One Final Confederate Memorial Day Celebration

Oakwood Cemetery, May 7, 2016

Oakwood Cemetery, May 7, 2016

Update: Apparently, I touched a nerve with the Virginia Flaggers. Susan Hathaway reports that their CMD celebration attracted roughly 200 people. At one point ceremonies honoring the Confederate dead attracted more substantial numbers from local communities. Now, in the former capital of the Confederacy it might attract 200, including the color guard. Thanks for making my point.

The debate over Confederate iconography in public spaces may still be very much alive, but Confederate heritage is dead. The other day I suggested that Confederate heritage organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy ought to confine their activities to specific times and places. Not everyone agreed with the suggestion. Hopefully, it is sufficiently clear that my thoughts on this subject are driven by a firm conviction that interest in commemorative activities is confined to a very small group that will likely continue to decrease.

Yesterday the annual celebration of Confederate Memorial Day took place in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina. According to one reporter about 50 people attended this event. Let that sink in for a few seconds. On a beautiful spring day on what is arguably the most important day for those who believe the Confederate soldier is worth remembering, only 50 people took time out of their weekend to attend.

One week ago the Virginia Flaggers and a number of local SCV and UDC camps met in Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond to do the same. (See the image above.) Their attendance also reflects a waning interest in remembrance. The problem is not that these people are being prevented from gathering, but that there are so few people who care.

The title of this post is certainly premature, but it is not a stretch to suggest that at some point in the near future we will reach this point. It’s the reason I have little problem with these types of ceremonies. They not only take place in relatively isolated places that can easily be ignored, but more importantly, celebrations of the Confederate past no longer reflect the values in the communities where they take place.

This was certainly clear even before the horrific shootings of last June, but since then it should be clear to anyone who cares to look that we are fast approaching that final Confederate Memorial Day.

35 thoughts on “One Final Confederate Memorial Day Celebration

  1. David Kent

    A wonderful series of posts on this subject, Kevin. What I can’t understand is why these groups do what they do? What is their long-term goal? You can certainly remember your ancestors, without flags being placed up and down every road. Are they feeling small and insignificant, because they see their cause less and less relevant? Or are they a group of white supremacist, looking for something else, (minus Mr. Edgerton, of course). They have to be in it for something other than heritage, because when you study it, their heritage is horrible , and not something to be proud of. Seeing how they were trying to keep their aristocracy intact, I wonder if the Va. Flagger woman ever considered that had they succeeded, she might not have the right to vote. That may have been her heritage. I wonder how she’d like that?!

    Reply
    1. Brett

      our heritage is one of honour and the struggle for republican government. Horrible? If you are a tyrant, yes, it is

      Reply
      1. Jimmy Dick

        You left out the part about it being based on white supremacy and the preservation and protection of slavery.

        Reply
      2. David Kent

        If there hadn’t been a presidential election in 1860, and Lincoln had been appointed president, I suppose I’d have to agree with you. Seeing how the U.S. was a republic in 1860, and did have an election, you must be speaking of the south’s version of a republic, where if you’re not happy with the results of an election, you secede.

        Reply
  2. Kevin Dally

    I have come to believe that the fantasy many of these folk believed in, or were brought up with about the Confederacy, has been exposed for what it is, a fantasy! The fantasy of the “Lost Cause”, “States Rights”, and the biggest fantasy of all…”It wasn’t about slavery” has come unglued in recent years. I used to believe in the same fantasy , did Confederate reenacting/LH, joined the SCV, preached the “Lost Cause” theme. Then one day I read the Declarations of the Causes, read the Secession Commissioners speeches, looked at all the compromises dealing with slavery prior to the civil War. Real eyeopeners if you choose to see truth. Many others have done the same, many others need to!

