Are Confederates in Your Attic?

Here’s an interesting question posed elsewhere today.  Are you entitled to celebrate Confederate heritage if you have no Confederates in the family tree?

It’s not my question, but it’s at the core of the question that’s been posed.  Can you talk about honoring ancestors if they aren’t your ancestors?  Can you construct a cultural identity that is not rooted in personal history?

After all, people with no Irish ancestry celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (although what that day had to do with Irish heritage is open to debate) and people with no Mexican ancestry celebrate Cinco de Mayo.  Open that door, however, and celebrating Confederate heritage becomes a simple excuse for drinking or other pursuits.

We can also discuss what “requirements” one needs to declare that they are a southerner and that they choose to honor southern heritage as their heritage.  That does not preclude celebrating other heritages, by the way, however defined.  Many Americans have complex family trees that create connections all over the place, and so someone may claim both German and Irish ancestry, for example.  Same goes for race, religion, and national origin (remember the days when lots of people claimed to be 1/64 Cherokee?).

Ponder the implications.  Who speaks for “the South”?  Who speaks for “southern heritage”?  Who speaks for “Confederate heritage”?  Are there any gatekeepers, and requirements, any prerequisites?

Yes, I understand this begs the question of what constitutes “southern heritage” and, indeed, “the South.”  That’s a question for another day, although one can easily imagine the relationship between defining the heritage to be celebrated and who is entitled to claim it.  I happen to think, for example, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated today in 1968, is as much a part of southern heritage as Robert E. Lee.  I happen to think that George H. Thomas is as much a part of southern heritage as Nathan Bedford Forrest.  I happen to think that Julia Dent Grant is as much a part of southern heritage as Jefferson Davis.

I’m sure someone will declare that to see things this way constitutes “lumping,” but they can lump it.

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13 thoughts on “Are Confederates in Your Attic?

  1. I don’t have any objection to White Southerners who want to celebrate their scalawag heritage or who want to celebrate their “I Had a Dream” heritage. There have always been rogue elements in the South.

    That’s not my heritage. MLK was a despised figure in Alabama throughout the 1960s. The official emblem of the Alabama Democratic Party until 1966 was a white rooster with the slogan “White Supremacy, For the Right.”

    9 out of 10 Southerners in Congress voted against the Civil Right Act of 1964. The overwhelming opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the South reflects the traditional Southern view that social and political equality is abhorrent.

    The Confederacy was even more emphatically opposed to social, civic, and political equality. In fact, it was the revulsion of Southerners against “Black Republicanism” – triggered by Lincoln’s election – that precipitated secession in the Lower South.

    The facts are indisputable: the racialist or the white supremacist view was dominant in the South for over three centuries. When Southerners like Rhett spoke of “our civilization,” they were referring above all else to our racial customs and the honor system that was intertwined with it.

    My attitude on this subject is traditional and conservative. The Gallup polls clearly show that their point of view did not become predominant until the 1970s and 1980s.

    If these Baby Boomers want to promote Americanism, they should identity it as such. The progenitors of their view were people like John Brown, Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Summer (I.e., the enemies of the South). Not to mention the carpetbaggers like Adelbert Ames who attempted to force Radicalism on the South during Reconstruction.

    They should embrace their liberal anti-racist Yankee heritage and stop claiming the Confederate heritage as their own.

  2. Interesting, I have never celebrated Confederate heritage , even with my vast Confederate ancestral heritage. I have also never celebrated a WWII day and my father was a WWII vet. I have no Latino heritage ,but I have been celebrating Cinco de Mayo the last few years with my Latino friends. In fact our little southern town has a small number of Mexicans, our 3 Mexican restaurants have to put up Canopies and extra tables in their parking lots because of overflow on Cinco de Mayo. Sometimes people just celebrate because they enjoy the celebration and don’t overly analyze, just go with the music that’s playing. I celebrate Cinco de Mayo because I love Mexican culture,music and food.I try not to overly intellectualize it. My belief is the intellect only makes up just one part of us.

    Speaking of celebrations, Easter is coming up, It’s celebrated as a Christian celebration by most , but we all know Easter just as Christmas has Pagan DNA and roots. :-)

    Going back to the question >”Are you entitled to celebrate Confederate heritage if you have no Confederates in the family tree?”< My answer is if you want to, do it. I don't see what the big deal is one way or the other. I think a person should celebrate what ever they want to celebrate, it's something a person needs to decide for themselves. I myself prefer being eclectic, not limiting myself to just one path.

