following link.

Have a happy and safe 4th of July, and remember to give thanks to those of the past and present who give you your rights and freedoms.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Personality Spotlight: William S. Bailey

The wake from John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry radiated not only through Virgina and Maryland, but all across the slaveholding South. In Kentucky it forced some men to flee the state for their lives and threatened the livelihood of others.

William Shreve Bailey moved to Newport, Kentucky (across the Ohio River from Cincinnati) in 1839, where he opened a machine shop. The self described "cotton machinist and steam engine builder," eventually started penning antislavery articles for The Newport News. Bailey's inflammatory articles soon forced the editor to offer to sell the paper and presses to Bailey, and in March of 1850 he bought the paper and started a vehement attack on the institution.

After several name changes the paper finally was dubbed The Free South. Unlike many other antislavery Kentuckians, Bailey was a solid abolitionist, and he made it clear that he desired the "immediate" end of slavery. This stance of course made a rough road for Bailey in Kentucky. He was sued for libel, threatened, and even attacked, and his residence and printing presses were burned by an arson in 1851, but Bailey persisted in his beliefs and publishing.

Baily's biggest challenge was met when just a few days after Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, a pro-slavery mob attacked the Free South offices. The unruly crowd moved the printing presses out into the street and tossed the type into the gutters. Parts of the mob returned later and stole a number of personal items from the office. Bailey was warned to leave the state or certainly face worse attacks.

Bailey countered the attackers by filing suit against those that destroyed his business and vowed that he would only leave Kentucky "dead...and some some of them must die with me." He was later imprisoned in Newport when he attempted to publish the Free South again, but he was bailed out by Northern sympathizers and was sent on a British speaking tour. When he returned to the states the Civil War had started and he was allowed to continue publishing through and after the war.