Losing the Right to Be Southern

 

lonestar_lgUp until last Wednesday night at about 8 o’clock, I could — that with the right degree or irony and humor — introduce myself as “a white, Christian, Southern bigot,” though sometimes the order of the words change. Most people would laugh, understanding the heavy irony I was employing.

You have to have a well-developed sense of irony and humor to live in the South. Our history and its contradictions are simply too great. That’s what Dylann Roof took away from white southerners last week; it doesn’t compare to the lives he snuffed out in Charleston, but it hurts nonetheless. Dylann Roof took away our right to be ironic about being a southerner and the right to be humorous about it. He may as well have taken away our identity.

Southern identity is a strange thing. The Agrarian philosopher Richard Weaver once said it is almost spiritual, akin to being a Catholic or a Jew. I am not quite sure I would go that far, but I do understand where Weaver was coming from. There are many of us who consider ourselves southern before we consider ourselves American; a “country within a country,” as the historians have put it. I suppose, according to many bloggers this week, that makes us traitors.

The question we should be asking ourselves this week is whether that makes us Dylann Roof. The answer is, maybe. Among the things I have in my home is a brass cast of the Confederate belt buckle my great, great uncle wore at the Battle of Franklin (my brother has the original), probably the bloodiest four hours of the Civil War. I have — in the hot summer, when I can leave my shirt untucked where it cannot be easily seen — worn it. My family on both sides were slaveowners, 28 on my father’s side, slightly more than 30 on my mother’s. That would have put them in the technical definition of the planter class, though there were no columned mansions and mint juleps. It doesn’t matter.

I have never flown the Confederate battle flag in my home, but I have displayed the 1861 sovereignty flag of Florida, my state (see above). I have never been a re-enactor, but I have visited re-enactments. There, I learned just how valuable a sense of irony and humor can be. Most re-enactors are not true believers, but it does get tiresome hearing them argue the Civil War was not about slavery. Yes, yes, I know the stats: most southerners did not own slaves. But the ones who did ran the show. It is ironic, I suppose, that most re-enactors, north or south, want to be Confederates. It is also ironic that the Confederate battle flag, since the 1950s at least, the symbol of racism was also, apparently, one of the favored symbols of Eastern Europeans as the Iron Curtain was wrent in the 1980s and early 1990s. Irony, indeed.

I don’t like notherners trying to tell us what to do. The self-righteous, triumphalist rhetoric of historians like Jim McPherson, David Blight, or Ed Baptist, can get as tiring as listening to the re-enactors. So can accusations of “traitor” against southerners (How’d those 1866 treason trials against Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee go, again?) It is well to remember that racism and racial violence is and was a national and not just a southern issue, and that Martin Luther King met his greatest frustration once he went to Chicago. I don’t want Yankees and people running for President to tell folks in Columbia, SC, they have to take the flag down from state property. I am pretty angry at the cheap theatrics of Wal-Mart and eBay in announcing that they will not be selling any Confederate flag merchandise, an announcement that neglected to say (on Wal-Mart’s part) they have not restocked such items for months, and which was designed to make both companies feel good about themselves. As one of my friends noted, you can buy porn on E-Bay, but not the Confederate flag (as of Tuesday afternoon, the flag was still available, but the company, will presumably act). The legacy of the Civil War is certainly mixed: we got rid of slavery, but we got the corporate, industrial nation state, in which the most prominent thing for sale seems to be integrity, and everything is exploitable. Irony, indeed.

