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The Southern Poverty Law Center has declared war on Confederate heritage with (among other efforts) a campaign titled, "Whose Heritage?" The effort is purportedly to remove Confederate symbols from public property, but we all know it won't stop there.

The two-part website features a section headed "Responding to Objections and Myths." It comprises a list of purported claims used to defend displays of Confederate heritage, followed by a short response from the SPLC. Presumably, these are to be used to strengthen the calls for removal.

Many in the Southern heritage community believe these responses are biased, careless and incomplete, and comprise erroneous, even fallacious, information. We want to make truthful and more complete information available to our community and the general public. We believe everyone deserves to know that there are other valid viewpoints regarding Confederate symbols.

~ RESPONDING TO INCOMPLETE AND ERRONEOUS INFORMATION ~

CLAIM: It’s heritage not hate.

SPLC RESPONSE: While some people see Confederate symbols as emblems of Southern pride and heritage, the question must be asked: Whose heritage? The “heritage, not hate” argument ignores the near-universal heritage of African Americans who were enslaved by the millions in the South and later subjected to brutal oppression under the white supremacist regime of Jim Crow. Our democracy is based on equality under the law, and public entities should not prominently display symbols that undermine that concept and alienate an entire segment of the population.

OUR REPLIES:

1. It isn't just some people who see Confederate symbols as emblems of Southern pride. It is the majority of Americans. According to a poll by CNN taken June 26-28, 2015 and reported July 7 -- just days after the tragic shooting in Charleston, SC -- 57% of the respondants said they see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride. Only 33% said it is a symbol of racism. These percentages have remained virtually unchanged for many years.

In 2011, a poll by Pew Research found that more black respondants (45%) had no reaction to the Confederate flag while a smaller percentage (41%) found the flag offensive.

2. The United States is rich with acknowledgements of African American heritage. While Confederate heritage does not focus solely or even predominantly on it, African American heritage is a component of Confederate heritage, so it is hardly ignored. And while the Jim Crow system existed in the South, it wasn't exclusive to the South, which means its connection to Confederate symbols today is largely artificial, as it ignores the system that existed outside the South.

3. Equality under the law relates to accused people getting a fair trial, and related concerns. Symbols on public land that may offend certain groups does not violate or undermine equality under the law. Much claimed offendedness is based on ethnicity, and because there is a large and growing number of ethnicities in the USA, just about any symbol or component of our culture has the potential be offensive to somebody. It is ludicrous to expect the people of the USA -- and the South, a nation within a nation -- to sacrifice cherished symbols of our country, our culture, our history. There is no right under our law to not be offended.

The SPLC objection to the “heritage, not hate” argument ignores all of the above.



CLAIM: The Confederate battle flag is not racist. Hate groups hijacked the flag, causing people to associate it with racism.

SPLC RESPONSE: Hate groups didn’t transform the flag into a symbol of white supremacy. The Confederacy was founded on the very idea of white supremacy, and soldiers who served under its banner — regardless of their individual honor or motives — fought to defend the institution of slavery. In his “Cornerstone Speech,” the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, noted that the new government’s cornerstone rested “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”

OUR REPLIES:

1. The founding principles of the Confederacy were little different from those of the USA. The difference is that the Confederates were straightforward about those principles, while the United States defiled and corrupted its founding with actions that turned its founding principles to lies, and it did not acknowledge or correct the lies for generations. Declaring that all men are created equal and endowed with liberty, the USA denied citizenship and naturalization to non-whites and denied voting to non-whites and women; it sanctioned slavery for 89 years and did not officially abolish it until after the Confederacy ceased to exist.

