Question of the Week: 1/15-1/21/18
Today is the Martin Luther King, Jr., national holiday. One of the themes the National Park Service developed during the Civil War Sesquicentennial was “From Civil War to Civil Rights.” What Civil War/Civil Rights connections have you seen in your travels and in your readings?
7 Responses to Question of the Week: 1/15-1/21/18
I took the time to visit Selma, AL, a couple years ago as part of a swing I did through the western battlefields: http://emergingcivilwar.com/2015/05/26/day-two-selma/. It was an incredible experience to “walk the bridge”!
Well, the fact the Union had black soldiers fighting within their ranks I always took as an expression of ‘civil rights’, though that term wasn’t in vogue back then. While they (blacks) would certainly have a long way to go towards acceptance and equality, I personally view those Union units as a significant start towards all that. It provides a starting point of the lineage that led up to the Tuskeegee Airmen. I visited the airfield they trained at in Alabama a few years ago and it is a wonderful place to visit.
That would be a cool place to see. I’ll have to add that to my list next time I take a swing through the Deep South.
And I agree: the USCT was a huge early expression of Civil Rights–and a willingness to give everything to protect them, if necessary.
From very early in the war–but quietly, out of public view, and with much less controversy–the sea service led the way in employing fleeing slaves or “contrabands” and enlisting them in significant numbers, despite legal ambiguities. A navy desperate for seamen could not quibble about race, and sailors tended to have more in common with other sailors regardless of background. African Americans served afloat in both warships and privateers starting with the Revolution, hazarding their lives against the nation’s enemies while finding respect, relatively fair treatment, and opportunities not available ashore. And they were not restricted to menial jobs, but were integrated into the crew, and could hold petty officer positions equivalent to sailors of European ancestry.
A lot of people forget that the navy was integrated!
One of the most moving museum’s I’ve ever visited is the one in Cincinnati, Ohio, dedicated to the Underground Railroad. Inside, is a holding shed where slaves were kept while being transferred from one place to another. It will make your skin crawl. The Railroad was probably the greatest Civil Rights movement of its day.
In Charleston, S.C., on the site of a former slave auction, is a museum on the horrors slavery. This museum is a great – and factual – counterweight to the the Gone-With-the-Wind version of slavery. It will break your heart. It details several slave rebellions, ie. early forms of Civil Rights movements, except they definitely were not non-violent.
If anyone gets near Birmingham, Ala., you must visit a museum dedicated to the sit-in demonstrations of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It’s located in a drug store that was actually a target of a successful sit-in. Much of the museum recounts the humiliations of the Jim Crow era. The Civil War, post-war Constitutional Amendments and Reconstruction were supposed to bring equality to blacks. Instead, we had Jim Crow in the South and continuing racial discrimination in the North.
And finally, there is a park on Hilton Head Island, S.C., dedicated to Mitchelville, a community founded of about 1,500 runaway slaves during the Civil War. (Hilton Head was occupied by Union troops for most of the war.) The former slaves founded the first mandatory public school system in the South, i.e. all children within a certain age were required to attend school. Another early movement toward civil rights.
It was at the Corinth Battlefield Interpretive Center that I learned of the the Corinth Contraband Camp; a haven for escaped slaves that numbered 6,000 African-American residents by 1863. Farming the land and working first as unpaid and then ill-paid laborers, many men finally serving as Union soldiers. The bravery of these women and men, taking a leap of faith into a better future by entering a community only partially supported by the Federal government, and then forced from this place in 1864 when it was abandoned, as the garrisoning troops were withdrawn to Memphis for use as part of Sherman’s offensive toward Atlanta. A very sobering tale I’m glad to have learned.