Friday, April 8, 2011

Stars, Bars, and Wars

Tuesday, April 12, 2011, will be the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Fort Sumter, the beginning of the War Between the States. The lingering effect of that war in the South is remarkable. Most people whom I've asked can name more battles from that war than from any other American conflict except World War II, which has the double benefit of being a much larger and more significant conflict and having taken place recently enough that a great many participants in World War II are still living.

Not only do we remember the War Between the States after all of this time, but we also continue to fight its battles. The Anderson County Courthouse in Palestine, TX, has been in the Dallas area news for the past week. First, the courthouse agreed to raise the Confederate Flag along with the flags of the United States of America and the State of Texas on the flagpole at the county courthouse. Then, the county decided to remove the Confederate Flag. For video coverage of the controversy by one of our local television stations, click this link.

The question of the war and the Confederate Flag continues to arise and to generate controversy because it stands at the intersection of three R's: Racial tension, Regional pride, and Remembering history.

  • Racial Tension: The Confederacy fought to preserve the institution of slavery. In saying so, I am not denying that other issues were involved (for example, the nature of the relationship between our federal government and our several states). Historians can quickly recite a list of reasons why the Confederacy went to war. I'm not, in this post, seeking to argue for the removal of anything from that list. I'm merely saying that, however long that list is, the continued enslavement of black Americans is on the list.

    I'm also not saying that the North was clearly fighting to end slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation came late in the war, and provoked angry demonstrations in Northern cities even then. I'm not saying that racism was then (or ever has been) the peculiar possession of Southerners. I'm merely saying that, among other people and institutions, the Southern government opposed the emancipation of the slaves.

    Furthermore, I'm not saying that each individual Confederate soldier was motivated by a desire to preserve slavery. As Shelby Foote noted in the classic Ken Burns series The Civil War, a great many individual Confederate soldiers were fighting "because [the Yankees were] down here [, that is, invading the South]." Granting that the motivating factor for a great many Confederate soldiers was something other, I'm merely saying that the effect of their military services was (among whatever else) the defense of slavery.

    For these reasons, anything that has to do with the War Between the States necessarily has to do with race. Those who object to the display of the Confederate Flag in a venue like the Anderson County Courthouse generally make their objection on the basis of racial offensiveness. I know of no credible argument suggesting that the flying of the Confederate Flag does not offend great numbers of black Americans. All sides would acknowledge, I think, that an enormous percentage of black Americans will indeed be offended whenever the Confederate Flag is displayed by a governmental entity in this manner. Perhaps someone would argue that they should not be offended in these circumstances, but one hardly could (and consequently nobody really does) argue that blacks could not possibly be or are not offended by such displays. The topic of the War Between the States and the Confederacy is a racial issue.

  • Remembering History: In Palestine, TX, the offered defense of the display was partly historical in nature. Texas was part of the Confederacy. men from Anderson County died in the War Between the States. The Sons of the Confederacy argued that the display of the Confederate Flag would serve to honor those brave soldiers who died in the war and would commemorate a portion of Anderson County's history.

    Certainly they are accurate in their understanding of history, at least on this point. The Confederate States seceded. A war ensued. People died in the conflict. Then came Reconstruction. These events befell the Southwest when the development of the region was barely begun. Coming at just that moment, the historical significance of the War on the Southern States was so profound as to remain one and a half centuries later.

    And yet, I think something else is afoot here. Six flags have flown over Texas, after all, and yet I doubt seriously that the French flag will soon be hoisted in Palestine. The periods of French, Spanish, and Mexican rule are just as much a part of the history of Anderson County as is the Confederate period. Prior to the conquistadors, the area was generally the possession of various tribes of American Indians. So why is the Confederacy singled out for so much attention?

