September 30, 2020

JMJ: The South Shall (not) Rise Again!

Ramblings: The South Shall (not) Rise Again!
By J. Michael Jones

Mike writes at his blog J. Michael Jones

I am a product of the south. There are many things that a true southerner should be proud about…our Confederate history, not one of them. The code name that we southerner’s like to use for the support of the Confederacy is “our heritage.” Putting it within that narrative makes it sound like it is our birthright, our inheritance, our family name or crest or coat of arms, and the essence of our history as a sub-culture.

I grew up in northeast Tennessee. The odd thing about this issue for us, was the fact that our part of the state sided with the north. One of the first and most vocal abolitionist newspapers in the nineteenth century was in nearby Jonesboro. Fighting from that war was local, where skirmishes left a cannon ball in the front of a church in another local town. They left the ball there for the historical context (although I’ve heard rumors that they had to take that Yankee ball out and re-cement it back in so it wouldn’t fall out and hit a parishioner in the head).

Yet, for most part, we had our identity closely connected with the Confederacy. If the Civil War, and slavery seems like a long time ago, I must mention, when I was born in 1955, there were still several Confederate solders still living and many emancipated slaves still alive. The last Confederate solder died when I was four and the last slave died when I was a junior in high school. So, in some ways, that war was yesterday and I was a product of the post-Civil War period.

In my small town, the Confederate flag was flown as much as the American flag or maybe more. The logo, “The South Shall Rise Again!” was a common graffiti, painting on the sides of barns and bridges. It was something of pride for a subculture that, needlessly, suffered from a inferiority complex.

The reason that our part of Tennessee did not side with the south during the war, was our terrain. It was hilly and mountainous, not conducive to large plantations. Since slavery was basically free labor, the larger the plantation the more it would benefit, from slavery.

This is not to say that we did not have our share of slaves. I remember several antebellum houses or farms that still had slave quarters. I almost rented such a home in Jonesborough while I was in college. It was built in 1815 and had two (horrible) slave quarters under the porch, dirt floor and a stone bench where the family of five would sleep.

I remember one beautiful old plantation house sitting on a bluff above the Holston river. That land was first cultivated in the eighteenth century and grew into a large plantation with many slave cabins. It has been passed down in the family up to the time I was a child. I do remember my father, a good and decent man but with the same racism that generation carried, said as we drove past that house one day, “That whole family has been cursed with accidents, suicides, cancer and the like. They think it is a curse from God for owning slaves.” So, there was the notion, even then, that slavery was a work of the devil.

The Re-writing of History

I am a great fan of history now, but wasn’t then. I do remember clearly how the Civil War was taught from middle school into high school. I will put it in bullet points:

  1. Blacks were an ignorant and inferior people that the noble colonialist brought to America, educated them, Christianized them, took the bones out of their lips, gave them Bibles, gave them shoes, and gave them the opportunity to advance in society.
  2. The Civil War was not about Slavery but about hard working, God-fearing (white) farmers in the south, who were being taken advantage of by the north and the “states’ rights” to protect those farmer’s livelihood. The slaves, according to that history, didn’t want things to change for them because it was going pretty well under slavery.
  3. The south could have won the Civil War, but quit because the north was causing so much destruction by their ruthless (e.g. Sherman) behavior.

The Myth of the Confederate Christian Champion

As I’m writing this piece, there is great controversy stirring once again about Confederate monuments. I could write pages and pages about this but I will summarize. Statutes of Confederate leaders are being brought down because many blacks (rightly so) see these as images of oppression and suffering. At the same time, people in my childhood culture (southern, white) are very angry they are coming down, saying it is killing their culture. It would be like (to them) banning beer and Oktoberfest in Germany’s Bavaria.

During this time, I’ve seen several things posted by my Tennessee friends and family with revisionist history about these figures (these histories usually have roots with conspiracy theorists and on politically far right web sites) that declare that these men were noble people who didn’t like slavery and those tearing them down don’t know history. The truth is, those who know history best are those who like the statues the least. The reason is, they understand who these men really were (not a revisionist, white-centric history) and they also understand why these statues were erected in the first place. It was not to celebrate the rich history of the south (mostly white history) but as a direct statement during the Jim Crow hyper-racism period and during the civil rights moment of the 1950s and 60s.

Robert E Lee

The revisionist histories that are circulating cherry-pick only a few points without giving the rest of the story. It is true that Robert E. Lee was a great US general before the war and did not like the idea of secession. It is also true that he decided to honor his state of Virginia and join their cause as part of the Confederacy. The revisionist try to paint him as a friend of the slaves. That part is far from historical reality as he was a man of his times.

