Preservation of What?

Update: Check out Andy Hall’s follow up post at Dead Confederates in which he calls out one of the SHPG officers for some recent comments. It’s the officers of this group that sets the tone and acceptable language for its members.

In my five plus years of blogging I’ve had my share of disgruntled readers, who believe that my place of birth assumed political convictions, and tendency to read academic history will forever prevent me from truly understanding and appreciating the history of the South and the Civil War.  Some of these people have been incredibly mean spirited, but I’ve never taken them too seriously.  In fact, I usually just shrug with just a slight hint of pity.

One of the sites that has maintained close watch of my blog over the past few months is a Facebook page called the Southern Heritage Preservation Group.  I’ve commented a couple of times about these folks without actually linking to the page.  A screenshot of a specific post was enough for my purposes.  I don’t know much about the group beyond what you can discern on their home page since I am not a member and I am not “friends” with any of the members.  Once in a while a member will comment on my posts and a few of them spend a great deal of time on this site, which I find kind of odd.  In fact, a few of them are officers in this group, which suggests the kind of atmosphere they hope to promote.  The insults and accusations hurled in my direction run the spectrum.  Late last year one of their officers actually suggested that a group should pay me a visit at my school.  You get the idea.  These are not nice people.

I’ve never felt a need to discuss historical content because there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that members have even a cursory understanding of the Civil War or the history of the South.  And I don’t try to defend myself against accusations of being “Anti-South” because that is not their real problem with me.  The real problem is that I do not subscribe to their preferred narrative of the war.  Personal facts about me are largely irrelevant.  The group is just as likely to go after a fellow southerner who happens not to agree with them and they will go after them with a vengeance.

All that aside, here is my real question.  What exactly is this group attempting to preserve and how are they going about it?  In other words, what do they do?  Facebook is an incredibly powerful social media tool in its ability to bring people from far away places together around a common interest or cause.  It’s not just a place to talk, but a place to organize and make things happen.  But apart from organizing complaints over the city of Lexington’s decision to ban the flying of the Confederate flag on its streets what has this group accomplished?  These people regularly complain about teachers they believe are harming their children.  Here is a recent example:

The Northern Carpetbagger Liberals come here for a purpose, and it’s the same intent that many go into Journalism or History. They want to Make a Difference, but the Difference is to “Revise” our History of Southern Conservative Constutionalists of our Southern Leaders to more current methodology of Socialist – Marxist government, and an All Powerful Government, which takes the rights of Individuals away. Kevin Levin is an example of one of those Northern “Carpetbaggers”, who migrated South, and made every effort with his “History Classes” to change the Thinking and Re Program the Minds of Southern Youth.

Those are some powerful words that were no doubt written with a great deal of emotion (even if it is completely incoherent), but what exactly is this group doing for education?  Where are the teachers in this group?  Where are the suggestions for lesson plans and other ideas.  My published work is constantly berated on this site, but I have yet to read a thorough analysis of anything that I’ve written beyond this blog.  Regardless of that, where is the scholarship in this group?  Has anyone published anything substantial in the field?  What is this group doing for the Civil War Sesquicentennial?  Where are the committees?  Do they have any reason to exist apart from the constant whining and complaining about current politics and perceived enemies?

Funny, but the only exception to this is Royal Diadem better known as Ann DeWitt.  She is the one person in the group who is trying to get something done with her Black Confederate website [my review] and while I maintain that she is ill-equipped to sift through and understand the documentation being collected for her site, you will not see her go on the attack as others routinely do.  I actually believe that she is the one person in that group who has a sincere interest in history.

I taught, published, worked with fellow history teachers, and lectured long before I ever started blogging and if my access to all of the social media tools that I currently use were for some reason discontinued I would continue to do all those things.  Social media has enhanced my public presence in numerous ways, but it is not a substitute.  The work that makes a difference are those things that involve real people and involve organizing and getting things done.

Why do I have a feeling that if the folks in the SHPG lost their access to Facebook and other sites they would simply be barking at the moon.  Is this really what the preservation of Southern Heritage is all about?

CraterThanks for reading this post. Scroll down, leave a comment and join the conversation if you are so inclined. Follow me on Twitter and join the Civil War Memory Facebook group for continuous updates and additional links to newsworthy items from around the interwebs. Stay up to date by subscribing to this blog’s feed. You can also check out my recently published book, Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder.

30 comments… add one

  • Ray O'Hara Aug 3, 2011

    Maybe they have lost access because I tried to look it up and found nothing.
    another ACW facebook page, the very non-controversial American Civil War Battlefields disappeared over the weekend.

    but the gall of you teaching “history classes”, I’ll bet you even used liberal tricks like “facts” and “primary sources” and the like.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2011

      There page is still up. Apparently, Facebook has received a number of complaints about some of the content posted on the site. They complain quite a bit about my teaching, though I’ve never actually read anything that points out something specific. I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about my classroom so it’s not as if what I do has been hidden from public scrutiny. Actually, I would appreciate the critique.

  • Andy Hall Aug 3, 2011

    Great post, and spot-on. I think your assessment here is entirely correct, as was your recent observation that the folks there seem, more than anything, to be continually working to validate each others’ views, as opposed to reaching out to other audiences with new and original research. The atmosphere is very much about airing grievance about those who challenge their chosen historical narrative — liberal academics, craven politicians, politically-correct bloggers — and reassuring each other of the rightness (and righteousness) of their cause. The sense of oppression and victim-hood is palpable; they’re continually circling the wagons.

    You’re also correct about a real lack of substantive criticism of folks who disagree with their chosen narrative. There’s lots of name-calling, taunting and insults — and that can get pretty ugly, make no mistake — but when you strip all that away, and look past the epithets, it’s just sort of free-floating vitriol wrapped up verbiage about “heritage” and “values” and black Confederate “deniers.”

    Finally, I agree entirely about Ms. DeWitt. I’ve been very critical of her work, because her reading of the sources generally leads her to conclusions that they don’t actually support. But as I’ve said repeatedly, I believe she’s sincere and well-intentioned in her efforts. As far as I know she doesn’t engage in the worst sort of name-calling over there, and her heart’s in the right place, even if her conclusions are badly over-reached. She needs a new set of friends.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2011

      Her work deserves to be critiqued, but if you look closely at her website it is clear that a few changes have been made based on our observations. DeWitt really needs to take down that ridiculous reference comparing body servants with modern day personal assistants. There is no excuse for that.

    • Margaret D. Blough Aug 3, 2011

      Unfortunately, it’s not limited to the Civil War. Both Facebook and Twitter are plagued with people whose sole common bond is their obsessive grievance against something or someone, especially celebrities. They’ll attack any poor soul who posts the mildest expression of support for the target of their ire.

  • Mark Snell Aug 3, 2011

    Hey Kevin,

    I’ve got your back. And you well know that I don’t fit their stereotype. They can come visit my school anytime they like (provided they pay out-of-state tuition, though I doubt they would meet our entrance requirements). Keep up the good work, and I hope you’re enjoying Boston.

    Mark Snell

    • Kevin Levin Aug 3, 2011

      They are harmless given that they don’t produce anything of any lasting value. Boston is great. Hope you are enjoying the summer.

  • Connie Chastain Aug 3, 2011

    Would you like for me to comment? I’ve noticed that when I post comments here, the participation in the comment thread goes way, way up.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

      You certainly add to the number of comments, but I wouldn’t conclude that the quality of the discussion improves. In fact, I would suggest just the opposite. Once again, I thank you for your continued support of this site.

      • Connie Chastain Aug 4, 2011

        I think you’re right. It would take more than little ol’ me posting to improve quality around here….

        So you “…don’t know much about the group beyond what you can discern on their home page…” but you manage to scrape up over 900 words to make a post about them — a post implies great interest, similar to other things you’ve said about this group you claim to know little about. Since you claim you don’t read much beyond the group’s home page, how is it that you know enough about them to make repeated posts about them on your blog?

        BTW, regarding those “disgruntled readers” who believe that your place of birth assumed political convictions, and tendency to read academic history will forever prevent you from truly understanding and appreciating the history of the South and the Civil War, maybe I can enlighten you.

