The Confederacy Was Not a Con Job

Richmond Burning

Over the weekend the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an editorial on the current debate about Confederate iconography by Frank Hyman. It’s an interesting editorial in that it doesn’t fall into any of the popular categories on the subject. After establishing his bona fides as a white Southern male Hyman gets to his point. The problem with revering the Confederate flag and the Confederacy generally comes down to the following:

The Confederacy — and the slavery that spawned it — was also one big con job on the Southern white working class. A con job funded by some of the antebellum one-percenters, and one that continues today in a similar form…. With low wages and few schools, Southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than Northern whites….

My ancestor, Canna Hyman, and his two sons did own land and fought under that flag. A note from our family history says: “Someone came for them while they were plowing one day. They put their horses up and all three went away to the War and only one son, William, came back.”

Like Canna, most Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing blacks had no slice at all.

Certainly northern and even some southern observers before and after the Civil War offered their assessments about the extent to which the institution of slavery stymied economic opportunity for non-slaveholders, but we should be cautious about applying our own value judgments to the past. [click to continue…]

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On the Death of Anthony Hervey and the Myth of Black Confederates

Anthony Hervey Funeral

I am very pleased to to share my debut article for The Daily Beast, which went live earlier this morning. For most of you the topic offers very little that is new. It touches on the subject of my current book project on the history of camp servants and the myth of the black Confederate soldier, but it does so by examining why the Sons of Confederate Veterans went into mourning over the death of Anthony Hervey.

The original title for the article was, “The Black Man Who Died To Keep the Confederate Flag Flying,” but the editors decided to go with what I suspect is a less controversial title. Thanks to historian Marc Wortman for making the introductions as well as to Malcolm Jones at The Daily Beast for his timely response and enthusiasm.

[photograph of funeral procession for Anthony Hervey taken by Jonathan Lee Krohn]

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Do Confederate Flags Belong in the Classroom?

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This morning I received the following email:

I’m sure you’ll have an opinion on this. As you probably know, public schools are notorious for decorating the walls of classrooms. Naturally, I have a good bit of Civil War ‘swag.’ In the past, I’ve used the Confederate Flag in those decorations. It’s always in context with other battle flags of the Civil War, North and South. But given the recent events of the Summer, I’m going to scale it back a bit in display and visual interpretation. I was wondering what your thoughts were on it’s display in the classroom.

It’s a great question and one that I suspect others are considering or at least should be considering. I will make this short and sweet. Teachers have a responsibility to create safe classroom environments that are conducive to learning. Right now the Confederate flag is a toxic symbol. That means that it should not be visible in the corner of the classroom alone or even as part of a collection of flags. Beyond that it’s the teacher’s call, but I certainly would not want to risk making students unnecessarily uncomfortable or even intimidated. [click to continue…]

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Virginia Isn’t For Confederate Flags

confederate-flag-virginia-plates-07b5eb7673066a9c

This has been a tough week for folks who reduce the history of the South and Confederate heritage to the display of the flag. Yesterday evening the Danville City Council passed a flag ordinance with a vote of 7 to 2 limiting the flying of flags on city-owned property to the national, state, city and MIA/POW flags. I believe this is what the city of Lexington did as well to bring closure to this issue.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will also begin recalling specialty license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag. [click to continue…]

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Why Even Now It’s Still Wrong To Vandalize Confederate Monuments

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Over the past month I’ve written quite a bit about the ongoing discussion about the place of Confederate iconography – specifically flags and monuments – in local communities. Listening to the viewpoints of people on all sides of this issue and having to consider the actions of others has given me quite a bit to consider. A trip to Europe and exposure to new public history has also added to my curiosity. That I blog about it gives you a front seat to a thought process that may seem confused and even frustrating.

In 2011 I published a brief essay in the Atlantic in response to the vandalizing of the Lee Monument in my old hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. I’ve linked to it numerous times over the past few weeks to give readers a sense of where I am coming from as a historian of Civil War memory and, more importantly, as an educator. I even reiterated the points made in a recent post. [click to continue…]

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