I Am Southern Heritage and So Can You

Let's get something straight: 

No one individual or group/organization controls the contours and definition of Southern Heritage.   An identification with- and an attachment to the South and its history belongs to conservatives, liberals, Christians, Jews, agnostics, atheists, blacks, and whites.  It includes those who revere Lee, Jackson, and Forrest as well as Thomas, Scott, and Cooke.  It includes people whose lives revolve around commemorating and honoring the Confederate cause and its Christian Warriors as well as those who view that cause and those who fought for it with contempt and disdain.  It encompasses those who view the federal government as a threat to liberty as well as those who view it as a means to prosperity.  It includes members of the Republican and Democratic parties,  as well as the NAACP, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and even native and recent transplants to the South.  In fact, you don't even have to live in the "Old South" to identify with its history and heritage.  

Southern Heritage includes the history of the South from the beginning to the present.  It includes examples of individuals and groups acting at their very best and their worst.  Identifying with Southern Heritage need not imply anything about how you evaluate the history of the South.  All of us are free to interpret it as we wish, based on our interests and respective goals. 

This is what I believe.   

Note: Thanks once again for the thoughtful comments, but this thread needs to come to an end. :)

33 thoughts on “I Am Southern Heritage and So Can You

  1. Robert Moore

    Kevin, I love the Colbert’ism applied to Civil War memory!

    Also, you make a great point. Southern heritage is complex and inclusive of a great deal more than a love of everything (and nothing else but) Confederate stuff. Simply stated… “Confederate” does not define “Southern” or “Southerners.” In fact, Southerners should take pride in the fact that they, and the history of the area, is far more complex than that.

  2. Marc Ferguson

    Well said! As you’ve pointed out many times before, Southern history includes more than the unfortunate 4 years of the Confederacy, and Southerners include more than the sub-category of white supporters, past and present, of the CSA.

  3. Dan McCown

    As a Southerner it seems to me that Northerners are a lot more interested in the South than Southerners are in the north.

    Dan

  4. William

    Nor is Southern history just ” slavery “. Southern history is a great many things before,during, and after The War Between The States. Slavery was just the darkest part of Southern history.

  5. Patrick L

    As a Kentuckian, I could not agree more with the idea that the Confederacy does not necessarily equal The South. Some well-meaning scholars that I respect could stand to think about that one, too.

    But on to the big point. It frustrates me when I encounter the opinion that honest assessment (and perhaps, but not necessarily criticism) of a place, or maybe more accurately in this case of an idea, is not necessarily an attack. Wanting to understand is not wanting to tear down.

  6. Brooks Simpson

    As a white northerner it seems to me that white southerners are a lot more interested in what white northerners think of white southerners than anything else.

  7. Sherree

    Hi Brooks,

    I don’t think that white southerners are so much interested in what white northerners think of them, as it is that white southerners are automatically put on the defensive when the South is viewed as a monolithic culture with a monolithic history and point of view.

    It is well understood by modern historians that the South is indeed not monolithic in any way, when it comes to the suppressed history of black men and women. That is obvious. It is clear. And it is finally completely unacceptable to all but those who are hopelessly entrenched in a past that was not monolithic either, just claimed by one group. What is not obvious, not clear, and not viewed as unacceptable, however, it seems to me (and I say “seems”, because I really am not sure at this point) is that the history–and the present reality–of white Southerners is not monolithic either.

    I have had difficulty locating myself in any of the histories put forth. That is why I welcome Kevin’s definition of “Southern heritage”. Members of the SCV seem to think that they are speaking for all white Southerners, as do some otherwise truly well meaning and erudite modern historians, and it simply is not so.

    The history of white men and women in the South is very diverse and complex, and in my case, includes generations of interaction on a very close and intimate level with black men and women as friends, equals, and colleagues. In keeping with the inclusive definition put forth above, I say this not as a person who presumes to speak for the South as a whole, but as a single individual who was born in the South, who has a long history in the South, and who still lives in the South, next to my neighbor who is from Poland, and my other neighbor who is from Michigan. Also, I fully understand that most of this debate is fueled by the entrenched group of white Southerners who refuse to accept the well documented fact that the Civil War was about slavery. I have not read any of your books, Brooks, so I am not talking about your work. This is just a general observation, and again, perhaps it is not accurate. I just don’t know. I do know that we all need better dialogue on many issues, however, as Senator Obama so rightly stated concerning the poor level of communication in our country when it comes to the issue of race, and this broad definition of Southern heritage seems a good starting point in understanding regional differences.

  8. Robert Moore

    Richard,

    I think you have just said something that helps me (actually, it helps us both to understand some things) in our exchanges.

    In your statement… “Members of the SCV seem to think that they are speaking for all white Southerners, as do some otherwise truly well meaning and erudite modern historians, and it simply is not so.”

    We are actually of the same mind in this respect (if that helps you understand where I am coming from in some of the things that I say).

    Thanks,

    Robert Moore

  9. Richard Williams

    Robert:

    That was not my comment, that was Sherree’s. To which I would point out that she’s making the error which she accuses others of: Lumping all SCV members together as a monolithic group. Her error is most instructive.

