Entertainment For White People

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Today the city council in Lexington, Virginia will vote on a controversial ordinance that would ban display of Confederate flags on Main Street.  As many of you know, Lexington is the burial place of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee and the home of the Virginia Military Institute.  The city is steeped in Confederate history.  The local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is staging a parade to encourage the city to strike down the ordinance.  To help out they are bringing in some heavy guns, including everyone’s favorite black Confederate, H.K. Edgerton.  Edgerton started out early this morning outside of Lexington on a roughly ten mile hike in uniform and waving his Confederate flag.  I’m sure he created quite a spectacle and I have no doubt that his address in front of the city council later tonight will cause quite a stir.

I’ve written quite a bit about Edgerton on this blog not because he adds anything important to our understanding of history, but because of where he fits into that complex web called Civil War memory.  I see Edgerton in a long line of mythic black figures that reinforce the fantasy of harmonious race relations.  He reflects the extent to which a very small, but vocal group of white Americans continue to feel a need to defend a narrative of faithful and loyal slaves during the Civil War.  Edgerton’s antics are a form of entertainment, but make no mistake, it is entertainment for white people.

He comes from a long line of mythical black symbols that include “Mammy”, Aunt Jemimah, Uncle Ben, and countless other black minstrels during the twentieth century that perpetuated the myth of the loyal slave.  [I highly recommend Micki McElya's book, Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America for a highly readable and thorough history.] The sad thing is that many of those black performers such as Hattie McDaniel took those jobs out of necessity.  It’s not clear to me why Edgerton has chosen this path.  What is clear is that Edgerton and his audience feed off of one another.  Edgerton maintains an audience while providing his white listeners with the reassurance that their preferred view of the Civil War was pure and noble.  His presence makes it easier to argue the point that the Confederate flag is not a divisive symbol.

I guess I could have waited for the council’s decision to post this, but I honestly don’t care.  This is a matter for the people of Lexington to decide.

38 comments… add one

  • Rob Sep 1, 2011

    First off, amazing title.
    Secondly, I am finding it humorous that these people went out of their way to find a “Stonewall” Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and James Longstreet impersonators to attend this ‘momentous’ occasion. I want to suggest that even that is entertainment for white people as it is hard to imagine any of those actual people actually at such event.

    I definitely agree with your argument here. I have met H.K personally in my stints in playing weekend soldier but I did not get the opportunity to actually talk to him about this, as he was surrounded by die hard confederate re-enactors clinging to his cause. I have a good feeling I may see him soon however, if he comes back to the same event that is. I am attempting to develop some ideas/questions that I might have for him to try to understand where his narrative actually comes from. If there is anything I can convey for you, I would be more than happy to.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

      Thanks for the comment. Neither the video or image is from today’s event in Lexington. Than again his presentations don’t deviate much from his standard schtick.

      • Rob Sep 1, 2011

        The speech as well. When I first connection to a re-enactor group, I was drug along to a dinner they were throwing. When I arrived I soon realized the event was held by the SCV and they played a video of H.K. giving the “I’m Their Flag” speech. It was met with thunderous applause.

    • Ray O'Hara Sep 1, 2011

      Think about it, a Longstreet reenactor allowed to share the stage with the Great Gray God and St Stonewall.
      Times are changing

  • Jarret Sep 1, 2011

    What exactly does Edgerton do for living? He must have a fair amount of free time because he seems to pop up a lot at these little displays. Does the SCV compensate him at all?

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

      He does get some support from the SCV. His expenses are usually taken care of when he makes these little trips. And don’t forget his line of t-shirts from Dixie Outfitters. :-)

      • Rob Sep 1, 2011

        He gave me one of those shirts when we had our encounter. I am thinking about putting on the wall in my classroom as an example of bad history.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

          One of my students in my Civil War Memory course bought me a Chandler Brothers t-shirt from Dixie Outfitters. I have yet to find the appropriate setting to wear it. :-)

          • Rob Sep 1, 2011

            Incognito to an SCV rally. Make sure you bring your dark sunglasses. 8-)

  • Jarret Ruminski Sep 1, 2011

    I suppose it would be futile to remind Edgerton that were he alive during the Civil War, the Confederate government WOULD NOT ALLOW HIM TO SERVE IN THE ARMY.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

      That’s the beauty of it. :-)

  • Ray O'Hara Sep 1, 2011

    I would think banning CSA flags would run afoul of the 1st Amendment.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

      As I understand it the council is not banning anything. They are stipulating what can and can’t be flown from public flagpoles in the downtown area. The SCV can carry as many flags as they wish through the city.

