Thursday, October 31, 2013

HALLOWEEN MOVIE BREAK! Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas"

Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas," movie review by Peter Travers, from the Rolling Stones, 29 October 1993  --  Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas restores originality and daring to the Halloween genre. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. The history-making stop-motion animation in this $20 million charmer transcends age. It's 74 minutes of timeless movie magic.

The story concerns Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of dreary Halloweentown, who finds a secret passageway to Christmastown. Enchanted by the colors and high spirits, Jack decides to sandbag Santa and deliver presents in a coffin-shaped sleigh led by skeleton reindeer. Burton hatched the idea 11 years ago as a humble animator at Disney, a Conservativetown where such deviltry was quickly squashed. His later success with Batman, Beetlejuice and the like prompted a reconsideration.

Some parents may raise hell over the film's dark mischief. Santa is held hostage by a sack of slime and bugs called Oogie Boogie (Ken Page of Broadway's Ain't Misbehavin' does the voice). And Jack unknowingly terrifies kids by delivering such presents as a shrunken head and a toy snake that devours Christmas trees. Even Sally, Jack's rag-doll love, thinks he may be going too far. That leaves a gloomy Jack warbling a tune — one of 10 composed by Oingo Boingo's Danny Elfman (who sings for Jack) — in the arms of a statue in a graveyard.

We're a long way from traditional Disney fare. Nightmare celebrates the joy of a good scare; it also deals with the repercussions of being misunderstood. There's not a trace of podlike conformity in Burton's vision, Elfman's score or Caroline Thompson's script. And director Henry Selick (he did the ingenious MTV logo animation) performs miracles in stop-motion; Nightmare took nearly three years to complete (over 100 crew members averaged only 60 seconds of film per week). The result has the earmarks of an enduring classic. Of all the new Halloween films, only this one has the power to truly haunt our dreams.  (source: Rolling Stone)

The Academy of Arts and Science aka The Oscars robbed Tim Burton, et al.  I love this movie! CLICK HERE to watch Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

This Is Halloween

Nightmare Before Christmas - halloween by 03pearsonm

HALLOWEEN MOVIE BREAK! Hiyao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away"

What does Hiyao Miyazaki's Oscar winning "Spirited Away" have to do with slavery in the United States and the so called "New World" -- nothing, absolutely nothing.  It's just an absolutely brilliant film, with enough witches and ghoulish spirits to qualify for Halloween viewing.

Peter Bradshaw of The UK Guardian reviewed the movie, "Spirited Away," on 11 September 2003 -- Magical is a word used casually about films like this, films about fantasy and childhood. Yet this one really does deserve it: an enchanted and enchanting feature from the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki which left me feeling lighter than air. It is a beautifully drawn and wonderfully composed work of art - really, no other description will do - which takes us on a rocket-fuelled flight of fancy, with tenderly and shrewdly conceived characters on board.

Before this movie, I was agnostic about Miyazaki and his world-renowned Ghibli studio; I couldn't join in the mass hollering of superlatives that greeted the release of his Princess Mononoke last year. That was striking and distinctive, but I found the kaleidoscope of visual images oddly depthless and psychologically uninvolving and the Japanimated moppet faces an acquired taste. Even now, my euphoria after seeing Spirited Away is soured a smidgen by reading comments by some of its more supercilious cheerleaders, who affect to adore it at the expense of "America" and "Disney": thus fatuously denigrating a great animation tradition to which Miyazaki is patently, and honourably indebted.

There are actually many Western influences and resemblances: Homer's Odyssey, Lewis Carroll, L Frank Baum and maybe even The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. But it's undoubtedly in a class and genre of its own: its alien, exotic qualities, all the more intense for a non-Japanese audience, are part of how extraordinarily pleasurable it is to watch.

Miyazaki begins with a very real picture of family life: a mother and father in the front of their gleaming Audi saloon - daddy gloats over his vehicle's four-wheel drive - are heading for a new home in the provinces. In the back, hunched and scowling, is little 10-year-old Chihiro, utterly miserable about leaving behind all her friends. An only child, whose hurt feelings are treated fairly brusquely by these well-to-do professional parents, Chihiro is scared by the feelings of loneliness that are creeping up on her. Forlornly, she clutches a dying bunch of flowers she has apparently been given as a farewell gift by her old friends, and is overwhelmed with grief and despair. "My first bouquet - and it's spoiled," she moans, discomfiting her parents with this precocious sense of her future, adult prerogatives.

Chihiro's family gets lost in a strange, secluded woodland. They park the car, and walk through a tunnel carved in a red sandstone edifice to emerge in what the father airily announces must be a deserted theme park. Chihiro watches in horror as they then tuck in to a buffet mysteriously laid out for them and turn into a couple of fat, slobbering pigs; Chihiro finds herself a wanted human fugitive in a divine bathhouse-cum-recreation-zone: "a place where eight million gods come to rest their bones". The crone priestess and proprietress of this psychedelic R'n'R area is Yubabu, whose employees must all sycophantically greet their god-customers: magnificent creatures of all shapes and sizes. She is obliged, according to her own rules, to tolerate Chihiro as long as she is prepared to do useful work. So she is made to scrub out a huge tub, preparing for the arrival of a noisome slime-monster, a Jabba the Hut lookalike. In all this, Chihiro is helped by her only friend, a slightly older boy called Haku; it is he who must teach her how to survive and restore her parents to human form.

There is just so much going on in this story that it's impossible to sum up. But it had me utterly involved from the very start, and that's down to the mind-bogglingly superb animation that, for me, had a human and psychologically acute element to add to the expected dimension of hallucinatory fantasy. It's this that makes the claim of "masterpiece" so plausible - that, and the wit, playfulness and charm that Miyazaki mixes into the proceedings.

Spirited Away is the result of organic, non-GM animation: everything is hand-drawn before being digitalised. Yet it has a dazzling quality that I have come to associate solely with the new generation of animators and FX stylists, a fleetness and lightness in the way it switches from the close-up on a deft little sight gag or a sweet character observation, sweeping out for a breathtaking panorama of an extraterrestrial landscape imagined with passionate detail and specificity. I can't think of a film that is so readily able to astonish and wears that ability so lightly and insouciantly.