  10. Sherree

    Well, lol again. I have once more gotten two people to agree! Maybe I should offer my services to Congress.

    Robert,

    Perhaps the reason you are agreeing with Richard is that Richard did not make that comment: I did. Perhaps not. It makes for a good laugh for everyone, though, at the very least.

  11. Sherree

    I stand corrected, Richard, except for one point: I am not accusing anyone of anything. I am actually very interested in a point of view coming from the SCV that does not promote the Lost Cause view of the Civil War. I have yet to see it. Also, if the SCV was the driving force behind the refusal of the placement of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Richmond, I would like to hear the reasoning behind that. And one more point: to deny that slavery was at the center of the Civil War is the equivalent of denying that the holocaust did not occur. These are but a few of the reasons that a productive discussion cannot take place between northerners and southerners. I have my own points to make with Kevin and anyone else who might like to discuss some differences in the future. Until we agree on the basics, however, those points are moot. I toured a slave ship that was salvaged by divers and put on tour of the US. The entire experience was a sobering one. The thing that struck me most, however, was that there was an ankle chain small enough for a four year old child. I am not interested in putting that into historical perspective. I am interested in trying to help right those past wrongs. You can’t do that when you won’t admit you are wrong. The South fought the wrong war. Admit it. Then we can work out the details.

    Sorry for the length of this, Kevin. I did not mean to go here. Richard, some of the reasoning that comes from some members of the SCV perpetuates racism, in my opinion. Please prove me wrong.

  12. Robert Moore

    In short, Richard is correct Sherree. Everybody in the SCV does not think the same way. There is however, an identifiable problem in the way that the SCV does not keep control on its own image. What I am saying here is that one bad apple can, to the general public, spoil the whole bunch (again, in the public eye). The SCV should keep better … well, I’m not sure if this is the right term, but I’m thinking “quality control” within its own organization and for the sake of the image that it presents to the public.

  13. Sherree

    Hi Ken,

    I am leaving with a hearty laugh on that one!

    Robert, thank you.

    Richard, I did not mean to insult you. If the SCV can really come around as an organization and promote the eradication of racism, that would really be a remarkable and wonderful event. Truly, it would. Happy Rosh Hashanah everyone.

  14. Robert Moore

    OK, after making my way back to the other side of campus, let me continue what I was saying. Richard (and all), as a point of clarification… pardon the earlier comment; it appears I have had a problem with the word “some” in less than 24 hours and with the same person. I thought Richard (when it is actually Sherree) used the word “some” in the comment… The errors don’t surprise me considering Masters Comps are due in 20 days.

  15. Sherree

    Robert,

    I don’t understand your last comment, but it doesn’t matter. We’re square with the house. Good luck on your exams.

    I looked up the reenactor who got shot, Ken. Looks like he is going to live and I am sorry he got shot. Could be that Spock and the Klingons returned from that Abe Lincoln abduction a few weeks back and switched sides. Don’t know. Have a good one.

  16. Richard Williams

    Sherree:

    You write:

    “And one more point: to deny that slavery was at the center of the Civil War is the equivalent of denying that the holocaust did not occur. These are but a few of the reasons that a productive discussion cannot take place between northerners and southerners.”

    I do not deny that slavery was at the center of the Civil War. But you are right, I cannot have a productive discussion with anyone who wants to start tossing around such highly charged accusations as “holocaust denier” so recklessly.

    Robert:

    “There is however, an identifiable problem in the way that the SCV does not keep control on its own image.”

    That’s true of many organizations including the 2 major political parties.

  17. Robert Moore

    True Richard, but the SCV isn’t a political party. It’s a non-profit heritage organization and it wants to put forward a positive image (not to mention a certain, arguably standard image of the very people that they try to honor). Nevertheless, you would think they would have more quality control going on in order to keep better tabs on the image in the public sphere. It does not. The lack of an effort in this respect might be telling. What was it that Lee said… “I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” There may be something to that statement and what is going on in this respect.

    On the other hand, if you want to compare it to a political party or a politician in the public sphere (aka, one who wants to put forward a certain image to make a point… it’s not much different from wanting to pile-up votes in favor of a position), I think I can make comparisons, but they don’t bode well for the SCV.

  18. Richard Williams

    My point was Robert, that every organization has members that, shall we say, they’d rather keep in the basement. The SCV is no different in that respect. Some of this has become more obvious and public in recent years due to the heated debate over the battle flag and political correctness.

    I’m not going to belabor the point, but I could name other national organizations and personalities that would illustrate my point even more.

    I have no idea what you meant by the last paragraph.

  19. Robert Moore

    “That’s true of many organizations including the 2 major political parties.”

    Richard… meaning simply that I wouldn’t make comparisons between the SCV and a political party and most certainly not a politician (though you don’t make a case for that). Considering parties and politics, well, I don’t think a non-profit organization would really want the comparison.

  20. Cash

    While individual SCV members may represent different views, the official position of the organization, as can be seen through its various websites and public statements made by several of its leaders, is most definitely a lost cause version.

