I am sure it is no accident that we are reading Slavery and Public History at the beginning of Black History Month. It has always perplexed me as to why the society we live in views rights and recognition as a zero sum game. The Nash article, describing the fight between local Park Service people, and historians highlights this point. It also, again not surprisingly, addresses some of the same issues highlighted in Letting Go? specifically the role of museums (but in this case, it’s a historic site) and whether it should be a shrine to past events, or whether it should be a forum to discuss those past events, and how they effect the present.
I had read “Southern Comfort Levels” previous to this, and it made me as mad then, as it did this time around. I understand the reasons for not punitively punishing the South after the war, but it is my humble opinion that it was the wrong decision. And things like “Monument Street” in Richmond is evidence of this point. No such monuments exist in London for Guido Fawkes, instead he is burnt in effigy every year. There are no statues of Cornwallis, Burgyone, or Benedict Arnold in New York City (which remained firmly in the British camp through the Revolution). Because they lost. For me it’s too close to those fascist $&@#%€£ who claim that everything is the Jews’ fault, or immigrants are a problem, or any of those other things that they say. These people/ideas need to be discussed, but in a way that shows them as they really are, not for what they pretend to be. (And I expect my own ideas and such to be put under the same scrutiny.)
Which brings me back to Black History Month, and the “zero sum game” theory. As historians we need to be willing to wade into these troublesome issues. But as Joanne Melish’s article about the John Brown house pointed out, we need to be able to do it expecting nuance and a more complex narrative.