A “Kanyefication of one of our most enduring national myths”

kanye-west

Writing at the Los Angeles Times, historian Kevin Waite connects Kanye West’s comments about slaves choosing slavery with Lost Cause myths about slavery.  Here is a taste:

Yet there’s an uncomfortable truth in West’s comment. Ill-informed though his views may be, they align alarmingly well with popular interpretations of American history.

The claim that slaves somehow consented to their own enslavement is a Kanyefication of one of our most enduring national myths. Depicted in fiction, film and even statuary, the “loyal slave” has persisted for more than a century and a half. The trope buttresses the so-called Lost Cause school of history, an intellectual movement celebrating the plantation South and exonerating it from any blame for the Civil War. Instead, that cataclysm is charged to the North, which destroyed a civilization that benefited masters and slaves alike — so goes the logic of Lost Cause propagandists.

Read the entire piece here.

More on Kelly’s Civil War Remarks

Kelly

I addressed Kelly’s remarks yesterday.  Today I want to point you to Binghamton University historian Carole Emberton’s piece, “The North tried compromise. The South chose war.

A taste:

By blaming a failure of compromise for the Civil War, Kelly repeated a well-worn tenet of the Lost Cause narrative that valorizes the Confederacy and its leaders like Lee. In this narrative, the failure to compromise is laid at the feet of radical abolitionists and Northern politicians, including the newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, who gave Southerners no choice but to secede.

But it was slavery, and the refusal of Southern slaveholders to compromise on slavery, that launched the Civil War. In fact, the secession crisis of 1860-61 was the culmination of a decade-long movement led by ultra-radical pro-slavery “Fire-Eaters.” After decades of compromise between the North and South, the election of Lincoln spurred an almost paranoid anxiety about slavery’s future that made compromise untenable and war virtually unavoidable.

That technically makes Kelly correct. There was a failure of compromise. But lamenting it without addressing the role of slavery at its root reflects the flawed, Southern version of Civil War history that has nourished the white nationalism currently poisoning American politics.

Read the rest at The Washington Post.

How Did African Americans Remember the Civil War?

Confederate Charleston

Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, a Ph.D candidate in the History department at Rutgers University, tackles this question in a piece at Black Perspectives titled “Beyond Monuments: African Americans Contesting Civil War Memory.”

Here is a taste:

African Americans worked from the end of the war to this current moment to consistently affirm and interpret the Civil War’s meaning for them.  Due to its power and influence, confronting the Lost Cause is a large part of this collective memory.  The Lost Cause movement includes the historical memories, myths, commemorative events, and invented traditions of many white Southerners that first took shape after the end of the Civil War. The Lost Cause was as much about upholding white supremacy as it was about commemorating the white Southern Civil War experience.  It is not incidental, for example, that the Keystone, a publication for Southern white clubwomen and members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) published stories of Confederate heroism alongside dedications to “faithful slaves” and praise for books like Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman.  White Civil War memory has long dominated conversations about how the war is remembered, even now when it involves anti-racist activism.  The idea that “both sides” should be celebrated and honored was largely an invention of white Southerners and Northerners in order to reunite the nation.  African American Civil War memory was sidelined in its service.  As a result, we know considerably less about the long tradition of Black anti-Lost Cause resistance that culminated with Bree Newsome snatching the Confederate flag down from the Statehouse grounds of South Carolina in 2015 and Takiyah Thompson toppling a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina on August 14 of this year.

On March 27, 1865 African Americans flooded the streets of Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate the coming end of the Civil War.  The result was a grand spectacle, with dozens of Black men marching while tied to a rope to symbolize those bound in chains while being sold down South. A hearse followed with the sign “Slavery is Dead. Who Owns Him? No one.  Sumter Dug His Grave on 13th April, 1861.” Behind the hearse, fifty Black women marched dressed in mourning clothes, but were laughing and happy. “John Brown’s Body” was a popular song among Black and white Union troops and was commonly sung in the various military parades across the South as Union troops marched in victory.  The school children marching in this parade focused on singing one verse in particular loudly: “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree . . . As we Go Marching On.”

