When I think of the Lost Cause myth and how it chooses to deal with the issue of slavery, I am usually appalled by the casual way the South likes to disregard what an unusual institution slavery really was. The South, with the Lost Cause myth, chooses to view their slaves as faithful servants…but I have a hard time rationalizing that with my brain. I just can’t rationalize a group of human beings that were born into a world of servitude without the possibility of social mobility and free will. I try to think that if I were born under different circumstances, how would I end up? Would I be where I am today? And then, there’s always the question…is where I am today the best I can be? I am never satisfied with the answers I come up with to my hypothetical questions, but it’s an interesting exercise I try to do every once in awhile to make sure I’m happy with my life. Thank goodness I have that ability, unlike the slaves of the South during the mid 1800s.
The South, has it seems, can’t decide how it wants to deal with slavery. The Lost Cause has its version of the story, so do history books, so do historians, and so do the common folk of all geographic origins. Like Dr. Epps said in class this week, “there’s always a but, when it comes to slavery.” I think that’s true from all the multitudes of perspectives on the subject, not just when you ask Southerners.
I also have a difficult time negotiating that Abraham Lincoln was some sort of messiah that all African Americans hold in high esteem. The Emancipation Proclamation was just a piece of paper. It’s the defeat of the Confederacy that makes that piece of paper have meaning. It’s clear that Lincoln did not regard African Americans as equal to white Americans. He believed that Africans were an inferior race in comparison to his own. The fact that Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865 is a convenient exit out of the mess he helped create. His assassination opens the door to numerous ‘what if’ questions that will never be answered.
The cartoon I have posted above shows that not only Southerners, but also Northerners struggled with what to do with the newly freed slaves. First of all, talk about the elephant in the room! This cartoon attacks that saying full force. It seems as a nation, the United States struggled to deal with the freed slaves. As many former slaves fled the South, the North was overwhelmed with their presence. From this cartoon, it is clear that not only Northerners, but specifically the Union Army had no idea how to negotiate such a social change.
What is the memory of the North regarding the emancipation of slaves? When examining the implementation of Jim Crow laws, the South clearly determines the social order that will dominate Southern society for the following century. But, the North struggles too. Can the North establish a social hierarchy based on race that is different than Jim Crow? Can the North, during the mid 1800s, believe that African Americans were not inferior to the white race? It’s easy to idealize the North as being equal when dealing with different races, but that is not the case. There were many forms of discrimination among Northerners. According to this cartoon, it only reinforces the reality of how the North dealt with race issues.