United Daughters of the Confederacy and Lost Cause Go Viral

Who says millennials aren’t interested in history? Back in September, during the height of the Confederate monument debate, I was contacted by Coleman Lowndes, who works on making short videos for the newsite, Vox. Coleman was hoping to put together a video on the United Daughters of the Confederacy and their influence on the Lost Cause that would offer some insight into the broader debate about the legacy of the Confederacy.

He hit it out of the park. The final product offers both a compelling and rich narrative that is visually engaging as well. It is ideal for a generation that has never experienced a world without YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. I make a couple of appearances as does historian Karen Cox, who is the leading authority on the U.D.C.

The video was published on October 25, 2017 and it is about to hit 1 million views. It is a testament to the power of video and perhaps an indication that younger Americans are more deeply engaged in history than is often assumed.

Update: At 5:30pm the video topped 1 million views.

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“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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17 comments… add one
  • John Heiser Jan 11, 2018 @ 9:11

    Very interesting video and well done, point by point. So much of the UDC’s purpose was preservation of the “noble cause” their fathers and grandfathers fought for, which they personally defined in text books and monuments. Despite the well received “Great Reunion” at Gettysburg in 1913, the UDC was not in favor of any further mutual reunions afterwards and I believe further influenced the divide between the UCV and GAR as time passed, possibly a point of their agenda? Nice job, Kevin; I also really dig your book shelves!

  • Eric A. Jacobson Jan 9, 2018 @ 9:01

    Put simply, this is a wonderful and amazing video. Well done.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2018 @ 9:13

      Thanks, Eric.

  • AD Powell Jan 8, 2018 @ 19:44

    It seems that women who organize and devote themselves to promoting reactionary or right-wing causes have always been more powerful than those who fought for progressive causes. In addition to the UDC, think of Phyllis Schlafly and her movement against the Equal Rights Amendment.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 9, 2018 @ 2:41

      Some of those women may have seen themselves as progressive in their willingness to take on a more public position when it came to commemorating Confederate veterans and the cause in the early 20th century. Linda Gordon has a fascinating chapter in her new book on the 1920s Klan in which she describes women’s involvement as one thread of early feminism. Sounds strange, but it all depends on how we define these terms.

    • Andy Hall Jan 11, 2018 @ 12:51

      I’m not sure Phyllis Schlafly was as powerful in that fight as women she opposed; she was notable because she was arguing against type, and so got a lot of media attention — not unlike Edgerton or Cooper, parading around with Confederate flags and saying that antebellum enslaved people were in that circumstance because they chose to be slaves.

  • Diane Hyra Jan 8, 2018 @ 10:33

    A few years ago on Richmond’s Civil War and Emancipation Day, I toured the headquarters of the UDC. I think it is the only day of the year it is open to the general public. I felt as if I had stepped into another world. Though the women today try hard to get the message across they are a “service organization”, it is clear they are still all about maintaining the myth (though they’d never call it that!) of the Lost Cause. It was fascinating visiting an alternate reality in the city that I’ve called home since 2003.

    • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2018 @ 10:36

      Hi Diane,

      Thanks for the comment. I am jealous. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to tour the headquarters in Richmond. The SCV tends to be much more vocal publicly, but the UDC still has its mission to defend the Lost Cause.

  • Matthew Tenney Jan 8, 2018 @ 4:59

    I understand that the textile industry in the north, particularly Massachusetts, benefited greatly from southern slavery. How did that get left out of the history books? I grew up in Wash. D.C. and I don’t remember reading that the Capitol was built by slaves. How did that get left out?

    • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2018 @ 10:39

      Hi Matthew,

      They did indeed. Slavery is not an easy topic to talk about up here in New England. It is a history that has been ignored for a number of reasons, including not wanting to acknowledge a regional complicity in the institution of slavery after the Civil War.

      • Matthew Tenney Jan 8, 2018 @ 15:53

        A simple “we don’t buy slave-grown cotton” from England and New England would have ended slavery in the south?

        • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2018 @ 16:32

          Not sure I understand the point you are trying to make?

    • hankc Jan 12, 2018 @ 8:33

      The art of history includes connecting, or not, dots representing facts.

      Southern cotton was produced by slaves in 1850. It was mostly exported to England and shipped to New England. Demand for cotton (i.e. clothing) is pretty inelastic.

      US cotton production and exports doubled from 1850 (when it was produced by slaves) to 1870 (when produced by supposed free men).

      Was slavery a necessary means of labor for cotton production in 1850, regardless of it’s end use?

  • Patrick Young Jan 7, 2018 @ 18:26

    Did you ever see what Merriam Webster’s defintion of Radical Republican is? Looks like it was written by the UDC:

    Definition of Radical Republican
    : a Republican favoring drastic and usually repressive measures against the southern states in the period following the Civil War

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Radical Republican

    • Kevin Levin Jan 8, 2018 @ 2:43

      Nice catch.

    • Mary Cabell Feb 5, 2019 @ 21:13

      I’m sorry, is it good to repress?
      Personally I feel progress is better.
      Mary Cabell Pender
      Direct descent of General William Dorsey Pender

  • Larry Cebula Jan 7, 2018 @ 12:23

    Absolutely. I have a local history project, SpokaneHistorical.org, which has garnered about a million impressions since 2012. According to Google Analytics, 60% of those are from people less than 35 years old.

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