As I mentioned in a comment on Kevin’s blog, I recently made a long road trip of almost 1,200 miles across Texas and back, mostly through rural counties and small towns, and saw only a handful of Confederate flags — literally, few enough to count on both hands. That’s a little surprising, given the assurances being made in some quarters about a widespread, popular, groundswell of support for the Confederate flag. Maybe it’s happening in other places, but not so much in Texas.
One place I expected to see a Confederate flag, but didn’t, came early in the trip, at Johnny Reb’s Dixie Cafe in Hearne. Sure enough, they changed their signage last month (above), dropping both the flag and the Johnny Reb reference in favor of a more generic Lone Star.
One of the restaurant’s partners, Sharon Zeig, said the change was simply a business decision that had “nothing to do” with the most recent controversy over the symbol, and had been planned for months. That’s undoubtedly true, but it’s also true that Confederate iconography doesn’t square anymore with promoting one’s business to the widest possible range of potential customers. You can ask Lloyd Bessinger about that. Now Dixie can focus on what they seem to do extremely well — namely, chicken fried steak and sweet tea.
Image via KAGSTV.com
Today’s history lesson comes via Kevin Jolley of Southern Heritage News & Views:
There was black regiments that fought in the Civil War for the south to. Don’t for get Harriet Tubman who scouted for the 2d South Carolina.
The Second South Carolina Volunteer Infantry (African Descent) was one of the first African American units in the Union army, organized in early 1863, and composed of former slaves from the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. The regiment was made somewhat infamous by its commanding officer, former Kansas Jayhawker James Montgomery. I’m pretty sure the folks in Darien, Georgia didn’t view that regiment as as fighting “for the south [sic.].”
On the positive side, though, I’m sure we can count on Mr. Jolley’s support for putting Tubman on the new $10 bill, right? Right?
UPDATE, July 26: After being challenged about the Second South Carolina on Facebook, Mr. Jolley claims he never suggested they were a Confederate unit:
Um, sure. OK.
My blogging colleague Rob Baker recently passed along a link to this transcript of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s will:
FIRST I commit my body after death to my family and friends with the request that it may be entered among the Confederate dead in the Elmwood Cemetery near the City of Memphis, it being my desire that my remains shall rest with those of the brave men, men who were my comrades in war and shared with me the danger and peril of battle fields fighting in a cause we believed it our duty to uphold and maintain.
Return Nathan Bedford and Mary Ann Forrest to Elmwood. It’s the right thing to do.
Jade Helm is here, people. Chris Martin uncovers the irrefutable evidence at the Sam’s Club in San Angelo:
Last week Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton called for the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest, his wife, and the monument that stands above them, to be returned to the city’s Elmwood Cemetery. This move is not unexpected, as monument and the park surrounding it — renamed Health Sciences Park in 2013 — have been contentious in the city of Memphis for a long time now.
This call for Forrest’s return to Elmwood comes, of course, in the wake of several states taking action to remove or end official display of Confederate iconography, from flags to specialty license plates to statues. While I think we, as southerners, need to catch our breath and think a little more deliberately when it comes to monuments of long-standing, there is actually a strong and affirmative case — a pro-Forrest case, if you will — when it comes to the site in Memphis. I’ve communicated with several people who have been interested in Forrest for a long time, and know his story well. They point out that he and his wife, Mary Ann Montgomery Forrest, were originally interred at Elmwood, and it was not until the early 20th century, three decades after the general’s death, that their remains were moved to a central park downtown. It’s a case, in many respects, like that of Robert E. Lee at Washington College, now Washington and Lee University, where a later generation decided they knew better than the general himself what he wanted.
