Skewed Stories from the Civil War, Reconstruction and What Were Missing with Christy Coleman


What hello and welcome to factually? I'm Adam conover. And what do you really remember about reconstruction. You know the period right after the civil war. If anything like me not much all I really got out of the brief unit we spent on it in history. Class was the idea that reconstruction was a time when northern carpetbaggers ruled over the south and that it quote failed. I can also remember like a political cartoon with like an evil looking guy carrying a literal carpet full of his stuff now from New York to Georgia I mean what can you say. It's an evocative word and that's it. That's all I can remember. It was a pivotal period in American history but my textbook spent two pages on on it less time than I spent learning how to diagram a sentence which I still don't remember how to do by the way the truth about history is that it's not a fixed recording. We just the play back. It's a story we have to actively tell ourselves to keep alive in our memory so what happens when we do a poor job of telling that story accurately accurately or when we failed to tell it at all the answer is that we forget the truth and our culture Russia's in to fill the gaps history changes from something that we'd learned from historians to something we just received from pop culture movies and fiction and that means that our cultural memory can become dangerously skewed skewed and that's the case with reconstruction our entire image of it is completely off base the most enduring image reconstruction that people have the one you might have started picturing picturing as soon as I said the word is from the nineteen forty movie gone with the wind it started as a hyper successful Pulitzer Prize winning novel and then a blockbuster movie which won one ten Oscars in one thousand nine forty and it wasn't just any blockbuster adjusting for inflation. It's still the highest grossing movie of All Time More than doubling what avengers ventures endgame made this thing made the Russo brothers look like the do plus brothers Okay and accordingly it had an enormous impact on how people thought about reconstruction the movie depicts a Genteel nearly magical world of southern aristocracy full of rich sexy slave owning southern protagonists and it represents reconstruction as a disaster for those heroes a tragedy in which something beautiful and pure was lost that image put so vividly onscreen onscreen stuck and it influences how we think about reconstruction to this day and gone with the wind wasn't turn influenced by an even earlier film that literally literally changed the course of cinema in America forever imagine sitting down to watch the first star wars in the theater. You know you're about to witness a spectacle unlike anything before it a bold new chapter in the history of movies the State of the art in cinematography and editing not to mention a pop cultural event the likes of which had never been seen before now also imagine that this massive Star Wars type movie was being presented as a true and real history and also that that history history is made up of over three hours of vile racist propaganda that would approximate the experience of seeing d w Griffith birth of a nation in Nineteen Nineteen fifteen the movie depicted free black Americans as evil lascivious and obsessed with finding ways to prey on white women and portrayed the Ku Klux this clan as the triumphant heroes of the South and again it was a smash Woodrow Wilson played it at the Goddamn White House and the clan use the film to recruit for decades. The movie presented itself as a faithful history of reconstruction and Americans took it as that many white white viewers came away convinced that reconstruction was a disastrous failure and the ideas embedded in these films didn't appear out of thin air dig deeper and you'll find that birth of a racist and disgusting idea of reconstruction was influenced in part by the ideas of a group of scholars known as the dunning school named after they're wide whiskered avowedly racist leader William Dunning the dunning school viewed black people as childlike and incapable of governing themselves and it saw the north Earth's attempt to govern the south and expand rights to recently freed African Americans as the low point of American history according to dunning and his ilk order in the south restored only when the Ku Klux Klan begin a campaign of violent terror that caused the north to retreat in instituted a regime of white supremacy known as home rule now the idea of reconstruction as a calamity that befell white southerners didn't just take hold because a one historian with bad facial player in a couple of movies. This story lasted because if you were a white person living in Jim Crow America this story made sense to tell you know if your goal is to uphold all the racist system it's helpful to have a false and racist history to tell but sadly this is the version of the story of reconstruction that dominated for over half half a century but we now know it wasn't true contemporary historians have spent decades doing the hard scholarly work of putting together a more accurate history of what happened at that time and what they've learned is that reconstruction was actually an unprecedented effort by the federal government to affirm and expand the rights. It's of African Americans in a way that had never been done before and it worked for the first time African Americans were able to participate in American democracy accuracy they actually went from being slaves to being voters and they were soon elected to state houses and even Congress for the first time schools were built for white and Dan Black students and citizenship was guaranteed for anyone born in America as a result of these reforms. If you WANNA talk about failure the true failure of reconstruction construction is that when the Ku Klux Klan and its allies began their campaign of white supremacist terror the north retreated and all those gains were lost southern whites quickly imposed the Jim crow system of apartheid and it would take over half a century for those rights to return with the civil rights movement so the truth truth is that reconstruction made America just as much as the civil war or even the revolutionary war before it so if all we can devote to it is two pages is in a political cartoon we have to wonder. What else are we missing again? History isn't a recording or a fossil record that we can just read and observe. It's it's a story that we as a culture have to tell ourselves and win. That story is wrong or missing chapters it distorts our understanding of the present and no one understands understands that better than my guest today. Her name is Christie Coleman. She is historian and C._E._O.. Of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond Virginia and previously she led Detroit's Charles H. Right Museum of African American history and it was a director of the African American programs at Colonial Williamsburg. I think you're really going to enjoy this interview. Let's get right to it Kristie. Thank you so much for being on the show. Thank you for having me so we'll start by asking as a entertainer who attempts to teach history history through comedy. <hes> I want to know from an actual educator. How did you come to history as a subject and what about your approach is different from the way it's commonly taught in America Erica well? I came to the American Civil War <hes> as a topic of study through the job. Frankly <hes> I am a