Lee inherited hundreds of slave an they were under his direct control. He could have set them free, but he did not. It is a complicated story (as it was for many whites during this period) where Lee spoke of the evil of slavery, but at the same time, directly supervised the whipping of his slaves, believed the myth (see above what I was taught) that blacks were better off as slaves in America than freemen in Africa. He believed that some day slaves could be set free but to never obtain the social status of whites, who were superior to blacks. I recommend reading real histories by real historians rather than things written by political pundits. You can start here.

In summary of this complicated view of Lee, he wrote the following to his wife:

In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. 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.

The language that Lee uses is both offensive to any black person but is also the language of the modern “white supremacy” movement.

Jefferson Davis

For the sake of time, I will just mention that while it was true that Davis was a statesman and military leader of the US, he was also a slave owner and supported slavery. You can read more about that here.

The False Narrative of the Pseudo-patriot

My southern friends often wrap themselves in America patriotism as a badge of honor, at the same time they are promoting the Confederacy as a keystone in their own culture, but the two are mutually exclusive. The succession of the south from the United States, was the greatest act of treason this country has ever known. It is also the greatest act of terrorism against this United States by far. Those same people reject the recent lawlessness and destruction that, unfortunately, accompanied (in a very small part) of the Black Lives Matter protests, yet, the Civil War was a million times worse in the destruction of property, lawlessness, and violence. Yet, they want to champion the Civil War’s cause.

The Sin of the Southern Church

One of the reasons that I’m not a big fan of organized religion is that they so often climb into bed with pure evil causes, for the sake of power and money. The southern church did the same for the same of the lucrative slavery trade and function. While members of the Christian society were eventually some of the loudest anti-slavery voices (and should have been) the compromise and promotion of slavery by the Church was more common.

I grew up as Southern Baptist. That denomination’s very existence was over their support of slavery and the denial of human rights to blacks. It is plain and simple. It was a great sin on that denomination and they still have not shaken it. When I grew up Southern Baptist, racism was massaged deeply within that Christian religion. I heard the “N-word” used by Southern Baptist preachers from the pulpit. I also heard statements such has “God never intended for blacks and whites to mingle, certainly not to marry.” I also heard whispers of white supremacy doctrines within that culture, such as “God gave the blacks muscles because God wanted them to be the working class and whites, the leaders and thinkers.”

The church I went to (in college) after I left the Southern Baptist church of my upbringing, was a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It too separated from the mainline Presbyterian church over the issue of slavery, as the PCA supported slavery and the stratification of whites above blacks in society. Now, to give them credit, both the Southern Baptists and the Presbyterian Church in America have (if I remember correctly) made statements of confession and repentance over their churches’ sins. But a true cultural repentance is more difficult. It is like trying to get the purple out of your white tee shirts and underwear, after they have been washed with a new purple beach towel. Getting the towel out of the wash machine is the easy part. Getting the color out of your clothes is the difficult and insidious part.

I remember in 1978 meeting with a PCA pastor who was a Civil War enthusiast. He was working on book about finding godliness in the lives of Confederate generals and emulating that godliness. I know pastors now who are fighting to keep Confederate statues up.

I’m sure someone will prove me wrong, but I searched and the only statistics I could find for the PCA says that the percentage of the members who are black are “0%” and <1% immigrants. I’ve seen a black person, although rarely, in a PCA church so it can not be 0%, or can it? For the Southern Baptist, it is a little better, at 6%.

The Difficulty of Cultural Repentance

It is hard enough to go through a personal “repentance” or change of course. An example is an alcoholic who commits to sobriety. It is painful and hard. It is even more difficult to turn from the subtle errors of our character such as bitterness, anger, lying or manipulation. But the most difficult repentance is the cultural change. The reason is that it is external to our hearts. The society around us agrees with this error. If we buck the system our friends and family will loathe us and abandon us. We find our identity in the subcultures and to turn from them, feels like a part of us is dying.

For me speaking out against racism (and this is not the first time) and even this article against embracing the Confederacy, comes at a great cost. I alienated my entire birth family when I wrote an article here about my own racist upbringing. Some were very pissed off, as were people who grew up with me. Everything I said was factual, but painful.

I’m sure that this article will piss off Southern Baptists, Presbyterians of the PCA and virtually 100% of my childhood friends.

