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Southern Heritage <br>News and Views: ‘FAIR’ HARVARD? “VERITAS”? GIVE US A BREAK …

Friday, March 05, 2010


SLRC kicks off equal recognition campaign for Harvard’s Confederate dead

CAMBRIDGE, MA – The country’s oldest seat of higher learning, since 1636 the gold standard for academic excellence and purveyor to the nation of presidents, ambassadors, distinguished scientists and jurists, captains of industry, etc., etc., is the principal icon of the New England Puritan intellectual tradition in America. Dedicated to the Harvard dead of all wars, its Memorial Church boasts, on the wall of the south transept, 28 white marble tablets inscribed with the names of 136 Harvard men who fought and died while serving in the Union Army.

But what of the 64 Harvard graduates who died wearing the gray? Harvard’s Confederate dead include Confederate general Ben Hardin Helm, who was Abraham Lincoln’s half-brother-in-law; States’ Rights Gist, one of the five Confederate generals killed at Franklin; and Lt. Col. Charles LeDoux Elgee, Chief of Staff to another Harvard alum, Lt. Gen. “Dick” Taylor, son of President Zachary Taylor. You won’t find their or any of the 61 other Confederate names in Memorial church, or in any of the other hallowed spots scattered about the Cambridge campus.

Not that the matter hasn’t been discussed. Way back in 1988, Mason Hammond, a Harvard emeritus professor, suggested placing a Confederate memorial in Memorial Hall – not Memorial Church – which, he pointed out, “is rather a Valhalla of Harvard’s past than specifically a commemoration of the Union side of the Civil War.” Such a project, Hammond said, would be “a long overdue act of pietas” [Lat.: sense of duty; kindness; piety] that would “recognize that Harvard’s dead on the Confederate side gave their lives for a cause in which they selflessly believed.” (There wasn’t much Confederate pietas going around Harvard in ’88 and Hammond’s proposal was either ignored or vilified.)

In 1995, when Memorial Church was being renovated, the Harvard Alumni Association actually proposed a Confederate memorial and the idea was even supported by Memorial Church’s minister; however, according to a 2003 Harvard Crimson article, that idea was shot down by the Harvard Black Law Students’ Association, the undergraduate Black Students’ Association and the University’s then-president, Neil L. Rudenstine. In 2006, multimedia artist Brian Knep put together a digital presentation he called “Deep Wounds” which involved projecting the names of Harvard’s Union dead onto the floor of Memorial Hall. The website “Big Red & Shiny” reported that Knep “originally wanted to list the names of Harvard’s Confederate Civil War dead,” but said the Boston Globe reported that Harvard’s Office for the Arts thought that would be “too controversial.”

Now, with the War’s sesquicentennial upon us and a Harvard Law alumnus in the White House, the SLRC figures it’s time to revisit this situation. Accordingly we will be contacting the Minister of Memorial Church (who supported the idea of a Confederate memorial there in ’95) to ask whether he would be willing to re-endorse such a project. We will copy Harvard’s Board of Overseers, and when we receive their inevitable condescending reply … well, that’s when the SLRC will appeal to its own loyal supporters – y’all – to add your voices to our call for the University to live up to its motto: Veritas [Lat.: Truth], which seems strangely at odds with Harvard’s resolutely ignoring the Confederates who made up nearly a third of the institution’s WBTS casualties.. Meanwhile, if you can spare it, a contribution to this effort would be greatly appreciated. We are poor and Fair Harvard’s pockets are deep indeed.


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