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Black Lung Disease is still killing miners
Read more about the epidemic in this Puffin supported piece in The... more
Join us in Honoring the Parkland Students Dec. 11th. Tickets Still Available.
We invite you to join us at The Nation Institute's Gala on... more
Parkland Students win Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship
The Parkland Student Activists are the winners of the 2018 Puffin Prize... more
Foundation News & Blog
Black Lung Disease is still killing miners
Posted in News

Read more about the epidemic in this Puffin supported piece in The Guardian.

Join us in Honoring the Parkland Students Dec. 11th. Tickets Still Available.
Posted in News

We invite you to join us at The Nation Institute's Gala on Tuesday, December 11th at 6:00pm at the IAC Building.

Purchase tickets here.

We are delighted to announce that we will present the 2018 Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship to the Parkland Student Activists, who founded March for Our Lives to end gun violence and challenge the complacency of lawmakers.

We also will honor David R. Jones, Executive Director and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York, one of New York's most accomplished civic leaders and a stalwart supporter of the Institute's mission to increase the diversity of voices in journalism.

This year we are returning to a seated dinner format but we will retain some elements from last year's event: a shorter speaking program, farm-to-table food by The Cleaver Co., and an inspiring atmosphere.

For questions, please contact:

Parkland Students win Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship
Posted in News

The Parkland Student Activists are the winners of the 2018 Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship.

The Students, in partnership with young activists across the country, founded the March for Our Lives to end gun violence and challenge the complacency of lawmakers. March organizers David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, Delaney Tarr, and Ramon Contreras will accept the prize at The Nation Institute's Gala Dinner on Dec. 11 in New York City.

“March For Our Lives is incredibly grateful that our work to engage young people nationwide is being recognized by the Nation Institute,” said Jaclyn Corin. “We stand alongside millions of students around the nation in the fight to end gun violence in all communities, continuously challenging elected officials to fight for the safety of their constituents.

Just days after the tragedy at their high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas students began publicly calling for meaningful gun control reform and meeting with politicians to challenge them to act. The students’ message was clear: we cannot allow one more person to be killed by senseless gun violence.

Millions of people, inspired by the students’ call to action, rallied together on March 24th for the March for Our Lives. In one the largest demonstrations in American history, in Washington, D.C. and at more than 800 sibling events around the world, protesters called for policy changes like mandating universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, and prohibiting high-capacity magazines.

After the march, and after many of the students graduated, they pressed on for reform. The activists helped push Florida legislators to pass a school safety bill in the face of vehement opposition from the National Rifle Association, urged boycotts of companies supporting the NRA, and organized school walkouts.

This past summer, the students went on a national bus tour, visiting more than 80 communities in 24 different states in 60 days — some of them NRA strongholds, others communities affected by gun violence. They focused on educating young people, registering them to vote, and encouraging them to make it to the polls.

The Puffin Prize for Creative Citizenship is a $100,000 prize that honors individuals that challenge the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, and socially responsible work of significance. It is intended to encourage the recipients to continue their work, and to inspire others to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies they face in their own lives.

"The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglass accomplished something extraordinary,” said Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation. “They helped pass meaningful reforms in their home state and changed the debate about gun violence nationwide in one of the most successful challenges to the gun lobby we've ever seen. But they also had the wisdom to realize that lasting change will only come with the engagement of their peers in this fight. Their mobilization of youth across the country to engage in the political process has been inspiring to us all. We at the Puffin Foundation share that commitment and salute their work.”

Read about The Costs of the Confederacy in the latest issue of Smithsonian. Another Puffin supported piece produced by The Nation Institute.
Posted in News


At Beauvoir this past October, Jim Huffman, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, showed students the 1863 battle flag of the Army of Tennessee. (Brian Palmer)

In the last decade alone, American taxpayers have spent at least $40 million on Confederate monuments and groups that perpetuate racist ideology


A special report by Smithsonian and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute

With centuries-old trees, manicured lawns, a tidy cemetery and a babbling brook, the Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library is a marvelously peaceful, green oasis amid the garish casinos, T-shirt shops and other tourist traps on Highway 90 in Biloxi, Mississippi.

One gray October morning, about 650 local schoolchildren on a field trip to Beauvoir, as the home is called, poured out of buses in the parking lot. A few ran to the yard in front of the main building to explore the sprawling live oak whose lower limbs reach across the lawn like massive arms. In the gift shop they perused Confederate memorabilia—mugs, shirts, caps and sundry items, many emblazoned with the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.

It was a big annual event called Fall Muster, so the field behind the library was teeming with re-enactors cast as Confederate soldiers, sutlers and camp followers. A group of fourth graders from D’Iberville, a quarter of them black, crowded around a table heaped with 19th-century military gear. Binoculars. Satchels. Bayonets. Rifles. A portly white man, sweating profusely in his Confederate uniform, loaded a musket and fired, to oohs and aahs.

A woman in a white floor-length dress decorated with purple flowers gathered a group of older tourists on the porch of the “library cottage,” where Davis, by then a living symbol of defiance, retreated in 1877 to write his memoir, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. After a discussion of the window treatments and oil paintings, the other visitors left, and we asked the guide what she could tell us about slavery.

