We never knew much about my father's side of the family, but on my
mother's side we knew a lot. My Calhoun relatives are descended from
Vice President John C. Calhoun, who is known for his outspoken support
of slavery and for having inspired the southern secessionists of
1860-61. It took me a while to realize that the rest of the world
didn't see history in quite the way my family did.
For example, I
was taught that only very ignorant and uneducated people ever spoke of
the Civil War. That was an oxymoron because John C. Calhoun, who died
in 1850, would have favored secession from the Union; it could not be a
civil war because there were two separate nations. It should be called,
by people of education and distinction, the War Between the States or
the War of Northern Aggression.
As a student I came to resent
our family heritage. I was not proud of being descended from someone
who was the standard-bearer for slavery and therefore on the wrong side
of a great moral issue in our nation's history.