Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Federal Judge Tosses Lexington Flag Lawsuit

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 14, 2012

Via Kevin, the U.S District Court has granted the City of Lexington’s motion to dismiss the SCV’s lawsuit against the city. Rob Baker points to Judge Samuel Wilson’s ruling:

The Constitution does not compel a municipality to provide its citizens a bully pulpit, but rather requires it to refrain from using its own position of authority to infringe free speech.
 
Second, there are highly compelling practical reasons for a city to close its flag poles to private expression. The city that cracks the door to private expression on flag poles practically invites litigation from other groups whose messages it would rather not hoist above the city. Related to that point, private expression might eventually so dominate city flag poles as to swallow whole the flag poles’ actual, official purposes.
 
Third, and finally, the ordinance in this case leaves ample opportunity for SCV and every other group to display the flags of their choice. That is true by the ordinance’s own terms: “Nothing set forth herein is intended in any way to prohibit or curtail individuals from carrying flags in public and/or displaying them on private property.” § 420-205(C)(2). SCV and other groups may therefore carry their flags in parades, fly them from the flag poles at their local offices, or wave them while walking to the grocery store. As such, the ordinance is perfectly reasonable.
 
Because reasonable, nondiscriminatory, content-neutral rules regulating speech in nonpublic fora pass First Amendment constitutional muster regardless of motive, the court will grant the City’s motion to dismiss.

Grafs are added for clarity. And then there’s this:

No court has found that the Constitution compels the government to allow private-party access to government flag poles.

I seem to recall someone saying at the time that the Lexington “ordinance is air tight.” That person was right.

The local SCV, led by Brandon Dorsey, isn’t happy:

As far as I am concerned, this is little different that some states shutting down all their public schools to avoid desegregation and then claiming their motivation for closing them is of no concern because they screwed over everyone.

Of all the possible analogies, Mr. Dorsey, you had to go with that one, didn’t you? It must be hard, getting H. K. Edgerton and Ruby Bridges mixed up like that. Because they’re so much alike, or something. But do try harder next time, please.

Update, June 16: Dorsey’s analogy, comparing the Virginia SCV’s situation to that of African Americans in the Jim Crow South, doesn’t appear to be an off-the-cuff comment; it’s a conscious public relations strategy. Yesterday they vowed to appeal Judge Wilson’s dismissal, and made the same analogy:

In its written statement, Sons of Confederate Veterans maintained that Wilson’s ruling would allow governments to deny everyone access to public places in its effort to silence the groups with whom it disagrees.

“That logic would legitimize many of the wrongs committed by state and local governments during the Civil Rights era,” the statement read.

“In its written statement. . . .”

Many of us have made the point that, in its public actions and rhetoric, the Southron Heritage™ movement is preaching to the choir; they’re doing and saying things calculated to appeal to fellow true believers, going out of their way to prove they’re more unreconstructed than the next guy. As for winning new supporters to their cause, or shaping broader public opinion, it’s a terrible strategy that only distances them farther from mainstream views and attitudes.

This analogy by Dorsey and his fellows doesn’t help their cause; it actively harms it. Anyone who actually remembers the Civil Rights Movement, or who’s studied it since, will be repulsed by such a comparison, and rightly so. It’s an odious analogy, one that should cost them any benefit of the doubt that the public might be willing to entertain about their motivations and supposed good faith. Kevin is right again: “they deserve everything they get.”

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Protest #FAIL

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 20, 2012

News comes today that the well-known Texas SCV billboard (right) on Highway 290, near Chappell Hill, has had a noose affixed to it.

“I think it’s very disrespectful. It’s not right,” said Jeff, a utility worker.

A Chappell Hill business man, who is also a lifetime member of Sons of Confederate Veterans personally donated the billboards to the national SCV organization. He alerted authorities Wednesday afternoon after noticing a noose dangling from the confederate [sic.] flag.

“My great grandfather fought in the confederate war, and several peoples grandparents’ fought in the confederate war. Yes we know the war was between the North and the South and it was over slavery, but that’s, I mean that’s ridiculous,” added Jeff.

How the noose got there is one question authorities are trying to figure out — but more importantly — why?

“They had to do some serious climbing to get up there to tie that up and drape it on the side,” added Jeff.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Department is investigating this as a case of “criminal mischief,” while the local SCV is calling it vandalism. As with the recent case in Richmond, Virginia, where persons unknown attached home-made historical “plaques” to the fencing around several Confederate monuments, I’m unconvinced this case is outright vandalism, which to me requires actual physical damage to be done. As in Richmond, there’s no indication of that happening here.

