Sunday, April 23, 2017

National Civil War Museum and Kevin Levin

I was down in Harrisburg, PA to visit and review the National Civil War Museum and listen to Kevin Levin's presentation. CLICK ON ALL PICTURES TO ENTIRELY SEE THEM.

I think this photo ably summarized the essential nature  of the museum. It was offered in the museum store. Didn't find videos about slavery and certainly not Django.

I am sure there will be those who will point to the various exhibits and things which acknowledge slavery and African American soldiers, but these are token gestures. To give narratives of the Civil War they had James Robertson Jr., a supporter and endorser of Southern Partisan magazine.  The exhibit on Reconstruction was telling with displays talking about how "harsh" policies of "radical Republicans" caused resentment in the South. It is like reading Hodding Carter's, "The Angry Scar." The museum management seems to have a curation of the Civil War out of the 1960s but with concessions and accommodations to local criticism which they are getting. But this statue in front of their museum really sums up their mentality.

It is a Confederate soldier giving a wounded Union soldier water on a battle field. This suggests that the museum is mentally living in the early 1900s.

Kevin Levin is an able speaker and had a fairly good presentation. A school teacher, his presentation involved asking his audience questions which is a good method. On the historical side he missed an opportunity or perhaps didn't realize that one Confederate monument's reference to "Anglo-Saxon civilization" wasn't just white supremacy, but represented prejudice against non-Anglo-Saxon white people. There has been in the South this whole self-identification of being un-corrupted by European immigrants. His presentation was informative in many ways.

He did make it clear that the monuments were about race. He was really big about local decisions be made about monuments, no outside agitators wanted. However, he didn't make it clear that these monuments were about racializing the landscape. He is a historian and not a cultural geographer. He really needs to read Billig's "Banal Nationalism."

He did refer to the statue in front of the museum as an erasure of the issues of the Civil War. There is another very similar statue at a park somewhere in the South and Levin explained that the Mercy story wasn't published until the 1880s and isn't verified historically and is about erasure of history. He didn't use the term "erasure" but that was his argument. He then referenced in the statue in front of the museum which was very similar. So credit to that. I doubt though it will change anything.

Regarding Monument Ave. in Richmond, he might well refer to British Gary Younge's writing on the avenue.

I turned around to walk back up Monument Avenue, feeling angry and confused... I had spent about an hour walking along a road in which four men who fought to enslave me... have been honoured and exalted. I resented the fact that on the way to work every day, black people have to look at that. Imagine how black children must feel when they learn that the people who have been raised and praised up the road are the same ones who tried to keep their great-great-grandparents in chains. [Gary Younge, "No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey through the American South," Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2002, pg. 67] 

This would be better than what Levin did, which was to self-reference himself as a "white privileged" person looking at Monument Ave. as to establish that he was conscious of racial issues. Though in reading Younge's passage, I do see Levin as not seeing the avenue like Younge because of his "white privileged" self.

The lecture concluded with his proposed idea that Confederate monuments remain in place and additional counter monuments be added. He had photos of "Fearless girl" from Wall Street to demonstrate this idea.

He did discuss some proposals for additional contextualization. He also presented how Eastern Europe handled communist statues, which was to put them in a museum.

Putting the monuments in a museum as part of the history of racism in the locality is what should be done.

I didn't introduce myself to anyone. I was their to document the museum and assess Levin. He is exactly what his blog presents himself to be, that is Levin's blog is an honest representation of himself.

Levin needs to consider whether presenting at this museum legitimizes it, but it might be argued you need to reach out to people and talk to them. However, there has been protests against the museum in Harrisburg, at least one. Then, there has been no boycott called that I know of.

For Levin's audience I think the questions he raised probably got some people thinking and relative to Civil War Round Table thinking represents some type of step forward, but maybe into a cul de sac, that is self-satisfaction with the status quo.  It will likely be a shock to them to learn of the hostility to the monuments by African Americans who aren't situated inside the white establishment. It will be similar to the shock of slave owners in the South who discovered that their slaves were supporting the Union.

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