Sometimes children ask about it, she said. “I want to tell them the honest truth, that slavery was good and bad.” While there were some “hateful slave owners,” she said, “it was good for the people that didn’t know how to take care of themselves, and they needed a job, and you had good slave owners like Jefferson Davis, who took care of his slaves and treated them like family. He loved them.”

The subject resurfaced the next day, before a mock battle, when Jefferson Davis—a re-enactor named J.W. Binion—addressed the crowd. “We were all Americans and we fought a war that could have been prevented,” Binion declared. “And it wasn’t fought over slavery, by the way!”

Then cannons boomed, muskets cracked, men fell. The Confederates beat back the Federals. An honor guard in gray fired a deafening volley. It may have been a scripted victory for the Rebels, but it was a genuine triumph for the racist ideology known as the Lost Cause—a triumph made possible by taxpayer money.

We went to Beauvoir, the nation’s grandest Confederate shrine, and to similar sites across the Old South, in the midst of the great debate raging in America over public monuments to the Confederate past. That controversy has erupted angrily, sometimes violently, in Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana and Texas. The acrimony is unlikely to end soon. While authorities in a number of cities—Baltimore, Memphis, New Orleans, among others—have responded by removing Confederate monuments, roughly 700 remain across the South.

To address this explosive issue in a new way, we spent months investigating the history and financing of Confederate monuments and sites. Our findings directly contradict the most common justifications for continuing to preserve and sustain these memorials.

First, far from simply being markers of historic events and people, as proponents argue, these memorials were created and funded by Jim Crow governments to pay homage to a slave-owning society and to serve as blunt assertions of dominance over African-Americans.

Second, contrary to the claim that today’s objections to the monuments are merely the product of contemporary political correctness, they were actively opposed at the time, often by African-Americans, as instruments of white power.

Finally, Confederate monuments aren’t just heirlooms, the artifacts of a bygone era. Instead, American taxpayers are still heavily investing in these tributes today. We have found that, over the past ten years, taxpayers have directed at least $40 million to Confederate monuments—statues, homes, parks, museums, libraries and cemeteries—and to Confederate heritage organizations.

For our investigation, the most extensive effort to capture the scope of public spending on Confederate memorials and organizations, we submitted 175 open records requests to the states of the former Confederacy, plus Missouri and Kentucky, and to federal, county and municipal authorities. We also combed through scores of nonprofit tax filings and public reports. Though we undoubtedly missed some expenditures, we have identified significant public funding for Confederate sites and groups in Mississippi, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

In addition, we visited dozens of sites, to document how they represent history and, in particular, slavery: After all, the Confederacy’s founding documents make clear that the Confederacy was established to defend and perpetuate that crime against humanity.

A century and a half after the Civil War, American taxpayers are still helping to sustain the defeated Rebels’ racist doctrine, the Lost Cause. First advanced in 1866 by a Confederate partisan named Edward Pollard, it maintains that the Confederacy was based on a noble ideal, the Civil War was not about slavery, and slavery was benign. “The state is giving the stamp of approval to these Lost Cause ideas, and the money is a symbol of that approval,” Karen Cox, a historian of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said of our findings. “What does that say to black citizens of the state, or other citizens, or to younger generations?”

The public funding of Confederate iconography is also troubling because of its deployment by white nationalists, who have rallied to support monuments in New Orleans, Richmond and Memphis. The deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, where a neo-Nazi rammed his car into counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, was staged to oppose the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue. In 2015, before Dylann Roof opened fire on a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine African-Americans, he spent a day touring places associated with the subjugation of black people, including former plantations and a Confederate museum.

“Confederate sites play to the white supremacist imagination,” said Heidi Beirich, who leads the Southern Poverty Law Center’s work tracking hate groups. “They are treated as sacred by white supremacists and represent what this country should be and what it would have been” if the Civil War had not been lost.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans visit the Jefferson Davis State Historic Site. The Fairview, Kentucky, park cost the state $1.1 million in the last decade. (Brian Palmer)

* * *

Like many of the sites we toured across the South, Beauvoir is privately owned and operated. Its board of directors is made up of members of the Mississippi division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national organization founded in 1896 and limited to male descendants of “any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces.” The board handles the money that flows into the institution from visitors, private supporters and taxpayers.

The Mississippi legislature earmarks $100,000 a year for preservation of Beauvoir. In 2014, the organization received a $48,475 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for “protective measures.” As of May 2010, Beauvoir had received $17.2 million in federal and state aid related to damages caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While nearly half of that money went to renovating historic structures and replacing content, more than $8.3 million funded construction of a new building that contains a museum and library.

When we visited, three times since the fall of 2017, the lavishly appointed library displayed the only acknowledgment of slavery that we could find at the entire 52-acre site, though Davis had owned dozens of black men, women and children before the war: four posters, which portrayed the former slaves Robert Brown, who continued to work for the Davis family after the war, and Benjamin and Isaiah Montgomery, a father and son who were owned by Jefferson’s elder brother, Joseph. Benjamin eventually purchased two of Joseph’s plantations.

The state Department of Archives and History says the money the legislature provides to Beauvoir is allocated for preservation of the building, a National Historic Landmark, not for interpretation. Beauvoir staff members told us that the facility doesn’t deal with slavery because the site’s state-mandated focus is the period Davis lived there, 1877 to 1889, after slavery was abolished.

