Observations, Reviews.

Is the Lost Cause finally getting lost?

-CC BY 2.0, Maureen

Confederate flag with assault rifle superimposed and the message 'Come and take it'. Attrib: Maureen, CC BY 2.0.


In a response to the recent furor over the Confederate flag and its removal from public grounds, Kevin Drum just nails it:

Are we still arguing about whether the Civil War was really fought over slavery? Seriously? What's next? The Holocaust was really about Jews overstaying their tourist visas? The Inquisition was a scientific exploration of the limits of the human body? The Romans were genuinely curious about whether a man could kill a hungry lion? The Bataan death march was a controlled trial of different brands of army boots?
(Kevin Drum, Are We Still Yammering About Whether the Civil War Was About Slavery? Really?, Mother Jones

When will it finally become too painfully embarrassing to pretend that the Civil War was about anything but slavery? To falsely obscure well-documented history with anodyne explanations like “states rights?” Defenders of the public display of the Confederate flag argue that it represents the heritage of the South. And so it does: A heritage of a war fought to maintain slavery. With its persistence in post-bellum America, the flag is also a symbol of long-term bigotry, and one of institutional suppression of African American rights, opportunities, and too often the freedoms accorded American citizens after the Civil War. This is no heritage to be celebrated.

Just as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow documents a post-Civil-Rights era of mass incarceration of minorities in America, Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery By Another Name, an account of the neo-slavery of African Americans after Reconstruction, provides critical background for the historical persistence of the repression of African American freedoms. These behaviors and policies are the true heritage of the Lost Cause emblematized by the stars and bars. "Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible 'debts,' prisoners were sold as forced laborers to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations. Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude. Government officials leased falsely imprisoned blacks to small-town entrepreneurs, provincial farmers, and dozens of corporations—including U.S. Steel Corp.—looking for cheap and abundant labor. Armies of 'free' black men labored without compensation, were repeatedly bought and sold, and were forced through beatings and physical torture to do the bidding of white masters for decades after the official abolition of American slavery." (From Blackmon's summary of Slavery by another Name.


Blackmon, who grew up in the South, also weighed in on the Confederate flag’s removal, in Why must the Confederate flag come down?, and he pulled no punches. Commenting on the response of Southern leadership to the Civil Rights movement, he suggested that "The refusal to take the flag back down over the 50 years since then has been simply this: an effort to falsely obscure the explicitly racist nature of those leaders–and white southerners and lots of other white Americans generally–in that two-decade long extended moment of national decision when white southern men, women, teachers, preachers, politicians, police, judges, doctors, lawyers, mechanics and every other stripe overwhelmingly failed. Faced with the greatest question of social conscious they would ever confront, they failed as Americans. They failed as Christians. They failed as believers in freedom. They failed as parents and grandparents. And for the next two generations or more, it became important among white southerners to conceal or excuse that abject failure."

He also suggested that the generations who clung tenaciously and brutally to a post-Emancipation segregated society in the South, who fought kicking and screaming against the Civil Rights movement, are aging rapidly, and their worship of a white-washed “heritage” is slowly fading. By historical attrition, upcoming generations are less likely to worship such a false and deleterious god. "But time marched on those gentlemen. Those aging white males are no longer the overwhelmingly dominant cohort in the southern states – just as those white voters are declining in political control of the South. Hence Virginia, Florida and North Carolina are presidential battleground states. Georgia is in play. Not many people are so obtuse still to believe that the declining performance educationally and economically of white males in rural America, especially the South, is because of affirmative action or because black people today are allowed to go to high school, and to vote."

Blackmon finished his comments on the Confederate flag with this: "the only people today who exhibit the Confederate flag–other than state governments, ironically, and a few holdout private schools–are in fact white supremacists, loutish rednecks, a has-been country music singer or two, neo-Nazis, and pathetically undereducated fools. Oh, and yes, people who make meth in broken down trailer houses. . . . What bloodless shell of a person would choose to fly such a flag now? Finally, all who are willing can see that."

So, is the Lost Cause finally getting lost? With this current, reluctant acknowledgment of the obvious symbolism of the Confederate flag, there is some reason to hope that the powerful pull of the Lost Cause on the South is diminishing. But there is still a long way to go – power over others is not relinquished readily.

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