At Elmwood, he and Mary Ann would lie again among twelve hundred other Confederate soldiers. (Perhaps it’s not mere coincidence that the statue’s bronze gaze has been fixed on Elmwood all these years.) Besides which, a transfer of Forrest’s remains and re-interment a mile away at Elmwood would give the heritage folks the opportunity for a procession and pageantry the likes of which haven’t been seen since the burial of the H. L. Hunley crew at Charleston in 2004. Lord knows, to so many of Forrest’s fans practicing history consists mainly of dressing up and solemnly parading with Confederate flags. It’s a win for all concerned — for the Forrests, who apparently preferred being at Elmwood; for the city of Memphis that, rightly or wrongly, wants to be done with what used to be known as Forrest Park; and for the heritage crowd that, with a little nudging, can undoubtedly be convinced that a move is actually the right and proper thing to do. A recent Tennessee law would seem to prohibit moving Forrest and the monument, but with everyone on board with it, I’m sure enabling legislation in Nashville is a forgone conclusion. Confederate graves at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. Forrest should be here, too. The specific circumstances of the Forrest case make that call easy; the case for moving, or removing, other Confederate monuments is more difficult, and requires more deliberation. Speaking for myself, I’m ambivalent about it. While I adamantly support the authority of local governments to make these decisions, I’m not sure that a reflexive decision to remove them is always the best way of addressing the problems we all face together. Monuments are not “history,” as some folks seem to believe, but they are are historic artifacts in their own right, and like a regimental flag or a dress or a letter, they can tell us a great deal about the people who created them, and the efforts they went to to craft and tell a particular story. In 2015 it would be hard to find someone who would unequivocally embrace the message of the “faithful slaves” monument in South Carolina, but it can’t be beat as documentation of the way some white South Carolinians saw the conflict thirty years after its end, and wanted others to, as well. (Maybe York County could put a sign next to it with an arrow saying, “no, they really believed this sh1t!”)
I’ve written before about the Dick Dowling monument in Houston (right). It honors Dowling for his command of Confederate artillerymen at the Battle of Sabine Pass in 1863, but from its dedication in 1905, it was a rallying point for Houston’s Irish community, many of whom came after the war. (It was sponsored, in large part, by the Ancient Order of Hibernians.) Certainly today, as I learned firsthand, the emphasis at the annual ceremony there is much more Irish in character than Confederate. It means a great deal to those folks, many of whose Irish ancestors’ arrival in this country postdates the Civil War by decades. They have no personal connection to the war or to the Confederacy, yet the Dowling monument nonetheless serves as a common bond among them irrespective of the uniform worn by the marble figure at the top. It really would be a shame to lose that.
I think we need to be done, done, with governmental sanction of the Confederacy, and particularly public-property displays that look suspiciously like pronouncements of Confederate sovereignty. The time for that ended approximately 150 years ago. But wholesale scrubbing of the landscape doesn’t really help, either, if the goal is to have a more honest discussion about race and the history of this country. I’m all for having that discussion, but experience tells me that it probably won’t happen. It’s much easier to score points by railing against easy and inanimate targets.
Forrest monument image via PorterBriggs.com. Elmwood Cemetery image via ElmwoodCemetery.org.
Early Saturday morning, an activist named Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole on the grounds of the State House in Columbia, South Carolina and removed the Confederate flag flying there. She and at least one other accomplice were quickly arrested, as I’m sure they expected to be. They’re currently facing a misdemeanor charge of defacing a monument.
That particular flag has been the focal point of intense controversy over the past week, as everyone knows. An act like Newsome’s, I’m sure, was not unexpected. And while I would expect various pro-flag groups to denounce Newsome’s actions, I’m also — frankly — not surprised at some of the comments about it left on the Virginia Flaggers’ Facebook page. I’m putting them after the jump because they’re pretty damned ugly:
Someone observed once that 1968 was a year in which Americans experienced more history than we were able to absorb. That’s what the last two weeks feels like to me.
Y’all have a great weekend.
If you’re not completely exhausted and burned out by the coverage of events of the past few days in Charleston (and Columbia), I’d like to recommend five essays that are worth your time.
Ta-Nehesi Coates: What this Cruel War was Over:
Roof’s belief that black life had no purpose beyond subjugation is “sick and twisted” in the exact same manner as the beliefs of those who created the Confederate flag were “sick and twisted.” The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage. . . .
It is difficult for modern Americans to understand such militant commitment to the bondage of others. But at $3.5 billion, the four million enslaved African Americans in the South represented the country’s greatest financial asset. And the dollar amount does not hint at the force of enslavement as a social institution. By the onset of the Civil War, Southern slaveholders believed that African slavery was one of the great organizing institutions in world history, superior to the “free society” of the North.
