Sunday, August 16, 2015

Hillsborough Shakes It Off

We had a gig this past Thursday over in Durham. Nice to step back into that world, however briefly. My hands are still sort of achey from playing. That's a new thing, this summer, and exasperating. The Blue Note Grill moved over to Washington Street, just across from the old Durham Bulls park. They have a blues festival there at the park now, every September I think it is. The Blue Note features mostly blues performers, so maybe the park drew them from off 15-501 Bidness, where they'd sat on a cliff overlooking the ruins of a huge mall that was torn down about 20 years back. I noticed driving down 15-501 to the gig that Uzzle Cadillac Olds was gone too, just the remains of a block foundation and some concrete parking with weeds growing up in the cracks. I spent a week in that place one time, tearing out a piece of block wall by hand, with hammer and sledge. They wanted a door, but they didn't want any dust from sawing out the block with a diamond blade. There were new cars on one side of the wall. It was just before Christmas. Mr. Uzzle himself was up in some office a couple of stories above where I was pounding, and he kept calling down to the show-room to quit the banging. I eventually just left for a few days, leaving the plastic and the partial hole, till he realized he'd do better shutting up and letting me get the job done.

When I got to the new Blue Note there was the current Indy Week newspaper there. It's printed in Durham. It's cover story was this:

The cover headline said, in big big type over the photo of the yahoos with the flags:


I'd think that edition will be hard to find in Durham. On the stands I mean. A lot of those covers will probably get framed, or tacked up on fridge doors. There's hardly anybody that deserves a poke in the eye more than a self-righteous jerk who's willing to wear a Confederate flag shirt that says "I'm offended that you're offended." I was pleased to read that far fewer flag supporters arrived than were allegedly expected. I'd think the news reporter was probably being naive to take the asserted expectation seriously, but then we do have a state with a government that seems pretty much to agree with these sad, confused citizens. Over in Raleigh they're trying to take any alterations in the statuary of a given town out of the hands of the town governance. So much for freeeee-dom, and no surprise there either. Two of the most conservative towns in NC, Morehead City and Wilmington, have now passed resolutions against off-shore drilling. The NC Legislature has taken such matters out of the hands of localities. They get their ideas from ALEC conventions (the leaders are just back from the latest one, in San Diego). ALEC gets its funding from the Koch Bros.

But even if I got a chuckle out of the Indy headline, I felt like it really wasn't the best tack. You Lost plays into the whole framework of the Right. Fox, Limbaugh, all the rest of the apparatus which toils 24-7 to convince everyone that nothing is objective and neutral, that it's all a propaganda battle right down to the bottom, they'll be happy to join with the Indy in a battle of "You Lost," "No, You Lost..." That's how they managed to convince enough voters to elect Ronald Reagan. "Look," they said, "the news people are all Democrats, of course they don't think Reagan is a good idea." So Durham's little weekly paper of mostly liberal opinion can give the finger to the rubes with the flags, but in Raleigh the supporters of those rubes can make sure the Durham City Council can't cart some old Confederate memorial statue off to a warehouse, where it belongs.

I wish the Indy had written an article which showed, decisively, that of course the Confederacy was fighting to the death to preserve the institution of slavery in the South. That's the historical truth. It cannot be denied, except in the trivial sense that of course humans can manage to deny anything because that's an act, denial, and we're free and exceptional here in the US of A. This kind of denial is what the racist apologists who formed the "Sons of Confederate Veterans" organization up in Danville, VA., aim at supporting. They came up with a great slogan too: "Heritage, not Hate." They will argue this slogan with you at the drop of a hat. (Oops, I typed "hate" first.) I got into an argument with one of these Sons last week. I wrote his website challenging his argument that it was haters who'd taken the Confederate flags(s) and misused them in the past century to support hate. "My ancestors fought for the Confederacy," he said to me in an email, and they, like most of the Confederate soldiers, didn't even own slaves. The Civil War (he wanted to call it some other name, another symptom of obfuscation-at-work), was about States Rights. Aside from the rank absurdity of thinking that the war that still holds the record for American casualties occurred in service of an abstract constitutional principle, I allowed him to distract me from the obvious: how many of those non-slaving-holding yeoman soldiers had any notion of the high-flown principle of states rights, or chose to die on that petard?

