Let's get something straight:
No one individual or group/organization controls the contours and definition of Southern Heritage. An identification with- and an attachment to the South and its history belongs to conservatives, liberals, Christians, Jews, agnostics, atheists, blacks, and whites. It includes those who revere Lee, Jackson, and Forrest as well as Thomas, Scott, and Cooke. It includes people whose lives revolve around commemorating and honoring the Confederate cause and its Christian Warriors as well as those who view that cause and those who fought for it with contempt and disdain. It encompasses those who view the federal government as a threat to liberty as well as those who view it as a means to prosperity. It includes members of the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the NAACP, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and even native and recent transplants to the South. In fact, you don't even have to live in the "Old South" to identify with its history and heritage.
Southern Heritage includes the history of the South from the beginning to the present. It includes examples of individuals and groups acting at their very best and their worst. Identifying with Southern Heritage need not imply anything about how you evaluate the history of the South. All of us are free to interpret it as we wish, based on our interests and respective goals.
This is what I believe.
Note: Thanks once again for the thoughtful comments, but this thread needs to come to an end.
I think I caught this guy once counseling couples and troubled families on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach addresses a strand of Civil War culture and memory that I've never understood and probably never will.
Which leads me to another conundrum. Many of the Southerners who romanticize the Confederacy are religious Christians who lead lives devoted to moral excellence. How is it possible that they would make heroes of men who betrayed the Bible’s essential message: that G-d is the father of all humankind, and all of us therefore are equal before Him?
There is no easy answer to this question. Some would say that the original sin of the Confederacy’s Christians was to talk themselves into believing that slavery was really a benevolent institution, granting support, food, and shelter to a population who they believed could not fend for themselves. The perpetuation of that sin would be lionizing the Confederate leaders and believing that it does not offend the South’s black citizens or undermine its morality. Still others would say that when G-d-fearing Christians honor the Confederate leaders today, they do so as a means of honoring the South and a lost way of life rather than focusing on slavery. It’s collective amnesia. The horrors of slavery have been forgotten and only the charm of the old South has remained.
But all these answers ring hollow. For people of religion should be lionizing only those whose lives captured the divine ideals that they hold dear. And those who fought to preserve slavery, to use an understatement, simply don’t make the grade.
When religious southern Christians engage in nostalgia for the Confederacy, they are making the mistake of putting Southern sentiment before religious conviction, in effect elevating an inferior part of their identity over the most central part. Regional loyalty must never come before eternal principle.
Since it is the weekend let's have a little fun. We all know that comments like these are almost always perceived as an attack on "Southern Heritage" so why don't we pretend for a moment that the history of the South extends beyond 1861-1865. Let's see if we can come up with a list of Southern-born folks that more closely approximate the essential teachings of Jesus other than Lee, Jackson, Forrest, and the rest of the gang.
Note: Thanks for the comments, but at this point I think this discussion thread has been played out. Therefore, I've decided to close the comments on this post.
It wasn't too long ago that reenactments were considered to be divisive and illegitimate as a form of remembrance. In fact, the Civil War Centennial pushed to keep them out of commemorations of important battles after the embarrassment at First Manassas in 1961. Since the 1970s, however, reenacting has become the most popular form of remembrance and is a staple item at most commemorations throughout the year. These "Image Tribes" – as referred to by Jim Weeks – dominate the Heritage Tourism industry. Reenactors are indispensable at a time when most "buffs" crave individual experiences of soldier life over a more analytical approach. Questions remain over the appropriateness of reenacting in various venues. As we all know reenactments are not allowed on NPS-owned land, but recent surveys suggest that a large percentage of people see nothing wrong with it. In fact, the reenactors are seen by many as necessary to complete the empathetic identification that visitors to battlefields strive to achieve when imagining what took place.
Here is an interesting story out of Lexington, Missouri. A group of reenactors commemorated the battle of Lexington, which took place just after Wilson's Creek in the Fall of 1861. Apparently, the battle took place on what is now a cemetery, but that did not stop these good folks from staging their reenactment:
The two sides fired on each other, the Confederacy pushing the Union soldiers back and back. Shouts of, “Independence and fire! Fire for independence! Forward! Halt! Keep the line together boys!” mingled with the constant gunfire. Soon the men began to drop as they were killed or injured by the advancing Confederacy, indeed a few of the Confederate troops fell as well. During a lull in the firing, Confederate soldiers stooped to pick the pockets of a dead Union soldier. Surrounding the parameter of the battlefield were men, women and children dressed in vintage clothing of the 1860s. Spectators were told by the narrators that it was common for folks to come from Kansas City and Independence to watch the skirmishes as if they were an afternoon form of entertainment.
We've come a long way from barring reenactments on "Hallowed Ground" to allowing them to walk over people's graves.