Southern Legacy

I grew up in the South. I spent most of my adult life in the South (Dallas, Shreveport, Atlanta, Tyler and Asheville). I have tried to explain to my friends, from the north, how, for some inexplicable reason, the Civil War lives on down here. There are battle enactments. They’re those who romanticize about the time. I even have friends who know every single battle and the generals that were in each of those battles. I’ve tried to explain that the legacy of the Confederacy is more than bullheadedness, slavery and the staunch determination to make money at all costs. I have talked about, unfortunately, at length, the honor of the Southern gentleman. I have waxed poetically about how the South stuck together in spite of being outmanned and outgunned. Then, we have the governor of Virginia with his Confederate history month proclamation. There’s nothing honorable in such a proclamation. Nothing noble. Just in case some of us in the South, were hanging onto some of the good that I believe a true southern gentleman represents, then there’s current Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. I’m done. I’m through defending the indefensible.

From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary makes note of the fact that General Lee was opposed to slavery. I basically took that as true, until–in all honesty–some of my commenters informed me that it, in fact, was not. One of the saddest, and yet telling, aspects of the War, for me personally, is that on the two occasions when Confederate troops headed North, they kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery. Ditto for black soldiers who were captured and “lucky” enough not to be killed. Anyway, if you have a moment check out this lecture a reader was kind enough to send to me. At about the 55:00 mark, Elizabeth Brown Pryor talks about Lee’s relationship to slavery, and more interestingly, how the myth that he was somehow anti-slavery came to be.

It was sad to hear frankly. If the war actually weren’t about slavery, I think all our lives would be a lot easier. But as I thought on it, my sadness was stupid. What undergirds all of this alleged honoring of the Confederacy, is a kind of ancestor-worship that isn’t. The Lost Cause is necromancy–it summons the dead and enslaves them to the need of their vainglorious, self-styled descendants. Its greatest crime is how it denies, even in death, the humanity of the very people it claims to venerate. This isn’t about “honoring” the past–it’s about an inability to cope with the present.

The God of History bounds the Confederacy in its own chains. From the declaration off secession in Texas

…in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states….

To Virginia

The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States.

To Mississippi

….Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin… (more…)

0 Responses

  1. Why the selective outrage?

    A Democratic legislature passes a proclamation in Mississippi and a Republican governor signs it.

    And only the governor gets trashed for it?

  2. Not selective at all. I just didn't know about it or it would have been included.

    My point was not to trash anybody. My point was that excluding slavery or treating it as it was some minor issue is simply wrong. I'm sorry that I didn't make my point clearer.

  3. “on May 5, 1993, in what the Washington Post characterized as a “. . . moving 88th birthday ceremony for former senator William Fulbright, President Clinton last night bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the man he described as a visionary humanitarian, a steadfast supporter of the values of education, and 'my mentor.'” Clinton added, “It doesn't take long to live a life. He made the best of his, and helped us to have a better chance to make the best of ours. . . . The American political system produced this remarkable man, and my state did, and I'm real proud of it.”

    That would be segregationist Bill Fulbright.

    Clinton is also remembered in Arkansas for signing a law declaring a state holiday for the birthday of Robert E Lee.

    What did you say on those auspicious occasions, Dr Thompson?

  4. mentioned in this piece, “I’ve tried to explain that the legacy of the Confederacy is more than bullheadedness, slavery and the staunch determination to make money at all costs. I have talked about, unfortunately, at length, the honor of the Southern gentleman.” That's what I said.

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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