The Aiken Chronicles

The Confederate Battle Flag and the High Cost of Perpetual Secession (page 2)

Posted in Uncategorized by canarypapers on December 20, 2009

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Excerpt from the Augusta Chronicle newspaper, announcing the April 10th kickoff to the Civil War centennial in Charleston, S.C.

The Second Firing of Fort Sumter

While some South Carolinians continue to argue the point, history places the official start of the Civil War during the wee hours of April 12, 1861, when South Carolina seized Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, prompting President Lincoln to dispatch federal troops to tame this act of sedition.

South Carolina’s centennial observations of the Fort Sumter firing began on April 10th, 1961 and continued through the 12th, with much ado attending to the April 11th Charleston ceremonies and the re-enactment of the Fort Sumter cannonade. As it turned out, Fort Sumter was not the only re-enactment of the week. On April 11th South Carolina, feeling prickly over the issue of segregation, seceded from the national Civil War Centennial Commission (CWCC) ceremonies. It was also on this day that the Confederate flag was raised at the State House and in the Senate rostrums.

Although the 1961 secession was minor compared its prototype from 100 years earlier, it was equally inevitable, given the events that had transpired during the 4 months since the Edgefield secession celebration. One event was the January 1961 inauguration of President Kennedy, whose administration threatened to replay the agenda of the Lincoln administration. On the heels of this was the March 4th centennial observation of Lincoln’s inauguration. Two weeks later, a national controversy erupted when it was learned that the much-touted Charleston CWCC meeting was to be held at the racially segregated Francis Marion Hotel. The last straw in this chain of events was when President Kennedy meddled in South Carolina’s segregation policies by intervening in the Francis Marion controversy. By the time of the Charleston ceremonies, the Edgefield-style spirit of exultation and defiance had grown to a fevered pitch throughout the state and, indeed, the entire South.

As journalist, Ralph McGill, observed in the Atlanta Constitution on April 8, 1961, just two days before dignitaries, leaders and CWCC members from across the nation were to gather in Charleston for the start of the centennial ceremonies:

What we have now are increasing numbers of persons wandering about the South wearing sleazy imitations of Confederate uniforms, growing beards, stirring up old hatreds, making ancient wounds bleed again, reviving Ku Klux Klans, working themselves into immature fits of emotionalism, recreating old battles, and otherwise doing a great disservice to the memory of those who fought and died in the war of 1861-65.

Also objecting to the tone being set for the centennial was the NAACP, although they didn’t raise official protest until the Francis Marion incident. As the controversy played out, it became clear that the issue was as much about segregation as revising history. On the segregation front, the hotel’s segregation policy barred the attendance of Madaline Williams, a black CWCC member from New Jersey (hence the national controversy). On the historical front, the hotel’s segregation policy also excluded the participation of the many blacks planning to gather in Charleston to honor the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who fought in the Civil War — a population that had thus far been neatly edited from the historical narrative. In fact, if not for the Francis Marion fracas, the mere hint that these soldiers and laborers ever existed would have gone entirely unacknowledged in the South Carolina CWCC ceremonies.

The Francis Marion Hotel incident actually began earlier, in March, when news leaked of their segregation policy. In response, the NAACP and Northern chapters of the CWCC threatened boycotts of the ceremony. President Kennedy, in an effort to put the controversy to rest, ordered a change of venue and, with a mere stroke of the pen, moved the national centennial meeting from the segregated Francis Marion Hotel to the desegregated Charleston Naval Station. It was called a compromise.

Not in the mood for compromise, South Carolina fired back. Gov. Fritz Hollings questioned the president’s authority to “dictate” racial integration in Charleston, and accused northern politicians of trying to make “political capital” out of the issue. In late March, just two weeks before the ceremonies, the debate was escalated a few notches by S.C. state Rep. Nat Cabell, who flatly uninvited the New Jersey commission, telling their state chairman, Everett Landers, “We would prefer that you did not come,” adding that, there would be a lot of ignoring of those who prefer to associate with people of other races.”

