“ Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of earth all one’s lifetime.”Mark Twain
Much is said about how the winner of a war gets to control history. Oh! Before anyone says anything to me about Mark Twain, please go read Letters From The Earth, first. Anyways, back to what I was saying. The problem with Civil War history is; there was the war, and then there was the calamity of chaos, confusion, and cruelty that was Reconstruction. The South lost the Civil War, but they won Reconstruction. Which was instrumental for how the narrative would be told to future generations throughout the South. The ideals instilled upon southern youth—and the idolization installed in town squares—was largely carried out by one organization:
The United Daughters of the Confederacy
Between 1865 to 1890, the Ladies Memorial Association (LMA) was an organization that worked around the South—primarily helping to raise funds to erect memorials for Confederate soldiers who had died in the war. Most of the monuments were placed in the cemeteries where the soldiers had been buried. They were often dedicated on Memorial Day, which would become customary. This is very similar in fashion to the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) before them. In around 1890 groups of women began gathering with the intent to take it a step further. The years immediately following the war had seen an end to the accustomed way of life for these women, especially those from the planter-class. Their fathers fought for the Confederacy, some being of high rank. Reconstruction in the South saw the disenfranchisement of many of these Confederates, while granting rights to newly freed slaves at the same time. Life was turned upside down for many Southern Whites. Local mobs and the Ku-Klux Klan effectively terrorized the entire region to restore what they saw as the “normal” way of life in the South. These brutal tactics helped win back control of local governments and the economy—now a balance had to be made between the traditions of the Old South, and the industrial growth of the New. Therefore, controlling the narrative of the past would be imperative for how the future would be shaped. Let me back up a minute to immediately following the war, and the man who would create the textbook that would forever influence the South.
Edward A. Pollard was a journalist in Richmond, Virginia, and was born into a slave-holding family. During the war Pollard was a principal editor at the Richmond Examiner, which supported the Confederacy. The paper was noted as being hostile to Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, however. Pollard would publish his most famous work in 1866, The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. He would argue that the war was mostly attributed to Northern aggression, stating Black Republicans as the primary source of blame. He cited their personal hostilities toward slavery, and feelings toward abolitionist John Brown, as reasons the were unfit for office. He also argued that the Confederate States were upholding the principles that the country was supposed to be founded on—while insinuating that the founders where not as qualified as they had been lead to believe. I will let his own words speak for his thoughts on slavery:
“We shall not enter upon the discussion of the moral question of slavery. But we may suggest a doubt here whether that odious term “slavery,” which has been so long imposed, by the exaggeration of Northern writers, upon the judgment and sympathies of the world, is properly applied to that system of servitude in the South which was really the mildest in the world; which did not rest on acts of debasement and disenfranchisement, but elevated the African, and was in the interest of human improvement; and which, by the law of the land, protected the negro in life and limb, and in many personal rights, and, by practice of the system, bestowed upon him a sum of individual indulgences which made him altogether the most striking type in the world of cheerfulness and contentment.”Edward A. Pollard. 1866. The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates
He repetitively writes “slaves” in quotations throughout the book, as too dispute the definition of what slavery actually is. Arguing that it was in the best interest of Africans and that they should be grateful for it—I wish this wasn’t still a talking point, but it is. Another thing that really stood out to me in his text is his use of pronouns when talking about the principles and way of life of the South. To me, it signals a call for solidarity to take his word as undisputed fact. I’m still getting through this book, and I will definitely be writing more about this soon, but it’s almost haunting to see these dots connect. The debates that I’ve heard my entire life—no doubt stem from this book. He recounts the entire war—adding slander to the North all along the way, while glorifying the South. There’s without a question plenty of biased writings from the North. However, Pollard’s words would serve as the foundation of the text books that would be used to shape the hearts and minds of generations to come in the South. Hearts and minds that have an uncomfortable, underlying theme that people down here like to sweep under the rug. A theme that has to be brought into the light now, because keeping it in the dark is the genesis of the very problem. The hidden theme of The Lost Cause:
Now that I got that out of the way, if you’re still with me here, I want to circle back to the DOC. The Lost Cause is my main project, but I want to use this blog to do little side articles along the way. So…
On September 10, 1894, The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was founded. They set off on a mission to correct the “falsehoods” that the North was telling—and to educate the children of the South about the principles of the Old South. They focused heavily on hammering home what the cause of the war were. Making it more about states rights than slavery. They would also paint a picture of happy slaves who enjoyed the plantation life, teaching beliefs that it was in the slaves best interest and natural state to submit. In all seriousness, they literally commissioned paintings of “happy” slaves on plantations. If you’re from down here, you’ve probably seen them. They romanticized plantation life—mint julep sipping, rocking chairs, magnolia trees and all that. They insisted that the Klan was a necessity to restore order to the South. They would help write the South’s history in ways that would glorify the Old—shining a bright light on the areas they wanted you to see—and keeping dark the areas they wanted hidden. All the UDC needed now was a historian of their own, one that had a passion for the “truth” that Pollard had proselytized in The Lost Cause. They’d find one, who arguably would help leave a lasting impact throughout the South.
