Posted 14 days ago
It's obvious that Clint's article approaches the "myth of the Lost Cause" with skepticism and even outright disbelief. As a child of northern parent who grew up in the South (North Carolina), my family was always concerned with anything Confederate-related. As we'd drive down the road and see Confederate flags on people's houses, or painted on their trucks, we'd laugh it off as ridiculous. But if the past few years have told us anything, the feeling of nostaglia and "superiority" of Whiteness has led to some serious problems in recent politics. Smith's contemplation on why people hold on to the myth of the Confederacy, then, is a good one.
After traveling to Blandford Cementery in Virginia where it's essentially a memorial for the Confederacy and what they fought for, he travels to People's Memorial Cementery in the same town and contrasts it with the former. He says:
There are far fewer tombstones than at Blandford. There are no flags on the graves. And there are no hourly tours for people to remember the dead. There is history, but also silence.
This launches him into contemplating, and asking the White Southerners he comes across, what they think the reasons were for the Civil War. What he discovers, through both in-person and historical reporting, is that after the war, the rhetoric of why it was waged changed drastically.
It was then, in the late 1800s, that the myth of the Lost Cause began to take hold. The myth was an attempt to recast the Confederacy as something predicated on family and heritage rather than what it was: a traitorous effort to extend the bondage of millions of Black people. The myth asserts that the Civil War was fought by honorable men protecting their communities, and not about slavery at all.
This is in contrast to facts in the history books, where, for example, "the Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens, said, adding that the Confederacy was founded on 'the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.'" Among other very obvious historical records, how then, do people believe that the war wasn't fought over slavery?
He finds that there is a mix between nostalgia, wishful thinking in wanting to paint their ancestors in a good light, and appropriation. He takes the example of Richard Poplar, who many supporters of the Confederacy claimed was a officer who fought willingly for the South. In fact, the historical record shows him to be a cook who wasn't allowed in the army. Yet that doesn't stop the fact that "appropriating the stories of men like Poplar is a way to protect the Confederacy's legacy."
Smith's reporting is excellent, and discussion could go on and on, but his main thesis is that nostalgia brings people to forget the past and what it really meant. We want to paint the past as something we want to see for the future. I think reading stories like Beloved by Toni Morrison can help us battle this fake nostalgia through preserving the reality through emotion. Fantastic article.