When Landers asked Rep. Cabell whether there would be any “strife,” should their state commission, including the disputed black member, attempt to enter any of the South Carolina’s segregated restaurants, Cabell shot back, “What’s the matter? Doesn’t she like to associate with members of her own race?”

That same day, on March 28th, the Augusta Chronicle editor penned a scathing indictment of the NAACP and President Kennedy, saying:

The NAACP has succeeded in virtually eliminating the atmosphere of goodwill that was progressively building up between the white and Negro races…. The idea has been planted in the minds of some Negroes by the NAACP that force is the way to attainment, or, as encouraged by Martin Luther King, that laws one thinks to be unfair are laws to be ignored. We pose the purely academic question: What would happen if American thought and acted this way? The only rational answer would be a state of anarchy….

For, if Mr. Kennedy can force a Charleston hotel proprietor to accept as a guest a New Jersey Negro woman, even one who happens to be a member of the Civil War Centennial Commission from that state, the rape of the United States Constitution will have become complete.

Later that same day, on March 28th, South Carolina announced its de facto secession from the national CWCC events in Charleston. The South Carolina CWCC said that they would hold their centennial banquet at the segregated Francis Marion Hotel, as planned, and that the national and state CWCC commissions — along with all the other invited guests from around the country — were free, “if they so chose,” to attend the banquet at the desegregated Charleston Naval Base. The announcement of this secession came from state CWCC chairman, Rep. John A. May of Aiken, who said that the segregation dispute, “if anything, helped give us more publicity.”

Perhaps it was just as well the Francis Marion events were segregated, given the tenor of the speeches that day:

Out of the dust and ashes of War with its attendant destruction and woe, came Reconstruction more insidious than war and equally evil in consequences, until the prostrate South staggered to her knees assisted by the original Ku Klux Klan and the Red Shirts who redeemed the South and restored her to her own.John D. Long, state senator and co-sponsor of the later 1962 Confederate flag resolution, speaking at the Francis Marion Hotel on April 11, 1961, on the occasion of the Civil War centennial. Senator Long, it should be noted, is the same politician who – at the height of the Little Rock desegregation effort –ordered a dozen sub-machine guns for the Union County, S.C. sheriff’s deputies so that they could “repel any invaders.” (Augusta Chronicle, 4/23/61)

Senator Strom Thurmond, whose Dixiecrat presidential candidacy had made him a folk hero among white South Carolinians, also spoke for the occasion. He prefaced his speech by resurrecting a century-old argument against Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence, advising the crowd that there is not even a “hint” of purpose in the U.S. Constitution to “ensure equality of man or things.” Continuing, he warned the crowd about the relationship between racial equality and communism:

“It has been revealed time and time again that advocacy by Communists of social equality among diverse races… is the surest method for the destruction of free governments. I am proud of the job that South Carolina is doing [in regard to segregation], and I urge that we continue in this great tradition no matter how much outside agitation may be brought to bear on our people and our state.” U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond, April 11, 1961

The raising of the Confederate flag at the State House that same day — albeit accomplished with no fanfare or ceremony — laid the final touches on what turned out to be a fairly accurate historical re-enactment of the events that had transpired 100 years earlier. From the standpoint of historical authenticity, the only thing missing from the festivities was the Palmetto Guard flag, which was the first Confederate flag flown over Fort Sumter in April 1861.

According to a July 1875 Charleston News Report, the Palmetto Guard was “the first Confederate flag raised in the late struggle.” As the same article reported, this “relic of the past” had been held in the possession of Mr. John Bird of Laurens, South Carolina since shortly after the Confederates seized Fort Sumter in 1861. According to this 1875 account, given by Mr. Bird, who was one of the original members of the Palmetto Guard company that carried the flag:

“At the siege of Sumter it marked their parade ground, and was used in the truce boat that met the United States barges. The flag occupied the fort immediately after the surrender of Anderson and this flag was the first raised on its walls after the salute and before F.J. Moses, Jr. had arrived at the fort. “

Mr. Bird returned possession of the Palmetto Guard flag over to his company in 1875, saying:

The flag will be taken good care of, and at the coming centennial of Fort Sullivan, it may again be flung to the breeze.”


