What Does This Have To Do With Confederate Heritage?

Update: You can watch the public debate in its entirety, including Karen Cooper’s public address in its entirety following the opening remarks and two speakers. It really is quite a performance. Susan Hathaway follows Cooper. Hathaway frames her argument around the importance of honoring veterans. I find it interesting that neither speaker mentions references their association with the Virginia Flaggers. The speaker that followed Hathaway, however, does identify himself as a Flagger and even goes as far as to threaten the city council.

I’ve always been interested in how our beliefs about the past are weaved through our understanding of the present. All of us are influenced by our personal values and assumptions concerning a wide range of issues from politics to personal background. It is with this in mind that I find Confederate heritage groups such as the Virginia Flaggers to be so interesting and, at times, worthy of our attention.

Last night my old home of Charlottesville, Virginia held a community meeting to discuss whether the annual recognition of Lee-Jackson Day ought to continue. I wish I could have been there to listen and even participate. Charlottesville was a wonderful place to teach the Civil War and Civil War memory. The city includes a wonderful Confederate cemetery adjacent to the UVA campus and the downtown area features two parks named in honor of Lee and Jackson. Both include impressive equestrian monuments. Continue reading “What Does This Have To Do With Confederate Heritage?”

Lee-Jackson Day is a Lost Cause

There are a number of observations that one can make about our nation’s Civil War memory as it has taken shape during the sesquicentennial and where it might be headed. The most obvious is that the public display of the Confederate flag is in full retreat in the South. There are numerous examples that I could sight to support this claim.

Increasingly, in the past few years, Lee-Jackson Day has fallen under increased suspicion in the South. Let’s face it, the holiday currently exists in many Southern states in name only. Public offices might be closed, but very few people formally acknowledge the day in any significant way. Even in Lexington, Virginia, where both Lee and Jackson are buried, it takes people from outside the community ‘to remind residents that it’s that time of year again. And in places where Lee-Jackson Day falls on Martin Luther King Day the latter almost always attracts more attention. Continue reading “Lee-Jackson Day is a Lost Cause”

“Point of Honor” Buries the Lost Cause For Good

The producers of Amazon’s new series, “Point of Honor,” set out to appeal to mainstream viewers who for whatever reason prefer their dramas to be set in the past. The history itself is almost incidental. “Point of Honor” plays with the time tested popular meme of the family caught in the middle of an unfolding national tragedy. Imagine the cast of “Dynasty” in 1861. At the center of this national tragedy is the Rhodes family of Lynchburg, Virginia. There is young John Rhodes, who is off at West Point, along with his sisters, Estella and Kate. The third sister, Lorelei, is married to the dashing Robert Sumner, who is also at West Point and from the North. Finally, we have the patriarch of the family Ralston Rhodes. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict where this is going.

The central focus of this pilot episode is to get the Rhodes family right on the issue of slavery. In an early scene set in the West Point chapel John Rhodes addresses his fellow cadets after hearing of the firing on Fort Sumter. The young cadet denounces the institution of slavery and pledges to free his family’s slaves, but commits to fighting for Virginia and the Confederacy. With that he walks out, along with his fellow cadets from the Deep South – apparently unaware that their states seceded months earlier. A few moments later Robert Sumner confronts his brother-in-law demanding to know how he can denounce slavery, but still fight for the Confederacy: “Read the Confederate Constitution. This war is all about slavery.”  John fires back that, “They write in ink. We write in blood.” And with that John establishes his good character by committing himself to remain untouched by the evils of slavery. Before departing John reminds Robert that through his marriage to Lorelia he will always be welcome unless that arrival is accompanied by invading Yankees. In that case Robert will be dealt with as such. Continue reading ““Point of Honor” Buries the Lost Cause For Good”

Trailer For “Point of Honor”

Well, the trailer for the pilot episode of Amazon’s “Point of Honor” is available and its even worse than first thought. It looks like a movie version of a Don Troiani Mort Kunstler painting. It is worth emphasizing that in light of recent Hollywood releases “Point of Honor” is an outlier given the narrative’s emphasis on distancing slavery from its main characters. Certainly, the success of “Twelve Years a Slave” demonstrated that the movie-going public can handle an honest portrayal of some of the harshest realities of American slavery and the master-slave relationship. Even Ron Maxwell has been able to push the envelope of the traditional Civil War story with “Copperheads.”

Are there any examples of a West Point cadet renouncing the institution of slavery at the beginning of the war and then fighting for the Confederacy? I honestly don’t know.

This pilot episode appears to be so cliche ridden and so poorly conceived that there is a chance that it never sees the light of day. Judge for yourself.

Will It Be a ‘Point of Honor’ to Respect the Past?

Of course, we should not pre-judge Amazon’s forthcoming Civil War drama called, “Point of Honor.” But let’s be honest, it is very likely going to be another in a long line of disasters.

At the start of the Civil War, a Virginia family, led by their West Point bred son, John Rhodes (played by Nathan Parsons, True Blood), makes the controversial decision to defend the South while freeing all of their slaves. At battle against his northern brethren and his best friend and brother-in-law Robert Sumner (played by Christopher O’Shea, Baby Daddy), John leaves his three strong-willed sisters at home to run the plantation that is now without a free labor source. The choice to protect the life they have always known and defend the moral high ground will pit the family against one another and test their strength, courage and love.

While full-scale Hollywood movies such as “Lincoln” and “Twelve Years a Slave” have left their mark, smaller productions have been less successful. Think of the failed Kickstarter campaigns organized by Ron Maxwell and the producers of “To Appomattox.” The need to distance central characters from the institution of slavery closely follows the narrative in “Field of Lost Shoes” as it does with the 1960s Hollywood movie, “Shenandoah.”

I look forward to seeing how “Point of Honor” pulls off explaining why a Virginia slaveowning family would free all their slaves at the beginning of the war.