This is great. In 1993 Professor Edward C. Smith addressed a Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting on the subject of black Confederates. Unfortunately, only the first ten minutes of his presentation was posted, but it is extremely helpful. First, Prof. Smith is a Professor of Anthropology at American University. It is unclear to me on what grounds he can claim to be an authority on this particular subject. As far as I can tell he has never published anything on the subject in a scholarly journal. I suspect that he can claim as much authority as Earl Ijames. What is interesting is the timing of the speech just a few short years after the release of Glory, which I suggested yesterday functioned as a catalyst for interest in this issue. Well, Smith confirms my suspicions, but he also helps us to better understand why African Americans may be interested in this subject. From what I can tell Smith views this subject as the next step in more fully understanding the place of African Americans within the broader national narrative. Blacks served as soldiers in the Union army so it must be the case that they also served in Confederate armies. Smith wants a more inclusive history that does justice to the accomplishments of black Americans. That is certainly understandable. I hope the rest of this speech is eventually posted.
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.
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:
As he promised in January Ed Sebesta has petitioned President Obama to discontinue the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate statue at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. Actually, this petition goes much further than last year’s in requesting that the federal government “revoke the Sons of Confederate Veterans participation as a recognized charity in the Combined Federal Campaign, deny the SCV permission to host events for the United States Army, and prevent the SCV’s future involvement Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs in America’s high schools.” In doing so Sebesta has moved away from focusing the nation’s attention on a specific public site in favor of a broader look at the neo-Confederate movement. Unfortunately, any focus on the monument that Sebesta hoped to maintain is lost and I suspect that most people will not pay much attention to the SCV’s political activities and involvement in JROTC. Before commenting further, I want to share what I wrote last year:
- Should Barack Obama Place a Wreath at the Confederate Monument at Arlington?
- Obama Honors All Veterans
- A Step Too Far
- Edward Sebesta v. Barack Obama and the Battle for Civil War Memory
First, let me say that there is much in this new petition that I agree with. The SCV promotes a Lost Cause inspired narrative of the Civil War that at times borders on racist. You can indeed see this on the many chapter websites as well as their bookstore on the national site. As far as I am concerned the fundamental problem for Sebesta is that President Obama made the right decision last year. Rather than fuel the debate, which only worked to move interested parties further away from one another, the president sent an additional wreath to the African American Soldiers Monument in Washington, D.C.
I know that Professor Clyde Wilson is widely known for his involvement with a number of institutions associated with the neo-Confederate movement such as the League of the South, but this guy was trained as an undergraduate and graduate student in history at the University of North Carolina. He wrote his dissertation at UNC and went on to write a couple of pretty respectable books, including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew. Wilson is best known academically for his work on editing the John Calhoun Papers. I guess what I am getting at is that behind what I can only describe as a commitment to expressing a conservative world view through these organizations there is a well-trained historian.
I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views, but it is incredibly disturbing to see him sacrificing his integrity as a historian to do so? Consider the following quiz that has been attributed to Wilson at the Confederate Digest site. [Update: I didn't notice but the source is Lew Rockwell.]
- What American President launched a massive invasion of another country that posed no threat, and without a declaration of war?
- What President raised a huge army at his own will without the approval of Congress?
- What President started a war of choice in violation of every principle of Christian just war teaching?
- What President said that he had to violate the Constitution in order to save it?
- What President declared the elected legislatures of thirteen States to be “combinations” of criminals that he had to suppress?
- What President said he was indifferent to slavery but would use any force necessary to collect taxes?
- What President sent combat troops from the battlefield to bombard and occupy New York City?
- What President sent the Army to arrest in the middle of the night thousands of private citizens for expressing their opinions? And held them incommunicado in military prisons with total denial of due process of law? And had his soldiers destroy newspaper plants?
- What President was the first ruler in the civilized world to make medicine a contraband of war?
- What President signed for his cronies special licenses to purchase valuable cotton from an enemy country even though he had forbidden such trade and punished other people for the same practice?
- What President refused medical care and food to his own soldiers held by the enemy country?
- What President presided over the bombardment and house-by-house destruction of cities and towns that were undefended and not military targets?
- What President’s forces deliberately targeted women and children and destroyed their housing, food supply, and private belongings?
- What President’s occupying forces engaged in imprisonment, torture, and execution of civilians and seizing them as hostages?
- Under what President did the Army have the largest number of criminals, mercenaries, and foreigners?
- Who was the first American President to plot the assassination of an opposing head of state?
- Who had the least affiliation with Christianity of any American President and blamed God for starting the war over which he presided?
- What President voted for and praised a law which forbade black people from settling in his State?
- What President said that all black people should be expelled from the United States because they could never be full-fledged citizens?
- What President was the first to force citizens to accept as legal money pieces of paper unbacked by gold or silver?
- Who was the first President to institute an income tax?
- Who was the first President to pile up a national debt too vast to be paid off in a generation?
- Who is considered almost universally as the greatest American President, indeed as the greatest American of all times and as a world hero of democracy?
- What predecessor is President Obama most often compared to?
Of course, the answer to all of these questions is Abraham Lincoln. Again, I have no problem with Wilson wanting to express his political views. Honestly, I could care less about his broader world view. What I don’t believe is that these questions accurately reflect his understanding of Lincoln and the broader issues related to the Civil War. The questions are simply too childish and uninformed to be an honest reflection of Wilson’s understanding of the relevant history. In short, I don’t believe you, Clyde Wilson.