The 2010 annual reunion of the Sons of Confederate Veterans opens in Abbeville, SC with a welcome address by Mayor Terence Roberts.
A Study in Irony
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The 2010 annual reunion of the Sons of Confederate Veterans opens in Abbeville, SC with a welcome address by Mayor Terence Roberts.
Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.
If you had been at the opening of this convention and non members of the SCV can attend the opening, you would have heard in the introduction of the Mayor that he was supposed to have left with his family to go on vacation that morning. He felt the largest convention ever to be held in Anderson was important enough to attend to give the welcome. He was given a standing ovation by those in attendance after his remarks.
He left after his comments to meet his family. He could have easily sent one of his subordinates to give the welcoming. After listening to his comments and the comments from the other politicians that were there I don’t think the man fears anything. He appears to have the respect of his peers and the people of Anderson.
In preparation for participating in a TAH colloquium on the Civil War, at which Manisha Sinha will be the featured presenter, I am re-reading David Blight’s Race and Reunion. He opens with a description of the 50th reunion at Gettysburg, and its utter failure to deal with the racial issues involved with the war and it’s aftermath. We are still attempting to evade those issues, and in my opinion the above photo is yet another evasion – and symbolic of the attempt to cloak that evasion somehow as “progress.” I will admit my ignorance of SC politics, and how the event portrayed here relates to it. Let’s just look at this image, which in spite of the professed blindness of some is drenched in irony. What I see is a black man, face taught with fear, warily shaking hands with a white man against the background of a giant Confederate flag. Frankly, it’s an image that could have come straight out of that satire of a few years ago that portrayed a world in which the Confederacy had won the war. Trouble seeing the irony here, are you kidding me? This image drips with irony, and unwittingly serves as a powerful reminder of the tortured racial history of our county, and the continuing efforts to find a way of dealing honestly with the past and present of our racial politics.
I agree. Watch the video. The mayor makes for an immediate exit.
Unbelievable. Are either of you actually reading what you’re writing? I don’t see any fear on the Mayor’s face, and I’m being as objective as I can be. I see a black Democratic mayor giving a speech before a large convention in his town. I don’t see fear, and I doubt if you asked him he’d say he was afraid. What I do see a politician who is pressed for time, gave his speech, and headed to his next event or meeting. What was he supposed to do? Sit there and hang out?
You all are quick to note or imply the irony that a black man from Preston Brooks home district is giving a speech to the SCV. Is that it? Here’s a question – Anderson happens to be a Roman Catholic – why have none of you noted how ironic it is that a Roman Catholic is giving a speech in front of a southern audience in a southern town that is likely majority protestant? Is that not equally ironic? How about the fact that he’s a Democrat? Given the Democratic party in the South’s role in starting the war and championing segregation and Jim Crow, a black Democratic politician in the South is just as ironic as any other conclusion being drawn from this photo.
As for the making for an immediate exit, talk about drawing an unfounded conclusion from no facts. I’ve been to dozens of events with elected officials on both sides of the aisle, from the President to the local school board. I recall an event I attended for Trent Lott where Vice President Cheney spoke. The VP came in, gave a five minutes speech, and left without shaking a hand or thinking twice. Does that mean he was scared of us? I doubt it. Almost everyone in that room had voted for him twice. The speed of his exit had no reflection on us. All it means he’s got a job to do and he won’t be doing it sitting around. If he was scared, why would he refer to Ron Wilson as his “good friend?” Why did he shake hands with the rest of the men on the platform as he was making his way off the stage?
Frankly, I think claiming that he “looks scared” or made an immediate exit because he was afraid of the SCV is insulting – not to the SCV, but to the Mayor. The fact that both of you have that attitude is revealing and unfortunate.
Kevin, you have a pattern and practice of saying as little as possible to allow the reader to draw his own conclusions – and when those conclusions are negative, you follow up with a “did I say that?” That’s an exceedingly passive-aggressive way of dealing with disagreement. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to divine the conclusion you want the reader to draw, and I find it highly disingenuous when you pull the “who me?” routine when you’re called out on it. I’m sure your response to my question about the alternative irony theories would be something akin to “That’s why I posted the picture – to provoke thoughts like this. Thanks for your comment.”