what what people refer to as there's a public historian in that I work in museums and my job is to for lack of a better term interpret what academic historians do you and make it <hes> something that a general public digest and hopefully do that in a way that's exciting and engaging and Dan challenging and all of those things that people can make immediate connections to so the American civil war though is really fraught topic Nick Yeah <hes> really fraud and so I think <hes> I will say this coming into the role having worked in <hes> other museums uh-huh. I found that <hes> this is a history that is very much alive in a lot of iterations men. Regrettably it's <hes> something that people have managed to Cherry pick how they want to remember it. So there are people who for example they only want to talk about what happened on the battlefields right they they only want to do that. Then there are people who want to venerate and then there are people who just want to deal with the political realities of the day in the constitutional questions the this and the that <hes> and then there are people who really love people stories <hes> and I have to say that I'm more aligned with that <hes> but I also understand that <hes> when you just look at particular individuals or particular stories one of the challenges there is you can very quickly lose context context and so my job ultimately is about bringing all of this context to bear bringing in all together <hes> <hes> frankly the way that people lived it. That sounds like such an enormous job because what you're describing is you know the blind men and the elephants <hes> and everyone having their own a little piece of it that they're examining and you're gonna make sense because I mean the civil war just as one historical event is so massive <hes> that I mean any of the things that you just laid out the military history the personal history the political history. That's something someone get spent a lifetime studying just that aspect of it. That's exactly right and the people who do that so how do you. How do you synthesize those things together to get that context? Well <hes> the first thing we have to do. Is You know we really have to just look at the historical record because the reality is people didn't live their lives that way right <hes> just as as we don't today what happens politically will have an impact in our communities and our families <hes> things that we do as communities and families can impact our politics and ultimately commonly impact military action vice versa <hes> and so people of the civil war era also are living their lives that way they are inundated with <hes> <hes> newspapers that all of them have a particular bias in our very unapologetic about that and <hes> there is <hes> there there are various social movements that are taking place at the time <hes> and so the easiest way again for us to do what we've done. <hes> in our new museum and galleries is that we just went back to the record okay so what's happening. Who are the people that help us best illustrate this fluidity <hes> what battles help us eliminate a particular theme and so forth so when when you when you break it down that way then it's much easier to figure out what's the best way to deliver that information so in some cases it might be through a really dynamic <hes> video visual presentation right? You can convey so much more in a picture than you can with words <hes> another instance it may just be the artifact itself can speak power to an idea <hes> and then you use words and other types of of images you know more more two dimensional imagery so that's the advantage. I think that we have to be able to again. We've the story back together. The way people lived it and you know there's no question it is <hes> it's one of those things that you use the elephant analogy <hes> <hes> it's absolutely one of those things that if somebody who has spent their lifetime or their interest you know pulling on the elephants tail well. They've got to at least see the Tail A._O._l.. Before they even consider feeling around in the learning that they got an elephant there yeah so their entry points yeah that's their entry point right so so we acknowledged where the entry points are and our goal is to get them to finally see the elephant and and I think we do a really remarkable job with that I mean and this is part of the reason why museums are the second most trusted institutions for learning what you're talking about reminds me of. I know you got your start. <hes> in colonial Williamsburg Berg which is also I have to say in my mind sort of the archetype of the plain old mainstream history is that sort of let's go see the blacksmith and then here's going to a guy with a musket. Oh there was the battle over there on Yonder Hill but I know that you also I had a different <hes> perspective towards how that Kinda history could be done. How how what sort of approach did you take? In that work. Well see there is the thing the beauty of colonial Williamsburg and institutions that define themselves as sort of living history spaces that they are recreating the <hes> the life in many ways yeah really there are holes there because of staffing right what the staffing often looks like these institutions so <hes> so example the challenge it Williamsburg Berg they'd always known that fifty two percent of the population of this colonial capital were black people yeah majority of whom were enslaved but they were free blacks there as as well they'd always known that but they weren't able to visualize it because the staffing didn't represent that still doesn't represent that so there were other types of programming initiatives that they had to employ and again. It's a story of starting with the artifacts so they had to go back when they made an intentional effort to address these and get away from sort of you know yield colonial town <hes> they they had to deploy their archaeologists archaeologist their historians their <hes> their <hes> <hes> architectural historians etc to their material cultural folks to who really recreate the stuff of that fifty two percent and then start deploying those items and artifacts into into the spaces throughout the historic area so even if you didn't see a person you may have seen a thing and that thing may let lead to a question and that question leads to discovery so that's one of the ways that they did it <hes> obviously one of the other ways in addition to <hes> just learning those particular trades and crafts of the period and and the specialization that's required within history. That's required to share that <hes> they also were smart enough to recognize the theater has a place in this <hes> because theater it is is amazing. The use of theater is amazing in building empathy and helping people understand end sort of common humanity yeah even in the most difficult of imagery or situations and so you know that's that's one of the things that they do now. I think <hes> there are occasions certainly when that can be done extremely well and there are other times when it's just really early kitchen I can't stand it reminds me of what I do. A little bit on on Adam Ruins everything that we try to bring bring these stories or these ideas to life simply by showing you okay here's a person and in our case in the sketch comedy version of a person we tried to get the Wardrobe Federal Brighton everything we do period costumes and but they'll say you know we'll have. We'll have someone who you know. We'll have a we'll have a slave or someone in Jim crow