Is it any wonder that today, almost 150 years from ending of that bloody conflict, I find it completely disturbing that for a significant portion of our population, the Civil War continues? More distressing is the fact that children in this country are being taught that the Civil War wasn't about slavery. For this anathema, we have to point a finger directly at conservatives, right-wing teapublicans and libertarians.
Doug Muder, who goes by Pericles here at Daily Kos, wrote an absorbing piece recently, Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party. In it, he wrote, "Tea Partiers say you don’t understand them because you don’t understand American history. That’s probably true, but not in the way they want you to think."
It’s not a Tea Party. The Boston Tea Party protest was aimed at a Parliament where the colonists had no representation, and at an appointed governor who did not have to answer to the people he ruled. Today’s Tea Party faces a completely different problem: how a shrinking conservative minority can keep change at bay in spite of the democratic processes defined in the Constitution. That’s why they need guns. That’s why they need to keep the wrong people from voting in their full numbers. These right-wing extremists have misappropriated the Boston patriots and the Philadelphia founders because their true ancestors — Jefferson Davis and the Confederates — are in poor repute.
But the veneer of Bostonian rebellion easily scrapes off; the tea bags and tricorn hats are just props. The symbol Tea Partiers actually revere is the Confederate battle flag. Let a group of right-wingers ramble for any length of time, and you will soon hear that slavery wasn’t really so bad, that Andrew Johnson was right, that Lincoln shouldn’t have fought the war, that states have the rights of nullification and secession, that the war wasn’t really about slavery anyway, and a lot of other Confederate mythology that (until recently) had left me asking, “Why are we talking about this?”
By contrast, the concerns of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and its revolutionary Sons of Liberty are never so close to the surface. So no. It’s not a Tea Party. It’s a Confederate Party. Our modern Confederates are quick to tell the rest of us that we don’t understand them because we don’t know our American history. And they’re right. If you knew more American history, you would realize just how dangerous these people are.
He said something else in the piece that struck me: "The South is a place, but the Confederacy is a worldview."
Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial
As an adult, I am still deeply disturbed by all of the shrines dotted across the nation, particularly in the South, honoring Confederate leaders. The most disturbing one for me is carved on Stone Mountain
The largest bas relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving depicts three Confederate leaders of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (and their favorite horses, "Blackjack", "Traveller", and "Little Sorrel", respectively). The entire carved surface measures 3 acres (12,000 m2), about the size of two and a quarter football fields. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet (120 m) above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet (58 m), and is recessed 42 feet (13 m) into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee's elbow, which is 12 feet (3.7 m) to the mountain's surface.
Across the nation, grade schools, high schools, and colleges are named for Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Fourteen states celebrate Confederate Memorial Day
. Alabama still has an official state holiday that celebrates Jefferson Davis' birthday
on June 3 each year. The Confederate battle flag is incorporated into several state flags.
There is a misperception that many of the of Southern states have flown some version of the Confederate flag without interruption since the Civil War. For the most part, the Southern states that raised the Confederate battle flag or incorporated it into their state flag did so in the early part of the 20th century or during the 1950s and 1960s, in a defiant stand against integration. Denmark Groover, the Georgia House floor leader who in 1956 sponsored the legislation to add the Southern Cross into the state flag, freely admitted as much. He maintained that he and many of Georgia's legislators at the time were staunch segregationists who had urged that the Confederate symbol be added to the flag as a protest against federal integration orders.
As we move into 2015, there are many events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and far too many of them will be honoring Confederate traitors. We will hear the refrain repeated again and again, that it isn't about slavery, and that neo-Confederates are "not racists."
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines neo-Confederacy:
The term neo-Confederacy is used to describe twentieth and twenty-first century revivals of pro-Confederate sentiment in the United States. Strongly nativist and advocating measures to end immigration, neo-Confederacy claims to pursue Christianity and heritage and other supposedly fundamental values that modern Americans are seen to have abandoned.
Neo-Confederacy also incorporates advocacy of traditional gender roles, is hostile towards democracy, strongly opposes homosexuality, and exhibits an understanding of race that favors segregation and suggests white supremacy. In many cases, neo-Confederates are openly secessionist.
Neo-Confederacy has applied to groups including the United Daughters of the Confederacy of the 1920s and those resisting racial integration in the 1950s and 1960s. In its most recent iteration, neo-Confederacy is used by both proponents and critics to describe a belief system that has emerged since the early-1980s in publications like Southern Partisan, Chronicles, and Southern Mercury, and in organizations including the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Overall, it is a reactionary conservative ideology that has made inroads into the Republican Party from the political right, and overlaps with the views of white nationalists and other more radical extremist groups.
For an academic look at the rise of the neo-confederacy, I suggest:
Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction
, edited by Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, and Edward H. Sebesta
An interdisciplinary team examines the mainstreaming of the New Dixie movement, whose calls range from full secession to the racist exaltation of “Celtic” Americans and whose advocates can be found far north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
A century and a half after the conclusion of the Civil War, the legacy of the Confederate States of America continues to influence national politics in profound ways. Drawing on magazines such as Southern Partisan and publications from the secessionist organization League of the South, as well as DixieNet and additional newsletters and websites, Neo-Confederacy probes the veneer of this movement to reveal goals far more extensive than a mere celebration of ancestry.
