Race in the Civil War Era

NPS Primary Theme: The military conflict of the Civil War was mirrored by an underlying war of ideas about race:  one side believing in the “unity of mankind,” the other claiming permanent and irremediable differences between the two “races” of black and white, and most white Americans caught somewhere in between.  The Civil War broke forever the link between blackness and slavery, and forced all Americans to rethink their racial ideologies.


7 Responses to Race in the Civil War Era

  1. Greg Shine says:


    I like that you have chosen to work with African Burial Ground in NYC and have been in contact with Ranger Cyrus. You asked for some ideas on connecting the park to the theme, so here goes!

    I think there is potential for a connection here, but you’ll need to be intensely creative in crafting it. Since Cyrus shared the fascinating anecdote that “Douglass once spent an evening sleeping on the streets that covered the African Burial Ground and it was there that he met Ruggles’ representatives,” perhaps you could link the sleeping incident to his work at the time or his later thoughts/writings on death, dying, and freedom as it relates to the slave experience.

    So, your tangible could be some part of the then-obscured cemetery — a gate, a stone, these buttons http://www.nps.gov/ner/images/AFBG_buttons_100px.jpg — or something known to be there when he slept above it), and the story would be the symbolism and/or irony of Douglas sleeping directly above it, and a connection between what both it and he may represent.

    In this vein, the buttons found onsite are compelling tangibles; they can represent universal concepts such as death, class, freedom, and the limited resources available to free and enslaved African Americans prior to 1794. And what do buttons do, by nature? They connect, making something more tightly bound or secure, bringing things together. When lost or unbuttoned, they do not connect; they leave open gaps, allow the unwanted in, etc.

    But how can you tie in Douglass? Well, Douglass’ own life was often threatened, and he thought and wrote about his own death and the death of others frequently. Sleep has often been used as a metaphor for death and freedom, and it would be interesting to check his writing for such uses. Interestingly, buttons feature prominently in one of Douglass’ most famous quotes. “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.” (More info on this from an educational perspective here: http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war/).

    So, you could compare/contrast the simple wooden buttons that Douglass slept above to those brightly polished brass ones for which he advocated, and use the wooden ones to represent the past African American experience, (perhaps an unchanged status-quo) and the brass “eagle on his button” to represent the opportunity Douglass argues so strongly in support of — African American men serving as soldiers. Tying directly to the language of your theme, you could argue convincingly that Douglass saw this opportunity as representing “a significant step forward in their [African Americans’] quest for social equality,” but one not realized.

    Just a few thoughts; I do think you’re right in seeking to connect to this theme through this park, and I think that Frederick Douglass can be a compelling link for doing so. Any thoughts from others?

  2. Andrew Carlson says:

    I just received an e-mail from Cyrus Forman who is helping me with FRDO (which I am now considering on changing the African Burial Ground if no one has it…otherwise combing the two). Here is what he said:

    “I am writing to provide as much help as you require. Frederick Douglass’ flight to freedom began on the streets of Baltimore. Members of the underground railroad and free african american seafarers provided him with information about how to contact NYC’s most prolific and radical underground railroad grouping, The New York Committee On Vigilance, and its leader, David Ruggles. David Ruggles was one of the most accomplished underground railroad leaders, having personally assisted at least 1,000 fugitives in his three years of activism. In New York City, Ruggles ran a boardinghouse/bookstore that was the first African-American bookshop in the United States and a front for his underground railroad activities. This establishment was located on Lispenard Street in Manhattan, under a mile from the African Burial Ground. Ruggles provided Douglass with succor, reading materials, and helped his wife, Anna Murray find Ruggles when she joined him in freedom later that week. They were married in the shadow of Ruggles’ printing press and then Ruggles provided references and transportation funds for the Douglasses so that they could go to the safe Quaker city of New Bedford and Douglass could work in the maritime industry of that whaling city.”

    I am thinking that the tangible would be the Ruggles’ House. It’s an awesome place with so much history.


  3. Andrew Carlson says:

    Update on intangibles/universals for BOAF and the Shaw Memorial:

    Intangibles –


    Secondary Sources:
    *”Hope and Glory” ed. Martin Blatt
    *”Where Death and Glory Meet: Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusettes Infantry” by Russell Duncan
    *”The Works of Augustus Saint-Gaudens” by John H. Dryfhout

  4. Andrew Carlson says:

    This is what I will be using for my tangible for BOAF, from the nps.gov site:

    “The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, located across Beacon Street from the State House, serves as a reminder of the heavy cost paid by individuals and families during the Civil War. In particular, it serves as a memorial to the group of men who were among the first African Americans to fight in that war. Although African Americans served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, northern racist sentiments kept African Americans from taking up arms for the United Stated in the early years of the Civil War. However, a clause in Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation made possible the organization of African American volunteer regiments. The first documented African American regiment formed in the north was the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, instituted under Governor John Andrew in 1863. African American men came to enlist from every region of the north, and from as far away as the Caribbean. Robert Gould Shaw was the man Andrew chose to lead this regiment.

    Robert G. Shaw was the only son of Francis George and Sarah Blake (née Sturgis) Shaw. The Shaws were a wealthy and well connected New York and Boston family. They were also radical abolitionists and Unitarians. Robert did not blindly follow his parents ideological and religious beliefs, but all recognized the importance and responsibility involved in leading the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.

    The Massachusetts 54th Regiment became famous and solidified their place in history following the attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. At least 74 enlisted men and 3 officers were killed in that battle, and scores more were wounded. Colonel Shaw was one of those killed. Sergeant William H. Carney, who was severely injured in the battle, saved the regiment’s flag from being captured. He was the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 54th Regiment also fought in an engagement on James Island, the Battle of Olustee, and at Honey Hill, South Carolina before their return to Boston in September 1865. Only 598 of the original 1,007 men who enlisted were there to take part in the final ceremonies on the Boston Common. In the last two years of the war, it is estimated that over 180,000 African Americans served in the Union forces and were instrumental to the Union’s victory.

    Augustus Saint-Gaudens took nearly fourteen years to complete this high-relief bronze monument, which celebrates the valor and sacrifices of the Massachusetts 54th. Saint-Gaudens was one of the premier artists of his day. He grew up in New York and Boston, but received formal training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris. In New York, forty men were hired to serve as models for the soldiers’ faces. Colonel Shaw is shown on horseback and three rows of infantry men march behind. This scene depicts the 54th Regiment marching down Beacon Street on May 28, 1863 as they left Boston to head south. The monument was paid for by private donations and was unveiled in a ceremony on May 31, 1897.”

    I was led to this book, which I have ordered through Summit. I have been pointed to a specific article within the book by Donald Blight that discusses, in detail, the 54th Regiment:
    Ed. Martin Blatt, “Hope and Glory.”

  5. Andrew Carlson says:

    As of 2/14, I have no received any word from Wilson’s Creek about our project.

    I have the contact info for Boston African American and will be contacting Ryan McNabb very shortly about it… As stated above, Frederick Douglass site wants me to hold off until tomorrow at the earliest.

  6. Andrew Carlson says:

    I have gotten into contact with one of the parks, Frederick Douglass, with regards to the “Race” theme. Since I have recently taken this on by myself, I am a little behind in any research/preparation for it but I am doing my best to get caught up. I’m really excited as the process is now coming along and we are rollin’ with our themes!

    I have been told to get into contact with the program manager for the Civil War Defenses of Washington – Alexa Viets, but have been told to contact them and start discussion after February 14th due to the upcoming birthday of F.D. and the major events and celebrations surrounding this. Will keep you posted.

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