Sesquicentennial Update: Emancipating History

Source: NYT, 3-11-11


Anne McQuary for The New York Times

The brick slave quarters along an avenue of oak trees greet visitors to Boone Hall Plantation. More Photos »

Anne McQuary for The New York Times

A daguerreotype of a black woman and the white child she took care of is on display at the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston. More Photos »

….Slavery and its heritage are everywhere here. Charleston was one of the main colonial ports of the 18th century, dealing in rice, indigo and slaves. In 1860 South Carolina held as many slaves as Georgia and Virginia, which were at least twice its size. The genteel grace and European travels of its wealthy citizens were made possible by the enslavement of about half the population.

So on a recent visit, I searched for a public display of an understanding of that American past and its legacy. After all, is there any more vexed aspect of this country’s history than its embrace and tolerance of slavery? And is there any aspect of its past that has been less well served in museums, exhibitions and memorials?

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War that is about to be commemorated means that it has been nearly 150 years since American slavery was brought to an end. But even in the North, the subject is still approached with caution, delicacy and worry. It inspires profound shame, guilt, anger, recrimination and remorse, aimed in many directions for many reasons on both sides of a racial divide.

There have been immensely valuable surveys of slavery in recent years, like the analysis of its connections to New York in two shows created by the historian Richard Rabinowitz and the New-York Historical Society. But there have also been misguided attempts to right historical wrongs, as in Philadelphia’s confused exhibition at its President’s House site. And even affecting commemorations — like the African Burial Ground in New York — mix important facts with overcharged analysis.

Of course, in the North slavery can seem like a distant abstraction, creating its own problems. But in Charleston all abstractions are gone. The strange thing is how long it has taken to see the substance, and how much more is yet to be shown. Several directors of the region’s historical plantations and homes, which offer tours of these once-prosperous estates, told me that until the 1990s, slavery’s role was generally met with silence…READ MORE


Del Quentin Wilber: ‘Rawhide Down’: The (almost) death of a president

Source: Politico, 3-11-11

Nancy and Ronald Reagan stand together in a room at the George Washington University Medical Center. | AP Photo

A new book documents decisions to downplay the severity of Ronald Reagan’s wound. | AP Photo Close

Ronald Reagan barely survived in 1981.

A book out Tuesday paints a much direr picture of the president’s prognosis in the hours after John Hinckley shot him than the White House or his doctors acknowledged at the time … and in the decades since.

In “Rawhide Down,” Washington Post reporter Del Quentin Wilber reports that the then 70-year-old Reagan lost more than half his blood after arriving at George Washington University Hospital.

Eager to avoid panic at home and not embolden enemies abroad, Wilber documents decisions to downplay the severity of the unconscious Reagan’s wound.

Some medical professionals who initially saw Reagan thought he was a goner, Wilber reports. The nurse trying to take Reagan’s blood pressure when he arrived at the hospital couldn’t hear a pulse. The surgeon struggled to locate the bullet lodged an inch from Reagan’s heart, which had collapsed his left lung.

Told via press and official accounts that Reagan walked into the hospital of his own volition and told funny jokes to the doctors, the public didn’t grasp how close to dying he came. If the Secret Service had taken Reagan back to the White House, instead of rerouting to the hospital, he almost certainly would have died.

Reagan’s closest advisers didn’t want to temporarily transfer power to Vice President George H.W. Bush because they feared it would raise bigger questions about Reagan’s age and ability.

Lyn Nofziger, a longtime Reagan aide, didn’t want the surgeons who had operated on Reagan to brief the press because he thought they’d look too tired and emotional in front of the cameras. So he picked a hospital administrator, who lied to reporters when he said the president “sailed through it” and “was at no time in any serious danger” during a press conference five hours after the shooting.

The administrator, Dennis O’Leary, also lied when he said the bullet never came close to “any vital structure,” and he failed to mention that Reagan collapsed soon after he walked into the hospital. He understated the amount of blood Reagan lost by 1.5 units and told reporters that Reagan received three fewer units of blood than he did.

The book’s publication coincides with the 30th anniversary of the March 30, 1981, shooting and the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth. It’s also timely in the wake of the January shootings in January that critically injured Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and took the lives of six others…READ MORE:

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