Heritage Correctness: The Significance of What Happened at Vanderbilt


Historian Karen L. Cox has reminded us exactly why the United Daughters of the Confederacy invested in George Peabody College for Teachers (now part of Vanderbilt University) in the first place. Namely, the UDC hoped to train women teachers who would spread the Confederate gospel as the UDC saw it.

In short, one could call it a heritage indoctrination center.

I doubt that is what the founders of George Peabody College were thinking of in the first place. After all, they named the college after George Peabody, a rather well-known nineteenth-century philanthropist.  In 1867 Peabody established a fund to support educational initiatives in the South in existing institutions, although that mission soon expanded. Nevertheless, the original parameters of the fund meant that its primary beneficiaries were southern white students and elementary education, although some of the proceeds benefited the children of the freedpeople.

Here’s a look at some of the original trustees:

You should be able to recognize Ulysses S. Grant and David Farragut: the man standing between them is Hamilton Fish, who later served as Grant’s secretary of state.

This photograph was used to create a larger image of the entire board. Brady lacked a panoramic setting on his camera, I guess:

But perhaps he knew how to use Photoshop.

The George Peabody College for Teachers was founded with support from the Peabody Education Fund as the fund’s objectives shifted from direct aid to schools to helping to train teachers.

You can consult the proceedings of the trustees from 1867 to 1875 here.

Clearly the college welcomed help, but the help the UDC offered came with strings attached. The UDC’s grant of $50,000, Cox notes, was to further the training of women teachers who would be well-versed in the UDC’s version of history, a narrative (as Kevin Levin reminds us) that tended to warm Confederate hearts.

We now know better.

In short, what goes about comes about. What was once deemed appropriate is no longer so deemed.

This fact reminds us that those folks who are whining about “political correctness” and “cultural genocide” have basically conceded that they are not interested in historical accuracy. Rather, they embrace what I call heritage correctness, which is really nothing more than history told from a Confederate perspective that sets aside the importance of slavery in an effort to parrot the interpretations of the conflict that emerged in the postwar period from Confederate apologists (note that most advocates of heritage correctness are also rather passionate Confederate apologists). That, of course, is what the UDC was trying to support: they wanted to pass off their version of events, complete with lies and distortions, as “real history.” They wanted to train teachers to indoctrinate students with that version of history (and thus they wanted to indoctrinate the teachers as well). Note that the people who are complaining about Vanderbilt’s decision omit that fact … but then they are into myth-making as well.

That’s why this whining about political correctness is simply hypocritical … because the “history” the whiners would like to espouse is nothing more that the politically-correct version of Lost Cause advocates. What was once politically correct is no longer so, and, besides, it was never historically correct, anyway.

In short, heritage correctness is political correctness, Confederate apologist style. Some folks are just a bit too upset that that is now out of style.