Letter from Charleston

An expanded version of a Letter to the Editor written by CLAW Associate Director Simon Lewis for the Guardian Weekly:

It’s a beautiful sight. The sun is just coming up behind Fort Sumter in front of us, and behind us, across the harbor, the gracious steeple-punctuated skyline of Charleston is coming more clearly into view. A squadron of improbably graceful pelicans skims across the surface, their wingtips centimeters above the calm surface; terns are diving, plovers are keening.

I am here at this site, however, not for its outstanding beauty but for an awkward anniversary, the commemoration of the first shot of the American Civil War, fired from this very spot exactly 150 years ago.

The crowd around me is almost entirely white, some sporting t-shirts adorned with the Confederate battle flag, a few official re-enactors in Confederate grey, a young man holding a red South Carolina banner, and a few recognizable local politicians.

The ceremony draws out the contradictions of claiming and celebrating both Southern and American identity at the same time. The program opens with everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, asserting the indivisibility of the American Republic. It continues with an unabashedly Christian prayer from a local pastor.

As we get closer to the Big Bang—the firing of an original 1847 Seacoast mortar—the sourest note of the proceedings points to the way the Civil War divides the contemporary US not so much (or not only) on regional lines, but on political ones. The event’s m.c., tells us that the mortar has been obtained through the good offices of a band of brothers in Wisconsin. “While you’re about it,” they had joshed, “why don’t you fire off a real shell at Fort Sumter?”

Sure enough, the firing of the shell is greeted by a tall dude with a long black beard (in another context he might have been mistaken for a hippy—or a member of the Taliban) yelling, “The South shall rise again.” Still, at least it’s only one dude, and he gets some lip from a presumed “Yankee” woman nearby who snarls, “Get over it—y’all lost.”

The keynote speaker is the conservative Charleston state senator, Glenn McConnell, a devoted Civil War buff. McConnell’s speech attempts to reconcile some of the event’s contradictions, defending South Carolina’s right to secede in 1860, but celebrating the eradication of slavery. He talks up the shared culture of Southern blacks and whites, with no reference to the hundred years between the end of the Civil War and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

The contradictions cannot comfortably be contained in the commemoration of the rebel bombardment of Fort Sumter. They will surely dog the remaining four years of the Civil War sesquicentennial, especially in the South. I look forward to 2015 when we can maybe all just mourn the dead—the failure of politics, and the folly of war.

Simon Lewis

Reminder: TONIGHT – Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin’s Tasting Freedom

Tasting FreedomJoin Us TONIGHT (March 31st) at 7:00 pm at Addlestone Library, Room 227 for Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin’s lecture and book signing of their work Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America.

Daniel R. Biddle, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pennsylvania editor, has worked in nearly every phase of newspaper reporting and editing. His investigative stories on the courts won a Pulitzer Prize and other national awards. He has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and has taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Murray Dubin, author of South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories and the Melrose Diner, was a reporter and editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 34 years before leaving the newspaper in 2005.

In case you missed it…

Check out the Public Panel Session “What We (Should) Remember about the Civil War, and How and Why We (Should) Remember It.” This recorded session was part of the Conference Civil War – Global Conflict held on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at the College of Charleston. The panel was chaired by CLAW’s executive director, Vernon Burton.

Faculty Seminar – Dr. Tim Coates

Forced labor by Europeans and the Prison of Luanda, Angola 1881-1932

Dr. Tim Coates, Dept. of History, College of Charleston
Friday, March 18, 2011
3:15 PM
Addlestone Library, Room 227
205 Calhoun Street, Charleston, S.C.

Timothy Coates is a Professor of History at the College of Charleston and formerly the Vasco da Gama Visiting Professor of Portuguese History at Brown University. He has conducted research in Portugal, India, and Macau on grants from the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Fundacao Oriente, the Luso-American Development Foundation, and the American Institute of Indian Studies. Professor Coates organized two international conferences at the College of Charleston to celebrate the 500th anniversaries of Vasco da Gama’s arrival in India and Pedro Cabral in Brazil.

Civil War — Global Conflict

March 3-5, 2011
Conference: Civil War – Global Conflict

On March 4, 1865, with the Civil War all but over, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time as President of the United States of America. In his justly celebrated inaugural address he called for healing in a reunited nation: “With malice toward none; with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in…to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

In that same spirit, the CLAW program today begins its 4-year-long commemoration of the Civil War with a conference that reflects on the war as a global conflict. Some of the nation’s leading Civil War scholars will consider, among other things: how the international circulation of ideas about liberty, slavery, race, ethnicity, nationalism, imperialism, gender, and religion all helped to shape the conflict; how diplomacy and military strategy affected the war’s outcome; and how the war itself determined subsequent political alliances and military conventions.

As Lincoln’s second inaugural speech intimated, this is not a moment for bravado, nor even a moment for passive mourning, but a moment for settling down to carry on the unceasing work necessary to achieve the kind of understanding that might lead to a just and lasting peace.