        It’s not about birth place or reading academic history. It’s the arrogance that assumes you know more, and represent the South better, than native and generational Southerners do. It’s the apparently sincere conviction that only academics can understand history. And it’s the South=demonic, north=saintly attitude that pervades your writing. Does that help clear it up for ya?

        • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

          That’s what I said. I have access to the posts on the home page, but not to the profiles of individual members. Yes, on occasion I have commented about the content some of which involved having to directly respond to accusations and characterizations about me. Some of them happen to be incredibly mean spirited. The difference is that I have never written the kind of scathing personal accusations that are a regular feature of your site of which you are an officer. Apparently, you don’t seem to have a problem with it and that speaks volumes. I assume you are going to justify Mr. Roden’s posts as well.

          You said: And it’s the South=demonic, north=saintly attitude that pervades your writing.” I challenge you to find one example of such a blanket claim on this blog.

        • Andy Hall Aug 4, 2011

          It’s the arrogance that assumes you know more, and represent the South better, than native and generational Southerners do.

          This “native and generational Southerner” has never seen Kevin claim to “represent the South.” I wouldn’t claim that I would, either. Neither does the SCV or the SHPG represent “the South,” beyond their own members.

          But while we’re on the subject of representing groups, as an officer in the SHPG, will you join me in publicly calling on your fellow officer, Carl Roden, to provide the evidence to support his (repeated) claim that Kevin’s website and mine are being used by “at least seven known individuals” who he knows “for a fact” are frequenting white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites, and reposting information from our blogs there?

          Also, speaking as an officer of the SHPG, can you explain why the leadership of that group both condones and endorses (with “likes” and supportive comments) Mr. Roden’s making very serious, public accusations without offering any supporting evidence whatsoever?

          • Connie Chastain Aug 4, 2011

            Maybe, Andy, when Mr. Levin verifies Asa Gordon’s SCV comments, and tells us how Gordon obtained SCV correspondence.

            • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

              Hey Andy, I think this means that she will not respond to your request. I take that as an endorsement until I hear otherwise. That she has no shame in making such a comparison is striking and pretty pathetic.

            • Andy Hall Aug 4, 2011

              Carl Roden’s refusal to provide the evidence to support his accusation serves only to allow the white supremacists and neo-Nazis he alleges exist to continue their activities undisturbed. His silence protects them.

              You and the leadership of the SHPG may or may not call him out on this. That’s your prerogative. But you would do remind yourself that there’s often a very fine line between complacency and complicity.

              • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

                Their president also functions as the group “Chaplain” which I assume suggests that the group believes it enjoys some level of moral vindication. I have to wonder how Mr. Roden’s comments and the apparent support of the rest of the group’s officers squares with any claim to a moral high ground.

                • Andy Hall Aug 4, 2011

                  I believe they have a different chaplain, but your point remains nonetheless. It is a group that hews very closely the conflation of Christianity and Southern identity (“Deo vindice!“) common among heritage groups today. It’s a good question.

          • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

            I find it fascinating how easily this group manages to discredit anything you have to say. The group claims to be about the preservation of Southern (Confederate) heritage, which you have just as much a claim to as anyone in that group. I even suspect that your roots are more firmly grounded than most. The same is true of Robert Moore, which leads me to believe that this has nothing to do with anything but the preservation of a certain narrative.

        • Will Stoutamire Aug 4, 2011

          You wrote: “It’s not about birth place or reading academic history. It’s the arrogance that assumes you know more, and represent the South better, than native and generational Southerners do.”

          Like Andy, this “native and generational Southerner” has never seen Kevin claim to represent “the South,” either. Of course, I could ask you what South? Whose South? Your group represents the perspective of your group – I think you might find a large portion of “the South” would balk at any claim that your small group of “native and generational Southerners” provides a representation of them.

          I would also argue that being a “native and generational Southerner” gives one no special understanding of events that happened more than a century before his/her birth. Beyond a few family stories, which must be compared to the documentary record (and, in my personal case, have been proven dubious at best as a result), being “Southern” doesn’t provide you with any greater interpretive abilities. The 1860s South was an entirely different time, place, and culture than our own.

