Katrina Browne on being “White in America”

Posted December 17th, 2012 by
Category: Race and Ethnicity Tags: , , , ,

HuffPost Live's "White in America?"Katrina Browne, our founder, appeared earlier today on a roundtable at the Huffington Post’s “HuffPost Live.” The topic was “White in America?“, inspired by a blogger’s recent call for CNN to complement its “Black in America” series with a look at what it means to be white in our society today.

I’m having one of those: “I wish I had said” moments.  I’m thinking about what I would have said more bluntly than I did, to tie together: Susan Bodnar talking about poor/working class whites not getting enough love (my word) in our culture, as well as talking about their racism; host Alicia Menendez asking why they aren’t covered much on TV; and then Morley Winograd talking about the film Lincoln showing how far we’ve come as a society.

I half-said what I wanted on the show at that point; here’s the more I’d say:

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A sad and sorry continuity: the North in Spielberg’s “Lincoln”

Posted November 16th, 2012 by
Category: History, Popular Culture Tags: , , , , , ,

U.S. House of Representatives passes 13th amendment, abolishing slavery, by two votesI’m one of the jaded ones now.

So it surprised me not to find Fernando Wood rearing his pro-slavery head again, this time as a Democratic Congressman from New York. Here he was on the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, showing up in 1865 as a vocal opponent in Congress to the passage of the 13th amendment. I knew of him from four years earlier, when in 1861, as mayor of New York City, on the heels of South Carolina’s secession, he proposed that the city should also secede from the Union. He was well aware that New York’s economy was inextricably tied to slavery.

Once you know about the North’s complicity in slavery and racism you see the through-line almost everywhere you look. The winter-spring of 1865 that is the subject of Lincoln thus becomes just one more chapter.

In the popular, white, non-southern imagination, we put Lincoln on a pedestal, but we subconsciously put ourselves on that pedestal too, because he is our symbol of northern determination to end slavery. That was us. The good guys.

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Myth-busting and the Civil War: The South turns to federal authority to preserve slavery

Posted September 21st, 2012 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , , ,
Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell divide the country in 1860.

1860 political cartoon, showing presidential candidates Lincoln, Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell dividing the country.

This is the second part of Katrina Browne’s reflections on the 150th anniversary commemoration at Antietam this past weekend. The first part, focused on northern myths about the civil war, was entitled “The Emancipation Proclamation: ‘… all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading.’

Irony.  It’s the word that came fast to mind as I sat listening this past weekend to former National Park Service Chief Historian Dwight Pitcaithley as he revealed the following: that in the heated days of late 1860 and early 1861, from just after Lincoln’s election to several weeks after his inauguration, pro-slavery Southern political leaders, while seceding, simultaneously turned to the power of the federal government to try to protect slavery!  I was at the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Antietam/Sharpsburg, and Prof. Pitcaithley was speaking on “Secession as a Constitutional Crisis.”

He explained that in the span of five months, no fewer than 66 constitutional amendments were proposed in Congress to shore up the institution of slavery.  To turn to the Constitution was the ultimate turn to federal power in an attempt to enshrine slavery.  The case was made primarily based on the 5th amendment’s protection of the right to property.  (Interestingly, pro-abolition crusaders were turning to the same clause in the 5th amendment: that no person “shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” and focusing on liberty rather than property.  Ironies abounding.)

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The Emancipation Proclamation: “… all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading”

Posted September 17th, 2012 by
Category: Public History Tags: , , , ,

Battle of Antietam (Alexander Gardner)A week ago I was still pronouncing “Antietam” as if it rhymed with “Vietnam.”  Now I know it’s pronounced “Anteetum” … and so much more.  My husband John and I had heard about the 150th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Antietam/Battle of Sharpsburg, and since we’d been meaning to have a camping get-away, we decided that this was a great excuse to get outdoors and pursue my work goal of seeing how the 150th of the Civil War, and the role of slavery in the war’s causes and consequences, is being acknowledged at battlefields.

Wow.

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12th Annual Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage

Posted March 6th, 2012 by
Category: History

I had the incredible opportunity and honor to participate in the 12th annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage to Alabama this past weekend sponsored by the Faith & Politics Institute and hosted by Congressman John Lewis.  We visited Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma – going to the specific sites of so many defining moments in the Civil Rights movement.  The delegation included 17 members of Congress from both parties; civil rights leaders in addition to Congressman Lewis: Dorothy Cotton, Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, Bob Zellner; John Seigenthaler (who represented Robert F. Kennedy as intermediary between fed. govt., freedom riders, and segregationist state officials), Ethel Kennedy and Kerry Kennedy; Bill Plante (who covered the events in Alabama and Mississippi in 1965 for CBS); Ruby Bridges (the first black child to integrate a white school).  There were c. 240 of us in total on the Pilgrimage – from government, the private sector, the non-profit sector, universities, religious institutions, etc.  It was a remarkable group of people (including a youth contingent) to spend 3 days with absorbing lessons from these landmark dates and places.

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Letter from Katrina Browne

Posted December 16th, 2010 by
Category: Outreach

Dear friends,

I am so pleased to be sending the first newsletter from our new non-profit: The Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery.  Here you can read great stories about what we’ve been up to this year with many different collaborators … all over the U.S. and overseas.  We wholeheartedly invite you to get further involved with our efforts, through programming and/or financial support.

We formed the Tracing Center in 2010 as an organic extension of two years of work screening Traces of the Trade, having heard, again and again, about the ongoing need for programming about slavery and race that works at a more systemic level, such as in the fields of education and public history.  We received encouraging feedback in a comprehensive on-line survey about our 2009 programming, showing high demand for broader and deeper programming.  You can read our mission statement here.

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Dominicans, traces, and race

Posted November 25th, 2010 by
Category: News and Announcements Tags: , ,

Juanita Brown, the co-producer of Traces of the Trade, and I were invited to screen Traces as part of FUNGLODE’s Dominican Republic Global Film Festival… a truly special film festival that I can’t say enough good things about.

Our visit to the country was sponsored by the U.S. embassy there, to whom we are very grateful!!! It was an incredible chance to test again, after going to Cuba, how the Spanish-subtitled version of the film does or does not resonate for people in former Spanish colonies that were built on a slave-based economy.

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