The United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHC) will host a symposium on “Emancipation during the Civil War” at the Capitol Visitors Center from May 5 -7, 2011. The title is of interest to me, but I will not attend this symposium because USCHC has selected an academic that either lacks primary source knowledge on the subject or lacks integrity when addressing the subject of African Americans in the Civil War. To adequately address the subject of emancipation, a scholar should possess knowledge on African Americans in the Civil War that evinces an intimacy with primary sources related to the subject.
USCHC has selected Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia as their keynote speaker to open the symposium on Thursday night, May 5, 2011. Gallagher has actually argued that the movie Glory is “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” (see his June 2009 article in the Civil War Times). The fact that this Civil War expert made such a statement is clear evidence that he is either unfamiliar with the primary sources related to the subject or a liar. Either option is enough for me to boycott any event where he is brought in as an expert on emancipation during the Civil War, which pertains to the African American experience.
I am often asked why the well-documented experience of African Americans during the Civil War is still being suppressed while Glory is being promoted. Some believe that there is a contemporary conspiracy by scholars like Gallagher. I do not think there is such a conspiracy. I do believe, however, that their promotion of a Hollywood movie is a consequence of their poor scholarship. The movie Glory is obliviously fiction, and false statements are presented as truth in the postscript moving it even further out of alignment “with the historical evidence.” Gallagher and others continue to ignore such facts because they are ignorant of the facts. The conspiracy theorists believe that such ignorance is intentional.
Are scholars like Gallagher intentionally misrepresenting the experience of African Americans during the Civil War? The conspiracy theorists argue that surely these scholars aren’t ignorant of the facts. They do not believe that Gallagher really thinks the movie is “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence.” I disagree with the conspiracy theorists. I believe that Gallagher and other esteemed scholars are ignorant of the facts because they are simply victims of the conspiracy that was, a propaganda campaign that tainted the scholarship of our nation’s leading Civil War historians for over five decades.
In 1935 W. E. B. DuBois wrote in his essay “The Propaganda of History” that Northern scholars such as William Archibald Dunning of Columbia University had suppressed and falsified the history of emancipation during the Civil War because they were “ashamed they had to call on the black man to save the Union, abolish slavery, and establish democracy in the United States.” DuBois detailed the intentional suppression of this history. He identified institutions like Columbia and Johns Hopkins as being at the forefront of advancing the idea that “the Negro had done nothing to free himself.” This is still a popular notion among the well educated, especially among those who have the propensity to think African Americans were inferior or simply victims as a consequence of their conditions in the 19th century.
Leading African American scholars have done little or nothing to dispel the false images and grossly inaccurate history promoted by Glory because many of them were introduced to the military experience of African Americans in the Civil War by the movie. Accomplished scholars have told me how grateful they are to the moviemakers because they were not aware that African Americans had even fought in the Civil War before they saw the movie. They promote the movie twenty-two years after it premiered even though they know it is not “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence.”An African American scholar at Howard University told me that he recommends the movie to his students “because of its effort – however feeble – to portray the meeting of Northern and Southern blacks during the war.” Therefore, he is willing to take the images and concepts of a movie admitting that they are “feeble” to his students as images and concepts of instruction. The result is that he promotes poor scholarship instead of encouraging rigorous scholarship and analytical thinking.
Such “feeble” attempts, here meaning pathetic attempts, to teach history result in de facto propaganda and the appearance of a conspiracy to mislead or rather mis-educate. Gary Gallagher may indeed be an expert in some area of the Civil War, but his endorsement of Glory as “almost perfectly aligned with the historical evidence” is clear evidence that he is no expert on “emancipation during the Civil War.” The United States Capitol Historical Society will hold a symposium that is a “feeble” attempt to address “Emancipation during the Civil War,” and the attendees will leave with information that will make it more difficult for them to apprehend the truth. Such activities function as de facto propaganda, and for that reason I shall not attend the symposium.