But otherwise, this case sure has FAIL written all over. The intent — I guess — is to equate the SCV, or Confederate heritage efforts generally, with lynching and racial terrorism. Those latter things are damn deadly serious, and their long history in this country is often willfully ignored by the heritage crowd, but the connection here is awfully tenuous. The home-made plaques in Richmond were carefully thought out and had a clear point; they counterpoised historic African Americans against the Confederate heroes being honored by the monuments. By comparison, this is just angry and unfocused, a gesture that’s dramatic, but also clichéd.

Candidly, I have an appreciation for smart, well-executed (as opposed to merely loud) protest, even when I don’t agree with the cause being advocated. Tossing up a noose on a billboard, late at night, leaving motorists driving between Houston and Austin to try to make some vague association between the SCV and lynching, doesn’t cut it. Try harder next time.

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Didn’t See That One Coming.

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 10, 2011

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state Department of Motor Vehicles’ governing board has just voted down a proposal for a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag.

The vote was unanimous.

I could see this vote going either way, but figured it would be close regardless. (It was a 4-4 tie last time around.) Previously I mentioned that one of my county elected officials, Cheryl Johnson, was on the board and had previously voted in favor of the measure, citing the inevitability of a lawsuit if it were not approved. She apparently did not attend the meeting today and so did not vote on the measure.

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General Stephen D. Lee Disses Black Confederates

Posted in African Americans, Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on November 4, 2011

One area that the advocates of black Confederate soldiers (BCS) are mostly silent on is the stated attitudes and opinions of actual Confederate leaders who lived and fought through the war of 1861-65. Those views comprise a hard, bitter lump of historical reality that must surely cause indigestion for BCS advocates, given that the “Confed cred” of those men is unassailable. We’ve seen, for example, how both Howell Cobb and his fellow Georgian, Governor Joseph Brown, viewed the prospect of arming slaves with revulsion, and saw it as a betrayal of everything the Confederacy stood for. We’ve seen how Kirby Smith asserted that the Confederacy should “go to the grave before we enlist the negro [sic.].” And we’ve seen how, according to John Brown Gordon, even the venerable Robert E. Lee himself liked to humor his colleagues with an anecdote mocking the pretensions of an African American cook to being a soldier. It’s ugly, unpleasant stuff, but it’s right there, and ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Stephen Dill Lee (right, 1833-1908) was a Confederate general — the youngest of the South’s lieutenant generals, in fact — who after the war went on to a varied career as an author, a legislator, and educator. He was very active in Confederate veterans’ organizations, and succeeded Gordon as Commander-in-Chief of the United Confederate Veterans. In many ways, S. D. Lee was the public face of Confederate veterans, both in the North and the South. S. D. Lee is remembered today particularly for his charge to the Sons of Confederate veterans, given as part of a speech in New Orleans in 1906. Lee’s charge has been used ever since as the guiding principle of the organization, and features prominently in SCV publications, both in print and online. (Read it here, at the bottom of the page.) Indeed, the quasi-academic arm of the SCV, the Stephen Dill Lee Institute, is named in his honor.

The SCV has, of course, spent a great deal of time and effort in recent years pushing the BCS meme. While lots of folks endorse or promote the idea that there were large numbers of African Americans formally enlisted and armed in the Confederate ranks, the SCV is (through its state divisions and local camps) by far the largest single proponent of the idea. Much of this is simply based on careless research or misunderstood documents, but it also results in cases of over-reach that should be genuinely embarrassing to the group, including retroactive assignment of name and rank to men who never claimed such, or the creation of an entire faux cemetery of black Confederates, without a single actual interment there.

So it comes with considerable irony to learn that around the same time the SCV was founded, S. D. Lee was telling reporters at a Confederate reunion what he thought of as a funny anecdote, complete with cartoonish African American “dialect,” that relies on ugly racial stereotypes about African Americans’ courage under fire and instinct for self-preservation for its “humor.” From the Idaho Statesman, January 25, 1896 (warning: offensive language and themes follow):

(more…)

The Plywood Steps

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on February 19, 2011

Today the SCV will be sponsoring a sesquicentennial parade and reenactment of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy at the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. It will be interesting to see how many folks turn out for this event, and what sort of media coverage it gets.

I’ve never visited the Alabama State Capitol, but it nonetheless resonates with me because of a story told me many times by an old friend. In the summer of 1965 he was in high school, and lived with his family in Houston. The family’s social life revolved around church, where my friend’s father was music director and a deacon, and their vacations usually consisted of going to family reunions. This was not a lot fun for a teenager.

My friend prevailed upon his parents that summer to fore-go the usual family reunion, and instead take a long driving trip across the South, with particular attention to visiting Civil War sites. This was in the last year of the Civil War Centennial, and my friend already had a pretty big fascination with the subject.

