The Heart of the Confederacy

I am quite curious to see what the turnout will be this weekend in Montgomery, Alabama for the sesquicentennial commemoration of Jefferson Davis’s oath of office. According to Thomas Strain Jr. of Tanner, a member of the national board of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, “We are trying to present a historical account of what happened 150 years ago.” They are hoping to have hundreds of reenactors march up Dexter Ave. toward the state Capitol. Strain doesn’t perceive this reenactment to be at all controversial. Fortunately, Mr. Strain doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial. This commemoration cannot simply mark a discrete moment in the past independently of the events that took place in that city in more recent years. In this case that includes a history of civil rights protest by the very citizens of Montgomery – descendants of people that would have remained enslaved had the Confederate experiment in rebellion been successful. Because of this, Saturday’s commemoration will look nothing like the Montgomery of 1937 and that is something that we should all be thankful for.

42 comments… add one
  • Will Stoutamire Feb 19, 2011 @ 10:28


    I have not attempted to vilify the SCV. I have very clearly stated that I disagree with their stance on Civil War ‘history,’ but that I in no way consider them a hate group, a bunch of racists, or something of that nature. Disagreement on points of history is not vilification.

    Nor have I argued that slavery was the only difference between the two regions, but rather that it was the “primary” cause of tension in the years leading up to the war and, ultimately, in secession. You wrote: “If there were no slavery at all, there still would have been a war, I am certainly convinced of that.” This apparently amounts to a gut feeling on your part, which doesn’t pass the history test. Any perusal of a whole host of Southern newspapers, secession proceedings, declarations of the causes, speeches by early Confederate leaders, etc. clearly shows otherwise. I don’t like to deal in “ifs” but, if, in some parallel world, slavery did not exist in the South, many of those economic and cultural differences that you are inferring would also not have existed.

    As far as your comment about US slave ships, I’m not going to rehash my earlier argument. No credible historian is denying that history – the finger is already pointed.

    You wrote: “The SCV is well-aware of the fact that slavery was a cause of secession” and “Lincoln used slavery as an excuse for the war.” As to the first statement, the stance of the national organization continues to maintain that slavery was not the primary cause of secession. One only need look at their response to Gov. McDonnell’s re-issued proclamation to see this. Your latter statement seems to fly in the face of one point of agreement between historians and the SCV – that Lincoln did not, in fact, want to free the slaves at the beginning of his presidency; that the Union army was not the Army of Abolition in 1861. I gather you are simply using that statement to maintain the SCV stance that the North brought war on the South – i.e the “War of Northern Aggression.” I don’t even want to go there…

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 10:29

      HI Will,

      I already deleted Jim’s comment for a number of reasons. Glad to see you quoted the relevant part of his comment.

      • Will Stoutamire Feb 19, 2011 @ 10:31

        Ha, thanks. I wondered why I got bumped to the bottom of the page! 🙂

  • Michael C. Lucas Feb 19, 2011 @ 3:48

    Mr. Levin,

    If you had any merit as a historian then you would know there are two sides to every coin. And yet it doesn’t lessen the value of the currency. However inciting aggression does, it demeans the value of all humanity, you may joke and chide it only shows you have tunnel vision. If this country is to remain it will have move forthwith with all it children protected under the constitution. This includes Confederate Americans, they have an equal right to preserve history and fair representation of who they are. You may have a negative opinion which you may voice, protected by freedom of speech. But it is on record you are inciting hatred, the very same hatred you purport to despise. Overzealous historians have put us in this predicament over the last 60-70 years, great authors of concise history. History is not concise, it is continually expanding, generalizations only hinder the clarity of understanding the scope of its vastness. So just just know you are doing an injustice to our profession by being close minded, inflammatory and instigating aggression against people you clearly do not know or understand. You have become, what you accuse others of being, offensive.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 3:54

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mr. Lucas. I am sorry to hear that you find my tone and content to be offensive.

