Confederate Heritage Update

It’s time to update the continued retreat of confederate heritage across the land.

Steve Murray, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, looks through boxes containing archival materials in Montgomery, Ala., on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Murray and other current leaders of the agency are confronting the early legacy of the department, which once embraced the “lost cause” version of Civil War history that diminished the role of slavery and portrayed the Southern cause as noble. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

This article from Montgomery, Alabama tells us how the Alabama Archives is reckoning with a reputation it would like to shed. “Hundreds of memorials glorifying the Confederacy had been erected by the time Marie Bankhead Owen built what may have been the grandest: The Alabama Department of Archives and History, which cataloged a version of the past that was favored by many Southern whites and all but excluded Black people. Owen used taxpayer money to turn the department into an overstuffed Confederate attic promoting the idea that the South’s role in the Civil War was noble rather than a fight to maintain slavery. Now, amid a national reckoning over racial injustice, the agency is confronting that legacy in the state where the civil rights movement was born. In June, leaders formally acknowledged the department’s past role in perpetuating racism and so-called lost cause ideals. ‘If history is to serve the present, it must offer an honest assessment of the past,’ Director Steve Murray and trustees said in a ‘statement of recommitment.’ … Murray said the department wanted to offer more educational resources after Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis and issued the statement after realizing it had to acknowledge ‘that our agency was responsible in many ways for some of the intellectual underpinnings of the development of systemic racism in Alabama.’ ‘The response has been overwhelmingly positive,’ said Murray. Aside from acknowledging its racist past, the agency recommitted itself to recruiting additional minority staff and telling a more complete history is the state in the future. Self-taught genealogist True Lewis, who is Black and was born in Pennsylvania, was apprehensive when she first visited the agency about two decades ago to search plantation records for information about her ancestors, who were enslaved in southeast Alabama. Workers were helpful, she said, but the only other people in the building who looked like her were on the janitorial staff. ‘You always had that feeling of, ‘You aren’t supposed to be in this space,’ ‘ Lewis said. The agency’s recommitment was meaningful to her because it acknowledged sins of the past. … Founded in 1901, the year Alabama adopted a white supremacist constitution that’s still in effect, Archives and History opened with Owen’s husband, Thomas Owen, as its first director. Located in the state Capitol, where Southern delegates formed the Confederacy in 1861, the department focused on gathering Confederate records and artifacts. With the country’s first publicly funded, independent archive, Alabama soon became a national model for collecting public records, according to retired Auburn University historian Robert J. Jakeman, who wrote about Marie Owen. Other states of the old Confederacy followed suit. ‘What Owen did definitely started a chain reaction across the Southern states,’ said Daniel Cone, who teaches at Auburn and wrote about Tom Owen. Marie Owen took over the department in 1920 after her husband’s death. The agency already had amassed far more items than it could safely store or catalog, and the problem got worse under ‘Miss Marie.’ In a more spacious, white-columned building dedicated in 1940, Owen led the agency even more in the direction of becoming a storehouse of cultural items and Confederate relics that excluded the history of the Black people enslaved on Southern plantations, following her pattern of extolling the Confederacy and disregarding minorities. The Ivy League-educated historian John Hope Franklin, an African American, wrote of meeting Owen during his first research visit to Montgomery in the mid-1940s in his autobiography ‘Mirror to America,’ published in 2005. Owen used a racial slur in asking whether he’d seen a Black man from Harvard who was supposed to be in the building. ‘Before I could recover myself sufficiently for a reply, a voice reached us from the outer room. It was the secretary, who could hear everything, since the door was open. ‘That’s him, Mrs. Owen, that’s him,’’ Franklin wrote. The agency, which includes a museum, began changing after Owen retired in 1955. But generations of schoolchildren remember it in large part for its Civil War displays, which included old weapons, flags and uniforms. Edwin Bridges took over as director in 1982 and began shifting the department’s focus away from the ‘lost cause.’ Today, its museum displays tell more a complete history that includes Native Americans, the horrors of slavery, the Civil War and the modern civil rights movement, which began with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 and ’56. Some have questioned whether the department would jettison its Confederate holdings, considered among the most extensive in the nation, but Murray said that won’t happen. ‘We see the process as being one of broadening the scope of our effort and our work, telling a full story of Alabama’s history,’ he said. … Historians are watching to see whether the department further breaks with the legacy of Owen and pro-Confederate narratives or falls back toward the long-accepted path in a mostly white, Republican-controlled state.”

