Now that much of the hullabaloo surrounding the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address has died down, perhaps we can finally ask ourselves: what really was the enduring significance of Lincoln’s famous oration?
Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg were, of course, masterful. In just a few short sentences, the wartime president managed to eulogize the dead and to craft a narrative within which the nation could commemorate their sacrifice, and remember the war, in the context of broad themes from nation’s history and its future aspirations. His address even redefined the nature of public speeches in the United States, breaking ranks with generations of orations based on classical history, learned language, and the passage of hours.
Yet the historical significance of the Gettysburg Address lies primarily in Lincoln’s effort to shift the North’s motivation for fighting the conflict from the preservation of the Union to the radical, and largely detested, goal of emancipation for the nation’s 4 million remaining enslaved persons.James DeWolf Perry
When I speak with audiences about my family’s prominent role in the transatlantic slave trade, I often suggest that while none of us can change what others did in the past, one response to this history is to consider seriously what future generations may think of us. In particular, I ask people to imagine what what institutions or social realities we take for granted today that our descendants may find it hard to believe we were aware of , and yet chose not to oppose or speak out against.
In a very similar vein, Nicholas Kristof offers this thought to readers of his New York Times column this morning, contrasting the evils depicted in Twelve Years a Slave to modern-day slavery:
James DeWolf Perry
I fear that a century from now, someone may put together a movie about slavery in 2013, leading our descendants to shake their heads and ask of us: What were they thinking?
On Wednesday, Katrina Browne, producer/director of Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North and co-founder of the Tracing Center, was interviewed live on Democracy Now! by Amy journalist Goodman.
Katrina appeared following an interview with Craig Steven Wilder, author of the new book, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, which explores the historical dependence of U.S. colleges and universities on slavery and on financial support generated by the economics of slavery, as well as the role of these institutions in the propagation of the ideology that supported slavery and racism.
In the interview, Katrina talks about being a descendant of the nation’s leading slave-trading family, which motivated her to produce Traces of the Trade and to co-found a center devoted to exploring the historical involvement of U.S. families and institutions, North and South, in slavery. She also speaks about the stew of emotional issues that can come up for many white Americans in the course of addressing this history and its legacy today.
Here is Katrina’s portion of the interview:
This morning, as ABC airs its full interview with juror B29 in the George Zimmerman case for the first time, Trayvon Martin’s mother says the juror’s most explosive comment, that Zimmerman “got away with murder,” is “devastating” for their family.
A portion of ABC’s interview with juror B29, a 36-year-old nursing assistant and mother of eight named Maddy, aired last night and has already generated considerable controversy.
Juror B29′s revelations about the Zimmerman case
This morning, the full interview revealed more about the jury’s deliberations, juror B29′s views on the case, and how well the jury verdict reflected an impartial view of the law. We also learned that she is of Puerto Rican descent and, until recently, lived in Chicago.James DeWolf Perry
It is always worth making time, on the Fourth of July, to remember those people and movements whose courage and sacrifice advanced and improved upon the ideals on which the United States was founded. This is true even for those which may have seemed radical, subversive, or even unpatriotic at the time.
The following brief excepts from Douglass’ speech illustrate not only his burning hatred for slavery and his withering scorn for those who would not extend the nation’s liberty to all its children, but also his praise for all that is good in the American experiment, and his optimism for the future:
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What, to the slave and to free blacks, was the Battle of Gettysburg?1
Today marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, which ran from July 1 to 3, 1863.
The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most well-known events of the Civil War, and its sesquicentennial has been widely anticipated for years. Elsewhere, there are expert military historians to offer the most modern understanding of the battle’s tactical and strategic significance, as well as renowned civil war scholars to interpret the battle’s political and social significance in 1863, and to analyze the public’s memory of the battle in the last century and a half.
At the Tracing Center, we focus on the role of slavery and race in the causes, conduct, and consequences of the Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg was certainly of strategic importance in determining the outcome of the war, namely, that the Confederacy would be re-incorporated back into the Union, and that emancipation would eventually become a reality throughout the nation.2
Beyond the battle’s military significance, though, what does the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg tell us about the role of slavery and race in the war, and about the battle’s importance at the time for free and enslaved blacks?
Fifty years ago today, on June 29, 1963, the city of Birmingham, Alabama re-opened its municipal golf courses, making them available for the first time to both white and black citizens.
In October 1961, a federal district court had ordered the integration of Birmingham’s public recreation facilities, holding that their segregation along racial lines was unconstitutional. This plan met with resistance from the city’s commissioner of public safety, Bull Connor, who is best known to history for the use of police dogs and fire hoses against civil rights demonstrators. Connor announced that he intended to close some 67 city parks, 38 playgrounds, 6 swimming pools, and 4 golf courses, and even the city’s football stadium and, if necessary, to sell them all to private citizens rather than accept the court’s integration order.James DeWolf Perry
In 2006, the U.S. Congress voted 98-0 to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another quarter-century.
This re-authorization included Section 5, which requires certain states (or parts of states) to seek federal approval, in advance, for any changes to their voting procedures (known as “preclearance”). It also included Section 4, which provides the “coverage formula” defining which states (or parts of states) are subject to preclearance, based upon their historic use of voting procedures to discriminate against black voters.
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the coverage formula is no longer
unconstitutional constitutional. The majority opinion found that the formula was justified in 1966, by the “‘blight of racial discrimination in voting’ that had ‘infected the electoral process in parts of our country for nearly a century.’” Today, however, a majority of the justices agreed that “Nearly 50 years later, things have changed dramatically.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has finally issued its ruling in this year’s affirmative action case, Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, voting 7-1 to send the case back to the Court of Appeals for further review.
The Court’s decision upholds, at least for now, the use of race as a factor in admissions, while applying a more skeptical analysis than the lone dissenting justice, Justice Ginsburg, believes is appropriate. (Justice Kagan recused herself and took no part in the case.)
The majority opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy and supported by the other six justices, holds that the Fifth Circuit failed to properly ask whether the university’s use of race in its admissions policy meets the standard of “strict scrutiny,” the especially demanding standard which applies to the use of race in governmental actions.James DeWolf Perry
Recently uncovered historical evidence shows that the family of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush has something in common with the DeWolf family of Traces of the Trade: both are descended from notorious slave traders.
In the case of the Bush presidents, they are directly descended from Thomas Walker, a notorious English slave trader who transported enslaved Africans between the west coast of Africa and the Americas in the late 18th century.