      • Arleigh Birchler Feb 19, 2011 @ 5:54

        That was an excellent response. Once more my respect for you has increased.

        One of my friends while I was in Madison, Wisconsin, was Tammy Baldwin. We agreed on nearly every issue, and I would frequently talk with her about them. There was one thing that slightly lowered my respect for her. I would attend Memorial Day ceremonies each year at the Capitol building and at the cemetery. Tammy would always deliver a speech at the cemetery. She would stay with the group as we moved from one section to another, where the soldiers from various wars are buried. She would attend the ceremony at Union Rest, but quietly leave just before the service at Confederate Rest. I took her to task for this. I left Madison about six years ago and I am not sure what she is doing now.

      • Michael C. Lucas Feb 19, 2011 @ 7:39

        It’s not just the content, however it is the tone and the agenda. The very reason wars occur is because of that type of instigation, propaganda and misinformation. You have to choose to one thing or the other a Historian or Propaganda Minister?

        • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 7:54

          Mr. Lucas,

          I suggest that you find another blog to read. For someone who is so offended by the content of this blog you sure do spend a great deal of time on it. Thanks for your support.

          • Michael C. Lucas Feb 19, 2011 @ 8:30

            I will try to support you all that I can, but it would be remiss of me to ignore you, else I would be a hypocrite. I practice what I preach, and discussion is proactive to enlightenment.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 8:39

              Your problem is that you have absolutely nothing of interest to say. This little thread is concluded. Thanks again for your obsession with my website.

  • Clint E. Lacy Feb 18, 2011 @ 22:14

    Good Luck in Boston Mr. Levin. If you do for Revolutionary War history what you have done for the history of the War Between the States, you’ll have made demons of our founding fathers in no time.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 1:53

      LOL… Demons? Thanks for my early morning laugh, Mr. Lacy. You are very funny.

      • Arleigh Birchler Feb 19, 2011 @ 5:37

        I am glad that you saw the humor in this. Gives me more respect for you.

  • Kirsten Schultz Feb 18, 2011 @ 14:20

    I was fascinated listening to and watching this film. I will not cover the entire score, but it was interesting that 1st two arrangements I could identify were 1) James Bland’s “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” and Bland’s “Oh! Dem Golden Slippers”. The former is played with strings in a highly romantic manner, suggesting it is nostalgia that was the primary motivation for its selection, rather than any attempt to equate AL and VA (although both were in the Confederacy), or go for the “authenticity” of an actual song popular during the ACW. I wonder if the arranger (not credited in this clip) felt that nostalgia and Southernness were the primary messages of this portion of the film, as blackface minstrelsy was so linked to pastoral and comic images of the Old South.

    I’m sure you’re aware that Bland was an African-American composer whose most commercially successful songs appeared in the decades after the war. A few years after this film was made Bland’s unmarked grave was located, landscaped and given a formal marker with support of several organizations, including the Lions Club of Virginia (mentioned prominently on that marker).

  • John Stoudt Feb 18, 2011 @ 4:58

    Just wondered about this one . . .

    Was there a benediction at the inaguration, and did it include a Biblical defense of slavery? If there was one, will it be re-enacted?

    I find it curious that a person could honor the secular heritage (states’ rights, creation of of the CSA government) of a group and at the same time downplay or ignore their religious world view (slavery ordained by God). Wouldn’t the former pale in comparison to the latter?

    Personally, I would like to visit Montgomery to see the state capitol and the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church:

    • Arleigh Birchler Feb 18, 2011 @ 7:19

      Yes, John. It is also curious that one could honor the United States Declaration of Independence. The list of charges against the British in the Declaration include the fact that they wanted to free the slaves in North America, and that they wanted to protect Native American Indians lands against encroachment by the colonists. How can we honor any country that was founded on the basis of slavery and stealing the land from Native Americans? How could anyone fly a flag that is based on those racist principles, or celebrate the 4th of July?