    Reply
  3. William Polinksi

    Time has a way of erasing history. How many of us know of Edwin of Northumbria, and whether or not what we know is factual. It certainly isn’t relevant anymore. I believe the 50 in attendance says more than anything else. It no longer matters and in 100 years from now, no one will care about this argument. Our argument is for the sake of today with idea that it will be there tomorrow. Why do we then give it purpose? The Civil War ended over 150 years ago and the Jim Crow period more recently, yet we fight a senseless battle against what we cannot change or win. Time has been the victor as many of our youth know little about the Civil War. My prediction for the future of the Civil War is nothing more than a footnote correctly stating the issues and nothing more.

    Reply
  4. Shoshana Bee

    I have only recently arrived at this blog, but it has become abundantly clear where the author stands. As I have stated before, I find these views both timely and refreshing. Looking at it from my science background, I like to think that confederate heritage has finally reached the end of its half-life. How appropriate that it should come to pass that its last sputtering gasp of life should be spent in the containment facility of a cemetery. RIP.

    Reply
  5. Bruce Vail

    You are certainly right, at least as far as Baltimore is concerned.

    The SCV/UDC will have their Confederate Memorial Day ceremony here in June, but their other annual public event — the Lee-Jackson Day ceremony — will soon be a thing of the past. The Lee-Jackson statue currently in one of the city’s public parks is to be removed in the near future, so that should remove also the public commemoration by SCV/UDC. The Memorial Day event is held in a remote location far from the public eye, and I’ll be surprised if it attracts any attention at all.

    SCV/UDC was pretty quiet last year when the fate of the statue(s) was being debated. It was probably a good idea for them to keep a low profile, because the local commission was in no mood to hear from them anyway. Their defense of the Lee-Jackson statue was truly a “Lost Cause” from the day of Charleston Massacre.

    Regards,
    Bruce

    Reply
      1. Bruce Vail

        Yes, I think the Baltimore monuments commission made an error in recommending that the Confederate Womens Monument remain in its current location near the Johns Hopkins University campus. I think it would be far better to remove it to ‘Confederate Hill,” a section within the very large Loudon Park Cemetery (there is also a nearby, separate burial area reserved for Union veterans).

        Confederate Hill is already the site of the SCV/UDC Confederate Memorial Day observances. It’s pretty far off the beaten path….

        Reply
  6. Thomas Goddarf

    I can speak for Danville VA it’s very alive in the Last Capitol. There are more confederate history lovers than ever plus many more large flags than last year. Large billboards are even popping up saying welcome to the last Capitol and proud of it. Please take a drive down to the city of Danville we would love to show you around to soon 15+ large highway flags even one siting on a 40 foot hill on top of a 100 foot pole. It’s a great site.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Thomas.

      There are more confederate history lovers than ever plus many more large flags than last year.

      And as we have seen a good deal of the effort behind this has come from folks who do not live in Danville.

      Reply
  7. Andersonh1

    The simple passage of time has reduced the numbers of people who consider it important to remember and honor the Confederacy. There are probably a few older men or women who knew someone who remembered those events, and thus had a personal connection to them, but for most of us it’s distant history. That alone is sufficient to reduce the numbers of people attending memorial day ceremonies.

    That being said, one sure way to keep the heritage movement alive is to keep attacking the Confederate flag, or memorials, or to keep pointing a finger and calling people racist. Some Confederate heritage advocates will be put off by that, but some will do nothing but dig in their heels and go recruiting, with some success. If people are not allowed by society to either quietly remember their ancestors or just be neutral, many will pick a side. And many of those will take the side of Confederate heritage. Because it’s not all about slavery, no matter how often that assertion is made. There is a lot of valor and patriotism and love of home and country that is rightly associated with the Confederate cause, and people respond to that. Even U.S. Grant recognized that.

    “I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” – Ulysses S. Grant

    That final Confederate Memorial day you mention is many years away, I feel sure. The numbers who observe it may be smaller than in years past, but from what I can see they’re dedicated, and they’re not going anywhere.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment. You said: That being said, one sure way to keep the heritage movement alive is to keep attacking the Confederate flag, or memorials, or to keep pointing a finger and calling people racist.