  • Regional Pride and Heroes: Some people support the display of the Confederate Flag because they are KKK-nutjobs—virulent racists who would gladly enforce racial discrimination as a function of their ideology of white supremacy. But this does not tell the whole story. Another broad category of people who either support the display of the Confederate Flag or do not oppose it are those who sympathize deeply with Southern Pride. They play Alabama and Bocephus, watch "Dukes of Hazzard" and display the Confederate Flag. In doing so, they're not so much trying to offend their black neighbors as they are trying to offend Yankees and Carpetbaggers. These are the Proud Southerners. They would not fly the French flag because, although Palestine, TX, was indeed once French, the French heritage of the region is nothing from which they derive their identity. Few symbols are iconically and universally Southern as is the Confederate Flag, and so even some people who are not racists either support or merely do not oppose the flying of the Stars & Bars from the Anderson County Courthouse.

    Seemingly unfettered expansion of the size, scope, and presumptive authority of the Federal Government fuels such sentiments, as some Texans discuss secession from the United States (most solely as an exercise in Texas Pride rather than as a serious domestic strategy) in rhetoric not dissimilar from that of the 1850s. Unionism, social liberalism, socialism in medicine, and other major contributors to our national debt crisis are generally perceived as Northern ideas either transplanted into or forced upon the South.

    In such contexts, some Southerners wish to assert the distinctiveness of the South as a region; to derive their identity more from their region than from their nationality, at least in some regards; and to resist Yankee encroachment and the resulting erosion of distinctively Southern culture. "Song of the South" and "A Country Boy Can Survive" pretty easily morph into "If the South Would've Won We'd Have Had it Made," and the Confederate Flag becomes as much a statement about North-South relations at present as it is any sort of a thoughtful interaction with the antebellum South.

    Consider the lyrics of the aforementioned Hank Williams Jr. song:

    If the South woulda won we'd a had it made.
    I'd probably run for President of the Southern States.
    The day Elvis passed away would be our national holiday.
    If the South woulda won we'd a had it made.

    I'd make my surpreme court down in Texas
    And we wouldn't have no killers getting off free.
    If they were proven guilty then they would swing quickly,
    Instead of writin' books and smilin' on T.V.

    We'd all learn cajun cookin' in Louisiana
    And I'd put that capital back in Alabama.
    We'd put Florida on the right track, 'cause we'd take Miami back
    And throw all them pushers in the slammer.

    Oh, if the South woulda won we'd a had it made.
    I'd probably run for President of the Southern States.
    The day young Skynyrd died, we'd show our southern pride.
    If the South woulda won we'd a had it made.

    I'd have all the whiskey made in Tennessee
    And all the horses raised in those Kentucky hills.
    The national treasury would be in Tupelo, Mississippi
    And I'd put Hank Williams picture on the one hundred dollar bill.

    I'd have all the cars made in the Carolinas
    And I'd ban all the ones made in China.
    I'd have every girl child sent to Georgia to learn to smile
    And talk with that southern accent that drives men wild.

    I'd have all the fiddles made in Virginia,
    'Cause they sure can make 'em sound so fine.
    I'm going up on Wolverton Mountain and see ole Clifton Clowers
    And have a sip of his good ole Arkansas wine.

    Hey, if the South woulda won we'd a had it made.
    I'd probably run for President of the Southern States.
    When Patsy Cline passed away that would be our national holiday.
    If the South woulda won we'd a had it made.

    I said if the south wouda won we would a had it made!

    Might even be better off!

    There's nothing in that song about slavery or race. The most significant implication of a victorious South (a different outcome for race relations) is entirely absent from a song speculating about the implications of a victorious South! Perhaps, one might argue, Williams is of the opinion that the South would have abandoned slavery by now even if it had been victorious. That's an interesting point for speculative discussion and debate, but I don't think it really has a thing to do with Williams's song.

    That's because Williams's song isn't about 1865 at all—it's about 1988. It reflects an opinion that, on the questions of music, law and order, cuisine, drug use, quality of whiskey (Hank apparently didn't see the contradiction between the preceding two items), horses, industrial quality and international trade policy, and the allure of women, Southern culture was superior to non-Southern culture in 1988. Southerners want to be proud of the South. Many Southerners are proud of the South. In order to accomplish this, the number one item of shame for the South—our history of violent racism—we expunge from the story of our region.