Spirited Away couldn't be more different from, say, Shrek - another masterpiece that Ghibli enthusiasts patronise at their peril - and yet the out-of-this-world visual inventions of Spirited Away have the same gasp-inducing quality, but achieved without its hi-tech sheen and glitz. The scenes of Yubabu's palace complex seen at dusk across water, at sunrise through the mist, or in moonlight or sunlight made me purr with pleasure. And the compositions of Miyazaki's scenes in a bright flower garden are sublime in their forthright, untarnished innocence.

This remarkable film - finally released here two years after it was made - first entranced European audiences at the Berlin film festival. It is available in two versions: the Japanese original with subtitles, or, if you really want, dubbed with American voices. To those who prefer a dubbed version, I can only say that like screwtop wine, it might turn out to be all right. But why compromise the pleasure of this film with an error of taste as silly as that? Spirited Away is fast and funny; it's weird and wonderful. Mostly wonderful. (source: The UK Guardian)

Spirited Away Showing from D33tly d33tlegacy on Vimeo.

Halloween, A History

As reported by the Boston Globe, "The history of Halloween," by Katharine Whittemore, on 26 October 2013 -- It’s that time of year again: Halloween, when we eat marinated carp, celebrate Martin Luther’s 95 theses, and put out bowls of butter to salve the wounds of the dead. Who doesn’t love Halloween, when we throw nuts into the fire to predict whom we’ll marry, and enter a house only after firing a shot over the roof and having the owner fire back? Forget Tootsie Rolls. Forget UNICEF boxes. Forget kids in ninja costumes. This bizarrely enigmatic, riotously evolving pagan-Christian-Celtic-American-Hollywood-hyper-retail-creepingly-global holiday is “undoubtedly the most misunderstood of festivals.”

Or so I learned in “Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween” (Reaktion, 2012) by Lisa Morton, a leading authority on the holiday. Her book is my lively source for the guns (a Shetland Islands tradition) and butter (a German practice). But those are just two oddities out of many.

When reading about Halloween, it’s all strange tidings for an American holiday second only to Christmas, now, for over-the-top observance and marketplace wallop. Yet there’s a gap here. Or maybe a spooky chasm with a fog machine and polyester cobwebs: For centuries, Halloween’s great popularity resulted in scant analysis. Lucky for us, insights have been piling up in the last few decades, and Morton’s book is one of the more recent, mainstream efforts in the world of Halloween studies. (Yes, ghoulfriend, there is such a thing).

It follows in the slipstream of the first scholarly conference ever held on Halloween, which took place in Glasgow in 2006. The choice of city was no accident: Most histories of Halloween give the Scots top credit for kindling and stoking the holiday. Indeed, a century ago Halloween cards featured lots of plaid and thistles. It’s debatable whether our festival grew out of the Gaelic-Celtic harvest bash Samhain (for “summer’s end,” and pronounced “sow-in”). Samhain was full of bonfires and feasts. Fairies and spirits were said to thrive then too, though they could be evil so it was best if they didn’t recognize you. Thus, it seems some revelers took to wearing disguises. So when you’re at a Halloween party this year, and sidle up to Walter White or Daft Punk, you can tell them their couture is linked to a druidical sense of existential anxiety. Or something like that.

Just as the early Christian Church overlaid Christmas on a pagan winter solstice festival, and Easter on spring solstice, Halloween became tied to harvest time and All Saints Day, celebrated on Nov. 1 — “hallow” sprung from the Old English word for “holy” and “e’en” is a contraction of “evening,” thus “Halloween” for the night before. This religious heritage, however, has withered so much that many evangelical Christians today object to Halloween for its satanic overtones; they even hold alternative Hallelujah Nights on Oct. 31. Reach into Morton’s book and you’ll pull out oodles more informational candies: For a long time, Halloween was mostly about fortune-telling, and the “treat” stuff only kicked into high gear after World War II when sugar rationing ended. Also, it’s big in Scandinavia, but moribund in Australia.

Which brings us to “Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween” (Bloomsbury USA, 2003) by David J. Skal. Modern Halloween, he says, is a “patchwork holiday, a kind of cultural Frankenstein stitched together quite recently from a number of traditions.” I particularly liked his treatment of the 1970s Halloween scares (apples with razors, bubble gum with lye), outing them as urban myths. He also talks about how fear is a money maker: many think a financially teetering Knott’s Berry Farm, for instance, was saved by annually adding a Knott’s Scary Farm attraction. And he covers how American exports like the “Halloween” slasher movie franchise have spread the holiday to a Europe that paid it little mind before. (In France, though, Halloween has not even un peu traction. They find it too ugly American.)

Skal also has some great stuff on Halloween pranking. In the Depression, the poor pranked the rich with near menace, and during World War II, pranks were frowned upon (why soap a car with rationed soap?). He quotes a Rochester, N.Y., school superintendent who pointed out how “[e]ven ringing doorbells has lost its appeal because it may mean disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.”

“Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night” (Oxford University, 2003) by a Canadian history professor named Nicholas Rogers moves more toward the multicultural. I especially liked the coverage of Halloween’s closest kin, El Dia de los Muertos, in which Latin American countries celebrate the night before All Saint’s Day by visiting the gravestones of their loved ones, bringing pan de muertos (bread of the dead) and reminiscing about those who’ve gone on. In Texas, a Latino-American hybrid has formed that incorporates Halloween pumpkins and candies into this family-centric commemoration. Lest we find this south of the border death talk morbid, know that elsewhere the mortal embrace got much tighter. In Naples, hundreds of years ago, the charnel houses were opened, festooned with flowers, and family members could commune with their loved ones’ bones and cadavers.

