Retired Brigadier General: The US Army has “Confederate problem”

Fort Bragg

Here is Ty Seidule, a former Brigadier General and history professor at West Point:

The army started honoring Confederates in the early 20th century and never stopped. The army’s flagship institution, West Point, honors Robert E. Lee with many different memorials, including a barracks. Most Lee memorials came about in the 1930s, 1950s, and early 1970s. Each of those periods saw an increase in racial integration. Confederate memorialization served as a way to buttress white supremacy and to protest equal rights. For instance, a Lee portrait in Confederate gray appeared in 1952 as a reaction to President Harry S. Truman’s order integrating the military. Prints created for the Army War College graduating classes featured pro-Confederate depictions through the 1990s. Almost inexplicably, West Point created memorials to Robert E. Lee in 2001 and 2002 as well. 

Finding the countless memorials that honor Confederates across hundreds of US military bases will be no small task. The Department of Defense will need to set up a task force to find Confederate memorials and either remove or rename them. 

The military has perhaps the most diverse workforce in the country. That is something to be proud of. Yet we must ensure that no one who volunteers to protect America works in a place named for someone who committed treason to protect slavery. Changing who we honor will not end racism in one fell swoop, but it’s not a bad place to start.

Read the entire piece at the American Historical Association blog Perspectives Daily.

When the Confederacy came (back) to Gettysburg

Some of  you may recall my post last week about a friend of friends who visited the Gettysburg National Military Park on July 4, 2020 and encountered overt racism. You can read it here.

We now have a video of what happened.

Watch:

The man debating these white supremacists at the Robert E. Lee monument is Scott Hancock, professor of history at Gettysburg College. Scott, as you can tell from the video, is a man with an incredible amount of patience and self-control. He is a Christian who attends my evangelical church.

Listen to our interview with Scott on Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Stone Mountain: Monument to white supremacy

Stone Mountain

Rebecca Onion writes at Slate: “The Confederate memorial carving at Georgia’s Stone Mountain is etched with more than a century of racist history. But tearing it down won’t be easy.”

Here is a taste of her piece, “Hatred Set in Stone“:

The mother of all Confederate monuments looms in Georgia. It’s etched on the side of a 280-some-million-year-old monadnock: Stone Mountain, seven miles around at the base and covering 1,000 acres. The Confederate memorial carving—Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis on horseback—is on the north face, comprising 3 acres in area. It’s 400 feet above the ground; it’s the largest bas-relief carving in the world—blah, blah, blah, this thing is big.

The armed, mostly Black protesters who peacefully marched in Stone Mountain Park demanding the removal of the carving on the Fourth of July hit social media hard, but the idea that the carving, big (and legally protected) as it may be, needs to go has been gaining traction in recent years. In 2017, Stacey Abrams, then running for governor of Georgia, called for the carving to be removed. Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP, interviewed by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Debra McKinney in 2018, called the carving “the largest shrine to white supremacy in the history of the world,” and said it should be brought down.

Read the rest here.

Monday night court evangelical roundup

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What have Trump’s evangelicals been saying since our last update?

Greg Laurie is still suggesting that the United States was “born out of a revival.” I addressed the many problems with this view here. In fact, religious attendance and membership was at an all-time low during the Revolution.

Johnnie Moore, who calls himself a “modern day Dietrich Bonhoeffer,” loves Trump’s idea for a “National Garden of American Heroes.”

I wrote about this proposed garden here.

Moore also believes that “primary sources” exist in a vacuum. Most first-year history majors can debunk this approach to reading:

Ralph Reed, as always, is sticking to the playbook:

David Barton and his son Tim are on the Jim Bakker Show talking about monuments. For years, Barton ignored the parts of American history that did not fit with his Christian nationalism. Now he is talking about how we need to see the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of American history. At one point, David Barton compares himself and his son to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. He praises Tim for training young people to go to their campuses and convince their professors to reject “cultural Marxism” and “cancel culture.” I have now said this several times–the small number of people who are tearing down non-Confederate monuments are providing fodder for this kind of stuff.

Any history teacher who watches this video, and hears the Bartons attack the “dumb” and “stupid” ideas being taught in schools, should be offended. I wonder how many times either David or Tim Barton have set foot in a public school history classroom.

This video is a clear example of the Barton’s Christian nationalist mission. And they are well-funded.

The Bartons came back for a second day on the Jim Bakker Show and basically told viewers that if they don’t vote for Trump the United States will become socialist. The fear-mongering continues. In this interview, they double-down on the idea that anyone who does not vote for Trump is not “thinking biblically.” According to Tim Barton, only about 10% of self-professed Christians are actually “thinking biblically.” The rest “love Jesus” but are ignorant.