But this focus is honored only in the breach. The museum celebrates the Confederate soldier in a cavernous hall filled with battle flags, uniforms and weapons. Tour guides and re-enactors routinely denied the realities of slavery in their presentations to visitors. Fall Muster, a highlight of the Beauvoir calendar, is nothing if not a raucous salute to Confederate might.

Thomas Payne, the site’s executive director until this past April, said in an interview that his goal was to make Beauvoir a “neutral educational institution.” For him, that involved countering what he referred to as “political correctness from the national media,” which holds that Southern whites are “an evil repugnant group of ignorant people who fought only to enslave other human beings.” Slavery, he said, “should be condemned. But what people need to know is that most of the people in the South were not slave owners,” and that Northerners also kept slaves. What’s more, Payne went on, “there’s actually evidence where the individual who was enslaved was better off physically and mentally and otherwise.”

The notion that slavery was beneficial to slaves was notably expressed by Jefferson Davis himself, in the posthumously published memoir he wrote at Beauvoir. Enslaved Africans sent to America were “enlightened by the rays of Christianity,” he wrote, and “increased from a few unprofitable savages to millions of efficient Christian laborers. Their servile instincts rendered them contented with their lot....Never was there a happier dependence of labor and capital upon each other.”

That myth, a pillar of the Lost Cause, remains a core belief of neo-Confederates, despite undeniable historic proof of slavery’s brutality. In 1850, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who had escaped slavery, said, “To talk of kindness entering into a relation in which one party is robbed of wife, of children, of his hard earnings, of home, of friends, of society, of knowledge, and of all that makes this life desirable is most absurd, wicked, and preposterous.”

* * *

A few miles off the highway between Montgomery and Birmingham, past trailer homes and cotton fields, are the manicured grounds and arched metal gateways of Confederate Memorial Park. The state of Alabama acquired the property in 1903 as an old-age home for Confederate veterans, their wives and their widows. After the last residents died, the park closed. But in 1964, as civil rights legislation gained steam in Washington, Alabama’s all-white legislature revived the site as a “shrine to the honor of Alabama’s citizens of the Confederacy.”

The day we visited, 16 men in Confederate uniforms drilled in the quiet courtyards. Two women in hoop skirts stood to the side, looking at their cellphones. Though Alabama state parks often face budget cuts—one park had to close all its campsites in 2016—Confederate Memorial Park received some $600,000 that year. In the past decade, the state has allocated more than $5.6 million to the site. The park, which in 2016 served fewer than 40,000 visitors, recently expanded, with replica Civil War barracks completed in 2017.

The museum in the Alabama park attempts a history of the Civil War through the story of the common Confederate soldier, an approach that originated soon after the war and remains popular today. It is tragic that hundreds of thousands of young men died on the battlefield. But the common soldier narrative was forged as a sentimental ploy to divert attention from the scalding realities of secession and slavery—to avoid acknowledging that “there was a right side and a wrong side in the late war,” as Douglass put it in 1878.

The memorial barely mentions black people. On a small piece of card stock, a short entry says “Alabama slaves became an important part of the war’s story in several different ways,” adding that some ran away or joined the Union Army, while others were conscripted to fight for the Confederacy or maintain fortifications. There is a photograph of a Confederate officer, reclining, next to an enslaved black man, also clad in a uniform, who bears an expression that can only be described as dread. Near the end of the exhibit, a lone panel states that slavery was a factor in spurring secession.

These faint nods to historical fact were overpowered by a banner that spanned the front of a log cabin on state property next to the museum: “Many have been taught the war between the states was fought by the Union to eliminate Slavery. THIS VIEW IS NOT SUPPORTED BY THE HISTORICAL EVIDENCE....The Southern States Seceded Because They Resented the Northern States Using Their Numerical Advantage in Congress to Confiscate the Wealth of the South to the Advantage of the Northern States.”

The state has a formal agreement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans to use the cabin as a library. Inside, books about Confederate generals and Confederate history lined the shelves. The South Was Right!, which has been called the neo-Confederate “bible,” lay on a table. The 1991 book’s co-author, Walter Kennedy, helped found the League of the South, a self-identified “Southern nationalist” organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as a hate group. “When we Southerners begin to realize the moral veracity of our cause,” the book says, “we will see it not as a ‘lost cause,’ but as the right cause, a cause worthy of the great struggle yet to come!”

A spokeswoman for the Alabama Historical Commission said she could not explain how the banner on the cabin had been permitted and declined our request to interview the site’s director.

Alabama laws, like those in other former Confederate states, make numerous permanent allocations to advance the memory of the Confederacy. The First White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived at the outbreak of the Civil War, is an Italianate mansion in Montgomery adjacent to the State Capitol. The state chartered the White House Association of Alabama to run the facility, and spent $152,821 in 2017 alone on salaries and maintenance for this monument to Davis—more than $1 million over the last decade—to remind the public “for all time of how pure and great were southern statesmen and southern valor.” That language from 1923 remains on the books.

