I remember when I first learned that the south lost the Civil War. I was about 9 or 10 years old and recall that I was sad that we were the losers. Winning WWII gave me some hope, but the fact that the ancestors of the people I was growing up with had lost a war was depressing. I soon realized that the symbols of the Confederacy were our way of showing the winners – those Damned Yankees, that we may have surrendered but our spirit was not defeated.
As the 100 year anniversary of the “War Between the States” approached, the wave of fantastic nostalgia began to crest. In Mississippi, it was politically as well as economically important to participate in the wishful-thinking societies such as the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy. When asked to make a presentation to the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy by my grandmother, I chose to focus on the naval activities of the CSA, mainly because their exploits and losses were less than the spectacularly gruesome losses on land.
This was the 1960s which also had the civil rights movement to overcome white supremacy and black suppression rampant across the former CSA states, as well as the proxy war being fought in Vietnam, between the U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. and the race to the moon to prove that capitalist driven technology was better than the dictatorship that was the USSR. These significant challenges to the U.S.A. made us busier than a one-armed paper hanger! Thanks to the efforts of long term senators and other elected southern officials, as well as orbital physics, in Mississippi, we got to build a test site for the space race in the swamps of the Pearl River, so we had our new south rising to the stars.
But still, in our heart of hearts we sons and daughters of the confederacy knew that we had lost a significant conflict and so we worked harder at ignoring that slip-up in our greatness and did the equivalent of stopping up our ears and shouting LALALALALALALALALAL…. And ignoring reasons for the conflict and its consequences.
The reasoning went something like this: if blacks were allowed the same privileges as whites, then the supremacy of the white race would be lost forever. Our elders warned us that the mixing of the races would lead to the extinction of our great white race. I surmised from this that the black man or woman was such a siren that if allowed, there would be nothing but interracial marriages producing mixed race children. This would surely lead to the end of the pure white race. Except, of course, for all of those black children sired by white men having their way with enslaved black women.
In the 1950s and 60s just as it had in the 1860s, white southern leaders recognized that armed rebellion just does not work, so they set about preserving the culture of white supremacy buy not only erecting barriers but monuments. These legal and physical structures were erected to let whites know that they were still dominate and blacks that the oppression continued.
All this effort was to dodge the fact that the CSA lost the war and the slave owners lost their slaves.
Bill Moyers writes about a trip with President Lyndon John:
“We were in Tennessee. During a motorcade, the President spotted some ugly racial epithets scrawled on signs by a few plain, he called them homely, white women on the edge of the crowd. Late that night in the hotel, long past midnight, he was still going on about how poor whites and poor blacks had been kept apart so that they could separately be fleeced-. ”I’ll tell you what’s at the bottom of it,” he said. “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll even empty his pockets for you.”
That was over 70 years ago.
The most significant changes have occurred in just the last 20 years. The millennials have grown up in a culture that is a mix of races, ethnicity, genders, and opinions. When I compare the norms of my youth: strict segregation by race, ethnicity, and world views, with what I see hear and read today the difference is literally night and day. Now we are facing an evolution that is becoming a revolution. Counter to the chants of the Regressives, the next generation will replace us, and the world will probably be better for it.
White supremacists lost the Civil War, they also lost the separation of the races and ethnicity. Reminders of how great it never-was need to be put to rest and let those angry ghosts dissipate as the sunlight of our diverse society shines on us.