When Stan Deaton first delivered a lecture for the African American Heritage House in 2019, his presentation title was a question: “What About Those Confederate Monuments?”
That lecture remains one of the most in-demand program in AAHH’s archives, and at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy for the Chautauqua Speaker Series, Deaton returns to the grounds with another question: “Can’t We Stop Talking About This? Race and American History (1776-1865).”
“I’ve always been interested in people and their stories, and the connection between people and the past,” Deaton said in 2019. “I see the unchanging past flow into the present.”
Deaton is the senior historian and the Dr. Elaine B. Andrews Distinguished Historian at the Georgia Historical Society, where he has worked since 1998. There, he is a public speaker, teacher and lecturer. He serves as managing editor for the Georgia Historical Quarterly; helps secure materials like the Vince Dooley Papers for the library and archives; leads teacher training workshops; writes historical markers; and conducts oral history interviews — among myriad other tasks.
His lecture today, with a focus on the years between the start of the Revolutionary War and the end of the Civil War, serves as both a sequel and prequel to his 2019 talk. Then, he focused on the late 19th century and early 20th century, and the installation of Confederate monuments. At the time, it was a question front-of-mind for many, and Deaton asked if such monuments should be considered works of history, or of public art. Ultimately, he said, monuments are history — but an embodied history of the beliefs of the communities in which they were built. He used the Robert E. Lee Monument in New Orleans, constructed in 1884, as an example. The statue was removed by the City of New Orleans in 2017.
“I don’t think a statue of Robert E. Lee has anything to do with Robert E. Lee,” he said in 2019. “A representation put up (14) years after he died has nothing to do with him, and when it’s in a public space it represents the values of the community.”
Deaton holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of Florida, a Masters in history from the University of Georgia, and Bachelors degree in journalism from UGA. He is the Emmy-winning writer and host of “Today in Georgia History,” produced for TV and radio by GHS and Georgia Public Broadcasting.
In advance of his last lecture at Chautauqua, Deaton said he hoped people would come with an open mind and see history from a different perspective.
“I’m not trying to condemn anyone in the past,” he said. “All I am trying to do is help us all understand the past.”