timer or or someone like that say oh my God. This really sucks to give you give you that that <hes> that sort of modern comedy feeling but still just seeing the person reminds minds you oh. This is something that really happened to a real to real people. This is not abstract just seeing that actor in that dress. You're absolutely I mean you know that's one of the things that I love about how we are starting to engage with history again. I mean I love your show. <hes> <hes> there are a few others that I'm not sure I can particularly name <hes> on on your podcast but <hes> but <hes> you know you share space with comedy central for example right yeah and so I loved drunk history shot historians love drunk history only because you guys have found the medium <hes> to reach an audience who probably says oh I'm not much of a history fan but in fact when they again you have a way of humanizing and providing humor and then dig deep and when you dig deep that's when the discovery takes place yeah and and so you know we <hes> we appreciate shape that it's it's when we see things that <hes> that can make you crazy <hes> matter of fact there's a group of historians every sunday evening they they <hes> tweet about a movie that they're watching with thriller pretty funny to follow along as they you know you know break it apart and some pretty humorous ways to i get i get so frustrated by that i you know i just as an example i watched the alan turing movie a couple years ago of i'm forgetting the name of it but you know one one academy award or two but i knew enough about the story with alan turing which is a very important tragic story to know that this is not what happened these these events did not occur you wrote this this is this is fictionalized and there's a level to which you know i i'm in the business of making history and the truth entertaining and of course you take some liberties <hes> <hes> but the core of the story needs to needs to remain true otherwise you end up perpetuating <hes> the same myths that we've always had exactly i was giving a i was giving a presentation <hes> in new york for a group of museum educators and <hes> one one of the things that i talked about is the role that popular culture plays in historical understanding so popular culture will will often either reinforce worst stereotype or historical inaccuracy <hes> or in those remarkably rare situations they will <hes> not only hit on sort of emotional truth but they'll actually get the history ninety percent right and that's a that's a small group that can actually pull that off yeah they're out out there they're out there so i i want to ask you about one thing in particular <hes> <hes> eh colonial williamsburg i know that <hes> you staged reenactment of a slave auction and <hes> that strikes me as such a profound thing that you don't normally see it's nothing that i picture when i imagine going to colonial williamsburg williamsburg yet as soon as i heard of it i thought well of course this would be something that would have occurred of the time a what what led to your choice to put that on and how do you feel folks reacted to it well you know it's it's funny <hes> thirty it was twenty five years ago that we did that and we had been doing yeah <hes> colonial williamsburg in fact this is commemorating this year the fortieth anniversary of doing african american focused interpretation but but ah <hes> twenty five years ago is when we did that state slave auction and what it was frankly the program for all intents and purpose had been going on on for years prior to where they were auctioning off ferrying goods you know and the public was there and all this whenever they were talking about the auctioning of slaves they would say a lot of slaves from the estate of so and so passed on so and so includes this we never saw the people wow and so we decided having been doing programs at the organization for fifteen years what happens if you do see the people people yeah so we very carefully crafted very carefully <hes> redid that program so that the visitor was very clear that they had no role but they were observers <hes> to how this process worked and we had character actors <hes> to portray everyone from the the constable and the sheriff and the auctioneer action near and the the enslaved people who are going to be sold away the <hes> people who were the ones who are doing the buying and the selling <hes> it was really quite white something <hes> and i will be honest with you i don't think i just wanted to do good history yeah it did not occur to me <hes> fully the impact that that program would have in the field <hes> the response leading up to it was one of i mean it just was a lot of concern just especially outside of our immediate community <hes> because the people who were closest is to us new the excellence of the work and the the real discipline in scholarship behind the work this was not something we weren't going to be playing around around with this history right and so so they were there in large numbers and support you know community church groups and folks that d- just again really love and care for the programming that we've been offering and you know we had <hes> obviously institutional support to the point where even in some key donors at the time who were saying if you allow this program go on we're going to cut new or not right new another check and have the c._e._o. of the organization hmm say that's fine thank you for your past support wow was was an extraordinary moment <hes> that i won't ever forget frankly and so as it happened even the critics who came out that day to protest the action i simply ask them to watch the program set their fears aside and watch the program let us do it and then criticize since they really didn't know what we're doing they agreed to do that <hes> and and they and we got him on tape full tape talking about how they you know one gentleman said i was wrong pain how to face ace the story was real i felt it to my core yeah and that's a powerful statement and then i got letters you know quite frankly eighty nine point five out of ten letters that i got in the weeks and months after that from all over the world frankly <hes> were in support and talking about how brave we were and how important it was but honestly in addition to the public response i think the thing that meant the most to me was having my colleagues at other institutions say you know what if you guys could do that we we at least need to be talking about the enslaved populations that are historic sites because many of these institutions twenty five years ago we're not doing that so that's when we started to see the boom and the change and the investment and understanding and researching the lives of <hes> those of african descent who had been enslaved slave at places like monticello and mount vernon and mount failure and <hes> poplar forest and you know <hes> you know museum sites around the country they were a small pockets in some areas that wanted to continue to do so the moonlight magnolia tours as if you know product wealth off only occurred out of some kind of void you know sort of the scarlett o'hara thing which makes me nuts but you know there are still a few places that do that yeah but they also only attract a certain kind of guest <hes> and so people who really do consider themselves cultural tourists or history history buffs or just really wanna have good family experiences learning family experiences they don't tend to go to those places and if they do they ask ask which is such a great thing and