      Of course we might make the typical claim that in the middle of the nineteenth century we took actions to correct those problems (ignoring for a moment the continued expansion of the United States until it included all of the land between Mexico and Canada). But for a White Southerner to claim that they honor their ancestors but do not believe in slavery or racism is just laughable. Where do they get such notions?

      • Will Stoutamire Feb 18, 2011 @ 8:35

        Yes, but the difference being if you go to Mount Vernon or Monticello today, you will see an attempt (however well implemented) at discussing the relationship between liberty and slavery for those “Founding Fathers.” If you go to Independence National Historic Site in Philadelphia, you will find a reconstruction of the President’s House, used by Washington, with an entire exhibition dedicated to exploring the conflict between freedom and slavery in early America and the Washington household. If you go to Little Bighorn, you will see a discussion of Manifest Destiny and the role that expansionism played in conquering the West and destroying the American Indian way of life. The list goes on and on…

        These events occurred centuries ago, America has progressed from those views, and we are increasingly willing to take a critical historical look at the mistakes of our past – though we arguably still have a long way to go. But a willingness to examine the black eyes of American history in no way impinges on our ability to celebrate the country today and where it has come.

        The core problem with the SCV is their refusal to recognize the centrality of slavery to the cause of secession and the entire existence of the Confederacy. They can commemorate an historical individual or event, but they mustn’t gloss over the primary reason why that event occurred or that individual was placed in a position of power – to defend the institution of slavery. Just as you critiqued the “honoring” of early America, with its problematic attitudes towards slavery and expansion, one might also critique the “honoring” of a white Southerner (like Davis) who held similar views. The primary difference being, again, that the views of the former are now acknowledged and critically examined, while the views of the latter are continually denied by the SCV.

      • Billy Bearden Feb 18, 2011 @ 8:40


        Didn’t you just tell me recently not to use logic in an emotional argument?

        • Arleigh Birchler Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:13

          Billy, ROTFLMAO!

          Since Mr Stoutamire obviously knows what every member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans think, feel, and believe, I see no point in responding. People who judge groups of people as a whole seldom see the error in their way.

          • Will Stoutamire Feb 18, 2011 @ 13:54

            Mr. Birchler,

            Yes, you got me. The fact that a few members of the SCV may, today, willingly admit slavery as the cause of the war somehow disproves my larger point. Aside from the stance of the national organization as a whole (“The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.” – taken from the main page of and the vitriolic responses received by historians when slavery is raised as an issue, saying the SCV denies the importance of slavery in precipitating Southern secession is clearly unfair to those handful who might not do so. Let me rephrase my earlier point, which you did not respond to…

            You had provided a typical argument pointing out the flaws in the early American republic and how, despite those issues, we still “honor” that time. I countered by arguing that, today, many (but clearly not all) Americans are open to a more critical view of the relationship between slavery and liberty in that era. It is this openness that is important. It is something that is lacking in the SCV as a whole, excepting those few who might deviate from the contemporary and historical stance of the organization.

            Let me be clear. I am in no way saying that a white Southerner who wants to commemorate his or her ancestor’s involvement in the Confederacy is, by some extension, either pro-slavery or racist. I am, however, criticizing the general tendency (though there are likely exceptions) for members of the SCV to evade a critical history of the Confederacy and of the motivations behind secession in defense of “honoring their ancestors.” A straw poll of the SCV members attending this reenactment would likely prove that point.

  • Scott MacKenzie Feb 17, 2011 @ 19:29

    I’m planning to go. It’ll be good for a laugh.

  • John Hennessy Feb 17, 2011 @ 17:17

    The tenor of this is not at all surprising. It wouldn’t even be surprising if it were made in 1985. What’s interesting is that the National Park Service made the film. I wonder how that came to be…. Anyone know?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2011 @ 17:36

      Hi John,

      I noticed a bunch of other videos done by the Department of the Interior in the 1930s. I just assumed it was a New Deal project.