Stonewall Jackson Middle School on Thursday, December 19, 2019. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/ Orlando Sentinel) (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

In this article from Orlando, Florida, we learn, “Stonewall Jackson Middle School was renamed Roberto Clemente Middle School on Tuesday, as the Orange County School Board voted to drop the name of the Confederate general from the east Orlando school. The middle school — opened 55 years ago as a whites-only school but now with a majority Hispanic student population — was the only campus in Central Florida still named for a Confederate general. The board voted unanimously to adopt the Clemente name for the school. ‘Definitely aye!’ said school board member Kat Gordon as she cast her vote. ‘This is history in the making.’ Clemente, inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, was a star athlete and a U.S. Marine. The Puerto Rican native died in 1972 in a plane crash while trying to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua after an earthquake. … ‘As an African American, as an American descended from slaves, the name Stonewall Jackson is extremely offensive to me,’ said Amman Thomas, whose two oldest children attended the school. He began the renaming push in late 2017 when he asked the school advisory council to recommend a change. ‘It’s good to see three years later that a lot has changed. It’s been a long road, but it is done,’ Thomas told the board Tuesday. … Hispanic leaders rallied behind the name-change effort and viewed Clemente as a fitting substitute for a school that now serves a student population that is 75% Hispanic and 14% percent Black. Also, they noted, Orange County Public Schools has about 200 campuses, but until Tuesday none named for a Hispanic person. In recent months, those who lobbied for the Clemente name even distributed yard signs that read ‘I support Roberto Clemente Middle School’ and featured a photo of the late baseball star. … The school opened in 1965. Historians say white-run, southern school boards gave schools Confederate leaders’ names to show their displeasure with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 school desegregation case. What was then Robert E. Lee Middle School opened in 1956 in Orlando’s College Park neighborhood, an all-white school with the nickname the Rebels. The school board renamed it College Park Middle School in 2017. That name change came in the wake of the June 2015 shooting deaths in a black church in Charleston, S.C. The convicted killer was a white supremacist who posed in photos with a Confederate flag. The shooting prompted intense debate about Confederate names and statutes — which some view as symbols of slavery and white supremacy but others as key slices of American history.”

Philadelphia Inquirer staff photo by Jeff Gamage

This article from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania gives us information on a memorial to confederate dead in the City of Brotherly Love. “Its dedication in 1912 — on the 42nd anniversary of the passing of Gen. Robert E. Lee — aimed to obscure the pro-slavery cause of the Confederacy, and to recast the fight of the Southerners who lay nearby as true to the ideals of the Founding Fathers. The thick granite block stands 9 feet, 6 inches tall, and bears the names of 184 Southern soldiers and sailors on three plaques. The fourth proclaims, “Erected by the United States.” The troops, all prisoners of war who died at local military hospitals, lie within a rectangular green field whose corners are marked by four squat, square stones inscribed with a ‘C.’ So far, no one has publicly suggested removing the monument, and many people don’t even know it’s there, not far from the graves of 350 African American soldiers from the Union U.S. Colored Troops, who died to free those enslaved by the South. Whether it’s the only Confederate monument in the city is uncertain. Aside from those in Gettysburg National Military Park — untouchable under National Park Service policy — only four other markers are known in the state, all in Fulton County. There’s dispute over whether they honor Confederates or merely note their presence after the burning of Chambersburg in 1864, the last time Southern troops camped on Pennsylvania soil. The dedication of the Philadelphia monument on Oct. 12, 1912, drew a thousand people, who heard Southern orator John Shepard Beard praise ‘the righteousness of the cause’ for which the Confederates gave their lives. ‘We are under sacred obligation to rescue their fame from the persistent stigma and unjust aspersion of ‘rebellion’ and ‘treason,’ ‘ he said, expressing his gratitude that ‘the heroes of the American Anglo-Saxon race, of two opposing armies, could be honored in one cemetery.’ The crowd sang ‘Dixie’ and ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ A bugler played Taps. How the monument came to be is a tale of persistent lobbying, changing politics, and tenacious efforts to reshape the national memory. At the time, the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored dozens of monuments promoting the glory of ‘the Lost Cause,’ not only in the South but as far north as New York and Boston, and staged elaborate dedication ceremonies as Blue-and-Gray reunions. Now, the memorial’s presence takes on new meaning amid the Black Lives Matter protests. It raises the question of whether cemetery monuments differ from those on courthouse lawns. And whether a city that in June took down a statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo and covered another of Christopher Columbus will overlook a memorial to those who fought to overthrow the United States. ‘I don’t think the Rizzo statue or the Confederate monument — even for prisoners of war — are any different,’ said Megan Malachi, an educator and organizer with Philly for REAL Justice, which helped lead massive demonstrations against racism this summer. ‘They represent the same white supremacy.’ The United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond did not respond to requests for comment on the Philadelphia memorial. On its website, the group denounces white supremacy while asserting, ‘Confederate memorial statues and monuments are part of our shared American history and should remain in place.’ The Kenney administration plans to review all city-owned landmarks to be sure they align with city values, said spokesperson Mike Dunn. The Confederate memorial in the National Cemetery, which is maintained by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, could fall under that evaluation if monuments away from city property are considered, Dunn said. ‘It has to go,’ said historian Hasan Kwame Jeffries, who studies the Civil Rights Movement at Ohio State University. ‘The fact that it’s in a cemetery to me doesn’t make that much of a difference.’ Since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police on May 25, at least 93 Confederate statues and symbols have been taken down, or in the case of roads, parks or schools, renamed, according to national tracking by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama. Those are among 146 monuments removed since 2015, after a white supremacist murdered nine worshipers at an African American church in Charleston, S.C. The center counts symbols that both celebrate the Confederacy and are located on public land, but not those in graveyards, battlefields, or on private property. BeenVerified, a New York public-information firm, cites higher numbers based on wider criteria, saying 143 monuments have come down since Floyd’s death. It estimates that 1,652 remain, nearly all in the South. … A 2016 Landscape Journal study examined 15 Northern graveyards with Confederate monuments, concluding they were emblematic of ‘the white South’s need for a narrative to support white supremacy and of the North’s abandonment of racial justice as it sought reconciliation.’ ‘The patina of age does not obscure their intent,’ wrote authors Ned Crankshaw, Joseph E. Brent, and Maria Campbell Brent. Gary Casteel, commander of the Gettysburg camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and whose ancestors fought on both sides, rejects the idea that the Philadelphia memorial or other Confederate monuments perpetuate white supremacy. ‘Hogwash,’ he said. ‘If you can’t accept the past, then you must have a hard time accepting America.’ ” Of course, nothing in his claim is true. People are accepting the past. They’re just not in favor of honoring racism anymore.