you're like wait a minute aren't there slaves here what they do you know so that puts that you know additional pressure and some of them will back away like about this one site down in mississippi well you know the slaves here they all were just treated it's so great they just loved you know we don't so we don't have to delve into what was going on you know and i'm you know you're just fooling yourself oh you just you know let's go back and actually look at what the historical record was there but <hes> again that was a that was a game changing moment mint and it made me <hes> probably a lot more <hes> it it certainly made me more intentional in among work <hes> because it was just yet another example of just how powerful good storytelling could be and how how evocative and game changing it could be and and so i've kind of brought that with me with each with each subsequent role that i've had at other institutions and and it demonstrates how much we lose when we don't treat those stories when we don't <hes> you know use those stories for all folks who are present at those times in history that it's so clear that colonial williamsburg without that that's doing an auction without showing the slave auction is impoverishing our our notion of history and it strikes me that when we talk about the civil war and when we talk about reconstruction on on those eras most of the history that i've seen most of the films that i've seen that are made are so often centered around the the white characters in those <hes> in those stories that you know the <hes> oh the brother against brother <hes> you know off to war and and johnny comes back missing a leg and those sir disturbs i've seen so many of those and <hes> i remember when i saw the film twelve years a slave for the first time and i was struck so hard so strongly by i have so rarely seen this story on on film and <hes> and ben confronted with the immensity city of this truth that this is you know that this is something that happened and not it wasn't even a <hes> it was a daily fact of life right i think one of the most chilling scenes is that in that is when patsy is getting whipped and people are just kind of going on as if nothing else is happening yeah in the background i mean it's an extraordinary ordinary extraordinary scene because of how real it was yeah and and you know certainly that film you know isn't perfect from a historical standpoint standpoint even though solomon northrop left us his entire i mean he wrote the story for us right he told us what happened <hes> but dramatically it's ninety percents there and and it is powerful it is an absolutely powerful piece but you're right we don't see that you know <hes> somebody was asking me he said well you know why don't you think we we see those kinds of films i mean we see you know we've seen all had all different types of of of holocaust films and about the holocaust and people that help to people escape and what the nazis did but you know we don't we don't have those kinds of films about american slavery why is that and i said well <hes> mhm we still are trying to reconcile the legacies of it yeah still trying to reconcile racism and white white supremacy in the american psyche yeah and so you know and i remind people as it you know really the first holocaust museums were not in germany here in the united states and so subsequently i think <hes> it has taken a bit of time for rushed to even begin to scratch the surface of the impact of this institution on american ideals and ideology and practice practice and you know so that's you know that's part of it i mean it is is ever present from from the colonial period through the revolutionary era through we know expansion of the nation through the civil war i mean it is present in most of our history in all of our history yeah i mean it it slavery existed longer than it hasn't in the history of the nation correct that's exactly right that's exactly right <hes> you know we were a slave nation in colonies and nation for longer than we have been a free one and we don't want to i mean if i'm not a historian but if you're asking me that i i mean ah i would have simply said we we at a gut level don't want to confront it because it's it's so painful to to truly confronted at my well it is and the fact is we're still living with a lot of the systems yeah and the institutions that were put in place off the back of it so people aren't willing to give some of that up the yeah or at least to break it down and build something new that is truly equitable and that that's the part that <hes> you know brings without sort of this bizarre behavior that we see <hes> and and and so it's far more i guess comforting bring to you know keep kind of pressing this idea of american exceptionalism versus really recognizing the things that make us <unk> exceptional in some cases are not really good stuff yeah that that's the thing you know so many of the movies about these topics that i was brought up with <hes> t._v. shows and things like that either neglect issues like slavery racism it just sort of you know <hes> look around them a little bit maybe there's one character off to the side who oh you know is representative of this part of american history so either avoid it or they solve it within the movie a white character goes oh my got i just realized racism is bad and slavery's bet we hey guys we stopped doing this and oh problems i am so we are so sorry that this what happened and then that's it what they call it they call it the sort of the white savior movies <hes> that's been taking out even even taking out black agency z. <hes> which we've done with the civil war right i mean you know freedom was something that was given by all the brave men fight for the fought for the united states against the evil empire fire of the confederacy yup as black folk didn't you know it was just sitting on a rock waiting for it to happen no real agency themselves not even even recognizing and acknowledging the fact that they're the ones who are pushing the agenda yes they are the ones that were forcing it and so <hes> so that's that's that's that's always funny to me too <hes> but you know it's how we've had to navigate history i mean so part of how we teach history and i and i'm glad to say that this this is changing and <hes> you know this is one of the things that i will give boomer's credit for <hes> that you know they really pushed and and challenge the sort of indoctrinating narratives of american past <hes> and that was done as as they were experiencing injustice <hes> growing up that that generation and and seeing it for what it was <hes> some cases you know participating in it <hes> but they did they did sort of force a new lens on how we think about research <hes> american history so we've seen sort of this slow march towards that and i think <hes> you know younger generations frankly you know they just kind of demand expect that their history is going to give them a variety of voices and that there is no singular narrow narrative narrative but there are people who are fighting hard against that yes i mean really hard because you know again it is served as sort of an indoctrination function as well versus a critical thinking function yeah there are folks who you can see when they push back against the new historical historical story when when you know there's a new history when we've done plenty history stories on our show where we did a story about how columbus wasn't that great of a guy i love that episode thank you thank you and it's short it's just sort of