Eric Metaxas is still playing to the extremes in order to scare his listeners. Most people in the United States are not engaged in the tearing down of monuments. Most local governments are not trying to remove non-Confederate monuments or erase history.  He plays to these extremes because he wants Trump re-elected and he needs to keep his show on the air. This is what cultural warriors do.

Metaxas keeps pushing his seriously-flawed book If You Can Keep It. He says that the American history kids are getting in schools today is making them ignorant. As I said above in relation to David and Tim Barton, this is a sad attack on hard-working history teachers who are teaching students how to read primary sources, weigh evidence, detect bias, think contextually, appreciate complexity, and grasp how things change over time. When was the last time Metaxas talked with a K-12 history teacher or visited a history classroom?

The fear-mongering continues with Metaxas’s guest John Zmirak. Their discussion of the history of the French Revolution takes so many liberties with the facts that I am not sure where to begin with my critique. Perhaps a European historian can listen to this and comment. Zmirak then refers to political scientist Mark David Hall’s book defending a Christian founding. I haven’t read this book, but you can see a discussion of it here.

The Metaxas-Zmirak conversation moves to a full-blown rejection of systemic racism and a defense of Robert E. Lee monuments. The kind of hate that is now propagated on the Eric Metaxas Show–a show on “Christian” radio–looks nothing like the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t understand how Metaxas could have read so much Bonhoeffer and still engage in this garbage. I’ll stick with Charles Marsh on Bonhoeffer: here and here. I would also encourage you to read Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and compare his words with what you hear on the Eric Metaxas Show.

In one of the more ironic lines of this episode, court evangelical Metaxas criticizes the Democratic Party for refusing to “stand against the madness.”

That’s all for today. Until next time.

What happened in Gettysburg this weekend?

 

Gettysburg Race 1

Jimmy, a friend of friends who works in a local ministry to drug and alcohol abusers, was in Gettysburg this weekend. Here, in his own words, is what happened:

Over the last 2.5 years, I have been in a group called “Be the Bridge.” The goal of the group was to have meaningful conversations about race, racism, systemic racism, the Church’s response to race, and racial reconciliation. My Dad and I (along with 2 other white guys) met with 4 Black guys each month to talk through these issues.

It was eye opening. It was challenging. I learned a lot about my own biases. I learned about the part I play in propping up systems that benefit white people. I learned about the systemic racism that plagues the U.S (throughout history and present day). I learned about what it takes to make important personal changes and become aware of my own cultural preferences. And, I learned about the strong theological basis for justice and racial reconciliation.

It left me with a strong desire to find tangible, everyday ways to fight for racial equality.

Yesterday, my Dad and I went down to the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial to meet with the Black guys from our group. The goal was to talk about how important it is to tell the truth about many of the Confederate monuments and to keep a clear focus on the goals of the Confederacy (which was the preservation of slavery).

We held some signs at three different monuments: North Carolina, Robert E. Lee, and Mississippi. These are important statues.

The North Carolina statue was made by a staunch supporter of the KKK, Gutzon Borglum (he also did Mount Rushmore). He famously said of the KKK, “I would do anything to serve them…”

Robert E. Lee’s statue was chosen because of the “hero status” he embodies. But, Robert E. Lee was in charge of his wife’s 189 slaves, beat and whipped them, and said of slavery, “The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence.”

Mississippi was also chosen because of their article of succession. If you haven’t read it, please read it here. The opening several lines are most key.

Scott (one of the members of our group and a history professor at a local College) led most of these discussions. Scott believes that the Confederate Monuments should remain at Gettysburg, but should tell the full story of the monuments and those represented. This is the reason we were in Gettysburg yesterday. This is important and worth reiterating: We were there to tell this critical part of history, so it wouldn’t be forgotten or swept under the rug.

While we all remained civil, we were met with much hostility. At the Robert E. Lee statue, we arrived and were met by more than a dozen men in full tactical gear, holding AR-15s (none were park rangers or police). Several others were open carrying. As they surrounded us, many shouted racial slurs at Scott. These people said some of the following, “Go back to Africa!”, “Why don’t you just go back on welfare?”, “F@&k you guys,” “Have you ever picked cotton?”, “You need to forget about slavery,” “you’re one of the dumbest people,” and, to me and my Dad specifically, “You kind of white people make me sick.” There were many more things said, as well as the “N” word.