On the other hand, I very much want South Carolina to take the flag down. The terrorism last Wednesday night was the worst racial hate crime in the South since the assassination of Dr. King. Assuming that the authorities confirm the ownership of Dylann Roof’s website, there is no question that the appropriation of the flag for nearly a century by racists, Kluxers, and terrorists inspired him — indeed, gave him permission — to murder. There was a time when the Confederate battle flag meant heritage. It has not for a long time, and Dylann Roof underlines that fact. One of the most heartening things about Nikki Haley’s comments at her press conference announcing her support for removing the flag, was that it will be a South Carolina decision, made by South Carolinians. We, are unfortunately, already seeing the signs of overreaction from people who exploit such horror, and who demand more. It’s not just Wal-Mart. There is pressure now to change state flags that have a cross on them, whether they resemble the Confederate battle flag or not, and to mess with private property. We will see how that plays out, but I find it difficult to believe that a court which will allow the burning of an individual’s American flag will not allow the display on private property of the Confederate flag, even if you can see it from an interstate. It will be very interesting to see what happens the first time a hotel refuses to rent rooms for the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ convention. Public accomodations. Irony, indeed.

When I first heard what had happened last Wednesday, I said two short prayers. “Please, God, “ I said, “ don’t let him be a white man.” The second prayer was, “please, let him be strung out on drugs, or certifiably insane, or unaware, somehow, of what he did.” God, answered my prayers, of course, but not in the way I wanted. Dylann Roof was white (unless he tells us otherwise), young (a millennial), and was almost certainly not strung out on drugs, and almost certainly not insane. From what he has said, and what he apparently posted on his web site, it is clear that he knew exactly what he doing, and why he was doing it: hatred of black people. If there was any doubt as to what symbols of the Confederacy mean in the 21st century, he swept those doubts away, and every southerner who has ever discounted the meaning of the Confederate flag for black people, or entertained thoughts that, hmm, maybe the Civil War really wasn’t about slavery, is corrupted by what he did. That would be most of us, I suspect. Deep in every human soul, deep in every white southern soul, lies the possibility of a Dylann Roof.

The conservative writer Rod Dreher has written about the gay marriage issue, that Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has forced us to make a choice: We can either be good Americans, or we can be good Christians. Dylann Roof has forced us in the South to make a choice, too. We can accept the responsibility for our shame, or we can deny it. The survivors of his victims, who faced him and forgave him on Friday, have shown us the power of grace. May God forgive us, as a people, for creating Dylann Roofs.

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  1. user_836033 Member
    user_836033
    @WBob

    I don’t like notherners trying to tell us what to do. The self-righteous, triumphalist rhetoric of historians like Jim McPherson, David Blight, or Ed Baptist, can get as tiring as listening to the re-enactors.

    The Civil War was fought largely because of the friction that resulted from the South  trying to tell the North what to do, specifically how to deal with escaped slaves and with laws governing the expansion of slavery.  No one seriously believed that the North was going to make the south actually free its slaves until the Civil War was well underway, and that’s not why the south seceded.

    As to your other points, I’m more sympathetic.

    • #1
  2. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    The South fired on Fort Sumter and started the Civil War.

    When I moved to Georgia, about 11 years ago,  I was told that I was a part of “War of Northern Aggression.”  I don’t remember being alive then but apparently some peoples’ memories are better than mine.

    I suspect that there are some things which might be better let go of.  My great grandfather, who owned a bridge between a part of England and a part of Scotland, was given an offer by a member of royalty for that bridge.  It was a take it or else kind of offer.  My great grandfather decided to take it.  He then shipped out for the former colonies just in case.

    He decided that there was something not worth hanging onto because of the possible cost to himself and others.  One might suggest that the Confederate flag is one such item, an item not worth hanging on to.  One need not keep a memento to remember and honor one’s predecessors.

    • #2
  3. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    A fine post, Den. Thanks for a detailed and insightful explanation of the mixed pride, despair and frustration of a complicated historical identity.

    • #3
  4. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    I guess I am lucky. Not one member of my family on either side had arrived in America before the civil war.

    • #4
  5. user_352043 Moderator
    user_352043
    @AmySchley

    PHCheese:I guess I am lucky. Not one member of my family on either side had arrived in America before the civil war.

    Exact opposite here — none of my ancestors arrived after.  The Battle of Chickamauga, among others, was a preemptive family reunion right down the middle. I suppose I should be thankful they didn’t have very good aim at each other.

    • #5
  6. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @RobertMcReynolds

    As a southerner–born in Texas–I often wonder what it is that we are honoring.  Is it that we couldn’t reach a compromise about new states entering the Union slave or free?  Is it that we wanted Northern states to return our slaves under the Fugitive Slave Act?  Is it that, during the mid-19th century, the individual states were considered to be your country and not the whole of the United States?  I recognize the tragic hero aspect of folks like Jackson and Lee, as well as the individual privates who owned zero slaves, but why the conflicting emotion for Southerners when they reflect back upon the Civil War?  What are we reflecting back on?

    You mentioned re-enactors and how many of them, North and South, wish to be in the Confederacy.  I re-enacted for a few years prior to joining the Navy and I chose a Northern unit.  I felt that, had I been alive then, I would have done the same because while I believe in States’ rights and the supremacy of the State over the Federal Government, I do not abide by the notions of slavery.  Wisconsin practiced a form of States’ rights too in the 1850s when it refused to return fugitive slaves to the South.

    • #6
  7. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Growing up when I did, in the 70s and 80s, the Rebel flag was most notable for being on the roof of the Dukes of Hazzard car (the General Lee).  I don’t think that there was an ounce of racism in any of the Dukes, so it seemed to reform the symbol.

    Overall, though, I agree with the detractors of the Rebel flag.  I am equally offended by the Commies who put up a Soviet flag or wear a Che shirt.

    It is a fact that the Confederate soldiers were Americans, and many of them fought very bravely and well, though their cause was wrong.  I can also sympathize with the dreadful decision faced by many Confederates, having to choose between the Union and their own home state, at a time when allegiance to the state was much stronger than today.

    • #7
  8. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Extremely good post DV.

    People here have mixed feelings about the flag…..I have mixed feelings about the flag.  A Southerner’s pride is defensive and often mixed with shame.  It’s the pride in your state, where you are from, what your ancestors did, and yes maybe shame in what they believed in. I don’t know for sure but I have never heard someone talk of being from Nevada or Illinois the same way someone will speak of being from Mississippi or Tennessee.  We have a lot of pride, we have a fair amount of shame.

    The Drive by Truckers called that the “duality of the southern thing”.

    “I heard the story as it was passed down

    About guts and glory and Rebel stands

    Four generations, a whole lot has changed

    Robert E. Lee

    Martin Luther King

    We’ve come a long way rising from the flame

    Stay out the way of the southern thing”

    I know that I am proud of the way Charleston and South Carolina as a whole has reacted.  I think their horror and outpouring of sympathy over what Dylann Roof did disproves the idea of secret sympathies to his “cause” and hopefully indicates the white southern soul does not harbor it’s own Dylann Roof.

    • #8
  9. user_2505 Contributor
    user_2505
    @GaryMcVey

    Concretevol’s comment is so good, so appealing to the mind and the emotions that he should consider making it a post. It is one of a number of brilliant things said on this site about this subject that should get more notice.

    And I’m in total agreement with Robert McReynolds’s last comment. Which, let’s face it, means that the clocks are running backwards, water is flowing uphill, and the Devil wears a Parka. Once he agreed with something I wrote, and the same thing happened.

    • #9
  10. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    As a fellow Southerner, I’ll second that, Concretevol. Seems to me the good folks in Charleston haven’t been the ones stirring up all this talk of “the flag”. They seem to have all come together in this time of tragedy. Maybe the rest of us need to take a lesson.

    • #10
  11. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Fine post. I can empathize with my fellow Southern  citizens (black & white). As a ‘Northerner’ – I wish we’d get off our damned high horse already.

    • #11
  12. Scarlet Pimpernel Inactive
    Scarlet Pimpernel
    @ScarletPimpernel

    Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow.  That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    • #12
  13. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    We seem to be in the middle of a full blown moral panic.  That offends me more than the sight of the confederate flag,

    I guess we’ll have to ban civil war re-enactments now too.  Who’s going to dare to show their face in a grey uniform?

