A few months ago I had a conversation with Alan Levinovitz, who teaches at James Madison University. As a new member of the community there were a number of things that struck Alan as strange and begging for explanation. At the top of the list is the local Dixie Outfitters store in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Alan asked if I could provide some context for the store’s presence and stock, especially those H.K. Edgerton t-shirts. The inquiry was in preparation for an article he was planning for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
The article is now online, which I highly recommend. A few of my comments about the myth of the black Confederate made it into the piece.
“People don’t believe in the black Confederate narrative because they’re crazy,” explains historian Kevin Levin. “They believe it because they read it. It’s on a website that looks professional, has all the bells and whistles, and includes images, primary sources of all kinds. How could it not be true?”
Levin’s long-running blog, Civil War Memory, is on the front lines in a battle between established historians and a vocal minority who insist that most academics are biased liberals bent on slandering the South. Dixie Outfitters is a part of this minority, and its company website includes a history section with over eighty links to information about black Confederates.
Once again, the courts have supported the right of school districts to ban students from wearing clothing that includes the Confederate flag. The most recent case involved a school district in South Carolina in which a student repeatedly clashed with school administrators over a number of t-shirts that likely were purchased at a local Dixie Outfitters, including “Southern Chicks,” “Dixie Angels,” “Southern Girls,” and “Daddy’s Little Redneck.”
Hardwick also sought to wear a shirt labeled “Black Confederates,” honoring a Louisiana Civil War regiment made up of free African-Americans. She also tried to wear shirts she characterized as protests of censorship of the others, with slogans such as “Jesus and the Confederate Battle Flag: Banned from Our Schools but Forever in Our Hearts,” and “Offended by School Censorship of Southern Heritage.”
This is nothing more than a case of bad parenting.
It should come as no surprise that the Sons of Confederate Veterans attributes yesterday’s unanimous decision by the Texas DMV as another attack on Confederate symbols and “Southern Heritage” more generally. It may surprise you to learn, however, that the leadership of the SCV at the turn of the twentieth century likely would have viewed yesterday’s decision as a victory.
Among the images that Civil War Timesmagazine has chosen to use for my co-authored article with Myra Chandler Sampson about Andrew and Silas Chandler includes the well-known t-shirt by Dixie Outfitters. We wanted to use something that reflects the story’s popularity as well as the mythology that surrounds the two. This one has got it all from the claim that Silas was a soldier to the assumption that they remained life long friends. There is absolutely no evidence for such a claim. Luckily, I own the shirt after one of my students purchased it for me as a gag gift and was able to make it available to the magazine’s editors.
I must assume that the shirt will be pulled by the company given what we now know about Silas’s legal status during the war as well as crucial elements of the broader story. Why am I confident that this will be done? Well, Dixie Outfitters claims on its website to be committed to the “truth of the War for Southern Independence.” We shall see.