The United States was the first nation in human history conceived in white supremacy. Native Americans weren't allowed to be come citizens, and a law passed in George Washington's first administration said only white people could be naturalized. The Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal, but the Founders did not believe that applied to non-white races or women. If the Declaration were taken at its word, slavery could not exist. Historians note that people of that era believed that the only people with the capacity to live in a free, equal, democratic society were whites.
(Paraphrased from an interview with Michael Wayne, author of Imagining Black America, May 2014)
2. In 1836 a Justice of the Supreme Court confirmed that the United States had foundations and cornerstones very similar to those of the future Confederacy.
The foundations of the [Federal] government are laid, and rest on the rights of property in slaves -- the whole structure must fall by disturbing the cornerstones -- if federal numbers cease to be respected or held sacred in questions of property or government, the rights of the states must disappear, and the government and union dissolve by the prostration of its laws before the usurped authority of individuals. --Associate Supreme Court Justice Henry Baldwin, Pennsylvanian, stated in one of his district cases, Johnson v. Tompkins -- April 1833
3. The belief in the country's white supremacy foundations is found alive and well 86 years later in the speeches of Abraham Lincoln.
... I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. Charleston, Illinois September 18, 1858

"Negro equality! Fudge!! How long, in the government of a God, great enough to make and maintain this Universe, shall there continue knaves to vend, and fools to gulp, so low a piece of demagougeism as this." -- Abraham Lincoln - Notes for Speech, September 1859

4. Even abolitionists of the day believed the white race was supreme over the black race and considered that compulsory labor (slavery) for the latter might be better than none.
"Now we who write, and they for whom we write, are all orthodox upon this mighty question. We have all made our confession of faith in private and public; we all, on suitable occasions, walk up and apply the match to the keg of gunpowder which is to blow up the Union, but which, somehow, at the critical moment, fails to ignite. But you must allow us one heretical whisper, -- very small and low. The negro of the North is the ideal negro; it is the negro refined by white culture, elevated by white blood, instructed even by white iniquity; -- the negro among negroes is a coarse, grinning, flat-footed, thick-skulled creature, ugly as Caliban, lazy as the laziest of brutes, chiefly ambitious to be of no use to any in the world. View him as you will, his stock in trade is small; -- he has but the tangible of instincts of all creatures, -- love of life, of ease and of offspring. For all else, he must go to school to the white race, and his discipline must be long and laborious. Nassau, and all that we saw of it, suggested to us the unwelcome question whether compulsory labor be not better than none...." -- Julia Ward Howe. From "A Trip to Cuba" Published 1859-60 by Ticknor and Fields, Boston
5. “White Supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.” Elizabeth Martinez in "What is White Supremacy" as found in Reflections on the History of White Supremacy in the United States, The Rev. Dr. William J. Gardiner March, 2009

Based on the definition above by Martinez, the United States falls into this category as well, and the US and Confederate Constitutions are virtually the same. The system the SPLC uses to defend its ideals is the same system that brought slavery, allowed it, and is still funding and permitting slavery today. The banner of the United States flew over slavery when the country was founded and flies over it today.

White supremacy was not a political principal or a conscious cultural component in that era and not a cause for going to war. Confederate soldiers were not fighting for white supremacy any more than revolutionary soldiers were. Both were fighting for political independence from a government they no longer wished to be ruled by.



CLAIM: The Civil War wasn’t about slavery. It was about states’ rights.

SPLC RESPONSE: The desire to preserve slavery was the cause for secession. Secession documents for several states cite slavery as their reason for leaving the Union. The vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, said the country was founded on the belief that all men are not created equal, but that slavery is the “natural and normal condition” of African Americans. It doesn’t get any clearer than that.

OUR REPLIES:

Notice the not-so-subtle bait and switch here. The purported "claim" is about the war. The SPLC's response is about secession. Secession is not war, it is a peaceful, political act. War is a violent military undertaking. Since the question was about war, the SPLC's response about secession is entirely irrelevant.

Nevertheless, we can address the subject.

Ultimately, neither states rights nor slavery were the cause for secession. It was political independence, separate nationhood. In seceding, the Southern states were abolishing their government in order to institute a new one, an exercise identified as their right in the Declaration of Independence.

