Sowing “Seeds of Discord.” It was July 1865, three short months after the surrender of the racist Confederacy, but white racists in the North were hardly in rhetorical retreat. Instead, they found a new target. Their bitter anti-abolitionism was replaced by rants against the emerging prospect of black voting rights. The Lackawanna Register, a race-baiting Democratic weekly in Scranton, made its opposition loud and clear that July 27. It is a plain fact, the Register declared, that the black man is “by the unchangeable antagonism of race, and by his inferiority of intellect, debarred from that full citizenship which would give him a share in the government of the country. … Those who are now working so zealously to insult the reason and intelligence of the people by lifting a negro to a level with the white race care as little for the welfare of the Africans as they have in times gone by for peace and amity between North and South.” The black suffrage campaign, it warned, will “sow seeds of discord, from which will spring new disputes and fratricidal conflicts.” What a self-fulfilling prediction. As I write in Embattled Freedom, Jacksonian Democrats had managed to disenfranchise Pennsylvania’s black populace back in 1838. They opposed the 15th Amendment which granted voting rights to black men in 1870. And they would stand by as Reconstruction was undermined in the South, the Klan rose, Black Codes were enacted, and lynchings spread. These “new disputes” were not fratricidal, however. They were one-sided crimes, born of undying white hostility and enabled by forces North and South.
“Mr. Kilgore’s Funeral.” My latest history project involves helping to research and write the story of a little-known Civil War army camp that existed a few miles from my home outside Philadelphia in 1864 and 1865. We’ve been looking into the officers who led the so-called Camp Discharge, and one in particular has caught my fancy. Capt. Damon Y. Kilgore was the assistant quartermaster, a rather colorless supply role. It was the rest of his life that was colorful. Kilgore was quite the nonconformist for his day. After the war he became a well-known Philadelphia lawyer who petitioned to keep the Bible out of public schools and advocated for women’s rights. His wife was Carrie Kilgore, a suffragist who became the first woman admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania. And Kilgore himself was the first person to be formally cremated in Philadelphia. He was a devotee of Spiritualism, a movement whose adherents including many war widows gathered for seances to communicate with the dead. Kilgore believed his spirit would live on after death. His will specified that his remains — or “mortal garment” — be cremated and that his wife and two young daughters not wear black for him. When death came in May 1888, his funeral drew a throng. The eulogy was given by a Spiritualist medium “who spoke for over an hour with his eyes tightly closed,” according to a reporter for The Philadelphia Times. The mourners proceeded to the newly opened Philadelphia Crematorium in Germantown for the final rites. At the end, family and friends “took their last look at his burning body through a little glass peep-hole in the door and the funeral was over.” Kilgore believed he would return to “the scenes of his life” after death, and his spirit was said to haunt the crematorium. (Or should I say is said? The crematorium is still in operation in the city’s Chelten Hills Cemetery. Check out this fascinating site for more.)
Book News. Many thanks to the fine folks at Lackawanna State Park and the Wallenpaupack Historical Society for hosting author presentations this past week. My talks in support of Embattled Freedom are winding down, with one scheduled in the next month and two others in future months. The next talk — my 48th for the book — is set for Monday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m., at the Woodbridge Public Library in Woodbridge, N.J. The sponsoring group is the Robert E. Lee Civil War Round Table.