Happy Juneteenth! Today is a day of celebration, and I encourage everyone to start this day listening to the Berkelee Jazz Ensembles soulful rendition of Lift Every Voice.
There is also a reflection I would like to share from the eminent historian Barbara C. Fields which forms the coda to Ken Burns The Civil War.
I think what we need to remember, most of all, is that the Civil War is not over until we, today, have done our part in fighting it, as well as understanding what happened when the Civil War generation fought it.
William Faulkner said once that history is not “was,” it’s “is,” and what we need to remember about the Civil War is that the Civil War “is,” in the present, as well as the past.
The generation that fought the war, the generation that argued over the definition of the war, the generation that had to pay the price in blood, that had to pay the price in blasted hopes and a lost future also established a standard that will not mean anything until we finish the work.
You can say there’s no such thing as slavery anymore, we’re all citizens. But if we’re all citizens, then we have a task to do to make sure that that, too, is not a joke. If some citizens live in houses and others live on the street, the Civil War is still going on. It’s still to be fought, and regrettably, it can still be lost
Today is a day to celebrate the good our country can do when people of goodwill fight to make it better. It is also a reminder that the work is unfinished and can still be undone.
I’d really rather not encourage the idea that the Civil War is still going on. That attitude has done nothing that cause trouble IMO.
I think she meant it allegorically that the values that the war was fought to preserve (equality, democracy, and preserving the union and constitution for all) were always at risk for a backslide if we were not vigilant at protecting them. There are many in this country who still value states rights over human rights, property rights over human rights, and argue either overtly or implicitly that the wrong side won the war.
We saw the war being waged anew in the faces of those who stormed our capital on Jan 6 waving the same flag of treason their forefathers flew over Ft Sumter and presented to Gen. Grant Appomattox. We saw the fires of civil war being relit in the torches Charlottesville marchers.
So I would argue it is still important to learn from the ordinary black people who stole their freedom from the bondsman and went on to fight for it after the war. They are the true American heroes we commemorate this day.
One local man William Gould was profiled in todays New York Times. He escaped slavery in North Carolina and stowed away on a navy ship becoming a cabin boy and ending the war with the equivalent rank of a modern chief petty officer. He built a house in Dedham that still stands and belongs to his family, along with St Mary’s church which his contracting and masonry business constructed. He served as an alderman, GAR captain, and chairman of the Memorial Day committee. Dedham is honoring him with a statue in the park renamed in his honor. 6 out of his 8 sons served in WWI. His great grandson published his diary in 1923, the only first hand account of a black Civil War sailor (probably since Mr. Gould was one of the lucky few who learned how to read in bondage), and is now a distinguished professor emeritus at Stanford Law.
Link to the full obituary.
I’m all for vigilance when it comes to equal rights and protections, but that should unite rather than divide us.
I fear you are mistaken about this.
Do you also argue against the observation that WWI and WWII were two stages of the same fundamental conflict? Do you dispute the observation that the seeds of WWII were planted by the Treaty of Versailles and its harsh restrictions on Germany?
The cause of the Civil War was the belief system that holds European White men and women as fundamentally superior to any black man or woman. Institutional slavery was an egregious consequence of that belief system.
The belief in white supremacy was not ended by the armistice at Appomattox.
Eugenics was another expression of the same toxin. America in general and Massachusetts in particular led the world in spreading Eugenics. The history of Harvard is particularly shameful (https://www.wbur.org/radioboston/2016/03/08/eugenics-at-harvard).
It is the belief in white supremacy that has done nothing but cause trouble.
We are seeing a reaction to the presidency of Barack Obama. Large swaths of red-state America were NOT ready for a black man to be president.
If you don’t believe that the Civil War is still going on, then you aren’t listening to today’s GOP.
I think there is a lot of truth to your last line, which is precisely what I don’t want to encourage and why I don’t want to encourage it. Refighting the Civil War should have stopped a long time ago, preferably at Appomattox. Enough Lost Cause! Enough statue iconoclasm! The Civil War resulted in freeing the slaves and preserving the Union – great, time to move on!