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.