Vanderbilt’s Choice

This past week Vanderbilt University announced that it would comply with a 2005 judicial decision and repay the United Daughters of the Confederacy the $50,000 (with interest) given by the UDC to Peabody College in 1935 to help build and name a residence hall “Confederate Memorial Hall” (Vanderbilt acquired the college and the building in 1979). In exchange, the word “Confederate” would disappear from the building (it’s been known informally as simply “Alumni Memorial Hall,” or some variation thereof, for some time). Donors provided the $1.2 million needed to complete the transaction.

According to Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, “Many generations of students, faculty and staff have struggled with, argued about and debated with vigor this hall….  Our debates and discussions have consistently returned over these many years to the same core question: Can we continue to strive for that diverse and inclusive community where we educate the leaders that our communities, nation and world so desperately need, with this hall as so created? My view, like that of so many in the past, and so many in our present, is that we cannot.”

As one might well imagine, this decision did not sit well with the usual suspects, none of whom demonstrated a tie to Vanderbilt University. Outsiders, anyone? That did not stop the whining about “political correctness,” “cultural genocide,” and the like, to no one’s surprise. And yet, just as Washington and Lee University seems to have done just fine in the aftermath of its decision to remove Confederate flags from the ground floor of Lee Chapel surrounding Edward Valentine’s portrayal of a recumbent Robert E. Lee, one suspects that Vanderbilt University will now proceed to look forward and move on, regardless of the unhappiness expressed in some corners by people who have hitherto had absolutely nothing to do with the university.

Especially amusing was the ranting of one Confederate heritage correctness blogger, who termed as snide a comment speculating about what the UDC would do with the proceeds of the settlement (the ranter edited the quote to omit a comment about the need to pay legal fees, but such sloppiness is par for the course at that blog). Yet, at the very same time, another group of outsiders, also from the Old Dominion, suggested that it a good idea to use the money to erect a few more Confederate flags on private property near the university. Apparently that’s not snide. Such is the circus world of Confederate heritage correctness. In contrast, Kevin Levin reflected on how the UDC has had a long tradition of distorting the historical record in fashioning a narrative of American history that demonstrates just how little regard Confederate heritage correctness has for historical accuracy. Indeed, the UDC’s version of the past reflected a different set of beliefs about what constituted “political correctness”: certain parties who embrace that view of history have no problem with that era’s “political correctness,” even when it endorsed white supremacy and reflected racist assumptions. One even whined about “diversity intolerance,” which I guess is the best we can expect from someone who denied that the Memphis Massacre of 1866 had anything to do with white southerners murdering black southerners (talk about whitewashing the past!). I gather certain forms of cultural genocide are just fine with these folks (ever reflect that slavery carried with it practices that we today would define as cultural genocide?). Then again, white supremacist terrorism in the South after the Civil War was more than simply cultural genocide, but I digress.

More interesting was the unhappiness expressed by sportscaster Clay Travis, whose understanding of the Civil War comes nowhere close to his passionate prattle that borrowed freely from typical conservative criticisms of college campuses. Among those who did not appreciate Travis’s tirade was Jack Daniels, who decided to terminate a promotional deal with Travis. As one might expect, Travis responded.

I find it fascinating that people equate the removal of the word “Confederate” from a building with cultural genocide, erasing history, and so on, especially without reflecting on the sort of history that the UDC sought to promote. Maybe the problem is that they just might endorse that history, a history that endorses white supremacy and is riddled with racist assumptions.

After all, it’s heritage, not history.

I am curious, however: what would these folks who claim that such acts are so reprehensible say about this?

Now, before all the Confederate heritage correctness people get all upset (largely because they find themselves unable to make a meaningful intellectual distinction between the video above and what’s happening at Vanderbilt), let’s remind them that many of their fellow travelers see no difference.

Heimbach Golden Dawn Criminal Nazis

Funny how I never see Confederate heritage advocates express discomfort (let alone outrage) at such associations. I wonder why.

12 thoughts on “Vanderbilt’s Choice

  1. Scott Ledridge August 20, 2016 / 9:31 pm

    Quote from the Confederate Veteran, cited in Mr. Levin’s article: “Southern schools and Southern teachers have prepared books which Southern children may read without insult or traduction of their fathers.”

    Those UDC were so PC!

    • John Foskett August 21, 2016 / 7:31 am

      We live in a society in which nobody needs to actually know anything in order to speak about everything. Again, Holmes, Jr. (if I recall correctly): The First Amendment guarantees debate, not intelligent debate. So much for Clay and his Marvel Comics version of “history”.

  2. Andy Hall August 21, 2016 / 9:09 am

    The response to Vanderbilt decision has been completely by rote: more flags, bigger flags, everywhere.

    One aspect of this has been interesting, though. Back in 2005, this court decision did not get a lot of press attention, but the coverage it did get clearly hailed it as a victory for the UDC. That perspective seems to have been completely lost on the make-believe Confederates of 2016. Remember, what made news last week was simply Vanderbilt announcing that it was following through on the court’s decision from 11 years before.

    I really do wonder how many of the people who are huffing and puffing about this on Facebook today actually knew a week ago that there was a “Confederate Memorial Hall” on the Vanderbilt campus.

    • Brooks D. Simpson August 21, 2016 / 11:09 am

      Let’s put it this way: it’s always interesting to see people who attack the so-called “left” for using terms such as “cultural genocide” and “diversity”choose to use them to defend their own position. At best, they are hypocrites. At worst … well, you know.

      • Andy Hall August 21, 2016 / 11:22 am

        The heritage folks are adept at parroting the language of progressive social movements, even if they don’t take them seriously. (Which if they did, they wouldn’t mock them.) The difference between “Je Suis Lee-Jackson” and “Je Suis Charlie” is that one involves moving some flags, and the other is about real, live people being murdered in cold blood in the middle of a staff meeting.

        When the heritage folks show that they understand the concept of proportionality, they may have have a point to make. As it stands now, all I hear is angry shouting.

  3. Mike C. August 21, 2016 / 2:56 pm

    As a Vanderbilt alum, this move by school makes me proud.

    • Cathy scott August 27, 2016 / 7:36 pm

      I too am a Vanderbilt Alum. I attended Peabody when Confederate Hall was a dormitory, only for Daughters of the Confederacy. Every year the dorm held a confederate pride week, complete with gaily dressed white gals in antebellum frocks. As a yank seeking only a good liberal education ,I got one, all the while thinking this Southern Heritage stuff was silly, sad, and bizarre. I had to learn that these celebrants were quite serious. As I look back I think how totally offensive the whole thing must’ve been to students of color seeking the same good education as I. I regret I did nothing more than look away. It’s a good move by Vandy, and it’s been a long time coming. I wish it ad been done sooner.

  4. Shoshana Bee August 21, 2016 / 11:58 pm

    Every November, ½ of my genetic psyche would sit transfixed as the usual commemorative of Kristallnacht (1938: synagogues were destroyed & the beginning of the The Holocaust) was presented to the community. Wrapping up the program, a survivor would approach the dais and admonish the audience: For all that came to pass from that night forward, we as a people persevered – our culture intact, our memory preserved. The culture lived within us, as a people, so that as long as one of us survived to teach another, our memory could not be erased.

    Suffice to say, I am having a most difficult time conjuring up any tears over the loss of confederate heritage, due to the mere scrat-scrat-scratching out of a word off a building. If their “heritage” is that fragile – as shallow as etching on stone – than perhaps it was never on solid foundation to begin with.

    In reading towards the middle/end of the post, I could not help but to feel the creeping crud of irrationalism – the enemy of the writer’s muse – make a visceral presence at the mere sight of Heimbach. He – Heimbach – is the would-be child if the Flaggers, SCV, David Duke, & the SS thrown in for “good” measure mixed DNA in a petri dish. One by one, “heritage” groups have nurtured, groomed, rewarded, and continued to stand by this human debris – even after he fledged into the full-blown white supremacist organizer of bloody riots. What sort of legacy is being promoted, protected and at risk of being wiped out? I am having a difficult time teasing out the “heritage” from the “hate” – perhaps it’s time for a eulogy.

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