Thursday, April 8, 2010

"Confederate History Month" and Southern History

Fellow Southerner Ed Kilgore has some thoughts on Virginia Governor Bob MacDonnell's proposed "Confederate History Month" and the South's complicated relationship with its own history.

Here's a small sample:

I’m sure most conservatives will consider McDonnell’s act of contrition sufficient, while many liberals will cynically conclude the whole thing was a dog whistle to the far Right, much like his earlier and less notorious commemoration of March 7-13 as Christian Heritage Week, in honor of the Christian Right’s revisionist theory that the Founders were theocrats at heart.

But as 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.

I've always thought that the South and the Middle East have some things in common. One of them is the ability to remember everything in their history and to learn nothing from it.


MarkBrunson said...

Not all of us, Counterlight.

Counterlight said...

I was born and raised in the old Confederacy myself.

MarkBrunson said...

I was just born in Georgia!

How old are you?! :D

Göran Koch-Swahne said...

So very true!

And: you couldn't make this up :-(

Counterlight said...

I was born in Texas (a fair weather friend of the South, but part of the Confederacy anyway), and I'm old enough to remember the Civil Rights movement, and especially the reaction against it, how frightened and angry people were (including my family).
I'm old enough to remember when everyone in Texas was still a Democrat and declaring that they'd die first before they'd vote for the party of Lincoln and Reconstruction.

I should point out that despite our right-wing sympathies, my family was sympathetic to Sam Houston on the question of secession (he was against it and refused to sign the Articles of Secession). General Lee and Jeff Davis were never mentioned among us. We even had a picture of Lincoln hanging in our house (horrors!). We were Republicans, the only ones on the block with an AuH2O sign in the yard in 1964.

John D said...

Born in Tuskaloosa, I was a child in Birmingham during the most horrifying years of the early 1960's. I remember when a rousing rendition of "Dixie" brought crowds to feet before every high school and college football game. And I fervently believe there ain't no liberal like a true southern liberal. Damned few of us left.

Counterlight said...

John D,

I agree with you about Southern liberals. They tend to be a lot tougher and more resilient than most others. They have to be, unfortunately.