    • Well, for me the question concerns people who want to draw lines between “us” and “them.” What happens when one of those people realizes that they are part of “them” and not “us”?

      For the rest of us, so to speak, I don’t think it matters. I’ve never told anyone they can’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because they aren’t Irish, for example. Of course, I don’t think St. Patrick’s Day really celebrates “heritage,” either.

  3. In IMVHO , I think it comes down to individual philosophy. I myself try not to think in terms as “them” and “us”, I feel were are all connected . I like to wonder the earth and connect with all I encounter along the way. And I fully understand most do not share my beliefs . Just because all of my direct ancestors were a part of the Confederacy IMVHO doesn’t give me any authority to control who and how a person celebrates Confederate heritage. I think a lot of these Confederate heritage groups go over board with this stuff.

  4. Charles, you write, “I myself try not to think in terms as ‘them’ and ‘us,'”Sadly, not everyone who enthusiastically espouses Confederate Heritage agrees with you on this. See for example:

    cidentaldissent.com/ or
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/civilwarhistory2/

    Share your philosophy with them, and see what kind of response you get. So you think White Supremacy is going “over board?” That might be putting it a bit mildly.

    • Marc, I have . Most on the CW2 list I have become friends with over the years, both pro-union and pro-confederate. On list everybody knocks heads but off list in personal conversion they all get along very well. I think what is seen when observing many Confederate Heritage groups and many individuals in those groups is the development of a character. Development of a character as in a play. I have seen the same thing with SCA(Society for Creative Anachronism) members and Renaissance fair actors. They go into character and some stay in character longer than others. Far as >”White Supremacy is going “over board?”“I think a lot of these Confederate heritage groups go over board with this stuff.”< meaning they spend way to much time and effort on promoting their views on the subject. In my county here in Georgia there is a population of around 200K, my understanding there are about 10-15 active SCV members in this area. . I'm much more concerned about the Tea Party and the GOP's influence than I am the SCV in my area. I know a lot of people and I know of none that are influenced by Confederate Heritage groups. I see more people influenced negatively in MVHO by Conservative talk radio. Living in the deep south I'm seeing Confederate Heritage groups as an outer fringe. If it wasn't for the internet most would never be heard of.

      • ” I think what is seen when observing many Confederate Heritage groups and many individuals in those groups is the development of a character. Development of a character as in a play.”

        Charles,
        perhaps this explains the fondness of many of these people for dressing up in Confederate and antebellum costumes.

        “I’m much more concerned about the Tea Party and the GOP’s influence than I am the SCV in my area.”

        I agree.

        Unfortunately, these heritage-oriented groups spew racist vitriol that poisons the environment. What do you think of Hunter Wallace, and his blog? Is it a problem, and is it not offensive?
        http://www.occidentaldissent.com/

  5. I’m Jeff Davis’s own great-great-great-great nephew and I have no idea what celebrating “Confederate heritage” would entail. For that matter, I’m a little lost about the Fourth of July and exactly what grilling hot dogs has to with the Declaration of Independence. The whole idea sounds very silly.

    Everything about the war just makes me sad. I’m sad that we lost. But I’m also sad we built our lives and economy on slavery. I’m sad for all 700,000 people killed and honestly think the whole war was bull$#%& that could’ve been solved another way if people had tried harder. I’m sad about Reconstruction and riots. I don’t really see much to “celebrate.”

    “Honor” would make a little more sense, but I couldn’t “celebrate” the Confederacy per se. I’m proud of my Confederate ancestors, but no more or less so than my Revolution and WWII relatives.

  6. I have a problem with “celebrating” my ancestors and something they did 100 years and more ago, I know almost nothing about them: there are no letters and almost no documentary evidence in their CMRs. They may have been True Gentlemen but they also may have been Racist Bigots raping themselves across the landscape. One Great grandfather came from Cavan about 1870 and I used to celebrate St. Patrick’s day in their honor wearing Orange — until Ian Peasley (sp?) showed what the Orangemen were really like. Enjoy your friends, but don’t pretend that unknown ancestors were some paragons of virtue!

  7. I’m a black man with slave-holding Confederate ancestors, whom I have no desire to either honor or celebrate. I reserve that for my kin who fought as USCTs.

    • You have hit on one of the ironies of CS Heritage worshipers: there are thousands of blacks who could legitimately claim membership in the SCV and the UDC. Of course the organizations would have to admit to inconvenient truths about *their* ancestors.

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