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Women Behind the Lost Cause

UDC

Over at The New York Times, historian Karen Cox tells the story of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the role the organization played in instilling “Southern white youth a reverence for Confederate principles.”

Here is a taste of her piece “The Confederacy’s ‘Living Monuments’“:

The Daughters’ primary objective, however, was to instill in Southern white youth a reverence for Confederate principles. Indeed, they regarded their efforts to educate children as their most important work as they sought, in their words, to build “living monuments” who would grow up to defend states’ rights and white supremacy.

Members of the U.D.C. developed a multipronged approach to educating white children about the “truth” of the “War Between the States.” They developed lesson plans for teachers, a number of whom were members of the organization. They placed pro-Confederate books in school and public libraries, which they insisted students use when they competed in U.D.C.-sponsored essay contests. They led students in the celebration of Robert E. Lee’s life on his birthday and placed portraits of Confederate heroes, festooned with the battle flag, in classrooms across the South and even in some schools outside of the region. They also formed Children of the Confederacy chapters for boys and girls ages 6 to 16, intended to serve as a pipeline for membership in both the U.D.C. and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a parallel organization.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with Robert Cook

51BmfDCLdAL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Robert Cook is professor of American History at the University of Sussex. This interview is based on his new book, Civil War Memories: Contesting the Past in the United since 1865  (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Civil War Memories?

RC: I’ve been working at the intersection of race, politics, and historical memory in the United States for more than two decades. This book grows directly out of a previous research project on the Civil War Centennial of the 1960s and a conviction that a deeper awareness of how and why particular strands of Civil War memory have been constructed over time can enhance our understanding of the war’s impact on contemporary culture wars.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Civil War Memories?

RC: I argue that four principal strands of Civil War memory – Unionist, southern, emancipationist and reconciliatory – were constructed during the late nineteenth century by the men and women who lived through the turmoil of the 1860s and 1870s. Social and political change in the United States enabled the Lost Cause and reconciliatory narratives to dominate the field of Civil War memory until the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century raised the profile in public memory of the previously marginalized and predominantly African American story of black liberation and martial service to the United States.

JF: Why do we need to read Civil War Memories?

RC: The lethal violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 highlighted the continuing resonance of the Civil War in contemporary debates over race and historical commemoration. This book provides the essential backstory to the current controversy and will contribute positively to an informed and constructive debate over removal of Confederate symbols and statues.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

RC: As a teenager growing up in the English midlands I enjoyed reading the Civil War histories of Bruce Catton. However, I didn’t decide to become an American historian until I was a student at the University of Warwick where I enrolled in Bill Dusinberre’s classes on the African American experience and the antislavery movement. Bill was an inspirational teacher. He encouraged me to pursue a PhD in American history at the University of Oxford in the early 1980s. I researched the early history of the Republican party in Iowa, focusing particularly on the party’s remarkably strong support for black rights in the Civil War era.

JF: What is your next project?

RC: I’m currently in the early stages of a project that investigates African American responses to different manifestations of the Lost Cause since 1880.

JF: Thanks, Robert!

 

Lonnie Bunch III: Dismantle Confederate Statues, Group Them Together, and Contextualize Them

Confederate_soldier_monument,_Union_County,_AR_IMG_2583

I just read Robin Pogrebin and Sopan Deb’s New York Times article titled “Trump Aside, Artists and Preservationists Debate the Rush to Topple Statues.” The article quotes Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Here is a taste:

Mark Bradford, the renowned Los Angeles artist, says Confederate statues should not be removed unless they are replaced by educational plaques that explain why they were taken away.

For Robin Kirk, a co-director of Duke University’s Human Rights Center, the rapid expunging of the statues currently underway needs to be “slower and more deliberative.”

And Lonnie G. Bunch III, the director the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, proposes that the dismantled statues be grouped together and contextualized, so people understand what they stood for.

In state after state this week, artists, museum curators, and historic preservationists found themselves grappling with lightning-fast upheaval in a cultural realm — American monuments — where they usually have input and change typically unfolds with care. Many said that even though they fiercely oppose President Trump and his defense of Confederate statues, they saw the removal of the monuments as precipitous and argued that the widening effort to eliminate them could have troubling implications for artistic expression.

“I am loath to erase history,” Mr. Bunch said. “For me it’s less about whether they come down or not, and more about what the debate is stimulating.”

Read the entire article here.

American Historical Association Issues Statement on Confederate Monuments

Confederate_Monument_-_W_face_-_Arlington_National_Cemetery_-_2011

Here it is:

The American Historical Association welcomes the emerging national debate about Confederate monuments. Much of this public statuary was erected without such conversations, and without any public decision-making process. Across the country, communities face decisions about the disposition of monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of public spaces and buildings. These decisions require not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments were built and spaces named, but also an understanding of what history is and why it matters to public culture.

President Donald Trump was correct in his tweet of August 16: “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” That is a good beginning, because to learn from history, one must first learn what actually happened in the past. Debates over removal of monuments should consider chronology and other evidence that provide context for why an individual or event has been commemorated. Knowledge of such facts enables debate that learns “from history.”

Equally important is awareness of what we mean by “history.” History comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces.

Understanding the specific historical context of Confederate monuments in America is imperative to informed public debate. Historians who specialize in this period have done careful and nuanced research to understand and explain this context. Drawing on their expertise enables us to assess the original intentions of those who erected the monuments, and how the monuments have functioned as symbols over time. The bulk of the monument building took place not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but from the close of the 19th century into the second decade of the 20th. Commemorating not just the Confederacy but also the “Redemption” of the South after Reconstruction, this enterprise was part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South. Memorials to the Confederacy were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life. A reprise of commemoration during the mid-20th century coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and included a wave of renaming and the popularization of the Confederate flag as a political symbol. Events in Charlottesville and elsewhere indicate that these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.

To remove such monuments is neither to “change” history nor “erase” it. What changes with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor. Historians and others will continue to disagree about the meanings and implications of events and the appropriate commemoration of those events. The AHA encourages such discussions in publications, in other venues of scholarship and teaching, and more broadly in public culture; historical scholarship itself is a conversation rooted in evidence and disciplinary standards. We urge communities faced with decisions about monuments to draw on the expertise of historians both for understanding the facts and chronology underlying such monuments and for deriving interpretive conclusions based on evidence. Indeed, any governmental unit, at any level, may request from the AHA a historian to provide consultation. We expect to be able to fill any such request.

We also encourage communities to remember that all memorials remain artifacts of their time and place. They should be preserved, just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue. Prior to removal they should be photographed and measured in their original contexts. These documents should accompany the memorials as part of the historical record. Americans can also learn from other countries’ approaches to these difficult issues, such as Coronation Park in Delhi, India, and Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary.

Decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals and officials who have no other major historical accomplishment does not necessarily create a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents, or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years. George Washington owned enslaved people, but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. There is no logical equivalence between the builders and protectors of a nation—however imperfect—and the men who sought to sunder that nation in the name of slavery. There will be, and should be, debate about other people and events honored in our civic spaces. And precedents do matter. But so does historical specificity, and in this case the invocation of flawed analogies should not derail legitimate policy conversation.

Nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without anything resembling a democratic process. Regardless of their representation in the actual population in any given constituency, African Americans had no voice and no opportunity to raise questions about the purposes or likely impact of the honor accorded to the builders of the Confederate States of America. The American Historical Association recommends that it’s time to reconsider these decisions.

This is a very useful statement.  I endorse it.  Thanks to the folks at the AHA for writing it.

The Largest Confederate Monument in America

Jeff Davis Highway

It’s the Jefferson Davis Highway.

Historian Kevin Waite explains:

The largest monument to the Confederacy is not made of bronze. It’s paved in asphalt.

For over a century, portions of America’s road system have paid tribute to a failed slaveholding rebellion in the form of the Jefferson Davis Highway. Once planned as a single transcontinental highway, a series of roads that today bear Davis’s name run for hundreds of miles through the South, while dozens of markers to the original highway are spread out across the country — from Virginia through the old Cotton Belt, then westward across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into California.

