Every so often I hear from the descendants of Adelbert Ames, a Union general during the Civil War and then the governor of Mississippi during Reconstruction, objecting to a paragraph about him in John F. Kennedy’s book “Profiles in Courage,” from 1956. “No state suffered more from carpetbag rule than Mississippi,” Kennedy wrote, about Ames’s governorship. Corruption was rampant. Taxes rose by a factor of fourteen. “Vast areas of northern Mississippi lay in ruins.” None of this is true, and the Ames family has been lobbying the Kennedy family to change the offending paragraph pretty much continuously for more than sixty years—including an in-person discussion with J.F.K., in 1963, conducted in the White House by Ames’s great-grandson George Plimpton, the writer and editor of The Paris Review. Nothing has worked. But maybe now, at this moment of a great national reconsideration of our history and our monuments, especially on racial grounds, it might be different?
I’m getting these entreaties, most recently a couple of weeks ago, because I wrote a book about the bloody overthrow of Reconstruction by white terrorists in Mississippi in 1875. Ames is a leading character, presented far more positively than he is in “Profiles in Courage.”