How Racial Lines Cause History


An interesting thing occurs as one reads about Southern history; the history of the South is interpreted differently between the different races. The same historical events can be handled from opposite experiences, almost as if different events, with the only variable factor between them being race. Katharine du Pre Lumpkin’s “A Child Inherits the Lost Cause” and Pauli Murray’s “Proud Shoes” discuss the Lost Cause and what it means to them and their families. Meanwhile, Edward Isham’s “Confessions” and Fredrick Douglass’s “Narrative” discuss their life experiences during the time of the Antebellum South.

The end of the Civil War led to a sorrowful time of rebellion for Lumpkin’s family and to those around her. Her father was a Confederate veteran and a supporter of the Lost Cause and the need to “preserve the old foundations at all costs.” (Lumpkin 111). He, as well as others like him, were adamant about educating the children about the Lost Cause Movement (Lumpkin 112) so they could preserve white history and superiority,  and rebuild that power of the Old South. This version of the post Civil War South was one of strict social norms and expectations. Everyone had a specific role in the family they were expected to follow, and everyone was expected to fight for the Lost Cause. “Their mother teaches them their prayers. I teach them to love the Lost Cause.” (Lumpkin 121) It was quite clear how much national pride meant to those of the Confederacy as they believed that their heritage was the most noble on earth. (Lumpkin 112) This was the way of the land and for many years to come and the white narrative of post Civil War times continued under the basis of the concept “either white supremacy or black domination.” (Lumpkin 128) 

Meanwhile, life after the Civil War for people like Pauli Murray’s family, meant freedom and a feeling of belonging. (Murray 24) Murray’s grandfather marched off to war at the age of twenty-three to fight for the Union. (Murray 1) In her lifetime, Murray’s past was filled with death (Murray 2), poverty, and of course segregation. Murray’s grandfather taught her about the Civil War with the absence of the Lost Cause within the teachings. (Murray 4) She was taught to be well- mannered and well- spoken from a young age so she wouldn’t appear dragged up in public. (Murray 5)  “Nobody shows up who or what a person is as much as the way he speaks. (Murray 6) As shlearns more about the importance of the Civil War, she states that because of people like her grandparents, she knows and understands black people played a role in the past, and led her to believe that she truly did have a stake in the country’s future. (Murray 24)

Edward Isham lived a criminal life of violence while living within the social category of a poverish white in the Antebellum South. Isham was a poor white, and spent lots of his life committing numerous crimes, such as fraud through the use of counterfeit money (Isham 7) and theft from a negro (Isham 14) as well as others, while facing little to zero consequences. Since Isham was a poor white, society treated him with the same quality as they would enslaved blacks because poor whites typically didn’t have land of their own, and would often be found squatting on planter land thus being associated with the slaves, but despite this association, it was the color of his skin is what allowed him to get away with several of his criminal actions. He was a violent man, who would cross racial barriers with his violence by fighting not only other poor whites (Isham 1), but also immigrants (Isham 4), blacks (Isham 2) and even free blacks (Isham 2). However, society doesn’t condone his actions which is why Isham was ultimately put to death in 1860,  (Isham 18) but had he been black, perhaps he would’ve been caught and punished much sooner. 

Fredrick Douglass lived out his life in slavery in the birthplace of plantations in Maryland during the time of the Antebellum South. (Douglass 1) He was very aware of the division that there was between the white and black races, and saw first hand the great lengths whites would go to in order to demonstrate the racial hierarchy of whites superiority and maintenance of slavery. Douglass recalls not being able to name a slave that knew their own age (Douglass 1), a simple privilege that blacks were denied to demonstrate a white dominance. Outside of race however, white power came from wealth as well, Douglass indicated that his first master was not considered to be a wealthy slave owner (Douglass 4) and as a result, was not treated as poorly as the slaves of planters. “I was seldom whipped by my old master, and suffered from little other than cold and hunger.” (Douglas 23) This power also meant however that it was not unusual for enslaved children to have white fathers (Douglass 2) as white slave masters would sexually assault the enslaved black women. 

It’s no secret that in Southern history, the color of a person’s skin is a deciding factor as to how one will live out life in the South. In the instance of the Civil War, the outcome meant two different things depending on which side you lived it. For Lumpkin’s family, it meant a search and continuous fight for revenge and search to regain power with Lost Cause. However, for Murray, it was a symbol of fresh starts and new beginnings as she, as well as other African Americans living in the South, felt freedom and as if they actually have a place in not only the South, but the country, for the first time. However, while these two women lived the monumental event of the war differently due to their race, both were able to use the war as a unifying and learning experience, despite that what they were learning from it were quite different and national pride was important to them both. Additionally, Douglass and Isham also lived out similarly different lives during a coordinating time period - the Antebellum South. While Douglass was an enslaved black, and Isham was a poor white, society treated them upon mostly similar standards. The lives they lived were both violently lived of criminal behaviors, however it is the racial line that causes them to differ. Unlike Douglass, Isham isn’t enslaved and is free to move as he wishes, and he was able to run away and get away with a lot more than Douglass. In the end, it is important to not forget how racial lines cause history to be different because it allows people later on to look back and see it from both views to better unify history in the future. 

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