On May 20-21, 2016, the University of Memphis hosted “Memories of a Massacre: Memphis in 1866, a Symposium Exploring Slavery, Emancipation, and Reconstruction.” The culmination of a semester-long series of lectures, workshops, discussions, and book talks, this symposium featured historians and scholars from across the country, including Robert K. Sutton, retired Chief Historian of the National Park Service. Together, their presentations and the ensuing discussions pried open what has for 150-years been the carefully concealed history of Reconstruction, its legacies, and the significant role that Memphis played in both. We are thankful for all who joined us live or followed us on social media as we reflected collectively on a wave of terror that rocked a city and changed a nation.
If you did not get a chance to attend or missed some of the panels on Friday, you can hear them below.
FRIDAY, MAY 20
Welcome: Welcome by Karen Weddle-West, Provost, University of Memphis
Panel One: Slavery and Slave Life in the Mississippi Valley (Listen Here)
• Joshua D. Rothman, University of Alabama,The Cotton Economy and the Rebirth of American Slavery” Twitter Handle: @rothmanistan
• J. Calvin Schermerhorn, Arizona State, Cash for Slaves’: The African American Trail of Tears” Twitter Handle: @CalScherm
• Max Grivno, University of Southern Mississippi, “Death on the River: Slavery in the Yazoo Mississippi Delta”
Moderator: Madeleine C. Taylor, Executive Director, NAACP Memphis
Panel Two: Civil War and Emancipation in the Mississippi Valley (Listen Here)
• Joseph P. Reidy, Howard University, “Black Soldiers and Sailors: Rebuilding Families and the Nation amidst the Chaos of Civil War in the Mississippi Valley” (Paper presented by Co-Director: Beverly Bond)
• Jim Downs, Connecticut College, “Dying to be Free: The Deadly Consequences of Emancipation” Twitter Handle: @jimdowns1
• John C. Rodrigue, Stonehill College, “From Emancipation to Abolition in Civil-War Tennessee”
Moderator: Femi I. Ajanaku, Director, Center for African & African American Studies,LeMoyne-Owen College Twitter Handle: @izegbe
Panel Three: Giving Meaning to Freedom (Listen Here)
• Susan Eva O’Donovan, University of Memphis, “The Problem of Freedom in the Era of Emancipation” Twitter Handle: @odonovanse1
• Kate Masur, Northwestern University, “Urban Battlegrounds: Reconstruction in Southern Cities” Twitter Handle: @katemasur
•Elizabeth L. Jemison, Clemson University, “Christianity, Race, and Politics after Emancipation.” Twitter Handle: @eljemison
Moderator: Ladrica Menson-Furr, Director of African & African American Studies, University of Memphis
Keynote Address (Listen Here)
Opening remarks by Ronald A. Walter, President and General Manager, WREG-TV, Memphis
Moderator: Aram Goudsouzian, Chair, Department of History, University of Memphis
• Robert K. Sutton, Chief Historian of the National Park Service, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of American History: Remembering Reconstruction”
Listen to Day Two here.
While racism among ex-Confederates was partly responsible for the riot, they were not the only ones with such attitudes, nor was racism among ex- Confederates the only cause, as indicated in the article linked below.
You’re correct. Racism was not confined to the former slaveholding states, nor was it confined to anti-black sentiments. Racism was a national problem, and it extended to anti-Chinese sentiments, anti-Irish sentiments, and anti-Native American sentiments, to name just a few. And as we noted in another response, there were other problems and issues at play in this period. Indeed, what historians are especially interested in is how anti-black/Native American/Chinese/etc. sentiments have been used throughout American history to advance class, gender, and political interests. And as also noted in our other response, Reconstruction can easily be told as a labor history, but there’s no getting around the fact that the vast majority of workers in the former slaveholding states were of African descent.
One of the things that makes the Memphis Massacre such a fascinating topic of study is both how racism intersected with local debates over who should rule, and how the effort by the white mob to exert white rule backfired on them. Instead of cowing black people, and cowing the federal government (one needs to keep in mind that one of the primary targets were federal soldiers), mob action caused Republicans across the country to consolidate against their own president (Andrew Johnson), seize control over the Reconstruction process, and pass the 14th Amendment, which we all depend on today to protect ourselves and our property against unjust seizure by government or private entities. In fact, one could argue that without that due process clause, we would not be one of the leading economic nations in the world.
The 14th Amendment was used much more often as a means to protect property rights as opposed to civil rights during the first fifty or so years after its passage as documented in the article below:
Again, no historian would dispute this. But it is worth keeping in mind that intention rarely determines outcomes, especially when it comes to law, which by nature is subject to endless reinterpretation. Moreover, the historical process you describe means that the 14th Amendment has touched many more lives in many more ways than the authors seemed to have intended. It is used to protect big business as well as individuals. We could not have become the current bastion of global capitalism without that application. Which, of course, makes it all the more important to study one of the key events that led to the drafting and ratifying of the 14th Amendment.