Confederate monuments were erected without the consent or even input of Southern African Americans, who remembered the Civil War far differently, and who had no interest in honoring those who fought to keep them enslaved.
“They are saying it as plainly as they can and yet we are still having a debate in this country about what this stuff means.” — ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jeffrey Robinson exposes Confederate monuments for what they really are.
“The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.” ~ Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans
According to Smithsonian Magazine, “Confederate monuments aren’t just heirlooms, the artifacts of a bygone era. Instead, American taxpayers are still heavily investing in these tributes today.”
Confederate monument-building has often been part of widespread campaigns to promote and justify Jim Crow laws in the South. According to the American Historical Association, the erection of Confederate monuments during the early twentieth century was “part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South.”
Almost immediately after the war ended in 1865, the defeated Southern states had to form a coherent reason why they had engaged in a rebellion against the Union. Such reason could not highlight the centrality of slavery to the Southern cause, but instead had to minimize, or even deny, the role of slavery.
Furthermore, many white Southerners during Reconstruction believed that the Union had, in fact, placed an oppressive regime on their states. As a result, once the Yankee troops left the South, Southerners began forming memorials (often funded and driven by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and supported by many Southern veterans’ groups).
The purpose of this was to try and redefine the meaning of the war to ignore slavery, so that the Southern “heroes” would not seem like evil racists seeking to hold down an entire race of people. A very good example of this is how Robert E. Lee is often played up as being opposed to slavery and only fighting for the Confederacy because his home stage of Virginia joined the South, which ignores he himself actually owned slaves and refused to ever release them, punishing them brutally when they tried to escape.
Confederate apologetics in the form of historical revisionism continues to this day. As recently as 1996, Pastor Bobby Eubanks of Ridge Baptist Church, along with 14 other clergy, wrote and circulated a letter claiming that:
- The Confederate Flag is a Christian symbol.
- Leaders of the Confederacy are historical examples of Christian character.
- The Civil War was a fight between Christianity and Atheism.
- Removing the flag is part of a liberal conspiracy to attack traditional values.
- Race relations are better in the South than in the rest of the nation.
- The flag “represents the noble effort, of South Carolinians and Southerners generally, to resist the federal government’s unconstitutional efforts to subjugate sovereign states.”
The “heritage, not hate” slogan in reference to the numerous Southern monuments to the Confederate States of America (CSA), the various commemorations of the CSA, and the continued use of the Confederate flag are in fact an early form of American denialism.
The Lost Cause
The term “Lost Cause of the South” (also Lost Cause of the Confederacy) refers to a number of interpretations of the American Civil War from a pro-Southern perspective.
Lost Causers claim that slaves were content with their lot. Likewise, they claim that slavery was a “mild or benign institution” that was for the “betterment” of Africans. Examples include claims that slave owners were paternalistic figures to their slaves, that they loved their slaves like children, and were in turn loved as parent figures. Black women will fall into a “mammy” stereotype to defend the white families that they somehow love more than their own.
Hearing these descriptions, one almost wonders what the whips were for! They either ignore the slave revolts or the millions of slaves that fled to Union lines with whatever property they had in the hope of gaining their freedom, or consider them traitors, thieves, or conspirators (especially during Reconstruction).
Moreso, they ignore the significant numbers of military-aged white males who had to be continually kept on the home front to guard against slave revolts and escape attempts, despite the Confederate army experiencing a severe manpower deficit as the war went on.
Lost Causers repeatedly mention that the vast majority of whites in the South did not own slaves. This ignores two things: most of them almost certainly hoped to be wealthy enough to own slaves someday, and all whites benefited whether they personally had slaves or not. As long as blacks were slaves, being white guaranteed you weren’t on the bottom-most rung of society no matter how poor you were. That being said, slavery propagated the vast income inequality in the South, and rich white slaveowners could even opt out of the war with money (this had created complaints by soldiers being about a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight), so to argue about a “Lost Cause” is really more of arguing for the Aristocrats’ Lost Causes.