The conference will take place at the Stern Center starting today at noon and running till 5:30 on Saturday. Full details are available at http://spinner.cofc.edu/atlanticworld/civilwar/index.html. Please join us if you can.

Public Lecture

Freedom’s Teacher: The Life of Septima Clark

Thursday February 17, 2011
6 PM
Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street
Katherine Mellen Charron, North Carolina State University

Freedom's TeacherCharron traces the life of Charleston’s legendary Civil Rights activist Septima Clark from her earliest years as a student, teacher, and community member in rural and urban South Carolina to her increasing radicalization as an activist following World War II, highlighting how Clark brought her life’s work to bear on the civil rights movement. Drawing on autobiographies and memoirs by fellow black educators, state educational records, papers from civil rights organizations, and oral histories, Charron argues that the schoolhouse served as an important institutional base for the movement. Using Clark’s life as a lens, Charron sheds valuable new light on Southern black women’s activism in national, state, and judicial politics, from the Progressive Era to the civil rights movement and beyond. This book won the 2010 Julia Cherry Spruill Prize from the Southern Association of Women Historians.

Writing the South in Fact, Fiction, and Poetry

February 17-19, 2011


Writing the South in Fact, Fiction, and Poetry

Coastal Carolina University will host an international conference of distinguished writers from the worlds of literature and of scholarship February 17-19.

The conference, “Writing the South in Fact, Fiction, and Poetry,” has been organized as a tribute to the career of Charles Joyner, Coastal Professor from 1980 to 2006, former President of the Southern Historical Association, and author of Down by the Riverside.

Joyner was the inaugural Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture and Director of the Waccamaw Center at Coastal Carolina University. The Humanities Council conferred its Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Humanities on Charles Joyner for his contributions to public understanding of southern history and culture.

The featured writers include three Pulitzer Prize winners and an Emmy winner. In sessions at the Wall Auditorium, they will reflect on their own efforts to understand and portray the American South.

The conference is supported by the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, the History Department, and the Waccamaw Center for Historical and Cultural Studies, the Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture at Coastal, and by a grant from the South Carolina Humanities Council. The conference is organized by Vernon Burton, former Burroughs Distinguished Professor of Southern History and Culture at Coastal and now of Clemson University.

The conference is open to students, teachers, and the general public free of charge.

This program is sponsored by The Humanities CouncilSC, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities; inspiring, engaging and enriching South Carolinians with programs on literature, history, culture and heritage.

Conference Schedule

Public Lecture

The Market Preparation of Carolina Rice

Thursday January 27, 2011
6 PM
Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street
Dr. Richard Porcher, emeritus, The Citadel

Rice was introduced into South Carolina in 1685 and spread to Georgia and North Carolina. The industry ended in 1911. The production of Carolina rice for market reached its zenith in the antebellum period, made possible by the invention of advanced machines for threshing and milling. Richard Porcher will focus on how he and co-author William Robert Judd used artifacts from the field and archives to diagram how these machines were constructed and operated. Four sources of power were used to drive the threshing and milling machines: manual, animal, water and steam. The evolution of each of these power systems will be outlined.

Public Lecture

African Nations & Ethnic Identity in the Mina Coast & in Brazil: An Atlantic Comparative Approach

Thursday January 20, 2011
6 PM
Avery Research Center, 125 Bull Street, Charleston, SC 29401

Dr. Luis Nicolau Pares, a visiting professor from Universidade Federal da Bahia and National Humanities Center Fellow, will present his research on the origin of some African ethnic groups currently living in Brazil and the Americas, and draw similarities in their methods of worship and way of life. Luis Nicolau Parés has a Ph.D. in Afro-Brazilian Religion from the University of London.

Faculty Seminar – Harlan Greene

The Holloways: Legacy of an American Family

Faculty Seminar Series: Harlan Greene, Archivist, Special Collections

Friday, January 21, 2011
3:15 PM
Addlestone Library, Room 227, 205 Calhoun Street

“The Holloways: Legacy of an American Family.” Free people of color have always occupied an intriguing place in Southern and Charleston history. Locally, the Holloway family was one of the most pre-eminent free people of color clans. Although the brick and stone memorials they erected to their family and their class have been destroyed, a fragile paper scrapbook survives. Housed at the Avery Research Center and recently restored, the volume created in the early 20th century not only documents their social, legal, cultural and slave owning activities before the civil war, but dramatically shows how the family’s status declined in the Jim Crow era. The scrapbook, an attempt to shape historical memory, is not only a memorial but a plea sent out to future historians to not erase the Holloways and their class from history, something they saw happening – and which inspired the scrapbook’s creation. Harlan Greene, former Director of Archival and Reference services at Avery, now Senior Manuscript and Reference Archivist at Addlestone Library, will share his observations regarding the scrapbook and the article based on it in a forthcoming in the Posted in Faculty Seminar Series | Leave a reply