Cutting through the southern half of the country, the Jefferson Davis Highway serves as a reminder that the fight over Civil War memory took place not only in the statues dotting parks across America, but in the very infrastructure of the nation itself. The highway is an asphalt monument to false equivalency, designed to balance the Lincoln Highway in the North with a Confederate rival in the South. It reveals the extent to which activists in the early 20th century embedded their defense of the Confederacy in the growing infrastructure of the country.

The origins of this road system date to 1913, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) unveiled their plans for a coast-to-coast highway in honor of the rebel chieftain. The project was intended as a rival of sorts to the then-recently announced Lincoln Highway from New York to San Francisco, which was backed by Northern capital. Not to be outdone by Yankee entrepreneurs, the UDC sketched out a Southern analogue that would stretch from Arlington, Va., to San Diego — what writer Erin Blakemore recently called a “superhighway of Confederate veneration.” The sectional animosities of the Civil War era thus lived on in the mapping of America’s first national highway systems.

Read the rest here.

Historian: When it Comes to Monuments, “Nuance” and “Complexity” Connects Us All

San Antonio Confederate Monument

What should happen to the Confederate monument in San Antonio’s Travis Park?

Carey Latimore is a scholar of African-American history who chairs the Department of History at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.  Over at the website of the San Antonio Express-News, Latimore explains why it may not be a good idea to pull down every Confederate monument that crosses our paths.

Here is a taste:

I can understand the reasons to remove these monuments. However, if the past decade has demonstrated anything to us, it is that we should not be too quick to view small victories as symbolic of racial progress or transcending race, especially if these victories do not force us to address race both intraracially and interracially.

Moving forward will require us to directly confront the meaning of racial progress.

For many years, I tried to separate my identities linked to both masters and slaves, but now I realize that this was an impossibility. Such a sentiment is shared by many in this great nation. Whatever the manner in which diverse communities met, erasing any of them will not move us forward. Indeed, the lives of the masters and slaves are so connected that removing either of them from our collective memories erases the other.

Nonetheless, Confederate monuments should not be allowed to remain without clarifying the connections the organizations and people represented in these monuments had to slavery and racism. Such clarification needs to be more than a footnote, and it needs to be placed where the monuments stand.

The current conversation about Confederate memorials is a sign of our collective failure not only to accurately tell the stories that we memorialize but also a failure to celebrate diverse stories. If we are truly a multicultural nation, we should aim to do a better job pulling together the nuance and complexity that connects us all.

Perhaps then we can move forward together.

Read the entire piece here.

Thanks to Paul Thompson for bringing this piece to my attention.

 

Eric Foner: Robert E. Lee’s “Legend” Needs to be “Retired”

211ba-lee-sitting

Yesterday’s New York Times is running a piece by Columbia University historian Eric Foner on the legacy of Robert E. Lee.  Foner’s focus is on how Lee became a “legend” in the minds of the post-Civil War South and how his “legend” became wound-up with the so-called Dunning School of Reconstruction.  This is classic Foner.

Here is a taste:

Historians in the first decades of the 20th century offered scholarly legitimacy to this interpretation of the past, which justified the abrogation of the constitutional rights of Southern black citizens. At Columbia University, William A. Dunning and his students portrayed the granting of black suffrage during Reconstruction as a tragic mistake. The Progressive historians — Charles Beard and his disciples — taught that politics reflected the clash of class interests, not ideological differences. The Civil War, Beard wrote, should be understood as a transfer of national power from an agricultural ruling class in the South to the industrial bourgeoisie of the North; he could tell the entire story without mentioning slavery except in a footnote. In the 1920s and 1930s, a group of mostly Southern historians known as the revisionists went further, insisting that slavery was a benign institution that would have died out peacefully. A “blundering generation” of politicians had stumbled into a needless war. But the true villains, as in Lee’s 1856 letter, were the abolitionists, whose reckless agitation poisoned sectional relations. This interpretation dominated teaching throughout the country, and reached a mass audience through films like “The Birth of a Nation,” which glorified the Klan, and “Gone With the Wind,” with its romantic depiction of slavery. The South, observers quipped, had lost the war but won the battle over its history.

