Danville Aftermath

I must confess that I was not surprised at the end result when it came to the controversy over flying the Third National Flag of the Confederacy on the grounds of the Sutherlin Mansion in Danville, Virginia. A 1994 agreement securing the right to fly that flag at that spot as part of a memorial clearly met the requirements outlined in the Virginia state code regarding war memorials (unlike, say, the rather different grounds for the debate over the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag outside the War Memorial Chapel in Richmond as managed by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts). Readers of this blog will recall that I made a case for the continued flying of that flag on those grounds because of the specific historic context of the display.

That position prevailed, but not because of the superior logic of my argument. Nor did that position prevail because of the actions of pro-Confederate heritage activists from the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Virginia Flaggers, although it appears that some people want to give the Flaggers credit for a victory they did not earn. Rather, the city council decided that to remove the flag would violate state law. Thankfully, since Sutherlin Mansion has not concluded an agreement with a certain Richmond architectural firm, Susan Hathaway was able to show up, although she did not speak before Danville’s city council at the second meeting.

It did not take long for supporters of the Flaggers to demonstrate their own hypocrisy, of course. The Flaggers call on other people to tolerate their own preferences, but they display a rather mean streak of intolerance themselves, as commentary on their own Facebook page reveals:

CSA intolerance

I especially like seeing a Confederate heritage advocate call for the deportation of all “un-Americans.”


Discussion at Danville

You can watch the proceedings at Danville’s City Council last night (October 21) and on October 9 here.

Things pick up on the October 21 meeting just after the 39:30 minute mark. The comments on the October 9 meeting start with the discussion of the display of the Third National Flag, and some of the same people speak in both places.

You’ll note some familiar faces in the crowd (what, no sunglasses?). Indeed, one of them forwarded this link to the blog. Remember that the next time they deny visiting the blog.

Someone’s already forecast how this will turn out. Check.

UPDATE: And this is how it all turned out … thanks to someone from Boston (well, kinda).

Will WLU return the Confederate Flags to Lee Chapel?

What’s your opinion?

This does not concern the display of flags downstairs in the museum.

What Would You Do? Danville’s Confederate Flag Discussion

Below is a poll asking you to choose from one of four options for the display of the Third National Confederate flag outside “The Last Capital of the Confederacy” at Danville, Virginia. The first option keeps things they way they were at the beginning of this week, with flying the Third National flag. The second adds a second flagpole on which the US national colors will fly, in the superior position, but it will keep the Third National flag flying. The third suggests that the Third National be flown outside upon special occasions when the museum is featuring Confederate history, but that otherwise it will not be flown. The fourth simply removes the Third National flag from flying outside, period.

As for my willingness to see the Third National flag fly at this location, let me be clear: it is a specific flag that would be flown in a specific historical context in an appropriate manner. Often we hear that the Confederate battle flag and especially the CSA navy jack/Army of Tennessee flag are inappropriate because of their use by white supremacist groups starting in the twentieth century. For example, I think the Virginia Flaggers err when they fly the CSA navy jack/Army of Tennessee flag as a salute to the soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Not only do they fly a flag with no context, but the flag they fly also violates any sort of historical context.

Yes, I know what they’ll say. Do you know what I say?

That’s what you call being historically appropriate (well, the movie has so many other problems, including historical accuracy, but you know what I mean). After all, it’s not history, but heritage, with these folks, and we know that it’s a heritage of hate, judging from the bitterness spewed by their spokespeople and supporters.

The Third National flag does not carry with it the same modern-day white supremacist connotations as do the CSA navy jack and the Army of Tennessee flag, followed by the Army of Northern Virginia flag (the Flaggers have managed to devalue that flag’s meaning by using it interchangeably with its more problematic brethren). That doesn’t mean that it didn’t stand for a republic explicitly founded upon the cornerstone of human inequality and enslavement … although one could also argue that if African Americans were going to fight openly for the Confederacy as actual soldiers, they would have fought under the Third National flag. That suggests that fans of the notion of black Confederate soldiers and a rainbow Confederacy ought to use that flag to display a meaningful commitment to what they say they believe.

Don’t hold your breath, however.

The Danville Controversy: Why?

I gather there’s a controversy over the flying of the Confederate flag in Danville, Virginia. which boasts that it’s the last Confederate capital (at least the last stationary one, as it remained mobile for a little while longer). Confederate president Jefferson Davis resided in the town’s Sutherlin Mansion between the fall of Richmond and Lee’s surrender, which he learned about on April 10.

At stake appears to be whether a 1994 city council resolution represents a binding contract that would guarantee that the flag in question flies forever. As you might imagine, many supporters of Confederate heritage think that the resolution is binding. The Danville Museum of Fine Arts & History, which manages the Sutherlin Mansion site as a museum, has consulted with blogger Kevin Levin about how to address the issue.

What happens in Danville should be up to the folks in Danville, but in this case I’m going to suggest that they seek a solution that allows the flag in question to remain in place. After all, it is the Third National flag (see above) we are talking about, not the Confederate Battle Flag or the Confederate Navy Jack with all the connotations associated with that flag. Thus it is a historically appropriate flag. If the folks in Danville think they don’t want to see that flag, well, that’s their business, but one can contemplate compromise solutions that allow the flag of the Confederate government to fly at one of its last locations.

Here’s a news story about the matter. And another one (although you’ll hear the usual SCV claim that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, and that people need to be properly educated about that).

Mind you, many people with whom I usually agree will be dismayed at what I’ve said, while my usual critics will express first astonishment and dismay before trying to discount my position. However, in this instance I think one can make a case for the specific flag in question to be displayed in context at a historical site.

The Washington Post Does It Again

It gave a forum to none other than Brag Bowling … again.

Absentee ballots
Memorandum Aug. 23, 1864, from Abraham Lincoln to his Cabinet in a sealed envelope to be opened only after the November election:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; so he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot save it afterwards.”

Games – Click Here for More!
Lincoln was simply reading the tea leaves. Four years of horrific fighting with massive casualties, high living costs, opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation, continuation of the draft and opposition to his political and unconstitutional policies (such as the denial of the writ of habeas corpus, mass arrests and closure of opposition newspapers) had left his popularity at low ebb. Tactical losses from the Wilderness to Petersburg produced 65,000 casualties. The unpopular war seemed no closer to ending than in 1861.

George McClellan was considered a formidable challenger whose party’s platform included ending the war and Confederate independence, although McClellan rejected that part in his letter accepting the nomination.

The mid-term 1862 elections proved disastrous to the Republican Party with congressional losses in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana and Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.

Lincoln had significant opposition in the Republican Party. The Radical Republicans doubted Lincoln’s fervor to end slavery and thought his Reconstruction plan was not punitive enough to the South.

Prospects brightened greatly with victories in Mobile Bay, the Shenandoah Valley and Atlanta on Sept. 6, 1864. Still, a November victory was uncertain. What could he do to guarantee a victory?

The answer lay in the novel use of absentee ballots. Letting American troops vote absentee while in the field had not been done before. Lincoln banked on the hope that the soldiers would support him and continue with the war to validate their sacrifices. Many thought this could lead to corruption. Blank absentee ballots showed up throughout the army. Whole regiments were given furloughs to return home and vote. Lincoln took it a step further. In many polling precincts, armed Union troops intimidated voters. His electoral victory in New York has been credited to the menacing presence of soldiers. Accusations of voter fraud were made in nearly every state. Lincoln was reelected on Nov. 8, 1864. As he hoped, the army ballots proved decisive. The horrific war and subsequent Reconstruction would proceed as Lincoln planned.

Congratulatory letters poured in. Two of note came from European supporter Karl Marx writing on behalf of the International Working Men’s Association.

By the way, Mr. Bowling is the director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, an educational group established by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Really.

Speaking of Threats of Violence (continued) …

Here’s a picture of Michael Hill, President of the League of the South, with Pat Hines, who is vice-chairman for the league’s South Carolina chapter.
Hill and Hines
Yes, that Pat Hines … the one who apparently advocated the murder of schoolchildren.

Of course, Connie Chastain didn’t take that threat seriously, either. She never doesunless it will help her sell books.

Are you angry enough yet?

At least Ben Jones and the SCV can no longer say they haven’t heard or read about this. Will they say that Hill, Hines, and company are simply using their First Amendment rights?

Fall Semester Opens at Washington and Lee

As the fall semester opened at Washington and Lee University, President Kenneth Ruscio took the time at the university’s opening convocation to sound themes that would inform the coming academic year. You can read the full text here.

As to this summer’s controversy … which is fast dwindling into a kerfuffle … Ruscio had this to say:

I’m referring, of course, to our decisions to remove the decorative, replica Confederate battle flags from the statue chamber in Lee Chapel’s public space and thereby return that area to the way it was envisioned originally by Lee’s family and Lee’s friends and the way it stood for its first 60 years; to restore some original flags and display them in the Lee Chapel Museum, which is the appropriate way for an educational institution to treat genuine historic artifacts; to examine our history straightforwardly and accurately, with all the respect history deserves, including the contributions of enslaved African-Americans from 1826 to 1850; to honor our traditions reverently, but not blindly; to behave, in short, as an academic institution ought to behave, especially one mindful of its future as well as its past.

And I’m referring to protests against those steps by groups and individuals who have no connection to the University, who are not part of our community, and whose purposes diverge sharply from ours. They have every right to voice their disagreement. We have an equal right to say that these matters are for Washington and Lee to decide, and that we do not exist as a platform for them to assert their views.

This is not a response to them. We do not wish them ill. They are who they are; we are who we are. And we can’t be distracted by those who object to one piece of what we have done, while we are consumed, as we should be, with the nobler purpose of defining the kind of community we wish to be.

You would think that people who talk all the time about self-determination would have no problem with this statement.

Ruscio returned to this theme of community and purpose at the end of his remarks:

I want to return to where I began, which is why the events of this summer were at least one reason for me to consider these deeper questions. In the midst of some of the criticisms we have received from those outside the community, and a few from within, it has been tempting to respond directly. But we have refrained for a variety of reasons, sometimes because we have a university to run, and sometimes because we would have to engage on terms that have little to do with how a university operates. We have a different position because of the values and ideals we hold, and we have a different way of expressing that position, also because of the ideals and values we hold.

In the end, though, we are interested in how we build a community of respect and trust for all who belong to it, where cooperation prevails over confrontation, and thoughtful consideration of diverse views is seen not as a weakness, but as a strength.

With that in mind, from all the letters I have received this summer, let me share with you portions of some that capture that spirit — and captured my attention.

Such as the one from the father of an incoming student who found the University’s position so “thoughtful, rational, even-keeled, as to make me realize once again just how fortunate we are that our son will be matriculating next month.”

The mother of a current student whose ancestry traces back to graduates of what was then Washington College, and whose relatives fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, who applauded the University’s ability to look deeply at its own history and the nation’s.

The black alumnus who viewed our steps as advancing the dialogue over history-as he said, not “their” history only, but also “my history.”

And then there is this letter, from an alumnus of the Class of 1949:

Dear President Ruscio:
I have been following the issues…. I write to offer my unqualified endorsement of your response to those issues — especially your forceful support of my great-grandfather’s presidency of Washington College and your plans for the Confederate battle flags…

I believe that the five years he spent as Washington College’s president were as important to him as they were to the college. His passion for using his position there to help heal the wounds of war was apparent through both his words and deeds.

Based on everything I have heard or read, it is clear to me that President Lee would wholeheartedly support your goals of making Washington and Lee a welcoming environment for all students who choose to come there today. As a proud alumnus, I, too, support those goals.

In my view, removing the flags from the statuary chamber is overdue…. At the same time, we should not simply ignore the flags and their undeniable historical significance. Your plan of returning the actual battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum is the ideal way to study and care for these important artifacts.

I am proud of my alma mater. I am certain that my great-grandfather would be proud of the institution he once led. And I know he would appreciate the civil manner in which you have approached what must be emotional discussions. But most important of all, I trust that today’s students will be reminded of just how important the University’s core values are. In my opinion, the qualities of honor, responsibility, civility, service and leadership that Washington and Lee instills in each generation of students are just as important as the exceptional education it provides.

Please know that you have my full support and my best wishes.

Signed: Robert E. Lee IV

These discussions are significant for us. They are about what Washington and Lee has been in the past, what it is today, and what it will be in the future. No matter the differences across time and across generations and across the many individuals who live here today, a common unifying thread binds us all. This is a community based on trust and respect, one that seeks common ground and celebrates our differences, one that seeks, in Giamatti’s wonderful phrase, to become a “free and ordered space,” one where freedom is coupled with responsibility, where individuality is coupled with a commitment to a common good. A place, in other words, that prepares our students for lives as responsible citizens in a democracy.

This is what any university should do, but especially this one. In the months ahead, in the years ahead, we should not shy away from these matters, mindful of our past, mindful of our future, and mindful of our responsibilities today to preserve and enhance this community of trust and respect.

Back to School at Washington & Lee

Some of you may remember that over a month ago there was something of a controversy over a decision taken by the administration at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, to remove replica Confederate flags from Lee Chapel. The university instead decided to return to public display actual Confederate flags on a rotating basis in the museum downstairs at the chapel, near where Robert E. Lee and family members have been laid to rest.

Seems to me there was quite a fuss at first over the university’s decision, but that fuss seems to have died down, as only a handful of Confederate heritage advocates have engaged in “flagging” the university recently.

For all the talk of protests, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and the like, the policy put in place this July remains. I’ve seen no signs of that policy changing. Nor have I seen that the wave of protests, now reduced to a few ripples on a pond, have achieved anything, the overheated claims on some Facebook pages and blogs notwithstanding. Instead, we are now approaching the final stages of the drama. Between the return of students to their school (I foresee an uptick in discussion about the new policy from students and faculty), Young Alumni Weekend (September 19-21, 2014), Parents Weekend (October 11-12, 2014), and the Five-Star Festival (October 31-November 2, 2014), there are only a few opportunities left for certain folks to make a big splash.

Otherwise, we can anticipate seeing the occasional snapshots of a few people holding flags while making increasingly hollow claims about changing hearts and minds at Lexington. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish those images from those taken along the largely empty sidewalks by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond … and when’s the last time you saw a “Virginia Flagger” at the Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox branch?

It’s getting boring again.

Oh, I guess one can put up a flagpole here and there near an interstate and claim that’s progress, but those shallow triumphs increasingly resemble a rearguard action. And so another episode in the continuing heritage wars ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Pass the Kleenex.