The Freedmen’s Patrol Blog: A Murderous Tradition of White America:
This attack does not present us with a mystery. The assassin told us with words and action precisely what he intended to do. The people who tell us otherwise could not have chosen a more obvious lie. He acted alone and isolated only in the narrowest, most literal sense that he did not gather together a conspiracy to help him. He had accomplices, morally at least, all around him. The people who named the streets, who raised the flag, who smiled off camera and took his picture, all played their part. They told the assassin that people who prosecuted the case for white supremacy, to the very point of war, deserved recognition and celebration. We don’t name streets after people we consider villains. We don’t fly flags we view as odious. The assassin has other accomplices who now pretend that the shooting had nothing to do with the persistence of white supremacy in the United States. They might deplore his methods, but by obscuring his ideology they enable it. Whether they cloak their cries of white power in the language of anti-anti-racism, as if one prefix did not negate the other, or say nothing because they dare not alienate what they correctly understand as a key voting constituency, they attend the shooting with more than indifference and less than the abhorrence it deserves. They know full well that if the assassin had different skin color or a different presumed religion, they would have no such scruples. How does one explain any of that, unless the excusers and obscurers are themselves white supremacists? If that doesn’t amount to racism, then nothing does.
Paul Mullins, Imagining the Racist Landscape:
Roof visited all these places in the months leading up to his mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (see Corey McQuinn’s analysis of the Charleston Church’s history), yet he did not negate their histories by refuting the sites’ narratives. Ruff did not engage the critical histories told at Boone Hall, Sullivan’s Island, or McLeod Plantation, and his presence at Elmwood was at best a mute commemoration of Confederate dead with whom he perhaps fancied he had some affinity. His screed accompanying his “The Last Rhodesian” web page had nothing to say about the specific places he visited; instead, it simply repeated stale racist rhetoric and may betray the desperation of White privilege in the hands of an unreflective thinker. This is a somewhat different rhetorical approach than Confederate defenders and revisionists who weave historical fact and ideological biases into narratives that re-cast the war, the color line, and Southern heritage; Ruff’s text for the most part simply railed on a host of non-WASP peoples. Ruff does allude to “an American [sic] to be proud of and fight for,” a nation that apparently existed in some moment before Vietnam, but like many White supremacists Roof’s shallow history romanticizes a segregated world and rails at the perceived erosion of White privilege.
The Cotton Boll Conspiracy Blog, Deep debate cast aside for quick decisions based on ‘perception’:
Prior to the mid-1950s, the national news media didn’t perceive the persecution of blacks in the Deep South as being worthy of more than scant coverage, enabling extremists to kill, maim and intimidate blacks with almost complete impunity. With the murder of 14-year-old Emmitt Till in 1955 that began to change. The murder of civil rights activists in Mississippi in 1964 further prompted national news media to focus attention on Deep South transgressions. Once the major news media began to shine its spotlight on what was going on in the region regarding terror and mayhem, the federal government began to take a greater interest in putting an end to it. There are countless other examples of “perceptions” faced by blacks, along with those other minorities and women, that we now understand were not just misguided but out-and-out wrong. None of the above is to say that the flag issue isn’t worthy of discussion. But it should be done with logic and rational thought, rather than focusing on nebulous feelings that can neither be proved nor disproved.
Robert Moore, Charleston… and observations:
Historians have every right to be passionate and zealous for a “cause”; they can even be activists. It’s just that when that cause intersects with their professional historical era of interests, I find it a little troubling. For one, depending on the advocacy, I begin to question the ability of the same historians to really be objective when they return to the practice of writing and speaking about their historical era (obviously, in this case, I’m talking about the Civil War). More specifically, I find it troubling when, in the course of advocacy… for that common cause… the passionate and (overly?) zealous historians are much more accepting (yes… I’ve seen this in various places on the Web and in blogs) of those who rant and rave with poor history. I find it odd that they don’t keep the others in check. I’d say it might be a matter of one battle at a time, but then… there are also examples where I’ve seen selective dismissal of one ranting of poor history, but not another. I believe the “temporary lapses of forgiveness” of poor history displays compromised professionalism for zeal. I don’t think such compromise, even in the midst of passion for advocacy, is a good thing.