      I agree that people do need to be careful in making such blanket claims, but the line between such accusations and the acknowledgment that this heritage is rooted in a history of slavery and white supremacy is very thin. The Confederacy was committed to the establishment of a slaveholding republic and white supremacy and no amount of pussyfooting around with claims of “Heritage, Not Hate” will change that fact.

      Reply
    2. Shoshana Bee

      Hi Adersonh1,
      One of the benefits of beginning this study of the Civil War has been our ability to converse on this topic, even though we are of different views (kind of like the Rabbi & the Priest:) We have both been at it for about 5 months, and we have both settled into our favourite blogs. The hardest part of understanding Confederate Heritage, for me, is to separate it from its slavery past, and its associated white supremacy present (as Mr. Levin points out). As someone who is deeply steeped in my own culture, I can surely appreciate a connection to one’s ancestors, but how does one parse out the good and ignore the bad from a culture when celebrating it? I will continue to look to you and our continued conversations to help me to develop an understanding on this complex topic. Until then, it is a pleasure to encounter you on the road to knowledge.

      B

      Reply
      1. Andersonh1

        It’s always good to talk to you too. 🙂

        For me personally, celebrating Confederate heritage is not all that different than celebrating United States heritage. I have ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, and ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, so there’s a connection to both. Both the United States and the Confederacy had their share of national sin, including legalized slavery, but both had ideals worth emulating as well. There’s good as well as bad in our history, and I think it would be employing a double standard for me to accept the good while rejecting the bad for the US, while not doing the same for the Confederacy.

        If I thought there was no value at all in remembering the Confederacy, I’d drop it pretty quick. If I thought, as some genuinely do, that it was about slavery and nothing else, I’d say so. But the more I study the history, the more complex it becomes, and the more I’ve come to admire the men who fought for the South, even if some of their leaders were fairly reprehensible men.

        Kevin, I agree to some extent with what you say, but as I said above, it’s more mixed and nuanced than simply a history of while supremacy and slavery. I’ve been concerned to see the attacks on history move beyond the Confederacy to American Presidents like Jackson and Jefferson, because they too have elements of white supremacy and slavery mixed in with all the good things they did, and all of their contributions to our shared history. I don’t see how we can treat the Confederacy as a cancer and try to rip it out without that same standard being turned back on early American history as well. And that should concern all of us.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I don’t believe it is nuanced at all. I can say with a straight face, and I assume most other decent people can as well that, the right side won the Civil War. That doesn’t mean that the United States is perfect, but it does mean that a war in which the Confederacy was successful would have been a disaster for freedom in the western hemisphere and beyond.

          There is absolutely nothing to celebrate about the Confederacy. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the very reason for its existence.

          Reply
          1. Andersonh1

            Kevin, I think you have the same blinders on that many do. You see the Confederacy only in terms of the perpetuation of slavery. Yes, that was a goal of the men who founded the CSA, and yes, it’s good that they lost since it decisively ended slavery in the United States. That doesn’t mean the Southern desire to govern themselves was necessarily wrong, or that the courage and determination of the fighting men and the sacrifice those men and the women and children back home made shouldn’t be honored. It’s all one big mixed situation of good and bad, the wheat mixed in with the tares, as it were. I can see that, and I can see the genuine motives of many in the heritage movement today in wanting to remember that.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              You see the Confederacy only in terms of the perpetuation of slavery.

              Yes, I see it in terms of how Confederates themselves understood their bid for independence.

              Reply
            2. Jimmy Dick

              The problem is that slavery was what prompted secession. It was not about governing themselves except when it came to protecting slavery. Slavery drove the sectional division like nothing else. You can celebrate the valor and bravery of Confederate soldiers, but not what they fought for. That is the number one problem in Confederate heritage. They refuse to accept the reality about the Confederacy.

              Reply
            3. msb

              “the Southern desire to govern themselves”
              They were already governing themselves; the difference was that they were starting to lose their previous control of the federal government. They didn’t like the result, which they had done much to ensure, of a perfectly legal election and tried to take their ball and go home.