At the end of our time, about 15 bikers pulled up to our group at the Mississippi statue and began circling our group (you can see this picture below). We decided it was safest to leave. These bikers followed us out of the battlefield, through Gettysburg, all the way until we got to a police barricade. While we were sitting at a red light, the bikers motioned to some guys (who had a confederate flag in the truck) and they came over to my car and told us to “Get the f&%k out of here” and motioned with their finger.

I share this experience because I think it’s important to talk about these issues. That racism is still alive and well in our country. That the story of America has a lot of good parts and some really terrible ones, but we must tell it fully. That the church must be at the center of racial reconciliation. And we must stand up for and with those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It’s a critical part of the gospel and following Jesus.

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Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

Please don’t tell me that there is not a connection between Donald Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday night (or at the very least his general defense of monuments since the George Floyd protests) and what happened to Jimmy and his friends at Gettysburg this weekend. In fact, Jimmy said in a private exchange that much of the hostility came from self-professed “Christians” with Trump 2020 swag.

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Gettysburg battlefield, July 4, 2020 (photo by Jimmy)

 

 

Peter Carmichael, the Robert C. Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College, also visited the Gettysburg battlefield this weekend. If I understand things correctly, a member of his group carried a sign that read:”10,000 Black Slaves In Lee’s Army #BlackLivesMatter.”

Carmichael Poster

Carmichael and his group were confronted by what appears to be a white militia organization. Watch:

 

For what it’s worth, I agree with everything Scott Hancock says in this interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish. It is worth your time:

Hancock, a professor of History and Africana Studies at Gettysburg College, is becoming an important voice right now.  Listen to our interview with him in Episode 70 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

What about all those Confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol?

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Here is a taste of William Hogeland‘s piece at Boston Review:

Eleven statues of Confederate officers, including Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, stand in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol. In response to House Democrats’ recent effort to fast-track their removal, Senator Mitch McConnell and other rearguard cultural defenders have said that to do so would erase history.

Many Americans are startled to learn that Confederate statues are in the Capitol at all. On Twitter, this surprise has often taken the form of a question: “Why in the hell are there Confederate statues in the Capital?” “Wait—there’s a statue of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens and nine other confederates in the US Capitol building?” “Good Lord, what are they doing there?”

Good questions. Amid the widespread defacings, topplings, and official removals of statuary representing not only enslavers but also racist leaders of many kinds, the presence there of Confederate monuments—not in former slave states but in the seat of the government that the Confederacy fought—seems bizarre indeed. People who remember, as I do, seeing the statues on childhood visits to the Capitol will be less surprised, but I suspect that even we have thought little about the National Statuary Hall Collection’s contents, or even its existence. A large, oddball batch of mostly old memorials, the collection is centered in the National Statuary Hall, beside the Rotunda, and scattered about in other rooms; many of its subjects are at best obscure. At first glance, the collection might seem, aside from the outrageous presence of the Confederacy, innocuous enough, if a bit antique.

But the stark reality is that the U.S. government’s peculiar relationship to the Civil War made those Confederate statues a defining feature of the whole National Statuary Hall Collection—a fulfillment, even, of what became its purpose. What Confederate figures are doing in the collection is worth knowing, because it bears on larger, even more unsettling political and cultural processes that have marked U.S. public discourse regarding race and racism in the past three centuries.

Read the rest here.

Descendants of Confederate generals weigh-in on the monument and military base debate

Lee

Politico talked with the ancestors of Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Brown Gordon, Ambrose Powell Hill, John Bell Hood, Robert E. Lee, Leonidas Polk, George Pickett, and several others.

Here is a taste:

“I think white people should follow the lead of Black activists and people of color more broadly fighting for equality and rights, and support this struggle in any way we can,” said Mimi Kirk, the great-great-great granddaughter of General John Brown Gordon, who wants Georgia’s Fort Gordon renamed so it is not honoring a leading white supremacist.

For others, such a move would be an affront. “No. Absolutely not,” said Tim Hill, 53, when asked if the post in Virginia named for his direct ancestor, A.P. Hill, should be changed. “At the time, he fought for what he believed in. From what I’ve read, the fight for him wasn’t about slavery, it was just about, he referred to [it] as ‘Northern aggression.’”

Others say they are still struggling with how their ancestor’s legacy should be remembered. Hood’s cousin, Stephen M. “Sam” Hood, who has published two books about the general, maintains it is “instructive to look at the individuals who are honored, not the causes for which they served for a brief period of their lives or careers.”

But most of the descendants who have shared their views say it is past time to honor only Americans whom everyone can agree are deserving.

“We have a lot of people in American history that we should be valuing that we’re not and I think now is the time to reassess those things and have other people—Native Americans, women, and African Americans,” says Milbry Polk, 66, whose forebear Gen. Leonidas Polk is honored with Fort Polk in Louisiana. “So many people make up our fabric of America that we should be looking for role models there, not just people who were generals.”