Americans seem pretty lightweight compared to that. Indeed, all our faux ghosts, mummies, and skeletons fall in the realm of “safe danger,” as Rogers writes. “Flirtation with fear,” is how Joanna Bourke puts it in “Fear: A Cultural History” (Counterpoint, 2007). This book has much to say about how children, especially, try out their dark emotions in a protected context like Halloween or scary movies and literature. It also talks about how Western cultures now know great inchoate anxieties about terrorism or spying or pandemics, but as individuals we have much less direct contact with death and dying than our forebears did, when infant mortality rates were higher and people died younger. As such, death in today’s Halloween (much less souls and saints) has become marginalized. Now it’s about providing “a space for social transgression and parody,” according to Rogers.

Transgression and parody light up Lesley Pratt Bannatyne’s “Halloween Nation: Behind the Scenes of America’s Fright Night” (Pelican, 2011). This is a quasi oral-history, with plenty of photos, and commentary from names like Garrison Keillor, native of Anoka, Minn., “Halloween Capital of the World,” plus endearing curiosities like a custom fang maker, horror movie actress, and several New Englanders, such as a Topsfield pumpkin grower, Halloween pranksters at MIT, and Boston’s own horror burlesque dancer, Devilicia. Bannatyne is quite the queen of the night herself, and though it’s dated, her “Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History” (Pelican, 1998) expertly traces how the Scottish and Irish brought pseudo-Samhain to Uncle Sam, reenergizing the holiday with each immigrant wave.

You know you’re in an academic book when a professor gushes about the “sheer polysemy” of Halloween. I had to look up the word; it means “many meanings.” Which is just what you get in “Trick or Treat? Halloween in a Globalising World” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009). It’s edited by Malcolm Foley and Hugh O’Donnell, professors at Glasgow Caledonian University, and showcases papers from that Scottish Halloween conference.

They’re all obscurely insightful, and often inadvertently amusing for their high/low-culture juxtaposition. Take “Halloween in a Situation Comedy: Postmodernity, Tradition, and Identity,” which analyzes a Catalan sitcom in which a fierce nationalist refuses to drink Halloween punch since it’s “an imperialist beverage,” and “Resisting Halloween in Slovenia: A Case of Anti-Americanism,” in which the local press sneers that this Yank import “is perfect for today’s meaningless consumer culture.” Which goes to show that whether you think Halloween is a treat or a trick, it’s scary how significant it is.  (source: Boston Globe )

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Racist Halloween Costumes

The New York TimesA Halloween Risk: Racism in Disguise," by Bee Shapiro, on 30 October 2013  --  Are Halloween costumes an annual excuse to frighten or to offend?

Last Friday at a Halloween party in Beverly Hills, Calif., the actress Julianne Hough and several friends dressed up as the jailbird cast from the Netflix show “Orange Is the New Black.” Wearing an orange jumpsuit, Ms. Hough, who is blonde and blue-eyed, dressed as the character Crazy Eyes (played by the black actress Uzo Aduba) and smeared dark makeup on her face.

Photos surfaced on social media, and by Saturday morning, Ms. Hough issued an apology on Twitter, saying in part, “I realize my costume hurt and offended people and I truly apologize.” But not before there was widespread condemnation and media coverage. Moron, Martha Plimpton tweeted.

But was it racist? Ann Morning, a New York University associate professor of sociology who specializes in race, argues not. “Traditionally, blackface has been about broad negative stereotypes — it’s not about the individual at all,” she said. In Ms. Hough’s case, “She was trying to be as faithful as she could to the character.”

Others argue that Ms. Hough was merely celebrating a character who happens to be black. “I think this whole thing is overblown,” one commenter said on Twitter. “John Boehner is darker than you. All you did was bronze your skin.”

There was less sympathy when it came to the two Florida partygoers who dressed up as George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Instagram photos of the costumes (one wore a T-shirt that read “Neighborhood Watch”; another was in blackface and wore a gray hoodie smeared with fake blood) were widely condemned as tasteless.

Also last weekend, several fashion designers wore black makeup and oversize white lips to a Halloween party in Milan. On Monday, one of the designers, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, posted an apology on Twitter, saying it was not his intention to be disrespectful or offensive.

There are different levels of racism, said W. Kamau Bell, a political comedian who hosts “Totally Biased” on FXX. “The guys behind Trayvon are just jerks,” he said. “They’re regular ol’ racists, whereas Julianne Hough clearly made a mistake. By the time she left the party, she had taken off her makeup.”

Professor Morning found the Italian designers’ minstrel-style costumes particularly foul. “Their black-cork, white lip blackface comes straight from the 1927 film ‘The Jazz Singer’ with Al Jolson,” she said. “It’s a movie that is widely considered a major popularizer of blackface that had clearly racist roots. I do not give them a pass.”

(Curiously, even given the testy politics, she thought the Trayvon Martin getup was similar to Ms. Hough’s: it was a faithful depiction of the character without introducing other racist stereotypes. “We tend to have these knee-jerk reactions of what is offensive,” she said.)

Those contemplating going blackface this Halloween might not get the proper warnings from friends, but some retail shops are taking it upon themselves to step in for their customers.

Ricky’s, a beauty chain based in New York that started offering “costume concierges” this Halloween season, tries to steer light-skinned shoppers who want to go as dark-skinned characters to more “creative cues” other than skin color. “You don’t have to be so literal as to darken your face,” said Lorne Lucree, director of marketing at the company.

Mr. Bell had another suggestion for those buying face makeup this Halloween. “Maybe it should be like buying too much Sudafed,” he said. “If someone is buying makeup eight shades too dark for them, maybe some flags should go up.” (source: The New York Times)

Flowchart: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist?

Flowchart: Is Your Halloween Costume Racist

Chart design by Michael Palmer

(source: College Humor, by Dan Hopper, October 29, 2013)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Overcome by Slavery

From the New York Times, "Overcome by Slavery," by Ira Berlin, on 13 July 2001  --  On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring slaves forever free, but the subject remains very much alive. On the big screen we have had ''Glory,'' ''Amistad,'' ''Shadrach'' and ''Beloved.'' On television, the four-part series ''Africans in America'' was followed by Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s controversial sojourn through Africa, during which he confronted African complicity in the slave trade. Such programs have come hard on the heels of new monuments and miles of freedom trails, dozens of exhibitions and the building of museums dedicated to slavery.

