Fabricating History … the SHPG Way

Sometimes I miss something the first time around that, upon further inspection (and a comment in another blog) sets me to thinking a bit. And when it comes from the gift that keeps on giving … well, it’s time for a few more giggles.

Back on March 6 of this year, the following thread appeared you-know-where:

SHPG strikes again

Let’s take a look at this, shall we?

Robert Mestas, who fancies himself a true defender of Confederate heritage, posts a picture with a quote. The quote discusses distorting the historical record.

Sounds fair enough … except it isn’t.

First, Mestas has since admitted that he composed the quote itself, a rather artful act of fabrication. That’s not exactly a capital offense, although upon second look it seems that he owes his inspiration (unattributed) to a statement attributed to Patrick Cleburne that is a favorite among certain Confederate heritage advocates:

Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late. It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision.

Just run the quote through Google and you’ll see what I mean.

As one person said at civilwartalk.com when this appeared:

It sounds almost like a modern person’s attempt to put words in the mouth of veterans soon after the war, but that would be the height of irony–making up false history while at the same time instructing others to preserve history. Surely nobody would be that dumb or dishonest.

Guess again.

Second, the image is in fact of a Union and a Confederate veteran at the 1913 reunion at Gettysburg. That suggests that the listener might well disagree with what the supposed speaker is alleged to have said in Mr. Mestas’s imaginative mind.

That would be bad enough … but it was left to Gary Adams to contribute his (inflated) two pennies. He claimed the quote was from a 1947 movie called “They Won’t Forget.” That movie, he added, was all about a Yankee schoolteacher who was lynched after being falsely accused of murdering a local girl.

That’s part of the story … but there’s more to it.

First (as Adams now knows), the movie in question was released in 1937. But that’s a minor correction. Nor is the one quote that appears in the site he links to even close to Mestas’s quote (it is: “On your feet now. Go on and look sharp. The whole town’s watching. This is the one day out of the year that belongs to us.”). But what is that movie really about? Not about Confederate veterans or heritage, it turns out. “They Won’t Forget” is a fictionalized treatment of the lynching of Leo Frank, who was accused of murdering thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan. Frank, by the way, was born in Texas (although he was raised in New York): his major crime, it seems, was that he was Jewish. Tried and convicted, Frank’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Georgia’s governor, who harbored reservations about Frank’s guilt and the way the trial had been managed. A mob of Georgians (including several prominent citizens) thereupon took it upon themselves to deliver a death sentence by storming the jail and hauling off Frank to be lynched.

Apparently Gary Adams never heard of this case. Nor, it seems, did his fellow defenders of “southern heritage,” although if the SHPG was really about preserving and understanding southern heritage, you would think they’d know about this.

The movie in question was based upon a novel, Death in the Deep South, by Ward Greene (who also wrote a short story upon which Walt Disney based Lady and the Tramp). Greene took the Frank case and spun it to tell his story. The murder of Mary Clay takes place on Confederate Memorial Day. Although at first local authorities finger a black janitor, then a boyfriend, then an aging faculty member, further investigation suggests that a professor may have done the deed. The professor in question, Robert Hale, is indeed a damnYankee (the antisemitism involved in targeting someone is set aside in this novel, although there is reference to antisemitism elsewhere). There are false accusations, rumors of attempted rape, and so on … exactly the sort of stuff one might see in the writings of …

… never mind. 🙂

Of course, the words Adams claims must be in the movie are not in the novel upon which it was based. Nor has he set forth any evidence in support of his claim. He failed to respond to Mestas’s claim of authorship. One is left with the impression that Mestas fabricated a quote based loosely upon the words attributed to Patrick Cleburne, and in turn Adams claims the words came from somewhere else (implying that Mestas is a liar) but citing a source that he does not understand and can’t cite effectively. In turn Mestas is implicitly questioning Adams’s version as well. But no one at the SHPG seems to understand this (no one acknowledges it).  It’s as if they all talk past each other, oblivious to what is being said. Do they even read what they write, let alone read what is there?

Would you really trust Confederate heritage to people such as these? Only if you wanted to discredit the whole enterprise. Perhaps it’s all a front erected by Dixie-basing Yankee bloggers and their scalawag allies.

It was intriguing to poke around about this issue (which I first came across when I clicked on a link at Andy Hall’s blog). Reproducing Mestas’s manufactured quote in Google led me to a good discussion of the matter at civilwartalk.com, and you can see evidence of that discussion above. Having found some of my inquiries in May already answered in March, I nevertheless thought it worthwhile to push this forward a little more and peruse Greene’s volume. Greene, a southerner, was familiar with the region he described and the case that he used as the basis for his novel … but it is interesting that he made it into a story about anti-northern prejudice among white southerners. There’s a little about how people remembered the war, although it’s clear that those memories don’t account for as much as some may claim.

But it remains common practice to blame the Yankees for everything that goes wrong.

2 thoughts on “Fabricating History … the SHPG Way

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