Read the entire piece here.

Wilentz: “We can honor–and dishonor–American leaders of previous eras without turning history into a simplistic tale of good versus evil”

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Statue of Andrew Jackson, New Orleans

Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz addresses monuments to our complicated past.

Here is a taste of his piece at the The Wall Street Journal:

 

Given history’s complexities and contradictions, though, where should we draw the line?

In the starkest contradiction, Thomas Jefferson, the revolutionary who pronounced the American democratic ideal as the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal,’’ also bought, sold and exploited human beings his entire adult life. On one occasion, he wrote racist speculations about the inferiority of Africans at the same time that he denounced enslaving blacks as an indefensible offense to the Almighty. Should Jefferson’s image therefore be spray painted and trashed, as it was last week in Portland, Ore., as an embodiment of racist evil, little different from Jefferson Davis or Robert E. Lee? Or should the spirit of democratic equality that his image proclaims be taken seriously, as Martin Luther King did when he quoted the Declaration of Independence at length at the March on Washington in 1963?

Intentions as well as history help to clarify these matters of memory. There can be no doubt that statues of Davis, Lee, John C. Calhoun and others are tributes to slavery, secession and racial domination. They were built for precisely those reasons. They have no other possible meaning, apart from transparent euphemisms about states’ rights and federal tyranny.

But the same is not true of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., with its paeans to universal enlightenment, equality and religious freedom. It is not true of the Lincoln Memorial, a living monument that for decades has been a touchstone for the nation’s freedom struggles.

Ulysses S. Grant, for his part, was raised in an abolitionist family; when he received a slave from his slaveholding father-in-law, Grant immediately released him from bondage. Those who know little about Grant hold this against him. Instead, we should honor him for crushing the Confederacy and then, as president, breaking up the Ku Klux Klan, advancing the 15th Amendment and signing the Civil Rights Act of 1875—the first of its kind and the forerunner of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Andrew Jackson is heavily and accurately criticized for his Indian removal policies, although historians still dispute how much those policies arose from tragedy, intention or previous federal policies. But no monument to Jackson celebrates the Trail of Tears or the fact that he owned slaves. He is honored for two lasting accomplishments. As a general, he repelled a massive British invasion at New Orleans in 1815; and as president, he secured the Union by standing up to Calhoun and his militant proslavery supporters, the forerunners of the secessionist slavocracy, during the Nullification Crisis in 1832-33. Somewhere, Calhoun’s shade, embittered by the decision to remove his monument in Charleston, S.C., is smiling grimly at the attacks on his greatest antagonist.

Unless we can learn from history the difference between persons who preach and practice evil and those who at best imperfectly extricate themselves from evil yet achieve great good, we might as well cease building monuments to anyone or anything, and cease teaching history except as dogma. Unless we can outgrow the conception of history as a simplistic battle between darkness and light—unless we can seek understanding of what those in the past struggled with, as we hope posterity will afford to us—we will be the captives of arrogant self-delusions and false innocence.

Read the entire piece here.

Churches and the memory of the Confederacy

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Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise, Idaho

Last night I ran across this article from The Spokesman-Review about a Boise, Idaho church that will remove a stained-glass window featuring Robert E. Lee.  Here is a taste:

BOISE, Idaho – One of Boise’s largest churches is removing a controversial reminder of Idaho’s connections to the Confederacy – a stained-glass window featuring Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

The Cathedral of the Rockies installed stained-glass windows for its then-new building in downtown Boise in 1960. Church documents show that the window, featuring Lee standing with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, was meant as an “inclusive nod to Southerners who have settled in Boise,” said the Rev. Duane Anders, senior pastor.

“Clearly, white Southerners,” Anders said.

As protests over the death of George Floyd and police violence against Black Americans continue, communities are increasingly demanding the removal of Confederate monuments and other symbols that elevate racist figures in American history.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the removal of the state’s largest Confederate statue in Richmond. People in Boston beheaded a statue of Christopher Columbus, which was later removed by the city. The Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee voted Thursday to strip Confederate names, symbols and icons from all U.S. military bases despite vocal opposition from President Donald Trump.

At the urging of community members, the mostly white leaders and congregation of the Cathedral of the Rockies, the downtown campus of the Boise First United Methodist Church, said the time is now for their church.

“It’s not about removing sinners from the window,” Anders told the Statesman last week, “but about removing a racist symbol that clearly says to some people that you’re less than, and that you’re not really welcome.” Phillip Thompson, the executive director of the Idaho Black History Museum, is one of many people who have been urging church leaders to address the window since 2017.

