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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.

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In David W. Blight’s Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory, he discusses Wilbur Siebert and his popular book published in 1898, The Underground Railroad.  Siebert’s fascination with the subject led him to conduct highly in-depth research, such as sending mass amounts of letters to Northerners, in order to obtain information about conductors, routes, and reactions to the infamous getaway system.[1]  After his description of Siebert, Blight discusses the impacts of his influential study of The Underground Railroad.  Northerners across the nation sought to become a member of this riveting part of history.  Suddenly, everyone’s mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and twice-removed cousins became a conductor or participant in The Underground Movement.[2]  

This made me start thinking of memory and identity and how the two come together when discussing The Underground Railroad.  I began to wonder how this subject is remembered considering there is so much fact and fiction surrounding the material related to it.  I decided to Google it and see how my generations and the ones before it are dealing with the numerous sources of information.  What I found was not only astonishing, but also somewhat disappointing.  It turns out that the secretive Underground Railroad that was alive in the mid-1800s is still a mystery in the present day.

My first problem comes with the National Geographic website, one which I thought would have somewhat accurate information given the fact that it is a popular site for educational purposes.  Apparently, the website should not be teaching anyone about anything, especially The Underground Railroad.  The National Geographic’s “Faces of Freedom” page not only is missing the face of Harriet Tubman altogether, but it also includes faces of perpetual slave owners.  An example of this is one Jonathan Walker, who at the bottom of the page is described as, “Imprisoned for helping seven slaves sail from Florida bound for the Bahamas, he was branded on the hand with SS for ‘Slave Stealer.’ After release he became a ‘conspicuous witness against slave power’ for the abolitionists.”[3]  For one, I have no idea what a slave holder has to do with The Underground Railroad and for two, how do the writers of National Geographic know that he became an advocate for abolition?  It is this kind of misrepresentation that wrongly educates the modern-day youth of America.  Do me a favor and stick to your strong-suit National Geographic, which is limited to wild animals and physical geography. 

My next pet peeve involves The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which again, seems like an adequate educational website.  That is until I get to the page entitled “Historic Timeline of Slavery and the Underground Railroad,” which has so many misnomers that I thought a virus had finally entered my Mac and erased all the factual information.  One example of this horrendous inaccuracy involves slaves being transferred to the New World.  The site specifically states that in 1619, “Africans brought to Jamestown are the first slaves imported into Britain’s North American colonies.  Like indentured servants, they were probably freed after a fixed period of service.”[4] This atrocity prompts history lesson, given my thesis research surrounds indentured servitude in the 17th and 18th century.  Slaves were not given contracts and indentured servitude died out because slaves were cheaper and were bound forever.  Plantation owners and various colonial individuals did not have to replace slaves because their indentures were never over, hence the terms perpetual enslavement.  To add insult to injury, this site goes on to further place The Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 (but they put “Also see 1850” because that apparently makes it okay) and fails to even include The Underground Railroad on the timeline even though it is included in the title.[5]  In basic terms, this site is a complete and utter failure as well as a disgrace in educating the American public.

This brings us to the issue of The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, two monumental locations that were approved last August to be built in Maryland and New York.[6]  One can only wonder, especially with everything that has been discussed recently regarding monuments and memory, how these parks are going to accurately depict Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad.  Given that most of the history, both past and present, clearly has trouble describing the true nature of the railroad, I remain skeptical that these parks will do justice to the era of Harriet Tubman and The Underground Railroad.


[1] David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001), 231.

[2] Blight, 232.

[3] National Geographic, “The Underground Railroad: Faces of Freedom,” http://education.nationalgeographic.com/education/multimedia/interactive/the-underground-railroad-faces-of-freedom/?ar_a=1 (accessed June 28, 2012).

[4] National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, “Historic Timeline of Slavery and the Underground Railroad,” U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Education and Cultural (URR) Program, http://www.freedomcenter.org/underground-railroad/history/timeline/ (accessed June 28, 2012).

[5] National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

[6] Harriet Tubman, “Cardin, Mikulski Praise Senate Committee Passage of Bill to Create Harriet Tubman National Historical Parks,” PWTS Multi Media, http://www.harriettubman.com/index.html (accessed June 28, 2012).

There was one thing that struck me more than anything else in Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic: the story of Freddie Morrow and Michael Westerman.  The most basic version of the story is that one night at a gas station Freddie saw Michael and his wife, Hannah, at a gas station sitting in their truck.  As Horwitz describes it, “The pickup was hard to miss: a big red Chevy 4×4 with a jacked-up chasis, a rebel-flag license plate, and a large rebel flag flapping from a pole in the truck’s bed.”[1]  Having had enough of the racial animosity in Todd County, Freddie took out a gun and shot Michael that night, landing him a sentence of life imprisonment for murder.[2]

This story immediately prompted me to start asking questions of myself.  Do I think it is right that Freddie shot Michael given what the flag and the waving of the flag means to African Americans?  Do I think Michael was wrong in flying the flag in the first place given that there is no law against it and two wrongs ever make a right?  As the week progressed I decided that I wanted to see what my generation had to say about this and if it was still an issue ten years later outside the realms of academia.

I first posted it this question on my facebook page: do you think the Confederate flag (used during the Civil War) should be able to be flown in the South? The Confederate Flag represents states’ rights, but also offends some people as it represents a time of slavery.  The answers ranged from some saying that it should be the South’s freedom to fly it to they should be respectful of everything that it represents, not just fighting for the Constitution and preservation of states’ rights.

I then decided to go and see what the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of the Confederate Veterans had to say, given that we had just read Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture.  It should not have come as a surprise, then, when I found that the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s website does not even acknowledge that slavery even happened nor how the flag represents that time in history.  In their webpage on why the Civil War is called “The War between the States,” the UDC does not even mention slavery or African Americans.[3]  Furthermore, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans’ (SCV) website includes a resolution on the battle flag that was just passed in September of 2010 that denounces any extremist group trying to use the flag.[4]

To me, especially with the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, this seems extremely hypocritical.  The Sons specifically say that they do not want an extremist group using the flag in inappropriate ways, but what if African Americans see the SCV as just that?  It seems like that the UDC and SCV are trying to honor their heritage while prohibiting another to do just that.  They are able to honor their ancestors, yet by doing so, they are relinquishing that right from African Americans who want to honor their great-grandfathers rather than ignore it ever happened.  What makes one heritage more important than the other?  Furthermore, is the SCV and UDC doing the exact same thing they are so vehemently opposed to?  They try to preserve states’ rights, yet by ignoring half of the history behind the Civil War, they are pushing their values and norms on the African Americans all across the South.

I can only sum up this problem in one critical way.  What if a German citizen wanted to bear the flag of Nazi Germany throughout his/her neighborhood that also had Jewish citizens living within it?  Just because they have the right to, does that make it right in terms of common courtesy and historical awareness?

I do not think this issue is going to be solved anytime soon, but if we just choose to ignore it and not even realize it is there, then we will be ignoring history that is being made in the present day.


[1] Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic (New York: Vintage Books, 1999), 94.

[2] Horwitz, 122.

[3] United Daughters of the Confederacy, “Let’s Say….”The War Between the States,” http://www.hqudc.org/ (accessed June 21, 2012).

[4] Sons of the Confederacy, “Battle flag Resolution From Anderson Reunion,” http://www.scv.org/pdf/2010BattleFlagResolution.pdf (accessed June 21, 2012).

Many of my classmates were surprised when I said I never had seen Gone With the Wind at my ripe old age of 22.  After having watched it, I can understand their shock and surprise as it remains not only a film representative of its time, but also a classic film that embodies everything a good movie should: action, surprise, and of course, a tantalizing love story.  However, in its other purpose of preserving Civil War memory and what life may have been like for Confederate wives during the Civil War, I ultimately think Gone With the Wind is a complete and utter failure due to its stereotypical depictions, falsifying of life on a plantation, and ignorance of women who may not have succumbed to the social destiny that was ever present in the antebellum South.

One of the worst stereotypical depictions of the film is the idea that women, such as the crybaby that is Scarlett O’hara, did not do any work on the plantation until the Union came through and burned it all down.  Not only is this a wrongful depiction in terms of its villainization of the Union, but also of what women actually did during the Civil War. LeeAnn Whites, author of The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890, refers to this when she states that women were, “forced to take up labor for the first time,” which they continued to do throughout the war.[1]  Unlike in Gone with the Wind, women were not just fiddling around the house or working as a nurse.  They were  struggling to manage their plantations everyday in order to preserve their place in society.

Another misnomer that comes with the iconic movie is the idea of life on the plantation for Southern belles.  Even though my grandmother was a fan of true love stories, most of that is just made for the movies.  As fun as a barbeque at Twelve Oaks may have been, many southern women were not so hopelessly in love and had traumatizing relationships with southern men.  As Laura F. Edwards describes in her Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era, a true rebuttal to the depiction of women in Gone with the Wind, many southern women experienced abusive relationships during the time of the Civil War.  Unlike in the movie where men are constantly swooning over Scarlett and begging to bring her cake and crumpets, some men took their authority of serving their country to a whole new level once they came home. , Edwards uses the example of Marion Singleton, who in her diaries and letters, told the story of her abusive second husband and the struggle it proved to be for her.[2]  Divorces were seen as political and socially demeaning for women and in an age where class structure and racial superiority dominate southern livelihood, women were often stuck, no matter if they were with an Ashley Wilkes or not.

Last but not least is the blunt lie that every single woman in the Confederacy supported the war.  This is best represented in the character of Melanie, or Meli.  She not only puts countless hours into the hospital and house, every remark she says is somehow a euphemism for how Ashley must fight for the cause and how his honor and bravery is serving his country so valiantly.  Even more so, the scene at the barbeque where men are speaking in their own quarters while the women take a nap reaffirms this idea.  However, as Victoria Bynum describes in her Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South, women were not as appeasing as they may appear in the film.  She states, if these women challenged the authority of the Confederacy, the courts reserved the right to take control over the women.[3]  Yet, as Drew Gilpin Faust explains in her Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, these sentiments would allow women to become more vocal and demanding for equal rights after the Civil War ended.[4] Thus, even though Gone With the Wind portrays every woman as being completely supportive of the war, many women internally fought against it and would speak their minds when it came to a close.

Thus, even though I admire Scarlett’s tenacity and ability to speak her mind, in terms of Civil War memory, I can only declare her a primadonna of the nineteenth-century as opposed to a true Confederate wife.


[1] LeeAnn Whites, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1995), 8

[2] Laura F. Edwards, Scarlett Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Southern Women in the Civil War Era (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 3

[3] Victoria E. Bynum, Unruly Women Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 11.

[4] Drew Gilpin Faust, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), xiii