When you are facing something like cancer, friends and family are a premium. I’ve lost many who are either upset that I speak out against racism, or damaging our planet, or lying. I’ve lost many more friends from me being candid about my own emotional struggles. I know that if I were a conformist and only wrote what people wanted to hear, my quiver would be full of supporting friends and family. But I can’t help myself. I detest lying and injustice and will stand on my principles, even if I am the last person standing on them. Now, if I speak against racism I am accused of “virtue signaling.” So, then, are we to remain quiet on every point of virtue? I think not.

Before I close this article, I also want to add that just being white and raised in the south does not automatically make you a racist. But those who escaped this racism, at least during the age of my upbringing, were rare. I knew a guy who was raised by two intellectual (and atheist) parents, and he was very outspoken about civil rights and against racism and he lived in the same area as me. And being raised racist doesn’t make one guilty… remaining one does.

Finally, if the people of the south gave up their love for the Confederacy, what do they have? Will they give up their entire culture? Hell no! Look what they have that’s decent and worthy to build a culture on. The have the greatest music on the planet (look how many great musical artists trace their roots to southern music). They have the best food in America (not better than Italy, but America). They have the southern charm, southern hospitality to be proud of. I could go on and on.

But the Confederacy is an ugly chapter in our country’s history and certainly the racism that goes with it. Give it up! Let it go. But don’t forget it. Study it in school. Learn from it. But don’t celebrate it.

Comments

  1. Christiane says

    where our nation’s violent history comes in contact with the house where my maternal grandmother was born:

    https://gowildnc.com/history-Ausbon-House.aspx

    • Christiane says

      My mother knew Hermine and I and my sister knew Neva Humphries who has since sadly passed away. I have not met Kim who now owns the home. Visiting here in this house was a very moving experience for us, as the bullet holes are still even in the wall in that upstairs bedroom. Where the sniper staggered down the stairs and died in the main hall, there was a blood stain that no one could ever remove from the wooden floor. Neva told us the stories of the history of the family in that house post the War and I wish we had taped her as she spoke, it was enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck, those stories.

      Every family has stories to tell of the old people but my mother’s family’s history is so very different from the immigrant stories of my father from Canada that it cannot be imagined, this difference. I don’t know if ‘pride’ is the word I would use here, but there is a sense of a ‘heritage’ that is spoken of in an antebellum house in Plymouth NC where there are bullet holes left in an upstairs bedroom and a blood stain that cannot be removed and of a feeling in visiting that house that it has a life of its own and story it must tell in what it endured and survived and that this story is best not heard but seen in those bullet holes and in a floor permanently stained in blood. The house still speaks its history that something happened there long ago and it was brutal and violent and the proof can be seen and touched. The home is ‘preserved’ as an historical home and is on the walking tour of Plymouth NC in the summer time. Neva told us about the ghost, but that is another story.

  2. Interesting article.

    Of course much of this was buoyed by The Myth of the Lost Cause narrative beginning in the years after the war (especially after Robert E. Lee died). Two of the biggest proponents were Braxton Bragg and Jubal Early.

    This of course, mixed with Jim Crow in the post-Reconstruction period is the backdrop on why all these Confederate statues were put up across the South in the late 1800s to early 1900s. This also explains why other than a small museum/memorial in his hometown of Gainesville, GA and his carving on Stone Mountain, there is nothing in the South honoring Robert E. Lee’s right arm (as he called him), James Longstreet. Seems that the South erased him from their history.

    • Radagast says

      James Longstreet tarnished his image and accomplishments by coming out against Lee in a few articles after Lee’s death and also working with his friend U. S. Grant after the war. Longstreet was a great Corps Commander, but also had his failings especially his time in the western theatre), and was hated by Jubal Early, who blamed the loss at Gettysburg squarely (and unfairly) on him.

      • I seem to recall that Longstreet basically said Lee made the wrong call on Pickett’s Charge. Interestingly I think Lee himself took responsibility for it. Lee also defended Longstreet as long as he was alive.. But the biggest reason for erasing Longstreet was that it ran contrary to the Myth of the Lost Cause.

        • Here is an interesting article about it:

          https://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Missing-statues-expose-truth-about-Confederate-13193465.php

          Much of his criticisms of Lee were in his autobiography published in 1896, long after the purge of his name from history begain.

