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“Why Do People Believe Myths About The Confederacy?”: Because Our Textbooks And Monuments Are Wrong

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley once said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as the Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done and why. The resulting mythology took hold of the nation a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest, as Michele Bachmann did in 2011, that slavery was somehow pro-family and why the public, per the Pew Research Center, believes that the war was fought mainly over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation they spread, which has manifested in our public monuments and our history books.

Take Kentucky, where the legislature voted not to secede. Early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm, as we imagined and hoped, but hostility.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won parts of Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Maryland, which did not secede, sent 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, but it also sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Still, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland: That we through life may not forget to love the thin gray line.”

In fact, the thin gray line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Robert E. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. It didn’t. Instead, Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early ransomed $200,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to about $3 million today. But Frederick now boasts a Confederate memorial, and the manager of the town’s cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

Neo-Confederates didn’t just win the battle of public monuments. They managed to rename the war, calling it the War Between the States, a locution born after the conflict that was among the primary ways to refer to the war in the middle of the 20th century, after which it began to fade. Even “Jeopardy!” has used this language.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded over states’ rights. Yet when each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede From the Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended the delegates: “Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.” Governments there had exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some no longer let slave owners “transit” across their territory with slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for — white supremacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Despite such statements, neo-Confederates erected monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1963, claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights provided the Palmetto State’s creed. In 1963, however, its leaders did support states’ rights; politicians tried desperately that decade to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and civil rights.

So thoroughly did this mythology take hold that our textbooks still stand history on its head and say secession was for, rather than against, states’ rights. Publishers mystify secession because they don’t want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales. Consider this passage from “The American Journey,” probably the largest textbook ever foisted on middle school students and perhaps the best-selling U.S. history textbook:

The South Secedes

Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it already existed. Nevertheless, many people in the South mistrusted the party, fearing that the Republican government would not protect Southern rights and liberties. On December 20, 1860, the South’s long-standing threat to leave the Union became a reality when South Carolina held a special convention and voted to secede.

The section reads as if slavery was not the reason for secession. Instead, the rationale is completely vague: White Southerners feared for their “rights and liberties.” On the next page, the authors are more precise: White Southerners claimed that since “the national government” had been derelict ” — by refusing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal rights in the territories — the states were justified in leaving the Union.”

“Journey” offers no evidence to support this claim. It cannot. No Southern state made any such charge against the federal government in any secession document I have ever seen. Abraham Lincoln’s predecessors, James Buchanan and Franklin Pierce, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party. For 10 years, the federal government had vigorously enforced the Fugitive Slave Act. Buchanan supported pro-slavery forces in Kansas even after his own minion, territorial governor and former Mississippi slave owner Robert Walker, ruled that they had won an election only by fraud. The seven states that seceded before Lincoln took office had no quarrel with “the national government.”

Teaching or implying that the Confederate states seceded for states’ rights is not accurate history. It is white, Confederate-apologist history. “Journey,” like other U.S. textbooks, needs to be de-Confederatized. So does the history test we give to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens. Item No. 74 asks them to “name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then gives three acceptable answers: slavery, economic reasons and states’ rights. (No other question on this 100-item test has more than one right answer.) If by “economic reasons” it means issues with tariffs and taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers” are wrong.

The legacy of this thinking pervades Washington, too. The dean of the Washington National Cathedral has noted that some of its stained-glass windows memorialize Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. There’s a statue of Albert Pike, Confederate general and reputed leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux Klan, in Judiciary Square.

The Army runs Fort A.P. Hill, named for a Confederate general whose men killed African American soldiers after they surrendered; Fort Bragg, named for a general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent; and Fort Benning, named for a general who, after he helped get his home state of Georgia to secede, made the following argument to the Virginia legislature:

What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction . . . that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. . . . If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. . . . By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. . . . The consequence will be that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile Earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.

With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what the Confederacy was about and our Army honoring Southern generals, no wonder so many Americans supported the Confederacy until recently. We can see the impact of Confederate symbols and thinking on Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine in a Charleston, S.C., church, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a neo-Confederate T-shirt showing Abraham Lincoln and the words “Sic semper tyrannis.” When white students in Appleton, Wis. — a recovering “sundown town” that for decades had been all white on purpose — had issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the ready.

Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in prompting the Civil War marginalizes African Americans and makes us all stupid. De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it will be a momentous step in that direction.

 

By: James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont; The Washington Post, July 1, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy, Slavery | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Let’s Make The Confederate Flag A Hate Crime”: It Is The American Swastika And We Should Recoil From It In Horror

Early Thursday morning, the State House of South Carolina voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State Capitol. Gov. Nikki Haley has pledged to sign the bill immediately, and the flag may come down as soon as today.

