There has been quite a bit of coverage of Georgia’s recent resolution marking April as Confederate Heritage and History Month. What has gone largely unnoticed, however, are the changes that have been made between the initial proposal and the final version.
Consider the opening of SB 27 :
To amend Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to holidays and observances, so as to create Confederate Heritage and History Month; to provide for legislative findings; to encourage observances and celebrations of Confederate Heritage and History Month; to provide for statutory construction; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
Now consider SB 27 as passed:
To amend Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to holidays and observances, so as to create Confederate Heritage and History Month; to provide for legislative findings; to encourage observances and celebrations of Confederate Heritage and History Month; to provide for statutory construction; to amend Article 3 of Chapter 3 of Title 50, relating to other state symbols, so as to provide that the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum shall be an official state historical civil rights museum; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
From Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech“:
The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically….Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics…I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
Peter Carmichael was kind enough to take the time to add a few thoughts to a post of his that I recently republished. His comment is fair and balanced in its critique of the way various groups have approached this complex topic, which is why I decided to feature it in a new post.
In all the debate that the Confederate slave subject generates on this blog and elsewhere, I am still mystified by the failure of some to appreciate a fundamental fact that applies to every African American who existed in a Southern army—he was a slave and thus denied the ability to have free will in exercising his political loyalty. All the acts of bravery and fidelity on the part of slaves in battle and camp cannot overturn this basic and defining fact. Once we recognize this hard reality we will be better prepared to subdue our emotion and begin to consider the complicated ways in which slaves and whites coexisted in the army. To suggest that a slave who purchased a gray uniform was somehow committed to the Southern cause or loyal to his master overlooks the fact that there wasn’t a blue one at the Sutler’s store for him to purchase. Even if he was able to secure one, he sure as hell wouldn’t have been allowed to wear it in the Confederate ranks. What choices and political options were available to slaves is what we should be focusing on in this debate, for we cannot consider any act of “devotion” without also considering at the same time what punishments awaited a black man who failed to do his “duty” to the master class.
For those who are emphatic that Confederate slaves were both brave and loyal in their service to the Southern cause I would like for them to explain the implications of this argument. When I am in a charitable mood, I would like to believe that those who cherish the idea of the loyal Confederate slave do so as a way to protect their ancestors from being demonized by Americans who see history as a morality play. I understand their insecurities, but if they really want Americans to take their Southern ancestors on the historical terms of the antebellum South then they will have to abandon the notion that they are a minority group that is under siege from the political left–in doing so they will take the first step to seeing the past as a search for complexities and not for universal truths that can be used to assail PC radicals. Too many Americans have the insatiable need to see themselves as a minority group under attack. This perspective fosters a strange way of seeing the world in which the “persecuted” feel that they are the true owners of truth because the rest of the world has conspired against them. This position is intellectually debilitating and it is a paranoia that pervades both political extremes, not just the right. Those of us who are baffled by the folks who go to sleep every night believing that Confederate armies were composed of slaves who wanted to die for their masters and the Southern cause deserve our serious engagement, not our ridicule. We cannot make fun of their ceremonies, even if we think they are doing injustice to the complexities of the past. We have to find a way to create a dialogue.
I have no doubt that some slaves felt a strong sense of attachment to their masters and maybe even to the outfits that they served, but this “attachment” was forged as part of a slave system that was based, at the most fundamental level, on coercion. Let’s stop getting so misty-eyed over those slaves who served with white soldiers as a band of brothers and let’s also stop denouncing anyone who sincerely wants to understand the intimate relationship that existed between slaves and their masters. We are missing the complexities of this relationship in the army and its broader impact on soldier relations, the home front, and the political ideology of the Confederacy.
I get a kick out of the editorials and short essays by Calvin Johnson, which you can find at such places as Lew Rockwell and the Conservative Free Press. Given the last few posts on the mythology of black Confederates I thought it might be nice to share another little story. Yes, I am beating a dead horse, but if this blog can help to correct this skewed view of the past than my time on this site will be worthwhile. In this essay, Johnson examines the history of the monument to Confederate soldiers, which is located on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The monument was organized by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to mark the graves of 267 Confederate soldiers. Designed by Moses Ezekiel, it was unveiled in 1914 and included a dedication speech by President Woodrow Wilson. Here is what Johnson has to say about the monument itself:
Around the start of the 20th century this country also honored the men who fought for the Confederacy. This site of men who fought for “Dixie” is located in section 16. There is an inscription on the 32.5 foot high Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery that reads, “An Obedience To Duty As They Understood it; These Men Suffered All; Sacrificed All and Died”! Some claim this Confederate Monument at Arlington may have been the first to honor Black Confederates. Carved on this monument is the depiction of a Black Confederate who is marching in step with the White soldiers. Also shown is a White Confederate who gives his child to a Black woman for safe keeping.[my emphasis]
What exactly is Johnson referring to? The photographs below are close-ups of the freezes included around the perimeter of the monument.
You can see what appears to be a black man marching in rank with Confederate soldiers as a well as a female slave who is about to take charge of what must be her master’s children. This is a wonderful example of why the study of memory is so important to our understanding of the Civil War. To understand this statue and the choices of the sculptor we must understand the historical context in which it was dedicated. Monuments and other public spaces dedicated to historic events are as much about the time in which they were build as they are about the event in question. The year, 1914, places us right at the height of Jim Crow. The images helped to justify the emphasis within Lost Cause narratives of loyal slaves and a war that was supposedly fought simply for states rights. Wilson’s presence at the dedication is also important given his order at just this time to segregate federal office buildings along racial lines. In other words, this is not simply a monument to commemorate the lives of Confederate soldiers, but part of an attempt to shape a certain version of the past that worked to minimize the theme of emancipation and distance the Confederate experiment from the preservation of slavery altogether. The enforcement of white supremacy by legal means helped to ensure that African Americans would be unable to shape their own emancipationist legacy of the Civil War, which in turn helped to perpetuate the political monopoly that whites enjoyed through the 1960s.
Unfortunately, Calvin Johnson doesn’t really understand what he is looking at.