Their visit to Montgomery came a few months after the famous Third Selma-to-Montgomery March, which had ended with a rally at the State Capitol, yards from the spot where Jefferson Davis had been sworn in a century before. My friend remembered that event vividly, and was as interested to see the Capitol as much for that recent history as for its association with the Civil War. One thing he remembered clearly from watching coverage of the anticipated rally was that the capitol steps, at least some of them, had been covered with sheets of plywood. These formed a steep slope, and my friend hadn’t quite figured it out. Maybe, he thought, they’d been put out to allow people in wheelchairs to participate in the rally, but they seemed at too great an incline for that.

So when he actually visited the Alabama State Capitol a few months later, my friend made it a point to ask about the plywood. What was it for, he asked a state trooper on duty nearby. What was the purpose of the plywood covering the capitol steps?

“So the coloreds couldn’t desecrate them,” was the trooper’s answer.

Is it fair that I think of that story every time I see a mention of the Alabama State Capitol or Jeff Davis’ inauguration? Probably not, but the paths our minds take when we think about things, and how we feel about them, often isn’t fair. It just is.

My friend, a son of the South, continued his fascination with the war, and the Confederacy. By his own admission, he bought into the Lost Cause without hesitation, even tacking up an enormous Confederate Battle Flag in his college dorm room at a school that had only desegregated a few years previously. But looking back on his youth now, all these decades later, he sees that offhand comment by the Alabama state trooper at Montgomery, juxtaposed against Jeff Davis’ inauguration and the Selma-to-Montgomery March, to have been the first, crucial step in his questioning of the Lost Cause and developing a more mature, complex understanding of both the history of the war and the historical heritage of his own family. It was the beginning of a hard process of realization, and it took him a long time to understand the realities of those events, and ugly legacies of them that have come down to us, right to the present day.

Added: Scott MacKenzie, via Kevin Levin, attended today’s event (with a little cardboard “UNIONIST” sign) and has the pictures.

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Image: Inauguration of Jefferson Davis, Montgomery, Alabama, 1861. Library of Congress.

Quit Digging

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on January 17, 2011

Last spring, the then-new governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell (left), issued a Confederate History Month proclamation that had been prepared and urged on him by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The proclamation, unlike others that had preceded it, omitted any reference to the institution of slavery as a factor in the coming of the war. Criticism of the proclamation was swift and loud, and Governor McDonnell quickly withdrew the first one and replaced it with another, one that recognized the role slavery played in the war and referred to the practice as an “abomination.” Perhaps more important, McDonnell later announced that, in 2011, Confederate History Month will be replaced with a wider-reaching, more inclusive effort, dubbed Civil War in Virginia Month.

Now Brag Bowling, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has announced that the SCV will hold a press conference Tuesday “to outline the ‘ongoing failures’ ” of the governor “to deal with a variety of history and heritage issues in Virginia.” B. Frank Earnest, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, went further:

The Civil War was a defining moment in our history and, as we enter its sesquicentennial year, it is fitting we honor the memories of the men and women on both sides whose sacrifices are part of our heritage. However, to put it candidly, under Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s history has become political football.

We call on Governor McDonnell to remember that he is the governor of all Virginians, that he honor the memory of those who died in defense of our commonwealth, and that he rethink … his position and honor the forthcoming petition which will begin today.

The SCV will also use the press conference to call out former Governor George Allen (of “macaca” infamy), a likely 2012 Senate candidate, for distancing himself from them while serving in the Senate. Allen’s actions have been a sore point for Bowling and Earnest for years, as noted in this 2006 Washington Post story:

“What I was slow to appreciate and wish I had understood much sooner,” Allen told a black audience last month, “is that [the Confederate Battle Flag] . . . is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and intimidation.”

“He’s apologizing to others, certainly he should apologize to us as well,” said B. Frank Earnest Sr., the Virginia commander of the confederate group at a news conference. “We’re all aware, ourselves included, of the statements that got him into this. The infamous macaca statement. He’s using our flag to wipe the muck from his shoes that he’s now stepped in.”

Over the years, Allen has been a darling of the confederate group. As governor, he designated April as Confederate History Month. He has displayed the battle flag in his home as part of what he said is a flag collection. And his high school yearbook picture shows him wearing a Confederate flag pin.

But the senator has been distancing himself from those symbols as he pursues reelection and considers a bid for the presidency in 2008.

In the past several years, he has co-sponsored legislation condemning the lynching of blacks and has promised to work on similar legislation apologizing for slavery. He recently said of the Confederate flag that “the symbols you use matter because of how others may take them.”

Allen’s recent statements didn’t sit well with the SCV. They accused him yesterday of trying to appeal to liberal voters with his new position.

“The denunciation of the flag to score political points is anathema to our organization,” said Brag Bowling, a former past commander of the group.