Frederick Douglass, the former slave who escaped to freedom, and became a major abolitionist and civil rights leader a century and a half ago, foresaw this day.  But he foresaw, too, that it would be a long time coming.

Speaking in Boston just days before the South surrendered at the end of the Civil War, Douglass warned that the North’s victory would not mean that that war had truly ended: “That enmity will not die out in a year, will not die out in an age,” he predicted.

As a former southerner himself, Douglass knew just how deep allegiance to the Southern slave-holding culture went. He declared:

“I believe that when the tall heads of this Rebellion shall have been swept down, you will see those traitors, handing down, from sire to son, the same malignant spirit which they have manifested, and which they are now exhibiting, with malicious hearts, broad blades, and bloody hands in the field, against our sons and brothers.”

Six years later, in 1871, Douglass wrote that,  “A rebellion is upon our hands today far more difficult to deal with than that suppressed, but not annihilated, in 1865.” He was speaking of the rising wave of mob violence and terrorism directed against African Americans all across the region. Like a “pestilence,” Douglass observed, “this last form of the rebellion – covert, insidious, secret, striking in the darkness of night, while assuming spotless robes of loyalty in the day – is far more difficult to deal with than an open foe.”

Has the age of “enmity” finally ended? Has the “malignant spirit” finally died away? Has the “pestilence” finally abated?

The answer to all of these questions is “no.” The hateful actions of Dylann Roof remind us of that. So do the white supremacist websites Roof found appealing. So do the many Confederate flags displayed in places across the South — and beyond — today, emblazoning T-shirts, affixed to car bumpers, and worn as lapel pins in business suits.

The heritage these flags stand for was a bloody war initiated by the South. Those Southerners who fired the first shots to attack U.S. troops at Fort Sumter – just a mile or two from the church where Roof gunned down nine black worshippers – aimed not only to “defend” slavery, but to promote slavery’s spread across the nation, especially in the West.  The defeat of the South was the defeat of the slavery system.

That defeat is still mourned by many sympathizers with the Confederate cause across the nation, who have somehow forgotten that the Lost Cause was the cause of slavery. To them, the Confederate flag is an innocent symbol, a symbol that honors the Confederate dead and preserves the memory of their gallantry and fighting spirit.

To black Americans, meanwhile, these flags send a clear, painful, and frightening message:You don’t belong here. By being here, you are in danger. This nation is not for you.  It was no coincidence that those who opposed the civil rights movement for desegregation and integration across America began to resurrect the use of the flag in the 1950s and 1960s.

Americans who refuse to acknowledge the connection between the Confederate flag and the horrors of slavery and white supremacy are still in the grip of a “malignant spirit” handed down from generation to generation from 1865 to this day.

It is a fine thing that the Confederate flag will no longer fly above the South Carolina state capitol. But displaying the Confederate flag anywhere is, at bottom, an act of hate. It should be recognized as such, and punished as a hate crime.

Given the millions who suffered under the whip of slave masters, and all the families separated as slave traders sold sons and daughters away from their parents, and wives away from their husbands, All Americans should recoil from the Confederate flag with the same horror we feel for the Nazi swastika.

That, I feel confident, is what Frederick Douglass would think.

 

By: Nick Bromell, Salon, July 11, 2015

July 12, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Slavery | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This One’s A Doozy!”: House Republicans Manage To Trip Over Confederate Flags

The recent debates over Confederate symbols have been limited almost entirely to states and local communities. Federal policymakers can show some leadership on the issue – and many have – but the decisions about Confederate flags, statues, road names, and license plates aren’t made in Washington, D.C.

This week, however, congressional Republicans found a way to trip over the issue anyway.

The developments started rather innocuously. Late Tuesday, after just a couple of minutes of debate, the U.S. House passed a measure sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) that would “prohibit the display of Confederate flags on graves in federal cemeteries.” Earlier in the day, the House also instructed the National Park Service to no longer sell Confederate flag in gift stores.

The measures passed by way of voice votes, and the developments didn’t generate much attention. That is, until last night, when Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) announced a dramatic change: a Republican amendment was set to undo what the House had just done.

Facing pressure and brewing media interest, late this morning, House GOP leaders were forced to pull the underlying bill altogether. Politico reported:

House Republican leadership was forced to pull a spending bill from the floor Thursday after an uproar over the Confederate flag threatened to sink the entire measure.

This one’s a doozy, so let’s unpack what happened.

