Every once in a while I see a Confederate Romantic promote the idea that southern society was integrated (meaning in this case, apparently, that blacks and whites were close to one another) and that this fact somehow reflects favorably on the racial attitudes of white southerners. Take, for example, what this defender of southern race relations prior to the American Civil War says as he poses a rhetorical question:
So you are saying that Southerners who lived in integrated, albeit subordinate, relationships with blacks were somehow more racist than northerners?
What follows is an excerpt from Michael Burlingame’s biography of Abraham Lincoln in which Burlingame demonstrates the presence of racism in northern society. Of course, to some people Burlingame’s a Lincoln apologist, which complicates matters a bit, because Lincoln apologists supposedly don’t recognize Yankee racism, but let’s set that aside … after all, the poster in question comes from a discussion group famous for its Confederate cherry-picking, at which he in particular excels, even if he doesn’t always understand the import of what he posts.
We also see claims for an integrated southern society in discussions about the presence of African Americans in Confederate military formations. Take, for example, this declaration in a book that did much to popularize the notion that African Americans willingly served with the Confederate armed forces (and presumably shared an allegiance to the Confederate cause … meaning their continued enslavement). Another website offers the claim in the middle of the usual logic employed by proponents of historical fantasy. And elsewhere a white southern blogger offers yet another version of the notion that the Confederates had integrated units as part of the usual litany of claims that it really wasn’t about slavery.
In short, this claim of an integrated South serves as a way for Confederate romantics to claim (a) secession and the war was not about slavery (b) race relations were better in the slave South than the free North (which raises the question of why there was any need for a Fugitive Slave Law) (c) white southerners are better than white northerners, who are in denial about their past while white southerners should bask in the glorious society that was slavery.
That observed, one thus must ask: what happened to that wonderful, harmonious, integrated world after the Confederacy collapsed?
Why, after all, if blacks willingly supported Confederate independence, did many southern whites commence a campaign of terrorist violence against their former comrades in arms, the very people with whom they once rubbed shoulders in a friendship and tolerance born of integration? Why didn’t more southern whites oppose such behavior? Why, once these southern white regained control of their state governments, did they work toward segregation? Why did they disfranchise blacks of both races shared a common vision? Why, given the desire of white southerners to honor their short-lived Confederate past, did so many white southerners oppose integration … and fly the Confederate flag in justification of that cause? Isn’t that a heritage violation–using the Confederate battle flag as a symbol to oppose the very integrated society that we are now told the Confederacy and the slave South embraced?
I find it very hard to take this argument about an integrated, tolerant slave South seriously. Surely if southern blacks and whites lived in harmony together, there would have been no fugitive slaves, no abolition movement, no USCT, and so on. Oh, sure, I’m used to hearing white southerners make invidious comparisons between the North and South concerning race relations, and white southerners were always anxious to claim that they were best equipped to deal with southern blacks (although sometimes this equipment seemed to consist of a shotgun and a noose). But this appropriation of the notion that the slave South was more “integrated” than the North and thus was more tolerant, less racist, and more harmonious … come on, do you really expect anyone to accept that? After all, if that’s true, how do we explain the South post-1865? Why did so many white southerners oppose integration if southern history is a history of integrated plantations, towns, and military formations? Why is there such a history of interracial violence in the South if the two races got along so well?
I suspect the answer lies more in what some white southerners (yes, folks, read carefully … some … not all, not many, not most) need to believe in order to deal with their own ambivalent feelings about race. After all, if they were truly opposed to racism, they would denounce it, period, including racism past and present in the South. Yet they don’t. Instead, they invent a fictional world of racial harmony and tolerance, and castigate Yankees for not doing the same. Denial isn’t simply a river in Egypt, as they say.
I guess the other question is why more white southerners don’t denounce such nonsense. Oh, I know a few white southerners who will. But watch the comments section, and let’s see if we see the usual type of responses (a) attacking the Yankee (b) talking about racism in the North (c) trotting out the usual Confederate romantic claptrap.