Over on Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin has a great “recap of Confederate Heritage Month 2016″ which lists some of the major events this past month associated with renaming, relocating, or removing all things publicly associated with the Confederacy. Meanwhile, one of the hottest TV shows the past month has been WGN’s Underground. It has increased the network’s ratings by 1000%. That’s pretty significant when we realize that this is the first non-mini-series TV show to focus on Antebellum slavery and runaway slaves.
I am relating Kevin’s list and this show together because I feel that the Lost Cause will only meet its final demise because of public history and pop culture. Academic historians have long dismantled the myth, but this has not fully accomplished the task of reaching the broader public. To a large degree, the Lost Cause was engrained into our collective memory by public history (monuments and memorials) and pop culture (Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind, etc) and thus that is where it has to be ultimately destroyed. With the Roots remake coming out in a month, the Free State of Jones movie in June, and the movie about Nat Turner’s rebellion, Birth of a Nation (2016) in October, this trend away from romanticizing the Confederacy and the Old South will apparently only gain momentum. And then there is the fact that many historic home sites across the country are increasing their interpretation of slavery by embracing the concept of “affective equality.” As explained here by Nick Sacco: “Affective equality calls for public historians to develop emotional connections and build empathy for all historical persons at a given site in an equal fashion, and not just for the white planter class.”
All of this is very exciting and honestly a bit breathtaking in how much the pace has quickened in just a year. Although academic scholars have been fighting against the Lost Cause in books and classrooms for a couple of generations now, I really believe that all of the public history and pop cultural things above indicate that we are just now finally seeing the real beginning of the end of the Lost Cause. Am I too optimistic?