Incorporating groundbreaking essays on the Neo-Confederacy movement, this eye-opening work encompasses such topics as literature and music; the ethnic and cultural claims of white, Anglo-Celtic southerners; gender and sexuality; the origins and development of the movement and its tenets; and ultimately its nationalization into a far-reaching factor in reactionary conservative politics. The first book-length study of this powerful sociological phenomenon, Neo-Confederacy raises crucial questions about the mainstreaming of an ideology that, founded on notions of white supremacy, has made curiously strong inroads throughout the realms of sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, and often "orthodox" Christian populations that would otherwise have no affiliation with the regionality or heritage traditionally associated with Confederate history.
Whenever you hear someone state that "the Civil War wasn't about slavery," refer them to Edward Ball, author of Slaves in the Family
, who wrote Commemoration, minus the myths
I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I've heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: "The War Between the States was about states' rights. It was not about slavery." I've heard it from women and from men, from sober people and from people liquored up on anti-Washington talk. The North wouldn't let us govern ourselves, they say, and Congress laid on tariffs that hurt the South. So we rebelled. Secession and the Civil War, in other words, were about small government, limited federal powers and states' rights.
But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union - which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy - reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.
South Carolina: "The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery" and "have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes."
Mississippi: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery - the greatest material interest of the world. ...There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union."
Georgia: "A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia."
Several states single out a special culprit, Abraham Lincoln, "an obscure and illiterate man" whose "opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery." Lincoln's election to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that "the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction." In other words, the only state right the Confederate founders were interested in was the rich man's "right" to own slaves. It's peculiar, because "states' rights" has become a popular refrain in Republican circles lately. Last year Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wondered aloud whether secession was his state's right in the aftermath of laws out of Congress that he disliked. In part because of this renewed rhetoric, in the coming remembrances we will likely hear more from folks who cling to the whitewash explanation for secession and the Civil War. But you have only to look at the honest words of the secessionists to see why all those men put on uniforms.
Adele Stan wrote If You Think the Civil War Ever Ended, Think Again
, explaining, "But the larger issue is the notion that a Confederate History Month should be celebrated at all, with or without an overt mention of slavery."
When I first moved to Washington, D.C., I had hardly a stick of furniture, so I boarded a bus to take me to the nearest Ikea, which was in a Virginia mall. Quite unfamiliar with the territory, I watched out the window with curiosity as the bus traveled along the chain-store lined route. Soon I noticed we were traveling along a road called the Jefferson Davis Highway. I was stunned, and a bit sick to my stomach. How could it be that a highway was named after a man who made war against the United States, all so the citizens of his region could continue to hold human beings in chains? All so slave masters could continue to rape the women they claimed to own. The children of these unions were usually enslaved by their own fathers, often acting as servants to their white half-brothers and -sisters.
That throughout a significant swath of the nation, men who committed treason for the sake of maintaining chattel slavery are lauded as heroes speaks to a terrible illness in the American psyche -- one that continues to fester 145 years after the last shot was fired in the War Between the States.
African-Americans know that the Civil War never ended: as the descendants of the slaves freed by the war's outcome, they've been subjected to continuous stream of terrorism and discrimination, whether they live in the South or the North.But in the South, black people, for 100 years after the war, faced orders of terror higher than elsewhere in the country. Chattel slavery in America was reserved primarily for those of their race (although, in some areas, Native Americans were also traded as slaves), marking them by skin color as the living legacy of the Confederacy's final humiliation.
Take a look at Confederacy Theory
And you thought the Civil War was over... Confederacy Theory presents and unflinching portrait of the cultural war that has erupted around the confederate flag - a century-old symbol that threatens to divide the South like no issue since the Civil Rights movement. Using never-before-seen archival footage and exclusive interviews with politicians, pundits, activists, and scholars, Confederacy Theory traces the history of this symbol and its impact on Southern culture, history, and identity - from the Civil War to the frontlines of a modern-day secession movement.
It was just recently that we got these polling results from Mississippi:
And keep in mind, 37 percent of Mississippi Republicans Say They Would Would Back Confederates over United States.
Last year, Mother Jones featured teapublican Chris McDaniel schmoozing with neo-Confederate racists in an article, GOP Senate Candidate Addressed Conference Hosted by Neo-Confederate Group That Promotes Secessionism.
Chris McDaniel is taking the "GOP Civil War" to a new level. Two months ago, the tea party-backed Mississippi Senate candidate addressed a neo-Confederate conference and costume ball hosted by a group that promotes the work of present-day secessionists and contends the wrong side won the "war of southern independence." Other speakers at the event included a historian who believes Lincoln was a Marxist and Ryan Walters, a PhD candidate who worked on McDaniel's first political campaign and wrote recently that the "controversy" over President Barack Obama's birth certificate "hasn't really been solved."
McDaniel continues to battle in the courts
in his bid to be on the ballot.
My civil libertarian friends will probably disagree with me, but I find myself wishing that we had laws—similar to the Strafgesetzbuch section 86a in Germany that "concerns Nazi symbolism in particular and is part of the denazification efforts following the fall of the Third Reich. The law prohibits the distribution or public use of symbols of unconstitutional groups, in particular, flags, insignia, uniforms, slogans and forms of greeting."
I dream of living in an America that no longer celebrates, and erects monuments to, slavery and secession, where a plurality of my fellow citizens no longer believe the Civil War was about "states rights."
Since I won't live to see that dream, I'll settle for fighting for a third Reconstruction, and working to vote every racist neo-Confederate tea partier out of office.
Comments are closed on this story.