The following column written by syndicated columnnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald April 13th was printed in The Macon Telegraph April 14th. Following Pitts' column is my rebuttal letter to the editors of the Miami Herald and Ron Woodgeard's column in The Macon Telegraph. Read all three and form your own opinion. --Steve Scroggins
Confederate `heritage' is nothing but romantic lie
By Leonard Pitts, Jr. http://www.herald.com/content/today/opinion/columnists/pitts/content.htm
First of all, let me wish you a happy Confederate History Month. That, in case you didn't know, is what April has been designated by the governor of Virginia. I guess next, he'll be honoring the Edsel and the L.A. Clippers.
As long as he's celebrating losers, I mean.
Gov. James Gilmore III would doubtless object to that characterization. He's probably also none too happy that observers have dismissed his new ``month'' as an inappropriate honor for a cause indelibly stained by slavery. Gilmore, after all, went to great lengths to avoid that very complaint. In his proclamation he explicitly acknowledges that slavery was bad -- an institution that ``degraded the human spirit.''
Yet the Confederacy that fought to defend the institution deserves a month in its honor? Further south, the NAACP is wrong to demand that the Confederate battle flag be removed from the South Carolina statehouse? It's pretzel logic. There's a lot of that going on in the South these days.
Over the past generation, many latter-day Rebs have striven mightily to clean the stain of slavery from the Lost Cause. There's no racism here, they swear -- only the noble sacrifice of ancestors. The Confederacy has received a makeover for the new age, a redesign to make it nonthreatening, politically correct, just another stripe on the diversity rainbow.
There's even a pithy little slogan: ``Heritage. Not hate.''
Unfortunately, every time the thing is crammed into its fine silk pants of denial, the seams split, and the raggedy underdrawers of reality show right through. Meaning that every time spin doctors claim the Confederacy has nothing to do with white supremacy, the words are invariably thrown back at them -- not by guys like me, but by their own philosophical soulmates.
Like the man who walked through a recent pro-flag rally carrying a sign that advocated sending the NAACP ``back to Africa.''
Like the individual who called Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., a white flag opponent, ``Little Black Joe.''
Like the man who threatened to put Riley ``in my gun sights'' if His Honor marched with black people against the flag.
You almost feel sorry for them, for their inability to reject the romantic lie that began with an embittered soldier who fought for the wrong side.
``Heritage not hate?'' Who do these people think they're fooling?
Not me, I can promise you that. More important, they're not fooling people like J.D. He -- or she -- is the author of an e-mail I received a few weeks back.
``I am . . . a white racist, a white supremacist and I do not deny it,'' wrote J.D. cheerfully. That was just the beginning. It seems J.D. had read my recent column documenting in the words of its own leaders the fact that the Confederacy was built on hate.
``I was most pleased to see you write what we both know to be the truth,'' said J.D. ``I never cease to be amazed at the Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar `heritage not hate' groups who are constantly whining that the Confederacy was not a white, racist government. . .''
It's an argument, said J.D., that plays well with ``white people who want to be Confederates without any controversy.''
Granted, J.D. is a lamentable excuse for a human being. But the analysis is astute. So here's my question: If the apostles of the new Confederacy aren't fooling me and they aren't fooling J.D., who the heck are they fooling?
It's obvious, isn't it? Only themselves.
You almost feel sorry for them, for their inability to reject the romantic lie that began with an embittered soldier who fought for the wrong side. The lie that was passed across the generations, that came to them as naturally as air and mother's milk until they lost the ability to question it. The lie that said there was righteousness in this cause.
There was not. But for the children of the old soldier, for people who've invested themselves so deeply in dream castles of legacy and lineage, that fact has proven nearly impossible to face. So they spin like a White House press secretary instead.
Heritage, not hate, they cry. Heritage, not hate.
And yeah, there's something about it that's . . . pitiable. You wonder, when will they confront the obvious? When will they see what everyone else already knows?
The heritage is hate.
