Last week, we looked at two of the four key Lost Cause myths identified by James Loewen and Edward Sebesta in The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”. This week, I’m looking at the last two:
Third, during the “War Between the States,” Confederates displayed bravery and stainless conduct. They only lost owing to the brute size of the North. Conversely, slaves displayed loyalty to their “masters” during the war. Finally, and most important, during Reconstruction, vindictive Northern congressmen, childlike African Americans, and corrupt carpetbaggers and scalawags ravaged the prostrate South. (“THE NADIR OF RACE RELATIONS, 1890–1940.” In The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, edited by Loewen James W. and Sebesta Edward H., p. 253. University Press of Mississippi, 2010.)
Monument to a Confederate soldier, dedicated in 1901 in the town of Union, West Virginia, to “men who served the lost cause” in the U.S. Civil War. Worth considering: this was the era when Confederate war memorials proliferated. Memorials are typically built by the victors; what did they assume they had won?
I became a history major, in part, because I had excellent, compelling history teachers throughout my childhood. It seemed to me (although I didn’t have these words until I was much older) that they approached their lessons as historians first and schoolteachers second. I distinctly remember two different occasions in two different school districts in two different states with two different teachers when the history textbook was read aloud…and then the teacher(s) closed the book, threw it across the room in frustration, and stated, “Now let’s talk about what really happened.” Nowhere was this more evident than when the Civil War was the topic of study, and as a result, I missed many of the Lost Cause shibboleths that were being taught at the time. My high school history teacher did change things up, and he taught “the war of Northern aggression” from the Southern “perspective” so we learned the Lost Cause historiography, but we learned it as myth rather than as historical fact. So while I knew that some people viewed “states’ rights” as a proximate cause of the Civil War, I had read the primary documents of secession written by Southern legislatures with their unequivocal statements about seceding over their determination to preserve and expand slavery.
Unfortunately, my teachers were the exception rather than the rule, and too many of the myths perpetuated by the Daughters of the Confederacy are still found in history textbooks today. It’s largely understood today that this twisting of historical memory was intentional and done to serve the agenda of white supremacy. Studying the myths of the Lost Cause isn’t just done to establish the difference between myth and reality; it’s done to understand how historical memory is created.
…the study of memory allows us to understand the extent to which previous interpretations of the past were subject to political, social, and economic pressures, and how difficult it was for individuals and communities outside of dominant power structures to preserve and commemorate their preferred understanding of the past. (Levin, Kevin. Remembering the Battle of the Crater: War as Murder, University Press of Kentucky, 2017, p. 10)
On September 5th, Janesaunt posted at The Orange about Jennifer Riley Collins, who is running for AG for Mississippi (this is the diary) and the intentional structural difficulties faced by African-American candidates in MS. In the course of preparing her diary, JA discovered and shared some of the grossly racist history of MS and especially the ways in which their constitution is written to ensure the continuance of white supremacy. My history antenna immediately started tingling, and I wanted to take a deeper look at Mississippi’s constitution and history. As so often happens, I meandered a bit in my reading, so what follows is more stream-of-consciousness than a primer on MS. But mostly, it’s a reminder that the Civil War has never ended; it’s just the battlefields and choice of weapons that have changed.
I wasn’t paying much attention to Twitter this past weekend, so I am grateful that Sis Dee’s Sunday post (1619. The 400th anniversary of the real founding of America.) brought the 1619 Project to my attention. I haven’t yet read all the articles, but what I have read reinforces the shameful truth in Dee’s comment, “Much of what is being presented in this series is information that is still not being taught in our schools.” It’s a simple, straightforward truth, and yet, as I peruse Twitter, I’m seeing reactions that range from outrage to even more outrage from too many White commenters. I was immediately reminded of Michael Eric Dyson’s statement in his powerful book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America:
You certainly have an insatiable thirst for history, but only if that history justifies whiteness. Most black folks can’t help but notice what many white rarely wish, or are compelled to see: you embrace history as your faithful flame when she kisses you, and yet you spurn her as a cheating mate when she nods or winks at others. (p. 65)
In fact, before I finish reading the articles in the 1619 Project, I’m going to reread Dyson’s book first, especially the chapter that contains the section on the five stages of white grief. The outrage being expressed about a telling of history that is not white-centered is predictable, and Dyson says there is only one way to overcome white defensiveness: to repent of whiteness. This post explores Dyson’s diagnosis and prescriptions for healing. Please be mindful that I write this through the racial lens of a white woman, but a white woman who sincerely wants to repent of her whiteness.
