St. Paul’s Church: Another Challenge for the Virginia Flaggers?

St. Paul’s Church in Richmond is just a block away from the Virginia State Capitol. It is but a short distance from where Robert E. Lee returned to Richmond after Appomattox and from the Confederate White House, where Jefferson Davis and his family lived.

Students of the Civil War and Reconstruction will recall that the church was the site of two events in 1865 that have made it into the history books. It was while attending St. Paul’s that Davis received word from Lee of the need to evacuate Richmond and Petersburg. Later that year Lee attended services. So did an African American, and someone who claimed to be there reported what happened next:

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In years to come this story would undergo a transformation, to the point that Lee was presented as a tolerant fellow who set an example for welcoming a new worshipper. As Andy Hall has reminded us, the original story was far different.

Now St. Paul’s is in the crosshairs of a new controversy about Confederate heritage.  As Kevin Levin has reported (here and here and here … with useful links to other discussions), the church’s vestry, after much discussion over several months, has decided to remove some of the Confederate iconography present in the church. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which reported on these deliberations, has also endorsed the church’s decision.

Needless to say, this decision was greeted with controversy. Among those who protested were some familiar names.

In August, one notes among the commenters the following observation:

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Now, in November, guess who appears again?

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As Kevin notes, it remains to be seen whether the Virginia Flaggers will take their objections to the streets … and whether the always outspoken Susan Hathaway will be among them. There’s no evidence that the reasons that deter her from showing up once more at her old stomping groups by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts are in play at St. Paul’s. And, as Kevin suggests, this is a heaven-sent opportunity to give the cause of Confederate heritage some much needed publicity.

But the recent track record of the Virginia Flaggers suggests that they are not so committed to their cause as they might once have been. The effort to protest the InLight display at the VMFA fell far short of previous efforts to draw attention to Confederate heritage, and of course Hathaway did not act on her own call to action. This time Hathaway has no excuses not to heed her own advice.

Or perhaps they’ll just put up another flag at Danville and declare victory. After all, Jefferson Davis abandoned Richmond for Danville as well.

Confederate Heritage and Terrorism

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday Americans have again engaged in a discussion about terrorism, including a lively debate over the wisdom and the humanity of admitting refugee populations seeking sanctuary in the United States. It’s a revealing conversation, betraying barely-hidden assumptions about peoples and religious faiths.

At the same time, there is an ongoing debate on college campuses concerning whether the icons celebrated on those campuses deserve their place of honor and remembrance. Today media coverage focuses on whether Princeton University should continue to honor Woodrow Wilson, who served as president of that institution before he became first governor of New Jersey and the the 28th president of the United States. After all, Wilson promoted segregation and endorsed Birth of a Nation. “It is like writing history with lightning,” Wilson asserted after viewing the film, “and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” That the movie freely quoted from Wilson’s own scholarship must have pleased the president greatly.

These are troubling times for advocates of Confederate heritage, because a discussion of the horrors and evil of terrorism reminds us that such terrorist activity was an essential element of how white southerners defeated Reconstruction. Moreover, it stands to reason that many of these white supremacist terrorists were Confederate veterans. If we accept estimates that the Confederacy mobilized some 80% of its white male adult population to serve in the Confederate military, and that a healthy percentage of those who were not mobilized actively opposed the Confederacy, it stand to reason that white supremacist terrorist organizations drew a significant proportion of its membership from the ranks of Confederate veterans. Indeed, it was logical for such people to view their service in such organizations as an extension of their service in the ranks of the Confederate military, because both Confederate independence and the overthrow of Republican regimes and the suppression of black freedom shared the same goals of preserving white supremacy and protecting one’s way of life by making sure that white southerners would be in control of their own lives as well as of the lives of black southerners. One may be able to distinguish between the fight for Confederate independence and the redemption of white supremacist rule, but one is hard-pressed to separate them altogether.

One need not remind Americans that some defenders of Confederate heritage imitate white supremacist terrorists in their behavior. Indeed, some, such as the League of the South‘s Pat Hines, advocate terrorist acts. Other defenders of Confederate heritage honor Confederate leaders who after the war were associated with terrorist organizations, including Nathan Bedford Forrest, Wade Hampton, and John B. Gordon. Indeed, some defenders of Confederate heritage have no problem with their work appearing in antisemitic white supremacist newslettersbut you already knew that.

So, how do we address the call to honor Confederate leaders and soldiers, given these circumstances? Do we ignore what these leaders and soldiers did after the war? Do we recognize that their actions after the war were of a piece with their actions during the war? And what do we make of the warm embrace of these people (including some outright justifications of post-Appomattox white supremacist terrorism) by individuals who sometimes look as if they wished to emulate those whom they celebrate?

You tell me.


Dr. King Goes to the Mountain … Stone Mountain

There has been so much discussion lately about whether existing monuments should stay in place that we haven’t heard much about interest in erecting new ones. Word now comes from Georgia of one such effort that should attract attention: a monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is planned for the summit of Stone Mountain.

Specifically, an elevated tower — featuring a replica of the Liberty Bell — would celebrate the single line in the civil rights martyr’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech that makes reference to the 825-foot-tall hunk of granite: “Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.”

Sounds like a good idea … but there’s more. The park will also house an exhibit on the service of African American soldiers in the American Civil War. I think we can safely assume that it will focus on those men who wore blue in the fight for freedom. Sorry, H. K. Edgerton.

I’ve written about Stone Mountain here, here, here, and here. Fans of Outkast may be disappointed at the news of this new proposal, but I don’t think they’ll be the loudest voices. Haters gonna hate, as Taylor Swift reminds us. Just shake it off.

After all, southern heritage is too important, too rich, too education to be left in the hands of Confederate heritage advocates. This proposal makes Stone Mountain a more welcoming place for more people, and a place where one can weigh the forces of tolerance, freedom, and love against the forces of … well, you know.

The Decline of Confederate Heritage

One of the favorite pastimes of historians is exploring the evolution and transformation of historical memory — that is, how people remember the past. Often, in fact, people’s understanding of the past is little more than a patchwork of memories not grounded in any familiarity with basic historical narrative, let alone scholarship, but derived from various notions, many of them dated, derived from family lore, local tales, civic ceremonies, and scattered exposures to history in primary and secondary school. Some of this survives first contact with real research, while other assumptions collapse immediately or wither away as one learns more about what happened in the past. This is often the case with family history, where those stories one once heard don’t hold up very well when someone’s curiosity gets the better of them … or one discovers part of the family past that no one talked about, and not always because they were ashamed of it.

Continue reading

What Would Victory Look Like For Confederate Heritage?

Several weeks ago a well-known Confederate apologist blogger posted one of her many efforts at communication through graphics:


To be sure, it wasn’t quite as effective as this commentary on recent debates over Confederate heritage, but still, it’s worth considering on what we will generously term its own merits.

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A Receding Tide? Flagging Interest in Confederate Heritage

We are coming upon forty days since a person fond of the Confederate flag gunned down nine people in cold blood in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Within days outrage and anger about that event became transformed into a rather testy debate over Confederate heritage and its symbols, with South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia marking a important moment.

Of course, the debate did not stop there. People argued about removing the Confederate flag from license plates, famous TV cars, and National Park shops; there were discussions about moving (or simply removing) statues and one pair of bodies. As might be expected, defenders of Confederate heritage rose up in opposition and did their best to suggest that they were making up ground, although several of these protests were somewhat less impressive than their supporters claimed. For example, at its height a protest in Fredericksburg, Virginia, drew less than three thousand hundred dozen people, as this film suggests … and not a lot of people were paying any attention:

By the way, my understanding is that this was not a Virginia Flaggers function … too many people for that. But I also understand that 149 people promised to show up. Desertion remains a Confederate tradition.

By now we have a pretty good idea about what will happen. The once-surging tide will now begin to recede … not because Confederate heritage advocates have prevailed (they have lost serious ground) but because people soon get interested in other things. What happened in Columbia remains the emotional high point of this recent controversy. As many people pointed out, at most it was a first step in addressing far more serious questions. But it did not mark an end to gun violence, as we’ve seen since then; it did not mark an end to racism or to white supremacy; and in fact it remains to be seen whether the discussion that commenced on the heels of the Charleston murders will persist before people grow tired of it or turn their attention to the Kardashians or Donald Trump. Certainly the debates have grown predictable once more (and a little boring); while I expect to see a few more flashpoints in the fight over Confederate heritage in the coming weeks, I think the front is stabilizing, so to speak, as people sort out gains and losses.

This is not to minimize the importance of the discussion, merely its persistence. While the participants may continue to argue, the attention-span of the broader American public, always short, will decline absent another vivid event. Some people swept up in the initial fervor that looked as if it would sweep everything before it will find that there are other things to talk about, and it remains to be seen how many proposals will be acted upon. More will happen than one might have anticipated two months ago, but less than one hoped (or feared) might happen three weeks ago.

What do you think? What really happened over the last forty days? What will persist? What has changed? You tell me.

Another Controversy in Lexington, Virginia

It appears that we are on the verge of yet another controversy in Lexington, Virginia, and it may be of interest to regular readers of this blog.

On July 8, 2015, the following ad appeared in the Lexington (Va) News-Gazette:

Agnor Ad

The ad (and the paper’s decision to run the ad) has created a lot of controversy. The paper is hearing about it on its Facebook page, and it’s deciding how to respond.

Billboard Hill Lane is located northeast of Lexington, west of I-64/I-81. There are several billboards there … and there’s something else flying in the neighborhood. Care to guess what it is?

Are we to assume that Karen Cooper’s no longer welcome to go to Billboard Hill north of Lexington to look at her beloved Confederate flag while reminding us that “slavery’s a choice”? Hint: she’s not a Democrat, so that shouldn’t bother her.

Is This About Honoring Confederate Heritage?

The president of the United States came to Oklahoma yesterday, and this is what he encountered:

People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel that President Barack Obama is staying the night, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City.  Obama is traveling in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
People wave Confederate flags outside the hotel that President Barack Obama is staying the night, on Wednesday, July 15, 2015, in Oklahoma City. Obama is traveling in Oklahoma to visit El Reno Federal Correctional Institution. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

We should note that the number of people involved in this particular welcome barely broke into double digits. so don’t let the picture deceive you. Here’s a more telling angle: Let’s take even a closer look … no Army of Northern Virginia battle flags are to be seen. In fact, we have four or five navy jacks … and three flags with messages on them that were not carried by Confederate soldiers. What might they be? Continue reading

Does Ben Jones Respect the Confederate Flag?

Most people familiar with American popular culture as rendered through television know something about “The Dukes of Hazzard.” That show has been in the news in recent weeks, when a television network specializing in reruns decided not to air it any more.

That sparked some controversy. Leading the charge was someone near and dear to readers of this blog, Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” the mechanic in the show. Ben’s had a colorful career since then, including serving in the United Sates House of Representatives. He’s currently the chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, coming aboard just as the SCV had to confront the removal of replica Confederate flags from Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University.

Everything I know about Ben from personal contact suggests that he’s a fine fellow who knows his baseball, but when it comes to these issues, we disagree a great deal, and his appearance here on this blog several years ago did not go well for him (although he deserves credit for making the effort). I also know that he continues to be proud of his work on “The Dukes of Hazzard,” including lending the name of his character to a string of stores known as “Cooter’s Place.” These stores are owned by Ben and his wife, so he ought to know what they sell.

Thus it occurred to me to find out what sort of Confederate flags are sold by the store owned by the man who is the chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.


I don’t recall that even Stand Waite or John Ross approved of this flag.

This one confuses me. Aren’t you supposed to shoot deer? Are you supposed to shoot the flag? Or is this a wildlife preservation message? I can’t tell.

Nor can I identify the unit that deer flag honors. Same here:
I’m supposed to hook the flag and reel it in?

Well, perhaps this is a tribute to Confederate logistics and what might have been. 10-4, good buddy.

This is a traditional favorite. But I’m puzzled as to the Civil War connection. Perhaps it’s an artillery flag (red being the color of the collar for artillerists’ uniforms, as seen here.)

So much for regulation headgear.

Really? Maybe this commemorates Burnside’s Mud March, but I wonder.

Whatever floats your boat … but I don’t think smiley faces were placed on real Confederate battle flags. Rather, it sends the message that someone’s day is a brighter one if he offends others. Send one to Connie Chastain now.

There are more, but you get the idea. Or maybe you don’t. Want a Confederate flag bikini, for example? Click here. Swim trunks? Click here. Want to sleep under the flag? Click here. Want to go formal? Click here. Want to be the Confederate answer to David Cassidy? Click here.

And to you want to try your wet, sweaty body with the Confederate flag? Click here.

I was unhappy not to find this for sale.

And that, folks, is how to honor Confederate heritage and the service and sacrifice of the Confederate soldier and sailor. Tell ’em Cooter said so.

Note: Not all the images offered here are the images presented on the website in question … because some of them really weren’t very good. I wanted you to enjoy what was there with the best images of the merchandise possible. Upgrade your site, Ben.