    For the record, my Great Grand father (Mothers side) was in the 12th Michigan infantry, fought (and captured) in the Hornets Nest at Shiloh.   Returned to the Union service in a prisoner trade a year or so later, mustered out in early 1866.

    • #13
  14. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive
    Blue State Curmudgeon
    @BlueStateCurmudgeon

    WI Con:Fine post. I can empathize with my fellow Southern citizens (black & white). As a ‘Northerner’ – I wish we’d get off our damned high horse already.

    Really; don’t they understand all the evils that were perpetrated in the name of abolitionism?

    • #14
  15. WI Con Member
    WI Con
    @WICon

    Blue State Curmudgeon:

    WI Con:Fine post. I can empathize with my fellow Southern citizens (black & white). As a ‘Northerner’ – I wish we’d get off our damned high horse already.

    Really; don’t they understand all the evils that were perpetrated in the name of abolitionism?

    There’s plenty of past & present segregation and bigotry in the northern states as well.

    • #15
  16. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Not to change the subject WI Con but that is very true. When u have traveled up north, especially the bigger cities, it struck me how segregated it was there. In NYC from block to block it is like changing countries. “Oh this is the Jewish neighborhood, the Puerto Rican block, Blacks live here…” Of course southern cities have minority neighborhoods but it seems to me that in some instances we have learned to live together better. Again, look at Charleston right now.

    • #16
  17. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican.  I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    • #17
  18. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    thelonious:

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican. I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    Do you think they really equate “state’s rights” ala federalism with that or have they just been sold a bill of goods that Republicans are racist since the 1964 Civil Rights act?  I hadn’t hadn’t really thought of the term “state’s rights” even having racial implications in America today so you bring up an interesting point Thelonious.

    • #18
  19. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    Concretevol:

    thelonious:

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican. I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    Do you think they really equate “state’s rights” ala federalism with that or have they just been sold a bill of goods that Republicans are racist since the 1964 Civil Rights act? I hadn’t hadn’t really thought of the term “state’s rights” even having racial implications in America today so you bring up an interesting point Thelonious.

    yup. Better to refer to state’s rights as federalism.

    • #19
  20. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    Concretevol:

    thelonious:

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican. I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    Do you think they really equate “state’s rights” ala federalism with that or have they just been sold a bill of goods that Republicans are racist since the 1964 Civil Rights act? I hadn’t hadn’t really thought of the term “state’s rights” even having racial implications in America today so you bring up an interesting point Thelonious.

    States rights or federalism didn’t guarantee voting rights, civil rights or even anti lynching laws.  We see local control they see oppression.

    • #20
  21. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    thelonious:

    Concretevol:

    thelonious:

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican. I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    Do you think they really equate “state’s rights” ala federalism with that or have they just been sold a bill of goods that Republicans are racist since the 1964 Civil Rights act? I hadn’t hadn’t really thought of the term “state’s rights” even having racial implications in America today so you bring up an interesting point Thelonious.

    States rights or federalism didn’t guarantee voting rights, civil rights or even anti lynching laws. We see local control they see oppression.

    Yes I get that.  I can see how a host on MSNBC for instance would use the term as a supposed “dog whistle” but I am curious if the average black citizen really equates the term or just has a gut “republican = racist” reaction.  If they do, how do we get past that since obviously federalism would not extend to overruling federal civil rights legislation.  I really think federalism is our only hope in combating the over reach of Washington DC and if it is a nonstarter among the african American community that isn’t going to help….

    • #21
  22. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Denmark Vesey Jr.: I have never flown the Confederate battle flag in my home, but I have displayed the 1861 sovereignty flag of my state, which just happens to be the same flag as the nation of Liberia

    I’ve been trying to figure out which state this is for the past 20 minutes. The closest Confederate state flag I can find to the Liberian is Louisiana’s. Is that it, or am I missing something?

