Thoughts on Virginia “Confederate History Month” Controversy

You probably heard about the furor surrounding Virginia’s governor declaring April “Confederate Heritage Month” last week.  Briefly, the last two VA governors (Democrats, I’m just sayin’) refused to do that.  But, last week, GOP governor McDonnell not only revived the practice, but issued a really insulting proclamation declaring that not only would the state celebrate the Ceonfederacy, but also that the civil war was a “war of independence” that had little to do with slavery.  He eventually apologized and ammended the proclamation to mention slavery’s importance in history (which was mighty White of him, I thought).

I wasn’t going to comment on this low-hanging fruit.  But, I’ve read some really good stuff on this, and our group is so history-oriented, I thought I’d share some of it.

But, first, I lived in Virginia for 12 years, and I can tell you that there is a lot of symaphy — and even nostalgia — for the Confederacy in some parts of the state.  Dozens of schools are named after Lee and Jackson and other ‘heroes” of the war  Shrines and monuments and museums are everywhere, creepy pro-Confederacy groups hold festivals and publish the craziest stuff on the internet, etc.  These are not majority sentiments, I’m sure.  The point is, though, that the governor’s actions were not some odd tic of his: There is substantial sympathy and support for stuff like this in many parts of VA.

As to the great comments I’ve read, this first one reminds us what neo-Confederate symbology really means.

“Efforts to rehabilitate the Southern rebellion frequently come at moments of racial and social stress, and it is revealing that Virginia’s neo-Confederates are refighting the Civil War in 2010. Whitewashing the war is one way for the right — alienated, anxious and angry about the president, health care reform and all manner of threats, mostly imaginary — to express its unease with the Age of Obama, disguising hate as heritage.If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history. Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation. For white supremacists, iconography of the “Lost Cause” was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag.

But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.

In the aftermath of World War II, however, the rebel flag and other Confederate symbolism resurfaced as the civil rights movement spread. In 1948, supporters of Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket waved the battle flag at campaign stops.

Then came the school-integration rulings of the 1950s. Georgia changed its flag to include the battle emblem in 1956, and South Carolina hoisted the colors over its Capitol in 1962 as part of its centennial celebrations of the war…”

Another commenter says, instead, let’s have us a Civil War Commemoration Month, so that we learn the right lessons from the conflict.  Notably, that the war disabused Americans of notions like these:

• The false idea that individuals in a republic are only responsible for themselves and their well-being, that they owe nothing to their fellow citizens past a grudgingly paid tax for national defense, and the associated false idea that somehow everyone will be just fine without laws, regulations, or taxation and that our responsibility is for the upholding of not human rights but the upholding of ‘property’ rights;

• The false idea that one race or one group is “American” when all others are not, including those with different beliefs, ideas, lifestyles, background and origin, for along those lines lies the belief that one group is not only more American, but morally superior to another and has both the right and responsibility to oppress another;

• The false idea that God is always on your side…which leads to a firm conviction that whatever you do, you are doing “God’s Will” and all others are not only against you politically, but against God–a quite convenient situation for immoral and unethical leaders and one that Confederate leaders used to motivate an entire generation of poor white Southern men to die on the battlefield for slavery;

• The false idea that the Federal government is somehow inferior (or ineffective or inefficient) when compared to local or state governments, that local government “always knows best”; this view of reality quickly leads to localized suppression of civil rights, destruction of liberties, and violates the most hallowed compact of our Republic, the Constitution; and lastly,

• That the American people can be fooled only part of the time; even those that gain the most from a society but believe themselves to be the most downtrodden will ultimately discover the extent of the lies told to them by their political leaders. To paraphrase one Confederate soldier after the war, “I fought for my country [the C.S.A.] but I’ll be damned if I ever fight for it again.”

Read parts one and two of this guy’s thoughts on the controversy, too.  None better.  If I find any more eloquent (not just outraged piling on) analyses of this controversy, I’ll add them here later.

Finally, while we’re on the subject, I’ve suggested several times that we have a topic on the role the South plays in American politics.  Now that the Republican Party is even more a creature of the South than it was two years ago, and the Tea Partys are a stirrin’, how about it?  My point in doing this would not be to tar an entire political party as racist.   It’s just that, if the GOP keeps shrinking (2010 election victories caused mainly by the recession notwithstanding) it will have to do more to hang onto the base that it has —  and that includes White Southernors of all stripes.

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One response

  1. This is worth comment, particularly given the not very creditable role the South plays
    in modern American politics.
    A month to reflect on the causes and results
    of the Civil War–perhaps. But glorification of the Southern cause? Nothing could be more perverse, in my view

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