GDG- NPS & Slavery

CWMHTours at CWMHTours at
Wed Jan 4 13:31:44 CST 2012

Thank you, Tom.
My sentiment exactly.
You said it well.
The American public is, generally, pretty ignorant of things  and issues 
that effect them.  Too busy playing video games and going to the  Mall and 
You know,...   most, if not all, of my tours with  African-Americans 
generally was filled with blacks who didn't know their own  history.
And, being an old white dude could make it even harder trying  to cover the 
topics.  Had a group get mad on Lafayette Square because they  wanted to 
hear about Black history at the White House.  Naturally being a  W, DC 
historian my first topic was  how black slaves built the White House  and with 
Irish stone masons.  Boy they didn't want to hear about  slaves.  I prefer to 
describe tour stuff chronologically so why not start  at the beginning.
Why, I don't know.  If I was a black person and knew it  was blacks who 
built the place I think I'd be proud.
The way it worked was that in the large cities like DC  there were whites 
who owned slaves and rented them out as a temporary  labor company.  They did 
the hauling and lifting.  Irish stone masons  cut and placed the stones.  
Despite the wishes of the  Anti-Catholics.
They wanted to hear about a LOT of Black History in the White  House.
You know what?  There isn't much.  Blacks in the  White House were 
relegated to assisting white butlers and maids.  I don't  even think they ever had 
black cooks in the kitchen until Truman.  Just  dishwashers.
I immediately switched to Condaleeza Rice (Thank God for her  being 
around.) and Colin Powell.  Got me off the hook.
But Blacks having any significant role in the White House not  much 
happened til post-WW II.
Here's a story:  In 1950 (?) Harry Truman was living  in Blair House 
because the White House was, quite literally, falling down,  having never been 
rehabbed in the old part since 1814/15.  Margaret  Truman's piano like was 
dropping thru the floor upstairs.  Plaster dust was  falling down and they 
finally noticed the piano was about to drop  thru.
For years the piano sat in Blair Mansion restaurant in Silver  Spring where 
I worked parttime.  We loved telling the story of how it was  the piano 
that almost got Harry Truman assassinated.  (The Zeender family  loved telling 
how Harry Truman would tryst with Talula Bankhead there.)   (Place was 
haunted too.  Both myself and another guy were shoved in the  upstairs hallway.  
There used to be a lot of knocking on doors and you'd go  answer it and no 
one there.  Aggravating.)
Anyway, I had this group of young very intelligent  African-American kids 
(jr?) high school-ish from Brooklyn.  I told the  story outside Blair House 
of the 2 Puerto Rican NATIONALISTS who attempted to enter Blair House to 
assassinate H.T.  There was a  gun battle in the street and both were mortally 
wounded, as was Leslie  Coffelt of the Uniformed Branch of the Secret Service.
Later on the bus a dz got up in the back and complained that I  was rascist 
because I described the gunmen as "Puerto Rican" as if that was some  kind 
of slur.  They were VERY ANGRY.  Had to remind them that I  emphasized, like 
above, that they were Nationalists trying to get independence  for Puerto 
Rico and since they were Puerto Ricans trying to free Puerto  Rico  that it 
was not rascist to call them Puerto Ricans.
[Puerto Rican secession?  How come we never talk about  that in here?]
O well.  
No one knows the trouble I've seen.
You know...,  I have never met a person from Puerto Rico  who objected to 
being called Puerto Rican.  
I  am constantly surprised at the many Black people who  don't have much of 
an understanding of the history and dynamics of  slavery.  If I were A.-A. 
I think I'd learn up on it real  fast.  
FOOT NOTE;  One time I was in Arl Cem looking for the  sons of Longstreet 
who are buried by the Conf, sect.  Had books etc in my  hand and not looking 
where I was going.  Almost fell over the grave stone  of Leslie Coffelt.  
There he was, big as life.  Pretty amazing.   George Greene did that to me too 
over at his grave.  Didn't even know he  was in Arlington.  I like George 
Green.  Probly ate chili,  too.
Your  Most Obedient Servant,

In a message dated 1/4/2012 1:43:43 P.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
pennmardel at writes:

Esteemed  GDG Member Contributes:

Thanks for your comments and  sharing some of your personal experiences.  My
sense, however, about  this issue is that the place for educating American
society should be  elsewhere, and not specifically at Gettysburg.  There 
been  several philosophical reasons given in this thread why it is important
to  insure that visitors to Gettysburg learn how the battle fits within the
big  picture of the war and its causes.