    Regards,
    Cash

  21. Sherree

    “And one more point: to deny that slavery was at the center of the Civil War is the equivalent of denying that the holocaust did not occur (sic, should read “occurred”). These are but a few of the reasons that a productive discussion cannot take place between northerners and southerners.”

    “I do not deny that slavery was at the center of the Civil War. But you are right, I cannot have a productive discussion with anyone who wants to start tossing around such highly charged accusations as “holocaust denier” so recklessly.

    Richard,

    Good Morning,

    The comparison is not at all reckless and invites examination from every angle. It seems to me that you are attempting to avoid the comparison, and the conversation that is inevitable by making the comparison, by dismissing the person who made the comparison. That is normal in a debate, which is what this conversation has become, so now I have my chance to speak and I will do so without dismissing you. Since I am not eligible to become a member of the SCV, however, and would not be interested in joining if I were, perhaps you will consider my viewpoint and present it to your brothers in the organization. The fact that you continue to engage in dialogue on this blog indicates to me that you do have an open mind, and if you could help to persuade the SCV to change its position, that would go far in alleviating past injustices that still reverberate in today’s society for African American men and women.

    The South fought a war to perpetuate a system that enslaved human beings. Those human beings–African American men, women, and children–were at the complete mercy of the white men and women who owned them. Slaves were beaten, experimented upon, “bred” like cattle, raped, mutilated, and murdered. There is no conceivable defense of any of this. It is what it is, and it was what many black men and women rightly call it–a holocaust. I, a descendant of Confederate veterans as well as you, in honor of those veterans who died for the wrong reasons, and in honor of the millions of Africans who were forcibly brought to this nation and enslaved and of the millions more who suffered because of slavery and who still suffer, call on your brothers in the SCV to step down if they cannot address the realities of the past in a constructive manner that redresses the grievances of that past.

    Kevin,

    Good morning to you as well.

    You mentioned in one of your posts that in the 1830s the South nearly ended slavery, but failed to do so in the end. Could you please refer me to information concerning this? Thank you. And thank you, Richard.

  22. Kevin Levin

    Sherree, — I am referring to the debates that took place in the Virginia legislature shortly after the Nat Turner slave insurrection in 1831. You can find some information on this in Louis Masur’s wonderfule book, _1831_, which is a book that my students read. You should also check out Susan Dunn’s _Dominion of Memories_, which is also quite good. Here is a review of the book: http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/web/20070726-virginia-jefferson-madison-slavery.shtml

  23. Robert Moore

    Hmmm, I wonder how many ways one can interpret what is found not only on the SCV site, but in the sites of the different camps? (for that matter, I wonder what would happen if we looked at the sites for what is not there). To deny that most have a heavy coating of “Lost Cause” presence is not controlled by interpretation, but driven by knowledge of the Lost Cause as a remembrance movement. If one were to say “Lost Cause mythology,” THEN, this might become a point of contention with some. I agree with you Cash. – Robert

  24. Richard Williams

    Sherree:

    Your statement was reckless, ill-informed, and uncalled for. I address all the issues you bring up in my book. Please get a copy and read it. You will become informed and I will make money.

    Coincidentally, I discuss the question you raise (and to which Kevin replies), about Virginia coming very close to ending slavery in the early 1830′s. Here’s what I wrote about that issue in my book:

    Virginians grappled with the obvious contradictions contained in America’s founding documents. In 1778, Virginia became the first state to outlaw the slave trade, making it the first government in the modern world to criminalize slave traders. Virginia further showed its progressive inclinations regarding slavery by passing legislation in 1782 that encouraged emancipation. That legislation went so far as to require slave owners to support their emancipated slaves who might not be able to sustain themselves in a gainful occupation. The slavery question continued to come up for debate and public discourse until Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, introduced legislation in the House of Delegates in 1832 that would have ended slavery in Virginia. He proposed an idea that had originated with his grandfather, a proposal that had been defeated by the General Assembly in 1779. Randolph suggested that every male slave born after July 4, 1840, be granted his freedom upon his twenty-first birthday. The legislation would grant the same freedom to female slaves upon their eighteenth birthday. Randolph’s bill was defeated by only a “small majority.”

    In fact, the Reverend Randolph McKim (1842–1920), a Confederate chaplain and one-time rector of Christ Church in Alexandria, wrote in A Soldier’s Recollections that Randolph assured him in 1860 “that emancipation would certainly have been carried the ensuing year, but for the revulsion of feeling which followed the fanatical agitation of the subject by the Abolitionists of the period.” And although the bill was defeated, the Virginia legislature “passed a resolution postponing the consideration of the subject till public opinion had further developed.”18 An editorial in the March 6, 1832, Richmond Whig praised the legislature’s efforts and further noted: “The great mass of Virginia herself triumphs that the slavery question has been taken up by the legislature, that her legislators are grappling with the monster, and they contemplate the distant but ardently desired result [emancipation] as the supreme good which a benevolent Providence could vouchsafe.”

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