(CNN) Maine Gov. Paul LePage defended monuments to the Confederacy in a radio interview on Tuesday, claiming that 7,600 Mainers fought for the South and that the war was initially about land, not slavery.
Two Civil War historians contacted by told CNN disputed LePage's assertions.
As universities and municipalities rush to remove Confederate monuments, many historians have been stunned. For decades, they say, it was difficult to even broach the idea that the monuments were symbols of white supremacy. Public sentiment, they said, would not allow it.
“I never thought I’d live to see these monuments coming down,” said David Blight, a Yale University historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The years leading up to 1861 saw polarised politics, paranoia and conspiracy theories. Sound familiar? David Blight reflects on America’s Disunion – then and now
“I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1781. The American revolution still raged, many of his own slaves had escaped, his beloved Virginia teetered on social and political chaos. Jefferson, who had crafted the Declaration of Independence for this fledgling nation at war with the world’s strongest empire, felt deeply worried about whether his new country could survive with slavery, much less the war against Britain. Slavery was a system, said Jefferson, “daily exercised in tyranny,” with slaveholders practicing “unremitting despotism”, and the slaves a “degrading submission”.
A day after the brawling and racist brutality and deaths in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe asked, “How did we get to this place?” The more relevant question after Charlottesville—and other deadly episodes in Ferguson, Charleston, Dallas, St. Paul, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and Alexandria—is where the United States is headed. How fragile is the Union, our republic, and a country that has long been considered the world’s most stable democracy?
The reason the South fought the American Civil War has been contested ever since the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. An odd turn of events, considering that when 11 Southern states seceded from the Union at the war’s outset, they were very clear about why they were doing it.
On June 21, 2017, Gilder Lehrman Center Director David Blight and GLC summer intern Ry Walker (YC 2020) addressed a group of elementary, middle, and high school teachers at a New Haven monument to the 29th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. The teachers were participants in a seminar taught by Prof. Blight called “The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass.” The seminar was organized by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Ms. Walker is a rising sophomore at Yale University. Through the Afro-American Cultural Center’s History Keepers Program, she was interning with the GLC for the month of June.
Ever since Donald Trump became President I have believed his greatest threat to our society and to our democracy is not necessarily his authoritarianism, but his essential ignorance - of history, of policy, of political process, of the Constitution. Saying that if Andrew Jackson had been around we might not have had the Civil War is like saying that one strong, aggressive leader can shape, prevent, or move history however he wishes well into the future.
Stevie Wonder received an honorary Doctorate of Music degree on Monday, May 22nd, at Yale University’s 316th commencement. David Blight, along with Frank Snowden, Professor of History & History of Medicine at Yale, had a chance to speak with Stevie Wonder at the luncheon following the commencement ceremony.
David Blight with students from the Stratton Mountain School in Vermont and their teacher Reid Smith, after Blight's lecture, “The Civil War, Race and Reunion,” at the First Congregational Church of Manchester, VT on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.
From the BBC: President Trump has caused controversy with a revisionist riff on Civil War history, telling journalist Salena Zito in an interview that Andrew Jackson could have prevented the war if he’d been president a little later, and that Jackson was “really angry” as he watched it unfold.
Jackson, a slave-owner and strongman who took office in 1829, died 16 years before the war began.
We asked three prominent Civil War historians - David Blight, from Yale; Judith Geisberg, from Villanova University; and Jim Grossman, from the American Historical Association - to parse Trump’s comments, line by line.
David Blight discusses Frederick Douglass in an interview with Susan Gonzalez from YaleNews, February 17, 2017.
More than 30 years ago, Yale historian David Blight stood high atop a ridge near the Maryland coast and took in a view, the memory of which still awes him.
It was of the Chesapeake Bay in the summer, dotted with the white sails of boats, from a vantage point described more than 100 years earlier by the famed former slave, abolitionist, and orator Frederick Douglass.
David Blight appears in the PBS documentary film Birth of a Movement. The film was aired on February 6th, 2017 at 10:00pm.
In 1915, Boston-based African American newspaper editor and activist William M. Trotter waged a battle against D.W. Griffith’s technically groundbreaking but notoriously Ku Klux Klan-friendly The Birth of a Nation, unleashing a fight that still rages today about race relations, media representation, and the power and influence of Hollywood. Birth of a Movement, based on Dick Lehr's book The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights,captures the backdrop to this prescient clash between human rights, freedom of speech, and a changing media landscape.
Throughout modern history, the millions forced to flee as refugees and beg for asylum have felt Douglass’s agony, and thought his thoughts.