like a here's what you didn't learn in school about columbus but we have you know so many people <unk> youtube videos and stuff like that push back all the original narrative columbus is true and let me tell you why and the reason they did that is because that history <hes> <hes> really there's a direct connection between the way that they've been telling that history to themselves and the values that they have and how they think the world is today today <hes> and that makes it clear if if nothing else does that the way that we tell these historical stories have have a ideological purpose often <hes> because that's the that's the reason people are pushing back and i have a question off of that but first we have a really quick where we'll be right back with more christie coleman hey folks you've heard me talk about biko before well kiwi co create super cool hands on projects for kids that make learning about steam that science technology engineering arts and math fun with kiko subscription each month in your life is going to receive a fun engaging new project that will help develop their creativity and and confidence those are things that all kids 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You can get a free month of unlimited access to their entire library. When you sign up at the great courses plus dot com slash factually start your free month's today only at the great courses plus dot com slash factually okay and we're back with Christy Coleman so <hes> what that led me to <hes> talking about Columbus in that moment <hes> is the idea that the history that we I hear our cultural memory of the events of the past is not static. It's not something you know. It's not written on a tablet. It's not that we remember are directly. It's so often a story that we started telling ourselves. Only recently you know our modern conception Columbus or the version of Columbus I learned in school was an idea that was created in early part of the twentieth century hundreds of years after his death <hes> and you spoke earlier about how <hes> <hes> the the you know we only started looking into the lives of enslaved Americans <hes> in the in the last few decades that that hundreds of years after these people after these folks lived <hes> we still weren't creating that history and thus we didn't have event let me let me be clear. We aren't creating it. <hes> on a national scale there were scholars already doing this work of course <hes> before the turn of the twentieth century that we're really really doing this research and and <hes> most notably African American scholars but there were others I mean and then the capturing <hes> of of formerly enslaved through the works projects <hes> administration back in the twenties and thirties yes <hes> so we we had it and people were having those conversations conversations and they were digging into it but it wasn't widespread interest in them so I mean therein lies the difference and and you're right the questions that we ask of the past is going to vary with each generation for what it needs and I tell people all the time history has never been for the dead <hes> it is about our lived experience and trying to find some connection to the past or some lesson from the past or a way forward a word that we have to look at the past to help us glean that to find our place in our space and so that's how history he has traditionally functioned <hes> and so unfortunately we're also living in an a period where you know this idea of historical literacy you as well as the critical skills and the critical thinking that goes into that a really missing and on top of that we're living in an era where the information mation is out there in vast quantities but because people don't have the discipline of learning how to <hes> actually you know sound of coal that material will we we're in an age of self curated content anybody that wants to set up a web page or a website can do it. They'll find a futile artifacts to support their contemporary need of the history and then push it and and so you know that's the other thing that again it comes sound to you know the trust in institutions wire they trusted and they're not perfect as they have done. They are reflections of their societies as well but they are also the sometimes the the at least the the discipline of the work. Is there <hes> to go beyond that. Then makes sense yeah it does but do you feel that we're all do you feel that that necessarily because what. I'm curious about is how this affects our understanding of the discipline plenty of history overall so so do you feel this perspective implies that <hes> all of us <hes> are always trying to fulfil our immediate idiot needs through history or is there such a thing as simply knowing what the heck happened. I think it's both I think it's both I think I think we have to have a clear understanding of what the heck happened right yeah. Everybody has to know but you know when you decide to go deeper into that that that's when the discipline is required you either you know get into that work yourself or you know. Go fine reputable sources to help you not sources that are going to help reinforce your ignorance and too often. That's the case I I have to remain hopeful or I wouldn't be in this business now. For thirty. I gotta be hopeful that people are GonNa get it and they're gonNa you know participated in being open and willing to hear voices says they hadn't heard before or stories that they hadn't heard before the bills out the richness <hes> you know because at the end of the day when we're talking about American history or any history for that matter manner you're you're you're. You may think you're looking sort of at a circle. That's laid out in front of you but the deeper you dig. You realize you're actually holding a globe in your finance. You know what I mean and it's just being it's just a matter of wanting to pivot enough to see just how remarkable the thing is <hes> but if you're one of those people who just want this is all. I want right here. I don't WanNa look at anything else. I don't don't mess with me on what I think about excellence <hes> <hes> and we have a lot of those out here <hes> well and and it just makes me crazy so and and I'm since I'm a bubble buster. I loved to yeah well. Let's be of the challenge and let's bust Zimbabwe's. We've been talking about how we go about the process of of examining and teaching history so much. Let's talk about some actual history. Sorry what what are the primary bubbles that you feel need to be bustard that you try to bust about our understanding of the civil war and <hes> <hes> the reconstruction period which gets so much less attention compared to the war itself right so the first thing that I try to do is break down this idea of a unified north in a unified south. That's the first thing that has to go because it absolutely is not the case second thing is that that I try to break down one is that <hes> slavery and racism was purely a southern phenomenon. It was not third thing that I break down. Is this idea idea of <hes> that <hes> <hes> freedom was given versus hard-fought-for <hes> so that's kind of where I start and then we can get into actions and moments basically from April until September of eighteen sixty three was very tumultuous period and there are people who love to say well. Gettysburg was a turning point. No it wasn't a series of of many things that happened. Bendon eighteen sixty three and subsequent to that <hes> that really are pivoting and changing how the nation was trying to define itself freight so one of the things examples. I give everybody likes to talk about Gettysburg and people go to Gettysburg and you know oh to walk on. Those hallowed grounds where yeah yeah yeah yeah. That's that's right all of that happened out there but here's another thing you may or may not know about. Gettysburg on May first of eighteen sixty three the confederate government passes a resolution because they are trying to deal with the reality that they are going to encounter <hes> black black troops in uniform fighting for the United States so they pass a resolution on May first saying that any black troop that they fight that is captured. They are either to be enslaved or to be killed. Wow period wow right now. Ws No P._O._W.'s nope no end so GINSBURG. That's exactly what happens. Even the free black population that had been living around the small town of Gettysburg Burke were terrified and we're trying to get out yeah because they people were being kidnapped. The confederate army was kid. Lee's Army was kidnapping these these people and and having them sent back that were rounded up and sent back and sold into slavery. I mean that's puts a whole different. Look on what happened on those fields right <hes> the fact that blacks are present because the confederate army and and here's the other thing because they knew they were going to be lenient he was going to be going into northern territory. <hes> had a number of the camp slaves that would make up a huge percentage percentage of the army because they're hauling the mules and they're hauling the weaponry and they're digging the trench works and all all that manual. Labor that the confederate army need it. Yeah it's being done by an impress slave population where slaveholders were sending their slaves to be a part of the military effort not a soldiers soldiers but as Labor right so you've got these folks. They don't want to bring them into the north. They don't want to bring them into Pennsylvania because that's free slave state so so march forward because they don't want to have their slaves say hey we're out and we crossed the line. We're we're very now. Yeah we cross the line. We free now you. These folks didn't know it. They knew it so it puts a whole different piece on Gettysburg. Yes it was brutal in three days of fighting over you know in July eighteen sixty three and all this but you've also got this other thing happening that most people don't know thing about yeah when looking at Gettysburg so we we kind of <hes> not kind of we we tried again dish dig a little bit deeper. We're into this. We look at the whole question of well. You know it was really about states rights. We've all heard that one rate I made <hes>. Let me just say the story. You just told me directly indicates. It was not just about states rights. If if the if you're fighting an army if you have two armies fighting and one one of the army has a large slave population supporting the army <hes> it seems like at least part of the war is about slavery especially if you're again having to make decisions about where you're moving the folks based on where the which states are slave states like slavery is clearly threaded through the entire conflict. That's exactly right. That's exactly right and and and the and the the other piece that I that I talk about a lot is this concept of states' rights. <hes> that sort of a post-war definition mission then that evolves <hes> you know yes people are talking about it to a certain extent but the were state's rights actually was born was is in <hes> northerners and unionists <hes> lexicon and it was in direct response to the fugitive slave act of eighteen fifty northern free territory said listen the federal government just passed a law that basically usurps our state laws where we we have abolished slavery and the government is telling us that if a slave or former slave runs away comes to us for freedom that we have to now use our resources to return those people. We're not doing it. We're going to advocate are state's rights will the south was furious about that. How dare they invoke folks state's rights. How dare they do that. You know so yeah so that's one that that that I I love as well is the conversation around states right right because the northern states made clear what their intent was. They you know they were not going to participate in this now again. That's it doesn't include everybody because you also had a block of <hes>. Wall Street bankers insurers shipbuilders lers in Connecticut and Rhode Island <hes> that very much made a fortune off of the slave trade right and so for them they were just trying to find at a minimum find a compromise or you know some kind of peace initiative should've that would preserve the institution enough to preserve the wealth that was being made off of it <hes> north and South and in fact post war immediate post war you having a number of especially the white elite southerners who actually relocate places like New York <hes> right. I mean quite frankly Jefferson Davis the president of the confederacy his wife and children will relocate to New York and she actually variety Davis. I'm sorry Rina Davis actually becomes <hes> uh-huh a reporter for magazine newspaper in New York based out of New York really yeah. I never heard that before. That's amazing. I mean there there. You go new stuff stuff. You learn <hes> reconstruction though the thing that's maddening about reconstructions one of the most <hes> progressive periods in American history in terms of the expansion Manchin of rights of citizenry in the United States. It's not just an impactful on black communities. It's impactful on immigrant communities that had been here for generations. The newly arrived and their children. It's when we get free public education for every person who wants it <hes> it is expansion of libraries race and roads and railroads and all of this is being done by <hes> <hes> eligible male voters right it is a it is a new day as a new dawn of freedom the way people this moment in the sun but the the way that we have been taught it around the country is that reconstruction was a failure yeah. Reconstruction wasn't a failure at all reconstruction was abandoned and and the narrative that it was a failure is a direct result of former confederates informer southern white elites who had I've been stripped of their political power still have their money new research has shown us that they didn't lose a lot of money at all yeah during the course of the war they investments and other nations ED investments in New York banks they they came out just fine postwar those families and how wealth before the war had wealth after what they resented was having their political rights taken away from them what they resented is having formerly enslaved now able to vote wrote <hes> being able to help make in these folks were not just randomly going they were holding <hes> and I'm talking about the newly freed people who are men who were voting. They are holding informational meetings educating themselves about issues and policy and politics and they are act. I mean in taking it really seriously. Ace Lee right yeah <hes> there has holders at that time and -solutely congresspeople holders you know most of whom were those initial groups were Freeman had I've been freeman prior to the war so they were already educated and had various trades or businesses or what have you that that became those initial groups of of black legislators you leaders both at state and local levels but <hes> so the southern white elite resented the fact