      • Ray O'Hara Sep 1, 2011

        Okay. they can do as they please with their own flag poles and I agree CSA Flags shouldn’t be flown on govt poles.
        But your post made it sound like a blanket prohibition.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

          The post provided a link.

    • Andy Hall Sep 1, 2011

      The SCV stirred the pot on this by saying that the ordinance would “ban the flying of Confederate flags in the city.” The actual ordinance would restrict the flying of flags from city-owned lightposts to the national, state and a yet-to-be-designed city flag. Private citizens can continue to do whatever they want.

      • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2011

        Yes, the hype surrounding this is absolutely ridiculous. Some nut job over at the Southern Heritage page actually issued a prayer in favor of overturning the ordinance.

  • Steve Pollock Sep 1, 2011

    The AP reports the ordinance passed late this evening: “After a lively 2 1/2-hour public hearing, the Lexington City Council voted 4-1 to allow only U.S., Virginia and city flags to be flown. Personal displays of the Confederate flag are not affected. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose members showed up in force after leading a rally that turned a downtown park into a sea of Confederate flags, vowed to challenge the ordinance in court.”

    And Mr. Edgerton makes an appearance in the report:

    “Most residents who spoke, both blacks and whites, opposed the ordinance. But H.K. Edgerton, the former president of the NAACP chapter in Asheville, N.C., said he supported flying the Confederate flag because he wanted to honor black Confederate soldiers. Edgerton, who is black, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with images of those black soldiers. “What you’re going to do in banning the Southern cross is wrong. May God bless Dixie,” he said, amid some gasps from the audience.”

    The AP reporter’s name is Steve Szkotak. Perhaps you should write and enlighten him on something. My personal advice to him, as a former small town newspaper reporter, is that he needs to question what is quoted to him before committing it to the wire. He could start by at least talking to you, or reading your writing; at any rate, he should refrain from using the “honor black Confederate soldiers” line in the future.

    The article notes that the ordinance applies to Washington and Lee and VMI campuses as well. I can only imagine what’s being said there. Actually, it’s probably depressingly same ol’, same ol’, no imagination necessary.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 2, 2011

      I don’t get the sense that the reporter was confirming the existence of black Confederate soldiers, just that Edgerton wished to honor them. Personally, I am much more interested in how many t-shirts Edgerton sold. Thanks for the comment.

  • Rudy Ray Sep 3, 2011

    You say that you do not know why Edgerton does what he does. Perhaps since you admit that you are not psychic or a mind reader perhaps you might try listening to Edgerton’s reason for doing what he does. He does not try to hide his reason but continually declares that he believes in what the Flag stood and stands for. Of course I am sure for someone of your mindset and worldview that is hard for you to swallow and therefore it puzzles you as to his motive.

    As for Edgerton “entertaining” Southern white folks; well, I suppose that is the eway that you view it with your stereotypes of black people as if all they are good for is entertainment. I am very familiar with Mr. Edgerton and have heard him numerous times and not once have I been entertained nor do I know of any other Southern white folks who would have described him in that way. Inspired, yes; entertained, no. But again you yankee liberals have never had high opinions of black people. That is, if you are a yankee white liberal. You sound like one but how even more tragic if you are from the South or even more tragic still if you are a black man yourself and hold to such racist stereotyping.

    Mr. Edgertaon or HK as we Southern white and black folks like to call him is not the only black man who understands and appreciates the Battle Flag and what it stood for. But, again according top your racist views they are nothing but a bunch of entertainers.

    • Michael Sep 3, 2011

      Accusing Mr. Levin of anti-black racism is a pretty far fetch, Mr. Ray. Further, your snide and ill-founded remarks regarding those who are puzzled by or disagree with Mr. Edgerton are typical of those with no real argument but the impotent fury of self-righteous, and self-centered, indignation.