* * *

An hour and a half east of Atlanta by car lies Crawfordville (pop. 600), the seat of Taliaferro County, a majority black county with one of the lowest median household incomes in Georgia. A quarter of the town’s land is occupied by the handsomely groomed, 1,177-acre A.H. Stephens State Park. Since 2011 state taxpayers have given the site $1.1 million. Most of that money is spent on campsites and trails, but as with other Confederate sites that boast recreational facilities—most famously, Stone Mountain, also in Georgia—the A.H. Stephens park was established to venerate Confederate leadership. And it still does.

Alexander Hamilton Stephens is well known for a profoundly racist speech he gave in Savannah in 1861 a month after becoming vice president of the provisional Confederacy. The Confederacy’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

That speech was nowhere in evidence during our visit to the park. It wasn’t in the Confederate museum, which was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy with the support of the state of Georgia in 1952 and displays Confederate firearms and uniforms. It wasn’t among the printed texts authored by Stephens that are placed on tabletops in the former slave quarters for visitors to peruse. And it wasn’t in the plantation house, called Liberty Hall.

Our guide, a state employee, opened the door of a small two-room cabin once occupied by Harry and Eliza—two of the 34 people Stephens held in bondage. The guide pointed to a photograph of the couple on a wall and said Stephens “kept them good, and took care of the people who worked for him.” We went on many tours of the homes of the Confederacy’s staunchest ideologues, and without exception we were told that the owners were good and the slaves were happy.

After the war, Stephens spent a great deal of energy pretending he wasn’t entirely pro-slavery, and he returned to public life as a member of Congress and then as governor. Robert Bonner, a historian at Dartmouth who is at work on a biography of Stephens, said the Stephens memorial maintains the fraud: “The story at Liberty Hall is a direct version of the story Stephens fabricated about himself after the war.”

Half an hour away is the home of Robert Toombs, the Confederacy’s secretary of state and Stephens’ close friend. His house has been recently restored, with state as well as private funds, and Wilkes County has taken over daily operations. In a ground-floor gallery, posters in gilt frames hang below banners that announce the four acts of Toombs’ life: “The Formative Years,” “The Baron of Wilkes County,” “The Premier of the Confederacy” and “Without a Country.” About slavery, nothing.

When asked about that, the docent, a young volunteer, retrieved a binder containing a Works Progress Administration oral history given by Alonza Fantroy Toombs. It begins, “I’se the proudest nigger in de worl’, caze I was a slave belonging to Marse Robert Toombs of Georgia; de grandest man dat ever lived, next to Jesus Christ.”

A more revealing, well-documented story is that of Garland H. White, an enslaved man who escaped Toombs’ ownership just before the Civil War and fled to Ontario. After the war erupted he heroically risked his freedom to join the United States Colored Troops. He served as an Army chaplain and traveled to recruit African-American soldiers. We found no mention at the Toombs memorial of White’s experience. In fact, we know of no monument to White in all of Georgia.

An average of $18,000 in county monies each year since 2011, plus $80,000 in state renovation funds in 2017 alone, have been devoted to this memorial to Toombs, who refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States after the war and fled to Cuba and France to avoid arrest. Upon his return to Georgia, Toombs labored to circumscribe the freedom of African-Americans. “Give us a convention,” Toombs said in 1876, “and I will fix it so that the people shall rule and the Negro shall never be heard from.” The following year he got that convention, which passed a poll tax and other measures to disenfranchise black men.

* * *

It’s difficult to imagine that all the Confederate monuments and historic sites dotting the landscape today would have been established if African-Americans had had a say in the matter.

Historically, the installation of Confederate monuments went hand in hand with the disenfranchisement of black people. The historical record suggests that monument-building peaked during three pivotal periods: from the late 1880s into the 1890s, as Reconstruction was being crushed; from the 1900s through the 1920s, with the rise of the second Ku Klux Klan, the increase in lynching and the codification of Jim Crow; and in the 1950s and 1960s, around the centennial of the war but also in reaction to advances in civil rights. An observation by the Yale historian David Blight, describing a “Jim Crow reunion” at Gettysburg, captures the spirit of Confederate monument-building, when “white supremacy might be said to have been the silent, invisible, master of ceremonies.”

Yet courageous black leaders did speak out, right from the start. In 1870, Douglass wrote, “Monuments to the ‘lost cause’ will prove monuments of folly ... in the memories of a wicked rebellion which they must necessarily perpetuate...It is a needless record of stupidity and wrong.”

In 1931, W.E.B. Du Bois criticized even simple statues erected to honor Confederate leaders. “The plain truth of the matter,” Du Bois wrote, “would be an inscription something like this: ‘sacred to the memory of those who fought to Perpetuate Human Slavery.’”

In 1966, Martin Luther King Jr. joined a voting rights rally in Grenada, Mississippi, at the Jefferson Davis monument, where, earlier that day, an organizer named Robert Green declared, “We want brother Jefferson Davis to know the Mississippi he represented, the South he represented, will never stand again.”

In today’s debates about the public display of Confederate symbols, the strong objections of early African-American critics are seldom remembered, perhaps because they had no impact on (white) officeholders at the time. But the urgent black protests of the past now have the ring of prophecy.

