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.

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.

Continue reading “Cutting and Pasting Black Confederates”

Does This Mean No More Talk of Black Confederates?

Looks like the Sons of Confederate Veterans is amending their Constitution.  You can read the proposed amendments here, but one in particular struck me as kind of funny:

Proposed Constitutional Amendment – 2010-3
Proposed by Charles Kelly Barrow
John McIntosh Kell Camp 107

2.1. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, in furtherance of the Charge of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, shall be strictly patriotic, historical, educational, fraternal, benevolent, non-political, non-racial and non-sectarian. The Sons of Confederate Veterans neither embraces, nor espouses acts or ideologies of racial and religious bigotry, and further, [ strongly ] condemns the misuse of its sacred symbols and flags in the conduct of same. Each member is expected to perform his full duty as a citizen according to his own conscience and understanding.

I guess this means no more talk of thousands of loyal slaves fighting as Confederate soldiers.  And while you are browsing the SCV’s online store make sure you pick up a copy of Antebellum Slavery: An Orthodox Christian View (2008) by Gary Lee Roper which claims an orthodox Christian defense of slavery:

Continue reading “Does This Mean No More Talk of Black Confederates?”

Has the “Lost Cause” Lost?

Last month I was honored to be asked by an editor at the Wilson Quarterly to respond to an essay by Christopher Clausen.  I was given roughly a 300-400 word limit, which didn’t give me room to go into much detail so I decided to offer a few words about one particular passage that I thought was worth a response.  Regular readers of this blog probably will not see much of anything that is new in terms of my own thinking about this subject.  You can now read Clausen’s essay on the WQ website.  Here is my response, which will appear in the next issue:

Christopher Clausen’s article [America’s Changeable Civil War,” Spring 2010] offers a helpful overview of the influence that the Lost Cause and the broader trend of national reunion exercised on the nation’s collective memory through the Civil Rights Movement.  Few will deny that the tendency to ignore the role of slavery and emancipation as crucial aspects of Civil War history and public remembrance were exposed as Americans were confronted with images of bus boycotts, “Freedom Rides,” and marches.  While the nation confronted its “most ignominious legacy” through legislation it did not significantly alter the nation’s Civil War memory.  However, much has changed over the past forty years, which may give us pause in accepting Clausen’s assumption that “what was actually won and lost [in the Civil War] is less settled than you might expect after 150 years.”

The election of Barack Obama has opened up numerous opportunities to discuss the history and legacy of slavery and race and our understanding of the Civil War specifically.  In 2009 the president was petitioned to discontinue sending a wreath to the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery – a monument that glorifies the Lost Cause with images of “loyal slaves” and an emphasis on states rights.  Rather than incite further controversy, President Obama chose to send an additional wreath to the African American Soldier’s Memorial, which celebrates the history of United States Colored Troops.  Those states that have organized Civil War Sesquicentennial commissions are choosing to emphasize the “Emancipationist Legacy” of the Civil War, including Virginia, which will hold a day-long symposium in September 2010 on slavery and emancipation.

Continue reading “Has the “Lost Cause” Lost?”

American Confederate Heroes

Here’s a nice little Lost Cause tune for ya’ all.  I especially love the following lyric from the beginning of the song: “It’s not founded on old politics or race or slavery.  Those who see no more than that care not for history.”  For some reason poor old Braxton Bragg gets the back of the hand in this tune. Enjoy.