Slavery’s Amnesia

In our local paper recently a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans wrote an Op-Ed holding that slavery was not the cause of our Civil War. While acknowledging that it was a factor, he attributed the war to sectional, economic, and political factors. This is a claim often echoed around this region and can be conveyed by some history books. Some years ago, I took a carriage ride around old Charleston, South Carolina, and heard the same claim from our garrulous guide. I knew that it didn’t sound right, but I couldn’t google the matter on my phone (yes it was back then!), so I just remained congenially quiet but somewhat guilt-afflicted. I later looked into the matter and found a document that led me years later to write a response to this Op-Ed. Here is what I said.

[In response to claims that slavery did not cause the Civil War] I think it is helpful to read the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” issued by the Convention of South Carolina in December 24, 1860. After arguing that the national government created by the Constitution was no longer serving its original aims, as stated in its Preamble, the Convention stated that originally:

“The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of Slavery; they have permitted the open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

The Convention statement, which is easily accessible via internet search, spends the rest of its argument precisely on the defense of slavery. All other reasons for secession flow from it. While there are many factors that contributed to this horrendous conflict, the defense of slavery was at its core, as the South Carolinians plainly stated. The wounds of this war, like the near genocide of the native peoples in this land, still constitute the greatest challenge to our healing and progress as a people. The search for a full truth about our past, as your writer argued, is essential to that reconciliation. I hope reading the actual documents of secession will be a part of it.

I received numerous personal thanks for actually looking up an historic document to deal with our present consciousness. In a time of hasty accusations, flim flam, lies, and obfuscations, the patient work of the archivist, historian, scientist and researcher needs a prestige and encouragement that can reorient our lives around stubborn truth and insistent memory. Like St. Paul’s dreaded curse of the Law, the Real history and nature in which we live can condemn us to depression, anxiety, and denial, or it can open us up to a conversation, even an argument, in which we might be able to build a better future. It’s still a possibility.

If you do read the whole Declaration, I hope it can provide a moment of contemplation about our own present blindness. Take a look. It might be emancipating.



Posted in Ethics, Public Life, Restorative Justice | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Some Side Tables

I just shipped off two side tables to one of my daughters and her family. They’re made of ash and walnut. The ash is in laminated strips, bent to a curve. The tops have a center portion from a walnut log that was rescued from a landfill some years ago. They’re joined between two other less-figured pieces. They are 26 inches high and 15 by 20 inches on the top.

I secured the pieces with round head screws and cap nuts that reveal the structural aspects of the tables. They were designed to serve as dinner trays for watching TV while munching or simply to hold stuff that can be easily moved around in the living room. Getting it right was a challenge. I was pleased with the result, so I thought I’d share it with you.

Posted in Woodworking | 2 Comments

Cardinal Fears

Wild wings flashing



thrashes enemies,

marauders of his nest,

his mate,

his reddened honor.

Daylight wakes his vigilant defense.

Each window shows the face

          of his antagonist,

            the face

            he pecks

            and claws,

          feathers littering his battlefield.

The face he can’t defeat

          is his,

                        his talons,

                        his beating wings.

He beats relentless

          on the wall of mirrors

          holding him

          until the darkness comes.

Posted in Poetry and Songs | 1 Comment

Music and Dance in our Mountains

The New York Times columnist David Brooks (whom we affectionately call Rabbi Brooks) has written recently about the virtues of small towns and local governments. Our town of Waynesville is a poster child for his Washington reveries. (Shh, don’t pass it on. It will drive up the real estate…) Not least among its opportunities is the wealth of music and dance that fills the town each July.

Folkmoot, arguably the largest folk dance gathering in North America, has once again brought dancers from around the world to our streets, halls, and fields. Local high school and college students, along with host families, serve as their guides through ten days of dance, music, and even a little tourism in Cherokee or our local parks.

With the Cyprus Group, hosts, and guides at Folkmoot

For me a special treat was the visit by the Kyrenia Youth Centre Association from North Cyprus. We were able to have dinner with them and share my book, whose pictures fascinated them with possible images of their own ancestors, their clothing, and their way of life at a mine that most of them had heard about. While the details of Cyprus’s recent difficult and divided history were lost on most of my neighbors, people were able to get a taste of the vibrant energy of the people of Cyprus, the richness of some strands of their heritage, and, if nothing else, where this almost mystical island is. Their dances with twirling sickles, balanced water glasses, or slapping boots delighted kids and grownups alike. The women’s dresses and the men’s sashes colored the air. In their trail were splendid dancers from Mexico, Thailand, the Czech Republic and other lands. All of this hosted by a town of ten thousand people.

At the same time we have hosted, with our church as the venue, the 49th year of the Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival. Pianist and composer Inessa Zaretsky, of the Mannes School of Music in New York City, coordinates this remarkable series, which brings top flight quartets, singers, and instrumentalists from all over the country. The five concerts included the counter-tenor Nicholas Tamagna as well as world premiers of pieces by Inessa and by Alyssa Weinberg, who also was present for conversation afterwards. Performances by the Enso, Jasper, and Tesla string quartets were augmented by visitors from Boston, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and other orchestras. Getting to breath our mountain air and enjoy the vistas of forested mountains were hopefully some of the benefits they received even as they shared music from Bach and Beethoven to Webern and Dohnányi.

This, too, is the result of years of work by local volunteers whose world is rooted in this community but whose vision embraces the globe. While each community has its own resources, visions, and energies, the spirit of collaboration, openness, and hospitality is exportable. I hope each of your communities has these qualities and that you have found ways this summer to coax and nurture them in the face of this world’s cruelty, bullying, and indifference.

Well, these are my notes from summer music and dance camp. Hopefully my web site and computer problems are behind me and I can look forward to more conversation with you in the future.

Posted in Arts, Cyprus, Personal Events, Public Life | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments