In the last several weeks, I have talked about my book, Impeached, before several groups in the South: Altanta, Lexington (KY), Nashville, Memphis. I was somewhat anxious about these appearances. After all,
- The book (and my talks) are highly critical of Southern policies towards the freed slaves.immediately after the Civil War.
- I also take a generally dim view of President Johnson’s policies, conduct, and overall demeanor.
Would Southern audiences, I wondered, find these views a bit hard to digest from someone with still the faintest trace of a New York accent (or so I was recently told)? Would they be stirred to defend their forebears? Would I be called out for failing to understand the devastation visited on Southern whites by the Civil War (a point I try to acknowledge in detail)?
Not to worry. The audiences were courteous, receptive to my messages, even warm in their appreciation of my talks. I’ve thought a bit about why.
First, of course, 140 years have passed. That’s seven generations. Some of the fever has subsided.
Also, with people moving themselves around so much, I did not hear that many true Southern accents. There are lots of transplanted folks in the South now, so the audience is more diverse. It’s not all Beauregards and Lees in the region.
But, based on the questions and comments I heard, and despite the generally pro-conservative voting patterns of the region, the change in racial atitudes has been real, and there is a a renewed appreciation for the tragedy of Reconstruction. The whole nation messed up Reconstruction, but Southerners both took the leading role in doing so, and have had to work harder to undo that damage in the last fifty years. The audiences seemed geniunely curious about what went on, and why.
I also experienced some remarkable venues. The Atlanta History Center is a gorgeous campus in a very posh part of the city, with lots of great programs.
And the Joseph-Beth Bookstore on the outskirts of Lexington, Kentucky, is not only a terrific place to buy books, but a gorgeous space. (That’s it below to the left; please ignore the failed uploads otherwise shown below — having some trouble with the image-loading function, but I’m working on it.