In the past year, some 50 scholarly works on slavery have been published. Add dozens of Web sites, children's books and novels and at least one parody, ''The Wind Done Gone.'' And, if that was not enough, there was the DNA confirmation of Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings.

The resonance of the Jefferson-Hemings affair provides a reminder of how much slavery has become part of contemporary politics. Bill Clinton realized this early on; hence the debate over The Apology and his appointment of the Commission on Race and Reconciliation. Congress has also gotten into the act, mandating that Civil War battle sites supervised by the National Park Service address slavery. Disputes over the Confederate flag and Confederate History Month have roiled politics in South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia, and California has required insurance companies to divulge if they have ever insured slave property. Finally, there is the matter of reparations, which has found advocates in some of the nation's prominent litigators.

It would be comforting to conclude that recognition of slavery's importance to the development of our economy, politics and culture has driven Americans to a consideration of the past. But there clearly is more to the current interest in slavery. There is a recognition that American racism was founded in slavery, and a general, if inchoate, understanding that any attempt to address race in the present must also address slavery in past.

This attempt has become imperative as American society perceptibly grows more segregated, the benefits of economic growth are unevenly and unfairly distributed among races, and a previous generation's remedies for segregation and inequality are discarded as politically unacceptable.

In short, behind the interest in slavery is the crisis of race. The confluence of the history of slavery and the politics of race reveals that slavery has become a language, a way to talk about race, in a society in which blacks and whites hardly talk to each other at all. In slavery, Americans have found a voice to address some of their deepest hurts and the depressing reality of how much of American life -- jobs; housing; schools; access to medical care, to justice and even to a taxi -- is controlled by race.

But while slavery serves as an entry point for a dialogue on race, it is not an easy one. For slavery carries with it deep anger, resentment, indignation and bitterness for some, embarrassment, humiliation and shame for others. The complications can be seen in the introduction of slavery into what had been a lily-white representation of Colonial Williamsburg -- by staging a slave auction. The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People objected, finding the re-creation insulting to people of African descent -- a painful reminder of what no one wanted to have recalled. The director of the project, Christie Coleman, refused to retreat, insisting that slavery was an integral part of the history of colonial Williamsburg. The N.A.A.C.P. conceded Ms. Coleman's point.

The presentation of slavery at Colonial Williamsburg has since become routine, and the results have been astounding. Visitors get caught up in the re-enactments. Some offer to help slaves escape. Others protect slaves from abusive masters. Some turn on slaveowners, and not merely to debate the issue; several visitors have had to be physically restrained. Lest it be thought that it is only the visitors who forget they are witnesses to a re-enactment, the actors -- mostly young black men and women -- have been caught up in it as well. They report that while playing slaves they were often treated as slaves, not merely by visitors but by others as well, setting in motion nightmarish fantasies.

Viewing the present through the lens of the past is useful, necessary and perhaps inevitable. But it is also dangerous. If the re-enactment in Williamsburg and the new interest in slavery show how the past can illuminate, they also show how the differences between past and present can become blurred rather than clarified.

At the beginning of the 21st century, almost a century and a half after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Americans are again struggling with slavery, and in so doing hope to vanquish slavery's legacy: the burden of race. The films, re-enactments, museums and books, as well as the politics, are part of that struggle. In turning to the past to understand the present, it has become evident that Americans will not be, in Lincoln's words, forever free until they have mastered slavery as slavery once mastered them.  [source: New York Times ArticlesIra Berlin is author of ''Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America.''

Ira Berlin - The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations from NYU Steinhardt on Vimeo.

Lincoln and the Copperheads

From the New York Times, "Lincoln and the Copperheads," by Jennifer L.Weber, on 28 January 2013 --  In January 1863, Abraham Lincoln made a remarkable confession. He was, he told a senator, more worried about “the fire in the rear” than he was about the Confederates to his front.

The moment was a particularly dark one for the Union cause. After a winning spring in 1862, federal armies had few successes. This dismal story was especially true for the high-profile Army of the Potomac. It had been whipped at the Second Battle of Bull Run in August, come to a draw at Antietam (though Abraham Lincoln claimed that as a win) and been slaughtered at Fredericksburg in December. The army, poorly generaled for the first half of the war, reached a new low in January 1863 with the Mud March, an ill-conceived attempt to strike Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg, Va. Shortly after the federals set out, the rain began. Man and beast bogged down in mud, and Gen. Ambrose Burnside, he of the flamboyant whiskers, ordered his men back to camp. Morale tanked.

Confidence at home was little better. Daunted by the summer’s losses, many Northern civilians had been ready to give Southerners their independence. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln issued after Antietam, had been highly divisive among civilians and soldiers alike. While many Northerners, in and out of uniform, could agree about fighting to save the Union, fighting to free the slaves was not immediately as palatable. As failures and disappointments mounted, the public was increasingly receptive to the Peace Democrats, a conservative wing of the party that demanded a return to “the Union as it was and the Constitution as it is.”

Peevish and bordering on paranoid, the Peace Democrats thought nearly everything the Lincoln administration did to prosecute the war was unconstitutional. Some of the more extreme peace men thought the war itself was illegal, since the Constitution was silent about secession.

Peace Democrats typically came from one of three backgrounds: strict constructionists in understanding the Constitution, people of Southern birth or heritage who now lived in the lower Midwest and or immigrants who had suffered from nativists’ hostility and worried that freed slaves would come north and take their jobs. Whatever their origins, these dissidents framed their objections in constitutional terms.

The conservatives, as they called themselves, had been in evidence since the beginning of the war. Some in Congress had denounced Lincoln from early on. But their visibility and activism grew as the war ground through its second year. In neighborhoods around the country, skittish Republicans reported that their dissident neighbors were calling Lincoln names, drilling in the woods and in some cases huzzahing for Jefferson Davis.

