SUGGESTIONS FOR SOUTHERN HERITAGE DEFENDERS
Michael T. Griffith
I address the following suggestions to those who seek to preserve and defend Southern heritage as it relates to the history of the Confederacy.
1. Strive to avoid even the slightest hint of racism. I would say that about one-fourth of the pro-Confederate websites that I've visited thus far have contained racist material of some kind. In addition to the fact that it's just plain wrong, it's also going to turn off many people, even some people who might otherwise be inclined to agree with you on things like the official display of the Confederate flag. I'm glad that at least three-fourths of the pro-Confederate websites that I've seen have not contained racially offensive material. The point is that not a single Southern heritage defense website should contain such material.
2. Don't assume that because someone agrees with you on the Confederate flag that they automatically think all gun laws and affirmative action programs should be repealed. One can support the official display of the Confederate flag without believing in unrestricted gun ownership and without being against affirmative action.
3. Don't attempt to deny that slavery was a major factor that led to secession. I agree that slavery wasn't the only reason the South seceded. There were certainly other factors behind the South's decision to secede. But some Southern heritage defenders argue that slavery was only incidental to secession. I think history plainly refutes this position. One only has to read the Declarations of Causes of Secession to see that slavery-related issues were key factors in the decision to secede. It's true that four of the Southern states (the Upper South states) did not secede over slavery but rather over Lincoln's decision to use force. However, it seems clear that the states of the Deep South seceded primarily over issues relating to slavery--specifically, over the fugitive slave law, the extension of slavery to the territories, and the fear of more armed abolitionist raids into Southern territory. The immediate cause of the first wave of secession was Lincoln's election, but issues involving slavery were key factors behind the Deep South's reaction to Lincoln's victory.
4. Be polite and conciliatory when you address minorities and minority groups who oppose the official display of the Confederate flag. It shouldn't be hard to understand how they feel, given the common perceptions about the Civil War and given how many blacks were treated in the South for decades. Rather than automatically assuming a defiant, confrontational attitude toward groups like the NAACP, try entering into a respectful, reasoned dialogue with them. Even if you can't persuade them to accept your viewpoint, try to agree to disagree on friendly terms.
5. Candidly admit that, generally speaking, the South's behavior toward blacks in the post-war era, and well into the 1960s, was unethical and unkind. True, most Southerners did not behave badly toward blacks during this period, but some did, and certainly Southern state governments adopted discriminatory policies toward African Americans. Yes, it's true that several Northern states did much the same thing. Yes, it's true that a great deal of the Southern post-war conduct was a backlash against the harsh, abusive policies of Reconstruction. But, none of these things changes the reality of how some Southerners behaved toward African Americans after the war.
6. Realize that just as certain aspects of the Union were undesirable and deserving of repudiation, certain aspects of the Confederacy were undesirable and deserving of repudiation as well. Yes, the Confederacy was a democratic nation whose citizens enjoyed all the rights and freedoms that we enjoy, if not more, but it was not perfect.
7. Emphasize the positive principles that Confederate symbols represent, or the principles that those symbols can be viewed as representing, such as limited government, resistance to unfair taxation, resistance to oppression, respect for the rule of law, courage, heroism, sacrifice, traditional values, and faith in God.
8. The phrase "unreconstructed Southerner" gives me pause. Many can take this phrase to mean you want to go back to the "good ole days" of black codes, or even back to slavery, without reservation or qualification. To many people that phrase seems like a tacit endorsement of discrimination or worse. I prefer "proud Southerner" to "unreconstructed Southerner."
9. Devote your websites and discussion groups to articles on the Confederacy, on the war, and on the display of Confederate flags and symbols on public property. Don't stray onto issues that really aren't related to these topics. In one online discussion group regarding the Confederate flag, there are frequently numerous threads on gun control, Al Sharpton, Dr. Martin Luther King and the King holiday, and other issues that really have no bearing on the Confederacy, the war, and the Confederate flag. I might add that one discussion group included a thread devoted to attacking the character of Martin Luther King and calling for a repeal of the King holiday. The thread repeated many discredited and doubtful attacks on Dr. King. This is the last sort of thing one needs to find in a pro-Confederate discussion group or on a pro-Confederate website. Granted, Dr. King's personal morals left much to be desired, but he did a lot of good for minorities and for society as a whole.
10. Be very careful how you attempt to explain that slavery was not as bad as it has commonly been portrayed. Yes, a majority of slave owners probably treated their slaves well, and most slaves were not abused. It's also true that in some cases slaves and their owners developed relationships of trust and even friendship and devotion, and that a sizable percentage of slaves chose to remain with their owners even after emancipation. But, there can be no denying that some slave owners mistreated their slaves, and that Southern laws didn't give slaves all the protection they deserved.
Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College in Wisconsin. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in Arabic and Hebrew, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training School in San Angelo, Texas. He is the author of four books on Mormonism and ancient texts, and of one book on the John F. Kennedy assassination. He has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England. He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Religious Studies from The Catholic Distance University in Hamilton, Virginia.