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.
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
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.
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.”
founding principles of the
Confederacy were little different from those of the USA. The difference
is that the Confederates were straightforward about those principles,
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.
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.
(Paraphrased from an interview
with Michael Wayne, author of Imagining Black America, May 2014)
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
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.
"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
"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...." --
Ward Howe. From "A Trip to Cuba" Published 1859-60 by Ticknor and
||“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.
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
fighting for political independence from a government they no longer
to be ruled by.
CLAIM: The Civil War wasn’t about
slavery. It was about states’ rights.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
of Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, and
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.
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,
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
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?
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
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.