Read the rest here.

I don’t know of any congregation that has taken racial reconciliation and its Confederate past more seriously than St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Read about it here. And then listen to Episode 43 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

How the Robert E. Lee Monument Contributed to the Segregation of Richmond

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Here is Kevin Levin at The Atlantic:

On May 29, 1890, roughly 150,000 people gathered for the dedication of the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond. It was an opportunity to celebrate a man who many believed embodied the virtues of the old South, the “Christian Warrior” who bravely fought to the bitter end for the Confederacy’s Lost Cause. The Richmond industrialist and former Confederate staff officer Archer Anderson predicted that the monument would continue to teach “generations yet unborn,” and that it would “stand as the embodiment of a brave and virtuous people’s ideal leader!”

It was also an opportunity to showcase a new real-estate development that included wide boulevards and Monument Avenue itself—a divided boulevard, 140 feet wide, featuring parallel rows of trees along its center and another row lining the housefronts. The neighborhood was developed exclusively for white residents. Eventually, the avenue would feature monuments to Lee, “Stonewall” Jackson, and J. E. B. Stuart; to Confederate President Jefferson Davis; and to the Confederate official Matthew Fontaine Maury.

The Confederate monuments dedicated throughout the South from 1880 to 1930 were never intended to be passive commemorations of a dead past; rather, they helped do the work of justifying segregation and relegating African Americans to second-class status. Monument Avenue was unique in this regard. While most monuments were added to public spaces such as courthouse squares, parks, and intersections, Monument Avenue was conceived as part of the initial plans for the development of the city’s West End neighborhood—a neighborhood that explicitly barred black Richmonders.

Read the rest here.

Does anyone know of similar stories from other cities?

For more on the history of Richmond, check-out our Author’s Corner interviews with Douglas Thompson and Stephen Ash.

The Richmond, Virginia Robert E. Lee Statue is Coming Down

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Here is the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans Thursday to remove one of the country’s most iconic monuments to the Confederacy, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee along Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The move would be an extraordinary victory for civil rights activists, whose calls for the removal of that monument and others in this former capital of the Confederacy have been resisted for years.

“That is a symbol for so many people, black and otherwise, of a time gone by of hate and oppression and being made to feel less than,” said Del. Jay Jones, a black lawmaker from Norfolk. He said he was “overcome” by emotion when he learned the statue was to come down.

Read the rest here.

Allen Guelzo Asks: “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?”

Robert E. Lee

Allen Guelzo is writing a biography of Robert E. Lee.  This is the first thing I have seen him publish on the topic.  Here are the main points of Guelzo’s argument in “Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?” at Athenaeum Review:

  1.  “The Constitution’s definition of treason is a very narrow one
  2.   “Lee would have to be tried in the jurisdiction where the treason occurred
  3.  “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon P. Chase, would not co-operate”
  4.  “Lee’s own self defense.”

And Guelzo concludes:

In the end, one has to say, purely on the merits, that Lee did indeed commit treason, as defined by the Constitution. But the plausibility of his defense introduces hesitations and mitigations which no jury in 1865—even Underwood’s “packed jury”—could brush by easily. That, combined with the reluctance of Ulysses Grant and Salmon Chase to countenance a treason trial for Lee, makes it extremely unlikely that a guilty verdict would ever have been reached. But the jury which might have tried him was never called into being, and without a trial by a jury of his peers, not even the most acute of historical observers is really free to pass judgment on the crime of Robert E. Lee. Yet the question remains far from academic. In the cosmopolitan atmosphere of global communications and cultural fluidity, the notion of treason has acquired an antique feel, not unlike medieval notions of honor or feudal loyalty. To the extent that global communications, mass migration, and instant universal commerce render national boundaries more and more meaningless, can modern individuals be held to the standard of absolute loyalty to a single political entity? “Citizenship does not free a man from the burdens of moral reasoning,” writes legal philosopher A. John Simmons. “The citizen’s job” is not to absorb obligations to the nation-state and “to blithely discharge it in his haste to avoid the responsibility of weighing it against competing moral claims on his action. For surely a nation composed of such ‘dutiful citizens’ would be the cruellest sort of trap for the poor, the oppressed, and the alienated.” Moreover, the assertion of the existence of international standards of human rights runs in direct conflict with how states regard, and are allowed to regard, the disloyal behavior of their nationals. Nor is this merely an exercise of left-internationalism; for many libertarians, treason loses the taint of moral betrayal and becomes a mechanism by which an all-powerful State prevents “dangers to its own contentment.” As it is, the Constitutional definition itself is so narrow that convictions for what might be considered treasonable offenses are prosecuted instead under the 1917 Espionage Act. But to deny that treason can occur, or that citizens can be held culpable for it, is to deny that communities can suffer betrayal to the point where their very existence is jeopardized.

