So I started watching Ken Burns‘s National Parks documentary, and then I lazily watched an episode of his Civil War documentary and got hooked on that as well. He is dangerously soothing with these things, all the fiddles and pianos and familiar voices softly reading to me. The documentaries are so epic I can be tempted to imagine I know the whole story after sitting through nine or twelve hours of his stuff. That’s certainly not the case–he’s got a perspective and is making an argument just like the rest of us. But he’s definitely done the job of making me curious, so as I was riding downtown and passed the Civil War Museum at Confederate Memorial Hall, as I’ve done hundreds of times before, I decided to stop for a visit. I locked up my bike to a street sign–get some bike racks for all these museums!–and went in to learn a few things about the Confederacy. I didn’t think it would be possible to have a museum about the Civil War without any mention of slavery, but that’s what we’ve got here. There are a few daguerreotypes of free Blacks and men who served as “bodyguards” for white slavemasters, but mostly this is a museum about white Confederate soldiers fighting for their nation–the Confederate States of America. There are uniforms, flags, portraits of the higher ranks, paper money, canteens, and swords. And it made me realize just how much of New Orleans is commemorating the Confederacy all the damn time, from Lee Circle to that statue of General Beauregard at City Park. We can battle to take down the Confederate flags (this place is using a different CSA flag from the usual Dixie flag–much less noticeable), but that won’t mean we’ve delegitimized the Confederacy, and as much as this museum would like to argue differently, there’s no way to separate the Confederacy from slavery. And we all move through these spaces, every single day. Yep, I live in the South.
I am so happy you are making the Ken Burns journey. I have watched everything he has done. History alive.