--------------------------------------------End Pitts Column----------------------------------------------------
---------------------------------------Letter by Steve Scroggins----------------
My letter's in response to Leonard Pitts' April 13 column, "Confederate 'heritage' is nothing but romantic lie." It reveals a fundamental misunderstanding on Pitts' part of the War Between the States and its causes. Apparently, Pitts prefers his own "romantic lie"... that the Federals fought to abolish slavery when the truth is that the fight was to preserve the union and northern economic prosperity. To cast hatred and racial bigotry as "a southern thing" is very myopic and downright wrong.
The sarcastic shot about "losers" was unnecessary; we all agree that the Confederacy lost the war but a significant point Pitts misses is that we ALL lost in terms of rights forfeited (the states and the people) to the federal government.
Cause of the war
The most significant fact Pitts overlooks is that the Confederate states seceded because of unfair taxation and unequal representation in the US Congress. Slavery was unquestionably a hot issue and on the minds of many with the election of Abraham Lincoln. Even some of the documents of the Confederacy confirm that racial supremacy---the invalid justification for slavery---was a part of their thinking. But that invalid assertion does not invalidate the founding principles of states' preeminent rights and limited government and the right of people to seek independence from oppressive governments.
But primarily it comes down to MONEY. The southern
wealthy didn't want the source of their wealth, farming and slavery,
tampered with. Nor did they like paying excessive tariffs on manufactured
goods that favored the North and which resulted in trade retaliation in
Britain in Europe against its agricultural products. Conversely, the
North didn't want to give up its revenue source---the Southern states.
The commercial bearing of the question has acted upon the
North...We now see clearly whither we are tending, and the policy we must
adopt. With us it is no longer an abstract question---one of
Constitutional construction, or of the reserved or delegated powers of the
State or Federal government, but of material existence
and moral position both at home and abroad.....We were divided and
confused till our pockets were touched.
---New York Times March 30, 1861
The Southern Confederacy will not employ our ships or buy
our goods. What is our shipping without it? Literally
nothing....It is very clear that the South gains by this process, and we
lose. No---we MUST NOT "let the South go."
----Union Democrat, Manchester, NH, February
For the north, it was about money and continuing to
collect tarrifs from Southern farmers and forcing them to use Northern
shipping and Northern manufactured goods.
Most everyone (JD and his ilk are the exception) agrees that slavery was and is morally wrong. But the nation's founders believed that self-government and limited government and fair taxation were worth fighting for. So did the southern patriots who fought for independence from the US. They saw secession as noble as the colony's Declaration of Independence from Britain.
Remember the Boston Tea Party? That's the point most often overlooked and
that's the heritage many want preserved.
Preserving the union (and tariff revenues) was the paramount federal objective
It's well documented that Abraham Lincoln's paramount intent was to preserve the union. A second powerful nation to the south was an economic threat to the US that couldn't be tolerated. It's documented that Lincoln was willing to compromise on slavery to preserve the union. Other leaders fought for issues other than slavery. U.S. Grant wrote "If I thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission and offer my sword to the other side." Grant didn't free his slaves until the 13th Amendment was ratified well after the war.
Racial Supremacy & Vilifying of the South
Racial supremacy is slowly dying (at least in terms of percentages) but 140 years ago it was the prevailing attitude across America, not just in the south. To portray this attitude as exclusively "a southern thing" is wrong. Race riots were common in the north, too, as were draft riots---many northerners didn't want to enter the fight ---not even to free slaves--- which was the Union's fraudulent recruiting angle. Northern victors were very quick to seize on the slavery issue following the war and behave as if it were their original paramount objective. Wrong! Again, THE paramount issue was to preserve the union for economic reasons--pure and simple.
The vast majority of abolitionist societies began in the South.
The southern voices for abolition became more silent as radical
abolitionists in the North advocated violence, terrorism----any means---to
end slavery. Remember John Brown and Harper's Ferry?
The war took a heavy toll and the victors wanted to PUNISH the conquered south to assuage their own guilt and disguise their own motives. The occupation, carpetbaggers and economic exploitation (popularly known as "reconstruction") was covered by a ruthless propaganda campaign to justify their unethical, bloody deeds. American history is littered with similar examples of dirty deeds justified by questionably evoking God, manifest destiny, abolition, etc. They successfully VILIFIED the south, its CAUSE and its veterans. Biased history books and Pitts' ignorance reveal that success.
"That erroneous assumption
is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of
the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them
fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and
Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is
not to spread enlightenment at all, it is simply to reduce as many
individuals as possible to
the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put
down dissent and originality.
That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions
of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim
Pitts prefers his own "romantic lie"
Given the above points, Pitts' assertion that the Confederacy "fought to preserve the institution" of slavery is misleading if not downright false. The romantic lie he's foisting on us, by regurgitating false history, is that "noble northerners fought to abolish slavery, and therefore, everyone on the other side of the struggle was evil." The truth is, the unionists fought to preserve the union and their economic prosperity or simply because they were drafted. You'll note that black soldiers in the Union army were just as segregated as those in the Confederate army---northern soldiers held the same racist attitudes. Yes, black units are well documented in the Confederate army.
Without secession and the consequent war, slavery would have continued
With respect to new states being admitted to the union, slave states definitely wanted more slave states in order to maintain the balance of power within the Congress. That's the only variable that would have ended slavery any earlier than 20-30 years from 1860.
The fact is, if the Confederate states had not
seceded, there would have been no war and slavery would have continued for
decades because the abolitionists could not muster the 2/3 majority
required to initiate a constitutional amendment. The Supreme Court had already ruled slavery was legal, an amendment was required to change that. Again, the secession was to avoid unfair taxes where the proceeds benefited the northern states disproportionately. In the end, the Christian conscience, education and enlightenment would have ended slavery in America---it was inevitable by 1850. Britain and Europe had banned slavery in their holdings. Slavery was abolished in Brazil (Portuguese) in 1888.
Mischaracterizing the Confederacy & heritage preservationists
Pitts was correct to say that ignorant racists
continue to pop up in pro-flag rallies (such as the fellow with a "Send
the NAACP back to Africa!" sign. There's a few in every crowd and the
saying goes), but I'm saying that they don't represent me nor my views on southern heritage. Those people are not my "philisophical soulmates" as Pitts asserts. Accordingly, they may place doubts in the mind of Mr. Pitts, but their actions don't, in fact, say anything about me. Mr. Pitts is projecting motivations and intentions on me that aren't fair---in fact, one might say that he's stereotyping southerners and showing his prejudice. It was Abraham Lincoln who openly advocated the "colonization" (i.e., deportation) of blacks back to Africa or to central or South America. Were it not for his untimely death, Lincoln may have succeeded in mass deportation of blacks.
Yes, the Confederate government was white, and yes, many or most of
them were "racists" by modern standards. Again, that was the prevailing
view across America, not just the south. Many of this country's founders
thought in similar ways with regard to blacks, native Americans and other
non-whites---but their views on race don't annul their founding principles
of "liberty for all." We now take this idea literally, that is, ALL people
have a right to liberty. It's not fair to judge 18th and 19th century
people by our standards just as it wouldn't be fair to judge Pitts by the
accepted standard for writers or people in the 23rd century. As Tim
Russert (host to NBC's Meet the Press) recently said, "In America, we
eventually do the right thing."
Heritage Yes, Hate No
Pitts' misunderstanding of the Confederate cause for independence notwithstanding, there is another element with respect to Confederate flags. Segregation was also based on the concept of racial supremacy and various white supremacy groups, hate groups and the KKK committed terrorism and intimidation to enforce it. These groups in their latter-day form have misused the flag and caused the Confederate battle flag (St. Andrew's Cross) to be indelibly linked with racism and segregation. In the minds of some, the symbol is forever stained by the actions of a small minority of racists. Sure, whites of good conscience should have stood up to them to prevent the staining of their symbol and, more importantly, the wrongs the racists committed. A wrong committed in retaliation for another wrong (reconstruction) is still wrong.
For the above reasons, I have suggested that Georgia should revert to its previous state flag (1878-1956) in the name of racial harmony. We do need a Confederate Heritage month and we should honor Confederate war veterans. Education is the only answer to widespread ignorance about the Confederate cause for independence such as that illustrated by Pitts' column.
Please refer to my own column (published April 12, 2000 in The Macon Telegraph [Macon, GA]) which is available on my web site. The URL is Georgia State Flag column
The following editorial by Ron Woodgeard ran April 16, 2000 in The Macon Telegraph http://www.macontelegraph.com/ed_op/woodgeard/index.htm
A 'romantic lie' it was notBy Ron Woodgeard - The Macon Telegraph 4/16/2000
Consider this old saying: "It's better to remain silent, allowing everyone to think you are ignorant, than it is to open your mouth and convince them it's true."
This came to mind after reading a couple of news items last week about Confederate History Month and the controversy here and in South Carolina over the battle flag. But before I continue, a little background: I was born in Ohio on the 4th of July. That's about as Yankee as one can get. At least one of my ancestors fought in the Civil War for the federal government.
I enjoy reading about military history, but I'm no expert on the Civil War. The life lessons I draw from those who fought this war come from both sides. So I am not a Southerner by birth. I chose to become one after my father moved my family to Georgia when I was 10.
My earliest memory associated with the difference between Southerners and the less fortunate came when my grammar school traveled by train to Washington D.C. and New York. We all wore the same outfit: Pale yellow dress shirts, matching belts and machine-gray pants.
I bought my first Confederate cap, called a kepi, from a New York street vendor on that trip. I lost it to the wind off the Staten Island ferry while passing the Statue of Liberty.
Having established myself an improbable flag bearer for Southern heritage, I must say I have heard just about a-damn-nuff from the morons who contend it is a "romantic lie." There are 575 graves in Rose Hill Cemetery which say it was not. There are another 197 graves in Riverside Cemetery in mute testimony to the courage, valor and sacrifice made by these men so many years ago.
April is Confederate History Month across the Southeast, not just in Virginia whose unhappy governor made news when he announced it. Gov. Roy Barnes recently signed a Georgia proclamation. Confederate Memorial Day is April 26.
Confederate History Month doesn't get as much attention as, say, the recent celebration of Black History Month. I'm going to assume that anyone smart enough to read this understands why. Those people who want to equate the Civil War with the Holocaust may be politically correct. But there's a difference between being correct and being right.
Georgia joined the Confederacy in January, 1861 after a vote of 166 to 130 by the General Assembly. More than 90,000 Georgians fought for the South. Thirty major battles took place on Georgia soil. Nineteen state and federal sites and museums commemorate the war.
Strange people are wrapping themselves in the Confederate flag these days. For example, a black state senator from Augusta used the flag just last week to generate a little publicity for himself. This fellow, Sen. Charles Walker, is in charge of all the Democrats in the Senate as their majority leader. He sets the agenda for them. They dance to his tune, so to speak. Last Monday, Walker got a letter of Southern protest from a man named Ricky Peebles from Lyons. Peebles signed his name and gave his full mailing address. The handwritten, two-page letter is not the work of a genius, to put it charitably. It contains what Walker regarded as threats, but that's open to interpretation.
"I will not let you trample on the graves of our Confederate dead. I will fight you any way I have to," Peeples declares. How will he do that? Perhaps this is a clue: "You were voted into office and you can be voted out."
Walker, frightened and in a state of shock, called the Senate Information Office and had the employees there write up a press release. At the end of it, it says "In light of the terroristic threats, Senator Walker is considering enlisting the Federal Bureau of Investigations (sic) in this matter."
I am not worried we will see a repeat of Ruby Ridge. In fact, Peebles denied threatening any harm. "If I meant any physical threat, do you think I'd put my name on it?"
(The Latin word sic in brackets is used to show that a quote is literally given even though it contains an error. Walker's press release, quoting Peebles' letter, contains four or five or these.)
Of course nothing prevents Walker from milking this sad situation for all it's worth. The release is an almost comical effort to keep the Georgia flag issue heated up while the attention is elsewhere.
Peebles does not represent the defenders of Southern heritage, I'm sure. As for Walker, I have some thoughts, but I'm not sure what he represents - except maybe himself.
--------------End Woodgeard column----------------
See my February 1997 column on Confederate flags.
See my April 12, 2000 column on the Georgia State
I have since changed my
mind on compromise. I'm convinced there can be no
compromise with the NAACP and others who demand nothing less than absolute
cultural and ethnic cleansing of all things Confederate. --Steve
Scroggins July 2001