Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anne Marshall's "Creating a Confederate Kentucky"

Anne E. Marshall is assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State, and reported the following:
“Despite the dominance of reconcilliationist memory that white Kentuckians cultivated, they were not able to claim sole possession of public memory in the state.”

On page 99 of Creating a Confederate Kentucky, I do what I sought to do (and what I wish I had been able to do more of) throughout the whole book, which is to describe the counter-hegemonic voices of African Americans and other former Unionists who challenged Kentucky’s burgeoning Confederate Civil War identity. As I began researching this project, it was easy to find evidence of how conservative Kentucky whites used Confederate rhetoric and symbolism to not only remember a more stable past, but to buttress their contemporary conservative political and social aims. In the interest of doing so, they erected Confederate monuments, joined Confederate veterans organizations, and produced Lost Cause literature in spades. They did this by appealing to and enlisting the support of many white Kentuckians—not just former Confederates. It was harder, however, to locate alternate interpretations of Civil War history and meaning— those that might have been held by African Americans and radical Unionists—that focused on the conflict as the source of emancipation, and as the springboard to equality for all Americans.

On page 99, I begin an account of a convention of over 300 African American activists, which met in Louisville in 1883. Led by Frederick Douglass, these people came together in order to highlight the unfulfilled promises of the Civil War and Reconstruction when it came to black rights and equality. In a stirring speech, Douglass reminded his audience that African American freedom had come “not by gentle accord from either section,” but rather had been “born of battle and blood.” He struck a blow at reconciliationist tendencies of whites by reminding people of both the sectional animosities and the racial consequences of the war.

The voices of Frederick Douglass and the other black activists at the Louisville convention are all but forgotten today, at least in public memory, because they don’t continue to exist in the form of monuments or other tangible symbols. Rhetoric of this kind, which highlighted Kentucky’s and, more broadly, white America’s selective remembering and forgetting, is an important part of the memorial context that I was trying to retrieve and highlight in Creating a Confederate Kentucky.
Learn more about Creating a Confederate Kentucky at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue