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.
To view video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TN3jo7TPs8o Read More
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.
Listen to audio: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06kb0g2 Read More
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. Read More
Monday, September 21, 2015, W.L. Harkness Hall, Yale University
A Panel with Edward Ball, Yale; Jelani Cobb, University of Connecticut; Glenda Gilmore, Yale; Jonathan Holloway, Yale; Vesla Weaver, Yale; Moderated by David Blight, Yale.
To view video: https://youtu.be/r1JgFbRFoFk Read More
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. Read More
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.”
To view video: http://www.vermonthumanities.org/fallconf14films/ Read More
A federal trial in Winston-Salem, N.C., that begins Monday will have big implications for voting rights in the state and, potentially, across the country.
The U.S. Justice Department and several groups are suing North Carolina over the sweeping election overhaul it passed two years ago, which narrowed the early voting period, among other provisions.
That early voting window had resulted in a noticeable uptick in the number of minority voters. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
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. Read More
David W. Blight, Yale University
Americans understand that Memorial Day, or "Decoration Day," as my parents called it, has something to do with honoring the nation's war dead. It is also a day devoted to picnics, road races, commencements, and double-headers. But where did it begin, who created it, and why? Read More
"First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things," declared Frederick Douglass on April 14, 1876, in Washington D. C., in the most extraordinary public address ever delivered by an African American to that date. Extraordinary for its argument and its audience. Read More
In 1961-65, the centennial commemoration of the Civil War was a political and historical debacle. Fraught, to say the least, by cold-war nationalism, racism among its leadership as well as the general populace, an enduring hold of the Lost Cause on popular imagination, and a country violently divided by the civil-rights movement, the official Civil War centennial refused to face the challenge of causes and consequences. Instead, a reconciliationist, Blue-Gray celebration of soldiers' valor and re-emergent national greatness forged out of conflict dominated the scene. Read More
David Blight sat down with Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, to discuss Foner's new book, Gateway to Freedom, about the Underground Railroad in New York. Read More