Edward Sebesta is Back and Without Focus

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:

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.

This brings me to what Sebesta should have done.  Rather than steer the discussion down a road that very few will follow, Sebesta should have encouraged the president to continue the practice of sending the additional wreath.  Such a move would have been much more helpful in furthering Sebesta’s supposedly broader goal, which is to encourage a national discussion about race.  Last year’s petition did very little to further such a dialog and the fallout from last month’s Confederate History Month proclamation should be sufficient to demonstrate the futility of such a hope for this year.

The other problem is that Sebesta’s petition is signed mainly by academics, among them David Blight, Edward Blum, Robert Cook, Leon Litwack, and Chandra Manning.  I have nothing but the highest respect for these individuals, but outside of a select community why would anyone care that these individuals are on board?  After all, you can watch History’s latest documentary and see Daniel Walker Howe offering commentary next to Rudy Giuliani and Soledad O’Brien.  I’m sorry to say that academics carry very little weight in these matters.  If the petition had continued to focus on the monument I can see why a list of historians and other professionals would be desirable, but as I already pointed out, this has little to do with history.  More to the point, such a select group is only going to alienate certain constituencies who are already suspicious about academics.  On a related note, I would love to know what happened to James Loewen, who co-authored last year’s petition.

I do believe that Sebesta’s heart is in the right place, but it is difficult to see how this petition will bring about anything positive.

18 comments… add one
  • Old Rebel May 22, 2010 @ 9:07

    So Clyde Wilson’s posting on LR is “childish and uninformed,” but Ed Sebesta Sebesta’s “heart is in the right place” with his latest Wile E. Coyote plot to discredit the SCV. Right.

    Dr. Clyde Wilson is an eloquent scholar and gentleman, while Sebesta is an obsessed, hateful crank who can’t write for beans.

    Sebesta is worth reading, however, for the unintentional humor in his Bulwer-Lyttonesque prose.

    • Kevin Levin May 22, 2010 @ 10:01

      Hello Mike Tuggle,

      I stand by that distinction. Wilson’s quiz is pretty much a joke as well as unfortunate given his background as a trained historian while I am sympathetic with Sebesta. I do agree with you that Sebesta sometimes comes off as a “crank” or allows his enthusiasm to get the best of him. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Lane Kiffin May 18, 2010 @ 9:05

    Sebesta is just another educated nutcase. All this is going to do is upset folks. Ken to quote the Law Prof from Legally Blond If these SCV boys are going to let one little prick make them quit then they are not as dedicated to the Charge by Stephen Lee as they swore they would be.

    • Kevin Levin May 18, 2010 @ 9:07

      I don’t think there is any reason to refer to Sebesta as a “nutcase.”

    • Margaret D. Blough May 18, 2010 @ 11:55

      Lane- Your characterization is not what happened. What happened was a well-documented power struggle for the top leadership positions in the SCV that, after an initial setback, Lyons & his crowd won. The Lyons/League of the South crowd followed up on their victory by retaliating against the opposition including expulsion of dissenting SCV officials from the chapter level on up. I knew one of the purged officials. We’d actually debated informally quite a few times and, if he was too liberal for them, that was scary. I know quite a few SCV members, particularly in North Carolina, who decided that they could not and would not get with the “new” program, left and founded alternative organizations.

      • Bennet Young May 18, 2010 @ 19:45

        You are completely wrong about the SCV. The last two times Lyons ran for office he lost. This was after few members attempted a coup of the elected leadership.Members were not purged from the camp level up. Less than 10 members were removed, and less than 200 of the 30,000 quit.
        The dispute was not between moderates and radicals as the tripe from the splc would have you believe. There was a small group of former power brokers who wanted to retain control of the SCV. They were defeated by an uprising of over 95% of the membership. Democracy in action.
        Not one single member of the current board is a league members or any other group of that sort.
        I am in a postition to know this for a fact.
        And yes I think Sebesta is a nutcase as well. I have read all the stuff he has written way back to when he called himself crawfish. It is all guilt by association and the twisting of facts, or bring up some old obscure point and treating it as if it is relevant.
        I would go on any stage and gladly debate him. However he has a policy of never respondign to those who disagree with him, it is on his website.

        • Margaret D. Blough May 19, 2010 @ 2:23

          Bennet-Then we will have to agree to disagree. I wasn’t relying on the splc but on SCV members themselves whose perspective & recollection differs from yours.