    Flag_of_Louisiana_(February_1861).svg

    • #22
  23. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @DenmarkVeseyJr

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Denmark Vesey Jr.: I have never flown the Confederate battle flag in my home, but I have displayed the 1861 sovereignty flag of my state, which just happens to be the same flag as the nation of Liberia

    I’ve been trying to figure out which state this is for the past 20 minutes. The closest Confederate state flag I can find to the Liberian is Louisiana’s. Is that it, or am I missing something?

    Flag_of_Louisiana_(February_1861).svg

    Florida

    • #23
  24. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    thelonious:

    Scarlet Pimpernel:Well. The South ruined the cause of states’ rights by associating it with secession and slavery and then with defending Jim Crow. That may not be fair, and probably isn’t, but it’s the political truth.

    This is at the heart of why black people don’t vote Republican. I know it was the Democrats advocating states rights but the Republicans are the ones for non nefarious reasons advocating states rights today.

    The Voting Rights Act was passed for LBJ’s signature because the Republicans voting as a block gave it the needed votes to pass.  It was the Democrats who tried to stop it.

    Robert Byrd was a grand kleagle and a US Senator from West Virginia.

    The Republicans advocate parental choice in education, something the parents of children in DC and Cleveland certainly want.

    And, of course, there is the fact that bags of cash are delivered and passed out as “walking around money” with the expectation that a vote for the Democrat will be cast.  Who holds whom in contempt?

    This is my personal observation, ergo anecdotal.  I have seen more blacks and white sharing food and having conversations here than I did back up north.  Good conversations, not limited to hot quarterbacks or great basketball play.  Open observations and  considerations.  Some of these have happened around my dinner table.  Some have happened in my parish.  People risking themselves genuinely and sometimes being rewarded for it.

    • #24
  25. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    If your identity requires state recognition, then you had lost your identity long before last Wednesday.

    • #25
  26. lesserson Member
    lesserson
    @LesserSonofBarsham

    Barkha Herman:If your identity requires state recognition, then you had lost your identity long before last Wednesday.

    It’s less the State recognizing it as the State using it’s power (under threat of the mob) to push things out of the public. (at least I think that sums it up some, I’m not entirely sure how to put it into words)

    • #26
  27. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    I lived most of my adult life in semi-rural Pennsylvania, where confederate flags were ubiquitous, especially on pick-up trucks. I’ve lived the last three years in North Carolina and I have yet to see one.

    The flag issue is a squirrel that we see out of the corner of our eye that distracts us from what happened here. Evil men do evil things. There is precious little to be done about it. By all means get rid of the flag. Get rid of the crosshairs on political maps. Get rid of Fox News. Then, the lion will lie down with the lamb.

    • #27
  28. user_2967 Inactive
    user_2967
    @MatthewGilley

    Here’s my summation of contemporary Southern pride: “Maybe we weren’t better than you then, but we’re for sure better than you now.”

    • #28
  29. Look Away Inactive
    Look Away
    @LookAway

    Bob W:I don’t like notherners trying to tell us what to do. The self-righteous, triumphalist rhetoric of historians like Jim McPherson, David Blight, or Ed Baptist, can get as tiring as listening to the re-enactors.

    The Civil War was fought largely because of the friction that resulted from the South trying to tell the North what to do, specifically how to deal with escaped slaves and with laws governing the expansion of slavery. No one seriously believed that the North was going to make the south actually free its slaves until the Civil War was well underway, and that’s not why the south seceded.

    As to your other points, I’m more sympathetic.

    Sorry, this is neither a correct nor holistic approach to the debacle. . It misses the issue of the economic issues underlying the problems between the mercantile North and the Agricultural South. In effect the South, provider of the raw materials, was caught between the competitors  in textile manufactures and banks between the North and England and the rest of Europe. Credit drives business. Credit was more important to the survival of Southern economic interests than most other factors and they were at the mercy of the New York banks.Sound familiar to what you hear the populists like Warren say today?

    • #29
  30. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Florida Sovereignty Flag?  The flag you have pictured is the Republic of Texas Naval Ensign for 1837-39. Accept no substitutes.

    Seawriter

    • #30
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