When a group called the Confederate Heritage Trust decided to hold a Secession Gala in Charleston, commemorating the 150th anniversary of South Carolina leaving the union, the event made national headlines. MSNBC host Ed Schultz said, "Conservatives in South Carolina are celebrating the destruction of the United States." Schultz' guest, civil rights activist, Al Sharpton said the event celebrated "treason." Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said, "There's nothing we can see where there should be a celebration of the Confederacy, not from our vantage point." Not surprisingly, each of these liberal critics assumed that only one vantage point need be considered, and that's the one held by liberals.
The older I get, this "Southern avenger" has come to recognize and accept that the War for Southern Independence means different things to different people. For generations, many white Southerners have remembered it with pride as a struggle for independence against a tyrannical government, much like the American Revolution. Many other Southerners, particularly black Southerners, consider it to be a reminder of slavery and the institutional racism that would linger for a century after. Both views contain much truth, but each one on its own cannot adequately tell the whole story.
Southerners like me continue to be bothered by how the Confederacy's story has been told — and the fact that those who've shaped the narrative have been almost entirely hostile to their subject.
For starters, the notion that Southern secession was "treason" is technically true, but it is about as dumb as calling a father who refuses to report his pot-smoking son to the authorities an "enemy of the state." When the 13 colonies seceded from England, were they committing treason? British authorities certainly thought so.
Secession is a political act, similar in its ends to civil disobedience. Were Sharpton and his fellow civil rights protesters in the 1960s trying to "destroy the United States" in their struggle to resist an unjust political machine? Many white Southerners at that time certainly thought so. Yet Sharpton and the so-called "agitators" were actually patriots who understood that loyalty to their own people sometimes meant defying the government.
Another thing liberals are not quick to admit is the degree to which they seem to have a natural aversion to anything that takes power away from the central government. It doesn't matter to them that states' rights continues to keep gay marriage legal in some states. Nor do they care that it is the de facto nullification of federal drug laws in California that allows medicinal marijuana to be legal there.
Some of the earliest examples of nullification in the United States occurred in the years leading up to the Civil War, when some states began ignoring fugitive slave laws dictating that escaped slaves must be returned to their masters.
Eric Foner, a fairly establishment historian with a preference for centralized government, writes of the states' rights arguments of abolitionists: "Radicals in some states invoked the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798-99, in which Jefferson and Madison had claimed for the states the power to challenge or even override national legislation." Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln critic and author Thomas DiLorenzo has noted that Foner praises Honest Abe for denouncing nullification and upholding the Fugitive Slave Act because it was the "rule of law."
So was Lincoln pro-slavery? When the Southern states seceded, he supported adding an amendment to the Constitution that would forever protect slavery under federal law. Lincoln hoped this might coax the South back into the union. Obviously, it didn't work. All of this raises this question: When praising Lincoln today, why isn't this rather significant detail part of the Great Emancipator narrative? I would think it's because Lincoln's admirers prefer to portray him as a wholly benevolent leader.
When civil rights leaders commemorate the memory and legacy of Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, or the Million Man March, why do they overlook the well-documented anti-white rhetoric or anti-Semitism of Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, and others? Perhaps it's because they prefer to stress the many positive aspects of black nationalism. And they should.
And when the Confederate Heritage Trust commemorates the memory and legacy of their Confederate ancestors by holding a Secession Gala, why do they leave out slavery and the other negative aspects of that time period? The answer is clear: The Confederate Heritage Trust and the attendees of the Secession Gala prefer to stress the many positive aspects of Southern secession. And that's exactly what they should be doing.
Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.