At issue is an Interior Department spending bill, which was already considered controversial because it includes funding for the EPA – and the right does not care for the EPA. But some Southern Republicans complicated matters, telling the leadership they were prepared to help kill the spending measure altogether over the anti-Confederate amendments.

Republican Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi, for example, said in a statement, “Congress cannot simply rewrite history and strip the Confederate flag from existence. Members of Congress from New York and California cannot wipe away 150 years of Southern history with sleight-of-hand tactics.”

House Democrats, not surprisingly, responded with apoplexy over the GOP majority reversing course, defending Confederate flags, and attempting to scrap two amendments that passed without controversy just two days ago.

Faced with growing turmoil, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pulled the spending bill from the floor. Boehner told NBC News’ Luke Russert that the spending bill “is going to sit in abeyance until we come to some resolution.”

The Republican leader added that he does not want to see the issue become a “political football.” If today’s floor fight is any indication, it would appear Boehner’s too late.

South Carolina lawmakers managed to get this right, but the same cannot be said about Congress.

Postscript: It’s worth noting that while Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) was the member who announced the proposed reversal, he was not the one pushing for the change. Calvert said he introduced the amendment at the behest of the House Republican leadership, which was acting under pressure from Southern lawmakers.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Dear Texas: What Are You Afraid Of Now?”: We Must Live With Our Mistakes. How Else Are We Going To Learn From Them?

Well, there you go again, Texas, making me wish we still had your Molly Ivins around to make sense of you.

As the late, great columnist once so wisely explained, “Many a time freedom has been rolled back — and always for the same reason: fear.”

I took that to heart while reading a boatload of coverage about your elected state school board’s latest effort to indoctrinate its students with the kind of misinformation that’s going to make them the butt of an awful lot of jokes.

This time, you want your children to graduate from high school thinking slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War.

Dear Texas: What are you afraid of now?

We know you’re scared of your women, because you keep trying to eliminate their constitutional right to an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court put a stop to that stunt, at least for now.

We know you’re scared of progress, too, because you execute more people than any other state in the country. By the way, I’m wearing my favorite T-shirt right now, the one that reads: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.” Members of my late father’s union, Local 271 of the Utility Workers of America, gave me that T-shirt.

Holy sweet tea, there’s another thing you’re afraid of: unions. Can’t have workers negotiating for wages and benefits in Texas. They might make a living wage.

And now, it looks like you’re afraid of your own history. As The Washington Post‘s Emma Brown reported, this fall Texas students will have brand-new textbooks that cast slavery as a “side issue” of the Civil War. The books don’t even mention Jim Crow laws or the Ku Klux Klan.

Students will read Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address as president of the Confederate States of America, in which he didn’t mention slavery. But students won’t be required to read that famous speech by Davis’ vice-president, Alexander Stephens, “in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and ‘the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.’”

You see what Stephens did there? Of course you do, which is why he is now Texas’ least popular politician of the Civil War. Next to Abraham Lincoln, I mean. He made the cut for the new book, right? Please say yes.

In 1949, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. rebutted claims of an earlier generation of revisionists in an essay titled, “The Causes of the Civil War: A Note on Historical Sentimentalism.” He included the essay in his 1963 book, The Politics of Hope, which I pulled off our bookshelf and discovered to be packed with observations about America that are as relevant today — jarringly so — as they were more than five decades ago.

Schlesinger took on the revisionist argument that slavery had little, if anything, to do with the Civil War. The revisionists’ claim is best summarized as follows: “See now, there you go, misunderstanding what was happening in the South. Why, we were this close to freeing the slaves before Lincoln showed up with his uppity self.”

Schlesinger’s response, in part:

“To reject the moral actuality of the Civil War is to foreclose the possibility of an adequate account of its causes. More than that, it is to misconceive and grotesquely to sentimentalize the nature of history. … Nothing exists in history to assure us that the great moral dilemmas can be resolved without pain; we cannot therefore be relieved from the duty of moral judgment on issues so appalling and inescapable as those involved in human slavery; nor can we be consoled by sentimental theories about the needlessness of the Civil War into regarding our own struggles against evil as equally needless.”

We must live with our mistakes. How else are we going to learn from them?

Texas, you go ahead and try to poison the minds of your children, but this version of history won’t fool the independent thinkers among them. As anyone who has raised or taught teenagers knows, they are a challenging age. Not only do they see through our hypocrisy; they call us out on it, too. So annoying, those wicked-smart youngsters.

You can always lure a few suckers when you pander to those who cherish the myths of history more than the truths of its legacy. But we’re talking five million students, and I know from my many visits to your state that you’re not nearly as monolithic as your right-wingers want us Northerners to believe.

