Neo-Confederates Are Not Quite so Neo

FarbsWould Hodge think these guys were just a bunch of Farbs?

How has the legacy of slavery and the Civil War endured in the American South? Tony Horwitz set out to find out his his book, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. Horwitz went on a journey across the different states in the American South to find out what the Civil War meant to these different people and groups. His background in journalism aided him significantly, easily meeting different people and finding complex stories and individuals along the way.

While in the South Horowitz exclaimed, “everywhere, it seemed, I had to explore two pasts and two presents; one white, one black, separate and unreconcilable. The past had poisoned the present and the present, in turn, now poisoned remembrance of things past. So there needed to be a black Memorial Day and a white Veterans Day. A black city museum and a white one. A black history month and a white calendar of remembrance. The best that could be hoped for was a grudging toleration of each other’s historical memory. You Wear Your X, I’ll Wear Mine.” (208) Even after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and federally forced integration, many of the people of different races continued to segregate themselves, by choice. He also heard sentiments from African Americans like Irma Jackson urging “the audience to remember the [Civil Rights] martyrs and ‘the cause for which they fought’.” (362) But Horowitz “realized I’d heard all this before. Honor the young foot soldiers. Take a stand for our rights. The litany of heroic deeds and fallen martyrs. It was the same mournful refrain that ran through dozens of Confederate observances I’d attended.” (363) These very different groups were using the same rhetoric to elicit very different parts of history and ultimately to prove their position valad.

But why the Civil War? The United States has been involved in many wars, but the Civil War holds a very special place in American memory and culture. “While other war on American soil occurred largely along the frontier, the major clashes of the Civil War were mostly fought for control of rail junctions, crossroads, and river or sea ports: Manassas, Atlanta, Charleston, Chattanooga, Fredericksburg, Petersburg, and so on.” (240) The Civil War was fought across the east coast, though mostly in the South, and many people today are still confronted with this legacy. But that still does not explain why Southerners in particular have latched onto the Civil War as propaganda for today. After speaking with many people one man summed up the majority of white confederate defenders pretty clearly, “We’ve been forced into an extreme position. It reflects our frustration over being blamed for every danged thing. We’re tired of being put down and kicked around. We can point fingers, too.” (330) I think we can all agree the South caused the Civil War by seceding, but what exactly are white southerners still being “blamed for”? Why is this still so present?

This week I think I have more questions than answers. As someone who has only visited the American South only ever-so-briefly I can’t begin to understand or get in the minds of these people. Also, I wonder how much, if anything, has changed in the twenty years since this book was published. It still seems extremely relevant with the Donald Trump supporters we see on the nightly news touting similar ideas. Much of this comes from the legacy of failed Reconstruction in the 1870s and after the Civil Rights and counterculture movements of the 1960s. Ever since then there has been a unique feeling of conservative whites, who are part of the dominant culture, but see themselves as outsiders needing to fight for their place at the table. Well, if middle aged white men ever had a place at a table it has been in the United States, and they could stand to give up a chair once in awhile.

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