Today, the Palmetto Guard flag (seen above) is housed with other Civil War relics in the National Park museum at Fort Sumter.

Mr. Confederacy

The day before the Confederate battle flag was raised over the State House in 1961, the Augusta Chronicle announced that the flag would fly for 1 week in observance of the Fort Sumter commemoration. The State newspaper reported likewise on April 12th, saying, “The flag is being flown this week at the request of Aiken Rep. John A. May.”

Rep. John A. May, speaking at the annual United Daughters of the Confederacy picnic at the Red Shirts Shrine in Edgefield, S.C. in June 1961

 Later, Rep. May announced his intention to introduce a resolution in the state legislature to fly the flag for one year. By the time this resolution was introduced and passed in 1962, the flag had already been flying for one year. The only change in the wake of the resolution was moving the flag from beside the State House to the newly-mounted flag pole atop the State House dome. According to fellow South Carolina CWCC member, historian Daniel Hollis — who was against the original raising of the flag in April 1961 — Rep. May’s resolution didn’t include a time frame for bringing the flag down. Therefore, “It just stayed up. Nobody raised a question.”

 A stickler for historical detail, Rep. May frequently attended civic, historical and political events wearing an authentic replica of a Confederate lieutenant general’s uniform. This likely contributed to his nickname, “Mr. Confederacy,” which was not intended as a flattering title by all who used it. In his hometown of Aiken, he was also known in later years as “Colonel May,” although it is not clear who conferred this title upon him. Drawing from the historical record, it appears that Col. May lived up to the decorum inferred by this title, maintaining a dignified demeanor and eschewing overtly racist rhetoric. Instead, he aligned himself with those who did, allowing his actions to do the talking, as was and still is the practice among the South’s more genteel racists.

A self-described authority on the Civil War, Col. May had also, years earlier, transformed his Aiken estate, Mayfields, into a Civil War museum, complete with a life-sized replica of the Humley submarine and a Civil War cannon (much like the $30,000 cannon purchased last year by state senator, Glenn McConnell). So it would seem that Col. May had a firm enough grasp of South Carolina history to know that, from the standpoint of historical authenticity, the Palmetto Guard flag would have been the appropriate banner to raise in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Fort Sumter firing.

But there were other choices, too. While there were a plethora of battle flags flown over the Civil War — the familiar Confederate battle flag being but one of these — there were only three national flags that represented the Confederate States of America (CSA). From the standpoint of historical authenticity, Col. May could have chosen any of the three, although the most obvious choice would have been the 1st national flag of the CSA, the Stars and Bars, which was adopted just weeks before the start of the Civil War.

The Stars and Bars

The actual “Stars and Bars” flag (left) looks much different than the Confederate battle flag that, today, goes by the same name. Adopted as the 1st national flag of the CSA in March 1861, the design of the original Stars and Bars was based on the U.S. flag. Carried by Confederate forces during the first two years of the Civil War, this flag served as a counterpoint to the Stars and Stripes being carried by Union soldiers.

Problem was, soldiers in the battlefield tended to confuse the two flags among the dust and distance. This is believed to have contributed to the high death toll at the first Battle of Bull Run/Manassas. As a result, CSA General Beauregard proposed a change, recommending that the Stars and GBars be used only as “a peace or parade flag” and that a secondary flag be designed for “a war flag, to be used only on the field of battle.” Agreement was never reached, but over time, the “Southern Cross” battle flag — which was the Naval Jack and official flag of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia — came to be embraced throughout as the South as the battle flag of the Confederacy and was flown throughout the rest of the war beneath one of the 3 national CSA flags.

The Stainless Banner

The 2nd national flag of the CSA, the Stainless Banner (left), was designed to eliminate the battlefield confusion of the 1st flag. Adopted in 1863, this was the flag used to drape the coffin of Stonewall Jackson. The design of this flag was, like the Stars and Bars, based on the U.S. flag. Here, the red-and-white stripes were replaced with a pure white field. And, in place of the U.S. flag’s blue square with 34 stars/states, the upper left corner of the Stainless Banner contained the image of the flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. The reasons for the preponderance of whiteness on this flag can only be surmised. Whatever the reasons it proved to be impractical, as it was prone to soil and stain. Worse, it had a tendency — at various stages of furl and unfurl — to resemble a flag of truce or surrender. Back to the drawing board.

The Blood-Stained Banner

The 3rd and final national flag of the Confederate States of America was the Blood Stained Banner (left). Adopted in March 1865, the Blood Stained Banner was nearly identical to the Stainless Banner, except for the broad red stripe on the right border, placed there to remove any appearance of truce or surrender. The Confederacy fell several weeks after the Blood Stained Banner was adopted.

Heritage or Hate? Raising the Battle Flag Around the South

South Carolina

Indeed, it’s difficult to imagine why — of all the banners Col. May could have chosen to represent South Carolina’s Civil War heritage — he chose to raise the Confederate battle flag. Unless he was trying to make a point. After all, it was a battle flag, never intended to serve as a flag of “peace or parade.” It was, in the words of General Beauregard, a “war flag.” And in the year 1961, it was a flag whose symbolism had since been embellished and cultivated, beginning in the 1940s, to serve a new cause.

Despite the modern-day protests to the contrary, this flag was not “hijacked” by a select few aberrant hate groups. By the time Col. May raised the flag, it had long been embraced as the banner of white supremacy in the mainstream South — from the presidential campaign trail and governors’ offices, to state houses and law enforcement, to everyday citizens and the Ku Klux Klan alike. And, far from being viewed as an extremist hate group, the klan was sanctioned by law enforcement throughout the 1950s-60s South — when police cars led klan night raids in 1950s North Carolina, and when klansmen were even pressed into service as volunteers, most infamously on Sheriff Clark’s posse during the Selma Freedom March.

It’s indeed true that the battle flag was hijacked, but it was not hijacked by a few aberrant hate groups. It was hijacked by the modern-day South, by ordinary men who waged campaigns of terror against blacks — bombing and torching houses and churches, beating, bloodying and lynching blacks and white civil rights workers, alike. The efforts by these white supremacists to legitimize their cause by concurrently waving the American flag and bandying allegiance to the U.S. Constitution were as transparent then as they are today.

Col. May certainly knew in the year 1961, as well as everyone else in the South, the new symbolism that had been attached to the Confederate battle flag. Hanging this flag on our State House was the proverbial picture worth 1,000 words. To argue otherwise is simply disingenuous.

 

A crowd of 1956 University of Alabama students wave Confederate flags as they torch a pile of desegregation literature.

Alabama

In September 1963 Alabama, Gov. George Wallace — in the midst of his now-notorious campaign of brutality, intimidation and trickery to stop the attempted desegregation in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville and Tuskegee — simply closed down the entire public school systems. After a brief game of chicken with the Kennedy Administration, against whom the governor had been grinding his axe for the past year, these schools were finally re-opened and desegregation efforts commenced, as described in the 9/20/63 issue of Time magazine:

There were, of course, some disruptive incidents. In Birmingham, dozens of white students left the schools to protest. A white man tossed a rock through the window of a car carrying two Negro girls. There were shouts of “Nigger! and torrents of curses. There was a lot of Confederate flag waving, and a few arrests. A majority of white students boycotted two of the schools. But perhaps a more meaningful sign of the times was a white high-school boy, who, determined to disregard the taunts and catcalls of his friends, stalked angrily into his Birmingham school explaining, “I came here stupid three years ago, and I ain’t going away stupid.”

If any state could be said to have honed the point being made by the Confederate flag, it was Alabama. This began with the 1948 Dixiecrat convention in Birmingham, where jubilant Southerners celebrated their recent secession from the national Democratic Party over the issue of segregation. When Strom Thurmond rose to the occasion of his nomination, he was flanked by both an American flag and a Confederate battle flag and surrounded by a sea of supporters waving battle flags. The Dixiecrats, also called “the States’ Rights Democratic Party,” professed no more noble cause than the right of their states to preserve racial segregation. On the heels of the Dixiecrat convention, the Confederate battle flag became a ubiquitous presence throughout the South and, indeed, the entire country, as Confederate battle flag sales outpaced American flags.

During the spring of 1963 in Alabama — on the same day that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy traveled to Birmingham to meet with Governor George Wallace about desegregating the University of Alabama — the governor hoisted the Confederate battle flag over the state capitol, the very building where the two were to meet that day. That same spring — amidst the mob violence, the threats, the fists, bricks, homemade bombs, fire hoses and attack dogs unleashed on blacks — Governor Wallace outfitted his state troopers with Confederate flag patches for their uniforms, Confederate flag emblems on their steel helmets, and Confederate flag tags for their cars.

On September 5, 1963, Gov. George Wallace ordered the public schools closed and famously told the New York Times that, to stop integration, Alabama needed a “few first-class funerals.” Ten days later, the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed, injuring 23 and killing 4 girls who were attending Sunday school. The four men who planted the bombs, all of them klansmen, drove a turquoise Chevrolet with Confederate battle flags flying from the two rear antennae. That same fall in 1963 — just two months before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination — billboards across Alabama urged the inconceivable: Kayo the Kennedys.

The omnipotent Confederate flag was flown by governors, lawmen and citizens alike, who countered the peaceful protests with violence during the 1960s civil rights struggles in Alabama and throughout the South. While the symbolism of the battle flag needed no interpretation, it was there for the picking:

On down the road, three cars painted with anti-Negro slogans passed in the south section of the four-lane highway. One car, with a Mississippi license plate, bore the words, “Meridian, Miss., hates niggers.” A Confederate flag flew from the radio aerial. The lettering on another car said, “Go home scum.” — from the New York Times March 1965 account of the Selma Freedom March

George Wallace’s legacy lived on, as the Confederate battle flag remained just as he’d left it on the state capitol on the day of Robert Kennedy’s visit — defiantly flying above the U.S. flag. And there it remained for 15 years before being lowered to a less disrespectful position, then finally removed in 1993 after 30 years of protest, three lawsuits, and the discovery of a forgotten statute.

Georgia

Neighboring Georgia took the flag issue a step further — actually changing their state flag in 1956 to incorporate the Confederate battle flag into the design as part of a concerted, statewide effort to defy desegregation. This effort was driven under the direction of then-Governor Marvin Griffin — a staunch segregationist, who not only threatened to abolish the entire public school system but pledged, in the wake of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, to keep Georgia’s schools segregated, “come hell or high water. In fact, Gov. Griffin, left a wide swath of unambiguous statements that year on the matter of segregation, including:

“The rest of the nation is looking to Georgia for the lead in segregation.” – Gov. Griffin in his address to the States’ Rights Council of Georgia at the beginning of the 1956 legislative session on January 9, 1956

There will be no mixing of the races in public schools, in college classrooms in Georgia so long as I am Governor — Gov. Griffin in his state of the state address on January 10, 1956

Within one month, Governor Griffin signed the flag bill into law to change Georgia’s state flag to “the Battle Flag of the Confederacy.” Here, as later in South Carolina, it was controversial from Day One. The supporters claimed its purpose was to honor Confederate soldiers. Its detractors labeled it a show of pro-segregation defiance. As later remarked by Congressman James Mackey, one of the 32 legislators who opposed the change,

“There was only one reason for putting the flag on there — like the gunrack in a pickup truck, it telegraphs a message.”

It took nearly 50 years of controversy and protest, but the Georgia flag was finally changed in 2001, then again in 2003, reverting to a design similar to the various pre-1956 Georgia flags, all of which were based on the 1st national flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars.

Here, one could argue that the Stars and Bars is also a symbol of white supremacy. Technically, any flag flown under the Confederacy was a banner for white supremacy. However, only one of these flags was used in peace time to wage warfare against the innocent citizens of this country — becoming, in the process, a symbol of racial oppression and violence. To argue over whether these behaviors constitute hatred is to engage in a carnival-style shell game on the semantics.

Back to South Carolina

The Stars and Bars was, in fact, proposed in 1994 as a replacement for the controversial Confederate battle flag. This compromise was acceptable to many. As S.C. State Senator Robert Ford of Charleston said at the time, of the Stars and Bars national flag:

“Nobody could put this flat with lynchings, hate, raping of black women and things like that.”

