Last week the Washington Post published a long expose about Frank Earnest, who is one of the most vocal members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The piece, written by Paul Duggan is well written, entertaining, and full of colorful anecdotes about his own deeply personal relationship with the history and memory of the Confederacy.
If you do make your way through the entire piece you may end up feeling like I did. I finished reading it convinced that 30 minutes of my life had just been wasted. As entertaining as this profile is it offers nothing new. In fact, the author could have written it without spending a single minute with Earnest. We’ve heard this all before multiple times. Ultimately, this is a story about a generation of white men reared on stories of the Lost Cause in the 1950s, solidified during the Civil War centennial, that has come under increasing assault over the past two decades.
The memory of the Civil War and the Confederacy specifically that Earnest is desperately hanging on to denies the centrality of slavery to the Confederate cause and assumes that enslaved people remained loyal. You know the drill. Again, we’ve heard all this before.
We need to stop taking these people seriously. Their views have been discredited and whether they acknowledge it or not, their attachment to this particular memory of the war is wrapped in nostalgia and racial animus. But what troubles me the most is that the attention granted given to individuals like Earnest and the SCV obscures a much richer landscape of cultural identification with the past. In short, what other profiles could be written that tell us something about where we are in 2018 re: Civil War memory and where we might be headed?
In the end, Earnest is part of a rear guard action that is growing weaker and weaker owing to age. It’s time to move on.