As far as Lee was concerned, the culmination of these trends came in the publication in the 1930s of a four-volume biography by Douglas Southall Freeman, a Virginia-born journalist and historian. For decades, Freeman’s hagiography would be considered the definitive account of Lee’s life. Freeman warned readers that they should not search for ambiguity, complexity or inconsistency in Lee, for there was none — he was simply a paragon of virtue. Freeman displayed little interest in Lee’s relationship to slavery. The index to his four volumes contained 22 entries for “devotion to duty,” 19 for “kindness,” 53 for Lee’s celebrated horse, Traveller. But “slavery,” “slave emancipation” and “slave insurrection” together received five. Freeman observed, without offering details, that slavery in Virginia represented the system “at its best.” He ignored the postwar testimony of Lee’s former slave Wesley Norris about the brutal treatment to which he had been subjected. In 1935 Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in biography.

That same year, however, W. E. B. Du Bois published “Black Reconstruction in America,” a powerful challenge to the mythologies about slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction that historians had been purveying. Du Bois identified slavery as the fundamental cause of the war and emancipation as its most profound outcome. He portrayed the abolitionists as idealistic precursors of the 20th-century struggle for racial justice, and Reconstruction as a remarkable democratic experiment — the tragedy was not that it was attempted but that it failed. Most of all, Du Bois made clear that blacks were active participants in the era’s history, not simply a problem confronting white society. Ignored at the time by mainstream scholars, “Black Reconstruction” pointed the way to an enormous change in historical interpretation, rooted in the egalitarianism of the civil rights movement of the 1960s and underpinned by the documentary record of the black experience ignored by earlier scholars. Today, Du Bois’s insights are taken for granted by most historians, although they have not fully penetrated the national culture.

Read the entire piece here.

Mississippi Historians: “Take the Flag Down!”

Mississippi State Flag

From the Jackson Free Press:

As college professors, we have watched events of the past few days in Charlottesville and around the country while preparing for a new semester. We know that students in our classes will bring many questions and perspectives about this moment in history. They will look for us to comment on a response from the president that many Republicans and Democrats alike found deeply troubling and insufficient. They will wonder why many white nationalists and racist groups feel empowered at this moment in time. We have our work cut out for us.

In turn, we are also historians in and of the state of Mississippi, where white massive resistance to black advancement has been the norm for 200 years. It is now incumbent upon us to take the strongest of stands against the white supremacist establishment in this nation and in this state and put this recent wave of white nationalism in historical context.

With that in mind, it is long past time for the emblem identified with the Confederate States of America to be removed from the state flag of Mississippi. This flag does not reflect the entirety of the state’s history and people. It ignores the reality of the African American experience, and it limits the scope of what Mississippi has been, is and can be.

Historians have long held that the Civil War was fought for the right of southern states to maintain and expand the institution of slavery. In declaring their support for the Confederacy, Mississippi’s leaders clearly stated in the secession ordinance of 1860, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. … A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

Read the rest here.  The statement was signed by over thirty historians from Mississippi colleges and universities including the following friends of The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Alison Greene, Otis Pickett, Daren Grem, and Patrick Connelly.

The Landscape of the Lost Cause and What To Do About It

Confederate_soldier_monument,_Union_County,_AR_IMG_2583

Everyone is a historian these days.  Or at least they think they are historians.  Just check your Facebook page or Twitter feeds.  Every pundit–real and imagined– seems to have an opinion on what to do with Confederate Monuments and not all of them are very informed.

So it is always good to hear from someone who knows that they are talking about.  I was pleased to see University of North Carolina historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage weigh-in. (Two of his books on the Lost Cause were recommended here).

Here is a taste of his recent piece at VOX:

A crucial step in many Southern states will be to repeal laws constraining the removal or alteration of historic monuments, such as North Carolina’s two-year-old Historic Artifact Management and Patriotism Act. Let there be no doubt about the intent of this or similar “heritage preservation” laws: They “protect” and perpetuate the racist commemorative landscape that currently exists. Why shouldn’t the citizens of Durham have had the choice to preserve, move, or remove the Confederate monument there? Local choice may allow some communities to keep “their” Confederate monuments. So be it. Let them defend their decision if they do so.

We are also sure to hear calls to add monuments (honoring African Americans, for example) as an alternative to removing those we find offensive, and thereby “erasing” history. But removing — or moving — Confederate monuments is not historical erasure. The same logic could have been used to justify maintaining, after 1964, signs that identified “Negro water fountains,” “Colored waiting room,” and the other markers of Southern segregation.

In an ideal world with unlimited resources, a proposal to add monuments might make sense. But given the vast number of monuments to the Confederacy across the United States it would take decades, and millions of dollars, to add enough statuary to create a more inclusive commemorative landscape. And is there any reason to believe that state legislators are going to appropriate sufficient money for that purpose? Perhaps the defenders of Confederate monuments will demonstrate their good faith by pressing for funding for new monuments to Southerners, white and black, who fought on behalf of the Union or otherwise opposed the Confederacy. Until then, I will view their devotion to heritage preservation with skepticism.

This is hardly the first time that a society has confronted the issue of dealing with art harnessed to objectionable causes. Art museums are filled with medieval and early modern Western art that is offensive to many of our contemporary values — depicting rape, the slaughter of Muslims, or demeaning images of non-Europeans. Like those works of art, those Confederate monuments that have aesthetic significance can and should be preserved in museums where they can be properly interpreted by curators and docents. In such settings, they will serve as historical artifacts rather than civic monuments.

But many Confederate monuments were essentially “mail order” sculptures mass produced by Northern and Southern foundries during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Whatever value they have as historical artifacts, they were not the work of some latter-day Michelangelo.

Before any Confederate monuments are removed, they should be carefully photographed and measured so that the historical record of the monuments in situ can be preserved and made available for historians and art historians in the future. Then they can be transferred to the archives, museums — or the trash heap of history.

Read the entire piece here.

Crowdsourcing Report: Best Books on the Lost Cause

Van WoodwardYou asked and the readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home delivered:

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

Ed Blum, Forging the White Republic: Race, Religion and American Nationalism, 1865-1898

W. Fitz Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory

W. Fitz Brundage, ed., Where These Memories Grow: History, Memory, and Southern Identity

James C. Cobb, Away Down South: A History of Southern Identity

Karen Cox, Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture

Gaines Foster, Ghost of the Confederacy: Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South, 1865-1913

Gary Gallagher,  ed., The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

Caroline Janney, Remembering the Civil War: Reunion and the Limits of Reconciliation

James Louwen and Edward Sebasta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The Great Truth About the “Lost Cause.”

Ann Marshall, Creating a Confederate Kentucky: The Lost Cause and Civil War Memory in a Border State

Micki McElya: Clinging to Mammy: The Faithful Slave in Twentieth-Century America

Kirk Savage, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America

Ron Rash, The World Made Straight (Novel)

Anne Sarah Rubin, A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868

Charles Reagan Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920

C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow

What Are the Best Books on the Lost Cause?

BlightI have been asked this several times yesterday and today by history buffs, pastors, and general readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  If you could assign one or two books to someone who does not know much about the “Lost Cause,” what would you recommend?

Let me get us started with:

Garry Gallagher, ed. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History

Charles Wilson, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920]

James Louwen and Edward Sebasta, The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The Great Truth About the “Lost Cause.” (This is mostly primary documents)

David Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory

Is Jimmy Carter a Lost Causer?

Over at Civil War Memory, Kevin Levin discusses a fascinating story about Jimmy Carter and the Lost Cause.  It will be published in a chapter in his forthcoming edited collection, Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites. The story comes from an essay on historical markers and the Civil War written by Todd Groce, the CEO of the Georgia Historical Society.

The story centers on this marker,  which was originally placed on the grounds of the Carter Center in Atlanta:

George Civil WAR

Apparently Jimmy Carter did not like the text of the marker and wanted it changed to reflect, according to Groce, “a more traditional Lost Cause interpretation.”  This happened in 2015.