Thus, the protection of slavery was a cause for secession, not the cause, although granted, it was a major cause. Only four states issued declarations of causes of secession, and those documents comprise multiple reasons for leaving the union. Even Mississippi's, which states, "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery..." goes on to list numerous other reasons for seceding.

The states of the upper South did not secede with the first wave, the Deep South states. They did not leave the union until Lincoln tried to force them to send troops to invade the seceded states. None of these states issued Declarations of Causes of Secession but the secession ordinances of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky make no mention of seceding to protect slavery.

(Note: I had someone point out that Virginia's secession ordinance mentions "slave-holding states." Apparently she sincerely thought that meant Virginia was seceding over slavery. I explained to her that the phrase "slave-holding states" in that document was simply a descriptor, an identifier. It identified the states the federal government wanted Virginia to invade, and she refused.)

The union army did not invade the South to free slaves. Lincoln had sold the war to the north on "preserving the union," and that was the reason for the military invasion of the South. The Confederates fought to leave the union and to defend homes, families and communities from the invading army. Lincoln's call for volunteers does not mention slavery, emancipation or abolition.

Well into the fighting, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It could be viewed that this was the point at which the union began to fight to free slaves but for Confederates, the reason for the war did not change. They were still fighting for their political independence and to defend their homeland from the invader. In reality, the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves. It declared that the slaves in Confederate territory were free, but the union had no power to carry it out; and it did not free any slaves in territory held by the union.



CLAIM: Slaves fought for the Confederacy, which proves the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.

SPLC RESPONSE: For most of the war, the Confederacy did not allow enslaved men to serve. It changed its policy only in the final weeks of the war — a time when it desperately needed men. Few joined voluntarily.

OUR REPLIES:

Again, the "claim" is misstated, and I'm certain the SPLC knows this, as much as they surveil the heritage community. The most common claim made by Southern heritage supporters is not that slaves fought for the Confederacy, but that blacks, slave and free, served the Confederate military forces -- and some of them did indeed fight. But the point of bringing up black Confederates is not to "prove" the Civil War wasn't about slavery, but to acknowledge their sevice.

One thing the SPLC's response ignores is that individual states may have had policies that differed from the general government's, and blacks could have entered service through that route. It also ignores the preponderance of evidence that disproves what they claim.

Frederick Douglas wrote about witnessing blacks fighting in the rebel army. The subject has been researched for years by a variety of researchers and the online information about it is plentiful and growing.



CLAIM: We shouldn’t remove things just because someone may be offended. What about the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression? If we remove this symbol, what’s next?

SPLC RESPONSE: Individual citizens still have the right to fly a Confederate flag — even if it offends people. That is their First Amendment right. But our government, which is supposed to serve all citizens, shouldn’t endorse a symbol that represents the oppression of a group of its citizens. This is not a freedom-of-expression issue.

OUR REPLIES:

Not everyone agrees that the symbol represents the oppression of a group of its citicens, and even if someone chooses to interpret it that way, that's not the same thing as government refusing to serve all citizens. To a great many people, Confederate symbols represent the same thing as the symbols of the American Revolution -- a struggle for independent nationhood. It is also seen as the symbol of a gallant army defending homes, families and communities from an army of invasion that preyed on civilians, shelled and burned dozens of towns that had no strategic or military significance, stole valuables and killed livestock.

Interestingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center no doubt endorses the U.S. flag, which to many Confederate decendants represents the oppression of a group of citizens -- their Confederate ancestors.



CLAIM: Slavery existed under the American flag, too. Does that mean we should take it down?

SPLC RESPONSE: There’s no denying that slavery existed under the U.S. flag. There is, however, a key difference: The U.S. flag represents a country that ultimately freed its slaves. The Confederate flag represents a government founded to preserve slavery.