    Frankly, I believe that Williams is wrong about 1865 and right about 1988. The nadir of Southern cultural distinctiveness is corresponding with a decline in morality in the South, at least by my own perception of our region. National media are exporting Los Angeles and New York into Little Rock and Nacogdoches, and worse cultures for export would be difficult to find in this country.

    For multi-generational Southerners, entangled with this program of regional pride is the matter of family pride. Many Southerners have ancestors who wore the Gray and fought Mr. Lincoln. Many Southerners have ancestors who told them racial jokes or harbored racist views or participated in the defense of Jim Crow in their younger days. Will we vilify our own parents and grandparents for their sins? Clearly some have done so, but is this even the right thing to do?

The central tension here is between the racial and regional questions. What is the best way forward? I believe that regional pride, within limits, can be a valuable asset for the South, but it must be based upon more positive aspects of the South. If we are proud of the South, then what particular things about the South have made us proud? By the "we" I mean to signify those of us who are Southerners but are not racists. I think that we would do well to place greater emphasis upon a fourth R: Religious Faithfulness.

Were it not for the South, I believe that the United States of America would be as secular as Europe is today. Even the Christian health of the North is greater than it would otherwise be because of the influence of the South and the deliberate efforts of the South to evangelize and disciple the North through church planting in "pioneer areas." An enormous percentage of Christian ministries outside the South and possessing evangelical vitality have their roots, within two steps, in the South.

Consider rates of church attendance. Of the top ten church-going states, only one lies outside the South, and that one (Utah) is only in the list because Gallup doesn't know the difference between a church and the institutions that people attend in Utah. Of the bottom ten church-going states, none of them lie within the South, and six are among the formerly-pious New England states. (See the statistics for yourself here.)

Christian Southerners, why not be proud of that? There is nothing in that reality that would be offensive racially. Black churches and white churches, their cultural dissimilarities notwithstanding, have been partners in preserving the relative spiritual health of the South. The spiritual vitality of the South is no opponent to racial reconciliation, for Christian theology provides the best foundation in the world for racial harmony and Christ is the major source of unity bringing together many black and white Southerners today. The Confederate Flag is not a very good icon of the spiritual South, permeated as it is with small congregations whose platforms are festooned with the American Flag and the Christian Flag, with the Stars & Bars nowhere to be seen. What we need is a flag decorated with a scene of a country vale with a white clapboard church meeting house nestled in the trees.

Emphasizing the legacy of leaders like J. M. Pendleton could help in this regard. Pendleton was the only member of the Great Triumvirate of Landmarkism who was a native Southerner, and yet he was also the only member who was vocally anti-slavery and who opposed secession. With many of our other ancestors or heroes, we will need to honor the good in them while refusing to preserve their weaknesses. The goal here is to continue to carry forward to completion our region's remarkable advance toward racial reconciliation without being absorbed into the secularism that dominates other regions of our nation.

I'm thankful to have been born in Arkansas. Count me as a Proud Southerner who sees our past sins all too clearly, but who also sees the unique positive contributions of the South to our nation and the world. To commemorate Tuesday's anniversary, I will soon dig out my VHS copies of the famous Ken Burns documentary, remembering where we have been and how far we have come, and hoping for the better angels of our nature to lead us forward, after all.

17 comments:

Les Puryear said...

Bart,

Good post. I will say that in my reading on the topic, it appears that the South was fighting to preserve a way of life, of which slavery was certainly a part, and the freedom to determine what that lifestyle would be. It was more an issue of state's rights than slavery.

Les

Stuart said...

Great article, Bart. You've touched on so many things, each probably worthy of a series of posts. I hope your larger point isn't lost in a flurry of comments about racism, the reasons for the war, and the "true meaning" of the flag.

In spite of media and northern stereotypes, most contemporary Southerners have come a LONG way in the last 50 years. I made a tweet on MLK day that I'm encouraged to observe that my children are more color-blind than I was when I was their age. So as much as we may bemoan the importation of culture from our two coasts (and rightly so in many cases), I can't help but wonder how much "progress" we would have made on racial attitudes in the South without them. That would be an intersting discussion to me.

Which leads me to my questions about the place of religion in the South. No one, certainly, would argue with the statistics you cite from Gallup. I'm also with you on the South's influence on the northern evangelicalism that emerged in the 20th century.

But I'm wondering, if "religion" held such a place of prominence in the antebellum South, how could they have held to such a Scripturally-misinformed antrhopology. If religion held such a place of prominence in the 20th century South, how did we get Jim Crow and why did the National Guard have to be called upon to enforce adherance to civil rights laws? I think, perhaps, it's because "church attendance", while one means of measuring "relgiosity", can't really measure other, more qualitative, aspects of genuine regeneration.

I don't think I'm disagreeing with you, as much as I'm suggesting that what Southerns have, by and large, been committed to is something of an American Folk Religion. It's capable of producing certain cultural mores (things that "good Christians" and "self-respecting Southerners" don't do) and a strong sense of patriotism, but falls short of producing the kind of genuine heart change that is wrought by the gospel wherein there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.

I'm afraid that in too many cases church is just something "we" do--along with sweet tea, Cracker Barrell, Chick-Fil-A, and farmers markets--that makes us "better" than our Yankee neighbors. I guess you could say I have a love-hate relationship with my Southern roots and our brand of Christianity.

Bart Barber said...

Les,

Certainly, Southern states were concerned about states' rights. But I would encourage you to consider this as a part of your historical analysis: The time for South Caroline to secede if states' rights were the real core issue would have been 1832, not 1860. At that point the state and John C. Calhoun were trumped in the nullification crisis and the ideas of nullification and secession were directly challenged. Andrew Jackson had authorization to use military force to prevent South Carolina from nullifying the Tariff Act or seceding, so his actions were just as militarily aggressive as were Abraham Lincoln's.

But instead, South Carolina waited until 1860. Her senator, Preston Brooks, had beaten Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber for a speech about slavery. South Carolinians were indeed proponents of states' rights, but it was a state's right to enslave blacks that ultimately served as motivation enough for South Carolina to secede and to go to war.

Bart Barber said...

Stuart,

I don't disagree, and I tried to employ enough qualifications and weasel words throughout the piece to allow for something similar to your own observations about Southern religion. I would, however, reply by observing the following items:

1. The coexistence of genuine regeneration and racism or a defense of racial slavery would be more of a problem for a Wesleyan than it is for me. I do not believe that entire sanctification is possible until we reach Heaven. Every Christian is a profoundly sinful creature whose most basic love-hate relationship is with himself or herself, as I think Peter and Paul would be the first to testify.

It is in the biographical study of specific individuals that I become most solidly convinced of this phenomenon. One of the founders of Jim Crow legislation was James P. Eagle, the patriarch and fountainhead of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the Governor of the State of Arkansas. He was an exemplar of the patriarchal racism that saw blacks as children to be managed and supervised by whites, as opposed to the more venomous racism of the KKK that viewed blacks as useful but dangerous animals to be exploited or exterminated.

Eagle was a Christian. As Christians go, Eagle was a good Christian. This question of race was an area in which his sanctification was woefully incomplete. The ranks of people in this category are numerous, and they include the names of many of the people whose names also appear in your Baptist History or Christian History books.

Ultimately, with people like Eagle, we have to do just what we have to do with Martin Luther King, Jr., and with other heroes of days gone by—we have to celebrate the good while acknowledging the bad intermingled in those feet of clay.
…continued…

Bart Barber said...

2. I believe that the influences that have made the South move further away from racism have, to a large degree, come from within the South. I would say that Southern black churches have played a major role in this effort, for example, providing such leadership as MLK (a Southerner). Considering the race riots that took place in Los Angeles and Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, I do not believe that it is accurate to represent Southern improvement on the question of race as a matter in which a non-racist extra-Southern culture influenced Southern culture.