John Mitchell Jr., an African-American, was a journalist and a member of Richmond’s city council during Reconstruction. Like his friend and colleague Ida B. Wells, Mitchell was born into slavery, and spent much of his career documenting lynchings and campaigning against them; also like Wells, he was personally threatened with lynching.

Arguing fiercely against spending public money to memorialize the Confederacy, Mitchell took aim at the movement to erect a grand Robert E. Lee statue, and tried to block funding for the proposed statue’s dedication ceremony. But a white conservative majority steamrolled Mitchell and the two other black council members, and the Lee statue was unveiled on May 29, 1890. Gov. Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of Lee and a former Confederate general himself, was president of the Lee Monument Association, which executed the project. Virginia issued bonds to support its construction. The city of Richmond funded Dedication Day events, attended by some 150,000 people.

Mitchell covered the celebration for the Richmond Planet, the paper he edited. “This glorification of States Rights Doctrine—the right of secession, and the honoring of men who represented that cause,” he wrote, “fosters in the Republic, the spirit of Rebellion and will ultimately result in the handing down to generations unborn a legacy of treason and blood.”

In the past decade, Virginia has spent $174,000 to maintain the Lee statue, which has become a lightning rod for the larger controversy. In 2017, Richmond police spent some $500,000 to guard the monument and keep the peace during a neo-Confederate protest there.

Vandals struck Richmond’s Lee monument in August. Opposition to the statue isn’t new; in 1890, leading African-Americans opposed its installation. (Brian Palmer)

In Richmond in September 2017, counter-protesters spoke out against neo-Confederates who rallied in support of the Robert E. Lee monument. (Brian Palmer)

Onlookers at the September 2017 neo-Confederate event in Richmond are seen leaving the area after they were heckled by counter-protesters. (Brian Palmer)

* * *

In 1902, several years after nearly every African-American elected official was driven from office in Virginia, and as blacks were being systematically purged from voter rolls, the state’s all-white legislature established an annual allocation for the care of Confederate graves. Over time, we found, that spending has totaled roughly $9 million in today’s dollars.

Treating the graves of Confederate soldiers with dignity might not seem like a controversial endeavor. But the state has refused to extend the same dignity to the African-American men and women whom the Confederacy fought to keep enslaved. Black lawmakers have long pointed out this blatant inequity. In 2017, the legislature finally passed the Historical African American Cemeteries and Graves Act, which is meant to address the injustice. Still, less than $1,000 has been spent so far, and while a century of investment has kept Confederate cemeteries in rather pristine condition, many grave sites of the formerly enslaved and their descendants are overgrown and in ruins.

Significantly, Virginia disburses public funding for Confederate graves directly to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which distributes it to, among others, local chapters of the UDC and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Since 2009, Virginia taxpayers have sent more than $800,000 to the UDC.

The UDC, a women’s Confederate heritage group with thousands of members in 18 states and the District of Columbia, is arguably the leading advocate for Confederate memorials, and it has a history of racist propagandizing. One of the organization’s most influential figures was Mildred Lewis Rutherford, of Athens, Georgia, a well-known speaker and writer at the turn of the 20th century and the UDC’s historian general from 1911 to 1916.

Rutherford was so devoted to restoring the racial hierarchies of the past that she traveled the country in full plantation regalia spreading the “true history,” she called it, which cast slave owners and Klansmen as heroes. She pressured public schools and libraries across the South to accept materials that advanced Lost Cause mythology, including pro-Klan literature that referred to black people as “ignorant and brutal.” At the center of her crusade was the belief that slaves had been “the happiest set of people on the face of the globe,” “well-fed, well-clothed, and well-housed.” She excoriated the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency charged with protecting the rights of African-Americans, and argued that emancipation had unleashed such violence by African-Americans that “the Ku Klux Klan was necessary to protect the white woman.”

UDC officials did not respond to our interview requests. Previously, though, the organization has disavowed any links to hate groups, and in 2017 the president-general, Patricia Bryson, released a statement saying the UDC “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy.”

Confederate cemeteries in Virginia that receive taxpayer funds handled by the UDC are nonetheless used as gathering places for groups with extreme views. One afternoon last May, we attended the Confederate Memorial Day ceremony in the Confederate section of the vast Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. We were greeted by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Flaggers, a group that says its mission is to “stand AGAINST those who would desecrate our Confederate Monuments and memorials, and FOR our Confederate Veterans.”

An honor guard of re-enactors presented an array of Confederate standards. Participants stood at attention for an invocation read by a chaplain in period dress. They put their hands on their hearts, in salute to the Confederate flag. Susan Hathaway, a member of the Virginia Flaggers, led the crowd of several dozen in a song that was once the official paean to the Commonwealth:

Carry me back to old Virginny,
There’s where the cotton and the corn and taters grow,
There’s where the birds warble sweet in the springtime,
There’s where this old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.

* * *

“Very little has been done to address the legacy of slavery and its meaning in contemporary life.”

That scathing assessment of the nation’s unwillingness to face the truth was issued recently by the Equal Justice Initiative, the Montgomery-based legal advocacy group that in April 2018 opened the first national memorial to victims of lynching.

