Site visit: Rebel State Commemorative Area/ Louisiana Country Music Museum Sunday, Dec 6 2009 

Many visitors (myself included) are surprised on their first visit to Rebel State Commemorative Area. The site marks the grave of a lone Confederate soldier, but is also the site of the Louisiana Country Music museum.Grave of Unknown Confederate SoliderLa Country Music Museum Sign

Ernest Tubb at Municipal Auditorium

The Country music museum is absolutely worth the drive. The museum offers a Louisiana-focused  history of Country music, from its traditional folk roots to the 1970s. The story of the site is as compelling as it is troubling (see below for my thoughts on the troubling part).Classmates form a band

The mission of the site was not entirely clear; however, interpreting the history of country music through the Louisiana Country Music Museum and maintaining the historic site marker seem to be obvious points. We visited on a cold morning and didn’t encounter any other visitors. The site is a wonderful resource on Louisiana Country music, provides some interpretation of the Civil War, and offers picnic tables, barbeque pits, a pavilion, and a large amphitheater (unfortunately, the site no longer regularly hosts music). The interpretive ranger was helpful, knowledgeable, and full of new ideas, including building a recording studio on-site for area aspiring musicians.

Megan joins on the keys

Megan joins on the keys

The museum pays tribute to early gospel, folk, and work-song influences, and does a splendid job of interpreting the early recorded era of Country music genres, including the Louisiana Hayride, KWKH, and KRMD in Shreveport. The museum does not interpret recent trends in Country music, country pop, or most anything after the “Urban Cowboy” phase.Promotional PostersWork SongsHonkey Tonk

My main concerns with the museum were in presenting Country music’s multi-ethnic roots. While one display notes that the guitar was of Spanish origin (via Mexico) and another shows the dissemination of the (Irish) fiddle, there is no mention that the mandolin came from Italian immigrants or that dulcimers, accordions and other squeezeboxes are from Germany and Central Europe, or that the banjo comes from West Africa.

Much more troubling are the possible links between music and commemorations to the Confederate solider.

The Confederate solider was separated from his unit and supposedly killed by three Union cavalrymen, while stopping at a spring for a drink of cold water.

General Taylor's Flag

General Taylor's Flag was usually 36" or 30" square

The Barnhill family buried the solider. A marker was placed on the grave in 1962, and annual memorial services grew to include live performances of Country music.grave of the soldier

The narrative is telling, and parallels the narrative of southern defeat repeated for one hundred years: The federal government and northern industrialists, lacking any respect, gentlemen’s code, honor, or courtesy for the old ways of life, outnumbered and outresourced poor “Johnny Reb” and kicked him (them) while he (they) was (were) down. But a good family restored his (their own imagined) honor in death, and many people commemorate his (the lost cause’s) memory.

The early 1960s was the Centennial of the Civil War. The  late 1950s and early 1960s also saw a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan (after its brief post-war decline and infiltration by Stetson Kennedy) and a number of cases of local police and hate groups working together -essentially sanctioning state violence against Civil Rights groups.  The early 60s also saw the killing of Megar Evars in Mississippi. It was in this context that the so-called “Confederate Flag” came into wide use throughout the South. The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic. The flag, similar to the Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia (it is the Second Naval Jack, but colors of the Beauregard’s Battle flag), is often used as a symbol of racist hatred. The flag was placed on the statehouse in South Carolina in 1962; George Wallace flew it in Birmingham in defiance of Kennedy asking him to begin racial integration. A friend of the family told me the first time she saw them in numbers was the early 1960s. In race, amenities, and psychic income and elsewhere, Mwangi Kimenyi argues that the flag, “represents the mark of ‘old all-white’ traditions” and exclusionary feelings. The flag often acts as a marker saying “you are unwelcome.”

By the 1970s, the grave-site saw an annual memorial service “for the solider,” replete with live gospel and country music. The 1970s are noted as a time where racial-cultural war was fought with music. In Rock (a genre I am more familiar with), Neil Young indicted youth of the South with “Southern Man,” and Skynard  responded to Young in “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Louisiana has the second highest proportion of Black folks in the United States. Natchitoches Parish has a higher percentage of people of African ancestry than the state average (about 38% Black), but the Marthaville area is outside the Red River Valley in an area of Anglo “white” farmers and their descendants.  A place with those demographics seems obvious to commemorate country music. But rural transformation has affected Black and white families unevenly (see Southern Farmers and their Families by Walker, reviewed in Red River Valley Historical Journal 2007 (5) volume 5,  147-149), and in places where the slightest material advantages or  “psychological wages” seem like clear class differentiation, racism manifests as “common sense” among working class whites.

This flag

The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic

Given this complex context, placing a “Confederate” Flag near the entrance to the museum invites  accusations. The placement of this flag near the door to the museum is problematic.