that this was happening and furthermore they resented the fact that there's a military presence and some of that military presence still included black soldiers who are patrolling and protecting the the new Freeman on a front to social order in an extraordinary way as soon as they are able to <hes> get that political power power back because northerners were growing weary of the cost of maintaining all of this they were growing weary as more of these <hes> formerly slater moving into urban centers in the north trying to find employment and work and and a new life for themselves and their families as S.. Folks were traveling all over the country we have native American groups who also participated in the civil war <hes> twelve. I mean I'm sorry twenty different native nations <hes> are participating in the American civil war for for the confederacy the other sixteen for the United States they are trying to re negotiate what means for them as sovereign nations or whether or not they will be a part of the United States now that they fought so new treaties are being signed in exercise someone being broken <hes> so there's chaos there. I mean it. It is a period of there's just so much going on and had been so much loss and suffering and dramatic change to American life both political social militarily and otherwise that the the reconstruction era <hes> again it didn't fail it was abandoned. It just got to be <hes> more than <hes>. The majority was is willing to contend with well and needed thinking that well we've. We've been doing this now for twelve fifteen years. They ought to be able to handle it on their own. Now we're done yeah just pull up stakes. Let's get out of here and that was all that was needed along with frustration about all of this in the scandals of eighteen eighteen seventy three financial crisis was also another key factor that Congress would then give the right to vote back to these former confederates and when that happened the tide shifted and we would go through another hundred hundred years of disenfranchisement that is such a that is so wild to to contemplate because I mean we're we are brought brought up in this country you know we do hear about Jim Crow and and the civil rights movement and and you know the struggle for civic participation and political participation by by people people of color but we are not taught that we had it over one hundred years ago and then we lost it that it was a brief a brief brief moment and then things back and we had to fight for them again that so that's exactly right that's so right it is it is <hes> I give the example here in Virginia the election of eighteen seventy six the roughly one hundred forty thousand African American men who are registered to vote in Virginia <hes> the <hes> by nineteen hundred that number is down to ten thousand wow and and half of the white men who were not monied who had been given extended the right to vote because of the Fifteenth Amendment in eighteen sixty eight those as white men who had <hes> immigrant communities who were generational and people who didn't have a lot of property who were now allowed to vote half of them would lose their right to vote by one thousand nine hundred wow so this wasn't just this wasn't just disenfranchisement of black people. This was disenfranchisement of the vast majority of Americans Reagan's in favor of this <hes> this elite <hes> white supremacist perspective and then yeah troll that narrative coming into the twentieth century it was again trying to get the poor white to align with bat elite versus the black folk who with whom they he probably had the most in common and it was successful and that is another story that we another store in another conversation right well. I mean I I mean this story is not one that we tell ourselves. It's it's a you know comes back to why we don't make you know movies about <hes> about slavery every as often as we should that that this is I mean what you're describing is so contrary to America's story about itself because as you know the story we normally have you know the the arc of history bends towards justice every day is a little bit more just and equal than the one that came before <hes> <hes> American democracy well it started as just the white landowners but then slowly and steadily we improved and we expanded that <hes> to folks <hes> again and again and hey the civil war was a big inflection period where you know a big inflection point where that happened but we you know we are on the side of justice and we won and Gosh darn it. We did it when you're what you're describing thing. Is that no right after that we had a brief period of democracy and then we slipped back into being an apartheid state. I mean what you're describing is is a country that is not democratic for a huge portion of its history and that had the opportunity. We're not even talking. We talked about what happened to the women yet right. Yeah I mean that's <hes> you know you're right. I mean it's it. It isn't the story that we tell ourselves but if we told ourselves it correctly if we told ourselves it <hes> fully then we can see where those demons are and we know when we're under threat when we see see those behaviors repeating themselves yeah when they these in because frankly some of the things that we see in current political climates in terms of you know various state legislatures that are shifting <hes> or trying to make voting more restrictive or you know the various things I mean the the Fifteenth Amendment is pretty pretty. doggone clear right you know the right of the citizen to vote shall not be abridged by the state period right well. It goes on okay. No it goes on to say you know regardless of previous condition of servitude <hes> right so there's there's other ways you know then they come up with poll taxes and they come up with you know if you committed a crime then no we're GonNa Strip you of the right to vote and if you did this we're going to I mean you start you know if you live within this particular jurisdiction and we don't have any <hes> we don't have to have voting you know easily accessible to you or no. You can't one read in the paper recently. Well you know if you're elderly and you can't get yourself to the polls. You can't get a ride actually legislature just later looking at that that are preventing people who may not have transportation from getting rides to the polls. Can you imagine I mean it's it's just stunning thing but these are these are the kinds of things and if you don't understand how people have have used these varying techniques to disenfranchise enfranchise than you. You can't be on the lookout for them. You can't fight against them. You you know you it's nice to stay in the nice little bubble and think well of course anybody who wants to vote can in boot well the impediments that are put there are very real yeah and so and they're put there for a reason and they're put there for a reason so so you have to you know we just have to know what the history is so that we can be more mindful about these things so I mean that's why keeps me fascinated. Needless list to say <hes> <hes> it definitely keeps me fascinated. You know how we navigate all this and in terms of sort of the progressiveness fitness it gets better over time. Well we actually see not just with American history but in history in general is there's always a sort of expansion and contraction yeah that takes place and you know you have this expansion of of human rights and dignity and then it snaps back like Rabanne Yeah <hes> <hes> and sometimes