3. I would agree that church attendance does not entirely correlate to genuine regeneration, but I do believe that no other measurable factor correlates as high or higher with genuine regeneration as does church attendance. I would rank the spiritual health of four hypothetical cultures in this way:

a. The church-going, non-racist culture.
b. The church-going, racist culture.
c. The non-church-going, non-racist culture.
d. The non-church-going, racist culture.

The North has been rapidly going from d. to c., while the South has been rapidly going from b. to a., with a threat of going to c. next.

Stuart said...

Bart,

Thanks for interacting. Blogs can't often convey collegiality, so I trust you realized I wasn't disagreeing with anything specific in your post, as much as I was just thinking out loud.

(It's nice to have some intellecutal stimulation that has nothing to do with the Pastor's Conference, low vs. high Southern Baptist identiy, or pastors' feelings of irrelevancy.)

I find myself agreeing with your replies 1 as written. Your description of Eagle got me thinking about John Brown. While his sanctification may have been more complete on the subjects of slavery and race than some of his peers, it was perhaps less complete in others.

On 2, I think I still would contend that extra-Southern cultural influences have contributed in some way to Southern improvement on the question of race. As I look at the leading cities of the "New South" I see anything but a homogeneous Southern-ness.

I'll have to pick this up later, though, because family duties beckon. I'll come back later and finish fleshing out my interactions with your 2 and 3.

Thanks for the discussion.

Stuart said...

Do me a favor and don't reply to my statement about the cities yet. That's where I'll pick up.

Dwight McKissic said...

Bart, excellent analysis.You represent the Kingdom and Arkansas well. Dwight Mckissic

Stuart said...

Bart,

What I was saying in relation to your number 2 was that, your points notwithstanding, I would still contend that some extra-Southern influences have contributed to Southern progress on the subject of race.

As I look at the leading cities of the "New South" I see anything but a homogeneous Southern-ness. Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, etc. surely each have retained a certain Southern identity and Southern charms, at least in certain sectors of society. But each is also, in its own way, a diverse, multi-cultural, and cosmopolitan (in the sense of not provincial or parochial) modern city. It certainly seems as though many extra-Southern factors (including but not limited to the influx of financial institutions and corporate headquarters, transplants from other geographic regions, and immigration) have at least in some way shaped them into what they are today. As those cities have continued to grow in population and importance, their cultural influence has been "exported" to neighboring cities, towns, and states. Or so it seems. So I would contend that through the cities' influence, some extra-Southern factors have helped shape contempoary Southern attitiudes on a host of issues, including race.

I also think the country group Alabama's "progress" provides some insight. In the early days, not only were many of the songs about "the South", but their album covers were emblazoned with the confederate battle flag. I don't think they were any more or less racist than anyone else in northern Alabama in 1982; their songs and album covers simply conveyed their cultural identity. But by the early 90s, the battle flag was nowhere to be found and songs like "Down Home" had replaced "Dixieland Delight". I don't think they would have considered themselves "less Southern", but it certainly appeared that some of their vocabulary and sensitivities had changed with time. Is it possible that no non-racist extra-Southern influences contributed to their progression? It's possible. It's not very likely, though. Is it?

I'm not even sure that the influence of black churches in the South shouldn't be considered extra-Southern in some sense, unless by "Southern" one only means "geographically below the Mason-Dixon line".

In any event, I've wasted enough of your time on that point. I certainly don't think every extra-Southern influence has been positive. Many haven't. I'm just not sure we can take credit for our collective progress on the race subject (or give the credit to a southern variety of American Folk Religion) without at least acknowledging the prodding (sometimes shoving) of outside factors.

Splitting hairs? Maybe. But just enjoying thinking through it. Have a blessed evening, brother.

Bart Barber said...

Stuart,

I'm not riled up. ;-) I think we're having a good conversation. Most congenial. Keep going!

So, we're agreed on the first point. I'll gladly await your comments on the second. But in anticipation of that, allow me to clarify that point a little.

I said: "I do not believe that it is accurate to represent Southern improvement on the question of race as a matter in which a non-racist extra-Southern culture influenced Southern culture."