The peace men insisted that talk of the war being for the Union was untrue; the war, they said, was really about freeing slaves. When Lincoln issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862, conservatives both crowed about the accuracy of their interpretation of the war and raged that white men should die for the benefit of blacks.

The dissenters had no problem with slavery. They considered African-Americans something less than human, a subpar species fit for bondage. They also feared freedmen would come North and take jobs from white men. The racism that shot through their rhetoric was extreme, even by the standards of their own time.

Disgusted Republicans termed them “Copperheads,” after the poisonous snake. Peace Democrats tried, with limited success, to turn that pejorative inside out. Another meaning for a “copperhead” at the time was the penny, which was made of copper. On one side of the penny was the head of Lady Liberty. Because they were deeply concerned about constitutional freedoms, Copperheads took to making pins of pennies, but with Lady Liberty being the featured side. They would wear these in their lapels to show where their political loyalties lay.

By January 1863, their assaults on Lincoln, combined with the poor performance of the armies, were taking a toll on civilian morale. Midwesterners spoke openly about seceding and establishing another new country or aligning with the Confederate States of America.

Lincoln’s critics were harsh, uncompromising and relentless. They said Lincoln was a tyrant, bent on amassing power and ruining democracy. They demanded an immediate end to hostilities, believing contrary to all available evidence that the Southern states would return to the Union if only Lincoln would stop the shooting. They wanted to keep slavery.

Their movement was never very organized, but it was influential. Peace Democrats were the naysaying chorus to Lincoln’s war aims reunion and emancipation. They took great umbrage at the ways Republicans chose to raise money and men to fight the war, including the nation’s first income tax, conscription and issuance of paper money. They were enraged that Lincoln, with Congress’s blessing, had suspended habeas corpus nationwide, essentially declaring martial law throughout the country.

In resisting the administration’s actions, peace men made army recruitment efforts far more complicated, encouraging soldiers to desert and draftees to flee, assaulting and sometimes killing enlistment agents and launching riots to resist the draft, which went into effect in March 1863.

Nevertheless, despite what Republicans repeatedly claimed, the vast majority were not traitors or Southern sympathizers. Some unquestionably were, and busted conspiracies and postwar admissions support the notion that some Copperheads committed treasonous acts. Most peace men, however, did not want to overthrow Lincoln except by the ballot. Even the idea of the war being illegal was a minority opinion within the movement. Most Copperheads did not want the Union to dissolve. They saw themselves as the loyal opposition, but they had huge blind spots. They never acknowledged the damage they did to the war effort, they lived in a state of obstinate refusal to face the very real threat the war posed and they never took full stock of Confederates, who insisted on independence, not reunion.

As Lincoln worried about the state of the home front, an important shift was taking place among soldiers. They were distressed about the 1862 elections, where Peace Democrats had performed quite well, gaining seats in the House, several state legislatures and the governorships of New York and New Jersey. The men thought Copperheads did not believe in their cause, honor their suffering or respect the sacrifice of their fallen friends.

The more they heard, the angrier Union soldiers became – to the point of threatening to cut off family and friends over political differences. A group of Indiana soldiers, for instance, accused their Copperhead friends of being cowards and traitors. “You are my enemy, and I wish you were in the rank of my open, avowed, and manly enemies, that I might put a ball through your black heart, and send your soul to the Arch Rebel himself,” they wrote. Such sentiments were shared through the war in thousands of letters from the front.

As a result, soldiers, even many Democrats, were increasingly aligning themselves with Lincoln. Along the way they became more open to emancipation, and by April 1863 most embraced Lincoln’s proclamation. The Copperheads, with their mystical thinking, never realized this, and they and the Democrats generally would pay a heavy political price for their misreading of the political landscape.  (source: The New York Times)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Confederate Battle Flag: The Flag of Traitors

From an editorial Special to CNN, "Confederate flag was the flag of traitors," by Dean Obeidallah,  on 25 October 2013  --  (CNN) -- You can debate whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. But the one thing you can't dispute: The Confederate flag was flown by traitors to the United States of America who slaughtered more than 110,000 U.S. soldiers.

I know some will take issue with my calling the Confederacy a band of traitors, but let's be blunt -- that's what they were. They broke from the United States and created their own nation, calling it the Confederate States of America. They issued their own currency, elected their own president and Congress, raised an army and went to war with the United States of America, firing the first shot at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

What's even more troubling about the so-called Confederate flag we see so often is that it was not the official flag of the Confederacy. It's worse than that. The flag commonly referred to as the Confederate flag was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Why is that worse? Because this was the flag carried on battlefields by Confederate troops during the Civil War as they killed U.S. soldiers.

And yet people still proudly display the Confederate flag.

We saw it fly at a recent tea party rally in Washington. Last week, two high school students displayed the Confederate flag after another student brought a gay pride flag to school. Even rapper Kanye West is selling souvenirs with Confederate flags emblazoned on them during his new tour (although many say that he doesn't mean to honor the Confederacy).

Why would anyone display a flag that was flown by a nation that viewed the United States as its enemy? And yes, I know that some like to claim euphemistically the Civil War was simply a war between brothers, but it was not. It was far more lethal.

Just read some of the speeches made by the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and it's clear the Confederate states viewed the United States as a sworn enemy. Davis made it clear that Confederate forces would kill any U.S. military personnel that dared step foot in the Confederate nation.

He even threatened and taunted U.S. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant with the warning: "Our cavalry and our people will harass and destroy his army as did the Cossacks that of Napoleon, and the Yankee General, like him will escape with only a bodyguard." (As a reminder, in 1812 the Russian Cossacks slaughtered thousands of Napoleon's troops and drove Napoleon's forces from Russia.)

Davis, in his address to the Congress of the Confederate States in 1861, boasted of "a succession of glorious victories" over the U.S. military, noting that the Confederate troops had, "checked the wicked invasion which greed of gain and the unhallowed lust of power brought upon our soil."

He also bragged about success over "the enemy," the United States: "When the war commenced, the enemy were possessed of certain strategic points and strong places within the Confederate states. ... After more than seven months of war, the enemy have not only failed to extend their occupancy of our soil, but new states and territories have been added to our Confederacy."


Simply put: This was a war between the "wicked" United States forces and a people who had sworn their allegiance to another nation, raised a military and successfully killed U.S. soldiers.

This history alone should dissuade anyone from ever displaying the Confederate battle flag on U.S. soil again. But for those still on the fence, these words from the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, explaining the genesis of the Confederacy should end any doubts -- as well as make your blood boil.

In 1861, Stephens explained to a cheering audience that the Confederacy was founded to expressly reject the proposition that men of all races were equal. Instead, Stephens stated, "The foundations of our new government are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

So if you are about to display the Confederate flag, please first think about that statement by the vice president of the Confederacy. Or kindly give some thought to the U.S. soldiers killed by people carrying that flag. Hopefully, that will move you to refrain from it.

Despite my deep opposition to the Confederate flag, however, there's one place that I hope it will be displayed forever: American history museums.

There, it can serve as tribute to the brave U.S. troops who sacrificed their lives to preserve our nation and remain as a constant reminder of how close we came to no longer being the United States of America.   (source:  Dean Obeidallah, CNN

Kanye West's Confederate Sympathizer Tour

Kanye West

David Dennis writes in an article published by The UK Guardian entitled, "It's really hard to be a Kanye West fan at times: The Confederate flag is one of the most racist symbols in American history. Kanye West shouldn't put it on concert shirts, on 25 October 2013 --  It's really hard these days to be someone who roots for Kanye West. On one hand, when he's just being himself, he's rightly pushing against the glass ceilings for minorities and the stereotypes of rap entertainers in America. He's inspirational (sometimes unintentionally) when he speaks his mind or creates brilliant music – or has a grandiose marriage proposal.

But when West really tries his hardest to spark a revolution or "rage against the machine", he often misfires. His latest album Yeezus is an attempt to fight against corporate America and racism, but he falls into contradictions and non-sequitur detours on sexual depravity that didn't garner much acclaim or sympathy. He undermines his own efforts.

Which brings me back to the frustration of wanting to support Kanye West. Two weeks ago, when he vented to the BBC about how the presumed glass ceiling in preventing him from stretching his influence to the fashion industry, it was easy to see the broader issues playing out in his head.

But then he turns around and tries to peddle merchandise adorned with the Confederate flag (and skulls with Native American headdresses on them) to his Yeezus tour concertgoers. The shirts, designed by artist Wes Lang, are provocative to say the least and counterproductive to any revolutionary message Kanye would hope to perpetuate.

Kanye has yet to explain exactly what he was hoping to accomplish with the use of the flag, but he's not the first to try to appropriate it in some sort of ironic or subversive manner. In fact, rappers have been wearing Confederate flags in various videos and album covers for years in attempts to somehow change the flag's original meaning, transforming it into something that goes against its racist symbolism.

There's been a long-standing debate over the Confederate flag and its place in modern America. To some, the flag symbolizes a rich southern history dating back generations. For these people, the Confederate flag is as much a part of the south as shrimp and grits.

For others, though, it's impossible to separate the Confederate flag from a dark history of slavery in America. The Confederacy and its flag also represent a time when half of the country would rather become its own separate country than give up the "right" to own slaves. The Confederate flag is as much a symbol of slavery as it is a symbol of southern culture. Which is why appropriating it is a seemingly fruitless endeavor.

In fact, the idea of appropriating racist symbolism is a worthless endeavor generally. For years, rappers have argued that they're using the n-word to lessen the word's impact, as if there's an offensiveness bank that would eventually run dry after enough withdrawals. This attempt to de-power the n-word hasn't achieved much – I don't imagine too many people laughing off being called an n-word any time soon.

It's probably best to let offensive words and phrases die on their own, as it seems impossible to take away a word's innate ability to offend if said with the proper confrontational intention. There will never be a time when racist, homophobic, or misogynistic words completely lose their meaning. History is too potent and tangible to be able to overlook.

So no matter what Kanye West is intending with his shirt, selling the Confederate flag image is in bad taste and ineffective in advancing any sort of faux-activist goal Kanye is attempting to champion. In the end, West is just profiting off of the circulation of one of the most racist symbols in American history.

Kanye West is pushing the envelope, as he tends to do, with his Yeezus tour – I haven't even mentioned his use of a guy dressed as Jesus to help him rap his lyrics on stage – but he's falling again into the trap of inciting controversy and outrage without a true connection to any deeper purpose.

Using the Confederate flag for shirts trivializes its history and creates yet another morally vapid revenue stream for yet another celebrity. If Kanye West is indeed seeking to lessen the impact of the Confederate flag, he should know that he'll fail. Certain words and symbols will always hurt, no matter how hard and in what manner we try to change them.  (source: The UK Guardian )

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Former Slave Seamstress Elizabeth Keckley and the Family of Senator Jefferson Davis

In the Family of Senator Jefferson Davis

Former slave Elizabeth Keckley writes in her book, Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House: Elizabeth Keckley, in "CHAPTER IV: In the Family of Senator Jefferson Davis," -- THE twelve hundred dollars with which I purchased the freedom of myself and son I consented to accept only as a loan. I went to work in earnest, and in a short time paid every cent that was so kindly advanced by my lady patrons of St. Louis. All this time my husband was a source of trouble to me, and a burden. Too close occupation with my needle had its effects upon my health, and feeling exhausted with work, I determined to make a change. I had a conversation with Mr. Keckley; informed him that since he persisted in dissipation we must separate; that I was going North, and that I should never live with him again, at least until I had good evidence of his reform. He was rapidly debasing himself, and although I was willing to work for him, I was not willing to share his degradation. Poor man; he had his faults, but over these faults death has drawn a veil. My husband is now sleeping in his grave, and in the silent grave I would bury all unpleasant memories of him.

Former Slave Elizabeth Keckley (1616-1907)

I left St. Louis in the spring of 1860, taking the cars direct for Baltimore, where I stopped six weeks, attempting to realize a sum of money by forming classes of young colored women, and teaching them my system of cutting and fitting dresses. The scheme was not successful, for after six weeks of labor and vexation, I left Baltimore with scarcely money enough to pay my fare to Washington. Arriving in the capital, I sought and obtained work at two dollars and a half per day. However, as I was notified that I could only remain in the city ten days without obtaining a license to do so, such being the law, and as I did not know whom to apply for assistance, I was sorely troubled. I also had to have some one vouch to the authorities that I was a free woman. My means were too scanty, and my profession too precarious to warrant my purchasing license. In my perplexity I called on a lady for whom I was sewing, Miss Ringold, a member of Gen. Mason's family, from Virginia. I stated my case, and she kindly volunteered to render me all the assistance in her power. She called on Mayor Burritt with me, and Miss Ringold succeeded in making an arrangement for me to remain in Washington without paying the sum required for a license; moreover, I was not to be molested. I rented apartments in a good locality, and soon had a good run of custom. The summer passed, winter came, and I was still in Washington. Mrs. Davis, wife of Senator Jefferson Davis, came from the South in November of 1860, with her husband. Learning that Mrs. Davis wanted a modiste, I presented myself, and was employed by her on the recommendation of one of my patrons and her intimate friend, Mrs. Captain Hetsill. I went to the house to work, but finding that they were such late risers, and as I had to fit many dresses on Mrs. Davis, I told her that I should prefer giving half the day to her, working the other in my own room for some of my other lady patrons. Mrs. D. consented to the proposition, and it was arranged that I should come to her own house every day after 12 M. It was the winter before the breaking out of that fierce and bloody war between the two sections of the country; and as Mr. Davis occupied a leading position, his house was the resort of politicians and statesmen from the South. Almost every night, as I learned from the servants and other members of the family, secret meetings were held at the house; and some of these meetings were protracted to a very late hour. The prospects of war were freely discussed in my presence by Mr. and Mrs. Davis and their friends. 

The Children of Jefferson Davis

The holidays were approaching, and Mrs. Davis kept me busy in manufacturing articles of dress for herself and children. She desired to present Mr. Davis on Christmas with a handsome dressing-gown. The material was purchased, and for weeks the work had been under way. Christmas eve came, and the gown had been laid aside so often that it was still unfinished. I saw that Mrs. D. was anxious to have it completed, so I volunteered to remain and work on it. Wearily the hours dragged on, but there was no rest for my busy fingers. I persevered in my task, notwithstanding my head was aching. Mrs. Davis was busy in the adjoining room, arranging the Christmas tree for the children. I looked at the clock, and the hands pointed to a quarter of twelve. I was arranging the cords on the gown when the Senator came in; he looked somewhat careworn, and his step seemed to be a little nervous. He leaned against the door, and expressed his admiration of the Christmas tree, but there was no smile on his face. Turning round, he saw me sitting in the adjoining room, and quickly exclaimed:

"That you, Lizzie! why are you here so late? Still at work; I hope that Mrs. Davis, is not too exacting!"

"No, sir," I answered. "Mrs. Davis was very anxious to have this gown finished to-night, and I volunteered to remain and complete it."

"Well, well, the case must be urgent," and he came slowly towards me, took the gown in his hand, and asked the color of the silk, as he said the gas-light was so deceptive to his old eyes.

"It is a drab changeable silk, Mr. Davis," I answered; and might have added that it was rich and handsome, but did not, well knowing that he would make the discovery in the morning.

He smiled curiously, but turned and walked from the room without another question. He inferred that the gown was for him, that it was to be the Christmas present from his wife, and he did not wish to destroy the pleasure that she would experience in believing that the gift would prove a surprise. In this respect, as in many others, he always appeared to me as a thoughtful, considerate man in the domestic circle. As the clock struck twelve I finished the gown, little dreaming of the future that was before it. It was worn, I have not the shadow of a doubt, by Mr. Davis during the stormy years that he was the President of the Confederate States.

Home of Jefferson Davis, at 1723 G. Street, Washington, D.C. Photo Print
Home of Jefferson Davis, at 1723 G. Street, Washington, D.C.

The holidays passed, and before the close of January the war was discussed in Mr. Davis's family as an event certain to happen in the future. Mrs. Davis was warmly attached to Washington, and I often heard her say that she disliked the idea of breaking up old associations, and going South to suffer from trouble and deprivation. One day, while discussing the question in my presence with one of her intimate friends, she exclaimed: "I would rather remain in Washington and be kicked about, than go South and be Mrs. President." Her friend expressed surprise at the remark, and Mrs. Davis insisted that the opinion was an honest one.

While dressing her one day, she said to me:

"Lizzie, you are so very handy that I should like to take you South with me."

"When do you go South, Mrs. Davis?" I inquired.

"Oh, I cannot tell just now, but it will be soon. You know there is going to be war, Lizzie?"


"But I tell you yes."

"Who will go to war?" I asked.

"The North and South," was her ready reply. "The Southern people will not submit to the humiliating demands of the Abolition party; they will fight first."

"And which do you think will whip?"

"The South, of course. The South is impulsive, is in earnest, and Southern soldiers will fight to conquer. The North will yield, when it sees the South is in earnest, rather than engage in a long and bloody war."

"But, Mrs. Davis, are you certain that there will be war?"

Hurricane Garden Cottage at Davis Bend. Photograph from the J. Mack Moore Collection, Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS, which cannot be reproduced without consent.

"Certain!--I know it. You had better go South with me; I will take good care of you. Besides, when the war breaks out, the colored people will suffer in the North. The Northern people will look upon them as the cause of the war, and I fear, in their exasperation, will be inclined to treat you harshly. Then, I may come back to Washington in a few months, and live in the White House. The Southern people talk of choosing Mr. Davis for their President. In fact, it may be considered settled that he will be their President. As soon as we go South and secede from the other States, we will raise an army and march on Washington, and then I shall live in the White House."