              Reply
              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                …the difference was that they were starting to lose their previous control of the federal government.

                I think it would be more accurate to say that they feared losing control of being able to control others through the power of the federal government.

          2. Kirk murrell

            To,

            Mr.Kevin Levin, you personally have a problem with anything southern.as far as remembering our confederate soldiers that’s our own business. I don’t be live that the right side won the war.I wish the south had gotten its independence away from your abortion,sodomy, liberal, anti family.anti bible, anti states rights government that has trashed the bible,constitution, and the declaration of independence. Kirk murrell. Arkansas

            Reply
        2. Shoshana Bee

          Andersonh1, as always, I appreciate that you indulge my need to know and understand Confederate Heritage without any of the vitriol that I have otherwise encountered in my quest. Others have addressed the obvious points, so I will re-read your post, give it some thought, and pick it up with you at a later time.

          Bee

          Reply
  8. Kevin Dally

    Andersonh1 : “Celebrating”, or commemorating? A big difference in the two. I find nothing to “celebrate”, (except the surrender of the confederate forces) over a war started over secession to protect, and perpetuate slavery. The best we can do is to remember the lessons of picking better causes to fight for, than the seceding States did.

    Reply
    1. Andersonh1

      Commemoration might be a more appropriate word.

      I’ll say this: I’m 45 years old, and for the first time in my life, I attended two Confederate memorial day ceremonies this year. I have little doubt as to the sincerity of the people in attendance when it comes to remembering and honoring the soldiers who died in that war, at least when it comes to the people I spoke with. I think it’s a mistake to paint with a broad brush when it comes to the motivations of the Confederate heritage movement.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        It’s an interesting balancing act that must be attempted when commemorating one’s Confederate ancestors. Whether a soldier owned zero or a hundred slaves, his bravery on the battlefield and willingness to sacrifice had consequences for 4 million people who did not control their own destinies.

        Reply
        1. Andersonh1

          A lot of those Confederate soldiers were conscripted. They didn’t always control their destinies either. But they often died just the same.

          Reply
  9. David Kent

    Re: Thomas Goddarf May 16, 2016, 2:13 pm
    I can speak for Danville VA

    I was very skeptical of this post. I find it hard to believe that the city of Danville have flags and billboards erected as stated. I emailed the city, and so far haven’t received a response. I have many friends and acquaintances in the area, so I will find out. I’ll drive down myself if I have to. I’ll let y’all know.

    Reply
  10. David Kent

    I don’t believe there is any nuance about the south’s bid for independence. As long as they could get what they wanted from the federal government, (the fugitive slave act), they were happy. It was only when they felt their slave laws were threatened, that they started their revolt. It’s not rocket science. I always find it humorous when they start talking “states rights”, as it was only their states they were worried about. When northern states had laws on their books in direct opposition to the enforcement of the slave act, their “states rights” didn’t count. The south’s version of the United States Republic was, it’s my way or the highway. If federal law benefited them, it was all good. If not, then we’ll secede. They were determined to keep slavery, and that’s all it was about.

    Reply
  11. Ron

    Kevin,
    Would you make out a “pass”, kind of like eleventh graders are given in school, for other people to get your blessings on where and when they can spend their time? Ron Walker

    Reply
  12. Shoshana Bee

    It is disturbing when the conversation takes a turn for the worse, and vulgarity, rather than civil discourse is brought forth. I have seen a lot of this in the last two weeks, and the impact is felt. I love discourse — no matter the topic — and I am interested in what my adversary has to say. I try to be respectful of his/her person, no matter how vehemently I oppose his/her beliefs. It is the wrong sort of ideological victory, if the only battle won is that intimidation & vulgarity is introduced into the conversation. That one should have to consider what sort of personal insult will befall oneself should the wrong word be used, or how one’s family history, schooling, or whatnot should be dragged into the arena for flaying. I digress. I admire you and your blog, Kevin, as I do others who are willing to say what needs to be said.

    Reply

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