Frederick Douglass, author, orator, editor, and most important African American leader of the 19th century, was a dangerous illegal immigrant. Well, in 1838 he escaped a thoroughly legal system of enslavement to the tenuous condition of fugitive resident of a northern state that had outlawed slavery, but could only protect his “freedom” outside of the law.
David Blight gave the Biddle Memorial Lecture at Harvard Law School on November 9, 2016. His lecture, “DOUGLASS! DOUGLASS! Writing the Life of Frederick Douglass: Why, and Why Now?” was moderated by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School.
Opera singer Andrea Baker explores the impact of Frederick Douglass and the time he spent in Scotland, the country which she's made her home. As the great-granddaughter of slaves, she's always been inspired by Douglass, who escaped slavery to become an abolitionist and social reformer but, until now, was unaware of the impact he'd had on Scotland and vice versa.
A century and a half after the Civil War, the process of Reconstruction remains contested—and incomplete.
The Reconstruction era was both the cause and the product of revolutions, some of which have never ended, and likely never will. Lest this seem a despairing view of U.S. history, Americans need to remember that remaking, revival, and regeneration have almost always characterized the U.S., its society, and its political culture. But no set of problems has ever challenged the American political and moral imagination—even the Great Depression and the World Wars—quite like that of the end of the Civil War and the process of Reconstruction.
Is Donald Trump truly one of a kind—a sui generis sensation in U.S. politics? As Americans try to make sense of the businessman-turned-Republican presidential frontrunner and how he’s come to dominate the polls and the airwaves in the 2016 cycle, Politico Magazine decided to consult the archives: Is there a historical figure the Donald resembles—a model who can help explain his rise? We asked some of the smartest historians we know to name the closest antecedent to Trump from the annals of American history.
November 14–15, 2014, Dudley Davis Center, University of Vermont
The Civil War casts a long shadow in the United States. As Robert Penn Warren put it in his classic 1961 book, The Legacy of the Civil War, “many clear and objective facts about America are best understood in reference to the Civil War.”
No sooner had the nation finished celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Civil War’s end this past spring than the Charleston massacre and confederate flag fracas reminded us that the past isn’t past and the conflicts at the heart of the war still smolder. Historian David Blight has been pointing that out for years in books such as Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. David says that America dropped the ball when it set aside Reconstruction and set about reconstructing memory itself, embracing some convenient myths and turning its back on civil rights and African Americans in the process. We talked about a legacy of lost opportunities and broken promises, willful forgetting and whitewashed history.
Let’s not get carried away here, friends told me yesterday. A flag is just a symbol. When they stop passing voter-ID laws or start passing gun laws, then I’ll be impressed.
This is a sound view, no doubt about that. But if you don’t think symbols matter, think about how tenaciously people fight to hold onto them. And more than that: In terms of our political culture, the pending removal of the Confederate battle flag from South Carolina’s capitol grounds, and now Mississippi’s state flag—and, don’t forget, from WalMart’s shelves—represents a rare win for North over South since Reconstruction.
The Reverend Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was murdered last week at a Bible study session in his own house of worship. What he died for is almost impossible to capture or clarify right now. But one cause he definitely died for in witheringly painful irony, was the reconciliation of the Civil War in the city where it began.
We don’t know much about Dylann Storm Roof, but one of the questions we will want answered is just how calculated his actions were on Wednesday, June 17th, when he entered the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Calhoun Street, sat for an hour of Bible study, and then murdered nine members of the congregation.
In April 2011, the editors of Disunion, The New York Times’s series on the Civil War, convened a panel of historians to mark the 150th anniversary of the Confederate assault on Fort Sumter and the onset of the four-year conflict. Before a sold-out audience at the Times Center in New York City, the panelists – David Blight, Ken Burns, Adam Goodheart and Jamie Malanowski – discussed the origins of the conflict, the role of slavery and the immense challenges facing a still-new president.
This Memorial Day, as we head to the lake and the beach, grill and drink, shop and save, lay out in the sun or seek shady places, we must remain cognizant that the holiday didn’t begin as a day of celebration or commerce but one of solemnity and, indeed, memoriam.
David Blight sat down with Jackie Sibblies Drury, playwright and winner of the 2015 Windham-Campbell Prize and Rebecca Prichard, playwright and 2014/15 Gilder Lehrman Center Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Fellow, to discuss race, memory and performance.
Alistair Cooke was a British journalist and broadcaster, who presented Letter from America on BBC Radio for nearly 60 years. To commemorate his life and work, the BBC has invited historian Prof David Blight of Yale University to present the 2015 Alistair Cooke Memorial Lecture.