GDG- NPS & Slavery
CWMHTours at aol.com
CWMHTours at aol.com
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?]
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 mchsi.com 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
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.
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