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The American Civil War

In Brazil, the freeing of the slaves is simply remembered as a happy event. In the US, the Civil War is the subject of endless agonizing. Northerners do not realize how painful this is for the South. The conflicting versions are patent in the works of David Goldfield, an excellent Northern Jewish historian from Michigan now teaching in the South. He is the author of Still Fighting the Civil War, The American South and Southern History (Louisiana State University Press). He is firmly convinced that the Civil War was all about slavery, and he quotes Southern documents to prove it. Southerners, including his students, deny this, and say that the North was determined to crush the South. It represents an identity crisis for the South. The Daughters of the Confederacy refuse to accept his view because it would mean that their ancestors had fought, not for states' rights, but for an abominable institution. The argument even affects place names. At Vanderbilt University there is an argument as to whether a dormitory called Confederate Hall should have its name changed. Some of these name problems are strange. There was a forgotten Confederate General Green (I know nothing about him) after whom streets are named Green Street. One Green Street went through a Black district, so it was proposed to rename it Martin Luther King Street. The Blacks objected because they liked the old name, not associating it with the Confederate general. A recent posting discussed the problem of history teaching in Texas. There is a much bigger problem, that of Southern history teaching. It is still a problem, although most Northerners are not aware of it.

Ronald Hilton - 11/16/02