It hit me at the Mecklenburg Governmental Plaza meeting room last year. During the uproar over the Battleflag memorial to the Confederate dead at Charlotte’s Elmwood Cemetery, the city council, eager to put the controversy behind them, shrewdly called for "community input" to resolve the issue.
The Community Relations Committee, which had been formed in the 1960’s to push through "civil rights" programs in Mecklenburg County, planned to "seed" the event with its own members to "guide" our recommendations. One of the recommendations they pushed — unsuccessfully, by the way — was that the Battleflag remain at the cemetery, but in a glass case.
Now where had I heard that idea before?
It was a "solution" to the Confederate Battleflag issue that had cropped up in other cases, especialy when the NAACP was hell-bound to pull the Battleflag down in Columbia, South Carolina. Even after they’d won what they’d been demanding, they still didn’t want the Battleflag displayed as a living symbol. According to The State newspaper, the NAACP still wants “… the flag encased in glass, rather than flown from a flagpole, and insist they’ll continue to boycott South Carolina until no Confederate flag flies on the Statehouse grounds.”
Columnist Julianne Malveaux noted the same attitude toward the flag, and provided a brief explanation:
If the Confederate flag comes down from the Capitol Dome in Columbia, South Carolina, will the NAACP call off its boycott of state tourism? No, say NAACP leaders, who feel the flag has no place in that state’s public life. They’d like to see the flag placed in a glass case in a historical Confederate Relic room and leave it at that. They are opposed by good ol’ boys who want the flag to maintain a place of honor.
Those of us who insist on flying the Battleflag, and actually resist political pressure to hide it in a museum, are called activists, extremists, radicals, "good ol’ boys," and worse. Those who submit to the NAACP’s demands are honored with the title of "moderate." Ed "Crawfish" Sebesta recently recognized two "moderate" SCV websites in one of his breathless denunciations of any person of note — in this case, writer and historian William C. Davis — participating in an SCV event.
This strikes at the heart of the matter. Is Southern Heritage a living cause, or is it a museum relic?
It’s a crucial question, one with significant implications. If we Southerners are inspired by the principles our Confederate ancestors bled and died for, then our culture, our identity, and yes, our politics, will be defined very differently than the universalist, multi-culturalist, centralized politics of the liberal Northeast.
The short but stormy SaveTheSCV movement made this distinction very clear. As its website proclaimed:
This direct involvement in modern political activism is in violation of our SCV Constitution and of the publicly stated goals of our founders.
When its leader and chief spokesman Walt Hilderman made his abortive run for commander of the SCV, his platform promised that he would:
"Publicly reject modern political activity by the SCV as an organization."
" … begin the process of making peace with the NAACP…"
"Get a "clean bill of health" from the Southern Poverty Law Center."
No doubt Hilderman was correct — had he won, and successfully transformed the SCV into the detached, politically neutral "history club" that SSCV supporter Gilbert Jones wanted to make it, the SPLC and NAACP would praise the "moderates" for converting the South’s most prestigious and successful defender of Confederate heritage into what liberals would view as a "respectable" and non-threatening organization.
But what did the founders of the SCV intend? The "moderate" factions cling to an interpretation of General Stephen Dill Lee’s charge that stresses "… the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history …" and the concluding line, "Remember it is your duty to see that the true history of the South is presented to future generations." But this takes the quotes completely out of context, and leaves out "the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles he loved and which made him glorious and which you also cherish."
Did the SCV founders intend that the traditional Southern political philosophy be part of the heritage that the organization was to preserve? The answer is in the SCV Constitution, which explicitly endorses the States’ Rights position:
"An unquestioned allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, largely written and expounded by Southern men, the very Magna Carta of our liberties; a strict construction of all sections conferring power upon the Federal Government and the implied and understood reservations to the States."
Why did the SCV Constitution include an interpretation of the US Constitution? Because promoting the SCV’s States’ Rights position was one of the chief purposes for organizing. The Charge to the Sons of Confederate Veterans is "the vindication of the Cause for which we fought," which was their defense of the Constitutional right of self-government, or, to quote again from the SCV Constitution, "the principles represented by the Confederate States of America."
And not only did the SCV founders include political philosophy as a crucial element of the Confederate Cause, but they also openly took positions on contemporary poltical issues. As one example, the April, 1931 issue of Confederate Veteran featured an article entitled, “Present World Armament.” It included this interesting fact:
“A glance through statistics of the military strength of the world for 1930 reveals that twelve years after the ‘war to end war’ armaments in every important country in the world, with the exception of Germany and Great Britain, are no only undiminished, but in many instances are larger than in 1913, which was the peak of sixty years of military competition.” (p. 125)
The article is referring to the America First movement, which wanted to restore George Washington’s vision of the US as a peaceful republic with no "foreign entanglements." After World War One, which cost 57,400 American boys their lives, the Great War was viewed by many as a monstrous mistake. Many in the US believed only the armaments industry benefited, and that these widely despised "merchants of death" had manipulated the nation into the war. This attitude grew more vocal in the late 20’s and early 30’s, culminating in Senator Gerald Nye’s 1934 hearings, which concluded the US had been manipulated by war profiteers who "paved and greased" the road to battle.
Even at a time when the Confederate Cause was viewed sympathetically all over the nation, the founders and early leaders of the SCV understood that their Cause involved taking political stances, and they frequently did so. How else can one perpetuate the principles of the Confederate soldier, who fought for self-determination? And in the present age of political correctness, how can we defend the "Confederate soldier’s good name" when leftists use the power of government — as is being done today at Civil War battlefields — to convince the public the Confederate soldier fought for an evil Cause?
History does not live in a vacuum. If our history does not inspire and inform our lives, then it has been reduced to a trinket, a curiousity from the past. Surely the history of our Confederate ancestors deserves a better fate — and better guardians.