        • Pickett’s Charge: Is there any argument to be made that it was a good call? The best that can be said of it is that it was a roll of the dice, with a very low probability of winning. This is never a good call. It might be the least bad call, but only if the alternatives are worse. Lee could have withdrawn after the second day. The charge was low-probability because it was against a naturally good defensive position that was well manned. Better to try again some other day, when the ground might favor you.

          Of course the bigger problem was that the invasion of Pennsylvania was dubious strategy from the start. It only made sense as psychological warfare, to convince the North that the game wasn’t worth the candle. Wandering around central Pennsylvania was never going to do that. Idea about marching on Philadelphia or New York City were sheer fantasies. Trying would be suicide, and Lee knew it. So what was the point? Hope for a miracle?

          Meade’s orders were to block Lee from advancing on Washington or Baltimore. He was setting up a defensive position in north central Maryland. The Army of the Potomac was strung out along what is now US Route 15, with the northern elements at Gettysburg. The idea was to bring the southern elements into the defensive line, then withdraw the northern elements into it. At that point he could sit and dare Lee to attack. Meade’s decision to fight at Gettysburg was improvised, made after the battle had begun and based on a trusted subordinate’s report that Cemetery Ridge was good defensive ground.

          That explains Mead’s decision to fight there. Lee’s decision to let his army get sucked into the fight at Gettysburg, and to keep fighting for a third day, was a desperation move: a Hail Mary pass. The alternative was to wander around central Pennsylvania for a while then go home. This is a very defensible argument for letting the first two days run their course. But the third day? Quoth the poet: You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them. Better to accept the stalemate.

          • My understanding was that the invasion of Pennsylvania was to draw the Army of the Potomac out of Virginia and away from Washington, and provoke it into an attack on Lee’s army on his terms. Which, given the AotP’s performance to that date, was not an unsound strategy.

            • The “away from Washington” part is not terribly meaningful, since with the Army of Northern Virginia also away from Washington there wasn’t any means to exploit this. One can regard the initial movement as a grand flanking maneuver around Washington, but since this gave the Army of the Potomac the interior lines, this wasn’t an effective way to threaten Washington. If we take the strategy as “make the other guy do something stupid” then this still is a desperation move. Remember the old adage about no battle plan surviving contact with the enemy. If your plan depends on “I will do this, and then he will do that,” that you don’t have a plan. In the event, Meade’s orders were purely defensive, and not even of Pennsylvania. If the idea was that the Union would risk everything to defend Harrisburg, that wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t even a real threat. The forward elements of Lee’s army reached the western bank of the Susquehanna, but never made a serious threat to cross.

            • Radagast says

              Needed to get the fighting out of Virginia and replenish food and supplies.
              Put pressure on Washington to fore the North into negotiations with the South and possibly allow the South to Secede. Apparently there was a delegation of southern leaders ready to meet with Lincoln as Lee got closer to Washington.

          • Radagast says

            Picketts charge was Fredericksburg in reverse… Longstreet – a defensive tactics kind of guy, did not like the Gettysburg tactics from the start – was not good ground, wanted to go around to the right. He was fully against Pickett’s charge, wanting instead to continue to go around via Little Round Top. Hood took a huge beating in that area the day before.

            • Richard and Radagast (the Brown),

              That’s right. Longstreet was not happy camper in all of this But then Lee wanted to go up the middle on the third day.

              Besides, the fate of the Confederacy was sealed in the West. In the east, it was always the same, the AoP trying to cross the Rappahannock River and surround Richmond. I don’t see what the big deal is anyways, just drive down Interstate 95 and you are there in no time. 😀

            • Radagast and others,

              Do you guys remember the old Victory Games (a division of Avalon Hill) board game on the Civil War?

              • Rick Ro. says

                I still own SPI’s American Civil War game. It was flawed, but I played it many a time. I should bust it out again.

                • I still have some of old military board games, including the big one, Advanced Squad Leader.

                  • ASL… The only game on earth that makes Star Fleet Battles look simple by comparison. 😛

                    • With the rule book explicitly modeled after army field manuals. I still have mine, including the first half dozen or so expansion games.

                    • Yes, but it can be a lot fun. The key is to start out small basic scenarios, master the basics of the game and the tactics and work your way up.

      • Rick Ro. says

        I grew up in New Orleans and thus “favored” the Southern generals in my formative years. Longstreet was one of my favorites, and I liked his wisdom through the conflict, especially in being against Pickett’s Charge.

        But you know what? That disaster helped the right side eventually win.

