We are now down to the final four. Today focuses on two people, once of whom spoke at the other’s memorial service.
Number 4: Mattie Clyburn Rice, Rest in Peace
The passing of Mattie Clyburn Rice in October 2014 provided some people yet another chance to revive the story of her father, Weary Clyburn, specifically the nature of his connection to the Confederate military. For years Weary Clyburn has been celebrated by some as a “black Confederate,” although more discerning research revealed a more interesting story. For years Ms. Rice pursued the story, as one might expect, but what she found did little to clarify her father’s status. She was not alone in her confusion: researchers repeatedly fumbled the question of his status, sometimes in excited rants. Among the befuddled was South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who, engaged in a battle for reelection, thought it would be a good idea to cuddle up with the Confederate heritage crowd while remaining stone silent about the service of South Carolina’s blacks in blue. Confederate heritage advocates went after anyone who tried to remind us of the facts behinds the claims about Clyburn’s service.
I chose not to get involved in that discussion. It seemed good enough to allow Ms. Rice to rest in peace. However, as one might expect, others could not wait to take advantage of her passing to sound anew the usual claptrap about Clyburn’s service. Her memorial service witnessed a veritable cast of characters from Confederate heritage circles, with the typically ample photographic record to mark their presence. Who can forget this particularly nattily-dressed fellow?
In all the discussion about “black Confederates,” one still wonders why it is so hard for some proponents of the tales of thousands of enslaved black Confederates willingly serving the Confederate cause to answer a simple question: “So what?” For it really has no impact on how one assesses the causes of the war or the major issues involved. Rather, this is a tale spun to comfort present-day Confederate heritage advocates who seek to turn a blind eye to Confederate history. That at times it seeps into the mainstream like sewage is worth countering, but some people have to believe what they have to believe, documents and evidence be damned.
Our condolences to Ms. Rice’s family.
Number 3: The Struggles of Ben “Cooter” Jones
Among those who spoke at the ceremonies honoring Ms. Rice was Ben Jones, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Now, many people remember Mr. Jones as having portrayed “Cooter” in the television show “Dukes of Hazzard,” and if you have forgotten that, he’ll be sure to remind you. But it’s not the only thing he’s done: he’s also served in Congress. In the summer of 2014, in the wake of Washington and Lee University’s decision to remove replica Confederate flags from the Lee Chapel, the new leadership of the Sons of Confederate Veterans elevated Jones to his current position.
Let me make this clear: I like Ben Jones. I respect his willingness to reach out to this blog to present his views on Confederate heritage. He has far more courage than many of his associates. He also deplores racism. Thus it was a disappointment to see that before too long his appearances here degenerated in the fact of questions about the presence and support of white supremacist and nationalist groups at various events, as well as evidence that in offering his understanding of the past he was not all that different than what preceded him. At the same time, however, he’s been remarkably ineffective in doing anything to help Confederate heritage, and here events at Washington and Lee stand out. Indeed, Jones’s big moment may well have been at the Rice ceremonies, although I noted that they cut out his presentation from the video record that was posted publicly.
It’s been a rough year for Confederate heritage, and to date Ben Jones has been unable to reverse the tide of events. If he can’t do it, with all his popularity and charm, then who can?