Category Archives: Civil War Culture

I Believe in a Silent Rational Majority

Today I read a Facebook update from a history professor, who is dealing with the fallout over a recent essay on Antietam that he published in the Wall Street Journal. Like everything else he writes, it was a thoughtful essay, but it should come as no surprise to those of you familiar with sites with unmoderated comments that the article received a great deal of negative and abusive feedback. Unfortunately, this professor chose to correspond with one particular commenter, who has over the years also leveled his attacks on me for my supposedly anti-Confederate/South views. Like many of my most vocal critics, the individual in question does not live in the South. In this case he lives in Long Island, New York. The correspondence eventually made its way to the office of the president of the professor’s college.

I certainly understand the frustration and that sense of futility when reading comment after comment of such vitriol and having to deal with nasty personal emails. I’ve got a file of hundreds of such emails. While teaching in Virginia I had to deal with regular telephone calls and emails sent to the school headmaster. Just this past week I was called a Nazi on another website and recently I complained about the quality of feedback that followed one of my recent essays at the Atlantic. It’s an unfortunate part of the online world.

I could offer a few words of reassurance and advice to this professor. First, don’t correspond with these people. It accomplishes nothing and what you write will likely make its way to the Internet as was the case here. It is important to keep in mind that the comments section of most sites is likely to be populated by people who feel the most defensive. The vitriol and name calling is a reflection of their ignorance and inability to engage in an intelligent discussion. The only resort is to shut down any and all discussion. I do my best to remember that the vast majority of people who read what I write will never leave a comment on the blog or communicate with me personally. They may not agree, but hopefully they will consider what I’ve written and pass it along through one of the many social media channels. I believe in a silent rational majority.

Maintaining a blog or other social media platform is not for everyone and I certainly understand that, but it is hard to sympathize with people who dabble in the web 2.0 world. It is safe to say that this professor’s job has not been threatened one bit by this correspondence. In the future he can refrain from publishing articles on sites that allow for unmoderated commenting or he can refrain from publishing online entirely.

Informing your community that there are ignorant and hate-filled people out there is not news. What I want to know is how we can respond in a constructive way to this environment. What responsibilities do we as teachers [k-12 and beyond] have to prepare our students to engage one another in online communities? The maintenance of a vibrant online world has become essential to our democracy. Where else but the classroom can we learn to be civil to one another?

Most people who experience the nastiness of online discussion throw up their hands and abandon the idea completely. It takes a lot of work to maintain an online space that nurtures passionate and thoughtful exchanges. Just ask Ta-Nahesi Coates.

My response to all of this is Civil War Memory.  What is yours?

Alabama’s Civil War Memory

Selma, Alabama (1965)

I guess we should have seen this coming from a mile away.  In the wake of heated protests from their loyal fans Lynyrd Skynyrd has decided that they will fly the Confederate flag at their concerts.  And just in case you still question their commitment to the flag’s history and meaning rest assured:

Myself, the past members and the present members (that are from the South), are all extremely proud of our heritage and being from the South. We know what the Dixie flag represents and its heritage; the Civil War was fought over States rights.” — Gary Rossington

I guess a southern man does need him around…at least to buy those records.

In other news, the Selma City Council has voted to halt the construction of a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest until it can be determined who owns the land on which it is to be placed.

And so it goes.

Debating Emancipation on C-SPAN

Over the weekend C-SPAN televised a panel on emancipation that took place over the summer as part of the Civil War Institute.  Pete Carmichael was kind enough to invite me to take part on this particular panel, though I have to admit that I felt a bit out of place next to my colleagues.  The other panelists included Keith Harris, Anne Marshall, Glenn D. Brasher, and Craig Symonds.

My friends at the SHPG were so excited about my first C-SPAN appearance that one member decided to create a short clip of just me.  Apparently, my emphasis on the importance of acknowledging northern racism is news. I couldn’t ask for more loyal support and I thank them for it.

I do hope C-SPAN plans on televising the CWI panel on blogging, which also included Harris and Brooks Simpson.  Finally, I do want to pass along news of Louis Masur’s new book, which explores the hundred days between Lincoln’s preliminary and final emancipation proclamation.  I am about half-way through and enjoying it.

Celebrating or Desecrating the Confederate Flag

Since we are once again preoccupied with the display of the Confederate flag I thought I would post this video, which just came across my YouTube feed.  The video is of a high school event in South Carolina.  Well, I will let the student who posted the video take it from here:

So it’s Home Coming week at my school and everyone is supposed to dress up according to the theme of the day. This is what the class of 2014 did on group day (the day that the students themselves dress in whatever theme they want to collectively.) I myself was invited to join in via Facebook, and the theme was chosen via a poll. I did NOT partake in this event but I did record it and I thought that the world should see this. I grew up around people like this doing these sorts of things, but does this seem weird to you? Some of my friends who just so happen to be black saw this and were very offended. You can debate wither or not the students had the right to run around the school gym with a larger than scale Confederate flag, but what I personally think it boils down to is that it should not have been done because it is offensive to people.

I certainly understand this student’s point-of-view, but if you watch the video closely it looks like the kids are poking fun at Southern heritage culture.  They are wearing dress that exaggerates a kind of redneck/hick culture.  In fact, if you look closely one student is carrying a black flag that says Redneck.  I don’t see much reverence for the Confederate flag on display here.  I can’t believe the administration allowed this.  Oh, those silly kids.

Who Knew Lynyrd Skynyrd Was Still Around?

I thought this band stopped playing after a plane crash took the lives of most of the band members in the 1970s.  All I can say is that if you think the band’s decision to remove the Confederate flag as a stage backdrop makes them any more or less southern then you, my friend, are an idiot.  Don’t worry, you still have a guy from Michigan who will keep southern heritage alive.  And that’s all I have to say ’bout that.