        • Radagast says

          I am partial to Longstreet as well, The Federals could not seem to move forward with all the advantages they had until Grant came along. He was willing to risk loss of life, knowing it would eventually wear away Lee’s men and resources. The combination of Grant/Sherman/Sheridan finally produced a winning combination in the eastern theatre.

          • I am sure all the Lost Causers and Klan in New Orleans didn’t like Longstreet especially after the riots in 1874….

            Grant realized the principle of seizing and maintaining the initiative, never allowing Lee and his army to regroup, even if it meant more casualties.

            In terms of Confederate Generals, Stand Watie has a interesting story, especially in a theater of operations that very few know anything about.

          • Rick Ro. says

            I’ve always felt – and I believe most Civil War historians and history buffs would agree – that had many of the South’s generals fought for the North, the war would’ve ended MUCH sooner. The North had a lot of incompetent and overly cautious generals, especially early in the war. The SPI American Civil War game (and maybe others as well) makes this abundantly clear in their leadership and movement mechanics. The North has a HUGE manpower advantage, but they rarely get to use them due to leadership issues.

            “Boy, if I could move this stack of units on Richmond, I could win this game.”
            Dice roll.
            “Well, maybe next turn!!”

            • Rick Ro.

              The VG Civil War game reflects that. It also shows that the better generals were in the South early on, but as the war progressed and a number Confederate Generals died (Jackson being most prominent), few newer generals rose to prominence and those that did were no Lees or Longstreets. Likewise the Union Army had a lack of talented generals early on but as the war progressed, Generals like Sherman, Grantm, and Sheridan rose to prominence. The game reflects that as leaders get promoted their leadership scores may go up OR down. This reflects the fact some generals were better suited to smaller commands (Hood is an example) than larger ones (and vice versa).

            • The Victory Games Civil War board game also makes good use of the fact that the Civil War was to be won or lost in the West, Not northern Virginia. Upon receipt of Grant’s message, Lincoln sighed, “Thank God,” and declared “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.”

  3. To follow-up,

    When there are more things in the South honoring Braxton Bragg, Leonidas Polk, and Hood than James Longstreet, then it is pretty obvious that the statues were not put up to honor Confederate military leaders and the Johnny Reb soldier.

    • Radagast says

      Bragg was hated by his Generals, Longstreet was ineffective when he took a division out there for a while. Hood was a hell of a fighter but wasn’t the brightest when it came to tactics.

      • When Longstreet was out there in the West, wasn’t he under Bragg at the time?

        • Radagast says

          Longstreet did not want to take over overall command in the west. They did not have good unified leadership once Albert Sidney Johnston was killed. Lots of politics at the time.

      • The thing about Hood is that was perhaps the best division or brigade commander of the war, but was nowhere as good at larger commands. At that is what ended up biting him in the rear.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Peter’s Principle. You see a lot of that in war.

        • Radagast says

          He also kept losing pieces of himself. Joseph Johnston retreated a lot but he was conserving his men and supplies. Hood after Gettysburg (fighting against Sherman) threw men at the problem and had heavy losses.

  4. The last paragraph sums up the situation very well. The real history of the Civil War told with as much factual accuracy as possible is the path to pursue and it seems that is the path we are on. I grew up in the South and have lived through the changes. Of course , without a doubt the first historical issue that needs to be addressed is that slavery was the issue, the cause, the flash point and the very foundation of the Civil War. For years the semantic game about states rights dressed up the issue and I guess you could could say the right for states to allow slavery was the real “states” rights issue. So that is the start of a very complicated part of our history. So much more but it requires much more study, that most Americans are not going to pursue.. One of the points I find interesting and often overlooked is that the 15th amendment gave poor white people in the south the right to vote along with the former slaves. Many faces to this complicated issue.
    One of the facts I learned with Gone With the Wind was Scarlett Katie O Hara and her family was Catholic Irish/French heritage , no a big deal but a revelation to me at the time . The Civil War and its legacy is a topic that should be well taught in our schools in a factual , truthful way as the truth is so compelling and part of our national fabric. Again to show how facts are presented, I remember very well that in my southern education ,the Civil War was call The War Between The States, Perspective does indeed matter.

    • In regards to GWTW, either the book or the movie, all I can say is this:

      “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

      • anonymous says

        Chaplain Mike !