“negro suffrage was a crime against the white people of the South.”Mildred L. Rutherford, Former President of Georgia’s Daughters of the Confederacy, later appointed Historian for life of the entire organization, speaking about the brief period during reconstruction that Blacks could vote.
Mildred Lewis Rutherford, born in Athens, Georgia, in 1851, was probably the best-known member of the UDC. She was elected as president of the Athens Ladies’ Memorial Association in 1888. In 1901 she became president of the Georgia Division of the UDC, before being appointed as historian-general of Georgia for life, in 1905. Later on she would become historian-general of the entire organization. She crusaded for what she called “true” history. Working tirelessly to preserve the cherished values of Confederate culture. She set out to correct what she charged as, false impressions that slavery was cruel and harsh. “Slavery was no disgrace to the owner or the owned,” Rutherford often claimed. Additionally, she described the women of the Old South as “Plantation Mistresses,” and that the UDC should represent themselves as such, for preservation. She was also an outspoken member of the Georgia Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. I guess being a Plantation Mistress still doesn’t earn you the right to vote. Rutherford would help implement the UDC’s doctrine across the South in the years leading up the first world war.
Monument building was essential to the UDC’s campaign. Erecting soldiers in stone across the South was their way of vindicating the Confederacy. They went up in almost every town, city and state. Many located in town squares, directly in front of court houses—where everyone had to pass them. This was by design. Hundreds of statues went up between 1903 and 1912. During that time the UDC’s membership had grown from approximately 35,000 to 80,000. These monuments weren’t just the generic obelisks or headstone types. Many statues were erected to honor confederate generals who were known Klansmen. As I wrote on my last blog post, The UDC built a monument to Grand Wizard and CSA General, Nathan Bedford Forrest in Rome, Georgia. One of many they built for him throughout the years. The early UDC was pretty vocal about their support of the reconstruction Klan, and even memorialized them. In 1926, the Dodson-Ramseur Chapter of the UDC erected a monument in commemoration of the Ku-Klux Klan, outside of Concord, North Carolina. But, that wasn’t the end of their involvement with the KKK.
Laura Martin Rose was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, the birthplace of the Ku-Klux Klan. Rose became a member of the West Point, Mississippi chapter of the UDC, and was the prominent authority on the KKK for the entire UDC. She claimed to have known many of the original members, and had interviewed them to write essays of their praise—claiming them as the saviors of the White South. She went on to write a primer on the Klan for school children that was adopted by the State of Mississippi. She also wrote a glowing review after the premier of D.W. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, based on the book The Clansman, by Thomas Dixon. Rose said that the film was “more powerful than all else in bringing about a realization of ‘things as they were’ during Reconstruction.” The film would spark the rebirth of the Ku-Klux Klan out of Stone Mountain, GA, and membership would reach into the multi-millions during the 1920s.
This is just one example of the DOC playing a hand in education. They also established the Children of the Confederacy (CofC) with the purpose of passing on these ideals from a very young age. As historian-general, Mildred Lewis Rutherford was relentless in publishing her comprehensive monthly programs for the education of White children. These teachings echo everything we hear today, especially in the South. I’m by no means an expert on the subject of education. However, I have tracked down some of the old materials they used, and plan on getting into it more soon. One thing is for certain, the UDC was opposed to the equal education of Black children and worked to suppress their advancement.
“The mis-educated Negro joins the opposition with the objection that the study of the Negro keeps alive questions which should be forgotten. The Negro should cease to remember that he was once held a slave, that he has been oppressed, and even that he is a Negro. The traducer, however, keeps before the public such aspects of this history as will justify the present oppression of the race.”Carter Godwin Woodson, The Mis-education of the Negro 1933.