Read the entire piece here.

A Retired Army General Trashes His Portrait of Robert E. Lee

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Here is Stanley A. McChrystal:

On a Sunday morning in 2017 I took down his picture, and by afternoon it was in the alley with other rubbish awaiting transport to the local landfill for final burial. Hardly a hero’s end.

The painting had no monetary value; it was really just a print of an original overlaid with brushstrokes to appear authentic. But 40 years earlier it had been a gift from a young Army wife to her lieutenant husband when the $25 price (framed) required juggling other needs in our budget.

The dignified likeness of General Robert E. Lee in his Confederate Army uniform had been a prized possession of mine. I’d grown up not far from the Custis-Lee Mansion, and at West Point, Lee, the near-perfect cadet, Mexican War hero, academy superintendent, and, finally, the commander of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, cast a long, ever-present shadow. Later, in Army quarters from Fort Benning, Georgia, to Fort Lewis, Washington, the painting reflected my fascination with leadership, and it spoke of duty and selfless service.

Although it was a portrait of a man, to many it evoked wider ideas and emotions. For like an object bathed in the light of the setting sun, Robert E. Lee’s shadow took on exaggerated size and grew steadily as America’s Civil War retreated ever further into the softer glow of history.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Washington and Lee University in the Wake of Charlottesville

Lee College

One might expect that Washington and Lee University, a school named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, might respond to the tragic events of Charlottesville 2017 by removing Lee from its name or removing on-campus memorials to the Confederate general.  According to Susan Svrluga’s piece at The Washington Post, this has not happened.  But other things have changed.

Here is a taste:

In the days after the Charlottesville conflict, the new president of the private university in Lexington, Va., William Dudley, convened a group and asked it “to lead us in an examination of how our history — and the ways that we teach, discuss, and represent it — shapes our community.”

As this school year began, Dudley announced the changes that would — and those that would not — take place on this storied campus, where traditions carry tremendous weight: The university will keep its name, Lee Chapel will remain an integral part of campus, and the school will find ways to tell its history more fully.

The school has begun a national search for a director of institutional history, a historian who will lead the design, construction and operation of a museum and oversee all of the school’s historical sites. The museum will be dedicated to the university’s many connections to American history. Dudley envisaged close collaborations with students and faculty members to create interactive exhibits, such as a campus walk, that would delve into lesser-known parts of the institution’s history — including the role of slavery.

The challenge for Washington and Lee was different from what other colleges confronted as they considered the fate of Confederate relics. Duke University removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee last year after it was vandalized. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, protesters recently toppled a monument to alumni who fought for the Confederacy. At Washington and Lee, named for two generals who helped the school endure and thrive, “they aren’t just honorifics,” the school’s president said. Both men played important, direct roles. And Lee is buried on the grounds.

Read the entire piece here.

Churches and the Legacy of Racism: A Tale of Two Congregations

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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, VA

Back in June, I wrote a post about the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Dallas, the congregation led by court evangelical Robert Jeffress.  In that post I referenced Tobin Grant’s 2016 Religion News Service piece on the long history of racial segregation at First Baptist. Daniel Silliman’s piece at Religion Dispatches is also worth a look.

Here is the 150th anniversary video that the congregation has been promoting:

A few comments:

  1.  The narrative revolves around three authoritarian clergymen:  George Truett, W.A. Criswell, and Robert Jeffress.
  2. It says nothing about the fact that the Southern Baptist Church was formed because southern Baptists defended slavery and white supremacy.
  3. It says nothing about Truett’s and Criswell’s commitment to racial segregation and Jim Crow.
  4. It does include an image of Robert Jeffress with Donald Trump.  Let’s remember that Jeffress defended Trump last year after the POTUS equated white supremacists and those protesting against white supremacy in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rather than taking a hard look at its past, First Baptist-Dallas has whitewashed it.

I thought about this June 2018 post a couple of weeks ago when I had the privilege of teaching the Adult Faith Formation class at St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond, Virginia.  St. Paul’s occupies and amazing building in the heart of Richmond.  It is located across the street from the Virginia State Capitol and adjacent to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The church was founded in 1844.

During the Civil War, when Richmond served as the Confederate capital, both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis worshiped at St. Paul’s.   After the war, the church used its windows to tell the story of the Lost Cause.  It is often described as the “Cathedral of the Confederacy.”