      • As for GWTW, it was only one of many movies, cartoons that reflected the attitudes of the 1930s and 40s. Think back on some of the Bugs Bunny or Betty Boop shorts – and I remember watching those through at least the 1970s. Part of it is looking at history through the eyes of those who actually lived at that time and not through our own 21st century eyes. A lot of us were part of that’

        We can scream revisionist history on the part of the South but we in the 21st century are doing our own bit of revisionist history in the other direction. We are seeing this as we are experiencing a re-look at the “evil” of our founding fathers, evil in quotations because we are looking at the colonial Aristocracy through our 21st century eyes.

        • Just because evil wasn’t acknowledged as evil back then, doesn’t mean it wasn’t evil. There were voices back then who called out the evils – they were just shouted down and marginalized.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            Yeah. I am 1,000% OK with “revisionist history” when what is being “revised” was evil.
            Yes, we all do it, and should do it more.
            Terminating the sins of our fathers involves acknowledging them.

            Truth over Heros, always.

          • Radagast says

            Looking through 21st century eyes… of course it was wrong and their were voices as far back as the early 1800s looking for change… heck it dominated politics all through the 1840s and 50s. The subjugation of the Israelites by the Egyptians was wrong too and on and on. The South made a mistake of having an aristocratic module where agriculture was the main industry and slave labor was expected to drive that industry. Great Britain had evolved past this travesty by 1833 (at least in Britain proper). The south refused to look at moving past the model in the near term, probably having to do with profits.

            Adam – I believe we have acknowledged our sins, are acknowledging them, and we are rooting out pockets where racism is still prevalent. I don’t believe we need to villainize all the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Washington and Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, all the folks that lived during the era of American imperialism to make our point. At that point we are being selective in reacting to peoples, groups, history’s failings.

            Understand that one day someone in the future could declare behavior you and I are participating in as hateful and evil (because they are looking through their time period’s eyes).

            • “Understand that one day someone in the future could declare behavior you and I are participating in as hateful and evil (because they are looking through their time period’s eyes).”

              Indeed. “Since we have such a cloud of witnesses…”

              • Or, as GEN Tresckow of the Wehrmacht put it in early July 1944…

                “The assassination (of GODWIN’S LAW) must be attempted at any cost. Even if it should fail, the attempt to seize power in the capital must be undertaken. We must prove to the world *and to future generations* that the men of the German Resistance dared to take the decisive step and to hazard their lives upon it. Compared with this object, nothing else matters.”

              • Adam Tauno Williams says

                “Understand that one day someone in the future could declare behavior you and I are participating in as hateful and evil ”

                And?

        • I watched those cartoons from the 30’s and 40’s when I was a kid in the late 50’s into the 60’s. I frequently saw the images of “coon-ass-dragin'” as a child, and heard my elders use the term without making the connection until I was an adult. Racism was always in the air we breathed.

      • States’ rights: This was an abstraction that softened the reality by discreetly failing to specify what exactly it was that the states demanded the right to do. The abstraction was long mainstream history for a couple of reasons. After the war the South, at least the more intellectual portion of it, realized that defense of slavery was not a winning argument. Hence their interest in promoting the abstraction. In the North, the same thing happened after the end of Reconstruction. There had been a brief shining moment when actually caring about civil rights for blacks was a mainstream position in Northern politics, but that moment had passed. Embracing the abstraction smoothed over the awkwardness, both of the shift in the Northern position and in working with white Southerners. The 20th century equivalent was the “de-Nazification” of Germany after WWII. The business at hand was facing the Soviets. Looking too closely at a German’s past did not serve this purpose. Finally, the abstraction was embraced by the academy because the academy is reflexively suspicious of simple explanations. Claim that the First World War happened because a Serbian nationalist assassinated an Austrian nobleman, and eyes will roll in response. This reflex usually serves the academy well, but in this case the result was to accept an abstraction that is really pretty simple too, but which sounds more complicated when it is really merely obfuscation.

    • Or, as once I was wont to say, The War of Regression by the North Against the South.

  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pukKZIlTEDo

    A long song but it tells the tale of the beginning, from the South propaganda point. This song helped promoted the states rights issue that gave the poor average, poor southern person a reason to go to war. The song is a part of history but needs to be taught and explained. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is another song that just is so informative and revealing. The real story is in the books for sure, we just need to get it out.

    • Christiane says

      the real story:

      https://youtu.be/fZfcc21c6Uo

      the actual voices of the men and women who ENDURED and suffered the worst assault of all: the denial that they were human beings, entitled to dignity and respect because they also were made ‘in the image of God’

      the scars from this went deep into these people and we see even today, the result of the terrible abuses against a group of human beings because of ‘race’

      their recorded voices speak: they themselves tell the ‘real story’

      • Robert F says

        Their story is the one that needs telling, and the rest of the “history” fabricated by Confederacy sympathizers after the War needs to be reinterpreted by and set in the context of that wider history, that untold history. The stories that were never allowed to be told, except in secret camp meetings and furtively to family and friends, need to be shouted from the rooftops. All that is hidden will be revealed.