A few Confederate historical sites, though, are showing signs of change. In Richmond, the American Civil War Center and the Museum of the Confederacy have joined forces to become the American Civil War Museum, now led by an African-American CEO, Christy Coleman. The new entity, she said, seeks to tell the story of the Civil War from multiple perspectives—the Union and the Confederacy, free and enslaved African-Americans—and to take on the distortions and omissions of Confederate ideology.

“For a very, very long time” the Lost Cause has dominated public histories of the Civil War, Coleman told us in an interview. “Once it was framed, it became the course for everything. It was the accepted narrative.” In a stark comparison, she noted that statues of Hitler and Goebbels aren’t scattered throughout Germany, and that while Nazi concentration camps have been made into museums, “they don’t pretend that they were less horrible than they actually were. And yet we do that to America’s concentration camps. We call them plantations, and we talk about how grand everything was, and we talk about the pretty dresses that women wore, and we talk about the wealth, and we refer to the enslaved population as servants as if this is some benign institution.”

Confederacy meets pop culture in a display last year at Richmond’s Museum of the Confederacy, which closed in September to become part of the American Civil War Museum. (Brian Palmer)

Stratford Hall, the Virginia plantation where Robert E. Lee was born, also has new leadership. Kelley Deetz, a historian and archaeologist who co-edited a paper titled “Historic Black Lives Matter: Archaeology as Activism in the 21st Century,” was hired in June as the site’s first director of programming and education. Stratford Hall, where 31 people were enslaved as of 1860, is revising how it presents slavery. The recent shocking violence in Charlottesville, Deetz said, was speeding up “the slow pace of dealing with these kinds of sensitive subjects.” She said, “I guarantee you that in a year or less, you go on a tour here and you’re going to hear about enslavement.”

In 1999, Congress took the extraordinary step of advising the National Park Service to re-evaluate its Civil War sites and do a better job of explaining “the unique role that slavery played in the cause of the conflict.” But vestiges of the Lost Cause still haunt park property. In rural Northern Virginia, in the middle of a vast lawn, stands a small white clapboard house with a long white chimney—the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, part of the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. The Confederate general died in the house in May 1863. “The tendency for the park historically has been to invite people to mourn Jackson’s death,” John Hennessy, the park’s chief historian, told us. He believes that the site should be more than a shrine, however. Visitors, Hennessey said, should learn that Jackson “led an army in a rebellion in the service of a nation that intended to keep people in bondage forever.” He went on, “The greatest enemy to good public history is omission. We are experiencing as a society now the collateral damage that forgetting can inflict.”

A park ranger sitting in the gift shop rose to offer us a practiced talk that focused reverently on Jackson’s final days—the bed he slept on, the clock that still keeps time. The ranger said a “servant,” Jim Lewis, had stayed with Jackson in the small house as he lay dying. A plaque noted the room where Jackson’s white staff slept. But there was no sign in the room across the hall where Lewis stayed. Hennessy had recently removed it because it failed to acknowledge that Lewis was enslaved. Hennessy is working on a replacement. Slavery, for the moment, was present only in the silences.

* * *

During the Fall Muster at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis home, we met Stephanie Brazzle, a 39-year-old African-American Mississippian who had accompanied her daughter, a fourth grader, on a field trip. It was Brazzle’s first visit. “I always thought it was a place that wasn’t for us,” she said. Brazzle had considered keeping her daughter home, but decided against it. “I really do try to keep an open mind. I wanted to be able to talk to her about it.”
Brazzle walked the Beauvoir grounds all morning. She stood behind her daughter’s school group as they listened to re-enactors describe life in the Confederacy. She waited for some mention of the enslaved, or of African-Americans after emancipation. “It was like we were not even there,” she said, as if slavery “never happened.”

“I was shocked at what they were saying, and what wasn’t there,” she said. It’s not that Brazzle, who teaches psychology, can’t handle historic sites related to slavery. She can, and she wants her daughter, now 10, to face that history, too. She has taken her daughter to former plantations where the experience of enslaved people is a part of the interpretation. “She has to know what these places are,” Brazzle said. “My grandmother, whose grandparents were slaves, she told stories. We black people acknowledge that this is our history. We acknowledge that this still affects us.”

The overarching question is whether American taxpayers should support Lost Cause mythology. For now, that invented history, told by Confederates and retold by sympathizers for generations, is etched into the experience at sites like Beauvoir. In the well-kept Confederate cemetery behind the library, beyond a winding brook, beneath the flagpole, a large gray headstone faces the road. It is engraved with lines that the English poet Philip Stanhope Worsley dedicated to Robert E. Lee:

“No nation rose so white and fair, none fell so pure of crime.”

About the Author: Brian Palmer is a Richmond-based journalist and photographer. Read more articles from Brian Palmer

About the Author: Seth Freed Wessler is a Puffin Fellow at the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute. Read more articles from Seth Freed Wessler

Don't miss out on this great Puffin-sponsored event at the Museum of the City of New York
Posted in News

When: Thursday, November 8, 6:30pm
Price: $15 General Admission | $10 for Museum Members | Free for Students

Amy Goodman interviewing youth activists Hebh Jamal, Ramon Contreras and Brea Baker before an overflow crowd in the Museum's auditorium

Gladys and Perry Rosenstein, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Neal Rosenstein, Sarah Seidman (Puffin Foundation Curator for Social Activism at the MCNY) and Whitney Donhauser (Ronay Menschel Director and President of the MCNY) at the event.