          You wrote: “It’s the apparently sincere conviction that only academics can understand history.”

          Nor have I seen Kevin make this claim. In fact, I would hasten to guess that a sizable number of Kevin’s regular readers and commenters, who add great insight to the discussion, would not consider themselves “academics.” I see no academic vs. public divide on this blog.

          What there is, however, is a belief in some basic principles of historical research – principles that anyone can embrace. This is why Kevin continually asks for claims to be backed up with documentation – and not selected BCM quotes, but actual historical analysis in which those quotes are placed in context and critically analyzed. That’s not something that ‘only academics’ can do; but that is something that anyone making any claim for historical knowledge should do.

          You wrote: “And it’s the South=demonic, north=saintly attitude that pervades your writing.”

          No credible historian believes that, despite what you might think. In fact, I’m quite positive Kevin’s research will reveal some fascinating tensions that existed even in the abolitionist hub of Massachusetts. History is incredible complex; no historian accepts such a simplistic dualism.

          In fact, as someone who has chaired or sat in on a number of conference groups and committees regarding the Sesquicentennial, I can say with absolute certainty that one of the first things we address is how to represent the complexity of history to avoid causing the public take-away to be just that dualism. None of us views the North as any paragon of virtue or the South as the hub of all evil.

          • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

            Nice to hear from you and thanks for the comment. I invite Ms. Chastain to write a guest post for this blog that supports any of her claims with actual examples from this blog. Here is her chance to show the world on my own blog that I am somehow guilty of what she claims.

            • Will Stoutamire Aug 4, 2011

              I resurface from the mire that is studying for my doctoral comps from time to time. :-)

              That could make for an interesting post/dialogue…

              • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

                Best of luck with it all.

          • Phil Ross Aug 4, 2011

            Great points, Mr. Stoutamire.

            At the risk of fostering that false dualism a bit, I have to say that Ms. Chastain’s comments put me in mind of the two classic narrative constructs framed by Robert Penn Warren in his perceptive _The Legacy of the Civil War_, now fifty years old. Whereas the Civil War left the South with the “Great Alibi”–all subsequent southern problems have descended from their defeat–it left the North with an ultimately fallacious “Treasury of Virtue” that allowed it to frame victory and emancipation as moral consequences of the struggle, despite the equally immoral failures of reconciliation and reconstruction. I think some historians, especially those with Whiggish tendencies, often come off as smugly virtuous to those who are still drawing on the Great Alibi. While I seldom see any actual justification for that view, there are just enough people still drawing on the old Treasury of Virtue that it’s something I try to keep in mind.

  • Charles Persinger Aug 4, 2011

    I would love to be able to read and study the civil war and not have to deal with “Southern Heritage” groups and thier nonsense! The idea that academic historians push this narrative of “North good—South bad” is just not true. I dont see it on this blog or any other blog like this one. . We will never truly understand the civil war until we all leave our emotions at the front door. Connie and the heritage groups will never do this and that is very sad.

  • Phil Ross Aug 4, 2011

    Kevin, I’ve had some contact with those people, and it’s really hard for me to take them too seriously. I’ve found myself sparring with one or two of them (your quote above Looks Very Familiar) on the Civil War-New York Times Facebook page, and there just doesn’t seem to be much comprehension of the basic tenets of historical inquiry. I don’t know how to put it any more charitably. There are three things that I have come to conclude:

    1) You have about as much of a chance to get your point across as does a biology professor explaining evolution and natural selection to a congregation of creationists.

    2) The Lost Cause narrative remains durable because it isn’t so much history, or even myth, as it is a southern literary tradition. It explains why some of the people who work it effectively are indeed novelists; that is to say, writers of fiction.

