Heritage Edition – The Disgusting Legacy of the American Confederacy

Image via Trip Advisor

Image via Trip Advisor

Lucie Carriker, Editor

As a small child who blindly adored my paternal grandparents I was exposed to an awful lot of what I now realize was their subtly racist rhetoric regarding Confederate monuments in the modern day American South. When said grandparents dwelled in the state of Georgia they once took me to visit Stone Mountain, the site of a “90-foot tall carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis,” which was completed in 1972, centuries after the United States of America won the Civil War and the winners had already written the history books. It was not until several years after seeing this monument, most likely sometime during the Trump administration when “racist” was an adjective that made its way to the forefront of my mind because it was one with which the president of the United States shamelessly identified, that I actually processed whose images I’d been looking up at on my Stone Mountain adventure. After I had processed that information was when I became infuriated with my grandparents and their rhetoric. However, I’m sure that my fury peaked when they informed me that if I so desired I could become a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of many organizations promoting the pathetic “Lost Cause” narrative regarding the Civil War (“Lost Cause” from Britannica). 

“Lost Causers,” as they sometimes call themselves, are best described as “astute propagandists as they fashioned a set of beliefs,” according to britannica.com. The gist of their self-serving fiction is that the Civil War was fought due to Southerners’ general desire for states’ rights rather than their highly specific desire to preserve the institution of enslavement, that enslavement was a perfectly moral practice anyway, and that the Confederate army was defeated solely because there were more soldiers, weaponry, and other resources available to the Northern forces. White women were especially important in the early days of the promotion of this story because they were tasked with lobbying congressmen (emphasis on “men,” since female Lost Causers are always romanticizing the period of time when they could not vote, much less hold political offices), and raising money to build the monuments that people are finally realizing really should bring them shame.

When people claim that the destruction or removal of statues and other monuments honoring confederate soldiers somehow amounts to erasing our nation’s history, they are overlooking the fact that these structures were not built during nor immediately following the Civil War but rather “between the 1890s and 1950s, which matches up exactly with the era of Jim Crow segregation.” History.com’s Becky Little’s observation provides yet more evidence in support of NPR’s Miles Parks’s proposition that “the majority of the memorials seem to have been built with the intention… to further ideals of white supremacy.” Another indication that Confederate memorials have little to do with the actual historical era of the Confederacy is that they are present even in states which were never strongly associated with the Confederacy, from Maryland and Delaware (which remained members of the Union during the war) to Arizona and New Mexico (which did not become their own official states until decades after the war ended). 

In addition to the more explicit memorials that take the form of statues atop government buildings and in heavily-trafficked city parks, there are nine major military bases in the American South whose namesakes are confederate generals. The oldest of these bases was established in 1917 and the youngest in 1942, so all nine bases were named after ardent defenders of enslavement while Black American soldiers were overseas purportedly defending democracy, equality and human rights during World Wars I and II. That particular juxtaposition is the most glaring indication of American hypocrisy that I’ve been aware of to date, and that’s a high bar. 

I’ve heard it said that the Confederate Flag is a symbol of “heritage not hate,” but given that the vice president of the Confederacy was once quoted as describing “slavery subordination” as “natural and normal,” one would have to be extremely ignorant if not outright delusional to believe in the “heritage not hate” narrative. The version of the flag that is most often displayed today wasn’t even an official Confederate symbol during the Civil War, because in that time the cross was found in the left-hand of the flag, the rest of which was made up of  “a white field that represented purity,” according to National Geographic. The Confederate Flag was designed to convey that Southerners were an inherently purer population because they didn’t just intermingle with black people as though humans are inherently equal. There is no alternative interpretation of the message that whiteness represents purity, because although that same symbolism is used in religious contexts such as wedding dresses, that’s hardly an adequate defense when so many Southerners used their Christianity to defend their ownership of other human beings.

I would love to be so empathetic as to believe that those who attach the Confederate Flag to their vehicles are “misinformed and young, and [have] time to mature,” as producer and podcast host Ben Duell Fraser admitted to the Detroit Free Press in 2015, but whenever I see someone display this particular symbol of white supremacy I can’t help but agree with Fraser’s other observation: so-and-so’s “values are not going to make the world any better than it is now.” The entirety of the January 6th Insurrection at the US capitol was a disaster, but no single moment from it better exemplified its destructive intentions than the moment when the Confederate Flag breached the Capitol Building for the first time in history. No such thing had happened during the Civil War itself, which just goes to show that the American education system must do a much better job of quashing all conspiratorial beliefs which have the potential to lead the next generation down the white supremacist pathway straight into the “Lost Cause” narrative.