But unlike First Baptist-Dallas, St. Paul’s decided to come to grips with its racist past.  In 2015, the church began its “History and Reconciliation Initiative” (HRI) with the goal of tracing and acknowledging the racial history of the congregation in order to “repair, restore, and seek reconciliation with God each other and the broader community.”  I encourage you to visit the HRI website to read more about the way St. Paul’s is trying to come to grips with the darker sides of its past.

Public historian Christopher Graham, who co-chairs the HRI when he is not curating an exhibit at The American Civil War Museum, invited me to Richmond to speak.  He is doing some amazing work at the intersection of public history and religion.

When I think about St. Paul’s, I am reminded of Jurgen Moltmann’s call to “waken the dead and piece together what has been broken.”  It is also refreshing to see the words “repair” and “restore” used in conjunction with the word “reconciliation” instead of “Christian America.”

Southern Baptists, and American evangelicals more broadly, may immediately conclude that they have little in common theologically with St. Paul’s Episcopalian Church in Richmond and can thus dismiss the congregation’s history-related efforts as just another social justice project propagated by theological liberals.  But this would be a shame.  They can learn a lot from this congregation about how to take a deep and honest look into the mirror of the past.

Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?

Award-winning Civil War historian Allen Guelzo is writing a biography of Robert E. Lee.  We get a taste of what he might say in his book through this lecture:


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/262056399″>&quot;Did Robert E. Lee Commit Treason?&quot; by Dr. Allen Guelzo, Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/wlunews”>Washington and Lee News</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Did Robert E. Lee *Really* Put State Over Country?

Robert E. Lee

Caleb McDaniel of Rice University takes on the John Kelly’s Civil War comments from a different angle. Most historians writing for the public have focused on Kelly’s suggestion that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”  McDaniel addresses Kelly’s claim that Robert E. Lee “was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important country.”

As McDaniel writes in his recent piece at The Atlantic:

Kelly’s comments reflect a widespread misunderstanding of the power of nationalism in the antebellum era and the ways that loyalty to nation, rather than to state, had served slaveholders’ interests before the war. The notion that state loyalty was “always” stronger is a popular, if simplistic, interpretation of the conflict’s roots—one that’s been reinforced by Hollywood films, monuments to the Confederacy, and documentaries like Ken Burns’s Civil War.

He adds:

The truth is that Lee and his fellow slaveholders were ardent nationalists in the decades leading up to the Civil War, as the Princeton historian Matthew Karp described in his recent book This Vast Southern Empire. And no wonder: For most of its history, the nation had usually protected and served the interests of slaveholders. 

Read the entire piece here.

Thoughts on John Kelly’s Civil War Comments

DHS Secretary John F. Kelly holds and ICE Town Hall

I am teaching the Civil War this semester.  In fact, I have class tonight.  I am thinking of starting the class with John Kelly’s recent claim that the Civil War was caused by “the lack of an ability to compromise.”

I watched the video of Kelly’s interview with Laura Ingraham of Fox News.  In that video he said that “Robert E. Lee was an honorable man.”  He added, “He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country.  It was always loyalty to state back in those days.  Now it’s different today.”  And then came this: “But the lack of ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

A few thoughts about Kelly’s remarks:

  1. Secession, and eventually civil war, occurred because the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 threatened a Southern way of life defined by chattel slavery and white supremacy.  Not convinced?  I invite you to read Charles Dew’s Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War.  My students just finished it.
  2. Was Robert E. Lee an honorable man?  Perhaps.  I am sure that many in the South saw him as an honorable man because he was willing to join the Virginia secession movement and fight for the Southern way of life as described above.  “Loyalty to state” meant loyalty to slavery and white supremacy.  The loyalty Lee may have had to home, place, roots, family, or local community–all virtuous ideals in the abstract–was made possible by the wealth that came from slave labor.  For these reasons, Lee chose treason.
  3. Kelly is partially correct.  The Civil War did come about by a lack of compromise.  The South refused to compromise with northern Republicans like Lincoln who wanted to stop the spread of slavery.  At the start of the war Lincoln, an ardent unionist, would have gladly compromised with the Southern states where slavery already existed in order to keep the union together.  See, for example, his December 22, 1860 letter to Georgia Governor (and eventually Confederate V.P.) Alexander Stephens
  4. Kelly is also correct when he says that “men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.” The men and women of the south made their stand because their conscience (which was informed by their understanding of Protestant Christianity) led them to believe that slavery and white supremacy was right.  Lincoln followed his conscience as well.  He believed the Union must be preserved.  Abolitionists followed their consciences too.  They believed that slavery was an abomination.
  5.  And let’s also remember, as historian David Blight has shown us, that “compromise” was what brought the Union back together after the Civil War.  This was a compromise that the Union made with white supremacists in the South.  A compromise that led to Jim Crow and segregation.