    3) This southern literary tradition conforms closely to the concept of a self-consistent fictional universe, a staple framework of science fiction and fantasy. Its characters inhabit a shared, alternate-history universe that, though it conforms closely to ours, takes its divergent storylines from a set of radically inverted conditions. In most current versions of the Lost Cause universe, a happy kingdom of devout cavaliers and their loyal African squires is conquered by a tyrannical despot from a godless Outland, abetted by a death contract signed by their paladin forebears generations ago. With a sense of honor unequaled in the known universe, the descendants of the cavaliers fight to keep alive the memories and ideals of the cavaliers, bravely resisting the inexorable crush of the heathen Outlanders who are determined to wipe the last vestiges of their noble culture from the public memory.

    The biggest problem facing contributors to this universe is maintaining the internal consistency of the narrative. As long as they reach into our universe of facts and logic to bolster their storyline, there is bound to be conflict.

    • Virginia S. Wood Jan 2, 2012

      “This southern literary tradition conforms closely to the concept of a self-consistent fictional universe, a staple framework of science fiction and fantasy. Its characters inhabit a shared, alternate-history universe that, though it conforms closely to ours, takes its divergent storylines from a set of radically inverted conditions. In most current versions of the Lost Cause universe, a happy kingdom of devout cavaliers and their loyal African squires is conquered by a tyrannical despot from a godless Outland, abetted by a death contract signed by their paladin forebears generations ago. With a sense of honor unequaled in the known universe, the descendants of the cavaliers fight to keep alive the memories and ideals of the cavaliers, bravely resisting the inexorable crush of the heathen Outlanders who are determined to wipe the last vestiges of their noble culture from the public memory.”

      I’m really, really late to this conversation, but I just had to say: This is not just our literary tradition. This is how my entire generation (boomers) was raised. And facts were, indeed, anathema.

  • Edwin Thompson Aug 4, 2011

    Hey Kevin – It’s been a while since I’ve followed your blog. By chance, I stopped by today and saw this humorous thread. I just have to put in my two cents – and that is all it’s worth – but I hope it amuses.

    As best I can tell, the Southern Heritage Preservation Group thinks you’re an arrogant Yankee carpetbagger that is trying to re-program the minds of southern youths. Very cool – how are you doing on that quest? Even better, the best I can tell, your site and Andy Hall’s are frequented by neo-Nazi’s or other crazy people? That is also very cool. Jewish guy from NJ and deep south rebel guy team up to do something – beats me what. Odd combo – but there is a first time for everything – hahahaha.

    I’m a Yankee who went to college in the heart of Dixie. But that was in the 70’s. It was much more challenging then, but in a different way. Football teams were just getting integrated, hatred and suspicion of outsiders was always just below the surface of every conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked if I was Jewish (with my name?). Even after finding out I was Catholic, I was then informed I was going to hell (that may be correct, but Catholicism has nothing to do with it). The south is a place of two cultures – black American culture, and white southern American culture. There was nothing in between. So that may be the root of the nutty culture. Sounds like it’s still the same in some places – I’m not sure since I haven’t lived there since the 80’s.

    Of course, I didn’t have to deal with the internet and people posting negative personal comments about me (back then, they just talked behind your back – my brother does that now – hahaha). But then, without the internet, I couldn’t bring up the Mississippi succession documents, Lincolns Cooper Union speech, the history behind the Dred Scott decision, the original US Constitution (ahh – that document has warts).

    So you ask what southern heritage is all about? Well – give it credit for biscuits unlike any others in the world, pork barbecue with as many variations as towns (and each as good as the last), the blues (only the south had the pain to create that music), great novelist (where do you start – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter could only have been written by a southern woman), starting a civil war to maintain the right to own black Americans, and the horrible Jim Crow laws. It’s not all pretty – but it is our history. Keep up the good fight and preserve it; warts and all.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

      I lived in Virginia for ten years and I loved every minute of it. Just like any other place I’ve lived 99.5% of the people were kind and supportive. What I find so humorous is the assumption that a deep hatred or resentment of some kind is what propels me to read hundreds of pages a week and bang my head against the wall in attempt to write just one solid page of coherent history. I don’t believe for a minute that the people who contribute to that site represent any significant Southern constituency.

      As far as I can tell northerners have just as difficult a time dealing with the tough problems of our past as do southerners.

      • Edwin Thompson Aug 4, 2011

        I think your 99.5% number is low.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 4, 2011

          Indeed. :-)

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