Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Just Not Too Sure About This

I have very mixed thoughts about the new Virginia Governor declaring April "Confederate History Month."

In terms of American history, it is very important to learn about and understand all aspects regarding the history of the Confederacy. Its formation, of course, led to the deadliest war on American soil. The political, economic and social issues surrounding the Confederacy raised important questions regarding our understanding of the powers and limits of the U.S. Constitution, and those questions were mostly settled (in spite of the neo-secessionist and neo-nullification rhetoric coming, ironically, from politicians from the old Confederate states (and a few others)).

Yet, some of the language within the proclamation troubles me. For example, "[w]hereas, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth's shared history to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War," bothers me. Perhaps it's that whole slave heritage in my family thing that makes me bristle at the notion of "the sacrifices" of Confederates, particularly when compared to "the sacrifices" of Virginia's slave and free black populations from the middle 1600s until the passage of the 13th Amendment). And even if the average Virginia Confederate soldier or sailor didn't own a slave, or was concerned only with defending his home, the end result would have been a continuation of black slavery, period. I will not apologize for feeling a bit less sanguine about Confederate sacrifices, just as, I am sure, some descendants of Confederate soldiers or sailors felt (or feel) about Union sacrifices.

Another trouble spot for me is as follows: "Whereas, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace...." I think that a quick review of the history of Reconstruction and Redemption will belie the notion that these folks worked to rebuild their communities in peace, overall. They did work to reassert their authority based on white supremacy, legalized segregation and political disenfranchisement, cancers allowed to fester unchecked until the middle 20th century.

My concern is that those who have pushed for this recognition, have neither the desire, nor the intention, to discuss the multi-layered historical reality surrounding the rise, fall, and psuedo-resurrection of the Confederacy, faults and all. Instead, I think that this is an opportunity to glorify the "Lost Cause," to cloud the fact that the Confederacy was a direct threat to the political entity that we know as the United States, and to try to sell the notion that the Confederacy was formed, not to preserve slavery (though CSA Vice President Alexander Stephens, through his "Cornerstone Speech" seems to belie this), but to affirm states rights that they felt the U.S. was abrogating.

Again, I am all for people learning more about American history. We are woefully deficient in that area. I also believe that we should know more about the history of the Confederacy, because there is no denying its historical importance. But I do not believe in a single sided historical narrative, regardless of subject. History has been, is, and always will be a complicated enterprise, fraught with difficult questions and issues. It seems that, too often, too many supporters of Confederate History Month proclamations are not really interested in those things. And therein rests my discomfort with promoting Confederate History Month.

UPDATE: A good friend of mine made an excellent proposition. I think that declaring April "Civil War History Month" would be totally appropriate, especially considering that the war came to a close in Appomattox. It would hit all of the educational points that the Governor says Virginians should get this month, and it would allow for a greater chance for having those more interesting and complicated discussions that all of the historical information surrounding the Civil War, particularly in Virginia, would merit.


Anonymous said...

Governors we have known...

There are those who have, or are, residing in a Federal prison. Those who have stepped down from office. Those who have decided not to run again (right or wrong). Those who have brazenly chosen not to step down in spite of piss poor judgment, betrayal to one's spouse, and lies to the media and constituents alike.

Of course there is also a former governor who blends the simmering hate-baiting of a talk radio personality with beauty queen looks, and every desire to expand what a media pig can do with impugnity.

All of those individuals aside, there is something fundamentally horrifying in the not-so-hidden agenda of Virginia's governor.

It seems their is an effort to put anyone who isn't white, heterosexual, and obediently Christian into the background and quietly strip them of their rights and dignity.

This latest "history lesson" is steeped and skewed in the perverse outlook and implied decency which is at the heart of white supremacy.

To frame such a dark period in U.S. history as the burden of Confederate soldiers and sailors, belies those who suffered for centuries.

For some, there is no accepting equality, when it would remove anyone to look down upon.

There is no owning or apologizing for the wrongs done by some U.S. citizens against other U.S. citizens, when it means acknowledging they happened in the first place. Better to rewrite history with a focus never addressing those issues.

A shell game of pride and hate and righteousness is going on in the minds of too many people.

Sadly one of those people is leading the Commonwealth of Virginia.

I'm just sayin'...

Curious said...

A whole month to remember the War of Yankee Agression against the South? 30 or 31 days to celebrate and honor those romantic and heady antebellem days when only certain people counted for something and certain others counted for less than people? It's funny how people still, after 150 years, feel the sting of losing in the Confederate War and yet wont acknowledge the differences in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere beteween people who have been fighting for hundreds of years.

Anonymous said...

Hey Curious!

I read what you wrote on "Black, Male, and Gay" about marital equality in New Jersey.

Hope the Garden State keeps the momentum going.

I'm just sayin'...

Curious said...

@ Anon. With a newly elected governor avowed not to let gay marriage happen and a state government too cowardly to oppose him, gay marriage, or marriage and equal rights for all will not happen in NJ anytime soon.

Priya said...

Hey, I'm working on a post that looks at Confederate history month as a version of Public History. I just finished reading Confederates in the Attic, and am working on a book on the Public History of Slavery. Thanks for this post though--you articulated a lot of what I was thinking.