The state would do well to 1.) highlight contributions of ethnic immigrants 2.) highlight contributions of African Americans to country music (not just Huddie Ledbetter) and explain the African origins of the banjo, 3.) place the Civil War interpretation in context and, 4.) offer an annual music festival that highlights both country and the breadth of folk musics of Louisiana.

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Exploring Ft. Jesup Friday, Nov 13 2009 

Fort Jesup is an important military installation in US History. This site represents a historical moment when settler-colonial Manifest Destiny morphed into US Imperialism vis-a-vis other modern nation-states. The fort was built in 1822, not coincidentally following the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. The fort was instrumental in the founding of the Republic of Texas and covert operations for the War of Texas Independence. The fort set the stage for the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), which in Mexico is known as the Intervención Estadounidense, before being decommissioned.

The resource, including the interpretive center, seems under-utilized. Upon entering the visitors center, the artifacts and reproduction pieces failed to convey a cohesive story. However, my first impressions were still positive.
Luckily, the interpretive ranger did an adequate job of communicating key facts of the site before releasing us to visit our “off-site” archeology (this area is privately owned, but a historically important part of the fort).

The only other visitors during our trip pulled up as we were leaving. They were a retired couple enjoying a Friday drive. The man was doing genealogy on a forefather who was once stationed at Ft. Jesup.

I recommend:

1.)Interpretive Center: Create an interpretive plan to integrate available artifacts with existing resources, and to identify gaps in material culture that would help tell the story of the fort.

2.) The state to re-establish and fund the period costume workshop.

3.) That Dr. Haley consider integrating the public into some facet of archeology done in the area.

I enjoyed my visit and look forward to spending more time there.

Military Maneuvers Museum Friday, Nov 6 2009 

The Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum, located at Camp Beauregard, shattered many of my preconceived notions. Knowing that the museum is run by the Louisiana National Guard, I assumed it to be overflowing with patriotic propaganda and devoid of scholarly rigor or critical interpretation. The museum was undoubtedly patriotic, but was a real surprise. The museum, located in a two-storied wooden barracks, is one of the best small museums that I have visited.

Captain Richard Morgan provided excellent interpretation of the museum in general and the Louisiana war maneuvers specifically. It was a real pleasure to meet him. He explained most of the museum in detail then showed us the workshop and curation area. CPT Morgan will be shipping off for Iraq soon.Since the high level interpretation was dependent on his narrative I am worried about the future of the museum.

The emphasis of the museum was on great military leaders and military tactics employed during World War II. There was a noteworthy “home front” section, but the emphasis there was on material culture like ration books, patriotic ribbons, etc. It would have been good to have a video or audio kiosk with oral history and interviews of civilians that remember the maneuvers. But overall, the local history was conveyed in a top-notch fashion.

My biggest concern is the larger, overarching, geopolitical interpretation of the museum. Genocide is not a subject matter that most people feel comfortably conversant in. The museum did a fairly good “textbook” job conveying Nazi atrocities. CPT Morgan’s interpretation and the written information focused exclusively on the Shoa (Holocaust),  the death of some six million European Jews.  The visual images included pictures and diagrams of patches worn in concentration camps by homosexuals, Romani, Slavs, people with disabilities, etc. I reminded those in attendance that Hitler and his war machine killed between 11 and 17 million civilians and prisoners of war, and that communists were the first targeted by the Nazis. Despite repeated questioning by Mr. Evans and myself, CPT Morgan maintained justification for the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, noting that fire bombings killed more and that a conventional invasion of Kyūshū alone could have mounted 200,000 casualties, compared to the 50,000-70,000 of the atomic bombs. Mr. Evans noted that Long term radiation deaths brought the total number up (to at least 200,000). When another classmate noted the scientific breakthroughs of German scientists brought to the United States after the war, the Captain made a remark regarding  that could easily be misinterpreted.

Soldiers execute orders. It’s the politicians who create foreign policy. In an ostensibly democratic country, it is the responsibility of all of us to demand a just foreign policy, and to question whether, and when war is beneficial to the broad populace. To that end I offer a “patriotic” inscription from the (“new,” c. 1862) Massachusetts statehouse, and a poem from an early supporter of Hitler, Pastor Martin Niemöller.

“CommonWealth Forever, Empire Never”

“First they came”- Martin Niemöller

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

The museum also has an associated library. The library has an extensive Native American collection. Richard H. Holloway is the Archivist and Library Director. The library is new and has no publicity or promotional materials.

The Museum and the library are both interesting resources. Both are woefully under-utilized by the public. Perhaps this is primarily a function of their location (on a military facility), but promoting the sites may bring additional visitors.

Civil War era flag and clothing

Civil War era flag and clothing

Captain Moran

Captain Morgan

Insignia

Insignia