Read more at Civil War Memory.

W.E.B. Du Bois on Confederate Monuments

Here is some more historical context for the New Orleans monuments controversy.

Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory shares this passage from a 1931 Du Bois piece in The Crisis:

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Here is a taste of Levin’s commentary at Civil War Memory:

DuBois’s reflection on the selective memory and history of Confederate monuments comes right in the middle of a narrative on the challenges and contradictions of traveling through the South at the height of the Jim Crow era.

DuBois pushes right back against the myth of the Lost Cause. He refuses to draw a distinction between the Confederate government and the men in the ranks. DuBois clearly understood that as long as white southerners were able to mythologize the war through their monuments, African Americans would remain second class citizens.

Confederate monuments did not just occupy the Jim Crow landscape. For Dubois, they helped to make it possible.

Levin has also posted Du Bois’s take on Robert E. Lee.  Read it here.

“Lost Cause” Enthusiasts Should Read Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone” Speech

Athan

The Athanaeum in Savannah, the site of Alexander Stephens’s “Cornerstone Speech”

In the midst of all this discussion about Confederate monuments, the Lost Cause, and the meaning of the Civil War, an Ohio middle school American history teacher named James Latuzenheiser tweets:

 

The reference here is to a speech delivered on March 21, 1861 (two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated POTUS) by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens.  He delivered the speech from the Athanaeum in Savannah, Georgia.  The purpose of this speech was to explain the differences between the Constitution of the Confederate States and the United States Constitution.

In his so-called “Cornerstone” speech, Stephens makes abundantly clear the Confederate’s position on slavery and its role in the coming of the Civil War.  Here is a taste (highlights are mine):

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

We should also note that in 1868, in his book The War Between the States, Stephens softened his view that slavery “was the immediate cause” of the Civil War.  In the process, he contributed to the Lost Cause idea, still popular in parts of the South today, that the conflict was less about slavery and more about states rights.

Here is a taste:

The matter of Slavery, so-called, which was the proximate cause of these irregular movements on both sides, and which ended in the general collision of war, as we have seen, was of infinitely less importance to the Seceding States, than the recognition of this great principle [the right of Secession].  I say Slavery, so-called, because, there was with us no such thing a Slavery in the full and proper sense of that word.  No people ever lived more devoted to the principles of liberty, secured by free democratic institutions, than were the people of the South.  None had ever given stronger proofs of this than they had done, from the day that Virginia moved in behalf of the assailed rights of Massachusetts in 1774, to the firing of the first gun in Charleston Harbor, in 1861.  What was called Slavery amongst us, was but a legal subordination of the African to the Caucasian  race.  This relation was so regulated by law as to promote, according to the intent and design of the system, the best interests of both races, the Black as well as the White, the Inferior, as well as the Superior.  Both had rights secured, and both had duties imposed.  It was a system of reciprocal service, and mutual bonds.  But even the two thousand million dollars invested in the relation thus established between private capital and the labor of this class of population, under the system, was but as the dust in the balance, compared with the vital attributes of the rights of Independence and Sovereignty on the part of several States.

These documents reveal the ideas that many Confederate monuments and symbols are commemorating and celebrating.

In Praise of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Yale Civil War-era historian David Blight salutes Landrieu’s willingness to look straight into his city’s past and do something about it.

Here is a taste of his powerful Atlantic piece “The Battle for Memorial Day in New Orleans“:

It is difficult for historians to favor monument destruction or removal. We worry endlessly about historical erasure or purposeful ignorance of any kind. We favor debate however conflicted, and new memorials that augment or change the narratives told on our public landscapes. But I nod with understanding and approval when the mayor asks: “Why are there no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks; nothing to remember this long chapter of our lives; the pain, the sacrifice, the shame … all of it happening on the soil of New Orleans?” For half a century and more American historians of all stripes have written and taught newer, more inclusive, and yes, often darker histories such as Landrieu advocates. But it is essentially true that these histories of pain and tragedy, destruction and survival, do by and large await public memorials. They are receiving public museum exhibition and exposure. But in great civic monuments, not so much. The massacre in Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston in June 2015 took America on this new tortured, surprising path to Confederate flag and monument removals. Where and when it ends Americans do not know. More than any other Southern politician, Landrieu has expressed this reckoning with the Civil War’s legacy in a newly eloquent honesty. Americans ought to debate how best to take up his call. Many great and challenging monuments, both old and new, exist in the United States. The world wars, the Irish famine, the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement, the attacks on 9/11, the Holocaust, and even the Civil War itself have inspired brilliant works of public art. But Americans have to know more history in order to learn to think about them more imaginatively.