I have no idea how Bowling and Earnest can argue that Bob McDonnell “is the governor of all Virginians,” while at the same time being opposed to his decision to expand his state’s commemoration of the war to encompass all Virginians — descendants of Confederate veterans, Virginians loyal to the Union, enslaved African Americans, free blacks, and the millions of modern-day Virginians who have no Civil War connection to that state at all. Nor do I see why they want to go after George Allen, unless their long-simmering disdain for the man outweighs their presumed desire to oust the incumbent, Jim Webb (D). Tuesday’s press conference sounds less like a well-considered statement of policy than the latest tantrum of an increasingly insular group, one focused so closely on its own resentments and perceived insults that it’s lost touch with the wider, general public it seeks to reach out to.

Quit digging, folks.

“I’m a Son of Confederate Veterans as well as a son of slavery.”

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on June 23, 2010

Cary Clack, a columnist for San Antonio Life and a descendant of both a Confederate cavalry officer and a slave, attends an SCV meeting and finds it to be an odd, but not-entirely-unpleasant experience:

I’d written a column sarcastically dismissive of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. While proclaiming my pride in being a child of the South and Southwest, I took issue with McDonnell’s initial declaration of Confederate History Month — on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — which ignored slavery, and with Perry’s earlier suggestion of secession.

The Heritage of Honor page on the SCV website didn’t mention the word “slavery” either, but I saw that membership is open to “all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed services” and that I qualified.

I wrote, “I’m a Son of Confederate Veterans as well as a son of slavery” and expected an application.

I got one, as well as an invitation to attend the May meeting, from Russ Lane, the affable head of Alamo Camp #1325. I never doubted I’d go, just as I never doubted I would be treated kindly.

Including wives, there were about 30 people in the meeting that began with “the Pledge of Allegiance” to “the United States of America,” which heartened me to know I wasn’t in the presence of secessionists.

Mr. Clack’s take on the encounter is interesting, and doesn’t easily fit into preconceived notions. It’s complicated, that’s for sure, and I hope he continues to write on this particular journey of his. It’s challenging enough thinking about one’s Confederate ancestors, who marched and fought and sometimes died in the uniform of a nation established to preserve and expand the institution of slavery; I can’t even imagine how to begin approaching the knowledge that one of your ancestors considered another to be his personal property.

“America’s most persecuted minority”

Posted in Education, Memory by Andy Hall on June 21, 2010

African Americans? Muslims? LGBT folks? Nope, nope and nope.

Confederates.

Seriously.

Kevin Levin over at  Civil War Memory highlights North Texas, where the Sons of Confederate Veterans has opened a summer camp for youth ages 12-20.

This summer, you can help turn the tide. For one week, our Southern young men and ladies (ages 12-20) will gather to hear the truths about the War for Southern Independence. This camp (named for the great young Confederate Sam Davis) will combine fun and recreation with thoughtful instruction in Southern history, the War Between the States, the theology of the South during the War, lessons on Southern heroes, examples of great men of the Faith, and for the first year, special programs and sessions for our Southern ladies!

In addition to conventional summer camp activities like riding horses, firing percussion-cap muskets and shooting off field artillery, campers will take classes in “The Theology of the South During the War” and “Lessons on Southern Heroes.” A key theme, according to SCV Texas Division Commander Ray W. James, is the belief that

the Civil War was not about slavery, James said. Too many people have bought into that notion, he said, and wrongly exalt then-President Abraham Lincoln as wanting to end slavery.

Lincoln was “a bigger racist than I ever knew,” James said.

Naturally, one of the instructors is the Odious Kirk Lyons.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes him as a “darling of the neo-Confederate world,” in part because of his work as an attorney representing white supremacists.

Lyons’ current job is chief trial counsel for the Southern Legal Resource Center. The North Carolina-based group says it exists to preserve the “dwindling rights” of the Confederate community, referring to it as “America’s most persecuted minority.”

One of Lyons’ latest efforts was to urge people to answer the race question on the U.S. Census by writing in that they are “Confederate Southern American.” It was part of a larger push by his center to have Confederate descendants recognized as an ethnic minority.

Lyons is also infamous for his marriage to the daughter of a top Aryan Nations official, [the SPLC’s Heidi] Beirich said. The ceremony was held at an Aryan Nations church and was officiated by its longtime leader.

“I think it’s concerning to have extremists like Kirk Lyons teaching kids the South was right,” Beirich said.

James responded by saying Lyons’ “baggage is a problem” but that it’s unfair to cast him as a racist.

Thanks for clearing up that it’s “unfair” to characterize someone, based on a mere twenty-five years of their public, professional conduct and close personal associations.

For myself, I’m just glad to know that Lyons, with whom I share a vague physical resemblance, is only carrying the ‘stache these days. Looks like I’ll be keeping the beard a while longer.

Update: Nat Turner’s Son provides a link to a camp photo album. This one made me shoot Diet Coke out through my nostrils.