Your Defender of Southern Heritage

Shenandoah_Valley_William_Louis_SonntagStudents at Gettysburg College have asked me to respond to a couple of questions about my blogging and research for their Gettysburg Compiler blog.  I am going to do my best to respond in the next few days.  One of the questions they asked is why, in the minds of some, has my blogging and other activities been interpreted as reflecting a hatred for the South and I assume Southern/Confederate heritage.  Perhaps you’ve seen comments in this vein both on this blog as well as other places around the Internet.

I have some idea as to why a few people embrace this belief about me.  What is funny, however, is that since moving to Boston I’ve found myself, at times, going out of my way to challenge overly simplistic generalizations about the South and its history as well as stereotypes that have recently been embraced by various television networks.  What I find so disturbing is how so little of it reflects my time living in the region, first for two years in Mobile, Alabama and then in Charlottesville, Virginia for the next ten.  Of course, it wasn’t always ideal, but my experience living in the South brought me a great deal of happiness.  I rarely felt like a stranger or was made to feel like I didn’t belong.  Quite the opposite was the case.  My interest in history nourished a strong connection to my community, especially in Virginia and many friendships that I hold dear to this day.  I always look forward to traveling in the region.

You can imagine how difficult I find it to reconcile the charge of being anti-South (or whatever you want to call it) and my experience living in the region and my short fuse around my new friends here in Boston.

For those of you who do believe that I harbor some kind of hatred for the South and its history here is your chance to share it.  You can post whatever you like as long as it is not insulting or merely a rant.  What I want is something that approaches a reasoned explanation however difficult that might be for you.

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13 comments… add one

  • CMcWhirter Jan 22, 2013

    I completely identify with you on this one, Kevin. Although I don’t have your public profile, I’ve also been accused by some of anti-Southern bias. However, when I’m back home in Canada, I more often find myself defending southerners against common stereotypes and explaining how my experiences in Alabama and Virginia really don’t match these common misconceptions of today’s South. It still makes my head spin a little.

    • Scott A. MacKenzie Jan 22, 2013

      I had similar experiences. I found many Canadians apply southern and/or Appalachian stereotypes to all Americans. The extent of such opinions saddens me given the tight connections between the two countries.

  • Bummer Jan 22, 2013

    Bummer’s southern roots and heritage played a major role in the developement of understanding the divide created by the Civil War. The “old guy” harbors no hate for folks of the south, sometimes an understanding of their obsession with current reality is baffling, but maybe that will eventually change. In the mean time, live, learn and enjoy. Life is too short to spend it in confrontation.
    Bummer

    • Daniel Cone Jan 22, 2013

      Bummer – I’m a little confused; could you explain what you mean by “their obsession with current reality”? Do you mean the gun debate? Creationism vs. evolution in schools? The current president? Or did you mean to say something like “their refusal to face current reality”? Please clarify…

      • bummer Jan 23, 2013

        Daniel,
        Some of the comments Bummer reads from Southern Heritage folks baffles “this old guy,” if you don’t comprehend that statement, Bummer apologizes for not being able to be more transparent.
        Regards

  • Robert Baker Jan 22, 2013

    I can imagine the difficulty reconciling that charge. That assumption is levied against me all the time, and I am from Georgia.

  • Carole Emberton Jan 22, 2013

    Once at the end of a lecture on secession, in which I had asked the students to read Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech,” the Mississippi secession ordinance, and Jeffy D’s first speech to the Confederate Congress, a student demanded to know, “Why do you hate the South?” The question threw me — not just because it’s the same question Shreve McCannon asks Quentin Compson at the end of Absalom, Absalom!, but also because I never equated telling the truth and looking at something squarely in the face as hatred, but in fact, I do hate it, some of it, at least. I’m from the South, the upper South, but the South nonetheless, and I guess like Quentin, I harbor deeply conflicted feelings about the region, its history, and its politics. I hate the toll slavery took and still takes … I hate the way some people embrace ignorance and spite like long-lost friends … I hate the fact that criticism and honesty are misconstrued as hatred. But I love many things as well, one of which is the legacy of social justice and peaceful love that we celebrated yesterday with the birthday of MLK, Jr. So, I think the next time Shreve and I meet, I’ll be more prepared.

  • Lyle7 Jan 22, 2013

    People take you out of context. If they were to read you regularly they would know you’re not bigoted against the South. I don’t agree with you about everything or how you articulate some of your arguments sometimes, but if put into context with the body of your blog work it should be pretty clear to people that you’re not a bigot.

