Documenting Confederate Heritage Controversies

Some historians shrug when they hear of debates over Confederate heritage (unless, in some cases, there’s a chance to be quoted in the newspaper or on a website or even–gasp!–interviewed in true sage scholarly fashion). But other people actually understand that documenting what has been happening this year is essential to understanding how Americans today think about the American Civil War and Confederate heritage. I’m calling attention to two of those efforts.

First, the Washington Post has shared a graphic from the Southern Poverty Law Center that shows users where Confederate heritage demonstrations have taken place and the number of people involved in them. Kevin Levin’s already offered his take here.

Second, Professor Kurt Luther at Virginia Tech is tracking reports of vandalism against Confederate monuments.

I’m sure that sometime in the future someone will also begin tracking reports of incidents involving the display of Confederate flags and other icons on private property. The pace of such reports has picked up in the past several months. It should go without saying that such acts challenge (and in my opinion violate) First Amendment protections, and that taking matters into your own hands (especially when it involves violence or destructive acts) is wrong. Nor do I care for acts of vandalism against Confederate monuments. Reasonable and fair-minded people already knew this.

What do you make of these exercises and the information they impart?


9 thoughts on “Documenting Confederate Heritage Controversies

  1. John Foskett August 18, 2015 / 1:09 pm

    Justice Holmes covered this with one sentence in the otherwise notorious decision in Buck v. Bell, 274 US 200, 207 (1927). One’s stance on an issue does not automatically elevate one to genius status. Anybody who resorts to self-help in this area fully merits prosecution.

  2. Sandi Saunders August 18, 2015 / 1:33 pm

    I think it is important for the sentiments of this nation to be tracked and noted at most any point in time. I think anything divisive as well as anything inclusive should be documented and researched for informational purposes for posterity and for us to learn where we draw the lines and how well we know ourselves. I visit blogs, follow people on Twitter, like pages and people on Facebook and follow local news and editorial blogs so that I have just this kind of idea about what people are thinking and doing. I also have a very personal reason to want to know where the hate is and how it is acting.

    The removal of the CBF from government property seems to have angered some people out of all proportion which also fascinates and scares me.

    The “Black Lives Matter” movement coming out of video after video after video of police misconduct (and worse) is also making an impression.

    Keeping your finger on the pulse of America never seems like dull work to me. I just wish I had the sense to realize how much it mattered to me before I was too old to choose a career more wisely.

    Thanks for the info as always!

    • Andy Hall August 18, 2015 / 4:30 pm

      The removal of the CBF from government property seems to have angered some people out of all proportion which also fascinates and scares me.


      It’s important to recognize this for what it is — it’s anger that yet another prominent institution or organization is no longer giving its imprimatur to the Confederacy.

      Almost every case of “heritage violation” (as the SCV terms it) is a situation where some powerful or respected entity — a local government, a museum, a university, a major retailer — formally rejects hosting or promoting Confederate iconography. The pushback against such moves, in the form of petitions, nasty e-mails and “flagging,” doesn’t reflect anything so much as the fragility of the protestor’s own faith in their Confederate heritage. They’re angry about Danville (or the VMFA, or Walmart, or the Confederate Air Force) because, at some deep (and probably unconscious) emotional level, they need the validation that those institutions’ embrace of the Confederate flag. They are, in many respects, no different from the evangelical Christians who constantly proclaim their unshakable faith, but at the same time push to have their particular brand of faith infused into public life at every turn, and who are made uncomfortable (or even angry) at innocuous phrase like “happy holidays.” Their righteous chest-thumping on the subject isn’t a sign of strength, but one of deep and abiding fragility.

      Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego braved the fiery furnace for their belief; the Virginia Flaggers couldn’t stand their ground in the face of a trespassing ticket, and collapsed like a dollar store lawn chair.

  3. Richard August 18, 2015 / 1:41 pm

    Those exercises seem important to me and their findings likely will be more so in the future than now. When I do research, I often read reports of what was happening at some past time. In the future, these reports you mention will be what researchers at that time will read. I appreciate that others are doing this work and gathering this information, even if I don’t do do myself.

  4. bob carey August 18, 2015 / 4:18 pm

    As far as the documentation of the rallies and the vandalism goes I have no problem with, afterall the current events of today are the history of tomorrow.
    I do have a problem with the vandals and the rallies, although I respect their right to demonstrate I strongly object to their cause
    I think that the people who are toting assault rifles go from being divisive to confrontational. Does anyone believe that the ammo clips were empty.
    Although I do not condone the vandalism on Confederate Monuments I do understand it as a human reaction. All we have to do is look at recent history in Iraq, one of the first acts taken by the people after Saddams’ ouster was to destroy the statues and imagery of him.

    • John Foskett August 19, 2015 / 10:12 am

      Bob: I think I disagree with the Sadaam analogy. That was toppled by people who had been living under the Baathist regime, its secret police, etc. Nobody alive has lived under the CSA or slavery. Virtually all of the folks doing this vandalism haven’t even lived under Jim Crow or de jure segregation. So for me this is nothing like Iraquis toppling Sadaam, Hiungarians toppling Uncle Joe, etc. They’re just vandals. And I’m light years removed from beingf a CFB apologist.

      • bob carey August 19, 2015 / 8:10 pm

        John : Point well taken. I don’t think anyone who reads this blog and your post would ever think your a CBF apologist.

  5. Richard Hornsby August 18, 2015 / 11:00 pm

    We refer to them as Confederate monuments, when in most if not all cases they’re actually memorials to white supremacy. I think that always calling them “Confederate” monuments allows the particularly vile doctrine these memorials represent to sometimes be overlooked or mitigated, and that bothers me.

    Here in North Carolina, at least, the vast majority of Confederate monuments were not erected until after 1898. “More importantly,” as  Timothy Tyson put it in a recent editorial, “they built the monuments after the white supremacy campaigns had seized power by force and taken the vote from black North Carolinians. The monuments reflected that moment of Confederate supremacist ascendency as much as they did the Confederate legacy.”

    I am certainly in favor of leaving these monuments alone, as long as efforts are undertaken to contextualize them. But with the  Mandatory Confederate Monuments Act now in effect in North Carolina, it seems unlikely that there will be any. As such, I just can’t get that upset when a so-called Confederate monument is vandalized. I’m trying, though.

    According to Ed Baptist, plantations would more appropriately be labeled slave labor camps, and slave owners enslavers. In that vein I wonder if it wouldn’t be more fitting to think of Confederate monuments as memorials to white supremacy, and to start calling them that.

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