  6. Robert F says

    In telling the true story of the South it’s important to tell the true story of the North as well. The deep racism of the North before and after the War, even among some of the whites who were strongly abolitionist, the unofficial postwar Jim Crow of states north of the Mason-Dixon, and the readiness on the part of Northern leaders after the horrors of the War to let the South keep face and reclaim honor by telling their untrue story of states rights, Southern nobility, and the myth of a Lost Cause that was not rooted first and foremost in maintaining slavery.

  7. In how many other nations are so many of the military bases of the central government named after generals who led a failed rebellion against said government? Yes, the myth runs deep, and not just in the South. The North bought into it too, to placate the Southern whites and promote “peace and unity”.

    • Robert F says

      The North wanted to forget, and undertook a joint project of amnesia and revisionism with the South after the War. Of course, that also helped it turn a blind eye to its own entrenched racism. “Peace and unity” were bought with the price of forgetting and suppressing the suffering of Blacks.

      • Especially after a good 10 or so years of Reconstruction and military occupation. It was easier to say the mission is over, no more slavery, we have the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. Yay!. Of course, the Myth of the Lost Cause was accepted as it was easier and promoted that “peace and unity”.

        Many of those bases were constructed during the Presidency of the good friend of the Confederacy Woodrow Wilson. I am also sure when any local input was asked about naming the bases, good old Confederate Generals’ names came up (James Longstreet excepted of course). I still wonder why the home of the US Army’s Special Forces, the Special Operations Command, the 82nd Airborne, and other elite forces is named after one of the most incompetent generals of the Civil War.

        • The more I find out about Wilson, the less I like him.

        • CM, Even as a child I had the same question about Fort Bragg. Bragg was not well regarded by his peers and his leadership was poor. His own men did not respect or like him. The only redeeming qualification I can guess at , is that he was from N.C.

          • And Bragg was one of the biggest pushers of The Myth of the Lost Cause.

          • Dana Ames says

            The town where I grew up, Fort Bragg, California, was named for Bragg before he was a Confederate. The post was founded in 1857 when logging started to take off in the area, as protection against “Indian uprising”. The fort was decommissioned after ten years. The local Pomo bands were not of the temperament to attack the settlers at all.

            Yes, the town has made it into the national news. It’s in a pretty “blue” part of the State, and already there have been calls to change the name. First of all, they can’t afford to do that – population is only 6000. Secondly, and more importantly, those calling for the change are confused about the historical time line.

            “History” is complex and multifaceted. I’m all for telling the history as long as ALL of the history isn’t obliterated in misguided zeal, well-intentioned though it may be. That’s not the same as Repentance (which is not about feeling guilty or sorry in Scripture). Such an action makes real Repentance more difficult.

            Dana

            • Actually Dana I was referring to the US Army Base in NC not the city in California.

            • Dana – agreed

            • This just in….

              Pennsylvania to change its name as the state’s founder, William Penn, purportedly owned 12 slaves at some point in his life.

              Pittsburgh will follow suite due to William Pitt, Prime Minister of the UK until 1806, failed to get the Slave Trade Bill passed during his term (it passed in 1807 followed by the abolishment of slavery for Great Britain in 1833).

              The Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers will have their names changed due to the fact that permission was not given by the existing tribes of the day. The rivers will be renamed to generic identifier as to not offend.

              • Robert F says

                You forgot Yale University, named after Elihu Yale, who was a slave-owner and slave-trader.

    • See also: “good Germans” after the Second World War.

      • David Greene says

        They ignored a lot of things about the German rocket scientists and engineers brought to America after the war. Probably because we were locked into a missile race with the Soviets. But maybe also because in leaving their sins dormant we could continue to ignore ours.

        • Robert F says

          They ignored a lot of things about IG Farben when they broke it up into multinationals that exist to this day, and appointed former executives who employed slave labor in IG Farben factories as the heads of those multinationals.

