Silver Rights

News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.

Friday, April 16, 2004  

Analysis: Neo-Confederate leader blows stack

Mike Tuggle, one of the most sneaky of the neo-Confederate movement's leaders, is mad. I mean upset, not insane. (Though he may well be that kind of mad, too.) He is upset because an editorial writer described the real motivation for 'heritage' advocates' efforts to prevent the National Park Service from siting monuments to commemorate important events that occurred during Reconstruction. After describing the infamous 1898 race riot that destroyed the black middle-class in Wilmington, N.C., Mary C. Curtis noted the irrationality of opposing commemoration of such events.

History is written by the victors. The South lost the Civil War, but won the postwar. So even in the 1940s and 1950s, a textbook used by sixth-graders in South Carolina's segregated schools covered Reconstruction this way: "There were so many more Negroes than whites that they would have been in control if they had been allowed to vote.

"They had nearly ruined the state during the years they voted. The whites were determined that this should not happen again."

No mention was made of lynchings, hooded Ku Klux Klan nightriders or the mutilated corpse of Emmett Till.

Historians have long since set this distorted and racist record straight. But the SCV is behaving just like the child who sticks his fingers in his ears and yells when mom tells him to do the right thing.

It's not as if the park service advocates toppling the statues of Confederate Civil War leaders sprinkled throughout squares in many Southern cities. Sites on the Reconstruction would not bring balance, just a bit of truth.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans can believe whatever they choose to believe. They can even teach a twisted version of history to anyone gullible enough to buy it.

But even if they succeed in getting lawmakers to back away from National Park Service plans, it won't change the truth about Reconstruction and the tragic consequences of its destruction.

And that's a fact.

As I've written several times, the neo-Confederate movement has pressured politicians, both in the South and nationally, not to memorialize sites such as those of the first Freedmen's Bureau schools. They say that adding such sites to an itinerary that mainly commemorates Confederate generals and battles, would be anti-historical. What they don't say is the 'history' they seek to protect and impose on the rest of us is their own warped version. Tuggle responded to Curtis' factual message with a flight of fancy that only a neo-Confederate could have penned.

One of the myths Curtis perpetuates is that Reconstruction was a noble effort to rebuild the South from its war damage: "After the Civil War, Northern Republicans and Southern progressives and blacks tried to forge a more equal society, one approaching the American ideal."

. . .The purpose of Reconstruction was to destroy the decentralized Republic of Republics established by the Founding Fathers. Once political and military power was centralized in Washington, the pretense of protecting former slaves was abandoned. The lessons of Reconstruction are real, and still relevant today. The most important is that centralized government will use all the institutions it controls to justify and increase its power.

Today, thanks to federal legislation, Civil War battlefields run by the National Park Service no longer present the stories of the soldiers who fought and died. The Park Service's new purpose is to cast its employer as a liberating force whose unconstitutional actions are all for the better.

Tuggle identifies himself as the communications officer of the Egbert Ross Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp in his article. He does not say he is the president of North Carolina chapter of the white supremacist and secessionist League of the South. Tuggle happily turns history upside down. The Confederates did not try to destroy the Union; they were right to to secede, the Union wrong to stop them. The Reconstruction era integrated government was corrupt; the pre-Civil War government of slaveowners was an ideal America should still aspire to. Too much fuss is made about minor misbehavior of the Ku Klux Klan; the real problem was freedmen who burned white folks' barns.

I really cannot express this perfect example of how a neo-Confederate muddles history adequately in paraphrases and quotations. Do take the time to read Tuggle's entire op-ed piece.

What's the art?

The photograph depicts Union soldier Powhatan Beaty, a North Carolinian. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for taking command of his company when all the officers were killed.

posted by J. | 6:43 PM

Thursday, April 15, 2004  

News: Southern guvs snub Hunley ceremony

Sometimes, Southern politicians do the right thing. Despite the brownie points that can be scored by kowtowing to the neo-Confederate movement, they refuse to go that route. That requires rejecting chicanery that often comes cloaked as an appeal to history, but is really about making the 'heritage' movement respectable.

Newsday has the story of an admirable blanket refusal to support neo-Confederate mythology.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Fourteen Southern governors were invited to this weekend's ceremonial burial of the crew of a sunken Confederate submarine, but none plans to attend.

Most of the governors cited scheduling conflicts, but some observers say they may be wary of the political implications of attending an event expected to draw thousands of Confederate re-enactors.

"A historian might be attracted to this event without any consequences. An elected governor would probably get some criticism for attending. It's inevitable," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The hand-cranked Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy warship, went down Feb. 17, 1864, and was recovered nearly four years ago. Remains of the eight-man crew will be buried Saturday following a five-mile procession through Charleston.

The Hunley (see detail above) has become a rallying cause for the neo-Confederate movement. For people who wish the South had won the Civil War, the success of the submarine in sinking a Union ship is cause for celebration. The recovery of the bodies of the Confederate soldiers on it is perceived as an opportunity to hale the 'heroism' of people who sought to destroy the United States. If the neo-Confederates had been able to convince the governors to attend, the illusion that the conduct of the Hunley's crew, and their own, is something to be proud of, would have been enhanced.

About 20,000 people are expected to be on hand on for the internment. A continual stream of visitors comes to view the submarine where it is stored.

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Paul Starkey of Wooster, Ohio, hoisted his 3-year-old daughter, Kelly, in his arms to stare at the rippling image of the Confederate submarine the H.L. Hunley, submerged in thousands of gallons of water at the bottom of a huge blue tank.

"I sure would like to get a closer look at it," said Starkey, the 48-year-old father of two. "Maybe they can build a glass tank."

Starkey is one of about 20,000 people expected in Charleston this week to attend the burial of the Hunley's eight crewmen.

So far, about 400 people a day are plunking down $10 and lining up to view the sub at the Warren Lasch Conservation Lab at the old Charleston Naval Base.

The refusal of even South Carolina's governor to attend the ceremony is not the first setback for the 'heritage' movement in regard to the Hunley. Efforts to bully the government into funding a museum to house the submarine also failed. Sometimes, Southern politicians do the right thing.

posted by J. | 11:55 PM

Tuesday, April 13, 2004  

Analysis: Remembering the Alamo

We all think we know the story of the Alamo. It is one of those American myths bred into us by textbooks and popular culture. If we have been to Texas, we dutifully took the tour to stare at the small, unimpressive building. We posed for photographs.

We are supposed to unblinkingly accept the explanation of its significance given in the World Book Encyclopedia.

Alamo, pronounced AL uh moh, is a historic structure in the center of San Antonio. A famous battle was fought there from Feb. 23 to March 6, 1836, during the war for Texan independence. The Alamo is sometimes called the Thermopylae of America, after the famous battle in which the ancient Greeks held off a large Persian force. No Texans escaped from the Alamo after the night of March 5. The Alamo is now a restored historic site.

Texas would be founded April of 1836, after a rout of Mexican forces. However, even cursory examination of the historic record does not confirm the Alamo as a Thermopylae. The motives of the 'heroes' of the siege were much too mixed. And, as a Mexican-American commentator explains, the Alamo marked the beginning of oppression for some soon-to-be Texans, not their liberation.

That winter, a group of less than 200 supporters of independence from Mexico battled the 4000 troops of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (pictured) in San Antonio. They chose the old mission named after the cottonwood tree as the site where they would, ultimately, fight to the finish.

Part of the tradition of mythic thinking about America is that the thinker is supposed to erase or discredit the people who ruin the myth. In "Gods and Generals," no human chattel get a speaking role until well into the second hour. The two slaves who speak are scripted not to say anything that questions the rightfulness of the Confederate cause. There were also slaves at the Alamo, fighting and dying for their masters' objectives -- not their own. Among the fighters were people who would come to be called Tejanos -- Texans of Mexican descent. It is their role in the new movie, "The Alamo" that leaves Oscar Villalon far from speechless.

He wishes "The Alamo" could be interrupted in the interest of accuracy. Villalon imagines a nice woman stopping the action and setting the record straight. The Anglo martyrs would freeze in mid-self-aggrandization while she spoke.

So, OK. Behind me you see these Tejanos getting ready to give up their lives for the cause of Texas independence. But you should probably know a couple of things. As soon as Texas gets its independence in 1836 and joins the United States nine years later, all the relatives and the descendants of those poor guys back there will become second-class citizens. Many Tejanos will literally be terrorized by their fellow Texans in the years to come -- over land, over opposing slavery.

And Mexican Americans in general throughout the Southwest, in Texas and in California in particular, will also experience oppression. Segregation, for example, and of every stripe: segregated movie houses, segregated schools, segregated swimming pools. You name it. If you've ever seen Giant, you know what I'm talking about. In fact, a lot of people don't know this, but the first successful case for desegregation in schools wasn't Brown vs. Board of Education, but Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District. This happened down in San Diego in 1931. True story.

Part of what one should remember about the Alamo is the independence of Texas became the bedrock for forms of racial oppression that would spread to the rest of the South after the Civil War ended. Texas, experienced with subjugating a non-enslaved people before it entered the Union, provided the blueprint.

When they see "The Alamo," audiences are unlikely to understand that through the gates of a ruined mission comes a legacy of "white" America asserting cultural superiority over the "losers" from Texas' war of independence. Or that the Alamo is in many ways like Kosovo: the site of a battle where the eventual victor took a serious defeat, a losing engagement that's been fetishized to justify treating another people as a historic threat, not to be fully trusted.

They won't see how in our ever-evolving country, there's little place for reverence toward a symbol that says more about our shortcomings than our virtues.

Villalon's thoughtful discussion of what the Alamo means to American history may be me objectionable to some Anglos, those who hate to see the lies they base their lives on challenged. That applies even moreso to the opinion of a man in the San Antonio who decided to be more direct. He defaced a billboard advertising the movie to read, "F--- 'The Alamo.'" The message was quickly papered over. But, the legacy of the Alamo can't be. It is lived every day.

Reasonably related

Mr. Cranky says 'F' "The Alamo" and Texas, too.

•Texan and "The Alamo" co-star Dennis Quaid grew up with the myth.

posted by J. | 8:15 PM

Monday, April 12, 2004  

Commentary: H.L. Mencken, neo-confederate

Despite the perishability of his reputation as a writer, H.W. Mencken is being resurrected as an idol by some ultraconservatives. Among those heralding him are members of the neo-Confederate movement. They admire his elitism and contempt for democracy. Mencken shared their belief in superiority of the elite of Old South.

Gail Jarvis penned a column explaining why he considers Mencken a neo-Confederate, titled "H.L.Mencken, Neo-Confederate," for Lew Jarvis states, correctly in my opinion, that Mencken's reputation as a critic of the South, mainly because of its lack of high culture, was directed at the post-Civil War South, not its slave-holding, wealth-generating antecedent.

H.L. Mencken’s criticisms were leveled at the South of the early 1900s, a region still recovering from the devastation of the War and Reconstruction. But his opinion of the pre-War South was quite different. Born in Baltimore, Mencken always considered himself a Southerner and from his father he had inherited a strong sympathy for the Confederacy. The Old Confederacy, Mencken felt, was a land "with men of delicate fancy, urbane instinct and aristocratic manner – in brief, superior men. It was there, above all, that some attention was given to the art of living – a certain noble spaciousness was in the ancient southern scheme of things."

In his 1930 essay, "The Calamity of Appomattox," Mencken addresses that unresolved question: What if the South had won the War Between the States? This is a very thoughtful analysis of the subject, especially since it was written decades before journalists were constrained by political correctness. Mencken poses all the pertinent questions and provides reasoned responses to each. Interestingly, he concludes that in the long run, a victory by the Confederates would have been more advantageous to the United States.

Like many members of the 'heritage' movement, Jarvis believes that, in the absence of a government similar to that of the Old South, the region should secede from the Union. Jarvis' secessionist viewpoint coheres with the perspective of Mencken. In fact, Mencken would share the beliefs of the racist and secessionist League of the South, but for their reliance on religion as a moral compass. Ideally, the would-be secessionists would limit electoral participation to white, educated Christian white men who own property.

I agree with Jarvis' explanation of why Mencken was a supporter of the Confederacy. As I've stated before, the writer was first and foremost a believer in a natural aristocracy. He thought the Old South's leadership met that ideal.

Now we come to Mencken’s most politically incorrect pronouncement; praise for an aristocracy. Mencken’s premise is that an aristocracy composed of patricians has a civilizing influence on the whole of society. In arriving at this conclusion, he makes a distinction between the gentry (the old South nobility) and plutocrats (industrialists with newly acquired wealth). In his words, the Union victory was "a victory of what we now call Babbitts over what used to be called gentlemen." But Mencken makes this caveat; "I am not arguing here, of course, that the whole Confederate army was composed of gentlemen; on the contrary, it was chiefly made up, like the Federal army, of innocent and unwashed peasants, and not a few of them got into its corps of officers. But the impulse behind it, as everyone knows, was essentially aristocratic, and that aristocratic impulse would have fashioned the Confederacy if the fortunes of war had run the other way."

The only other aristocracy I am aware of Mencken supporting is Germany's. Though it is unclear why, he was not an Anglophile, thereby rejecting the most obvious of elites to emulate.

In "The Calamity of Appomattox," Mencken makes his preference for the Southern aristocracy explicit. But for the demise of much of the white Southern male elite in the Civil War, the South would not be dominated by lesser men. A victory by the Confederacy would have resulted in a society preferable (to Mencken, that is) to the unified nation that exists.

Whatever the defects of the new commonwealth below the Potomac, it would have at least been a commonwealth founded upon a concept of human inequality, and with a superior minority at the helm.

There's no doubt about it. He was an elitist and admirer of the pre-war Southern arisocracy. But, I am not sure Mencken would want to be claimed by today's neo-Confederate movement. Its members are not genteel enough.

Reasonably related

•Jarvis explains why the Yankee media misunderstood the good citizens of 'Bombingham.'

•Jarvis wrote a letter to the editor about the group he believes dominates the South today.

posted by J. | 6:30 PM

Sunday, April 11, 2004  

Archangel: Sharon Shinn builds us a world

And God steppped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
"I'm lonely --
I'll make me a world."

-- James Weldon Johnson, The Creation

One of the most impressive things a writer of speculative fiction can achieve is building a world that resonates as 'real' with her readers. Sharon Shinn has accomplished that worthy goal in her Samaria series, which now includes four books. At this point, readers who eschew speculative fiction, or perhaps fiction altogether, may be thinking, 'In other words, she writes escapism. She provides pabulum that helps people avoid thinking about the troubled world we live in.' I disagree. Writers who create believable fictional worlds usually model them on our own. They are often more interested in what it means to be that horribly flawed thing called human than writers who focus on the world as we know it. Shinn is that kind of writer.

As I write this entry, I am reading the last of Shinn's novels about Samaria, The Allelulia Files. But, to understand why the series is a fine achievement, one must return to the source, the first book in it, Archangel. Background? The Harmonic Christers left their previous world because it was about to self-destruct as a result of human hatred and advanced technology. They chose to colonize the planet Samaria. The greatest challenge of living on that world is its mercurial weather. So, refugee scientists created beings -- angels -- who are able to fine tune the computerized weather controls to make the planet livable. The angels do so by 'singing' to the spaceship the Christers arrived on, Jehovah, which continues to orbit the planet. They fly 'heavenward,' and sing to end storms or bring rain, along with other antidotes to the problems of Samarians. Another indispensable purpose the angels serve is the maintenance of harmony among the diverse inhabitants of the planet. Representatives of the groups must gather, with the elite of the angels leading them, and sing to 'Jovah,' yearly or the computer will follow commands to destroy Samaria. The Christers decided better no world than a world as filled with viciousness as the one they emigrated to escape.

But, forget most of that. The inhabitants of Samaria have. They gave up the religion of the Harmonic Christers within a few generations of settling the planet. Now, they believe Jovah is the spirit who rules the world -- that he is the God and Samaria the only dwelling place of humans anywhere. What hasn't fallen away is the belief that Jovah will destroy the planet unless his wishes are carried out. But, it has become subject to doubt.

That doubt is given great weight when it appears that the new Archangel, Gabriel, will not be able to stand next to his angelica (wife) and sing the hymns to Jovah required to save Samaria. The chosen one, Rachel, does not want the honor of being angelica. The current Archangel, Gabriel, is unwilling to give up his 20-year reign. Furthermore, he is willing to gamble the existence of Samaria on his continued rule.

At the next Gloria, or festival of song, the angel Gabriel will take over the duties of archangel from old Raphael, so he asks the oracle Josiah, who Jovah has decided will be his bride. Josiah announces that Gabriel's bride shall be Rachel. But when Gabriel goes to claim her, he finds the remote village long destroyed, with no sign of Rachel. Then, quite by accident, he comes upon her in the house of a rich nobleman, where she is a slave. Though Gabriel plucks her from slavery, the two fight at once, since Rachel sides with the servants and Samaria's downtrodden folk and distrusts angels; neither will she reveal whether she can sing, a talent vital to a successful Gloria (Gabriel, of course, sings like a dream). Raphael, meanwhile, no longer believing in Jovah, refuses to watch over the people and encourages every sort of wickedness; to prevent the Gloria, he is willing to capture or even kill Rachel.

Shinn came to science fiction from fantasy. In Archangel, she segues into sci-fi in a way that does not jolt her established base of readers of fantasy. The romance between Archangel and angelica, which is a recurring theme in the Samaria series, grounds it in fantasy. However, the science fiction elements become increasingly important as the series continues. Archangel introduces the peoples of Samaria, ranging from the nomadic Edori to the aristocratic Manadavvi. It also familiarizes the reader with life in the three angel holds, the Eyrie, Montaverde and Windy Point. The rules governing how angels live, which are important to the structure if all four books, are first explained in it.

Samaria is saved. By the time of the reckoning in The Allelulia Files, it will have been settled for six and a half centuries. The development, not so coincidentally, mirrors that of industrial culture on Earth. In following the changes, both in social relationships and technology, on Samaria, we come to a better understanding of where we have been and where we are going ourselves.

posted by J. | 6:30 PM