Great story from Arlington Cemetery: the remains of WWII pilot Elaine Harmon were finally laid to rest there after a contentious fight. She had been a member of the WASPs (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots), a group that flew non-combat military flights so that men could be freed up for combat. Getting her buried at Arlington, however, literally took an act of Congress. The women were not granted military status during the war, but in 1977 were retroactively declared to be veterans. Still, last year the Army (worried about space) ruled the WASPs to be ineligible for burial at Arlington. Her family fought the ruling, keeping her ashes while awaiting the outcome. It took congressional legislation to overrule the Army, and now Harmon has finally been laid to rest with other veterans. Nice story.
Like many, I’m a big fan of esteemed historian Peter H. Wood (on a personal note, a couple of years ago he wrote me a snail mail letter to tell me how much he liked my book, even though we’d never met. I consider it one of the best honors I’ve ever received). I’m also looking forward to the upcoming release of Nate Parker’s film about the Nat Turner rebellion, so I enjoyed this piece that Wood just posted on the Historians Against Slavery website in which he gives us a brief overview of “Black Freedom Fighters” on film. Like most of us, he knows that if this film is done right, it has the potential to be explosively controversial and to blow people’s minds. Yet, he too is cautiously optimistic about the film.
Came across this one thanks to Kevin Levin: It is an smart opinion piece by a student at Vanderbilt University named Lucy Davies-Kumadiro. (We know they’ve been in the news lately because of their recent decision to remove “Confederate” from their Memorial Hall). Here the young African American women provides a great perspective on what it is like for a black tourist when visiting historic house museums in the South. The fact that so many white southerners still romanticize the Old South, and that tour guides often do such a poor job of dealing with slavery, justifiably stirs anger and rage in this woman. I think more (white) people need to see things from this perspective, so it is a fine read. Yet the piece demonstrates one my biggest annoyances and one that many of you have read me rant about many times: she seems to feel that slavery is simply the one-sided story of the brutalization of the enslaved. “When we visit plantations as tourists,” she writes “we should memorialize the people who cried there, who were forced onto the ground and raped there, whose skin broke and bled there.” Yes, absolutely so. But we also should recognize and praise those same people for enduring those horrors, while still managing to create a culture of their own, shape their own positive self images, subtlety manipulate and control their masters, and resist the complete domination of their lives. (Think more WGN’s Underground, and slightly less 12 Years a Slave). Nevertheless, her point remains. Most historic planation site museums are doing a major disservice that helps to perpetuate the myth of the Lost Cause.
As we know, the Smithsonian’s new African American Museum is set to open later this month. Today they have announced that they will be kicking things off with a three day music (and more) festival.
Ok, you guys need to help me out with this one if you can. On History News Network, Thomas Fleming has a piece in which he argues that Trump should have taken Theodore Roosevelt as his role model. But nevermind the shallow Trump angle: it is really about a new biography of TR by a guy named Daniel Ruddy. Fleming touts the work by saying the author has “demolished the standard image” of Roosevelt, and then gives a run-down of what he considers to be new revelations about the man. Now, I am a big fan of TR, so I have read a lot about him, so perhaps I am not the right person to know what the “standard image” of TR is. But honestly, I can’t find anything in what Fleming presents that is revelatory. Don’t we already know this stuff? And if so, is this just an example of a historian creating their own myths just so they can tear them down? I like the History News Network, but I must confess, some of their essays (often Fleming) leave me scratching my head.