Relegating Frank Earnest and the Lost Cause to the Trash Bin of History

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.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Pre-order your copy today.

8 comments… add one
  • Robert Baker Dec 7, 2018 @ 6:00

    When I read the piece I came away with the same feeling. I could not really understand the point of the article.

  • Thaddeus Stevens Dec 7, 2018 @ 7:42

    I appreciate your position, but we ignore such people at our peril. The neo-Confederates got to they point they are by people not raising objections to their propaganda during the late 19th and 20th centuries. Their vile rhetoric should be challenged wherever it rears its ugly head. At the same time we should celebrate the heroes of the Civil War. For instance, Thaddeus Stevens, one of the greatest heroes of the Civil War and Reconstruction has only one statue to his honor, while statues of such traitors like Lee and Jefferson Davis litter our landscape. There are many other heroes, like Charles Sumner, who are also under appreciated. We need to pull down statues of traitors and put up statues of the heroes.

    • Jimmy Dick Dec 7, 2018 @ 9:16

      Very solid statement. One of the best ways to combat the lost cause trash is to teach the factual history of the events leading up to the Civil War and cause of secession in all levels of education. Not only that, we have to teach about Reconstruction in school.

      Racism is a major factor behind the lost cause narrative as well. This is also another place where teaching factual history will help to explode the myths about race. When I use the historical facts in the classroom, students can see for themselves how race was constructed and why race is a man-made construct meant to divide people for the benefit of some at the expense of most. Once students have a solid understanding of how race was used to promote slavery in America, the rest of history involving race is pretty interesting to study.

      Another way would be to get rid of the litter we see in various places represented by the traitors. You’re right. We need to put up monuments to heroes, not traitors.

  • Andy Hall Dec 7, 2018 @ 11:30

    There’s nothing new here for your regular blog readers, who’ve been reading about (or interacting with) folks like Frank Earnest for years. But we’re not the target audience — it’s a general readership, most of whom will only be vaguely aware (if at all). This article serves a useful purpose in that regard, showing that yes, these people really are out there, and here’s an example of one, in his own words.

    This article should also be read almost as a companion piece with Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler’s “The Costs of the Confederacy.”

    https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/costs-confederacy-special-report-180970731/

    • Msb Dec 19, 2018 @ 12:01

      Many thanks for the link to this fascinating article. A number of the comments (including – surprise! – the usual stuff from Connie Chastain) show the need for much more such journalism.

  • Chaplain Ron F Hartley Dec 7, 2018 @ 17:24

    A country or its people who are willing to rewrite their history and justify it’s actions, can be swayed into believing and accepting anything.

    Thus a lie told overy and over wil in short order be received and accepted as the truth

    ADOLF HITLER
    National Socialist German Worker’s Party.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 7, 2018 @ 18:01

      Next the Washington Post can do an in-depth expose about Chaplain Ron F. Hartley. LOL

  • Terry M. Klima Dec 22, 2018 @ 11:00

    Mr. Duggan was artful in presenting his point of view but appears to confuse the issue of secession with war. Before any intelligent discussion can proceed, there has to be a clear understanding of the Constitution as the Framers intended.

    Clearly, States were sovereign and specifically reserved the right to exit the compact they acceded to. All one has to do is read the ratification language of the various States to arrive at this understanding. As an example, New York stated in its ratification “That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become necessary to their happiness”. The Tenth Amendment of the US Constitution drives home the point “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” Nowhere will a prohibition of secession be found.

    Similarly, Mr. Duggan seems unaware that slavery was recognized and afforded protections by the United States Constitution in the Enumeration Clause; Article 1, Section 9; and the Fugitive Slave law. Nor was there mention of the “Corwin Amendment” passed by both the United States House of Representatives and Senate in 1861 which, upon ratification by the States, would have preserved chattel slavery in perpetuity. President Lincoln referenced this amendment in his Inaugural Address of March 4, 1861 stating he “had no objection to it being made Express and Irrevocable”. Such words are clearly not those of a President destined to engage in an unconstitutional war over emancipation.

    It would appear that to assuage the conscience of a Nation and justify Lincoln’s Constitutional usurpations, the Confederacy and its leadership must be demonized. The Confederate States only existed for four short years yet are blamed for all the Nation’s ills. How ironic that Confederate General Robert E. Lee never owned a slave while Union Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant was frequently visited throughout the war by his wife Julia accompanied by her slaves. And if the Union was truly fighting for emancipation and equal rights, why did it take eighty plus years for the US military to be desegregated by President Harry S. Truman, who coincidentally was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans?

    One has to laugh at the naivete of Mr. Duggan’s comment “Nowhere does the term “Civil War” appear.” Officially, the war was referred to as the “War of the Rebellion” by Congress throughout the end of the 19th Century. It was never a “Civil War” in the true sense of the word as the South had no desire to take over the government of the United States. Rather, the Confederate States wanted to exercise the right to secede in an amicable fashion and had made numerous overtures to Lincoln and his administration to negotiate a peaceful separation that were rejected.

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