Join journalist Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and leading youth activists Brea Baker, Ramon Contreras, and Hebh Jamal to discuss the key mobilizations of our moment—from gun control to immigrant rights—and how they draw on a long history of protest. This event celebrates the Museum’s publication of Activist New York: A History of People, Protest, and Politics (NYU Press, 2018) and a new case study on the movement against the Vietnam War in the Activist New York exhibition. Museum curator and author of the Activist New York book, Steven Jaffe, will introduce the program.

Why Your Vote Matters in 2018
Posted in News

Puffin is a proud supporter of the Campus Election Engagement Project, seeking to enfranchise college students nationwide. You can check out their most recent video here:

About Campus Election Engagement Project

Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP), is a national nonpartisan project that helps administrators, faculty, staff, and student leaders at America’s colleges and universities engage students in federal, state, and local elections. Drawing in stakeholders throughout our partner campuses, we combine our powerful resources with personalized coaching, guiding schools on how to use our resources and navigate students through ever-changing barriers to voting. Working with us, schools help their students to register, volunteer in campaigns, educate themselves on candidates and issues, navigate confusing voting laws, and turn out at the polls. We worked with over 300 campuses in 2016, with a combined enrollment of 3.5 million students, while partner organizations distributed our resources to another 1,000 schools. We spent 2017 helping our campuses develop ongoing engagement strategies while getting students involved directly in Virginia’s statewide races and Alabama’s US Senate race. And we’re now engaging students in the 2018 elections. Because individuals who vote when they’re young tend to continue, and because we help schools deepen their electoral engagement each cycle, we generate both immediate and long-term impact.

Did you know that Puffin supported student journalists write for The Nation Magazine? Check out this article on youth activists in the South.
Posted in News

The Next Generation of Southern Organizing

By providing a playbook for young organizers, Southerners on New Ground encourages college students not simply to stay involved, but to see themselves as leaders in the fight for a more just South.

By Robin Happel

Members of Southerners on New Ground and Black Youth Project 100 during a Black Mamas Bail Out Action in Durham, North Carolina, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Kelly Creedon)

Just over the mountains from Morristown, Tennessee, activists last April crashed a police picnic in Hendersonville to protest their city’s complicity with ICE. Bringing a brass band, organizers chanted, “¡El pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!” Singing together, dozens of protesters disrupted the picnic until police disbanded the protest.

Renewed resistance in the South and Appalachia has taken many outside the region by surprise. Far from simply a fringe movement, calls to end ICE’s abuses are gaining momentum, even within such perceived conservative strongholds. This sea change is driven in large part by community organizers like Southerners on New Ground (SONG), an Atlanta-based organization defending the rights of LGBTQ+ people of color in the rural South. To SONG and its sister groups across the South, silence is complicity. Letting ICE picnic in peace is not an option, so long as so many others are forced to live in fear. Read Full article here.

Endangered Puffins? Humans and man-made climate change are clearly playing a role.
Posted in News

Overfishing, hunting and pollution are putting pressure on the birds, but climate change may prove to be the biggest challenge.

Hedinn Jonasson, a hunter, with his catch of puffins on Lundley Island.

Photographs and video by JOSH HANER
AUG. 29, 2018

GRIMSEY ISLAND, Iceland — Puffins are in trouble.

The birds have been in precipitous decline, especially since the 2000s, both in Iceland and across many of their Atlantic habitats. The potential culprits are many: fickle prey, overfishing, pollution. Scientists say that climate change is another underlying factor that is diminishing food supplies and is likely to become more important over time. And the fact that puffins are tasty, and thus hunted as game here, hardly helps.

Annette Fayet is trying to solve the mystery of the dwindling Atlantic puffins, and that is why she was reaching shoulder deep into a burrow here last month. She gently drew a puffin out, having snagged its leg with a thick wire she had curved into a shepherd’s crook. As she brought the croaking seabird into the light, it defecated copiously on her pants, which were, thanks to her long experience with birds, waterproof.

“Wow, science!” she said, and smiled. Ideally, this bird, with its tuxedo-like black-and-white plumage and clownish orange beak, would have voided its bowels into a stainless steel bowl she calls the “puffin toilet.” She took a flat wooden spoon out of its wrapper, scraped the mess up and placed it in a vial for analysis; she wants to know what these birds have been eating.

Though some puffin colonies are prospering, in Iceland, where the largest population of Atlantic puffins is found, their numbers have dropped from roughly seven million individuals to about 5.4 million. Since 2015, the birds have been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, meaning they face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

The birds are cherished by Icelanders as part of their history, culture and tourist trade — and, for some, their cuisine. “The puffin is the most common bird in Iceland,” said Erpur Snaer Hansen, acting director of the South Iceland Nature Research Center. “It’s also the most hunted one.”

[Read more: In Iceland, Vikings razed the forests long ago. Can the country regrow them?]

Hunters with long nets can be seen tooling around Grimsey Island in the summer, leaving behind piles of bird carcasses, the breast meat stripped away. Iceland has restricted the annual harvest, but hunting “is accelerating the decline,” Dr. Hansen said.