I do not totally disagree with this  concept, but still am uneasy with it.
My preference is to maintain a  certain sense of "purity" about what took
place at Gettysburg and its  significance as so well articulated by 
Lincoln at the National  Cemetery dedication on November 19, 1863.

Gettysburg is and of itself a  lesson in perseverance and dedication to a
cause.  What it should not  be seen as is an opportunity to compensate for
the shortcomings of society  who no longer learn about the origins of the
Civil War through the  education system or their own personal endeavors.

To expect or require  the NPS to instruct visitors to Gettysburg about the
causes of the CW to  the detriment of what actually took place there, seems
to me to be beyond  the pale.  I realize that this is a minority opinion on
this board,  but it is what it is.

Some have used the term "politically correct" in  describing this recent
phenomenon at Gettysburg.  However it is  characterized, it appears to be a
response to pressures from those who have  an agenda to promote an
interpretation of the war that supercedes to a  certain extent those
singularly important events that occurred at  Gettysburg.

Regards, Tom  Ryan


I have thoroughly enjoyed and  learned a tremendous amout from all of you on
this topic. Blessed indeed to  have so many smart, well read, and articulate
people in this group. With  that said...

Ironically I don't think it is an oversimplification  to say that this is an
extraordinarily complex issue with no easy answers.  Although our founders
authored the greatest governing charter ever devised  by mortal men (read
here, 'Miracle At Philadelphia' a wonderful  book and one of my faves) they
weren't perfect and neither was it. They  dropped the ball when it came to
slavery. They didn't want to face it head  on. And thereafter it would
periodically raise its ugly head (e.g. 1820  & 1850 compromises) only to be
pushed forcibly below the surface. Its  remarkable that the country didn't
break up long before 1861 and probably  would have if we were'nt blessed 
Clay, Calhoun & Webster (among  others).

Lincoln, our most able and brilliant political  president, wanted to save 
Union, above all else, and probably would be  willing to do so at the
exclusion of all else if thats what it took. He  manipulated people and
institutions (including the Constitution) in the  worst ways in order to do
so. The role that limiting and ultimately ending  slavery played in the
calculus was at least secondary and evolved over  time. E.g. apart from 
the right thing to do (and tepidly undertaken  at best) the primary purpose
of the Emancipation Proclamation was to add a  decidely moral tone to the 
thus ensuring that the Eurpoean powers did  not enter. At least thats how I
understand it. Coincidentally I have just  finsihed reading Gary Wills
wonderful book 'Lincoln at Gettysburg'. Lincoln  wasn't even choosy about
which founding document got him to where he wanted  to be. The Constitution
was fine but he was willing to change horses in  midstream basing his
positions and
justifications in support of the war  and preserving the Union (and the
Gettysburg Address) primarily on the  Declaration of Independence. The fact
that eridicating slavery at the same  time while timely was only a bonus.

The fact that some folks  might think there to be too much of an emphasis on
slavery at Gettysburg,  Arlington, etc. is normal I think. The role and
understanding of race  relations in this country is a central and seminal
issue. I think it  nearly impossible for it to be overemphasized in just
about any  discussion of the history of our country, Gettysburg included. 
the fact  that it had been pushed to the back burner for so long, both 
and  after the Civil War makes it all the more startling when it enters  
where heretofore it has not, some of which has been discussed here.  See 
the actions undertaken by the federal government and courts  beginning in 
1950's. It was through these actions undertaken almost a  century after the
Civil War concluded that effectuated the war's results  and post war
amendments to the Constitution. What took so  long?

Finally, a personal anecdote and analogy (I hope)...I was  at a conference
this past summer on criminal justice reform at the state  legislative level.
At an initial workshop on media relations we were asked  to share our
greatest success during the past legislative session. I spoke  about our
successful effort to secure a pardon for John Gordon, last man  executed in
RI in 1845 and how it engendered many, many public and private  
about other criminal justice reform issues generally. I  explained it this
way to folks from about 30 other states, "Think a Rhode  Island, Irish
version of Sacco & Vanzetti." About a dozen people raised  their hands to
ask, "Who are Sacco & Vanzetti?" I wish I was kidding.  Unfortunately, I'm
not. We have to start these conversations wherever  and whenever the
opportunity presents itself.

Sorry to have  gone on for so long.

Mike  DiLauro

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