In the end, one cannot ignore the fact that Kelly has made these statements in the wake of what happened in Charlottesville.  (He actually plays the “both sides” card again, much like his boss had done in the days following the race rioting in Charlottesville).  In this sense, his remarks are more than just historical musings.  They send a clear political message.

Christ Church in Alexandria is a Church, Not a Museum

George_Washington_memorial_-_Christ_Church_(Alexandria,_Virginia)_-_DSC03516In case you have not heard, an Episcopalian church in Alexandria, Virginia is taking down a plaque memorializing George Washington.  When Christ Church opened in 1773, Washington owned a pew.  He attended the church whenever he was in town to conduct business.  It is located about nine miles from Mount Vernon. Washington also served as a vestryman in the church.

According to this piece in The Washington Times, Christ Church will also be removing a memorial marker dedicated to another famous parishioner: Robert E. Lee.

Here is a taste:

While acknowledging “friction” over the decision, the church’s leadership said both plaques, which are attached to the front wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as “All are welcome — no exceptions.”

“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the church leaders said in a letter to the congregation that went out last week.

The decision was also announced to parishioners on Sunday.

The backlash was swift, with the church’s Facebook page turning into a battleground. Some supporters praised the church for a “courageous” stand, while critics compared leaders at the Episcopal church leaders to the Taliban or the Islamic State.

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s remember that Christ Church is a functioning congregation.  If the leadership of this congregation believe that people will be offended by commemorative material related to Washington or Lee, or if they believe that these plaques will somehow hinder the advancement of the Gospel in their midst, then the materials should definitely be removed from the sanctuary.  Finally, I am not sure political figures or military generals belong in a church sanctuary.  I would say the same thing about the American flag.

I am also glad to see that the church will be creating a separate space where the commemorative items can be explained and contextualized:

The new display location will be determined by a parish committee. That location will provide a place for our parish to offer a fuller narrative of our rich history, including the influence of these two powerful men on our church and our country,” she said in the email. “We look forward to this opportunity to continue to learn more about our own history and find new ways to introduce it to the wider community.

Read the statement from the Senior Warden of Christ Church here.

Do the Victors Really Write the Histories?

Lee

Over at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Keenan Norris of Evergreen Valley College asks: If the victors write the histories, then why has the Confederate flag and monuments been around for so long?  It’s a great question.

Here is a taste of his piece: “To  Be Continued, or Who Lost the Civil War?”

The possibility that the victors do not necessarily write the histories is an interesting one. Today, histories and counter-histories and counters to the counter-histories can be found in most libraries and on the internet. Yet the basic truth that the victors enjoy the spoils and the heroic history books is supported, most obviously, by our historical record. Begin with the language of that record. The works of Herodotus and Livy, C. L. R. James and W. E. B. Du Bois, Studs Terkel and Svetlana Alexievich are not written in the tongues of the defeated. We do not read about Hannibal’s valiant refusal to be a friend to Rome in his native Punic, nor about Toussaint L’Ouverture’s revolutionary cause in Haitian Creole, nor are Alexievich’s incredible interviews on Russia’s ongoing conflict with Chechen rebels conducted in Chechen. Moreover, the histories that have been legitimated by widely acclaimed literature and film — that have been canonized — have tended toward a heroic vision of the victors. Plutarch does not remember Alexander the Great as a bloodthirsty psychopath bent on successive genocides, nor does Gary Sinise portray Harry S. Truman as a simple-minded destroyer of worlds, though the subjugated histories of the raped, pillaged, and atom-bombed would probably have told a different tale about them.

The victors do, in fact, write the initial and most powerfully influential histories of every conflict, whether between warring armies or warring ideologies. And, when it comes to war, that history begins not with books or movies, but with the terms of peace treaties, the force of occupation, and the redrawing of borders.

Is the rebel flag an impotent symbol? Do the monuments maintained to the greatness of Confederate generals not hold persistent emotional power? There would be no petitions and no protests calling to bring those symbols down if that were the case. White supremacists and neo-Nazis would not be clashing with Antifa in pitched battles in broad daylight if no one cared. The #NoConfederate Twitter movement would not exist because the idea for an HBO show, which the Twitter movement protests, about the historical “what if” of a Confederate victory in the Civil War, would never have been considered potentially lucrative enough to bring to primetime in the first place, let alone to endure such a sustained negative public backlash if these symbols were just ugly gift-shop kitsch.

Read the entire piece here.