You said: "extra-Southern cultural influences have contributed in some way to Southern improvement on the question of race."

I actually think that those two statements are compatible. I think that anti-racist influences both within and without the South influenced the entire American culture both within and without the South, for racial problems existed (and still exist) both within and without the South. Some extra-Southern influences impacted the South. Some Southern influences reached outside the South (like MLK).

Bart Barber said...

Stuart,

We cross-posted.

You make some good points. The urbanization of the South has changed the region dramatically, and that factor likely contributes substantially to changes in race relations.

I will continue, on my part, to include Southern blacks under the rubric of Southern culture. I do think that it is fair to define the South by reference to all of those who have lived here for generations. In fact, I do not believe that it is fair to do otherwise. I think that Southern black culture has had a tremendous influence upon Southern music, food, economics—just about every aspect of Southern culture. Southern black and white culture intertwines and interacts in a million different ways. I do not think that they can possibly be dissected.

To see that Southern black culture has influenced Southern white culture, and not only the other way around, is an important and empowering realization, I think.

Bart Barber said...

Dwight,

Thanks. Didn't know that you were still reading over here. God bless.

Stuart said...

Bart,

What's the best e-mail to use to e-mail you? I have a church history question unrelated to race relations in the south.

I'll try to carve out some time to interact with your point 3 later today. If I don't get the chance, I'm sure we'll both live over it. :-)

Stuart said...

"I think that Southern black culture has had a tremendous influence upon Southern music, food, economics—just about every aspect of Southern culture. Southern black and white culture intertwines and interacts in a million different ways. I do not think that they can possibly be dissected.

To see that Southern black culture has influenced Southern white culture, and not only the other way around, is an important and empowering realization, I think."

Indeed. I recant that short paragraph about black churches in my previous post. Put the way you've put it above, I couldn't agree more. Just those few sentneces could probably spin off an entire series of meaningful posts.

Bart Barber said...

Stuart,

I don't look for ways to spin off myriad related posts. I look for ways to avoid that. I'm only a semi-blogger now, remember?

So, you have my permission and encouragement to author and to publish the related posts to your heart's content.

I'm bart.barber for an email address, and the domain name is that of my church, FBC Farmersville. So that's fbcfarmersville.com. Put the two of those together, and you have an email address for me, given in complicated enough prose that spambots will have a hard time ferreting it out of this comment.

Christiane said...

In our family, on my mother's side, this Civil War history:

"Captain Stewart L. Johnston, Company H, Seventeenth North Carolina Regiment, says:

“A shell from one of the enemy’s mortars fell in the midst of the comriany, and while it was spinning round like a top and the fuse still burning, Private William James Ausbon picked it up and cast it over the breastworks where it immediately exploded. General Beauregard in general orders directed his name to be placed on the Roll of Honor and that he be presented with a silver medal.”

William James Ausbon was the brother of my maternal ancestor, Joseph Gray Ausbon. Another brother, Mc Gilbray Ausbon also fought in the war. Our family has a letter written during the Civil War by McGilbray (‘Gib’), that is very moving, and asks that ‘a suit of clothes’ be made for him from a blanket. It is a family heirloom in the keeping of one of our cousins in North Carolina.

Christiane said...

Another bit of Civil War 'trivia', the family home, the Ausbon House, in Plymouth N.C., was the site of a Civil War skirmish:

"A Confederate sniper positioned in the strategic upper window of the Ausbon House refused to heed the warning from an officer and held his ground. Becoming the only rebel returning fire, the Union troop concentrated their fire on the sniper in the upper window. Even today you can see 30 bullet holes around the window, and there were another eight found in the interior wall behind the window during recent restoration (along with grape shot still in the wall and a Confederate field spoon used as cannon fodder sticking straight out from the inner wall). The sharpshooter was shot several times before crawling out of the room and downstairs where he died. His bloodstains on the floor by the window remain today, even though the floor has been refinished!"

(My cousin Neva swears that that hallway is haunted.) :)

She should call Ghost-Hunters, I think. :)