Good reads, and lots to consider.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held today that specialty license plates are a form of government speech:
History shows that States, including Texas, have long used license plates to convey government speech, e.g., slogans urging action, promoting tourism, and touting local industries. Cf. id., at 470. Second, Texas license plate designs “are often closely identified in the public mind with the [State].” Id., at 472. Each plate is a government article serving the governmental purposes of vehicle registration and identification. The governmental nature of the plates is clear from their faces: the State places the name “TEXAS” in large letters across the top of every plate. Texas also requires Texas vehicle owners to display license plates, issues every Texas plate, and owns all of the designs on its plates. The plates are, essentially, government IDs, and ID issuers “typically do not permit” their IDs to contain “message[s] with which they do not wish to be associated,” id., at 471. Third, Texas maintains direct control over the messages conveyed on its specialty plates, by giving the Board final approva lover each design. Like the city government in Summum, Texas “has effectively controlled the messages [conveyed] by exercising final approval authority over their selection.” Id., at 473. These considerations, taken together, show that Texas’s specialty plates are similar enough to the monuments in Summum to call for the same result.
The Court has also recognized that the First Amendment stringently limits a State’s authority to compel a private party to express a view with which the private party disagrees. Just as Texas cannot require SCV to convey “the State’s ideological message,” id., at 715, SCV cannot force Texas to include a Confederate battle flag on its specialty license plates.
This is not an outcome I expected. Heretofore the federal courts have upheld plates like these in other states; now that the Supreme Court has ruled the other way, expect moves in those other states to rescind those plate programs. Today’s ruling also underscores the principle that governmental entities have significant latitude to pick and choose what causes or events they promote or commemorate, even when solicited to do so by the public. I have no idea how this will all shake out in the long run. You can download the full opinion here.
[This post originally appeared here on June 19, 2010.]
“Emancipation” by Thomas Nast. Ohio State University.
Juneteenth has come again, and (quite rightly) the Galveston County Daily News, the paper that first published General Granger’s order that forms the basis for the holiday, has again called for the day to be recognized as a national holiday:
Those who are lobbying for a national holiday are not asking for a paid day off. They are asking for a commemorative day, like Flag Day on June 14 or Patriot Day on Sept. 11. All that would take is a presidential proclamation. Both the U.S. House and Senate have endorsed the idea. Why is a national celebration for an event that occurred in Galveston and originally affected only those in a single state such a good idea? Because Juneteenth has become a symbol of the end of slavery. No matter how much we may regret the tragedy of slavery and wish it weren’t a part of this nation’s story, it is. Denying the truth about the past is always unwise. For those who don’t know, Juneteenth started in Galveston. On Jan. 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. But the order was meaningless until it could be enforced. It wasn’t until June 19, 1865 — after the Confederacy had been defeated and Union troops landed in Galveston — that the slaves in Texas were told they were free. People all across the country get this story. That’s why Juneteenth celebrations have been growing all across the country. The celebration started in Galveston. But its significance has come to be understood far, far beyond the island, and far beyond Texas.
This is exactly right. Juneteenth is not just of relevance to African Americans or Texans, but for all who ascribe to the values of liberty and civic participation in this country. A victory for civil rights for any group is a victory for us all, and there is none bigger in this nation’s history than that transformation represented by Juneteenth.
But as widespread as Juneteenth celebrations have become — I was pleased and surprised, some years ago, to see Juneteenth celebration flyers pasted up in Minnesota — there’s an awful lot of confusion and misinformation about the specific events here, in Galveston, in June 1865 that gave birth to the holiday. The best published account of the period appears in Edward T. Cotham’s Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, from which much of what follows is abstracted.
The United States Customs House, Galveston.
On June 5, Captain B. F. Sands entered Galveston harbor with the Union naval vessels Cornubia and Preston. Sands went ashore with a detachment and raised the United States flag over the federal customs house for about half an hour. Sands made a few comments to the largely silent crowd, saying that he saw this event as the closing chapter of the rebellion, and assuring the local citizens that he had only worn a sidearm that day as a gesture of respect for the mayor of the city.
The 1857 Ostermann Building, site of General Granger’s headquarters, at the southwest corner of 22nd Street and Strand. Image via Galveston Historical Foundation.