      You mention southern white and black folks liking to call Mr. Edgerton “HK.” Are these legions of black folks like the thousands of blacks who fought for the Confederacy? I’ve gotta tell ya. . .I know a whole lot of southern black folks who are familiar with HK’s antics. And they *don’t* call him HK. What they *do* call him, aside from “an embarrassment,” I won’t repeat here as it would be inappropriate at best and grounds for my being banned at worst.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 3, 2011

      Thanks for the comment, Rudy. In all of the Edgerton talks that you’ve attended, how many African Americans were in the audience? Why is that? Why are his fans overwhelmingly white?

  • London John Sep 4, 2011

    Since you mentioned Hattie McDaniel, presumably wrt Gone With the Wind, it might be worth mentioning that when Big Sam and his fellow slaves are marching off to dig the Atlanta earthworks, there’s not the slightest suggestion that by doing so they have become Confederate soldiers.

  • paul Sep 5, 2011

    I have to wonder how the people being “re-enacted” would see this spectacle, of a black man arguing for a nation that enshrines the right to own him, as one owns a dog but with fewer protections or laws against his abuse.

    If it were up to me, I would ban the display of the CSA flag in public. If Israel can ban the works of Richard Wagner, to say nothing of the symbols of the 3rd Reich, banning a flag that represents a treasonous attack on the USA seems perfectly reasonable.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 6, 2011

      We definitely part company when it comes to banning symbols like the Confederate flag. I agree with John Coski, who is the historian at the Museum of the Confederacy. The flag should be confined to museums where it can be properly interpreted.

    • Rob Baker Sep 6, 2011

      Plus, this idea of a George Orwellian society where the government regulates everything that can be seen is not a trademark of a free society.

      • Ray O'Hara Sep 6, 2011

        Germany has banned any display of the swastika.
        and the fact is we live in a sea of censorship.
        probably the most illegal thing you can posses, never mind display is kiddie porn .
        “regular” porn is banned from public display. George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words are still illegal except for suck which has been de-swearified thanks to Beavis and Butthead.

        so this “we can’t ban it, for 1st Amendment principles” doesn’t hold up.

        We shouldn’t ban it but nor should it be displayed on govt/public buildings except for appropriate historical sites like battlefields.’

        and I think that not because of the Slavery angle but because it is the flag of treason and symbolizes the attempt to destroy the United States.

        as for the slavery angle, the Stars and Stripes flew about a country that accepted slavery and encoded it in its Constitution.

        • Mike R Sep 6, 2011

          Although I do not condone the abuse or misuse of historical symbols…

          “but because it is the flag of treason”

          Do the Brits have a case to ban the Stars and Stripes?
          Oh that’s right, the traitors won that one.

          just saying…

          • Ray O'Hara Sep 6, 2011

            Britain could if they wanted ban the S&S and they don’t fly it from town halls nor from Parliament. but they did erect a Statue of George Washington in London.
            http://www.inetours.com/England/London/photos/GW-Statue_3309.html

            and yes, winning does have its pluses and the Founding Fathers never denied they were committing treason against the Crown “we must all hang together, or we will assuredly hang alone” Benjamin Franklin.

        • Rob Baker Sep 6, 2011

          The, “we can’t ban it because of the 1st amendment” does hold up actually. The same reason, Westboro Baptist can spread their hate, and also the Swastika is illegal in Germany, but not in the United States. That is the difference between other countries and our’s. The concept of freedom. For the simply reason of symbols having varying meanings is reason enough not to ban it. I hope their are not any Hinduists in Germany, because thanks to their ‘no swaztika’ law, they can’t worship their ancient symbol of power.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Nov 26, 2011

    Watching HK Edgerton here…. he might as well be the member of a cult. His brainwashed views are very much like cult teachings. In other words, it would take deep psychological treatment to even get him to a starting point of reason and understanding on the real role of African-Americans in the Confederacy.