Here, however, I don’t think you can do that given your agreement with Marc’s insulting statement and your comment about the mayor’s speed in making an exit. If you actually think that, it is certainly a telling fact.
On another note, how about this for a “Study in Irony?” http://tinyurl.com/2fw6w5m
Is that irony or progress?
Thanks for the psychological diagnosis. I don’t always take the time to write more because I am busy with other things. We clearly disagree as to the interpretation of this image.
“Like I said, you viewed this picture and the speech as ironic. I view it as progress. I would think, given your disdain for the SCV, you’d appreciate their being so welcoming to a black man in South Carolina. That says a lot about how far our country has come since the War. Instead of praising it, you mocked it. ”
I agree with Brian a good deal on this. Cedric Glover of Shreveport that is Shreveport’s first black Mayor has been open in discussions with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.
The problems is when these groups are just made to be evil or lets not say evil but not to be seen in politie company they just become more radical. I do wonder if a more constructive engagement with them would have resulted in the WACKO League of the South not doing a hostile taker over of them
I’ve never referred to the SCV as “evil” so I am not sure where that comes from. I also think it is inaccurate to describe their current leadership as a “hostile takeover.”
I’m not up that much on the history of the SCV specifically, but a lot of fraternal organizations from the turn of the century have an elaborate hierarchy of ranks and some really gorgeous titles. Think Sons of Knute.
Robert E. Lee famously nixed the notion of the Confederate government issuing medals for gallantry to Southern soldiers, but their descendants get one for attending the meeting. Doesn’t seem entirely equitable.
The other thing that I never understood was the continued use of rank.
I understand that some Star Trek fan clubs also issue ranks to their membership. How completely antiquated and unnecessary.
I know you’re not an SCV fan but you’re being a bit … well, I guess I’m trying to come up with an ideological word that’s the equivalent of ethnocentric, but I can’t find one. That’s the culture of the organization. You don’t have to understand it – you’re not a member, and you don’t desire to be.
They have ranks and give out medals because that’s what they’ve been doing for a long time. It’s a tradition. There are plenty of organizations that predate the SCV that do similar things, from the Freemasons to the Elks. It’s a way of bonding with one’s fellow members.
As I recall, the Grand Army of the Republic used to hand out medals to members who attended events. Political parties gave out badges to delegates that were often ornate when they attended nominating conventions. I’ve got a few medals from labor union conventions I’ve attended as well. It’s pretty common.
I’m still trying to figure out the irony in this picture. Is it like a free ride when you’ve already paid?
Excellent point and thanks for taking the time to comment. Keep working at interpreting the image and video.
I’ll keep trying, but I’m not seeing much more than the mayor of a city giving a welcome speech to a large convention that’s going to bring a lot of money and visitors to his town. It certainly isn’t like a traffic jam when you’re already late.
I recall a Republican Congressman giving a similar welcome speech to a labor union who was holding their convention in his district – I’m thinking Frank LoBiondo up in Atlantic City, NJ. I guess that would be equally ironic, at least under your definition of irony.
Personally, I think it’s a refreshing example of progress. But I’m no historian.
It depends how you view the Civil War. The Confederate army functioned as an extension of a government whose expressed purpose was to maintain slavery and white supremacy. Hope that helps.
Kevin, I’ve been lurking on the site for a while so I’m well aware of your political stance on the war. I think you’re being far too black and white in your description, especially the “white supremacy” point, considering that neither the north or the south believed they were fighting to end or preserve white supremacy. White supremacy was a given at the time.
As for the maintenance of slavery, obviously. But you could just as easily insert “Continental Army” in there for Confederate Army and the statement would be just as true. Do you dislike the Daughters of the American Revolution too? They are, after all, the scions of the soldiers who fought to create a nation that expressly condoned and encouraged slavery.
As you can see from my blog, I’m a politician, not an historian. I’m a history fan. But one thing that politics has taught me that goes just as well for the study of history is that nothing is ever as simple as it seems, no issue is completely one sided, and you aren’t likely to find a pure good vs. evil fight outside of the Bible. Vilifying the other side is a common political tactic, but it has no place in history.
I would caution you to draw conclusions about my politics. My guess is that whatever assumptions you’ve made they are probably not accurate. I would suggest that my interpretation of slavery is in line with the best recent scholarship. We could play around and substitute any number of terms, but in this case we are talking about the Confederate government and the army. I would suggest that you read Joseph Glatthaar’s new book, _General Lee’s Army_ as it is a great place to start: http://www.amazon.com/General-Lees-Army-Victory-Collapse/dp/1416596976/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279900320&sr=8-1 Finally, of course white supremacy was pervasive throughout the country in the 1860s. No one is arguing otherwise. Thanks again.
I’m drawing no conclusions. I’m simply making observations. The statement you made was an exceedingly black and white (no pun intended) generalization of an issue that has become dangerously overgeneralized in mainstream American thought today. You do a disservice to yourself and to your subject when you dumb down the war into “Rebels slavery, Union abolition.” Too many people think that’s all the war was about and there was far more to it than that. If there weren’t, all of this scholarship wouldn’t exist.
When you make a statement calling out one side for supporting white supremacy, it sure sounds like you’re arguing the other side didn’t support it. But we both know that it was endemic. Thus, your choice of words can only be based on a desire to vilify the Confederate army. If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but at least be intellectually honest about it.
This is a blog post. It was meant to provoke some thought. That’s it. If you are interested in better understanding how I view the war I suggest you take a look at my CV and read some of my published work. In fact, if you are interested specifically in how race shaped the perceptions of the men in Confederate ranks I suggest you pick up the next issue of Civil War Times magazine. it will include an article of mine on the battle of the Crater. I’ve written extensively about race and the Civil War on this blog and in scholarly and popular publications. You are free to believe whatever you choose about what motivates me. I believe we’ve ended this thread.
Thanks again for taking the time to comment.
I just picked up _General Lee’s Army_ at Borders w/ their 40% coupon based on your recommendation. I look forward to diving into it.
Brian, the Confederacy was created expressly for the purpose of preserving slavery. Opponents of enlisting blacks as soldiers in the CSA armies near the end of the war pointed this out in objecting to the idea.
It’s yet another oversimplification to say that the Confederacy was “expressly” created for the purpose of preserving slavery. That would be akin to saying that the War Between the States was fought “expressly” to end slavery, which we all know isn’t accurate. You’re taking a complex, multidimensional epochal event in world history and dumbing it down into a children’s story. We shouldn’t be doing that. This isn’t politics, it’s history. Right?
Protecting slavery was a key motivating factor in secession, as was Lincoln’s election. The creation of the Confederacy was more a necessity to allow the seceded states to defend themselves collectively and secure their independence. There was no need to create a Confederate States of America to preserve slavery – each individual state as a sovereign entity could do that legally without needing to be a part of a larger coalition of slave holding nations. So to say that slavery was the express reason the Confederacy was formed is an oversimplification and inaccurate. No doubt the preservation of slavery was key in the rebel founders minds when they came together in Montgomery, but it wasn’t the only thing. Expressly is the wrong adverb to use.
What I always find fascinating about the slavery discussion is that some seem to think that at its most general, the war was about slavery. I think this is wrong. At its most general, the war was – like most wars in human history – about money and power. Slaves were property, they were expensive, and they were an investment. The more slaves you owned, the richer you were. The richer you were, the more powerful you were. Ending slavery deprives the rich of their property, and even manumission wouldn’t fully compensate the southern aristocracy, and that’s why it wasn’t accepted as a compromise. The South fought for slavery because it was the bedrock upon which their entire economy was based. Without it, they languished for a hundred years. So perhaps the fears of the southern aristocracy were well-founded, if morally indefensible.
None of this should be any kind of revelation. Which is why I find it frustrating to see these issues discussed in such overly general ways by people who know better. I would expect people to talk about the war that way on my blog. Not over here.
It really is hard to take you seriously when you such something like: “There was no need to create a Confederate States of America to preserve slavery – each individual state as a sovereign entity could do that legally without needing to be a part of a larger coalition of slave holding nations. So to say that slavery was the express reason the Confederacy was formed is an oversimplification and inaccurate.”