It's an absurd historical revision, but it's been sold by better men than the Sons of Confederate Veterans for close to as long as the Tilden/Hayes deal of 1876. The guy who argued with me even cited Gone With the Wind. Vivian Leigh, Butterfly McQueen, now those ladies could sell you a Stutz Bearcat:

As a matter of psychology, it's certainly understandable that southerners don't want to admit that our part of the country fought a gawdawful war which ended by blighting the South for probably close to a century afterwards, all for the odious cause of enslaving our fellow men. That's our ancestors. That's Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stewart and the rest of the dashing cast of millions. All of that bravery and heroism, Pickett's whole division walking up the hill at Gettysburg into certain death and worse, all for enslaving people for their entire lives, all for making people just like us live lives of soul-killing degradation. The guy said, really! that the relationship between Miss Sarlett and her slave-servant (was it Hattie?) proved that there was more to slavery than what the abolitionists said. Well, Butterfly McQueen got a good check, and I'd bet she told her real friends that Viv Leigh could now and then be a crazy bitch.

I don't doubt the honor and courage of the Southern soldiers, or most of them. It is true that if you deserted you could be shot. The beloved Stonewall had a couple of men shot according to the author of "I Rode with Stonewall," an account of the time. Some of the most remarkable images of that romantic, heroic war concern the immediate aftermaths of the battles, when hundreds of men from both sides cried and screamed all night long in the murky no-man's lands between the lines, slowly bleeding to death, gut-shot, limbs smashed or gone. Edward Porter Alexander, in Fighting for the Confederacy, talks of marvelous moments of battle that would thrill any kid thinking of the soldiering adventure. A cannon-ball passed under his horse at Fredericksburg, then removing the leg of a Confederate soldier who was guarding some captured Union troops. The soldier was able to use his rifle as a crutch, at least for a while. He also talks of riding through the carnage after Pickett's Charge and finding a soldier still alive and leaning against a fence. The soldier wanted help. He couldn't say anything because his lower jaw was entirely missing, but could plead to Alexander with his eyes. There was nothing Alexander could do.

They were all brave. They were all fighting to preserve slavery, because that's why there was a Confederate States of America, and they were in the Confederate States of America's Army. If the Confederate States of America had won, slavery would have been preserved. This is the undeniable truth of history. You can of course deny it, just as you can say "I'm offended that you're offended." But when George Wallace took up the banner of the Confederate flag, he wasn't misappropriating the cause, he was historically on the money and asserting yet again the doctrine of white supremacy.

That's what these Flag marchers are doing still, asserting the doctrine of white supremacy which the flag asserted under arms in 1861-65. To have slavery you must have a doctrine of white supremacy. Even some of the slave owners found that doctrine so patently a lie that they suffered the internal turmoil of lying to themselves. Thomas Jefferson stopped believing in white supremacy, but he couldn't stop being a slave owner. This is how you deny the truth of something. You eat your own liver.

I'd rather the Indy had spent the space showing how all the revisionist romance of the South, all the "heritage, not hate" claptrap, evaporates under the light of day. It wasn't that the Armies of the Confederacy lost. It was that they were wrong. I wish I'd thought to point to another sort of courage, quite available to my ancestors, to all the ancestors of the south. They could have said, "I won't fight for slavery." And in fact, some did. Now that was brave, indeed.


There is much in this article concerning North Carolina and it's bevy of Confederate Monuments, now legally protected from Raleigh's far right wing Legislature with a brand new law which removes the power of local governance from anything to do with Confederate statuary. Among other things, the article notes that most of these monuments were erected in the 1890s and later--at a time when segregation and white supremacy had returned to the South. In this regard the statuary is much like the recently removed Confederate flag in South Carolina, which was raised in 1960 as a retort to school desegregation and the civil rights movement. There is always an unfortunate telescoping effect with history. If you were born in 1975, the difference between 1865 and 1895 is hardly apparent. This is what the never-tiring racist groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, trade on. But the article offers an antidote: Dr. Tyson's "Blood Done Signed My Name." He knows the facts. He's an historian:

Take the Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, better known as “Silent Sam.” The speaker at its dedication in 1913, industrialist Julian S. Carr, bragged that he had “horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because … she had publicly insulted … a Southern lady.” Carr’s speech heralded the “Anglo-Saxon race in the South” reunited with white supremacy as the glue.

Read more here:

I went to UNC. "Silent Sam" was just a place to sit on a dark night and drink a beer. There were sophmoric stories about what it would mean if he fired his musket. Something about virginity or the lack thereof. It's probably hard for old alums like myself to think that old "Silent Sam" really stands for something horrible, or that it should be removed and probably melted down. And Mr. Carr, I think, has a building named after him.

No comments:

Post a Comment