Two states just wrapped up a month that they dedicated to Confederate history or “heritage.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Confederacy is celebrated in some states when the it and the Confederate flag get away with little or no criticism in popular culture. It’s because those other representations of the antebellum South are romanticized as if straight out of Gone With The Wind. That film begins with the following on the screen:
There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South. Here in this pretty world, Gallantry took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and of Slave. Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a Civilization gone with the wind…
What’s incredible is that the quote includes slavery as part of the pretty world of the film’s “Old South.”
Flash forward to today. For some, the Old South is still that pretty world. For them, it’s either country and folksy or, just the opposite, elegant and aristocratic. There are films like Sweet Home Alabama where the parents of Reese Witherspoon’s character have sofa pillows with the Conferderate Flag on them. And I like watching fast cars jumping over things as much as the next guy. When The Dukes of Hazzard movie came out, though, with the General Lee and the Confederate flag on top of it, I couldn’t go see the film. Then there is the country-pop act Lady Antebellum. The story behind their name is that the band thought they looked good in pre-Civil War style photo shoot. Ok, but is that the only name they could think of? Didn’t anyone think it might be a problem for a country band from the South to be called a name that references and glamorizes (that would be the “Lady” part) the pre-Civil War era?
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If you know me, you know that I love history and that I truly believe having a complete understanding of history is important so we’re not doomed to repeat it (as the saying goes). Understanding and celebrating history, though, are two different things. So, the fact that several states are currently having Confederate History Month boggles my mind.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell came under fire earlier this month for leaving slavery out of his declaration of April as Confederate History Month. He apologized, put slavery in the new declaration and the story died shortly after that. I don’t think the controversy should have been about why was slavery left out of the Virginia declaration. The controversy should have been why is Virginia, as well as Georgia and Alabama, having Confederate History Month at all?
The Civil War wasn’t a noble struggle for states’ rights. The only state “right” the Confederacy defended was slavery. The Civil War was only about slavery. Defending slavery wasn’t just about perpetuating a the slave labor system (which, even if Lincoln hadn’t ended it, probably wouldn’t have been able to sustain itself anyway). It was about having a population that boosted slave states’ representation in Congress and the Electoral College. Even though slaves couldn’t vote, they counted towards 3/5 of person toward representation in Congress. Not only did that influence the passage of laws, it influenced the Electoral College which elects the president. Southern states seceded because they saw their voting power and economic way of life being threatened by abolitionists and the balance of power toward the free states in North. The balance of free and slave states was maintained by the Compromises of 1820 and 1850 and helped keep the Union together. But numerous events in the 1850s began to shake this fragile balance. One event was the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act which empowered the federal government to capture, try and return escaped slaves to their masters, even in free states. Slave-holding states didn’t care about “states’ rights” when it came to getting their slaves back.
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