Molly Ivins knew that, too — and long before the Internet made it so easy for kids to be kids, with their questioning ways.

“I believe all Southern liberals come from the same starting point — race,” she wrote. “Once you figure out they are lying to you about race, you start to question everything.”

Rip open the chips and pass the chile con queso. I don’t want to miss a minute of this showdown.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Essayist for Parade magazine; The National Memo, July 9, 2015

July 10, 2015 Posted by | American History, Confederacy, Texas | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Flag Hijacked By Modern Segregationists”: Its 20th Century Symbolism Is Clear To Anyone Who Examines The Historical Record

A historian and Southerner says the Confederate flag was not the flag of the Confederacy.

I am a Southerner by both birth and heritage. I come from a long line of poor white cotton farmers on both sides of my family. Three of my four great-grandfathers fought in the Confederate Army. The fourth had been told by his parents that he could join the army when he turned 13; he was on his way from Texas to Virginia to do so when he met his brothers coming home on the road. They told him that Lee had surrendered and the war was over. My grandmother was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and I was enrolled at the age of 6 in the Children of the Confederacy. I mention these credentials because of what I am about to say about the Confederate battle flag.

The flag that is causing such a furor was not “the Confederate flag,” as so many news reports have described it. It was a military flag, originally square in form, designed by William Porcher Miles, an aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard, after the first Battle of Manassas, because Beauregard thought that the Confederate national flag, which had a circle of white stars in a blue canton and three broad stripes, red, white, and red, was too easily confused with the Union flag in the smoke of battle. Miles’ battle flag was never approved by the Confederate Congress and never adopted as a national flag. It never flew over Confederate government offices, or over the Capitol at Richmond.

It was not even prominent among the symbols of the Lost Cause that helped create the myth of the noble suffering South during the years after the Civil War, nor was it celebrated during those years as a hallowed symbol of the Southern past, as apologists for it claim. According to University of Mississippi historian Allen Cabaniss, writing in The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, it was seldom displayed at Confederate reunions or used by any of the societies of descendants of Confederate veterans. My grandmother’s United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter used the first national flag, the one that Beauregard thought could be confused with the Union flag, at their meetings, and she made me a small one out of silk to hang in my bedroom.

Cabaniss describes how the Confederate battle flag emerged “out of limbo” as a symbol of white supremacy and segregation during the Dixiecrat political campaign of 1948, when Strom Thurmond of South Carolina ran for president on a platform of states’ rights and segregation. Newspaper accounts of the States’ Rights Democratic Party convention in Birmingham, Alabama, describe delegates marching into the auditorium under Confederate battle flags as bands played “Dixie.” This set the stage for the adoption of the battle flag by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils across the South as a symbol of their racist opposition to integration. The first time I can remember seeing a picture of the battle flag carried in public was during the Clinton, Tennessee, race riot in 1956, when hooded Klansmen descended on the town and paraded down the main street under the flag.

Next month the Klan will rally at the South Carolina statehouse grounds under the Confederate battle flag. When it was at its peak, in the 1920s, the Klan’s members paraded under the American flag.

The fact is that in the 1950s and 1960s, the Confederate battle flag was hijacked and dishonored by racists and white supremacists who were opposed to the federal government’s implementation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending public school segregation. Two years after the decision, in 1956, the Georgia Legislature incorporated the battle flag into the state flag as a protest against integration. The battle flag was first raised over the South Carolina state Capitol on April 11, 1961, to mark the beginning of the Civil War Centennial; in March 1962 the Legislature voted to leave it there as a protest against the civil rights movement. Its 20th century symbolism is clear to anyone who examines the historical record, and it is not something to honor or revere.

In June 1865, two months after the Confederate surrender, a Catholic priest named Abram Joseph Ryan, a former Confederate Army chaplain, published a poem entitled “The Conquered Banner.” Its seven stanzas urged Southerners to accept defeat and furl their flags. The final stanza reads:

Furl that banner, softly, slowly!
Treat it gently – it is holy –
For it droops above the dead.
Touch it not – unfold it never,
Let it droop there, furled forever,
For its people’s hopes are dead.

The poem was once a standard recitation piece in Southern households, including my grandmother’s. The racists of the 1950s should have heeded Father Ryan’s advice. Now it is definitely time to furl that banner.

 

By: Lonn Taylor, Historian at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History from 1984 to 2002 and is the author of The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem: This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator; The National Memo, June 30, 2015

July 1, 2015 Posted by | Confederacy, Confederate Flag, Segregation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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