One particular comment on my post about the Civil War particularly stood out in my mind. The commenter said he was a “proud son of the South” and suggested that he felt obliged to question the causes of the North’s entry into the war, commenting that perhaps it was the North’s desire to defend capitalist interests (he also had an “old Marxist” in him).
Other commenters addressed the substance of his comments effectively. But what caught my attention was the seeming connection between being a Southerner and in some way feeling the need to defend the Confederacy, if by no other means than questioning the North.
That connection, in my view, is truly the tragedy of southern history — the way it has put so much that is good about the south into the shade. No one who is Chinese would somehow feel the need to defend Mao. Ditto with a Russian and the Soviet Union.
The whole Confederacy/Lost Cause infatuation has destroyed the South twice: first, by having them engage in a treasonous war whose chief aim was to oppress. and second, by getting generations of southerners to think that being a “proud son of the South” means defending the slaveowners who caused it. Not by defending slavery, mind you; but somehow not acknowledging the essential evil of the Southern cause.
A white southerner could easily call himself a “proud son of the South” and focus on William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor; C. Vann Woodward, Jonathan Daniels, Hodding Carter and the other courageous southern editors who spoke out against Jim Crow during the 50’s and 60’s. Jurists such as Hugo Black, J. Skelly Wright, John Minor Wisdom, and the rest of the Fifth Circuit Four. He could point to southerners’ proud tradition of military service in the United States Armed Forces. Perhaps Southern Populism, the most inspirational progressive party in US history. And the food!
This is the south, he could say. Not the fetid stew of slaveholders, Ku Kluxers, Redeemers and slave-raping “defenders of chivalry” that falsely claimed the monopoly on defining Southern pride and identity. And yet somehow, that stew has managed to pull one over on people and make them believe, perhaps unconsciously, that unless they stick up for the Confederacy, they are being treasonous to the South.
This is more than just one commenter. It’s a spiritual and intellectual problem among many, many white southerners of good will. Stop it! You don’t need to love the ugliness in the south to love the south. You don’t hate the South. You dont. You dont! You dont hate it! You dont hate it!