Deportation of striking miners from Bisbee, Arizona, on July 12, 1917. Striking miners and others are marched from Warren Ballpark along railroad tracks toward cattle cars belonging to the El Paso and Southwestern Railroad.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to watch an episode of POV on PBS (Bisbee 17). The film, Bisbee ‘17, is part documentary and part scripted community reenactment telling the story of the Bisbee Deportation of 1917. The documentary itself is worth watching if you have 111 minutes to spare, with the caveat that the artistic approach is different from most documentaries and may require an adjustment of expectations. But whether you watch the movie or not, the story of the Bisbee Deportation is another story mostly lost to time and unmentioned in history books. This is the story.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my internet connection issues are history, and I’m going to work the plan that I had last week…tidbits by tweet today and text on Thursday. While the Current Occupant has settled on a strategy of distraction by rallying his base through crass racism, the fact remains that families are still being separated; the international understanding of the rights of asylum seekers is being ignored and upended; and our own understanding of who we are is being challenged and redefined. The latter, of course, has the potential to be the silver lining for our future, but we have a long way to go before that potential is fulfilled. For now, we have to look at the evil of our past, of our present, and in all likelihood, of our future, and be prepared to eradicate it with truth and through reconciliation.
“The First Step” — illustration depicting methods used to seduce young women into the “white slavery” of prostitution. So much for PizzaGate…all along it’s been ice cream parlors and fruit stores that are dens of iniquity!
When schools starts teaching American, I might even try to learn it.
We all know xenophobia and racism are not new in this country, despite the ongoing “this isn’t who we are” hand-wringing. It continues to astound me that each new expression of hate, ignorance, and ugliness that comes from 45* and his cult is so often met with shock and surprise, as if these are somehow new to him, to the Right, or to the country. I wish I knew what the formula was for breaking the desire for upholding and maintaining white supremacy. I wish I knew what it would take to wake up white voters in this country and convince them that it’s not our history that makes us great; it is in overcoming that white-centered history that our potential for greatness exists. And since I have no magic answers, I continue with what I know: sharing the history that is rarely found in our textbooks; highlighting the connections between then and now; challenging the assumptions I was raised with; and seeking, searching, and questioning. Today, because of the work schedule I’ve had over the past few days, just some glimpses of our history from period posters and illustrations; Thursday, a story of what happens when xenophobia, corporate greed, and willing puppets intersect.
President Roosevelt delivering his First Inaugural Address in Washington, DC. March 4, 1933.
After seeing the photos of the Waffen SS VPOTUS and Senate delegation observing the specimens people in the concentration camps, I was overwhelmed, saddened, angered, and fearful. To see the casual indifference displayed by our polo-shirt-and-khaki-wearing elected white supremacists disheartened me. I knew that my planned post was going to be impossible for me to write for this week, because diving into our history of white supremacy felt like piling on rather than enlightening. Usually I can move beyond that feeling; this week, it wasn’t happening and a dose of anti-fascism medicine seemed necessary.
Promotional still from the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, published in National Board of Review Magazine; November 1939.
On December 20, 2018, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 passed the Senate by unanimous consent. After 200 attempts since 1882, this was the first federal anti-lynching legislation to pass in the Senate. It was passed again by unanimous consent in the 116th Congress in February 2019 and sent to the House, where it has been referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. (Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2019) If passed by the House and signed by the Current pResident, the legislation will be historic and unfortunately, still necessary:
Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., drafted the bipartisan legislation, which defines the crime as “the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person.” It also classifies lynching as a hate crime that would warrant enhanced sentences.
“It’s a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books,” Booker said in a statement. “This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice.” African-American Senators Introduce Anti-Lynching Bill
I was reminded of this legislation when I was considering the lengths to which white supremacists will go to retain power, which in turn reminded me of a previous anti-lynching bill and the 6-week filibuster. That story follows.