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A student-led group project from HIST 246

Remembering the Confederacy

This week, I made a Google Doc that everyone with the link can view, and that people in the Map Group can edit, where we can organize all of the information we will eventually be incorporating in a visual manner into our map. The link to the spreadsheet is here:


And the post where I explain the different categories is here:


I am now trying to find information about sponsors and fundraising for each of the memorials/relevant ceremonies, to fill in those blanks in the document.

We are now living the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and the question has once again become pressing: how can Southerners memorialize their Confederate past without offending blacks, or anyone who views the South as synonymous with slavery? As historians, despite their other disagreements, increasingly come to the consensus that slavery was the core cause of the war, we must ask ourselves if there is a way to do so at all, or if public glorification of the Confederacy should become wholly a thing of the past.

This question is not one of whether or not we should continue to remember events of the past, mark historical sites, and teach about popular figures who have shaped history. Of course, Americans must endeavor to keep history alive, and that means teaching future generations about what we already know about both sides of the conflict, preserving things of historical worth, and continuing to seek out more information and put forth new ideas that help us view the past in a new light. However, the time to glorify and “honor” the Confederacy is passing, by social necessity. Glorifying a nation that fought to preserve slavery is inappropriate. If we want America to work towards ever greater tolerance, an addiction to Lost Cause ideology, pining over a conflict that is a century and a half old, is counterproductive. Southerners can argue that the Civil War was actually about States’ Rights and freedom and the love of their home states, but the fact is that the Confederacy and its legacy is bound up with acts of cruelty and racism, both ideologically and physically violent. In the face of the many accounts from before and during – not after – wartime, from powerful politicians to the rank and file, which asserted that slavery was the cornerstone of the Confederacy, continuing to glorify the CSA is incongruous with modern ideas of racial equality and tolerance, unless one buys into the ideas of Southern pundits who asserted that slaves were happy and content, and ignores historical evidence to the contrary. In other words, Lost Cause ideology, and monuments, holidays and other memorials that blossom from it, are propaganda, based on either remainders of racism and white supremacy, or ignoring or perverting the facts and contemporary opinions that historians are increasingly discovering and putting forth.

Perhaps I take all too personal and heated a view on this, but growing up in a small town in Texas – far from the heart of the Confederacy, even – I have experienced these remainders of racism and white supremacy firsthand. I knew boys who had bumper stickers of the stars and bars on their trucks. It seemed all in good fun, but I dated such a guy for a while, and came to notice the way he and his friends talked about black people, and one day noticed him idly drawing a noose on the surface of a picnic table. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last. Horwitz’s reports contain more evidence of the casual vestiges of white supremacy that anyone might encounter on a tour through the heart of the erstwhile Confederacy: “Walt’s not prejudiced. He hates all minorities the same” (34). Horwitz observed men complaining that the “government’s letting the niggers run wild” (35).

Memory of the Confederacy has, for obvious reasons, become inseparably linked to racist ideals. Today, this makes it hard for any tolerant American with an honest curiosity in their Confederate ancestors to express such an interest, let alone pride, without being linked to racism. From when my mother told me once that we had the ancestral backing to join the UDC, and I immediately rejected her despite having a significant interest in the Civil War, to the smart little girl described by Horwitz who, even at age 12, feels uncomfortable with “all this ‘South is great’ stuff” (39), it is not hard to see that the Confederacy is a touchy subject even for some of the people directly connected to it by blood, and justifiably so.

How can we remember the Confederacy without invoking racism? By seeking out the truth, as far as we can discern it, without projecting modern wishful thinking on the past. By learning about, and teaching future generations, an honest history; by giving people facts and letting them decide what they think for themselves, rather than indoctrinating them with a biased Confederate Catechism.

Therefore, memorials of famous historical Confederates, such as Jackson and Davis and even Lee, or allegorical memorials such as the one to which black preacher Michael King objected in Horwitz’s account, are unavoidably, and understandably, going to incite conflict. Such memorials are too bound up with honoring the abstract ideals associated with the Confederacy as a whole, those ideals espoused from leaders, from those on high; as Michael King sees it, the allegorical statue claims God’s affiliation with the Confederacy (43). Even memorializing a Confederate everyman soldier represents by extension the entirety of the rebel army.

Perhaps the time for Confederate memorials in the classical sense, of imposing statues or even street names, is past. But this, conveniently, fits in with growing trends in America which value the glorification of communal heroes less and less, as Brown suggests at the end of his book. “Contemporary society and culture,” he says, “may not attach the same significance to shared memory or, perhaps, to nationhood” (169). Memorializing the Confederacy has even now, in many ways, become somewhat of a cult activity. “You didn’t see nobody black at those [UDC and SCV] meetings, did you?” one black man asked Horwitz. “Anything you got to do with your own kind in secret, something’s wrong with it” (43).

Today, Southerners can honor their ancestors by taking a frank and honest look at the past. Instead of insisting that the “War Between the States” was not about slavery, they should admit that perhaps it was, after all, rather than being belligerent and ignoring the work of historians. Although it may seem painful to have such a stain on one’s ancestors, it need not be that way. There was a time when people in our society went to hangings – for people of any race – for entertainment, and when the Romans pitched humans against each other, or against lions, in a battle to the death, for sport. Our society is not free from its sins today. Yet there is always room for improvement. Is it not a point of pride to look back and say that just 150 short years ago, there were 4 million slaves in the South, and that by now we have made such strides towards equality as to have a black president? Consider how quickly the years go, and you will realize that even a century and a half is not so long. Although no one wants their honor, or that of their ancestors, besmirched, society – just like an individual person – can never progress unless we admit our past mistakes. That does not mean descendants of Confederates should be ashamed; they should view their ancestors as members of a very different society, one that is incompatible with ours today. But, if they really profess to believe in racial equality, neither should they be proud of the slaveholding world of the Old South.

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