S.C. State Senator Glenn McConnell rejected this compromise. In fact, he rejected all compromises that involved replacing the Confederate battle flag with the Stars and Bars. In the spirit of this rejection, McConnell worked in several capacities, treading a “blurry line between the commemoration of Confederate history and the promotion of conservative politics.”

In his capacity as a legislator, McConnell has a longstanding history of promoting the agenda of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. One of his more famous efforts was the punishment of a South Carolina utilities corporation in 2002 in retaliation for their company’s policy on the Confederate flag. Earlier, in 1994, McConnell used his position as honorary co-chairman of the Save the Flag Initiative to further the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ agenda, as his group floated newspaper ads around the state, calling on South Carolinians to urge their legislators to, “save the Battle Flag, to keep it flying and not substitute a less recognizable banner.”

Another ad decried:

No one should ask us to deny our past or to repudiate the memory of our ancestors.

Here, the questions beg to be asked: Whose past? Whose memory? Whose ancestors? To deny the historical importance of the Stars and Bars on the basis that it is a “less recognizable banner” is to deny the factual history of our past and to repudiate the memory of the men who fought under that flag.

McConnell has said of the battle flag that he is, “disgusted and sickened by the political rhetoric and people say it’s an emblem of racism, it’s an emblem of hate, it’s shameful and all of this. How do they think we feel when it’s the emblem of our ancestors? They hurt our feelings.”

At the risk of hurting Senator McConnell’s feelings, the racism, hatred and violence of the civil rights era cannot be laid at the feet of our Civil War ancestors. Nor can our modern-day efforts to revise Civil War history.

It was the McConnell’s fraternal brothers, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who — along with the rest of the political elite in South Carolina — fought tooth and nail in 1962 to diminish the commemoration of the Emancipation Proclamation centennial and reduce it to, at best, a token gesture — threatening to secede if their demands weren’t met. In the end, they boycotted the ceremony. Whose past? Whose memory? Whose ancestors?

Given Glenn McConnell’s selective memory on history, he holds no credibility to answer such questions.

It’s been said before, but it apparently needs repeating: When people protest the Confederate battle flag, they are not protesting the field banner carried by Southern troops in the battles of Bull Run and Pickett’s Mill. They are protesting the banner flag of the Jim Crow era, the 1940s Dixiecrat Party, the segregationists and mobs who raised this flag over their violent campaigns against blacks. They are protesting the symbolism of the flag worn by policemen and state troopers who unleashed their fire hoses, bullets and dogs onto civil rights activists. They are protesting the flag raised by governors and politicians as a show of defiance against federal law. They are protesting the flag carried by unreconstructed Southerners who have yet to concede the outcome of the Civil War, much less the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Still, there will always be Southerners who insist that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery; that segregation had nothing to do with racial hatred; that the Confederate flag has nothing to do with either. Thankfully, their numbers are dwindling.

Fortunately, the historical records have been preserved. Our state’s “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” is one such record. Drafted upon our secession from the Union — an event that occurred shortly after Lincolns’ election in 1860 — this document makes patently clear our state’s reasons for seceding from the Union:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

The speeches and papers of the president and vice-president of the newly-formed Confederate States of America, (Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, respectively) also offer windows into the cause of the Civil War. The language in Alexander Stephens famous Cornerstone Speech, delivered in March 1861, several weeks before the start of the Civil War, was typical of the pre-Civil War rhetoric on the matter:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

After the war, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens backpeddled a bit, trying to divorce slavery from the equation. The emphasis was put entirely on states’ rights and secession, as if slavery had nothing to with either. It was during this period that the “Lost Cause” moniker was born.

The Lost Cause was a purely Southern term, intended to convey for posterity the nobility of the Southern cause against Mr. Lincoln’s war. To this end, the Lost Causers made clear that the Civil War was never about slavery. It was about state’s rights. It was not about the federal government’s increasing encroachment upon the institution and expansion of slavery; it was about the South’s justification for seceding from the Union.

This argument continues to be made.

