Winthrop University released a poll this week to gauge where Southerners stand on the removal of Confederate monuments and the cause of the Civil War. The results point to a significant shift in regional identification with and memory of the Civil War. Well, sort of.
The poll offers the following assessment of attitudes toward monuments and the Confederate battle flag:
Forty-two percent of Southerners said to leave those memorials alone, while 28% said to add a plaque for context and historical interpretation. Nearly one-fourth want to move the statutes to a museum. Huffmon notes, “All told, 56% want to do something other than simply leave the monuments and statues as they are, but these folks are very divided on what should be done. A strong plurality advocate leaving them as they are.”
As far as statues honoring leaders and politicians who supported racial segregation, 30% said to leave the statues in public spaces. One-fourth said to add a marker, another fourth said to put them in a museum, while 13% said to remove them. Thirty-seven percent of black respondents said to put them in a museum, while a fourth said to remove them.
On the cause of the Civil War:
Even though the American Civil War ended in 1865, the causes of the war continue to be debated. A fourth of all respondents said it was caused by slavery; 21% said states’ rights; and half said both were equal causes. Thirty percent of black respondents said slavery was the cause, while 58% said both slavery and states’ rights were the cause.
The results fall in line with other recent surveys, but this and other polls obscures what is likely a much more interesting and revealing set of attitudes in the South today.
One of the things I would very much like to see is a poll that tracks generational shifts in Civil War memory. As it stands the Winthrop poll frames this issue along racial lines. We learn what whites and blacks think about Confederate monuments and the flag, but there is every reason to believe that there are significant fault lines specifically among white Southerners.
In addition to salient differences between different generations of white Southerners, we also need to better understand other factors, including:
- regions within the South
- urban v. rural
- recent arrivals v. established families
The larger concern is that the very titles of many of the news articles reporting the Winthrop poll today obscure a much more complicated story. I venture to guess that when most people read a headline that references ‘Southerners’ they immediately think ‘white Southerners.’ Yes, the poll surveys black Southerners, but what about communities, including recent immigrants, that now make this region their home?
Guess what, they are Southerners too.