Wednesday, May 10, 2017

David W. Blight

David W. Blight is professor of American history and the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale, and author of Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate about the controversy and the debate over how Americans should think about the Confederacy and its leaders:

Are you still constantly amazed at the speed with which Confederates, especially Robert E. Lee, became heroes after the war throughout the entire country?

It took some time before Northerners of any scale warmed up to Lee, but it did happen by the turn of the 20th century. It happened in part because the Confederacy was allowed to craft its own legacy, to build its own memorials, to create its own story, and historical memory is always about the politics of who gets to control the story.

Lee is gone in 1870. He didn’t write a memoir like Jefferson Davis, who wrote this long, turgid, 1,200-page defense of slavery and states’ rights. Lee doesn’t do that. And he was portrayed as this Christian solider-hero who fought for his home. Some of that is nonsense. Lee was a Confederate nationalist who fought for its cause and knew the cause. But in the popular memory, he became the military figure who was overwhelmed by, as he put it himself, superior numbers and forces. And fought to the bitter end as a good Christian. There was something attractive about that in the 19th and early 20th centuries because they saw Lee as one figure among many whose image could begin to reconcile the country. And his image became as much the man who became a college president for a couple of years as it did the aggressive Confederate nationalist who fought to the bitter end to destroy the United States. Nobody puts that on a Lee monument....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue