What is the South and who is really attacking it?

Posted on October 31, 2008 by


When considering the study of Civil War memory, I read regularly, and with great interest, the stories about Southern culture being under attack. What’s even more interesting is when Southern culture is defined by certain people through Confederate symbology (e.g., the Confederate flag, monuments, heroes, etc.). Is it, therefore, to be assumed that Confederate symbology is representative of the entire South, as it existed in the years 1861-1865 and even as it exists today? Or is it simply that some people would like us to believe that the South and the Confederacy are one in the same (and, by doing so, inflate the importance of “heritage” issues, making them personal to a larger body of people)? What gives these “representative bodies,” who are, in truth, only representative of a fraction of the population of the South as a whole, such “artistic license?”

This leads to the next matter… who is attacking “the South?” Interestingly, when considering, for example, the NAACP stand on the Confederate flag and Confederate symbology, it might be said that that the South is attacking the South! This certainly adds an interesting twist. Yet, is the NAACP representative of the South’s African-American population as a whole? O.K. then, we might, at a later time, need to return to this issue.

So, who else is attacking the South? The media? Well, certainly to some degree, yes, some forms of media have taken issue with Confederate symbology, but again, is Confederate symbology representative of the South as a whole, or even representative of the majority within the South? Well, then it would seem that we can debate that a bit too.

Are movies and television attacking the South? Some might see it this way, but I have to say that even Southerners end up laughing at John Boy and Billy or the Redneck Comedy Tour. Heck, take a look at the photo of this sign that Kevin Levin put up on his blog, where Southerners, identifying with the Confederate flag, call themselves rednecks (and yet a lot of new Confederate remembrance folks quickly lash back when anyone tries to make the connection between the flag and the term “redneck”)! Yes, there is some mockery from those who aren’t Southern, but this argument just isn’t flying.

O.K., is it that politicians are attacking the South? Well, no, not really. They do distance themselves, typically, from Confederate symbology, but we all know why that happens.. votes of course! Now, that’s interesting too. If they distance themselves from the symbology of the Confederacy, it appears that they are aware of the potential of the majority at election time. To get elected, it’s their job to be aware of the majority. Well, darn! Can we really pin the attacks against Southern heritage on them or are they just careful not to connect themselves to symbols with multiple layers? (This said, it is strange how many of those who are careful in not connecting themselves in any way with Confederate symbology aren’t careful in keeping distance from some other rather questionable things.)

I know, I know, it is the North attacking the South! No, that dog don’t hunt either. Maybe some of the North was against the South back around 145 years ago, and maybe some in the North today don’t like the South too much, but I don’t think it can be said that the North, as a sectional body, is attacking the South as a sectional body.

These attackers of Southern heritage are a slippery set of characters, huh!?

O.K., then it must be the academy, right? After all, they are brainwashing America’s youth in the college classrooms! Ummm… nahhh, and I’m not going to replay that discussion. Not to mention the fact that some who have found holes in the armor of the grand illusion of the Lost Cause are actually… Southerners… and once again, the Lost Cause myth = the Confederacy, but does not = the South and Southern heritage/culture. Just because historians make conclusions that are contrary to the “popular memory”/traditionalist history held dear by some does not make those conclusions attacks against the South or the Confederacy. They are usually the result of excellent historical analysis.

Perhaps the resurgence of Confederate remembrance has tangled with something greater that they themselves even realize. Some of them, for example, see the Confederate flag for one thing, as a representative symbol of their Confederate ancestors. Yet, because of the “heritage, not hate” initiative, they have clearly acknowledged that negative aspects surrounding the flag do exist and have tarnished the symbol. Still, how can they separate themselves from the negative aspects of the flag when they act haphazardly in their display of the symbol. Is the display a responsible act or is it shoddy work with little thinking behind it? Is it truly representative (again, I refer to the link in the previous sentence) of history?

As yet another example of irresponsible “flagging,” let’s look at the flag that now flies over Florida. Note that this flag, as the rectangular flag that was quite prominent during the segregation years, is a symbol that impacts living memory. There are people alive today who remember that form of the flag and remember the pain they experienced because of it. Yet, on the other hand, there are people, who want to fly this flag and have “imagined memory” of a war. They want to relate to their Confederate ancestors, but in so doing, they ignore those with living memory of the image. Is this actually a “gentlemanly act” or even representative of what Robert E. Lee would do (gee, that makes me think… why aren’t there any bumper stickers with the letters “WWRELD”)? Is it conscious of the feelings of those with living memory?

Certainly, new Confederate remembrance is possible, but does it have to be at the expense of others? Perhaps, in the example of this flag over Florida, or even with the flag issue in Columbia, South Carolina and Montgomery, Alabama (incidentally, how many Confederate monuments raised by the Confederate veterans actually had a Confederate flag? If the Confederate veterans did not see reason to place one at the majority of these monuments, how is it that the new Confederate remembrance finds it necessary?), the new Confederate remembrance movement has drawn fire to themselves, whether it be because of forgetting that there are those with living memory of the symbol, or for not setting specific standards within the movement to clearly distance themselves from those to whom they do not wish to be affiliated. Since there is no effort in this respect (I wonder what version of the Confederate flag will be flown on that flagpole in Tennessee?), can it not be that those who witness this resurgence form the idea that, perhaps, the new Confederate remembrance does not necessarily want to separate themselves from the negative layers of, for example, the Confederate flag. If people see this as the case, are they not justified in their concerns when they see these new Confederate remembrance efforts? (…and then, of course, there is this image that shows that some are able to see the flag, perhaps as a representation of being Southern, AND are obviously able to move beyond racism. It is, of course, unclear if they fly the flag for Confederate heritage).

There is an effort in words on “heritage, not hate” bumper stickers, but is there an active effort in real-life practice and in the heart?