Thursday, November 14, 2013

Topics? Groups?

No need to post a reply to this, but for tonight I want to you to consider a topic that you want to explore next week, and one or two people from class that you would be willing to work with.  

Here are some possible topics, but you can definitely explore beyond this.  For the creative people in the class, topics that have strong visual and artistic representations would be great to explore here.

Civil War and Reconstruction Topics

Black soldiers in the Civil War – the real “Glory” story? -- Zion, Meghan?
Rebuilding the South – Richmond, images after the Civil War
Romanticizing the South – the Gone with the Wind approach
Blackface minstrelsy - Paxi, Christina
Lynching -- Jenn, Giselle, Zoe
Freedman’s Bureau schools
The Great Migration
Plessy vs. Ferguson
Chain Gangs – pre-prison labor?
Controversies about education – Booker T. Washington v. W.E.B DuBois - Gwen, Tracy, Laura
Beginnings of Pan-Africanism – Marcus Garvey
The KKK – the world’s earliest terror organization?
Mary Surratt execution
The Birth of a Nation – propaganda and film

Go West, Young Man – Homesteaders

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Reconstruction: One step forward and two steps backward?

I like studying the period of Reconstruction because it was, to a large extent, a huge opportunity for Americans to restructure their government and society in the years after the Civil War.  However, by Reconstructions end, the South seems to have barely changed, and African Americans continue to find themselves living in a position of inferiority and danger.

Why did the American government not accomplish more with this opportunity?  What do things like the black codes and the KKK reveal about how hard it is to change a society?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Mourning Reconstruction, Mourning Emmett Till

I always saw the story of Emmett Till's murder as the epitome of all Reconstruction's shortcomings.  While Southern industry made strong moves to catch up with the Northern economy, it did so by reasserting white supremacy over society.  What is worse is that the federal government, wrapped up in economic woes, westward expansion, and imperialistic development, did nothing to protect the civil rights of African Americans. 

Till's story also brings us full circle, in the sense that it raises the issue of freedom, and the way that it applies to modern America.  In the 19th century, it was clear that freedom was not an absolute right awarded to all Americans because of the number of bodies that were deemed as property by the federal government.  By 1955, the year of Till's murder, one would think that freedom would expand to all those protected by the 14th Amendment.  But it did not.  Till's violated body, that his mother insisted upon showing to the world, displays the degree to which black Americans were still not given the freedom that Reconstruction policies had promised them. 

As we leave this unit behind us, we must consider what freedom actually is.  While slavery is over, the ability of the federal government to grant equal rights to all citizens seems to be a continuing battle.  The government's conception of freedom will change in our next unit to the idea of economic equality and what happens when capitalism is in crisis. 

So why should we mourn Emmett?  In what ways does his death demonstrate the degree to which the federal government conceptualizes natural rights by the mid 20th century? What went wrong?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Reconstruction, Restoration, or Redemption?

Reconstruction policies took many forms in its ten-year duration.  And surely, it is important to distinguish between policies that were meant to restore political stability to the Union and those that brought rapid change (i.e. Civil Rights amendments).

What is undeniable, is that Reconstruction was an attempt to change society, even if critics argue it was a failed one.  Is Reconstruction the proper term?  Does the act of reconstruction imply that an institution is torn down and rebuilt from scratch?  Would a better word be redemption or maybe even restoration?

Pick a handful of specific examples from tonight's reading to help illustrate your point.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Too much too soon?

Many of you in your posts from last night agree that the more radical Reconstruction policies (i.e. enfranchisement, black officeholders, etc.) may have shocked the South into a social system that dramatically differed from their antebellum condition.  Perhaps a more gradual Reconstruction policy--one that laid the foundation for racial equality but did not do so overnight--would have been an easier pill to swallow.

After all, white southerners were suddenly faced with an alternative reality, one where their black counterparts walked freely among them, despite the fact that just a few years earlier they had been bound into lifelong servitude.  A revolution in policy, for better or for worse, will likely instill resistance, and it is not a surprise that many of the more radical Reconstruction policies fizzled out when the violent counteractions of the white South became a daily reality. 

So, if we seem to agree that Reconstruction was a failure, we must face the difficult question--what was the alternative?  How could we revisit Reconstruction as a political, economic, and social possibility?  Would there be any way for the defeated South to accept terms that were handed down by the Union (largely Republican) government?  Yes, this is an impossible question to answer in hindsight, but still....what if we could truly do it all over again?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Policies and Intent

While Reconstruction was a period that saw dramatic changes in policy-making, it is generally regarded as a failure by historians.  While the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments abolished slavery and clearly defined citizenship rights for all Americans, its scope gradually diminished to the point that blacks' legal status in the South was virtually the same as it was in the antebellum period (if not worse). 

Why does Reconstruction seem so promising at first, only to fail a decade later?  What were the forces both driving Reconstruction policies as well as resisting them?  In your opinion, did any of the Reconstruction policies have a hidden agenda?  If so, what was it?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Lincoln as Commander in Chief

As somewhat new to the political arena in 1861, it was clear that Lincoln still had much to learn upon taking office.  During a time of war, a president's decisions and role as commander in chief are even more crucial towards the country's future.

Lincoln had no political experience, unlike his Confederate counterpart Jefferson Davis, who had graduated from West Point.  Yet, this reading paint Lincoln as an arguably successful commander-in-chief, even if he drastically expands his executive power in order to do so. 

What is your evaluation of Lincoln as commander in chief?  What are the key decisions that he makes in order to ensure Union strength and an eventual victory.  And even more curious: why doesn't he fire McClellan right away, even upon Wade's insistence?