I am back from the Southern American Studies Association Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. I had hoped to have posted more from the conference in Charleston, but I became quite ill the second day there. The norovrius and blogging are not conducive to one another.
From what little I did get to see, the quality of the scholarship was quite good. William Black, a graduate student in the history program at Western Kentucky University, presented a particularly fine paper entitled “When Honest Abe Came Down South: Lincoln Sightings in African-American Folklore”. Utilizing oral histories preserved by the WPA back in the 1930’s, Black painted a very unusual picture of Lincoln, at least a mythopoetic Lincoln, from these tales dating back to slavery. Basically, Lincoln is portrayed as almost a trickster god, along the lines of Loki, who fools and humiliates Southern plantation owners. I don’t want to steal Black’s thunder here, but I am looking forward to his further research in this area.
The plenary speaker for the conference was Tiya Miles, from the Center of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan. As with Black, I do not wish to steal her thunder. But her talk focused on so-called ghost and haunted houses in the Deep South. Many of the ghosts of these houses are the product of the often violent nature of the master/slave relationship of the antebellum period. These houses are becoming bigger tourist draws than Gone with the Wind style mansions. And, of course, that the need for these ghost stories to somehow revolve around this nature’s dark history with slavery is something of potential significance in a contemporary cultural context indeed. It certainly has me thinking about my own work concerning August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.
What is immediately clear on the surface, though, is that the Civil War — it still haunts, still defines us, still polarizes us.