According to South Carolina CWCC member, Daniel Hollis, this argument was the centerpiece of debate among his fellow committee members in 1961 — Rep. John May plus three members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Hollis, described by fellow Civil War historian, Avery Craven, as “the only sane person” on the committee was also the only historian on the committee. He held a Ph.D in American History from Columbia University and taught history for 36 years at the University of South Carolina, his specialties being Southern history and the Civil War. In later years, Hollis recalled this ongoing debate among the committee:

“They would argue that the war wasn’t fought over slavery but states’ rights. That’s ridiculous. Without the slavery issue South Carolina would not have seceded. You think they would have gotten angry enough about tariffs to start shooting?

The ruling elite that ran this state all owned slaves. They denied the war was over slavery, insisting that it was over states’ rights. But it was over the states’ right to own slaves and enforce white supremacy.”

Ultimately, Hollis’ input was superseded by the majority voice, as dictated by such great South Carolinians as Strom Thurmond, John D. Long and John May — men who stood on the shoulders of other great South Carolinians, such as Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman and Wade Hampton, and who carried their torch into future, into the hands of men like Glenn McConnell, Joe Wilson and Jim DeMint and Mark Sanford.

Granted, South Carolina does not hold a monopoly on backward momentum, but it is a fact that you can pick any spot in history and look backward or forward 50 years and find little difference in matters of ignorance, illiteracy and intolerance, nor in the agenda of our leaders.

Once upon a time, this agenda came dressed in red shirts. Later, the cause came dressed in white robes and hoods. Later, still, it came dressed in a Confederate battle flag. To those who have been subjected to the terror and tyranny of this cause — or who respect the memory of those who were so subjected — there would be negligible difference between hanging a red shirt, a white robe and hood, or a Confederate battle flag on State House grounds. Col. May and his genteel racist cohorts knew this fully well when they rose the flag in 1961. That was the whole point.

_____________________________

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3 Responses

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  1. Billy Bearden said, on January 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    While you do write very eloquently and give some insightful and occaisional historical facts, you totally miss the mark with the Georgia Flag Change of 1956 and stating that the Confederacy was all about white supremacy.

    Such claims can easliy be dismissed when the list of Confederate participants are made public – from Confederate Hispanic Ambassadors and Confederate Jewish Cabinet members, to Confederate Native American troops like the Cherokee Braves and Choctaw Brigades, to unsegregated units that included Blacks, Irish, Scots, Prussians, and Jews.

    The court transcript from the Coleman vs Miller Flag suit dispells any hate motives on the flag change in 56, with special attention to testimony from Denmark Groover.

    There is enough bad from the 50s-60s that you need not create or falsify anything simply to embellish or rewrite history.

    • canarypapers said, on January 3, 2010 at 6:42 pm

      I’m quite familiar with Denmark Groover’s history and statements in support of Marvin Griffin and of the 1956 Georgia flag design as a symbol of defiance against desegregation. His record both then and since speaks for itself. Groover, like so many other unreconstructed Southerners, thought it politically expedient in later years to backpedal and try to redefine the semantics of his earlier statements. Nothing new there.

      I’m not sure of your point in noting the Jews, Native Americans, Prussians, Scots, Iriish, etc. (all of whom kept African American slaves) who fought in the Civil War. Are you saying that this somehow proves that the war was not about slavery or white supremacy?

      As for blacks fighting in the Civil War…. Uncounted and unknowable numbers of these “fought” in the capacity of slaves for their masters. I’d invite you to read my page on the topic. https://theaikenchronicles.wordpress.com/question-how-many-blacks-fought-in-the-civil-war/ Yes, there were blacks who willingly and proudly fought for the Confederacy. I would propose that at least some of these were suffering from Stockholm syndrome. The number of blacks who involuntarily served the Confederacy war effort vastly outnumbers those who voluntarily served.

      It’s not rocket science. The number of blacks who volunteered for the Confederacy pales in comparison to those who volunteered for the Union. But in my mind, the most compelling number of the Civil War is zero. That’s the number of free blacks who escaped from the North so that they could “enjoy” (as the Lost Causers call it) the Southern way of life and take part in our peculiar institution.

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