01 February 2019

The unreliability of "collective memory"

An excerpt from an excellent This American Life episode called "Little War on the Prairie" -
I have a friend, Tim Tyson, a historian I work with at Duke, who points out that in his home state of North Carolina, up to one third of the white people were pro-Union during the Civil War. And a year into the war-- 1862-- the state elected a governor who'd opposed both slavery and secession.
Tim Tyson: "And yet there's no memory that white people opposed the Civil War. There's no memory that General Pickett, of Pickett's Charge, came to Kinston, North Carolina in 1864. And the first thing he did was he hanged 22 local white boys on the courthouse lawn because they were loyal to the United States government.

And you go down to Kinston now and you go out to King's Barbecue and you look down the row of cars, at all those trucks and all those Confederate-flag bumper stickers. And I just want to say, you don't know who you are. They hanged your great-granddaddy. And you got their flag on your bumper. That's kind of interesting.

So we invent a fake history for ourselves that doesn't deal with the complexities. And I think that, in some ways, that's what the South and the upper Midwest have in common is that there's a delusion at work about who we were. And that's why we have a hard time about who we are.

So that the kind of self-congratulatory history that passes for heritage, it keeps us from seeing ourselves and doing better."
More on the Kinston hangings: Part 1, Part 2.

1 comment:

  1. Here in Texas we had our Sam Houston, who opposed the war, and our Germans, massacred by their neighbors and now commemorated with the Treue der Union Monument: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treue_der_Union_Monument


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