A Belle's Eye View
Confederate History Month has come under fire from those most in need of it
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 11:51 AM CDT
In addition to being Women's History Month, April is, for many Southern states, Confederate History Month.
On this, the sesquicentennial of the Late Unpleasantness, it is a commemoration which has come under fire from those most in need of it.
It confounds those who can only respond with "WE won the war - get over it" that all these years later that there remains a contingent of highly educated, highly motivated scholars, historians and everyday people who refuse to "get over" the trampling of the U.S. Constitution and the betrayal of the principles of the first American Revolution.
Try as they might, the enemies of the truth cannot stamp out the desire of the true sons and daughters of the Confederacy to make sure their ancestors' sacrifices and motivation are not forgotten. Confederate history is important because it is American history; to try and sweep it under the rug is to ignore the constitutional issues which to this day underlie many of the political issues of today.
But there are those who are trying their absolute best to pretend that the story of the War Between the States can be told from one perspective, and one only. One of the main ways they are attempting to do this is by continuing their attacks on the flags of the Confederate States of America.
In Richmond, Va., the last capital of the CSA, is the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.. It was built on the grounds of the Robert E. Lee Camp 1, known popularly as the "Old Soldiers' Home," opened in 1884 and purchased and supported by the donations of Union and Confederate veterans.
When the last occupant died, the land was deeded to the state, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Historical Society were established on the land. There are only two remaining buildings from its past - Robinson House, the headquarters of the camp, and the Confederate War Memorial Chapel (also known as the Pelham Chapel).
In 1993 the chapel was leased to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who flew Confederate flags from what was, after all, a Confederate memorial. In 2010, when the lease was renewed ,the VMFA asked that the flags be removed.
Since that time, a dedicated group of citizens, lead by Susan Hathaway, have stood outside the Museum with Confederate flags. The good news is they have had many opportunities to educate interested passers-by as to what the VMFA had done in the name of political correctness.
The continuing efforts to erase the Confederacy and all traces of it in Virginia, and especially Richmond, continues under the auspices, ironically, of the Museum of the Confederacy. A new museum is opening in Appomattox, and while apparently Confederate flags may be displayed inside, only state flags will fly in front - 14 state flags in the order they left the Union, and the U.S.flag.
"Appomattox is a metaphor for the reunification of the country," S. Waite Rawls III, president and CEO of the museum, said. "To put the Confederate flag into that display would be a historical untruth."
I am a bit flummoxed by this statement. Wasn't Robert E. Lee at Appomattox as the representative of the Confederate States of America? Who exactly was being reunified if not the CSA and the USA? As was pointed out by a banner flown over the museum at Appomattox, "Reunification by bayonet." But what do I know - I'm only 47.
In reference to the VMFA flaggers and others opposed to the museum's refusal to fly a CSA flag, Rawls stated, "They have a different approach to educating the public than we do. We have 122 years of experience in doing it. They don't."
I thought I looked good for 47, but man! He looks really good for 122. Or perhaps he is arguing that the institution has 122 years' experience, in which case I would point out that the founders of the museum would no more approve of his stand than do the flaggers.
It is richly ironic that he is claiming to be a part of a heritage he is working hard to ignore. He has argued that his is the Museum OF the Confederacy, not FOR it. He is ignoring part of the museum's own history - the man is at least consistent - it is descended from the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, which was decidedly pro-Confederate.
The founders of that august body are undoubtedly rolling in their graves. Rawl's Confederate ancestors are surely hanging their haloed-heads in shame at their turn-coat descendent, whose attack on the CSA has resulted in the Sons of Confederate Veterans beginning the process of pulling his membership.
Yes, it is easy to make the Yankees the good guys and the Confederates the bad. Yankees can then sit in smug, arrogant self-satisfaction, lying to themselves that their ancestors were totally in the right, facts be d---ed.
But the reason Confederate History Month is so important is to remind citizens that to see that conflict in strictly black and white requires ignoring too many forgotten facts and too many complicated political truths.
Gen. Stephen D. Lee knew what we would be facing when he charged the SCV: "We submit the vindication of the cause for which we fought: to your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier's good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, and the perpetuation of those principles he loved and which made him glorious and which you also cherish.
"Remember, it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations."
CHRISTINE BARR is an award-winning professor of English, mother of four and descendent of Watauga settlers who now resides in Katy, Texas. Her new email address is email@example.com.
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