This just in:
A legal battle to fly the Confederate flag from the street light poles of Lexington died today at the hand of a federal judge. In a written opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Wilson dismissed a lawsuit against the city filed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The lawsuit challenged an ordinance, passed last year amid public furor, that limited the types of flags that can be flown from city-owned light poles. Lexington City Council’s decision to fly only the city, state and national flags was “eminently reasonable,” Wilson wrote in a 10-page opinion released late today.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans had claimed that the city abused their free speech rights — banning the battle flag because of its controversial nature. But in granting the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Wilson wrote that the city’s alleged motivations do not override the fact that the ordinance is content-neutral on its face. By allowing only flags that represent government to be displayed on its light poles, the city essentially banned all private displays, including not just the Sons of Confederate Veterans but also two universities and several fraternities that have previously been allowed access to the poles. For that reason, the city argued, the ordinance did not shun a particular cause and thus was not subject to First Amendment attack. Wilson agreed, writing that to allow “a city-owned flag pole to serve as a public forum could suggest that government has placed its imprimatur on private expression.”
Today I completed a rough draft of an essay on John Christopher Winsmith and his servant Spencer for the NYTs Disunion column. Winsmith’s letters are incredibly rich and help to sketch a constantly evolving master – slave dynamic during the first sixteen months of the war. As a teaser consider the following reference to Spencer accompanying Winsmith on picket duty in northern Virginia in September 1861:
I took Spencer along to carry my knapsack [etc], and Ralph and I with him stopped at a house on the road, and drying ourselves thoroughly had a most delightful rest. Sunday just after daylight we left and joined to Regt. Then we proceeded to Upton’s Hill in sight of Munsin’s to do picket duty. The enemys lines are not so near the former as the latter place, and therefore our men got no shots at the Yankees. The view was fine, and just such as I have described in a former letter as having enjoyed from Munsin’s. Occasionally in the distance we could see the Yankees moving about, but no fight occurred during our stay.
This is the only time that Winsmith acknowledges this role in his letters, though I suspect it was quite common among officers at least during the early stages of the war. One wonders how many of these Yankee sightings of black men in Confederate ranks were of this nature.
Head on over to Andy Hall’s Dead Confederates site for an excellent post on the pensions that were handed out to former servants/slaves at the turn of the twentieth century. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of this subject. It looks like the recent decision in Union County North Carolina to recognize former slaves as if they occupied a position akin to a soldier was premised on their having been granted pensions. Do yourself a favor and read Andy’s post.
Finally, today I got a call from Ken Wyatt, who is the director of Colored Confederates: Myth or Matter of Fact? I was interviewed as a talking head back in 2009. It’s been shown at a number of film festivals, but other than a preview I have yet to see it. Fortunately, it is being shown this weekend as part of the Roxbury International Film Festival here in Boston on Sunday at noon. I am looking forward to commentary by H.K. Edgerton that goes way off the deep end.
Here is the latest:
U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Wilson said he would likely rule on the city of Lexington’s request to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Sons of Confederate Veterans Stonewall Brigade in “one to two weeks.” The Sons have maintained all along that a Lexington ordinance banning all flags from city flagpoles except the city’s, the commonwealth’s, and the U.S. flag, specifically targeted them. Lawyers for the Sons said the flagpoles were a “designated public forum,” therefore the Constitution protected the Sons, and most any others who requested to fly flags from city flagpoles. Attorneys for the city said the ordinance was “government speech,” essentially saying that since it was Lexington’s flagpoles, the city could choose which groups represent its brand and which ones didn’t. Sons of Confederate Veterans Stonewall Brigade leader, Brandon Dorsey, said: “I think in this case city council made it abundantly clear that the reason why they were trying to shut [the use of the flagpoles] off from us was because they didn’t like the flags and didn’t like [our] group.” Lexington city officials declined to comment after the hearing.
So, what are the implications for this case? If the judge decides against the city the Sons of Confederate Veterans will get to display the flag in downtown Lexington and if the judge decides in favor of the city the SCV gets to display the flag in downtown Lexington.
The book should be available in a matter of a few weeks, but you can now read the entire first chapter and snippets of the rest at Google Books. The first chapter focuses on the battle itself and pays specific attention to how Confederates assessed having to fight black soldiers. Other blogger/authors have expressed their frustration about these previews and I am certainly sympathetic. That said and apart from the legal issues involved I am not too concerned. In fact, I don’t think it will have much of an impact, if any, on sales. Times are tough for many people and if those interested can at least get a taste of what is in the book than I am happy. Ultimately, I wrote the book for it to be read and to stimulate discussion and hopefully lead to some understanding of this event.
I am pleased to see that the first chapter is previewed in its entirety. It covers material that has led to some pretty heated debates on this blog and has even reinforced the belief in a small number of people that my motivations for writing are based on a hatred of all things southern. Yes, how silly. The nice thing about a book is that you have to lay it all on the line. I did my best to interpret the battle based on the evidence collected and my thorough reading of relevant secondary sources. Ultimately all interpretations are incomplete and subject to correction.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
Oh…and if you would like to order the book now is your chance to purchase it at 40% off. Just click the image at the top right of the sidebar and use the code at checkout. Looking for an autographed copy? I am scheduled to appear at the Abraham Lincoln Book Shop’s Virtual Book Signing program on July 28.