Next Saturday, January 16, at 8 PM and 11:59 PM, C-SPAN 3 will air an episode of “Lectures in History,” featuring my fall 2015 class on the American presidency taught at Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. If you are expecting a lecture when you tune in, however, you’ll be disappointed, because I run my classes in Barrett as discussion classes, with a good deal of student interaction and assessment.
In years to come, people may argue that the events of 2015 offered a turning point in the debate over the proper way to commemorate Confederate heritage. A lone gunman’s decision to slaughter several African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina, sparked a debate that transcended previous discussions of the display of such symbols, and thus accelerated change that had already been occurring gradually elsewhere. By year’s end, Confederate flags had been removed from public grounds in several places, as were a number of statues of prominent Confederates, while the ultimate fate of other icons remained in the balance.
Here and there, of course, advocates of the display of Confederate flags and icons claimed victory when the best they were able to do was to preserve the status quo. If any public authority added the Confederate flag for display, that event received no attention (I’m unaware that Confederate heritage advocates gained a single square inch of ground). Simply put, when it comes to the years of the Civil War sesquicentennial, Confederate heritage has been in retreat, from Richmond and Lexington to Columbia and Austin, and from New Orleans and Memphis to Oxford and Pensacola. And, in many ways, 2015 has been the worst years of them all.
One way to measure the fading away of Confederate heritage is to look as the struggles of our favorite Confederate heritage group, the Virginia Flaggers, supposedly the “future of Confederate heritage.” Now, I’m sure some of you will point out that the Flaggers thought this year was a great success, because they raised more Confederate flags across the Old Dominion, especially in Danville and Lexington. That few people noticed and even fewer cared about these hollow victories is of no concern to true believers, but for the rest of us, it looked to be a year characterized by setbacks and self-inflicted wounds.
12. For example, there was new evidence of the close ties between the Virginia Flaggers and groups that preach intolerance. The Flaggers saw their columns appear in a white supremacist antisemitic paper, complete with appeals for funds (those new flags cost money). The Flaggers themselves linked white supremacy with Confederate heritage when they decried the attack upon a monument marking the 1874 “Battle of Liberty Place,” seeing it as part of the heritage they wanted to cherish and honor.
11. The Flaggers lost battles to preserve the flying of the Confederate flag outside the Sutherlin Mansion in Danville and the celebration of Lee-Jackson Day as an official holiday in Charlottesville. However, it was amusing to watch their efforts to defend Confederate heritage, especially Karen Cooper’s ranting at Charlottesville.
10. The Flaggers were outraged that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts declined to renew its agreement with the Sons of Confederate Veterans about the use of the War Memorial Chapel … symbolic public birthplace of the Flagger movement. Oh well.
9. Although the Flaggers were also outraged when St. Paul’s in Richmond decided to revisit its position on the display of Confederate iconography, they decided that they simply weren’t going to do anything meaningful about it. What a shame. I was so looking forward to dozens of pictures showing a handful of protesters outside the church.
8. Anytime you want to laugh out loud, remember this: Karen Cooper became a national celebrity when she proclaimed that slavery was a choice. Of course, Cooper also claimed that she was a slave to the federal government, so I guess she made that choice, too. She’s also chosen to be much quieter since then, a wise choice given her public performances. It’s not everyone who is honored by The Onion, after all.
7. The mouthpiece of the Virginia Flaggers was left to wail when the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners finally decided to take down for good the Confederate flag that once flew outside the Bay Center. Every single one of the West Florida Flagger(s) turned out to protest that decision. It did not matter.
6. Angered that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts allowed InLight to use the War Memorial Chapel for a display (no doubt in part due to the misleading reporting offered by a Richmond review), the Flaggers turned out in force (for them) outside the chapel, to no effect. Absent from the protest was Susan Hathaway, who had told her people it was time to rise up while she remained seated. In so doing she offered a fine example of heritage hysterics and the depth of her commitment to the cause.
5. The Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans condemned the behavior of the Virginia Flaggers. Enough said.
4. Always quick to deny certain allegations, the Virginia Flaggers were noticeable for their silence when it was suggested that one of its members, posing as “Anonymous CSA,” had been threatening people. A few calls later from the proper authorities and “Anonymous CSA” was silent, too.
3. Always hungry for publicity, the Virginia Flaggers probably did not enjoy the national attention focused on the group in connection with the disappearance and recovery of Lilly Baumann. They sure were silent about the fate of a little girl they had once exploited for their own ends. At least this time it wasn’t Tripp Lewis who was arrested.
2. Remember all those flagpoles going up across Virginia? Well, in a few reported cases, the fellows who allowed the Flaggers to use their property to display Confederate flags were … you guessed it … avowed racists and haters. Funny that a group that talks about heritage, not hate, and who wants to restore the honor likes to do business with those sorts of people.
And this leaves us with the top Flagger fail for 2015:
This was Flagger greatness personified.
Look, it could have been worse … I could have asked you to sing along with Susan Hathaway.
And, so, folks, it’s on to Lexington in January, where the Virginia Flaggers will call upon everyone to boycott local businesses … until the Flaggers get a craving for chili dogs and ice cream.
What do you think various Civil War personages past and heritage advocates present told Santa what they wanted … and what do you think they found under the tree or in their stocking?
What impact did the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War have upon our understanding of the war and its significance? In years to come, what will historians of Civil War memory have to say about the sesquicentennial?
You tell me.
One of the points of pride in the Virginia Flaggers’ efforts to put up flagpoles and raise Confederate flags all over the state of Virginia is Danville, the last capital of the Confederacy, where a good number of such flags have appeared in response to the city council’s decision to lower the flag that once flew outside the Sutherlin Mansion, where Jefferson Davis learned of the surrender of Robert E. Lee. While the city ponders what next to do (namely what to do about an abandoned gas station next to the mansion), the Flaggers have proudly populated the area with flags flown on private property. They’ve also erected a sign welcoming visitors to Danville that reminds the unwary of the town’s significance in 1865.
It now looks like Danville is fighting back.
Although the Virginia Flaggers celebrated what they claimed were victories in Danville and elsewhere, they somehow failed to mention this event (neither did their Pensacola mouthpiece). As we’ll soon see, they might want to rethink their celebration of events in Roanoke as well.
Although it may be a fox. What did the fox say?
It isn’t too early to plan ahead. Maybe Susan Hathaway can wear it as a disguise outside the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. We won’t tell.
On December 6, 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment became part of the United States Constitution.
Note that when the amendment went out to the state legislatures for ratification, Abraham Lincoln affixed his signature … an unnecessary part of the process. Just ask Andrew Johnson.
That’s how the New York Herald informed its readers of this event on December 7. Note that it was Georgia’s ratification that made the amendment part of the Constitution.
Free at last, indeed. What freedom would mean was still left to be defined.
You can read about it here.