While it’s true that many that fought for the South were poor and didn’t own slaves—the common aspirations of poor farmers were to graduate to their own plantations. The planter-class was what was revered. A poor farmer would only hope that they could work their way up to owning a bigger farm. One with more land than he could see. One that would need slaves to harvest. It’s just what the economy of the region was dependent on at the time. The cornerstone of the U.S. economy is free labor. Just throwing that out there. There are numerous writings from plantation owners, who succeeded from the Union, flat out stating that slavery was the reason for succession. Let alone stating their opinions on Blacks being inferior to Whites. But, the DOC and others would use the sentiments of poor soldiers to pull on the heart strings of the working class. Prying into the built up bitterness against perceived northern aggression—it was easy to pull this sentimentality to the forefront of White minds in the South for generations to come.
Y’all, this is systemic racism. The elite class used pains and poverty—from the war they helped create—to direct attention away from the atrocities they had made their fortunes on—so they could use race as the construct to segregate the poor—exploiting fears to create disharmony—so they could figure out new ways to squirrel away new fortunes.
This is still the system.
Those Mason-Dixon lines start to get blurry after the war, and even more so after Reconstruction. The industrial boom in the South made for plenty of natural oppurtunites for the North to come in for business expansion. Which made for plenty of carpetbagger blame to go around (I’m going to get to my thoughts about Henry W. Grady on here soon). All of this made it easy for the Daughters of the Confederacy to accomplish their mission. Which made it absurdly harder for the forthcoming civil rights leaders. The DOC has spent decades rolling back previous statements and controversies. Only in 2018 did they remove statements from their website that read “slaves were faithful and devoted and willing to serve their masters.” And they just recently removed the words slave and slavery completely from their website. Their website now has a statement regarding monuments and it attempts to distance themselves from hate groups that use the flag. I’ll put the link to the site in the references, but they firmly supported the KKK in the past, and the Klan still uses that flag and always has.
To say this is a loaded topic is an understatement. If I know one thing, it’s that most of the people that stand by these ideals, probably don’t have Klan sheets in their closets. And they’re mostly all caring people. Many of them are just proud of where they come from and all that. Maybe a little too much at times. I redirect you to that Twain quote at the beginning of this post.
I”m proud to be from the South. I take it personal when people talk down on us. I was born in Richmond and have lived in the Atlanta area since I was 3. I’m currently cooking up my love letter to the South, but as is appropriate, it has to be slow-cooked. As someone who spent their entire life in Southern schools, I say firsthand that the revisions and sentiments, first stoked by Pollard, are firmly embedded. The DOC did an exceptional job in taking this into the homes across the South. And they helped in establishing the paradox of being proud Confederates and Americans at the same time. This is a plausible deniability that Pollard introduces in the beginning of his book when he questions the founders patriotism.
There’s a difference of being proud of where you are from and who you are—than being overly-nationalistic and close-minded. As I always try to mention on here, failure to communicate and appreciate each others perspectives is the root of the issues we have today. In my opinion, The Lost Cause and the efforts of the UDC have played a primary role in this communication breakdown. They championed for segregation—helping to create some of the most sensitive topics in the country today. Everything they taught purposefully excluded the firsthand experiences of millions of Black folks in the South. The only way we can heal as a country is to be honest about these things and work to reconcile them.
CULTURAL RACIST: One who is creating a cultural standard and imposing a cultural hierarchy among racial groups.
CULTURAL ANTIRACIST: One who is rejecting cultural standards and equalizing cultural differences among racial groups.Ibram X. Kendi
Love all y’all. Oh, and I finally got my computer working, so hopefully I will be writing a lot more now. I was just doing all this on a phone until now.
-James C. Marshall, July 13, 2020.
- Pressly, Thomas J. 1954. Americans Interpret Their Civil War. Princeton University Press.
- Cox, Karen L. 2003. Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters Of The Confederacy And The Preservation Of Confederate Culture. ISBN: 9780813026251. University Press of Florida. 1-5,37,39-41,49-50,105-110,135-137
- Franklin, John Hope. 1961. Reconstruction After the Civil War. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN: 0226260763.
- Wade, Wyn Craig. 1987. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. Simon and Schuster. ISBN: 9780671414764.
- Pollard, Edward A. 1866. The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates
- Woodson, Carter Godwin. 1933. The Mis-education of the Negro.
- Kendi, Ibram X. 2019. How to be an antiracist. Random House. ISBN: 978052550928. 81.