    I appreciate you Kevin and can imagine how some of your conversations with your friends in Boston go down.

  • Jazzeum Jan 22, 2013

    When people hear things that don’t square with their precepts or they realize they may be wrong, that can be jarring so they retreat to their long held convictions.

  • dudski Jan 22, 2013

    You’ve said in your blog you write about what interests you and your goal is not to cover the breadth of the war. If someone expects an entry about Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas must automatically be followed by an account of Lane’s sack of Osceola then they misread what you’re trying to do.

    If you’re writing about Civil War memory you can’t really spend much time on how Northerners view the war, in no small part because there isn’t nearly as much interest there. And for better or worse it isn’t a part of the cultural fabric of Ohio that it is, for example, of Georgia.

    The shorthand of “hates the South”, though, is a poor construction. A better question, is in focusing on how the South remembers the war do you paint with too broad a brush occasionally about the South, or more specifically about the conservative elements of the region?

    As to specifics, I don’t think it is unfair to assume you derive at least some pleasure from being provocative. There is a line between disagreeing with the SCV and “flaggers” as you style them, and disparaging them as individuals (or at least, stereotyping them). And I believe you give things like the Dukes of Hazzard car or Lynerd Skynerd alot more notice, and impart a significance to them, which is out of proportion to their cultural import.

    I think you’ve given ample evidence in your writing there are things you like about the region and it’s people. So, it’s really not a question of hate, but of how much kindness you are prepared to show to people you don’t agree with or find agreeable. And that’s something everyone (and I put myself at the top of the list, could do better at).

  • TFSmith1 Jan 22, 2013

    All I can say is consider the source, and keep working.
    Best,

  • Connie Chastain Jan 23, 2013

    Hate is perhaps too broad and nonspecific a concept to characterize the attitude you exhibit toward the South and Southerners, past and present –at least, white Southerners. Contempt and scorn, ridicule and mockery, might be more accurate. Some examples:

    ~ saying slaves should be honored for surviving the Confederacy, when slavery was no worse during the four years the CSA existed than it had been for generations in the USA.

    ~glossing over the fact that abolitionist Julia Ward Howe’s beliefs about blacks revealed in her book, A Trip to Cuba, were almost identical to the ones in Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstsone speech.

    ~ridiculing Southern heritage advocates when they perhaps get history wrong (or even for just seeing it differently than you do) because your real problem with them is that they honor a heritage you think they should abhor and reject.

    ~holding Southern heritage advocates responsible for the misuse and abuse of historical symbols by people who have nothing to do with them…or…

    ~seeing the misuse and abuse of Confederate symbols as a way to ridicule Southern heritage (an example seen recently in the wrestling video posted on CW Memory).

    ~your scorn for history that comes to Southerners through family stories passed down from generation to generation.

    ~passing judgment on sponsors of things like Secession Balls … ridiculing events such as the Stephen D. Lee Institute’s recent meeting in Florida.

    ~smearing, scorning, mocking Southern heritage folks with things they have nothing to do with and have zero influence over (the Franklin Mint’s “Confederate Village,” for example)

    I could go on — I’ve seen this sort of thing countless times on your blog — but this should give you an idea. If it doesn’t clear it up for you, just say so, and I’ll post more of the disparagement of white Southerners you’ve showcased numerous times on your blog. You’ll no doubt present some lame explanation — a claim, perhaps, that your comments are misunderstood, taken out of context, whatever. The fact is, most people have no trouble recognizing smears and ridicule aimed at them, and we are not an exception. We *clearly* see exactly what you’re doing and how you think of us.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 23, 2013

      Hi Connie,

      Thanks for laying it out so clearly for me and I am pleased to see that we can move beyond the language of hatred as a characterization of what I write about. There is no doubt that I pass judgment on a few groups and organizations and though I do often poke fun I always provide reasons. Clearly, we disagree over most, if not all, of those conclusions. Based on your list it looks like we are talking about one Internet group, one heritage organization and a few odds and ends. I don’t doubt that you could add to the list, but it’s much of the same.

      Your characterization of what I do, however, reflects a number of assumptions about me that I don’t really care to defend or explain because it would probably be a waste of time.

      That said, I do like this point: “seeing it differently than you do) because your real problem with them
      is that they honor a heritage you think they should abhor and reject.” It’s an interesting point and one that I want to give some thought to before responding.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond.

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