I was bewildered with what I heard. I had served Mrs. Davis faithfully, and, she had learned to place the greatest confidence in me. At first I was almost tempted to go South with her, for her reasoning seemed plausible. At the time the conversation was closed, with my promise to consider the question.

I thought over the question much, and the more I thought the less inclined I felt to accept the proposition so kindly made by Mrs. Davis. I knew the North to be strong, and believed that the people would fight for the flag that they pretended to venerate so highly. The Republican party had just emerged from a heated campaign, flushed with victory, and I could not think that the hosts composing the party would quietly yield all they had gained in the Presidential canvass. A show of war from the South, I felt, would lead to actual war in the North; and with the two sections bitterly arrayed against each other, I preferred to cast my lost among the people of the North.

I parted with Mrs. Davis kindly, half promising to join her in the South if further deliberation should induce me to change my views. A few weeks before she left Washington I made two chintz wrappers for her. She said that she must give up expensive dressing for a while; and that she, with the Southern people, now that war was imminent, must learn to practise lessons of economy. She left some fine needle-work in my hands, which I finished, and forwarded to her at Montgomery, Alabama, in the month of June, through the assistance of Mrs. Emory, one of her oldest and best friends.

Since bidding them good-by at Washington, early in the year 1860, I have never met any of the Davis family. Years of excitement, years of bloodshed, and hundreds of thousands of graves intervene between the months I spent in the family and now. The years have brought many changes; and in view of these terrible changes even I, who was once a slave, who have been punished with the cruel lash, who have experienced the heart and soul tortures of a slave's life, can say to Mr. Jefferson Davis, "Peace! you have suffered! Go in peace."

Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House: By Elizabeth Keckley

In the winter of 1865 I was in Chicago, and one day visited the great charity fair held for the benefit of the families of those soldiers who were killed or wounded during the war. In one part of the building was a wax figure of Jefferson Davis, wearing over his other garments the dress in which it was reported that he was captured. There was always a great crowd around this figure, and I was naturally attracted towards it. I worked my way to the figure, and in examining the dress made the pleasing discovery that it was one of the chintz wrappers that I had made for Mrs. Davis, a short time before she departed from Washington for the South. When it was announced that I recognized the dress as one that I had made for the wife of the late Confederate President there was great cheering and excitement, and I at once became the object of the deepest curiosity. Great crowds followed me, and in order to escape from the embarrassing situation I left the building.

I believe it now is pretty well established that Mr. Davis had on a water-proof cloak instead of a dress, as first reported, when he was captured. This does not invalidate any portion of my story. The dress on the wax figure at the fair in Chicago unquestionable was one of the chintz wrappers that I made for Mrs. Davis in January, 1860, in Washington; and I infer, since it was not found on the body of the fugitive President of the South, it was taken from the trunks of Mrs. Davis, captured at the same time. Be this as it may, the coincidence is none the less striking and curious.  [source:  Behind the Scenes, or, Thirty years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House: Elizabeth Keckley, in "CHAPTER IV: In the Family of Senator Jefferson Davis," ]

Charles Manigault Complains of Slave Labor in 1844 Journal

Charles Manigault Complains of Slave Labor in 1844 Journal (Chatham, Georgia)

For at least four generations, Charles Manigault and his family had owned plantations in the Island region of Chatham, Georgia and the Charleston District of South Carolina. In Chatham County, they invested a lot of money in growing rice, as did many planters across the lowcountry regions of both states. However, in 1844 Charles began to be slightly disgruntled with the labor production of his slaves and began comparing their efficiency to that of other slaves. Other planters told him that twelve bushels of clean winnowed rice would be average one day, but then the next day they would only get about five or six. 

This inconsistency was unsettling to most large planters. Manigault voiced his concerns with his overseer A.R. Bagshaw. Bagshaw told him that with the twenty-five slaves that were working the threshing area, they should get at least fifteen bushels a day. However, the week before they were only producing about ten bushels. This led to the consternation of Manigault and the overseer, and they blamed the slaves. They accused the slaves of finding ways to get around their production duties, and of only fulfilling them to the rule, not to the greatest extent. Bagshaw said that the slaves were cunning enough to remember that what they are harvesting they will have to thresh, and will tie as small sheaves as they can. Manigault tried to come up with a solution to this production problem, but Bagshaw assured him that the slaves were smart and efficient enough to find ways to get around them.

The problem Manigault had with his rice production was not unique to his plantation. In fact, it happened in plantations all over the lowcountry districts of South Carolina and Georgia. The unique rice-growing agriculture in those districts called for a different kind of labor than did the cotton or tobacco growing areas. There were limits to planter's authority all over the South, because no matter how harsh they were, slaves often were cunning or brave enough to find ways to subvert their master's plans. It was even easier for slaves to do this in the lowcountry rice area, where Manigault had his plantation, due to the type of task forces that were used for cultivating rice. The tasks were not based on time (such as working from 6 am to 6 pm) but on how many crops were produced. Planters decided what they thought was a reasonable amount of product, and the slaves had to cultivate that amount. Once the slaves were done, they often got to use their free time for other activities such as socializing, selling or tending their own crops, and other activities. 

So slaves, such as those on Manigault's plantation, found ways to produce the right amount of sheaves but made them smaller in size. This way, they could get around their masters orders while still fulfilling his supposed goals. Also, jobs on these plantations were more individualized than on cotton plantations, so an industrious slave could complete his day's work faster and have more free time than his owner expected. To some extent slaves could reject the clock on a rice plantation and work at their own pace as long as they completed the task. Also, not working as efficiently as a master wanted, but still getting working so as to avoid punishment, was a strong form of resistance among slaves. Slaves did not often feel personally about their work, so subverting their masters by producing slightly less was a good way to punish their owners. So although Manigault and his neighbors felt frustrated about the labor on their plantations, these frustrations were most likely felt all across the lowcountry districts of the South, due to the nature of their agricultural system and its needs, and to the cleverness of the slaves that worked their fields.  [source: History Engine; Charles Manigault's Plantation Journal, 1844, in The Old South, ed. Mark Smith (New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 166.]


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