OUR REPLIES:

Late in the war, the debates on freeing male slaves to fight for the Confederacy, which would have been the death knell of slavery, and Duncan Kenner's mission to Europe offering to emancipate the Confederacy's slaves in return for recognition of the CSA from England and France, shows that the people of the CSA put political independence above keeping slaves. And it happened in only four years. From an editorial in the Jackson Mississippian:

"Let not slavery prove a barrier to our independence. Although slavery is one of the principles we started to fight for ... if it proves an insurmountable obstacle to the achievement of our liberty and separate nationality, away with it!"
The USA defiled its founding with falsehoods -- equality and liberty for all, but sanctioning slavery for 89 years, and not officially and constitutionally abolishing it until AFTER the Confederacy ceased to eist. Moreover, the U.S. flag flew over New England's slave ships that participated in the TransAtlantic Slave Trade, and some continued to smuggle slaves after the trade was outlawed, right up until the eve of the war.

Besides, slavery is not the only sin that can taint a nation and stain its flag. The Stars and Stripes bears the guilt no only of slavery, but slave shipping and slave trading. It bears the guilt fo genocide of some native peoples of North America, and the captivity of others in concentration camps artfully called reservations in conditions worse than plantation slavery. Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My Lai. Kent State. Abu Graibe ... By comparison, the sin of slavery doesn't look all that bad.



CLAIM: There are great figures in American history who were not members of the Confederacy but were slave owners. Should we tear down statues and other monuments to them?

SPLC RESPONSE: No. The difference is that, unlike the Confederacy, those historical figures are not generally being honored because of things so closely associated with white supremacism and oppression.

OUR REPLIES:

There are already cries to tear down monuments to some of our Founding Fathers because they were slave owners. And the clamor will grow in volume and stridancy. The Southern Poverty Law Center is attempting to portray blacks as the only victims of white supremacy and oppression, but Native Americans have also been victims, as have been Hispanics and Asian Americans.

The Grant Administration encourged hunting the American buffalo to extinction, in order to genocide the Plains Indians by starvation and take their land for white settlers. Shall we remove all monuments and markers to Grant? President Franklin Roosevelt signed the executive order that imprisoned Japanese-Americans in concentration camps during WWII. Shall we purge FDR from the memorial landscape?

Moreover, some Confederates were honored Americans before secession. For example, Jefferson Davis was a U.S. representative and a U.S. senator and Secretary of War. Both Davis and Robert E. Lee were Mexican War heroes.



CLAIM: Removing this Confederate symbol is erasing history in the name of political correctness.

SPLC RESPONSE: This is not an attempt to erase history. It is an effort to end the government’s endorsement of a symbol that has always represented the oppression of an entire race. These historical symbols belong in museums and other educational settings where people can see them and learn the full history of slavery, the Confederacy, the Civil War and Jim Crow.

OUR REPLIES:

It is not simply a attempt to erase history; it is that coupled with the deliberate demonization of a group of people who are no longer around to speak for themselves. The viewpoint that Confederate symbols have always represented the oppression of an entire race is emphatically not universal. A great many of these symbols, particularly monuments to Confederate soldiers on public property, were placed by people and governments grateful to those soldiers for defending them from an invading army. The civil war comprised about 10,000 battles, from minor skirmishes, to days-long heavy combat, and all but a hanful of them occurred on Southern soil. There is nothing wrong with a state, a county or a municipality erecting a monument to honor the men who fought and died for them a surely as they fought and died for individuals.

Leaving the monuments on public property, where many of them have stood for a century or longer, does not somehow preclude their being used for teaching about history; nor do they prevent education about slavery, the Confederacy, the civil war and Jim Crow. To claim they should be in a museum for that purpose is not only ludicrous; it is also dishonest.



CLAIM: This symbol can’t be racist because I want to keep it and I’m not racist.

SPLC RESPONSE: Our personal beliefs can’t change the history of the Confederacy, which was founded upon a belief in white supremacy — nor can they change the effect a symbol has on others.

OUR REPLIES:

Once again, the SPLC is making a claim out of whole cloth, pulling it out of thin air. The vast majority of heritage supporters don't claim that their personal views and desires assign meaning to symbols. Quite the opposite, most in the heritage community believe these symbols get their meaning from the experiences of generations past. The beliefs of people the Confederate States encompassed far more than white supremacy -- belief in family, in Christianity, in neighbor helping neighbor, and more.

