Will the real South rise … ? More on Confederate History Month
Just when you thought it was safe to go on to other topics, word arrives that a Virginia SCV camp, Col. D.H. Lee Martz Camp No. 10, based in Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Virginia, has issued its own proclamation about Virginia’s Confederate History Month. Kevin Levin responded to the proclamation on Civil War Memory; Robert Moore offered a more detailed analysis of the history of the area (which contrasts markedly with the account of history offered in the SCV proclamation) on Cenantua’s Blog. This new episode occurred even as SCV members were reacting to the attacks directed against the original proclamation by Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell: you can sample those reactions here.
I side with Robert Moore’s reaction to this most recent proclamation, which echoes my response to both the initial proclamation by the governor and the Virginia SCV’s response to the governor’s decision to modify his original proclamation. There’s simply too much bad history included in these proclamations. The very people who complain that history is being distorted to satisfy some imagined criteria of “political correctness” are in fact not exempt from the charge themselves, as they have warped the historical record to satisfy their prejudices, preferences, and agendas. I have yet to hear a reasoned defense of these proclamations based on their historical content. I have read attacks upon the critics of these documents. At the same time, I’m a bit curious about how much of the mainstream attack on the original proclamation was basically limited to the governor’s failure to mention slavery. Those attacks in turn have pounded away at that omission and offered statements which seem to be to be more in the line of stereotypical responses by outsiders to the SCV, and that in turn has aroused spirited responses by members and defenders of that organization, and a debate on whether there should be a Confederate History Month at all.
I don’t happen to think that every mention of the Confederacy has to be accompanied by a denunciation of slavery. That gets tiresome to hear. On the other hand, it’s a bad business to try to whitewash slavery from the story of the Confederacy. What some people refuse to understand in their desire to simplify and polarize this debate beyond reason is that for some people, including me, don’t particularly care about the observance of Confederate History Month. I do care about the widespread distortion of history in these proclamations. I don’t see how this helps the SCV, whose membership is not always quite as extreme as its leadership may appear to be. Indeed, it’s the SCV which is getting hammered here, as well as white southerners in general, because these proclamations reinforce prevailing stereotypes that are cherished by some folks.
I am not a southerner by birth. I am married to a southerner. Members of my immediate family count among their direct ancestors several Confederates, including an officer in the 28th North Carolina who was wounded on July 3, 1863. Members of my immediate family also count among their direct ancestors a soldier in the 146th New York (who watched the July 3 charge from Little Round Top) and a member of the 23rd Pennsylvania who was on Culp’s Hill that very day. Thus Gettysburg was a family get-together, so to speak. I attended college at the University of Virginia; I worked for three years at the University of Tennessee; I taught for three years at Wofford College, South Carolina. I don’t take kindly to misrepresentations of white southerners by people who do not know them, any more than I take kindly to misrepresentations of white northerners by white southerners. Indeed, I do not take kindly to malicious and misinformed misrepresentations, period.
I can understand that many white southerners feel that they are being put down by white northerners, and that this has grown old. Fair enough. Those who point fingers need to look in the mirror more often. However, I think it is time for white southerners to speak up and protest the distortions of history inherent in these proclamations. They need to echo Robert Moore. Otherwise, they believe in neither heritage nor history. If other white southerners are not willing to join Moore and take the lead in challenging these warped presentations of their own history, they really can’t blame anyone else who reacts in the usual way of lumping all white southerners together and hitting them with the mallet of moral indignation, for they will be complicit in the process.