      • Will Stoutamire Feb 17, 2011 @ 19:47

        Just in case you missed it, the CCC is credited in the video’s introduction. It’s definitely a New Deal-related project of some sort.

        Interesting find, Kevin. While I take little issue with a modern commemoration of this historical event – which could include a reading, but placed it in its proper context – the SCV clearly intends to make it a celebratory occasion, as usual. Given their particular bent on Civil War ‘history’, this is all the more concerning considering Davis’ inaugural makes no direct mention of slavery. It’s no wonder they adamantly want to reenact it…

        • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2011 @ 1:49

          Thanks Will.

  • Arleigh Birchler Feb 17, 2011 @ 16:44

    I am having real trouble with this, Kevin. In my mind, reenactors and living historians are trying to accurately portray important events in our nations history. It is obvious that they can not get it absolutely right. What I might be reading into what you are saying is that those who who try to reenact historical events are doing so because they support the beliefs and feelings of the people they are portraying.

    Your posting of the reenactment of the slave auction in St Louis was great. Would you think that the folks who acted the parts of the folks buying and selling slaves, or the person who portrayed the auctioneer, all believe that slavery was a good thing, and that they were trying to promote a return to real slave auctions in Missouri?

    I have a hard time thinking that any of the folks who will be reenacting scenes from the War Between the States during the next four years are all a bunch of White Supremacists, Nazis, or Ku Klux Klan members.

    Sorry, I know that is not what you mean to say, but I am having a hard time seeing what it is that you really mean by this post.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2011 @ 17:35

      You said: “I have a hard time thinking that any of the folks who will be reenacting scenes from the War Between the States during the next four years are all a bunch of White Supremacists, Nazis, or Ku Klux Klan members.”

      Who said anything about white supremacists? I didn’t.

      I tend to interpret reenactments and commemorations as I do monuments. Monuments tell us as much about the people/organizations who dedicated them (if not more) than the event commemorated.

      • Lyle Smith Feb 17, 2011 @ 18:37

        “I tend to interpret reenactments and commemorations as I do monuments. Monuments tell us as much about the people/organizations who dedicated them (if not more) than the event commemorated.”

        So what will this reenactment say about the reenactors?

    • Billy Bearden Feb 18, 2011 @ 5:03


      I am going. You and Mr Levin are welcome to be my guests.

      I have taken part of many a parade to honor Robert E Lee in both Atlanta and Milledgeville, Confederate Memorial services in local cemeteries and Stone Mountain, and was front and center at the last Hunley Funeral.

      I look at this event as the same – to honor Jefferson Davis, and be part of history. All else is pure hype and speculation from people behind liberal desks who are paid to hype and speculate. Just last night I read an opinion from a young woman (Williams) who called the SCV a ‘hate group’ while quoting line and verse from Mark Potok. Stix and Stonz…

      I will safely venture attendance will be similar to Hunley.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2011 @ 5:08

        Have a good time. It will be nice to have your perspective.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Feb 18, 2011 @ 6:23

        I read the article, and it said:

        “Local hate groups, such as the pro-slavery group, League of the South, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group, are expected to be in attendance.”

        I don’t see the SCV described as a hate group in the piece.

        How would you describe the League of the South and the Council of Conservative Citizens?

        • Arleigh Birchler Feb 18, 2011 @ 7:02


          I also read Ms Williams article to see what it said. Perhaps it has been edited since Billy read it, but I could not find the SCV described as a hate group. I found the reference you quoted above, and at the bottom there was a list of “published in:” It included a link to the “Sons of Confederate Veterans” and one to “Hate Groups.” I strongly suspect that these are formatted by some bit of code that just displays them across the bottom. It is perhaps unfortunate that they appear next to each other. (I have never been able to convince myself that this sort of things is done “on purpose.”)

          I am fairly certain that the Southern Poverty Law Center used to list the Sons of Confederate Veterans on their list of Hate Groups. That was rather disturbing to me, and made me lose some respect for them.