It sounds like you’ve never picked up a primary source relating to the secession of the southern states and the formation of the Confederacy. I suggest you look for the secession documents related to these states. Let me start you off with Mississippi: http://www.civil-war.net/pages/mississippi_declaration.asp Oh, what the hell, here is South Carolina, but you are on your own from here: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/csa_scarsec.asp
It is incredibly difficult to downplay the importance of slavery on the eve of the Civil War. There is no oversimplification here. You haven’t cited one book or document in your comments which suggests to me that you haven’t spent much time reading history. On the attitudes of white southerners following Lincoln’s election I highly recommend Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: http://www.amazon.com/Apostles-Disunion-Southern-Secession-Commissioners/dp/081392104X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279912282&sr=8-1 It’s a short book and you should be able to get through it in a day. Once you finish come back and I will suggest additional readings.
I appreciate your interest in this thread, but it seems to me that this discussion has run its course.
Ah yes, money and power. That is a comforting, non-historical, generalization which explains everything and nothing. Observing that the Confederacy was founded explicitly to preserve slavery is not the same as saying it was founded solely to preserve slavery.
Yada, Yada, Yada…it’s always the same argument.
Kevin, that’s the second time you’ve tried to stifle discussion on this topic – what’s the point of having comments on a blog when you won’t allow for discussion? You said yourself this was a blog post designed to provoke some thought. So let the thought be provoked and stop trying to get the last word in.
It’s also extremely condescending to continue to provide links to books and documents I should read. I appreciate the advice, but I don’t need it. I’m more than capable of using Google and Amazon.com, and I do have two college degrees with a third on the way. I don’t feel the need to couch my comments in appeals to authority when I’m not citing a reference but simply making a comment based on what are universally known facts about the war. Otherwise this blog comment would turn into a law review article, and having already written one of those, I don’t want to write another one right now.
As I noted in my comment to Marc, clearly slavery was a fundamental motivation for secession. And yes, while Mississippi and South Carolina mentioned slavery in their secession proclamations, only three other southern states did. Do I need to Google that for you? I’m sure you’re already aware of it. Does that mean that slavery didn’t motivate them? Of course not. There’s plenty you won’t find in primary sources and plenty of political reasons for the omissions. You can’t afford to take primary sources at face value because they are not always accurate. Read any 19th century English newspaper.
As for Marc’s comment, my issue was with the use of the word “expressly.” Expressly means for the particular or specific purpose (do I need a link to Dictionary.com here?). We all know, and I shouldn’t have to cite, that there were more reasons for secession than simply slavery. To say slavery was the only reason, which was the inference, is an oversimplification.
As a politician, I can do that. We’re good at oversimplification. Historians, however, shouldn’t. Is this a political blog or an historical one?
You fail to cite any kinds of sources to back up your claims. No one has suggested that slavery was the only cause of secession. It clearly was the crucial point that just about every debate revolved around which is borne out in all kinds of primary sources. This isn’t even an interesting discussion given the work of academic historians over the past few decades. I was trying to steer the discussion since it is impossible to deal with the kind of vague comments that you are leaving here. The secession documents are just one place you can go, but I would suggest that you read Michael Bernath’s new book, Confederate Minds (UNC Press, 2010) which also does a wonderful job of exploring the political and intellectual world of elite white southerners on the eve of the Civil War and throughout the conflict.
Like I said before, if you are interested in my work as a historian I suggest you peruse my CV, hunt down one of my publications and form your own judgment. This all started because of a photograph and a link to a video. I am more than happy to talk with you about a specific historical study or document[s].
What claims have I made? Marc specifically said the Confederacy was created expressly for the preservation of slavery. He did not make any citations to back up that statement. Why are you not correcting him? Because you agree with the statement?
I do not need to cite a dozen sources to point out to you when what you are saying is an oversimplification. The issue I’m bringing up is not about slavery, the causes of the war or any of that. It’s about the characterization of those issues by “experts” who should know better than to use such language casually.