The monuments in New Orleans, relocated to warehouses or holding stations and gone from view, are now the subjects of a new time, new imperatives, indeed even alternative victory narratives. Landrieu and the forces of popular support as well as the City Council have just declared the Confederacy, as the mayor put it, “lost and we’re better for it.” The “four year aberration called the Confederacy,” Landrieu said, ought never again to be celebrated even if never forgotten. His city, he maintained, ought never to embrace publically a “sanitized Confederacy,” held together by Orwellian language about history and “marinated in historical denial.” These are high ambitions about how America can actually heal the past and find justice. Much higher even that Lee’s statue stood. Landrieu invoked many of the best voices possible to his cause: Thomas Jefferson’s preamble in the Declaration of Independence, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln from the ending of the Second Inaugural, and George W. Bush as he honored the opening of the new African American history museum in Washington, DC.

It remains to be seen how neo-Confederates will take their latest defeats. They have a fledgling, unsteady, ahistorical victory narrative to follow now in the presidency and the White House. But Landrieu, with Dylann Roof and a host of many other major players, progressive and regressive in their aims, may have taken America into a truly new era of Civil War remembrance. Americans may never find e pluribus unum in their political lives. But we can surely keep striving to write, teach and know about our pluribus. American politics is an impossible distance from ever knowing how to be “out of one, many,” but the history keeps changing on us, keeps becoming many, forcing us to, as the mayor suggested: “By God, just think.”. Monuments, those removed after more than a century of struggle, or those erected in a new era with new histories, may never accomplish as Mayor Landrieu hopes, “making straight what has been crooked and making right what has been wrong.” But if this process makes Americans learn and think about our history more knowingly and reflectively, if painfully, it is all for the good.

Read the entire article here.

Ted Cruz Super-PAC Defends Confederate Flag

Cruz Pastor in Chief

I am sure that Cruz will claim that he has no control over the Courageous Conservatives super-PAC, but this is a bit disturbing:

Here is the ad transcript, as published on the website of National Public Radio:

TRUMP: “Put it in the museum, let it go.”

ANNOUNCER: “That’s Donald Trump, supporting Nikki Haley, removing the battle flag from the Confederate memorial in Columbia.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: People like Donald Trump are always butting their noses into other people’s business. But Trump talks about our flag, like it’s a social disease.

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “Donald Trump’s bankrolled nearly every major Democrat in the country. He’s funded our enemies. He’s ridiculed our values.”

TRUMP: “Respect whatever it is that you have to respect. Let it go. Put it in a museum.”

ANNOUNCER: “On Saturday, send Donald Trump and his New York values back to Manhattan. Ted Cruz for president. Let’s take our country back. Now, before it’s too late.”

“Courageous Conservatives PAC paid for this ad and is solely responsible for its content. It’s not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee. CourageousConservatives PAC.com”

The ad taps into the dark history of the Confederacy and states-rights.  It draws on common Confederate rhetoric that northerners (people with “New York values”) are “butting their noses into other people’s business.” and should let the South be the South.

Of course Courageous Conservatives got this “New York values” line directly from Cruz. He used this phrase in a debate to describe Trump’s campaign.

Quote of the Day

Actually, this quote comes from yesterday (Thursday–January 7, 2016):

The post-Civil War South has been so invested in promoting the Confederacy that it actually named  a military base after Braxton Bragg.  This is a clear example of Confederate heritage trumping mediocrity on the battlefield. 

W. Fitzthugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina at the plenary session on Confederate monuments at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta.