The Fatal Flaw in Southern “Heritage”

You’ll recall that I pointed readers to the following comment made in an ongoing effort by someone to define southern heritage:

… secession, the creation of the Confederacy, the South’s struggle for independence, the shabby treatment of the South by the “victors” for several generations after the war — these are unique, integral, defining components of our region and the cultural inheritance handed down to each generation of Southerners. These elements are MORE defining of the South than as slavery and racial issues.

This is simply misinformed, but it’s also problematic, in large part because it excludes much that I would think one would want to include in an understanding of a region whose “heritage” one claims one wants to defend.

First, it clearly overlooks the South prior to 1860.  No Washington, no Jefferson, no John Marshall, no Andrew Jackson, no John C. Calhoun, no Nat Turner, no Frederick Douglass, and on and on and on.  This point’s been made before.  No Native Americans driven westward by the Trail of Tears.  Nothing about the rich mix of cultures in places such as New Orleans and (to a lesser extent) Florida.  Southern history doesn’t begin in 1860, and a full understanding of southern heritage claims these folks (as well as their predecessors … Nathaniel Bacon, anyone?  Where’s Patrick Henry and George Mason?).

Second, the very wording precludes just about all African Americans living in the South.  This has been pointed out before.  Perhaps for some people the best way to remove race and slavery from southern heritage is to remove African Americans altogether, as if out of (one’s) sight means out of (one’s) mind.  Enough said.

Third, it excludes those whites who did not support the Confederacy.  This has also been pointed out before.  They are as much real southerners as the ones who supported the boys in gray.

And fourth, it sets aside a good deal of the southern experience since the 1870s as important in defining the South.  William Faulkner, anyone?

Indeed, it even excludes areas that the Confederacy claimed, including New Mexico and Arizona.

One could indeed define southern heritage as shaped in part by a continual struggle against oppression by a society supported by state power … but that really describes African Americans in the South far more than it does white southerners.

The fact is that for many advocates of southern “heritage” the concept is little more than an experience at a buffet.  You take what you want and what you like to feed an appetite shaped by present-day political, social, and cultural beliefs.  It’s little more than a warped version of the past fashioned into usable shape to serve one’s own political correctness, so to speak.

In short, as some people have actually admitted, southern “heritage” has very little to do with history.  It does not rest upon an understanding of the past.  It is a distorted rendering of that past to serve present interests, and it should be understood as such.  Apparently to some one need not have been born in the South or claim southern ancestry to proclaim an interest in celebrating southern heritage.  That reduces southern heritage to St. Patrick’s Day.

Perhaps this is why the whole concept is in such deep trouble in the first place, and it helps explain the desperate shrillness of its advocates.  The South will rise again … but only as part of the United States.

 

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21 thoughts on “The Fatal Flaw in Southern “Heritage”

  1. Many years ago, the great satirical political cartoon, Pogo, was quoted as saying, :we have met the enemy and he is us.”

    • The Confederate heritage movement is largely having an internal conversation, saying and doing things that re-affirm their bonafides to each other, rather than making a clear and coherent case to the general public. The protest at the opening of the MoC facility at Appomattox is a good example — I’m sure lots of protestors cheered at the aerial banner, hired by the SCV, which said, “REUNIFICATION BY BAYONET,” but I doubt many members of the general public, not especially conversant with the rhetoric of heritage groups today, understood the reference or gave it much thought afterward. And I’m still not sure what relevance Grant’s brief time as a slaveholder has to the MoC’s decision not to fly a Confederate flag out front.

      The net effect of this, it seems to me, is to create a heritage movement that’s (1) increasingly rigid and vituperative, and (2) ever-more disconnected from the beliefs and attitudes of the general public as a whole. Those things go together, frankly, and does not bode well for any notion of “mainstreaming” their historical narrative farther than it already is.

      • This is a case of defining membership as well as defining enemies. That’s why we hear so much about who is a “true southerner,” when it seems that a prerequisite for this category is a hankering for Confederate heritage that casts a blind eye toward race and slavery.

      • The Grant thing is ridiculous, as are their repeated bleating about slave-holding in “the North.” These are their typical straw man arguments. No knowledgeable person thinks that Lincoln went to war to free the slaves. No intellectually honest person claims that the north was not invested to varying degrees in the institution of slavery. Issues like these are not in contention. Only the Confederate apologists go out of their way to pretend that these are contentious issues in their striving to prove that the Confederacy didn’t start a war over a perceived threat to slavery. It’s the classic, “look-at-what-he-did!” distraction strategy. Yeah, we know what *he* did. He admits it. What we want is for you to own up to what *you* did!

  2. All the elements mentioned (secession, the Confederacy, southern independence, and reconstruction) go back to race based slavery. Deal with your history folks.

    • Well, I’ll give Mr. Wallace this much – he does, for better or for worse. It’s the Connies of the planet who are living in a virtual world with their own photo-shopped version of “Confederate/Southern Heritage”.

    • Slavery was a labor management system.

      Did the South become a carbon copy of the North after 1865? Did the South stop clashing with the North after 1865?

      No, the South became more homogeneous after the war than it had been before the war. Slavery was a divisive issue. White supremacy was nowhere near as divisive.

      Slavery was based on racialism and white supremacy, not the other way around. Abolishing slavery had the effect of radicalizing white supremacy and stripping away the paternalistic overtones of a slave based culture.

      States rights did not go away either. Conservatism did not go away. 147 years after the abolition of slavery, the South is still clashing with the North.

      • I think it is fair to say that the Confederacy has enjoyed more popularity in defeat than it did while it was alive. Defeat (and white supremacy) unified many white southerners in a way that secession did not.

      • Slavery was a divisive issue… just not divisive enough to unify 11 slave-holding states from seceding and participating in the Confederacy. ;)

        I’m with you on slavery as a labor management system. I’m with you on slavery as being based on racialism and white supremacy, not the other way around. I also agree with you that abolition of slavery, or Defeat as Professor Simpson put it, galvanized much of the white South into trying to maintain the status quo antebellum.

        States rights did not go away either. This is true. Southern political heritage is a contagion that has apparently infected the North today, because absent federal law, the North is passing laws to legalize civil unions and/or gay marriage… other states and the Federal government be damned.

        Lastly… do you think Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 is a good example of the “shabby treatment of the South by the “victors” for several generations after the war”? The way I see it, Plessy v. Ferguson was a godsend for those committed to a states rights, white supremacist future in the South. From your perspective, if I’m reading you correctly, this must have been something the North did right by the South.

    • And here we have another Connie Chastain lie … and it’s a big one.

      Here is where you can find the image originally reproduced on this blog:

      http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2004/12/confederate-battle-dress.html

      Note that it is from a post in 2004.

      When Connie brought this to my attention, I looked more carefully at the image, saw that it in fact had been altered (and to my mind unfairly, with a horrendous image), and I removed it, replacing it with the original image. My apologies to all for not being more careful.

      That said, Connie Chastain’s accusation now stands as a blatant lie in accusing Andy Hall or me of altering the image. Moreover, note that Connie Chastain never expressed an objection to the racist image itself.

      So, in a desperate attempt to play “gotcha,” Connie Chastain has managed to expose herself as a liar who is not disturbed by racist imagery. And that’s the best face one can put on it.

      Thanks, Connie, for reminding us of who you really are.

  3. No Grimke sisters; no George Thomas or David Farragut; no Robert Smalls; no USCTs; no “Lincoln’s Loyalists”; etc etc etc

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