Saturday, April 10, 2010

Southerners Celebrating Slavery

You'll remember last week's 'apology' from Republican governor Bob McConnell for "forgetting" to mention slavery when he declared April "Confederate History Month" in Virginia. McConnell later issued an amendment to his own proclamation, adding a new paragraph to the already-released text.

Ed Gilgore has a superior idea he calls "Neoconfederate History Month":
[A]s a white southerner old enough to remember the final years of Jim Crow, when every month was Confederate History Month, I have a better idea for McDonnell: Let’s have a Neo-Confederate History Month that draws attention to the endless commemorations of the Lost Cause that have wrought nearly as much damage as the Confederacy itself.

It would be immensely useful for Virginians and southerners generally to spend some time reflecting on the century or so of grinding poverty and cultural isolation that fidelity to the Romance in Gray earned for the entire region, regardless of race. Few Americans from any region know much about the actual history of Reconstruction, capped by the shameful consignment of African Americans to the tender mercies of their former masters, or about the systematic disenfranchisement of black citizens (and in some places, particularly McDonnell’s Virginia, of poor whites) that immediately followed.

A Neo-Confederate History Month could be thoroughly bipartisan. Republicans could enjoy greater exposure to the racism of such progressive icons as William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson, not to mention Democratic New Deal crusaders in the South like Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo. The capture of the political machinery of Republican and Democratic parties in a number of states, inside and beyond the South, by the revived Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s, would be an interesting subject for further study as well.

Most of all, a Neo-Confederate History Month could remind us of the last great effusion of enthusiasm for Davis and Lee and Jackson and all the other avatars of the Confederacy: the white southern fight to maintain racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s. That’s when “Dixie” was played as often as the national anthem at most white high school football games in the South; when Confederate regalia were attached to state flags across the region; and when the vast constitutional and political edifice of pre-secession agitprop was brought back to life in the last-ditch effort to make the Second Reconstruction fail like the first.
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Any Neo-Confederate History Month would be incomplete, of course, without reference to the contemporary conservative revival of states’ rights and nullification theories redolent of proto-Confederates, Confederates, and neo-Confederates.
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A greater public understanding of the exceptionally unsavory tradition that conservative Republicans are following in claiming that states can refuse to accept health care reform would be valuable without an explicit discussion of current politics.

We've never understood veneration of those who fought for the Confederate states' supposed 'right' to expand slavery to the western states, which was the immediate driving force for secession from the Union after Abraham Lincoln's election. One frequently encounters that veneration here in Northwest Florida.

One friend, who otherwise seems fairly sensible, reveres an ancestor he never knew simply because he was a Confederate soldier. But the guy was a traitor to the United States!

It seems to us no different than if we were to celebrate finding one of Hitler's henchmen in our own family tree. Learn about him and what he did? Certainly. But honor him, revere him, dedicate statues to him, run around with bumper stickers on a pick-up truck proudly announcing our fealty to his cause?

Never. The mere thought is repulsive.

Dept. of Amplification
04-10 am
Prof. Jack Balkin agrees that remembering the Confederacy and what it stood for is worthwhile and timely, though perhaps not for the same reasons governor McConnell has in mind. See here and here.

Dept. of Further Amplification
04-11 am
Scott Lemieux is thinking along the same lines. If the right-wingers say it's okay to celebrate the Southern Confederacy's inauguration of the Civil War, why not on the same logic celebrate "Nazi History Month?"

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