We have a number of things to update.
This Op-Ed piece from the Roanoke Times discusses various events in Virginia and is in favor of a re-evaluation of confederate iconography. The piece tells us, “we should not fear debating what roles these figures played and what their contributions were, good or bad. That’s what makes history more than the study of the dead.” The article suggests a question we should ask ourselves as we re-evaluate these symbols: “Does their display constitute an endorsement of the politics behind them?” On one level, the writer suggests the answer will always be “yes,” because that was the motivation behind putting the display up to begin with; however, “if something is there long enough, perhaps it loses its original meaning and acquires a new one as simply something old.” We’re told, “James Loewen, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Vermont, has proposed this standard for evaluating the iconography of historical figures: What are they primarily known for?” After discussing a few relevant examples such as Jefferson Davis, Woodrow Wilson, and JEB Stuart, the article ends, “History, like we said, is complicated, which is what makes it so interesting.”
From South Carolina we get this story regarding activists who are opposed to the state spending millions of dollars to display the confederate flag the state recently lowered in Charleston. Pat Gibson Hye-Moore’s position is, “They want some of the same people that were enslaved by the racist perpetration of this Confederate flag to pay millions of dollars to give it a new home. We paid to put it on top of the Statehouse, we paid to take it down, we paid to put it on the Statehouse grounds, we paid to take it down again. Now they want us to pay even more to place it in a Confederate museum that’s already paid for by taxpayers.” State Rep. Terry Alexander of Florence said, “I don’t think there should be any state funding to display that flag when there are failing schools, roads that need repairing, and the list goes on and on. To redesign an existing museum just for the addition of one flag is an insult to the taxpayers. I understand the historical significance and what it means to a lot of people, but I also think that spending that type of money is too far reaching.” According to Moore, “It really shouldn’t be housed any place, it should be removed from South Carolina completely. Most African-Americans, and others in South Carolina, do not want any of our tax dollars used to fund housing for a racist symbol that has been used for so many years and has caused upheaval in this state.” We should keep in mind that we’re talking about the flag that was flying on the statehouse grounds, not on an actual flag carried by confederate soldiers.
The American Historical Association, in their recent meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, had a plenary session devoted to the controversy over display of confederate symbols. You can see coverage here, here, here, and here. “For David Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of American History at Yale University, the Confederate symbol question is, in part, about where one’s ‘line’ is. For some, he said, the line between what is historically valuable and not is drawn at that which does not promote maximum unity. For others, the line leads to maximum knowledge, and the ‘troubled wisdom’ that comes with it. Others still draw it at healing justice, if such a thing can be achieved, he said, and yet others at maximum pleasure or pain. Blight said he was pushed by a reporter earlier this year in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting — which he called the past ‘exploding’ into the present — to draw his own line. Without realizing it, Blight named the Davis and Lee figures in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol as Confederate monuments he found unacceptable. ‘I found I had a line,’ Blight said, but admitted he couldn’t do anything to remove the statues, which are selected by individual states.” Professor Daina Ramey Berry of the University of Texas at Austin said “she’d refrained from talking publicly about her work on the task force after someone commented in a local newspaper article that black faculty members should be chained to the Davis statue. But because she felt that she was among peers on Thursday, Berry said she wanted to speak out. She asked what the historian’s role was in the national ongoing debate, and encouraged her colleagues to get involved. ‘I’ve been saying to my students for the last year, year and a half, that we are in a particular historical moment,’ Berry said. ‘So what is the historian’s role in this moment, I ask again? The historian’s role is to provide the context in which people can understand the very complex issues of the past and the present.’ ” Historian John Fea created a Storify link for tweets from the session. You can go to his blog to get the link.
From Hillsborough, North Carolina comes word that “Confederate Memorial” was removed from the front of the Orange County Historical Museum. “Museum officials asked last May for the words to be taken off the building’s facade, saying it was confusing to patrons and might be dissuading some from entering, thinking the museum is dedicated to history of the Confederacy instead of the history of Orange County.” The building originally housed a whites-only confederate memorial library.
From Northwest Georgia we get this column from columnist George B. Reed Jr. of the Walker County Messenger and Catoosa County News. He tells us, “My southern credentials are unimpeachable. Every male ancestor of fighting age served the Confederacy during the Civil War and my father was a former Klansman. My great grandfather, Capt. Isham B. Small, 48th Alabama Infantry, whose family owned 15 slaves, gave his life for the Confederacy in 1864. But even during my formative years I had doubts about what I was told justifying the Southern cause.” He talks about the indoctrination into the lost cause myth he got from family members and others. Fortunately, he learned his history, and he knows what neoconfederates peddle is a bunch of malarkey. He concludes, “Today’s Confederate apologists need to face reality. Rhett Butler knew what he was talking about at the Wilkes barbecue when he told the local gentry that rebellion against the Union was futile. The North had more people, wealth, technology, manufacturing, education and common sense. The South’s defeat was inevitable. By the 1850s slavery had been outlawed in most of the civilized western world. It would have been a human tragedy and a great leap backward if the South had won the Civil War.”
And from the Pennsylvania Farm Show, state officials requested vendors to remove all confederate flag-related merchandise. See stories here and here. “The vendors were selling items such as t-shirts, belt buckles and hats with the flags at the show which runs through Jan. 16 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg. ‘All told, seven vendors that were selling items with the flag displayed were brought to our attention. Upon request, seven vendors removed the items of concern, and we certainly appreciate their cooperation and understanding,’ said Brandi Hunter-Davenport, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture via an email statement.” According to Ms. Hunter-Davenport, “Items such as the Confederate flag are not in keeping with the spirit and theme of inclusiveness we’re trying to promote. In fact, it’s the antithesis of that theme.” Travis Wells, one of the vendors, said, “It wasn’t an issue until we got asked about it. Honestly, our Confederate stuff is 2 to 3 percent of what we sell. It’s irrelevant to our business.”