          From what I have seen, the current leadership of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has been positioning itself in such a way as to make itself vulnerable to the kind of animosity that is directed at it from a number of sources, including folks in this forum. I find that extremely unfortunate.

          Another thing that has disturbed me for most of my life is the fact that so many people mentally substitute the word “Racist” for “States Rights”. Setting aside for a moment the distinction between States’ “rights” and “powers”, this sort of mental manipulation of words is really deplorable. If we want to talk about racism, let’s talk about racism. If we want to talk about states’ rights, let’s talk about states’ rights. Let’s stop this nonsense of declaring that anyone who does not believe in a strong central government is automatically a racist.

          In my opinion (which is, after all, the only one that matters ;^), Confederate soldiers were “American” soldiers. If anyone claims to honor American soldiers, they need to honor Confederate soldiers. It is that simple. Somehow placing Dr Martin Luther King Jr at the head of one army opposing another army with George Washington at its head totally misses what Dr King was talking about. It is deplorable. (I trust that I do not need to explain the last remark.)

        • Billy Bearden Feb 18, 2011 @ 8:19

          Sorry Y’all
          I’ll try not to be so complicated.

          It seems to have changed since last night. The only remaining difference is the link and title heading
          The link to the opinion “Hate Group set to honor…” while the hit piece states “Event planned to honor…” But even with the inflammatory link heading, The opinion opens and discusses the SCV.
          Of course the SCV is a ‘group’ singular. And of course the event would not happen but for the SCV ‘group’

          I just included the story as an example of the growing vitriol against the SCV.

          To properly assess the other groups briefly mentioned in passing and not the subject of said piece, I would have to research for myself, which is low on my list of prioites as of late. I might agree or disagree with you, but will not sign off just to be in the crowd. I have no experience with either.

          • Arleigh Birchler Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:26


            I certainly do not claim to speak for all members of the SCV, nor have I done a poll, but I have known at least a few who greatly dislike the League of the South, and the Council of Conservative Citizens. There are more then a few folks upset with the current leadership of the SCV, but that is different then transferring those feelings to all of the members of the SCV.

            Perhaps I already said this, but soldiers are the victims of war. Blaming them for the war is like blaming a rape victim.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:27

              Who is blaming soldiers for war? That certainly was not the point of this post.

  • Connie Chastain Feb 17, 2011 @ 16:41

    “Fortunately, Mr. Strain doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial.”

    Ah, yes. That’s your job, isn’t it, Mr. Levin?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 17, 2011 @ 17:32

      That’s exactly right, Connie…along with anyone else who cares to weigh in on these issues.

      • Connie Chastain Feb 18, 2011 @ 10:21

        Except for Mr. Strain. He “doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial…” Isn’t that what you said?

        • Kevin Levin Feb 18, 2011 @ 12:03

          He does and he did get to decide what is and isn’t controversial. Funny, how you seem to be the only one who is trying to limit the conversation.

          • Connie Chastain Feb 18, 2011 @ 22:44

            You now say, “He does and he did get to decide what is and isn’t controversial,” but that’s a direct contradiction to what you originally posted: “Fortunately, Mr. Strain doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t controversial.”

            Noting this contradiction is not an attempt to limit the conversation in any way.

            • Kevin Levin Feb 19, 2011 @ 1:51

              All I was attempting to point out is that no one individual or organization has a monopoly on how we ought to commemorate and remember the past. Do you understand my point now, Connie? Do we really have to continue this ridiculous little thread?

              • Arleigh Birchler Feb 19, 2011 @ 5:33

                I think there are three important things to me about this conversation:

                1) We are talking about slavery, one of the most horrendous crimes in human history;

                2) We are talking about a war that killed about 600,000 Americans, and turned us into a war nation; and

                3) Semantics are important to me. Words are how we communicate, and communications is very important.

                (I do not know Connie but I suspect I might deeply disagree with her politics. Believe it or not, I am trying to support you, Kevin.)

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