  8. “even more difficult to turn from the subtle errors of our character such as bitterness, anger, lying or manipulation. But the most difficult repentance is the cultural change. The reason is that it is external to our hearts. The society around us agrees with this error. ”

    And our bedrock individualism is a massive hinderance to that as well. “If I haven’t burned crosses or blatantly discriminated against someone, then I am completely innocent…”

  9. Burro (Mule) says
  10. Just want to say that this essay is superb.

  11. anonymous says

    is CM the same person as Chaplain Mike?

  12. No I am not a Chaplain nor my name is Mike. The only thing in common are the initials.

    • Nope.

      • Initials are great. One of my best friends in college , we called big Mike because he was big and he was Mike. Eventually it got shortened to BM to make him uncomfortable. He embraced his initials BM and that is what he is forever known by his select few friends. BM taught me a life lesson, he handled our silly efforts by turning the tables. Of course we still try to be witty and silly. When we gather as a group, which is rare., we all acknowledge how important having a BM in our life, hopefully daily.

      • Hello CM,

        Regards,
        CM

    • Rick Ro. says

      Mixed identity issues always remind me of this…

      “Who is Number One?”
      “You are… Number Six.”
      “I am not a number… I’m a free man!”

  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/42nd_Infantry_Division_(United_States)

    I am attaching this link only to show how intricate , complex, convoluted and how important context is. The Rainbow Division was made up of many national guard units including many from the south. From 1865 to 1917 the people who direct relatives fought for slavery and to not be a part of the United States joined with their federal government to fight for the United States. Not going to spend a lot of time but this is why history, events and outcomes are so important and cannot be reduced to soundbites and emotions that override the real history and the arch of history. The stupid act by J. W.Booth to kill Lincoln changed the course of post civil war America. The reconstruction era and the decisions made to unify the nation all are in the mix. Again, at tempting as it is , it is not good for the long term to use our 21st understandings/knowledge and hind sight position to advance an agenda. I do not know how the terrible divisions that existed during and after the Civil War could have been handled in the time period than they were except that Lincoln path would have produced much better results had he lived. Just to clarify, slavery was the issue, the cause of the war. Before the war the southern description of their state was that the state was “A” United States, a separate ,equal independent body , that had agreed to be a part of the Union, voluntarily and could leave. Basically the problem with the Articles of Confederation , that had to be replaced with Constitution. The northern states believed and after the war, the “A” United States concept was abandoned eventually by the south and they accepted that they were part of “The” United States. Again way to much to cover in comments but as we move away always the real history needs to be taught examined and then the judgements, opinions and rationale of actions can be formed.

    • David Cornwell says

      “Again, at tempting as it is , it is not good for the long term to use our 21st understandings/knowledge and hind sight position to advance an agenda. ”

      Why not? Hopefully, we are learning a lot as we go. I can’t imagine NOT using what we are learning.

      • David Cornwell, good point you made as I did not explain myself well. My thought was not to use our 21st century understanding/knowledge , advancements etc. in just using our template over the culture, society and teachings of the 1860’s for example. If I knew then, what I know now is a good example of how we explain it in our personal life. Of course we should use our lessons we learn from history, our education advances and all the 21st century advantages we have to advance the right agenda based on what we have learned. Thanks for bringing my poor language example. I agree with you. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past but we must know of them as they are relevant.

  14. I enjoy learning about history and consider myself fairly historically literate, but I am still in shock after learning how many army bases are named after treasonous military men who tried to destroy the country.

    This country desperately needs to deal with the legacy of slavery, but I fear it never will. Since the BLM protests have come to the forefront of our society, I am discovering that people who I long thought were sensible, moral, and decent people are also racist to the core. I am utterly disheartened.

    • They could pretend to not be racist while the costs for doing so were low. But this is a time for choosing sides, and that always brings out the best and the worst in us.

    • Suzanne, if you somewhat know history, how about some names that shocked you?

    • Radagast says

      Suzanne – some people were a product of their generation. They did what all the folks around them were doing. They did not have the luxury of the internet, education, or even role models that knew any better than themselves. How many of us had older Uncles, Aunts, grandparents that spoke in ways or had ideas that are could be very offensive today? We are now taking it to the next step and calling it evil.

      As for dealing with slavery- to say we have not, that there has been no progress is just a false statement. We have moved well past the views of even 40 years ago. Is there Racism today – yes, on both sides of the aisle. We need to fix that. But it is not what it once was.

  15. David Cornwell says

    “Again, at tempting as it is , it is not good for the long term to use our 21st understandings/knowledge and hind sight position to advance an agenda. ”

    Why not? Hopefully, we are learning a lot as we go. I can’t imagine NOT using what we are learning.