I would suggest you read William Zinsser, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-fiction, (HarperResources 6th. ed 1998). At the very least, Professor Zinsser makes it clear that using all kinds of adjectives and adverbs that are unnecessary clutter up the writing and distort the message.
Like I said before, if this is a blog about politics, then let’s talk politics and leave the citations and the trappings of academia behind. If this is a blog about history, then let’s be precise when we talk about it. Yes, this all started because of a photograph and a link to a video, neither of which I found at all noteworthy, and you have failed to make any kind of case as to why they are.
Thanks for not thanking me for my comments this time. We all know what that really means, don’t we?
I appreciate the Zinsser reference. The blogging format doesn’t always bring out the best in my writing. Let’s get something straight. I haven’t oversimplified anything re: the crucial role that slavery played in secession as well as its importance to our overall understanding of the war. You are free to take issue with anything I’ve said, but you must provide a reason for doing so. You haven’t taken any step in that direction.
Since we are apparently having such difficulty communicating with one another I suggest that we end this thread.
I don’t wish to belabor this point any more than you do, Kevin. My concern is that you’re missing my entire point for even commenting here in the first place.
I originally posted here because I don’t understand what you find ironic about a politician giving a speech in front of a convention in the town he represents. This happens every day in towns and cities across America. It is not a big deal. Even when the politician isn’t a fan of the topic of the convention, they routinely do it anyway. Conventions equal big bucks for convention towns.
So when you leave it up to interpretation, I can only guess as to your point. Is it ironic because it’s the SCV and he’s black? Then say that. Is it because of what Lee White wrote? Then say that. My point, to begin with, was that you didn’t make an intelligible point at all. If your readers have to guess as to what your point is, you’re not writing well. There’s nothing thought provoking about that.
That’s a lame point. You were the one who pointed out that you were familiar with this blog so that you were unaware of the point I was making seems just a bit disingenuous. However, I eventually did point out what I thought was ironic and you took issue with my explanation. Again, there is nothing strange about me pointing this out given the history of the Confederate flag as well as the historical lineage of the SCV.
I will put it another way. If the Confederacy had been successful in its bid for independence, it is safe to say that this event would not have taken place. It’s as simple as that. That is not to say anything about the problems of race elsewhere as well as the difficulties that African Americans continued to face in the rest of the country well after the war. This event took place in South Carolina.
Kevin, I am not being disingenuous. I’ve been visiting the site since the McDonnell proclamation and a colleague of mine points your posts out to me when he thinks they are noteworthy. He did that this morning, because he viewed your title as being ridiculous. I agreed with him.
I am well aware on your stance regarding the SCV and the display of the Confederate flag. As an aside, I always thought your About Me photo was ironic. Go figure.
Like I said, you viewed this picture and the speech as ironic. I view it as progress. I would think, given your disdain for the SCV, you’d appreciate their being so welcoming to a black man in South Carolina. That says a lot about how far our country has come since the War. Instead of praising it, you mocked it.
You must be incredibly bored today given the amount of attention you’ve given this site today. Since when did viewing something as ironic preclude other perspectives? I also view it as progress; in fact, it’s implicit in the irony itself.
Quite the opposite, in fact. I have a newborn at home. Between helping my wife change diapers and cleaning up spit up, I’ve quite enjoyed visiting the site. If I were bored, I wouldn’t bother coming back. Thanks for a pleasurable hour or so.
I’m happy to hear that you consider this progress, as I do. Honestly, I could not infer that from your original post nor from your comments and it didn’t jibe with your past described views on the SCV. So I do hope you’ll forgive me if I jumped to an incorrect conclusion.
For Mr. Schoeneman’s benefit, let me quote the nearly-opening line of Mississippi’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union:”
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…”
You can find a boatload of period documents on the causes of secession at my website, http://www.civilwarcauses.org/.
Brian, you wrote “neither the north or the south believed they were fighting to end or preserve white supremacy.” Race-based slavery was certainly the most fundamental institutionalized form of “white supremacy,” and the Confederacy was founded expressly, yes expressly, to preserve slavery. Since you seem to be interested in quibbling over definitions, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives as its first definition of “expressly”: “in an express manner: explicitly.” If you need further clarification, its first definition of “express” is, “directly, firmly, and explicitly stated.” If Kevin didn’t “correct” me for not citing sources, perhaps it is because he, as any informed historian would be, is familiar with the sources and understands that they support my statement.
