Sunday, July 28, 2013

The American South should learn to embrace its heroic underdog history

Nice quote of one Perry DeAngelis highlighted in a recent Skeptic's Guide to the Universe podcast:

If you strip the horrors of history from history, the flip side of that is you strip the nobility of rising above such horrors

There's been some discussion lately about the libertarian split over embracing the Lost Cause of the Southern Confederacy and the general Southern attitude to their history. While I'm sure this has been said elsewhere, I think the whitewashing of the horrors of the antebellum South* denies the heroism of the people that resisted those horrors. Rather than downplaying those horrors, the libertarians and more importantly the popular histories of the South could discuss the true underdog Southerners - Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, the white Virginians who tried to abolish slavery in their state in 1851, many others who fought a Lost Cause as underdogs against horrible tyrants. Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, and the others may have become underdogs during the Civil War, but the history of the South before the war didn't put them in that category. If modern Southern schools want to teach a heroic heritage, there's a nobility there that they should emphasize instead.

*And the North also had its own horrors, and its own heroes who fought them.


Unknown said...

Southerners will never admit that the only people with a Right to Revolution in 1860 were black slaves.

So much so, they insist that secession was constitutional, rather than an assertion of an inalienable right to overthrow an oppresssive government. Because who could be more oppressed than a slave forced into manual labour, deprived of the right to an education or to betterment, even the right to raise a family?

Hank Roberts said...

My church marched against the Klan and ran the only integrated gradeschools in the state back when I was a kid. Things there weren't good by today's standards, but we got here from there.

Anonymous said...

I am very impressed that commenter number 1 is all knowing such that he can read the minds of all "Southerners." Having grown up in Mississippi and moved to Indiana for graduate school, I was appalled by the racist attitudes of the "Yankees." While not perfect, things were improving in the early 70s. Then I saw a census report that listed the percentage black population in Indiana as 7% (I think), not the ~50% in the South. Back home, there was more opportunity for racial interactions and hopefully better relations.

I don't know how things are now. I suspect they have regressed. I've lived in the Northwest for 18 years. I'd say that race relations are definitely mixed here. Some good, some bad.

Better education, nutrition, jobs, and opportunities would help all people. Less reliance on crooked politicians, failed policies, and yes, pablum dealing religions would also help.

I have some memories similar to Hank's. I agree that we have all made improvements. But, unless we address the underlying problems soon I fear that we will backslide.

Tupelo Stu

Brian said...

Unknown - I forgot to mention the thousands of black slaves who fought on the side of the Union, despite being discriminated against at the same time, as well as many other white Union soldiers who came from Confederate states. Those are great stories to tell.

Tupelo - I grew up in upstate New York in the 70s and 80s and saw some terrible and overt racist attitudes among fellow students and neighbors. I hope it's better now. I should note that parts of Indiana seem pretty culturally Southern, though.

dhogaza said...

"Having grown up in Mississippi and moved to Indiana for graduate school, I was appalled by the racist attitudes of the "Yankees.""

Hoosiers are in no way, shape, or form, "Yankees".

dhogaza said...

"Back home, there was more opportunity for racial interactions and hopefully better relations. "

Which is why the recent gutting of the voter's rights act has led a half-dozen or so southern states to quickly move to restrict voting rights of ...


"white people!"


Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Jim Crow south in TN in the 40s, 50s and 60s.... segregated schools, segregated everything, the n-word, the whole nine yards.....

There are a lot of things that "The American South should learn.....". but they show no signs of doing so.

In fact, as dhogaza points out, they are moving backwards rapidly, rather than forwards.


Unknown said...

Tupelo Stu,

I was talking about the 1860s, not the 1960s.

But you are right - "all" Southerners did not support secession. The slaves did not (about 40% of the population), nor did the citizens of Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, West Virginia, East Tennessee and Missouri.

Many southerners were alienated by Confederate conscription, and in the end about 150,000 soldiers from the South fought in the Union Army. Sherman was supported by the First Alabama Cavalry, composed of native southerners, driven out by the incessant combing for recruits.

Despite the Lost Cause historians, there was far more civil unrest in the South than the North during the Civil War.

But continue with your illusions - if only the blacks had been assured of a full belly and a warm bed, they would have stayed on the plantations, working for good kind massa.

Unknown said...


In the movie Glory, probably the best Civil War film ever, the escaped slave and Union soldier Tripp (Denzel Washington) says to the abolitionist Colonel Shaw (played by Matthew Broderick) something like:

"When this war is over, you'll just go back to your white friends. What will we get?"

Shaw replies: "Well, you'll get a lot less if we lose."

Yes, black soldiers were "discriminated against", but it was mild enough compared to what was endured by the slaves conscripted into forced labour by the Confederacy.

Glory covers this theme brilliantly.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was in no way intending to come off as defending the South. I just to comment that it wasn't just the South that had and has poor race relations. So, I don't know what illusions I have that you are referring to.

And I should have said that if fear that the back sliding is well underway. Those in political power have found it easy to use blacks and "others" as scare tactics to the poor, white base. Hard to see how this is going to change anytime soon.

On the lighter side, when I grew up anybody living north of Kentucky was considered a Yankee.

I also feel that it ought to be a requirement for national office that candidates tour the Cival War battlefields on foot. I don't see how any one doing that could not come away with a profound sense of sadness and anger over what happened when ideologies are taken too far on any side.

Tupelo Stu

Anonymous said...

I just finished Wilkerson's "The Warmth of Other Suns", a striking history if the "great migration" of African Americans out of the South. She combines oral history and social science to give a broad, in depth portait of this historic demographic shift.
She is able to evoke the wrenching choices faced by millions driven from home by cruelty and exploitation -- sharecroppers being paid $0 net for the year, lynchings, crushing daily insults of Jim Crow. Leaving by train required stealth to avoid being beaten for trying to emigrate.
In the North and West the biases were tacit - hotels with "no room" rather than signs or laws. Housing segregation and population influx meant Black tenants could face rents double thise in white areas. Moving in across color lines could trigger riots and firebombing, or else white flight. Having enough money was no assurance of access to a decent safe place to live.
Ihighly recommended. If you buy the e-book from Amazon, you can add the audiobook from Audible for just $4, and the Kindle annd Audible apps can sync with each other as you progress.

Jim the Canadibunny

EliRabett said...

For visual learners "Jacob Lawrence's migration series.