Who Is Reverend Herman White?

Yesterday I briefly touched on a story out of Valdese, North Carolina involving Reverend Herman White, who was asked to address a group of students as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival.  Rev. White shared his own version of the region’s history that included stories of loyal and happy slaves and other scenes out of his Lost Cause playbook.  The most disturbing aspect of this story is that the entire situation was easily avoidable.  A number of people associated with the school administration claimed that they could not know what Mr. White would touch on in his remarks.

Unfortunately, even a basic online search would have raised any number of red flags.  This is the same Rev. White who was responsible for the course at Randolph Community College back in 1998 in which he spewed his racist nonsense of happy slaves and tens of thousands of loyal black Confederate soldiers.  Clearly, this man doesn’t belong anywhere near students in a learning environment.  I blame the school officials for not taking the proper steps to do even a simple background check on Rev. White.

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Historians Respond to Gov. McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation

Today I picked up the most recent issue of Civil War Times (August 2010) which includes my editorial on Governor Robert McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation.  I joined an impressive group that included William Marvel, Susannah Ural, Lesley Gordon, S. Waite Rawls III, Catherine Clinton, Harold Holzer, Harry Smeltzer, and Michael Fellman.  I enjoyed reading the other selections as well as Gary Gallagher’s essay on the controversy.  Readers of this blog won’t find anything new in my submission:

The response to Governor McDonnell’s proclamation reflects the extent to which white and black Americans no longer identify with a Civil War remembrance that fails to acknowledge the centrality of slavery and emancipation to the war in Virginia.  His subsequent apology ought to be understood in light of a dramatic shift in public perception that has taken place over the past few decades.  Changes to the racial profile of local and state governments in the wake of the Civil Rights movement has allowed black Americans to take part in public debate.

A tour of Virginia reveals a historical landscape dominated by monuments that celebrate the common soldier as well as the Confederacy’s political and military leaders.  In addition to remembering the past, these sites reflect the values and racial profile of the ruling party throughout much of the 20th century.  The original proclamation would have us continue to remember Virginia’s Civil War through this narrow lens. On the eve of the Sesquicentennial, Virginians demand a proclamation that commemorates a more accurate and richer past.  In doing so we ensure that 2011 will not be a repeat of 1961. (p. 44)

Apparently, representatives of Sons of Confederate Veterans were contacted, but chose not to contribute to this forum.  I’m not surprised.  Perhaps they were too busy worrying about stories such as the following, which I read about this morning.  Last week hundreds of eight graders from Burke County, North Carolina traveled to hear Rev. Herman White as part of the area’s Founders Day Festival.  The good reverend “asserted that slaves before “the War of Northern Aggression” had more rights than African Americans have today and disparaged the Gettysburg Address as “political garbage.”  You can read more about this travesty here, but I think the response by the local SCV is both incredibly disturbing and helpful in understanding their position on the governor’s proclamation:

The Waldensian Trail of Faith, a local nonprofit organization, sponsors the Valdese-Waldensian Founders Festival. The association’s president, State Sen. Jim Jacumin, said the Burke County Tigers, a Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) group, recommended — “raved” about — White as a speaker. Jacumin said, “We don’t research. That’s something we don’t do. We don’t have the money or the time to do that… It’s like a pastor who comes to your church and preaches, you don’t research him.” According to Tigers’ chaplain Larry Smalls’ introduction, White is the pastor of Archdale Church of God, has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in ministry and is working toward his doctorate. He said White is a state and national SCV Life Member and has been the SCV N.C. Division chaplain for six years.”  (White) is a purebred unreconstructed Southerner and not ashamed to say so,” Small said, “and Dixie burns in his heart.” Tigers’ adjutant Elgie McGalliard said the organization did not know specifically what White would speak about, but knew he focused on the history of the South.  “He’s a minister; he just talks what’s in his heart,” McGalliard said.

I guess it doesn’t matter that “what’s in his heart” is a lot of racist and historically inaccurate crap.  I would suggest that the above quote nicely encapsulates the SCV’s place on the landscape of Civil War remembrance.  It really is hard to imagine that people still think along these lines.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

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“He Was a Little Bit Better Than the Rest of Us”

Those are the words of that great American historian…umm…I mean news anchor, Brian Williams, on Abraham Lincoln.  Who the hell knows what he is talking about.  I caught a few snippets of History’s recent series, “America: The Story of Us” and was disappointed on every level.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting much, maybe something with a little more history content than Ice Road Drivers Truckers and Pawn Stars.  This little video on Lincoln sums up the fundamental flaws of this series.

First, who cares what Brian Williams, Soledad O’Brien, Michael Strahan, and Michael Douglas think about Abraham Lincoln and, for that matter, how exactly are they qualified to speak about anything having to do with American history?  According to O’Brien, Lincoln had a couple of conversations with Frederick Douglass before deciding to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.  From Strahan we learn that Lincoln stuck to his beliefs when they weren’t popular.  O.K….I get it.  Even the historian, H.W. Brands, sounds like a complete fool and I’ve enjoyed his books in the past.  According to Brands, there was nothing in Lincoln’s early life that would have pointed to the presidency, as if this were the case with any of our presidents.  Talk about narrative gone bad.  What I find truly hilarious is that the most coherent and historically based commentary in this short segment comes from none other than Rev. Al Sharpton.  If Sharpton had qualified his point regarding Lincoln’s position on black suffrage to a select and educated few he would have nailed it.

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Cutting and Pasting Black Confederates

The Internet can be a wonderful source for reliable and important information on historical subjects.  It can also be, and often is, a source for misleading and damaging information about the past.  There is no better example of this than the divisive topic of “black Confederates.”  Misinformation abounds on sites organized by individual SCV chapters as well as private individuals.  There is no quality assurance mechanism and a search engine’s ranking algorithm has nothing to do with veracity.  In the case of black Confederates the problem is not simply that the information is unreliable, but that it is easy for it to spread, which in turn compounds the problem.  A quick tour of black Confederate websites reveals that many of these narratives or snippets of evidence are cut and pasted from one website to another.

Not only are the many poorly-constructed narratives filtered around without any attempt at analysis, but individual historians have also fallen victim to this practice.  I’ve already mentioned the case of Ed Bearrs, who has regularly been singled out as a historian who has acknowledged the existence of these men.  Even worse, he has been quoted over and over as having implied some kind of conspiracy to keep these stories under wraps.  There is no evidence that he has ever said such a thing and I’ve learned through reliable sources that he has denied ever suggesting it.

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California’s Civil War

Hope everyone is having a pleasant Memorial Day and has spent a little time in thought about why we set aside this day.  President Obama decided to spend Memorial Day at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Illinois.  In the spirit of acknowledging sacred sites beyond Arlington National Cemetery here is a news article and video about the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in California.  Both the article and video feature UCLA historian, Joan Waugh, whose book on Grant and historical memory is a must read.  Enjoy.

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