Friday, April 15, 2011

Parallel histories

It is easy to forget--indeed, it has been largely elided from our histories of the period--that the hundredth anniversary of the events of the Civil War occupied the same years as the most focused period of the civil rights movement in the American South. These parallel narratives no doubt heightened the tensions and the emotions of white southerners and black protesters alike as they contested contemporary conditions in an atmosphere of blinkered commemoration.

Robert McElvaine, a historian at Millsaps College, has written a fascinating account of the 1960s' first southern commemoration of what these Mississippi participants would no doubt have referred to as the "War of Northern Aggression." He cogently points out that these events were taking place in near-perfect tandem with the first sit-in demonstration in Mississippi during the civil rights movement, a "read-in" at the public library in Jackson.

Here's the link so you can enjoy your own "read-in." Comes complete with a distressing photo of Gov. Ross Barnett in a Confederate uniform. This is the same Gov. Barnett whose recalcitrance in fall 1962 would help lead to riots as James Meredith attempted to become the first African American student to attend Ole Miss.

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