A Study in Contrasts: The Difficult Diary of Mary Boykin Chesnut

This year I teach some Lincoln, Douglass, and Booker T. Washington: heroes, even if flawed, because they got the big moral struggle of their time right. They are inspiring to read, but to understand how decent people could resist the power of the truth for so long (even to this day), I decided to read some of the best of Southern writings, including the belle of diarists, Mary Boykin Chesnut.

Mary Boykin Chesnut shows people are sometimes better,or at least more complicated, than their causes. Her “diary”* of her Civil War experiences is from the wrong side, yet she is lovely writer, often insightful, and captures famous characters concisely. She is interesting, the kind of person you hope would be a friend or at least a dinner companion. And yet . . . If there is a measure of injustice in any human artifact, her world was very directly based on slave labor.

As a nation we still wrestle with the same sins that were more blatant in her time, especially race hatred. Yet I find some hope in her diary, as a woman she found an voice and spoke in unexpected ways. She cannot be reduced to her bigoted …

Read more at Southern Partisan Online
(The opinions in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Southern Nation News or SN.O.)

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