Are Texas Confederates Heroes?

This week the Texas House Committee on Culture, Tourism and Recreation held a public forum on legislation that would remove “Confederate Heroes Day” and create a new holiday called, “Civil War Remembrance Day.” The sponsor of the bill is Jacob Hale, an eighth grader in Austin, who convinced his local representative to sponsor the bill. Coverage of the bill’s public discussion begins at the 2:42:50 mark.

While a few supporters of the bill spoke out that vast majority of people in attendance took a stand against it. What is so striking is that while the bill and at least the stated intent by the bill’s sponsor do not revolve around a concern over slavery, practically every speaker brought it up. The position against the bill turned into a collective attempt to get Confederates right on the issue of slavery. It was an admittance of the centrality of slavery and in the case of Texas they are absolutely right on target. Continue reading “Are Texas Confederates Heroes?”

The Death Knell of Confederate Heritage

Despite Politico’s recent claim that “the Confederacy Still Lives” it is, in fact, in full retreat. Confederate flags are being removed from public places and holidays honoring Confederate generals are being revised or removed from the calendars. It is a process that will continue as each new generation moves further away from the history itself and is able to re-assess its legacy.

That is exactly what is happening this week in Texas surrounding a proposal to re-name and move ‘Confederate Heroes Day.’ The proposal is the work of an Austin eighth grader by the name of Jacob Hale. Hale believes that the current holiday does an injustice to his states unionists. He proposes to re-name the holiday to ‘Civil War Remembrance Day‘ and move it to May. Continue reading “The Death Knell of Confederate Heritage”

Will the Real Appomattox Commemoration Please Stand Up

This morning I set out to write a post in response to Jamelle Bouie’s column at Slate which details his assessment of a commemoration of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. A few of you likely read it before I took it down. I had some strong words for the author that turned out to be completely unjustified and I want to take this opportunity to apologize to Mr. Bouie. I could not understand how he arrived at his conclusions after claiming to have attended the event, but what I didn’t understand is that there were two commemorations of Appomattox and apparently they offered two very different narratives.

Bouie attended an event organized by the Appomattox County Historical Society and featured primarily reenactors. The author noted the lack of references to slavery and the presence of USCTs in the Army of the James, which helped to prevent Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia from reaching Lynchburg.

But missing in this remembrance, and in the audience as well, were black Americans. Of the thousands of re-enactors and thousands more spectators, only a handful were black. And while this may seem minor (or worse, a needless invocation of race), it’s a terrible disadvantage. The real Appomattox wasn’t just about reunion; it was about emancipation as well.

I am not surprised that this is what Bouie experienced given the focus of the event, but I do wish that the author had resisted the urge to draw a conclusion about the sesquicentennial based on this one event. In fact, if he had attended the National Park Service’s 3-day commemoration Bouie would have witnessed a very different commemoration. Continue reading “Will the Real Appomattox Commemoration Please Stand Up”

A Diet Plan for the Civil War Bicentennial

While I enjoyed having my intellectual curiosity stimulated by speakers such as Ed Ayers, David Blight and John Hennessy, the reenactors at last week’s commemoration of Appomattox Court House just didn’t do it for me. Perhaps reenactors should exercise more control over who shows up at such an event, especially one about Lee’s surrender.

I mean, were the men of the Army of Northern Virginia really this old and overweight or are we witnessing not just the ‘passing of the armies’ but the passing of the Centennial generation?

These are just a few things that ought to be considered for the bicentennial commemoration of the American Civil War.

Why Confederate Defeat Does Not Need to Be a National Holiday

Update: Brian Beutler doubles down with a follow-up post offering some thoughts as to why even Southern white liberals are hard pressed to agree to the author’s proposal. This is what happens when you report from inside a bubble. Again, as I suggest below, the author would have done well to spend just a little time researching how the Civil War has been commemorated throughout the South over the past few years.

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, an essay in The New Republic by Brian Beutler is getting some traction by calling for the event to be celebrated as a national holiday. Actually, Beutler is not so much calling for a holiday as he is suggesting that “in a better America” and one that was more honest about its past, April 9 would already be acknowledged as such. The essay is worth reading, but like so many other commentaries on how the Civil War is remembered in the South it fails to consider the reality on the ground.

The author proceeds as if memory of the war is both static and uniform throughout the South. What is needed is action by the federal government.

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

As Beutler acknowledges, this call follows a proposal by Jamie Malanowski in 2013 to rename military bases that honor Confederate generals. Continue reading “Why Confederate Defeat Does Not Need to Be a National Holiday”