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Neo-Confederate History

By Matthew Yglesias on April 11, 2010 at 11:28 am

"Neo-Confederate History"

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Jon Meacham has a good op-ed in today’s Times that’s very much in the spirit of Ed Kilgore’s proposed Neo-Confederate History Month:

If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let’s talk history. Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation. For white supremacists, iconography of the “Lost Cause” was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag.

But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.

In the aftermath of World War II, however, the rebel flag and other Confederate symbolism resurfaced as the civil rights movement spread. In 1948, supporters of Strom Thurmond’s pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket waved the battle flag at campaign stops.

Then came the school-integration rulings of the 1950s. Georgia changed its flag to include the battle emblem in 1956, and South Carolina hoisted the colors over its Capitol in 1962 as part of its centennial celebrations of the war.

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All well-put. Meanwhile, I would note that apart from contemporary racial issues, something that links the mentality of today’s right to the mentality of the slaveowners and segregation proponents is the white southern political tradition’s very partial and selective embrace of majoritarian democracy. As long as national institutions are substantially controlled by white southerners, the white south is a hotbed of patriotism. But as soon as an non-southern political coalition manages to win an election—as we saw in 1860 and in 2008—then suddenly the symbols of national authority become symbols of tyranny and the constitution is construed as granting conservative areas all kinds of alleged abilities to opt out of national political decisions. Even if you think opposition to the Affordable Care Act has nothing whatsoever to do with race, the underlying political philosophy by which a George W Bush or James Buchanan is a national president but an Abraham Lincoln or a Barack Obama merely a sectional one remains incoherent and pernicious.

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