For years, David Crook had been making monthly rounds past the Confederate Memorial on the lawn of the historic courthouse and tucking a tiny flag into the ground at its base. And for years, an anonymous person who felt the flag carried negative symbolism had been pulling them up. “They kept disappearing,” said Thomas Shepard, whose own ancestors fought for the South. “So we kept replacing them.” The flag tug-of-war gradually ramped up, with a new one being put down and pulled up almost daily. The county was forced to wade into the fray in June, when a local attorney complained about the tiny flag display and asked the county to intervene.
County officials decided to remove the flags for good and this enraged those who see the flag as central to their understanding of the Southern/Confederate past. What I find interesting is the way in which this debate has been framed by the local newspaper. They refer to flag advocates as “Confederate supporters” but this tells us very little about the wide range of views held by white Southerners re: their past.
Despite the heated emotions on display in the comments section of the article no one in this dispute has a monopoly on Confederate heritage. It turns out that not all (perhaps not even a majority) of white Southerners have a deep need to see the Confederate flag on public property. This does not imply that they hate their past or are ashamed of it in any way. It doesn’t even necessarily imply that they have a problem with the Confederate flag. Are we really going to argue that the UDC has turned its back on standing up for a meaningful Confederate past simply because it refuses to press the issue on the Confederate flag? The UDC is the organization responsible for placing the marker on courthouse grounds in 1940. Does anyone else not see the UDC as the last line of defense against the trivialization of the Confederate flag by its so-called “supporters.” It must be upsetting to some that they can’t frame this debate along racial lines or even as a legacy of those meddling carpetbaggers. Even H.K. Edgerton and his fancy t-shirts seem just a little out of place here.
This is just another example of why extreme flag advocates have become gradually more marginalized in the South. It’s not because they are victims or because they are being discriminated against or even because others will not learn their history. Their mistake is in their assumption that the flag means the same thing to all people (even white Southerners) and that it is indispensable to maintaining a meaningful connection to the past.
On June 30 the Anderson County UDC dedicated a marker to Wade Childs, who accompanied his owner as a body servant in Orr’s Rifles. Andy Hall recently took this one apart, not that it takes much time and effort to uncover these cases of so-called black Confederate soldiers. This one is an absolute mess. There is no question that Childs was a slave, but not surprisingly there is no indication of this on the marker. The only thing missing from this little ceremony is H.K. Edgerton prancing about in one of his Dixie Outfitters t-shirts.
I am sure the African-American community in Anderson County appreciates their hard work of acknowledging one of the many horrors of slavery. Wait, where is the black community? [note strong New Jersey sarcasm. :-)]
Next month President Obama will be renominated by the Democratic Party in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte lays claim as the last Confederate capital in April 1865. It is here that Jefferson Davis learned of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. At first glance these two events may seem unrelated but not to the folks interviewed in this article.
“Charlotte is a New South city,” said Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South. “It existed during the Civil War and had some importance, but this city’s character has been shaped by reinvention since the Civil War. That spirit of reinvention is one of the reasons why the DNC decided to come to Charlotte. It is a city with a history but has never been a prisoner of its history.”
James Ferguson, a Charlotte attorney who has been heavily involved in the civil rights movement, said Obama’s renomination “is a historic event that is even more historic than the Confederate cabinet’s last meeting here. “The nomination comes at a time when Charlotte is seeking to identify itself as a world class city, as a city coming into its full identity after a period of phenomenal growth,” Ferguson said. “In terms of African-Americans, there is this whole question of whether we are reaching a point where there is full equality or are we still dealing with having a first African-American this or that, and (saying) ‘that seems to be enough.’” The continuing quest for full equality is symbolized by the renomination, Ferguson said, adding: “This election is equally important if not more important than the first election of President Obama, because it takes two terms for a president to really push forward a full program.”
David Goldfield, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the Charlotte renomination is compelling because “the Confederacy was born as a defense of slavery, and yet here in the last capital of the Confederacy we’re nominating a black man for president. “It’s something we should feel very proud of,” Goldfield said. “We have come a long way as a region and we have come a long way as a country. White supremacy was not confined to the South — it was a national ailment.”
I tend to think that the attempt at irony here is weak given the emphasis on Charlotte’s evolution since the end of the war. As the article suggests, there are so few reminders of Charlotte’s Confederate past that unless you look for it you are likely to miss what is there. Obama won Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida in 2008. If anything gave us a sense of the evolution of the history of the South after 1865 it was the results of that election. We already know this narrative.
This is the story behind the creation of the Black Brigade Monument in Smale Riverfront Park. The monument honors the 718 black men who—after being brutally rounded up by provost guards and then set free—volunteered to build fortifications that eventually thwarted a Confederate attack on Cincinnati during the Civil War.
It’s a good question and one that I’ve touched on here at Civil War Memory. Our battlefield monuments fit into a broader celebratory landscape that is pervasive throughout our memory of the Civil War. Gettysburg is a place where we can feel good about ourselves as Americans and our history. It is almost impossible for me to imagine a monument such as the one at Verdun at Gettysburg and I believe it to be a barrier to fully understanding what our civil war was about.
Unfortunately, the following image, which I took during a visit to the Gettysburg Visitor Center, more accurately reflects our attitude toward how Americans chose to make war on one another.