Moreover, as we have seen already, the United States was also founded upon believe in white supremacy, despite the founding principles of equality and liberty. We know this because, despite those principles, the United States permitted race-based slavery for 89 years.

Heritage supporters aren't attempting to dictate to others that they should not feel negatively about the symbols, or that they should feel positively about them. People are free to feel about them however they wish.



CLAIM: This [school/team/mascot] has long been named after a Confederate leader. There’s no need to change it. It’s just part of the community.

SPLC RESPONSE: The students are as much a part of this community as this name. It sends the wrong message to these students — especially students of color — when their school honors someone loyal to a government founded on the idea that one group of people is inherently superior to another and should be able to enslave them. It also sends the wrong message about our community.

[If applicable to your school] We should look not only at the history of the school’s namesake, but our community’s history. This school was not named shortly after the Civil War. It was named during the civil rights movement when many schools in this country were named after Confederate leaders as a protest against school desegregation. Our community shouldn’t continue sending this message.

OUR REPLIES:

It is ludicrous to claim that schools/teams/mascots named for Confederate leaders were so named to honor the idea of one group being superior to another and enslaving them. Confederate leaders represent a variety of positive traits -- bravery, tenacity, leadership, to name a few. To imagine that these traits send the wrong message -- to anyone -- is outlandish.

The people at the SPLC need to realize that the civil rights movement was not the only thing happening in the mid-20th Century. That was also the centennial of the War Between the States -- a nationwide commemortion that lasted several years, and had a great deal of influence over events. Before attributing any development at that time to resistance to the civil rights movement, it needs to be thoroughly researched. It may have been inspired by the centennial.



CLAIM: My ancestor bravely served the Confederacy in the Civil War. He didn’t own slaves. He was just defending his home. Removing this symbol disrespects him and the ancestors of others in this community.

SPLC RESPONSE: This issue isn’t about the personal motivations of one soldier. It is clear that as a government, the Confederacy endorsed slavery and white supremacy. It can be found in the Confederate Constitution and in statements of the Confederacy’s leadership. And it can be found in the secession documents of the states.This symbol represents the Confederate government, which endorsed these beliefs.

It is worth noting that many Confederate veterans attended “Blue and Gray” reunions after the Civil War. These reunions brought veterans from both sides of the war together for reconciliation and celebration of their collective identity as Americans.

OUR REPLIES:

It is equally clear that the government of the United States sanctioned slavery and white supremacy. It is found in the U.S. government's actions, that clearly violated the founding principles of liberty and equality written into the Declaration of Independence. This is the primary reason the United States did not have the moral authority to militarily invade the Confederate states and make war upon the people.

The Confederate heritage community believes that the personal motivations of the soldiers are crucial to the understanding of Confederate symbols. They were defending their homes, families and communities from an army of invasion. Providing this defense motivated them far more than the government's endorsement of slavery, as is evidenced in thousands of their war letters.

Many Confederate veterans also attended their own reunions across the South. Swapping war tales was part of these gatherings. The United Confederate Veterans published a monthly periodical, Confederate Veteran Magazine, that featured articles on battles, officer profiles, images, and anecdotes from the war combined with the news of the day.


CONCLUSIONS:

Nothing the SPLC has written in their Whose Heritage pages justifies the current culture war on Confederate history and heritage. The fact is, slavery and white supremacy were so important to the United States and its beginnings that the country violated its own founding prinicples to maintain them. It is for this reason that the USA did not have the moral authority to invade the Confederate states and make war not just on the military, but on civilians -- women, children, elderly, servants and other noncombatants.

We honor the Confederacy's striving for political independence from Washington, D.C. the same way we honor the colonial patriots' striving for independence from the British crown. And we honor the Confederate military for its heroic defense of the South's homes, families and communities from the depredation of the federal army.





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