In this article from Savannah, Georgia, we learn the confederate monument in Forsyth Park was defaced in protest of the Brionna Taylor case. “The Savannah Police Department is investigating the most recent defacement of Forsyth Park’s controversial Confederate monuments on Saturday, with the perpetrators apparently inspired by recent developments in the case of Breonna Taylor’s fatal shooting by police in Louisville, Kentucky. According to a spokesperson for the SPD, police arrived at Forsyth Park at around 10 a.m. on Saturday in response to reports of its central Confederate monuments and surrounding sidewalk being spray-painted with statements including ‘Justice 4 B Taylor’, ‘We want justice’, and ‘Statue burns in 24 hrs!’. … According to the SPD spokesperson, the graffiti will be removed from Forsyth Park’s statues. Police are continuing to investigate the incident. On June 11, one of the Forsyth Park Confederate monuments was spray-painted with a fist and a white KKK-style hood placed over a bust of Lafayette McLaws. A Confederate statue in Savannah’s Laurel Grove Cemetery was also repeatedly defaced in July.”

Racists across the country are up in arms about this article, telling us Party City removed confederate uniform costumes from its inventory. According to the article, “Party City is pulling Confederate-themed Halloween costumes after a mother and her two Black children discovered them in a Virginia store. On Sunday, Arlington mom Caroline Brasler was shopping at the Bailey’s Crossroads location with her two Black daughters, ages 10 and 12, when they found two costumes branded with Confederate symbols — one depicted a ‘Confederate Officer’ and the other General Robert E. Lee. During the American Civil War (1861-1865), 11 pro-slavery Southern states succeeded from the North and formed The Confederate States of America, flying their own red-white-and-blue flags such as ‘Stars and Bars’ and the ‘Southern Cross.’ Although the South lost the Civil War, people today disagree on whether Confederate imagery are slavery symbols or deserving of tributes to American history. A January YouGov poll found that 41 percent of Americans considered the Confederate flag representative of racism while 34 percent view it as ‘heritage.’ … ‘The Confederate flag to me is a symbol of racism,’ Brasler told WUSA9. ‘To have that out there for a child to wear on Halloween sends so many horrible messages.’ Yahoo Life could not immediately reach Brasler for comment. A Party City spokesperson tells Yahoo Life, ‘… We do not tolerate racism or hatred of any kind, and we stand together in solidarity with our diverse colleagues, customers and communities’ and that none of its costumes are meant to offend. ‘The costume in question was sold at a franchise location, and is not produced or sold in any Party City corporate owned stores,’ read the statement. ‘We have reached out to our franchisees and other partners to remove it from all retail locations ASAP. We know that as a company, we can and must do better, and we’re taking immediate action…’ One of the costumes can also be found on Amazon and Costume SuperCenter. According to Tyler D. Parry, an assistant professor of African American and African diaspora studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the normalization of Confederate imagery reflects a historical narrative from the white perspective, particularly that of slaveholders. ‘It explains why most people know the names of Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson but not of Black individuals who fought for their own freedom and helped dismantle slavery,’ he tells Yahoo Life. Parry says that U.S. history has sanitized slavery, with the 1865 presidential pardons of those who succeeded from the United States and even films like 1939’s Gone With the Wind (told from the perspective of Scarlett O’Hara, the daughter of a plantation owner). ‘Although Robert E. Lee was on the wrong side of history, he’s depicted in a noble way,’ he says.”

2 comments

  1. Hey – where’s George Purvis in all this? Did he finally get over you and find new eye candy?

    1. Who cares, Rob? George Perverse is the last person I worry about.

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