Dr. Hansen is working with Dr. Fayet on her project, which involves monitoring the activities of four puffin colonies, two in Iceland and others in Wales and Norway. Since 2010, he also has conducted a census, a twice-yearly “puffin rally” in which he travels more than 3,100 miles around Iceland, visiting some 700 marked burrows in 12 colonies, counting eggs and chicks.

During a recent stop at Lundey Island, Iceland, Dr. Hansen encountered jovial hunters who had killed hundreds of the birds and were carrying them toward their boats to be sold to restaurants that mainly serve the meat to curious tourists.

Dr. Hansen maintains an amicable relationship with hunters and uses data from 138 years of hunting club records in his research. He convinced these hunters to let his assistant photograph the head of every puffin; the bands on their beaks can be counted to determine the birds’ age.

On Grimsey, a northern island that pokes above the Arctic Circle, gulls and arctic terns swirled in the cloudy sky and the wind at the cliffs blew at 40 miles per hour or more as Dr. Fayet and Dr. Hansen did their work. Dr. Fayet wears contact lenses, and the grit was a torment. There were ticks, so many ticks. Wow, science.

There were also counterbalancing pleasures; Dr. Hansen, a gifted cook, roasted a leg of lamb for dinner with garlic and thyme, and he brought along a couple of bottles of excellent single-malt whiskey, one of his non-avian fascinations.

After dinner, the two scientists worked into the bright Arctic night, ultimately catching, examining and releasing a dozen birds in their two-day stay on this island. Between captures, Dr. Fayet leaned on a rock, staring intently at a cliff face. Suddenly she leapt up and ran at startling speed across the uneven soil some 150 feet to the cliff, crouching in front of the one hole among many that she saw a bird jet into.

Dr. Hansen moved from burrow to burrow, looking a little like a spaceman with his white visor clamped over his eyes. He snaked a camera on a flexible stalk inside for a look around. “Oh, yeah,” he said, having spotted a live, downy chick.

After extracting a bird, they slid it into a plastic tube that oddly enough kept it calm, and weighed it. Dr. Hansen attached a steel identifying band to the bird’s leg. Then they removed it from the tube and attached a tiny GPS tracker to its back, between the wings, with marine tape.

In the week until the lightweight devices drop off, they show how far the birds fly for their food and how deep they dive for it. Each tracker costs more than $800, which means the case containing them was worth more than the battered truck the researchers were driving.

Dr. Fayet plucked five feathers for later DNA analysis to determine the bird’s sex. For identification from afar, she used a marker to put a stroke of blue on its breast and white correction fluid to put a dot atop the black feathers on its head. “Sorry, baby,” she said softly, and returned the puffin to its burrow, where it will no doubt retell the story for years to come about its abduction by aliens during the summer of the tags and tape.

Around Iceland, the puffins have suffered because of the decline of their favorite food, silvery sand eels, which dangle from the parents’ beaks as they bring them to their young. That collapse correlates to a rise in sea surface temperatures that Dr. Hansen has been monitoring for years.

The temperature of waters around the country is governed by long-term cycles of what is known as the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, with periods of colder water alternating with warmer. Between the 1965-1995 cold cycle and the current warm cycle, Dr. Hansen said, winter temperature records show about one degree Celsius of additional warming — a seemingly small amount, but disastrous for the sand eels. His theory, he said, is this: “If you increase temperatures one degree, you’re changing their growth rates and their ability to survive the winter,” he said.

Aevar Petersen, an Icelandic ornithologist not involved with the project, said an increase in sea temperature brought about by climate change was “the key environmental factor” behind the sand eels’ decline.

The picture is complicated; the natural cycles make it difficult to disentangle the influence of climate change. That influence is “much weaker in the subpolar North Atlantic, especially near Iceland,” said Rong Zhang, a senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Still, climate change’s imprint is increasingly evident, said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University. “There will come a time when climate change is vastly greater than internal variability,” he said.

Without as many sand eels in the water, the birds have to fly farther to find food for themselves and their chicks. So the data from the GPS loggers, however briefly transmitted, is of great interest. As Dr. Fayet sat at her computer on Grimsey, her colleagues in Norway sent the first data from their work the week before, and her screen filled with looping paths of foraging birds. “Because this is the first time this is being done, we have no expectations,” she said. “Everything we get is exciting.”

Even thrilling data can contain a sad message. “Everywhere, they are going further than we thought,” she said. The colonies’ decline suggests these birds are working too hard for their supper. “Flying, for puffins, is very demanding,” she said. “It is a big energy cost for them.”

Dr. Hansen’s puffin rallies show that 40 percent of the population of Icelandic puffin chicks is losing body mass over time, another bad sign.

When the adults can’t catch enough to feed themselves and the chicks, they make an instinctive Malthusian choice; the chicks starve. Dr. Fayet called her quest “heartbreaking”: “You put your hand in the burrow and feel with your hand a little ball on the floor, but then you realize it’s cold, and not moving.”

There are still millions of Atlantic puffins, but their plentiful colonies are deceiving, Dr. Hansen said. “These birds are long lived, so you don’t just see them plummeting down,” he said. In the long run, he warned, “It’s not sustainable.”

Full article with pictures:

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