Let’s Not Let a Celebration of Heritage Get Hijacked

I recently walked (or hobbled) the battlefield at Bull Run and stood on the line where Stonewall Jackson got his name. I grew up near Shiloh and joined the Tennessee relatives there for reunions, played in the Bloody Pond and in the Hornet’s Nest. I have a shelf full of Civil War histories and biographies.

So why do I dread the Civil War Sesquicentennial?

Next year marks the 150-year anniversary of the outbreak of the war. I think it will be an opportunity and a great thing for Knoxville. The Knoxville Civil War Roundtable has done a wonderful job of documenting the high ground forts in South Knoxville that ringed and protected Knoxville from invasion. Forts Higley, Stanley, and Dickerson may finally get their due as the Legacy Parks Foundation is busy raising funds to buy the last remaining pieces to create parks, green space, and a greenway. Knoxville should be a “must stop” for the battlefield tours expected as Civil War buffs travel around the South.

So don’t assume I don’t think we ought to celebrate history or that I don’t support Knoxville’s effort to rediscover its Civil War heritage. But celebrations of the Civil War also have a dark side.

I was around in 1961, the centennial of the war. In Alabama and other states of the Deep South, it was an orgy of bearded men waving Confederate battle flags with local and state celebrations. You will recall this occurred after the Montgomery bus boycott protesting segregation and just before the election of Gov. George Wallace. Wallace, noting that he stood on the state capitol portico where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as president of the Confederacy, vowed to fight “communistic amalgamation” with “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

The civil rights movement provoked a resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan. Churches were burned or bombed. Civil Rights workers were killed. It was hard to distinguish between groups waving Confederate flags for historical purposes and groups waving them in celebration of oppressing black people.

In 1911 the South held 50th anniversary celebrations featuring Civil War veterans; parks were dedicated, cemeteries restored, and monuments built. But it also marked the re-establishment of the modern Klan, followed on and fueled by D.W. Griffith’s racist movie Birth of a Nation. The nation of the title is often ignored by film historians, but it was the birth of the Klan nation he celebrated.

April is Confederate History month, an occasion for Southern governors to issue an innocuous proclamation promoting tourism to battlefields and such. The governor of Virginia has been excoriated for getting a little too carried away with celebrating Southern heritage and forgetting why the war occurred. Given the controversy this has engendered, imagine it multiplied 1,000 times next year.

Layer on top of this the current political climate in the South. There is a legitimate discussion that needs to occur about the future of federalism, the rights of states to govern themselves and their obligations to the central government. It is an argument as old as the nation itself. But any legitimate discussion is inevitably overshadowed by cries for secession, defying the federal government, and grandstanding. Our Legislature is debating a bill to exempt Tennessee from the recently-passed national health-care plan. Gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp has vowed to meet the feds at the state line when they come to take our guns.

Let me say this again, so you don’t misunderstand. A celebration of our heritage and an appreciation for our history is a good thing. What we have to avoid is any attempt to gloss over or neglect to mention the disgusting enslavement of a whole people as the cause of the war. We also have to avoid allowing yahoos to use this event as cheap political theater.

East Tennessee did not secede from the Union. Knoxville was a Union stronghold, sitting on the railroad and the river separating Lee’s Army of Virginia and Confederate forces in Chattanooga and points South. It played a vital role in preserving the Union.

That’s something to celebrate.

And it doesn’t require plantation houses, women in crinoline, or rebel flags.

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Comments » 7

Nova_gjones writes:

During the Centennial (1961 to 1965) the objective was to bring the heritage of the Civil War to the American people. During that time we had the segregationists and integrationists going at it. Each had their own agenda. The time of Civil Rights, the Cold War, the death of Kennedy mired the Centennial. I was there.

But there was good that came out of that period too. We were confronted with the Myths and legends, i.e. Lee never owned slaves. Yankees never burnt a house down, etc. We now see the people at the time of the Civil War a flawed human being just about like we are today. We found that history could pay for itself.

I do not see this Sesquicentennial being hijacked. I do see it dying from boredom. The politically correct approach had taken hold. With book readings, guided tours, round tables, moving like in mass to old granite monuments I see the “BIG YAWN”.

Gettysburg is the only location where it can be interesting. They are targeting 2013/1863 as if it were the Olympics. There will be tours and other cerebral things but there is a reenactment, parades and a lot of people who will be in period attire letting the audience participate in some of the passion. They even have a railroad running for the occasion. They are targeting over $400 Million for that year. Most of the towns with a battlefield will yawn into a stagnant economy while Gettysburg will make Civil War Tourism a viable revenue generator.

Your cautious approach is tepid and inhibiting. Knoxville could be seeing a renaissance in economic development. The truth about the Civil War learned and enjoyed. But your way of thinking will lead to one thing. The Civil War landmarks are a negative cash flow. The taxpayer supports them and during this time it is not easy to sell that to the public. If tourism could develop jobs and help the economy at the same time teach and entertain then get off the politically correctness approach and enjoy the moment. What needs to be lamented should be lamented and what should be celebrated would be celebrated. If history reveals itself as a patriot, so be it.

Maldonado writes:

Somebody ought to do a round-up of inaccuracies and omissions in Knoxville historical markers that were put up by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy. Note: Yes, this idea was stolen from "Lies Across America."

GYoung writes:

It would appear Frank Cagle was sleeping during his American history classes, or a casualty of an agenda taught public education. As a Boy Scout I too Hiked & studied many of the great battle fields of the war of Northern Aggression. Refereed to as the Civil War, by Yankee victors :-) Evidence is overwhelming that the war was not fought over slavery. One need only do a simple Google search for overwhelming evidence. Causes one to wonder what the agenda is for those who continue to perpetuate this myth?

mlshanks writes:

"Evidence is overwhelming that the war was not fought over slavery."

LOL

You mean, if one ignores the transcripts and articles of secession produced by the various state conventions of the South? (try reading the 2nd half of "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union", and notice the centrality of slavery to the argument for secession, it takes up near half of the text)

Or how about the famous words of Alexander H. Stephens (Confederate Vice President), who declared "Our new government is founded upon ...the ...idea; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition." Are these items mysteriously not part of your "evidence?"

GYoung writes:

Misanks quotes are out of context and is really grasping at straws. It's sad to see the lengths those with agendas will go to recreate history.
Just Google it, fool.

armed_partisan writes:

Put it back in your pants, MLShanks. Very few southerners owned slaves, just as very few people own more than one home, and freemen and black slave owners also fought in the war on the side of the Confederacy. The Abolitionists and the Free-Soilers wanted to send all of the blacks back to Africa, not set them free. Just look at the draft riots that occurred all over the Union after the toothless Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Nobody was less willing to fight and die for the liberation of the slaves than the people who are accredited with that very deed. Just as the ending of the Holocaust was a happy outcome of the defeat of Nazi Germany, it was not the reason for the war, although who knows what people will believe in another 85 years.

pabarge writes:

"Layer on top of this the current political climate in the South. There is a legitimate discussion that needs to occur about the future of federalism, the rights of states to govern themselves and their obligations to the central government. It is an argument as old as the nation itself. But any legitimate discussion is inevitably overshadowed by cries for secession, defying the federal government, and grandstanding. Our Legislature is debating a bill to exempt Tennessee from the recently-passed national health-care plan. Gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp has vowed to meet the feds at the state line when they come to take our guns."

Well. That didn't take long.

Right from water cannons blasting black people on bridges and strange fruit hanging from trees to Tea Partiers protesting Big Government encroachment.

Way to engage in moral equivalency. Moron.

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