There is a Confederate History Month?

 

In four weeks of learning about the subject, it never occurred to me to see how the world defines the Lost Cause on our go-to problem solver, Google.  I often use the search engine to find out what the most popular and pressing views are of a particular topic, but there is no denying that Google is often used to find out the answer to a certain question.  When I Googled the Lost Cause, I came to find out about Confederate History Month.

In 2010, at the dawn of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell issued a proclamation that reinstated Confederate History Month after its eight-year hiatus from the region.[1]  When the Governor issued the proclamation, he originally left out one “small” detail about both the Confederacy and the Civil War: the issue of slavery.  In its original state, the proclamation not only leads out slavery entirely, it is filled with boastful Lost Cause language and hypocritical statements.  For example, one of the whereas clauses reads, “it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present.”[2]  Yes, important for all citizens to reflect upon the history minus African Americans who want to show the progression from a time of slavery to a time of freedom.

Once again, one of the challenges I met in this course revolved around understanding why individuals fight something that is so easy and so beneficial for society.  Why would the Governor fail to include slavery when it could have clearly shown “how our history has led to the present?”  To me, it would have demonstrated a great deal of heroism for Virginia to describe how they have become more in touch with the modern world and its values of equality and freedom.  At the same time, I do not know why I am surprised either, especially after reading about the Confederate Museum, conveniently located in Virginia.

In a New York Times article entitled, “The South Reinterprets Its ‘Lost Cause,’” author Edward Rothstein describes how even though the Virginia Historical Society is not trying outright to continue the Lost Cause ideology, it occurs by happenstance.  For example, there is an exhibit called “Inconvenient truth or propaganda?” in which Harriet Beecher Stowe’s revolutionary book Uncle Tom’s Cabin is on display, conveniently next to a Southern “rebuttal” to the book entitled “Life in the South: Or ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ as It Is.”[3]  The latter of course describes that the slaves were happy and well treated.  Rothstein asks a good question in reference to these two books when he states, “Well, which is propaganda?  The exhibition’s understated response appears only in the display of a slave collar, as if pointing out that no ‘contented’ human being would consent to wearing such irons.  But why the reluctance to specify the truth simply, however inconvenient?”[4]

Unfortunately, the answer is because Virginia and other regions among the South truly want to continue their beloved ideology and frankly could care less about the historical accurateness or present-day repercussions for doing so.  In both the museum and the proclamation about Confederate History Month, there is a sense of focus around the valor and honor of the Confederacy as opposed to the fact that they did indeed lose the war.  However, I personally find them naïve if they think these kinds of remarks and actions will not bring up intense debate and inevitably bring out the truth of the matter.  Southerners like Governor McDonnell and the Georgia Sons of Confederacy (who have brochures about the celebration, which even have a list of Confederate Heroes Birthdays, but no regard to slavery)[5] should know better than anyone that the more ignorance individuals have towards a subject, the more attention the other side is going to bring to it.  Case in point, the proclamation as it stands two years later has a clause about slavery[6], no doubt as a result of President Obama’s public callout of the Governor.[7]  Unlike the preliminary days of the Lost Cause just after the war, one cannot simply ignore a part of the war today and expect nobody to notice.

I have learned a lot in the past four weeks, but the point that sticks out the most is that the Lost Cause ideology is alive and well in the present day.  Like any good ideology, it is going to shape how we not only learn about the Civil War, but also how we choose to remember it.

As southerner Emily Haynes states, “They can remember that war all they want…so long’s they remember they lost.”[8]


[1] Washington Post, “McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation Irks Civil Rights Leaders,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/06/AR2010040604416.html (accessed July 4, 2012).

[2] Washington Post, “Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s Original Confederate History Month Proclamation,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/07/AR2010040704411.html (accessed July 4, 2012).

[3] The New York Times, “The South Reinterprets Its ‘Lost Cause’,” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/06/arts/design/museum-of-the-confederacy-and-others-depict-the-lost-cause.html?pagewanted=all (accessed July 4, 2012).

[4] New York Times.

[5]Confederate History and Heritage Month Committee, “Confederate History Month 2011 Brochure Update,” Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, http://confederateheritagemonth.com/heritage/2011/entry.php (accessed July 4, 2012).

[6] Governor Bob McDonnell: A Commonwealth of Opportunity, “Confederate History Month,” Virginia.gov, http://www.governor.virginia.gov/ourcommonwealth/Proclamations/2010/ConfederateHistoryMonth.cfm (accessed July 4,2012).

[7] The Christian Science Monitor, “Confederate History Month Fight: Obama Rebukes Virginia Governor,” http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0409/Confederate-History-Month-fight-Obama-rebukes-Virginia-governor (accessed July 4, 2012).

[8] Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 52.

Advertisements
6 comments
  1. This is a blatant example of the danger of revisionist history, re-writing facts to support desired ends. We as historians have a responsibility to discuss the facts, document them honestly, and analyze the truth. It is difficult when facts are ignored or packaged in such a way as to misrepresent.

  2. I know it is hard to believe, but I really did find primary source documents in our research class with Rees that showed how some slaves were content with their situation. I even feel like some of the other professors might agree with that but it was interesting to hear another perspective and learn from a professor who specializes in this subject.

    • Britney Titus said:

      I’m not trying to argue that there wasn’t slaves who were content, but I think it is a fallacy for the proponents of the Lost Cause to say that ALL slaves were like that. There wouldn’t have been runaways, narratives, or abolitionists if slavery was this great institution with complete contentment.

      • Britney Titus said:

        weren’t slaves*

  3. Caty Mark said:

    You said that you hope the reinstatement of Confederate History month leads to debates about the truth of the cause and the war itself, but who’s truth would it be? For the SCV I believe that truth has already been revealed, and they will fight to keep it that way.

  4. 10ectim said:

    Maybe a Civil War History month might be a better Idea. Over the past few years politicians have decided that the Civil War is too divisive. Maybe Caty Mark is right . . . “who’s truth?” In an attempt to keep “Confederate Month” as positive and uplifting many avoid the divisive issue of slavery and equality. Maybe some day we can learn to celebrate the Civil War for diverse reasons. The Lost Cause southerner can celebrate Robert E. Lee and the valor of Confederate soldiers, others can celebrate the reunification of our country, and still others can celebrate the end of slavery and the victories over inequality in the American society. I do believe that radical Lost Cause supporters are growing fewer and fewer. But they also seem to be growing louder and more outspoken. More and more southerners are losing the Lost Cause. Especially the racist views of benevolent slavery and white supremacy. I am not in favor of a “Confederate History Month” because even the title is divisive. But I do like the idea of Civil War/Civil Rights Month. Anyone else?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: