Category: Southern history

Truth Crushed to Earth Shall Rise Again: a Mississippi town mirrors the soul of a nation

By Alan Bean

A monument to “The memory of Carroll’s Confederate Soldiers who fought in defense of our constitutional rights from Bethel to Appomattox” stands in front of the Carroll County courthouse in Carrollton Mississippi.  No surprise there; virtually every county courthouse in Mississippi constructed before 1920 sports a civil war memorial.  But few of these monuments are accompanied by the Confederate flag.  We’re not talking about the Mississippi state flag that incorporates the stars and bars–this is the genuine article. (more…)

The Future of Southern Politics: Two views

Jamelle Bouie
Chris Kromm

For southern Democrats, the 201o election was utterly devastating.  In states like Texas and Georgia, white Democrats are becoming an endangered species.  Two articles, one in The American Prospect, the other in Facing South address the prospects for southern progressives. 

Jamelle Bouie’s article suggests that since southern whites have permanently abandoned the Democratic Party at every level of politics, the only sensible course is to forget about pandering to conservative whites and become a black and brown party of inclusion.  (more…)

Have we given up on the common good?

By Alan Bean

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War reminds us that America is as deeply divided now as it has ever been.  We can’t even agree about the basic meaning of the Civil War.  Was Robert E. Lee a hero or a villain?  

In the 1860s, and again in the 1960s, the federal government, albeit with deep misgivings, moved powerfully to defend the nation’s most vulnerable members.  Too marginalized to deserve the title “citizens,” 19th century slaves and the 20th century victims of Jim Crow segregation, were protected from the tyranny of the majority.  In the 1860s, the Republican Party controlled the process; by the 1960s, the Democrats were in charge–but the principle was the same.

As we wander aimlessly into the 21st century, the political divide is largely defined by the traumatic events of the 1860s and 1960s.  Conservatives are increasingly inclined to see the 1860s and 1960s as periods in which a tyrannical federal government crushed legitimate states’ rights.  In the liberal view, the demise of slavery and Jim Crow oppression are milestones in the long march to freedom.  To liberals, “states’ rights” is shorthand for state-sanctioned bigotry.

Tragically, neither conservatives or liberals give much thought to the ties that bind us together as a nation.  We are too fixated on the failings of our ideological opposites to examine what our side has lost.  As things stand, neither conservatives nor liberals have a narrative that all Americans, or even most Americans, can rally around. (more…)

Why we can’t be honest about the Civil War

By Alan Bean

As we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a new Harris Interactive Poll suggests that 54% of Americans believe the South seceded over states rights, not slavery. 

That would have been news to the folks at the helm of the Confederacy.  Consider this lead quote from A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. (more…)

Feeding the market for American mythology

By Alan Bean

Two articles grabbed my attention this morning.  The first deals with fairy tales about the Christian origins of America; the second addresses civil war fairy tales (hint: it had nothing to do with slavery).

Every trained historian, regardless of personal ideology, knows that America was founded by Deists and high church Protestants who were desperate to save their fledgling nation from European-style religious wars.  Hence the separation of church and state.

Similarly, you would be hard pressed to find a single person who has studied American history at the graduate level who would argue that Southern slavery was irrelevant to the civil war.  Unfortunately, the sentimental attachment to Christian-America and the confederate Lost Cause is so passionate that elaborate mythologies arise unbidden to satisfy the demand. 

Over at Talk to Action, Chris Rodda begins a jaw-dropping post thusly: (more…)

NPR and the American Mainstream

National Public Radio CEO, Vivian Schiller, has resigned after two high-profile NPR executives were caught on tape saying that the Republican Party had been “hijacked” by the Tea Party and that the Tea Party was essentially a white-only organization dominated by gun-toting zealots on the racist fringes of American society.

Ms. Schiller had been criticized last October for what many considered her ungracious and impolitic response to the Juan Williams fiasco.

Most of the controversial remarks caught on video were nade by Ronald Schiller (no relation to Ms. Schiller).  Mr.  Schiller had been invited to a fancy luncheon by two Republican provocateurs posing as deep-pocket Muslim activists representing a mythical Muslim group that was supposedly planning to give NPR a $5 million gift.

The timing of this latest fiasco couldn’t be worse.  Leading Republicans have been arguing that NPR was far too left-of-center to receive federal support.  According to this argument, it’s okay for FOX News to slant its reporting to the right because it is a private agency.  The liberal bias of NPR is a more serious matter, critics contend, because the organization is feeding at the federal teat. (more…)

What is Mission Mississippi?

I just came across this review of “Mission Mississippi” in the Christian Century.  Mission Mississippi was founded in the early 1990s to facilitate conversation between black and white Christians in the Magnolia State.  But there’s a problem: social justice and other systemic issues are off the table.  Mission Mississippi is a book-length evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of this approach written by Peter Slade, an Englishman.  Why, you may wonder, can’t black and white Mississippians discuss social issues?  If you even ask that question, you haven’t spent much time in Mississippi; it remains, as the title of Slade’s book suggests, a closed society.  The good news is that people are conversing across racial lines; the bad news is that they can’t discuss the stuff that really matters. (more…)

Haley Barbour won’t denounce KKK license plate

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Haley Barbour would like to take a run at the presidency, but his close identification with Old Dixie keeps getting in the way.  This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the Sons of Confederate Veterans are sponsoring a vanity license plate venerating the memory of Confederate commander  Nathan Bedford Forrest.  By all accounts, Forrest was a bold and ruthless leader with a gift for guerilla warfare, but he comes with a little baggage. (more…)