Six Words: ‘Must We Forget Our Confederate Ancestors?’ : NPR

In anticipation of our class discussion on 11/10, on the dilemmas of Southern heritage and memory of the Civil War.

From the comments: “History isn’t a buffet where you keep what you like and skip what you don’t.”

I like that. Of course we know that we are always picking and choosing what we want to remember or not, even professional historians pick and choose when they highlight specific themes, when they frame historiographical issues in specific ways.  The question is why do you choose, to what end, and with what effect?

Please comment!

Six Words: ‘Must We Forget Our Confederate Ancestors?’ : NPR.


About Kate Wilson

I am an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, where I teach public history, immigration/ethnic history, oral history, and material culture. My current research focuses on the impact of ethnic communities on the urban cultural landscape, and the representation of immigration in public history contexts. My book, Ethnic Renewal in Philadelphia's Chinatown: Space, Place and Struggle, was published by Temple University Press in April 2015.
This entry was posted in Discussion, heritage, Interpretive issues, living history, slavery. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Six Words: ‘Must We Forget Our Confederate Ancestors?’ : NPR

  1. jrenner12014 says:

    This article reminds me of Tony Horwitz’s book “Confederates in the Attic” which seeks to explore and analyze the historical memory of the Confederacy, and how it’s meanings differs for people in the South. The author at one point directly asked an African American preacher about how he felt about the nature of remembrance of the Confederacy. His reply was “‘The way I see it…your grandfather fought and died because he believed that my great-grandfather should stay a slave. I’m supposed to feel all warm inside about that?…Remember your ancestors…but remember what they fought for too, and recognize that it was wrong.'” (p.44) I think he’s making an important point. Nobody’s asking Southerners to forgot the past, or to sweep it under rug, pretending it didn’t happen. But people need to honor and embrace their ancestry within the context of the times. In trying to fight for states rights (rather than slavery, as many supporters argue), they were also trying to prevent Northern interference in old Southern institutions and ways of life, which involved slavery. If they only choose to embrace part of the story, then they are hurting the history of African Americans, to whom the Civil War has an entirely different meaning.

    • gatherer60 says:

      Your response provides a great segue into one of the least talked about subjects of the Civil War. That is; The Black soldier in Confederate Grey. Within the last couple of decades their has been an increased effort to include the narratives of the soldier of color who supported the Confederate position.
      There have even been monuments dedicated and suggested by White Confederate groups to recognize the contributions to the Confederacy ,by Black Confederate participants, whether they wore the uniform or not.
      So my answer to the initial question ; “Must we forget our Confederate Ancestors?’, is no. How can we forget them, when so many of them have not even been recognized?

  2. I like that quote. And I can see the real-life limitations that public historians face that force selecting what CAN be presented (limited funding, space, etc.). This seems a very tricky position to be in and, hence, why working with constituencies seems so important to me. And yet, as we have learned in prior readings, even working with constituencies is no guarantee that the right information is presented (e.g., if there are different levels of power among the various constituencies)! I assume that part of it is to be well-grounded/clear on how one will make decisions on what gets presented and what gets left out so that, at least, one can be consistent and perhaps even present to the audience the notion that what is presented is not “all that is” and here is the criteria that was used to make the decisions that were made?

  3. jcurtis10 says:

    The title of this article and question, “Must We Forget Our Confederate Ancestors?” is a very interesting question. Rather than asking if we should forget a particular legacy or a specific cause the question is prompting the thought of forgetting certain people. Because I believe history is such a great teacher I don’t think we should forget anything if possible, and to be sure some things are easier to forget because of the difficult circumstances at that point in time. However, to forget ancestors is completely out of the question. So my answer to that question is “no” we must not forget them. This is my reaction to the idea of forgetting ancestors in particular. I don’t think ancestors, no matter whose they are, should ever be forgotten. For better or for worse we should at least have a small understanding of who they were, what mistakes they made, and learn from them.

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