Kevin, I had no luck with finding a copy of Apostles of Disunion at Borders and Amazon’s preview is fairly light. Does the book contain all the secession proclamations in the appendix? I keep trying to find a book that has all of them for each state, but I end up with only some or portions of them.
Apostles doesn’t include any of the secession documents. What Dew does include are a few of the speeches given by the secession commissioners, who are discussed in the body of the book. They are worth the price of the book.
Glad to hear you picked up a copy of Glatthaar’s book. It is a must read for students of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Thanks, Kevin. I’ll check it out. Do you know a book that contains all the secession documents in their entirety?
I’m sure there is one, but I am so used to the digital version that I’ve never bothered to look. You may also be interested in William Freehling’s latest book, which is a condensed edition of the Virginia Assembly’s secession debates that took place in early 1861. It’s an incredible resource: http://www.amazon.com/Showdown-Virginia-1861-Convention-Union/dp/0813929644/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280075580&sr=8-1
Scott, I haven’t seen a published work that contains all of them, but I believe they’re all online, one place or another. I went looking for them a while back, and noticed that a number of them really don’t go into any discussion of causes or grievances at all. They’re very short — sort of a “Resolved: We’re outta here!” kind of document. Those particular documents aren’t very helpful one way or another. Those of Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas seems to be the ones that go into most detail about specific factors that led those states to that action.
No mention of tariffs, BTW. Just sayin’. 😉
I’ll second Kevin’s endorsement of the AoNV book. Glatthaar has an older book I just picked up on the interaction between black regiments and their white officers that looks very good, too.
Forged in Battle is one of the most important books on that subject. In fact, it’s been sitting in front of me for the past few weeks.
The medal thing just struck me as a little odd, given the official policy of the Confederacy itself. I’ve been to lots of meetings and conventions as well, with name badges adorned with ribbons and pins and other designators (“Speaker,” “Past President,” etc.), so I entirely get the intent here. It’s the form that seemed a bit of a disconnect.
I have less issue with the rank thing given that (as far as I’ve seen) the titles refer to the members’ role in the organization, rather than actual military ranks. At the (few) local camp meetings I’ve attended as a guest, I don’t recall folks running around saluting and addressing each other as Colonel This and Captain So-and-So. Now that would be a little unsettling.
Hey! Did you guys see that black dude up there with all those white guys in front of a Confederate flag? What incredible irony!
It’s like rain on your wedding day!
Actually, the photo is quite ironic — as Lee White pointed out. Considering the national political leaders who have hailed from the Edgefield District, and their strong support for black slavery and/or white supremacy, I think that the photo indicates how far, though imperfectly, we have advanced in race relations.
United States Senator Ben Tillman, from the Edgefield District, responded to Theodore Roosevelt’s hosting of Booker T. Washington at the White House with this comment: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n***** will necessitate our killing a thousand n****** in the South before they learn their place again.” (From _Ben Tillman and the Reconstruction of White Supremacy_, by Stephen Kantrowitz.) The SCV were welcomed by the mayor of Abbeville, and they have indirectly overturned Senator Tillman’s judgement. I call that ironic.
As an aside: Tillman’s lawyer, J. William Thurmond, was the father of Strom Thurmond — who advocated the preservation of conservative Southern values, including segregation and states rights, in the 1948 Dixiecrat campaign for the presidency.
If anything, historians should continue to analyze the complex legacies of politicians such as Ben Tillman, Strom Thurmond, and Tom Watson. The ironies are sure to abound.
Thanks for the comment, John. I was hoping that the exercise would bring out some thoughtful comments.
At least they had the decency not to display an American flag on that dais. Kudos to them for sailing under their true colors. Would it be too much to hope that these are not the same men who drape themselves in the Stars and Stripes when it suits them?
Very Ironic, on many levels. Abbeville used to be part of the Edgefield District, which produced Preston Brooks, Martin Gary, Ben Tillman, etc.
I can infer the irony, but where’s the study?
You are looking at it.