Edward Sebesta Strikes Again

Earlier today Edward Sebesta posted some commentary on a recent controversy over the management of Jefferson Davis’s postwar home at Beauvoir. I also commented on this story back in March and was highly critical of the Mississippi SCV. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for Sebesta, who takes issue with my belief that the home deserves to be “professionally interpreted.”

Levin believes himself to be a member of the elite interpreters of the Civil War and is upset that Beauvoir isn’t going to be interpreted by people like him. Note his terms “professionally interpreted” and “respectfully and tastefully.” He would be quite happy with Beauvoir continuing to be used as a Confederate shrine by “professional” interpreters as he is with the Museum of the Confederacy being a Confederate shrine.

This is not the first time that I’ve been accused of being an “elitist” but it is funny to hear it from Ed rather than the usual folks. I do believe that Beauvoir deserves to be preserved and interpreted so as to give visitors a sense of the location’s importance both to Davis and to the memory of the Confederacy.

The problem for Sebesta is that he does not approach these issues from the perspective of a historian or teacher. His publications bare very little understanding or even interest in history. Sebesta also doesn’t seem to see any value in using sites such as Beauvoir or even the Museum of the Confederacy as opportunities to educate students and the general public. In fact, if you read his review of the MOC there is no indication that he has ever stepped foot in the museum. Dare I say the same can likely be said for Beauvoir.

Here is the rest of Sebesta’s indictment of me:

Levin is also upset with manifestations of the neo-Confederate agenda. He puts neo-Confederate in quotes in his blog posts, as if it is a questionable term. With the SCV agenda at Beauvoir, it becomes harder to ignore the reality of the neo-Confederate movement when it is highly visible. The SCV agenda for Beauvoir will discredit the Confederacy whereas the “professional” interpretation would work to increase identification with the Confederacy.

This increased visibility is good since it will alert the public. It will also serve to discredit the Civil War enthusiasts who want the Civil War to be anything and everything but the issues of race and slavery and would like to enthuse over Varina’s garden and count buttons on uniforms. These Civil War enthusiasts will also be seen as enablers as since they surely should have been aware of the neo-Confederate movement and did nothing.

Kevin Levin is representative of a certain faction of Civil War enthusiasts which would like to avoid a lot of issues about the Civil War. So it is instructive to observe him. As the the issues of historical memory regarding the Civil War move into the future he is reacting to it and his blog postings are very revealing. I next hope to blog on his coverage of the opposition to neo-Confederacy at Washington and Lee University by African American students.  It is both hilarious and revealing.

Yes, I believe that many of these sites of controversy surrounding Confederate history and memory ought to be preserved and properly/professionally interpreted. I fail to see what is controversial about this unless the goal is simply to consign these places to the dustbins of history. I’ve always thought that Sebesta is the worst kind of activist. He knows only how to tear things down.

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7 comments… add one
  • James F. Epperson May 19, 2014 @ 2:46

    Having been exposed to Crawfish’s ideas in the early 90s (Crawfish was his original nom de net), and seen him accuse such folk as Bud Robertson of being “Neo-Confederate historians,” I can say that Sebesta is not interested in a true study of history, but in shaping it to meet his personal needs and preconceptions. He is, in many ways, a true “anti-Lost Causer.”

  • Christopher Shelley May 18, 2014 @ 21:21

    Weird. Very weird. Going back and reading his blog, I have a hard time reconciling his description of your work with anything like “white nationalism.” He clearly does not follow “Civil War Memory” very closely. I haven’t been in this blog-thing long enough to get all of what’s going on, but it feels like he’s picking a fight with you to self-aggrandize–that tearing “CVM” down somehow proves his point (whatever that is). He’s certainly very proud of his CV. The only other option I can think of is that he’s a “true believer” on the anti-neo-Confederate site, and that anyone who doesn’t blast SCV is an equivocator, an apologist. Again, he hasn’t read the blog.

    He has the feeling of a sad little man.

    • Kevin Levin May 19, 2014 @ 1:04

      I don’t think he is picking a fight. You come close here:

      The only other option I can think of is that he’s a “true believer” on the anti-neo-Confederate site, and that anyone who doesn’t blast SCV is an equivocator, an apologist.

      Ed paints with a very broad brush. He is not interested in education, history or the tough questions related to interpreting the past that folks on the ground wrestle with at various places.

  • Matthew Hulbert May 18, 2014 @ 18:02

    So the “non-elite, non-professional” alternative — even if the house wasn’t in the hands of its current owners — would either be:

    1) to discard the house completely because of its association with the Confederacy and attempt to stamp out its memory rather than reshape it; or 2) to present it to the public in a way that rightfully depicted the racial component of the war and the wrongs of chattel slavery but nothing else (i.e., presenting a well-intentioned message hopelessly out of historical context)?

    If those really were the only two options, that’s a pretty slippery slope and more than a little scary…

    • Kevin Levin May 19, 2014 @ 1:06

      It’s a reflection of Sebesta’s limited ability or interest in these questions that is on display here and not anything approaching careful thinking. Truly bizarre.

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