A large number of Federal troops came ashore over the next two weeks, including detachments of the 76th Illinois Infantry. Union General Gordon Granger, newly-appointed as military governor for Texas, arrived on June 18, and established his headquarters in Ostermann Building (now gone) on the southwest corner of 22nd and Strand. The provost marshal, which acted largely as a military police force, set up in the Customs House. The next day, June 19, a Monday, Granger issued five general orders, establishing his authority over the rest of Texas and laying out the initial priorities of his administration. General Orders Nos. 1 and 2 asserted Granger’s authority over all Federal forces in Texas, and named the key department heads in his administration of the state for various responsibilities. General Order No. 4 voided all actions of the Texas government during the rebellion, and asserted Federal control over all public assets within the state. General Order No. 5 established the Army’s Quartermaster Department as sole authorized buyer for cotton, until such time as Treasury agents could arrive and take over those responsibilities.
It is General Order No. 3, however, that is remembered today. It was short and direct:
Headquarters, District of Texas
Galveston, Texas, June 19, 1865 General Orders, No. 3 The people are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes, and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere. By order of
F. W. Emery, Maj. & A.A.G.
What’s less clear is how this order was disseminated. It’s likely that printed copies were put up in public places. It was published on June 21 in the Galveston Daily News, but otherwise it is not known if it was ever given a formal, public and ceremonial reading. Although the symbolic significance of General Order No. 3 cannot be overstated, its main legal purpose was to reaffirm what was well-established and widely known throughout the South, that with the occupation of Federal forces came the emancipation of all slaves within the region now coming under Union control.
The James Moreau Brown residence, now known as Ashton Villa, at 24th & Broadway in Galveston. This site is well-established in recent local tradition as the site of the original Juneteenth proclamation, although direct evidence is lacking.
Local tradition has long held that General Granger took over James Moreau Brown’s home on Broadway, Ashton Villa, as a residence for himself and his staff. To my knowledge, there is no direct evidence for this. Along with this comes the tradition that the Ashton Villa was also the site where the Emancipation Proclamation was formally read out to the citizenry of Galveston. This belief has prevailed for many years, and is annually reinforced with events commemorating Juneteenth both at the site, and also citing the site. In years past, community groups have even staged “reenactments” of the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation from the second-floor balcony, something which must surely strain the limits of reasonable historical conjecture. As far as I know, the property’s operators, the Galveston Historical Foundation, have never taken an official stand on the interpretation that Juneteenth had its actual origins on the site. Although I myself have serious doubts about Ashton Villa having having any direct role in the original Juneteenth, I also appreciate that, as with the band playing “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as Titanic sank beneath the waves, arguing against this particular cherished belief is undoubtedly a losing battle.
Assuming that either the Emancipation Proclamation (or alternately, Granger’s brief General Order No. 3) was formally, ceremonially read out to the populace, where did it happen? Charles Waldo Hayes, writing several years after the war, says General Order No. 3 was “issued from [Granger’s] headquarters,” but that sounds like a figurative description rather than a literal one. My bet would not be Ashton Villa, but one of two other sites downtown already mentioned: the Ostermann Building, where Granger’s headquarters was located and where the official business of the Federal occupation was done initially, or at the United States Customs House, which was the symbol of Federal property both in Galveston and the state as a whole, and (more important still) was the headquarters of Granger’s provost marshal, Lieutenant Colonel Rankin G. Laughlin (right, 1827-78) of the 94th Illinois Infantry. It’s easy to imagine Lt. Col. Laughlin dragging a crate out onto the sidewalk in front of the Customs House and barking out a brief, and somewhat perfunctory, read-through of all five of the general’s orders in quick succession. No flags, no bands, and probably not much of a crowd to witness the event. My personal suspicion is that, were we to travel back to June 1865 and witness the origin of this most remarkable and uniquely-American holiday, we’d find ourselves very disappointed in how the actual events played out at the time.
Maybe the Ashton Villa tradition is preferable, after all.
Update, June 19: Over at Our Special Artist, Michele Walfred takes a closer look at Nast’s illustration of emancipation.
Update 2, June 19: Via Keith Harris, it looks like retiring U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison supports a national Juneteenth holiday, too. Good for her.
Update 3, June 19, 2013: Freedmen’s Patrol nails the general public’s ambivalence about Juneteenth:
I suppose it gets ignored for the same reason we ignore Emancipation Day. To make a national fuss over it would require us to grapple with slavery and own up to freedom as a kind of national project, not a crystallized perfection handed down from men in powdered wigs.