  • HK Edgerton Oct 21, 2012

    A lot of Yankees speaking for Black folks here, and personally, I don’t care what you think of me. All this garbage you spit out for Black folks is just another example of trying to use Black folks as your weapon of choice against Southern White folks with your tainted history meant to give you some sense of righteous that you don’t deserve. Southern White folks are our family, and you hate them just like you hate Southern and arguably Northern Black folks, and you are the very reason that Black folks still find themselves at the bottom of American life. And most intelligent Blacks truly understand that we would have been better off if your war criminal and head bigot Lincoln would not have started the War for Southern Independence. and you don’t know what Black folks have to say about me. some more of your distorted lies. For everyone you bring to spit the hatred you espouse, I can find a hundred that will champion my Stand in and for Dixieland. So, you just keep being entertained as I tell the truth, and so many search and find the same . I am amazed just how much you fear that Southern Blacks and Southern Whites will rekindle the love that their ancestors had for each other. I do have a good idea though. God bless you all , as he has blessed me at the Table of Brotherhood that King dreamed about.
    .

    • Kevin Levin Oct 21, 2012

      It’s always nice to hear from you, H.K. You said:

      A lot of Yankees speaking for Black folks here, and personally, I don’t care what you think of me.

      You assume that these comments come from folks living in the North, but I can tell you that many of them come from Southerners.

      I am sorry that you see “hatred” as the dominant expression in this post and comment thread. It would be a waste of time for me to try to convince you otherwise since maintaining such a perspective is essential to your act. Perhaps you can explain why your audience is overwhelmingly white. What are you doing to convince the black community of this long lost narrative of love between the races that existed in the antebellum South under slavery? Are you planning to include black churches, majority-black schools, etc. in your planned tour of the Southland?

      Please be safe in your upcoming travels and I do hope you acquire the necessary footware. It’s a long walk.

      • Rob Baker Oct 22, 2012

        ” You assume that these comments come from folks living in he North, but I can tell you that many of them come from Southerners.”

        Yea, like me.

    • Andy Hall Oct 21, 2012

      Hey, Mr. Edgerton, does Southern Heritage 411 hold IRS tax status as a non-profit organization? Are contributions to Southern Heritage 411 tax-deductable for donors, as you claim? Can you provide documentation of this status?

    • Bryan Cheeseboro Oct 21, 2012

      “God bless you all , as he has blessed me at the Table of Brotherhood that King dreamed about.”

      If what you do is the “Table of Brotherhood” Martin Luther King dreamed about, then I don’t want any part of thatr nightmare.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Oct 22, 2012

    I don’t think there will ever be anything I- or any of the rest of us, for that matter- could say that would make Mr. Edgerton have an “Aha!” moment to realize what Southern history- really American history- has really been about. So this comment is really an open letter to the rest of us who understand the truth of that history.
    I woke up this morning thinking about this discussion and what Edgerton calls “the Table of Brotherhood that [Martin Luther King] dreamed about.” I don’t have the slightest doubt the people he is speaking to in this video love him and speak warmly of him and would probably give him the shirt off their back. Perhaps if the Confederacy had really been about the things he extols… perhaps if “the Christian Cross of St. Andrew” had really been about interracial harmony and peace for all people, I would applaud him for his current efforts and I might even be willing to stand alongside of him in his travels.
    But the reality of American history has told us something very different. Though we today live in an age of political doublespeak, there is no second-guessing about the official statements of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his Vice-President Alexander Stephens, where they declared that Blacks were inferior because God and the Bible said it so and that the Confederacy was established solely for the purpose of maintaining that inferiority through slavery. And this White supremacy was not exclusive to the South, by any means. Though he didn’t think “Black inferiority” necessarily meant slavery, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois spoke for many in the North when he said, “For thousands of years the negro has been a race upon the earth, and during all that time, in all latitudes and climates, wherever he has wandered or been taken, he has been inferior to the race which he has there met. He belongs to an inferior race, and must always occupy an inferior position.” This statement from a Northerner who spoke for most people of his time is what I mean when I say White supremacy was an American thing, not just a Southern thing.
    So while Edgerton and his pro-Confederate friends enjoy their time together at their “Table of Brotherhood,” I will always remember that through slavery and over 100 years of legal discrimination, many people, often waving that “Christian Cross of St. Andrew” felt the only place African-Americans- and only African-Americans- had at the Table of Brotherhood was to be waiting hand and foot on everyone else. Indeed, some people still feel this way. I can’t speak for the thoughts of Edgerton’s pro-Confederate friends and I’m even willing to believe the best of them. I’m just not going to join them at their “table”.

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