          • Bennet Young May 19, 2010 @ 4:29

            Of course you are welcome to your opinion. What I stated about the SCV is not based on recollections, but actual facts and numbers. There is a certain area in NC that had many supporters of the coup. They seem to be the ones you are talking to. They are not reflective of the general membership either then or now. It was never a contest between radicals and moderates. In fact, several men who the splc once identified as radicals are some who left.
            The sentiments you are hearing would be hard to find in most other states.

        • Andy Hall May 19, 2010 @ 3:54

          Maybe I shouldn’t have thread-jacked by mentioning Lyons by name, but everything I’ve seen makes him emblematic of the more recent direction of the SCV specifically, and the neoconfederate movement in general, regardless of any specific office he happens to hold at the moment. It’s a role he himself has reveled in. I linked to the SPLC profile you characterize as “tripe” because, while it’s obviously an old one, it’s a good summary of the man and what he seems to believe. Nothing I’ve seen since suggests it’s either factually inaccurate, or more broadly in its tone. I don’t think that tiger’s gonna change his stripes.

          My sense of the shift in the SCV is similar to Margaret’s. But if, in fact, you’re correct and very few members left the organization, and its long-time leadership remains intact while still putting out official documents like those produced by the Virginia SCV during the Confederate History Month debacle recently, that makes the organization look worse, not better.

          • Kevin Levin May 19, 2010 @ 3:59


            Please don’t apologize for referencing Lyons. After all, I included an image of the man front and center.

          • Robert Moore May 19, 2010 @ 4:30

            The one thing you have to understand about the SCV membership is that, despite what we may read regularly from the national organization, all are not singing the same song. Yes, there were some who left, some who were even purged, but there are many who remained, even those who remained despite (emphasis on “despite”) the goings-on in higher echelons of that organization. The sad part of it is that a lot of the folks who concentrate on items of local interest and only concern themselves with activities at the camp level, do not concern themselves with the national group… yet they fuel the national by continuing to pay membership dues, thereby allowing national to tout a large membership, as if all are walking in lock-step. Likewise, there are some members who join strictly because they want a license plate with a Confederate flag on it. So, it’s not the complete organization that can be classified so easily, but a faction that rules the roost.

            • Andy Hall May 19, 2010 @ 5:35

              The sad part of it is that a lot of the folks who concentrate on items of local interest and only concern themselves with activities at the camp level, do not concern themselves with the national group… yet they fuel the national by continuing to pay membership dues, thereby allowing national to tout a large membership, as if all are walking in lock-step.


              That description well describes what I’ve seen of my local camp. It was reconstituted in the mid-1990s, under the name of a long-defunct camp that had existed here previously. The members seemed to be, in the main, reasonably well-off and well-intended, but almost entirely focused on local things — grave markers, participation in area festivals, and so on. (This may, in fact, be a result of the camp not having a long history with the national organization, and most of its members not having been part of the SCV previously.) The times I visited as a guest (sitting through the camp’s business meetings, and getting frequent updates through a close friend who was a charter member), though, I got the impression that they were also pretty susceptible to accept uncritically whatever academic-sounding Southern hagiography that came across the transom, from any source. (As I’ve written before, they’re also deeply, deeply tone-deaf about how others view the Confederate Battle Flag, and the Confederacy in general.) On the whole, they’re a decent and well-intentioned group of guys, but nonetheless an organization that, by its passive and uncritical affiliation, supports and strengthens the hard-core neoconfederates, and makes the latter appear more numerous and mainstream than they are.

          • Bennet Young May 19, 2010 @ 4:36

            Pardon me if I was not clear. I was not reffering to their stories on Lyons as tripe, but their characterization of the SCV and the temporary turmoil it went through. For example, they listed certain men as belonging to hate groups. I know that many of them never belonged to those groups and some of those groups do not even exist anymore. All the stories that Hiedi wrote on based on guilt by association or taking comments from individual members, who may not be in any leadership position or even reflective, and treating them as if they spoke policy.

  • Andy Hall May 18, 2010 @ 5:15

    Bonus points to Kevin for including a picture of the neoconfederate movement’s star plaintiff’s attorney, the odious Kirk Lyons. It chafes me no end that he and I bear a passing resemblance.

    • Ken Noe May 18, 2010 @ 7:56

      With one exception, all of my friends in the SCV have stopped participating. To a man, they blame Lyons and his crowd.

  • Ken Noe May 18, 2010 @ 4:23

    I notice Bill Ayers didn’t sign this year. One lesson learned, I guess.

    • Kevin Levin May 18, 2010 @ 13:34

      No surprise there. I am much more interested in Jim Loewen’s absence.

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