far more restrictive than it was previously and then you creep a little bit further so yes the arc towards justices there does lean towards there but you have to you have these expansions and contractions that happen <hes> as as you are moving that direction direction so none of it really should surprise us. Yeah we see that happening. The hope is is that those periods of contraction become shorter shorter but what you hope for the one that we're discussing was not short. It was a very long period of time a long period of time yeah right that's right but you know it when you think about it in in the arc of history though <hes> the what happened was an extraordinary expansion during the reconstruction period guess <hes> from the early you know sort of colonial settlements to that moment most of it you know the the the the periods of expansion were still limited within a particular group right <hes> and then we get to reconstruction and and the very language language and definitions that had been used to find the American character and the ideal of America American Democratic Republicanism expand significantly but to but expanded in this case where the snapback because it hadn't had period of expansion like that the snapback not only snap back but it stayed in a in a particular place yeah so he wouldn't see we wouldn't see that continual move that continue arc until we got until the fifties sixties and and seventy s and and really saw half a century later half a century later but again it all most of it had been periods of constriction so it wasn't that rubberband wouldn't be pulled very hard yeah and when it did that's what we saw so it just took some time and I think <hes> the difference this time is that we had roughly fifty to sixty years of expansion <hes> on it in the progressive period in the modern era and that's why we're seeing such tremendous backlash against it now yeah but at the end we'll we'll definitely come out ahead of where we are. We just got to acknowledge it deal with it. Figure it out fight it to keep that expansion going <hes> that's my two cents. That's historical perspective and as an American can who who looks at this and says you know we'll never reach our ideal until we deal with these assaults on it. Yeah I mean that's a very optimistic two cents to have for someone like yourself who has such a clear eyed view of how fall of how far short we've fallen. I mean the this issue and and and let's maybe <hes> have this be our our last question. I'm really I'm really curious about your thoughts on this <hes> as myself being an entertainer and educator <hes> I find that one of the hardest types of arguments I make are the ones that interfere with our self conception either I personally or nationally and our our self conception about America I mean even America's critics and I count myself as a loving critic of America Gotcha often find ourselves having to go back to the uplifting version you know that hey we've had some trouble in the past but we've always bent bent that arc of history for we've always expanded expanded the rights to to more people etc and and often by doing that we sort of left let ourselves off the hook a little bit. Hey you know the founding fathers didn't have it all right but you know <hes> we expanded expanded the right to vote over time even though they left you know <hes> everybody with themselves out at first they had a they had a great idea in mind and we were able to fill that history and and so <hes> America's still a wonderful place because it took a little time but we got there eventually and when we tell stories that contrast with that that contradicts that that actually no we backslid horrifically typically in a way that we don't even acknowledge today it is Har- it hurts herself conception it it. It's a it's a blow to the EGO. It says oh I thought I was is good but I'm bad is the is and so we act we react against that and I feel like that's so often you know part of the personal snapback that people will have is against that sort of negative change their self conception. I'm curious about how you approach that as an educator and and what do you what would you tell folks listening <hes> about how they should conceive of America differently having heard this uh-huh okay so question big question so I think if I were to to simplify the thought I think about it Kinda like this. It's kind China you know we're we're. We're all part of the family right and every family's got its KOOKS and every family has its idealist and every family family has its drunks and you can still love that drunk uncle. Let's not pretend he's not an alcoholic can deal with the issue right and so. I think that that's kind of where we fall down we we we often don't want to look critically because it does mean that we've got to put in the work. That's what people I think are really afraid of. They don't WANNA put up. Put up the work. They don't want to break down the status quo because they found their place within it but if we really believe if we really want to say say that what the founders even though the founders didn't intend for it to include everyone they nonetheless gave us a blueprint that was bigger within themselves in their own shortcomings they gave us an ideal and I think we as Americans have a responsibility ons ability to make real the ideal of a populous that is educated populace that is engaged a populous populace that is looking for the common good and a populous that is <hes> inviting and welcoming and E.. pluribus unum as the founders said out of many one yeah which suggests <hes> an embracing of our differences to find ourselves so oh that's part of the reason why I can still be Kinda Pollyanna because I'm the experiment that is America is an extraordinary everyone and a painful one but it is still worth being on the journey. That's a beautiful sentiment and <hes> I think that's a a wonderful note to end on. Thank you so much for coming on always fun. I'll see you the next time thank you so much Kristie Coleman for coming on the show. I hope you got as much learned as much from that interview as I did. If you enjoyed it please consider giving us a rating or review. Wherever you subscribe Apple Podcasts stitcher wherever you do it helps us out a lot I would like to thank Dana wiccans and Brett Morris at ear wolf and our researchers Sam Rodman and of course thanks once again to Andrew W K for our theme song you can follow me at Adam conver- on twitter or anywhere else on social media that is it for factually this week? We'll see the next time once again everybody KIWI CO projects are designed to spark creativity tinkering and learning in kids or dare I say adults of all ages they make learning about steam fund and they're on a mission to empower kids not just to make a project but to make a difference and they're offering my listeners. There's a chance to try them for free to redeem the offer and learn more about the projects visit Kiko Dot com slash factually that's Kiwi Co dot com slash factually. Hey everybody it's Aaron and Bryan during shade we just had our four hundred episode through a huge party with some of of our favorite guests Putin Patel Ryan O'CONNELL Paula Tompkins Dave Holmes Rana Glickman and more so if you love spontaneously breaking into song take to the theater ticket Kendall and it will blow on characters were giving me one hundred percent strudel trudeau boy from toaster strudel correctly when I go to school eat my toaster strudel I have so much in my belly and

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