Friday, February 10, 2017

Black History Month, the Civil War, and Reconstruction

My knowledge of Black History is woefully limited, although I know much more than I am comfortable with. I was a teenager when Birmingham was making a name for itself during the Civil Rights demonstrations of the 1960s, and I ought to have known more about what was happening. What little bit I knew of those events at the time of their happening, however, came by way of newspapers and television news programs because I lived in a small town relatively unaffected by city happenings.

My knowledge of the Civl War is a bit deeper because we studied it in school. But my knowledge of the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War is more limited than that of either the war or the demonstrations. Thanks to a lecture I heard last year at the Hoover Public Library, delivered by Dr. John Mayfield of Samford University's History Department, I've begun a process of trying to rectify that a bit.

There are so many post-war issues I had never even considered such as the small and limited federal government of that time, which had no provision for re-building destroyed rail lines, for sustaining the lives of those who had lost home and property during the War, for re-assimilating Confederate soldiers into the political life of the nation, for re-establishing banking and commercial enterprises, and for so many other practical issues we take for granted as functions of the federal government today.

Philosophically, I lean toward less government rather than more, but this small introduction to the practical realities of trying to reconstruct the South, has made me much more mindful of how fortunate we are to have a central government that concerns itself with recovery from natural disasters, with protection and sustenance of its citizens in times of hardship and distress, with provision of free public education, etc.

Dr. Mayfield's recommended reading for his lectures was Stephen Ash's A Year in the South, 1865, which is on my near-term reading list. I've added to that Tanner Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America, thanks to a knowledgeable friend's recommendation. I missed last year's airing on PBS of the documentary, Slavery by Another Name, which I'm told gave vivid testimony to the inhumane excesses of the Reconstruction Era here in Birmingham that continued the obscene devaluation of Black Americans. That's on my near-term watching list, if I can bear it.

Sometimes I feel so ignorant of local history, even history that I lived through. Sometimes it is history I wish I didn't know, that I wish didn't happen, because it is so gruesome and disturbing to confront. Still, I need to know and I am grateful for public libraries that sponsor informative lectures, for authors who research and write enlightening books, and for Alabama Public Television that provides educational programming to help me overcome what is lacking in my education. So much in life for which to be grateful. Such powerful testimony to why humankind needs a Savior.

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