In 1963, as the Civil War centennial commemoration unfolded in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, James Baldwin declared that “the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.” In the decade leading up to Baldwin’s declaration, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Gwendolyn Brooks staged the aesthetic disintegration of Civil War memory even as they represented racial integration in public education. O’Connor’s “A Late Encounter with the Enemy” (1953) and McCullers’s Clock Without Hands (1961) counter the lost cause mythology of Gone with the Wind by irreverently converting Civil War memory from lived experience to cultural narrative. Brooks’s 1960 Emmett Till poems explicitly represent the generic disintegration of Civil War memory as chivalric romance.
Michael LeMahieu is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Pearce Center for Professional Communication at Clemson University. He is the author of Fictions of Fact and Value: The Erasure of Logical Positivism in American Literature, 1945-1975 (Oxford, 2013) and co-editor of the journal Contemporary Literature. His articles and reviews have appeared in African American Review, American Studies, Modernism/Modernity, and Twentieth-Century Literature. During the Spring 2015 term, he is Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale.