The Tomb of the Unknown Slave: A "Revisioning" of Confederate History Month

In Germany and Austria, it is a crime to express support for National Socialism; it is even problematic to honor soldiers who died fighting for Hitler.

But Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, whistling to dogs, has declared April 2010 "Confederate History Month."

These dogs are rabid. Neo-Confederate organizations, such as the 25,000-member United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the League of the South, and the Council of Conservative Citizens (sometimes called "the uptown Klan"), typically send out a nationwide alert to respond to what they call a "heritage violation." Although, to the general public, their slogan is "heritage not hate," anyone on the receiving end -- particularly if he is African-American -- will face a barrage of death threats, such as "I hope you are killed in the most violent, bloody way possible by another worthless jigaboo ni**er!!! WHITE POWER!!! HEIL HITLER!!!" In April 2009, when Auburn, Alabama Councilman Arthur Dowdell removed some Confederate flags from a local cemetery, white supremacist groups called for his arrest.

Neo-Confederates -- despite trying to intimidate a white Princeton University historian merely because he mentioned the neo-Confederates' "rather thinly veiled support for white supremacy" -- do not clearly and consistently disavow the white supremacist elements of their movement.

That would be like water trying to disavow hydrogen.

Indeed, in 1931 the United Daughters of the Confederacy "voted to see that the last meeting place of the Ku Klux Klan in Nashville, and from where the last ride was made, is suitably marked." You can even find UDC postcards bearing proud images of Klansmen on horseback, in full regalia. Contemporary neo-Confederates, such as Lunelle Siegel, will make excuses for, or even praise, the Klan of the 1860's or the Klan of the 1920's, saying that they were just defending "Southerners" (not pointing out that they mean "white Southerners").

Another claim neo-Confederates make is that the Civil War was not about slavery, the "proof" being that only 0.00000004% of Confederates ever even thought about owning slaves, and never mistreated any. Despite that fact --the Civil War was actually caused by Lincoln's raising the mint julep tax -- the United Daughters of the Confederacy have wondered "whether emancipation has been a blessing to our country," or whether it "has introduced evils that in the end will be more terrible than slavery." This is a strange statement, since, according to The United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine in 1989, slavery was not too bad: the worst victims were "the crews of the slave ships."

Oddly, Virginia's ordinance of secession states quite clearly what the war was about, as it laments the "oppression of the Southern slaveholding states." Alabama's ordinance of secession states that "it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slave holding States of the South" in order to form a new government. Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, said in 1861 that "African slavery...was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution."

But truth does not always out. The Auburn council members, probably barraged with thousands of calls and letters from angry neo-Confederates, condemned their colleague, who apologized. And the African-American response? Black Congressman Artur Davis -- hoping to be elected governor of Alabama, and falsely equating "white votes" with "neo-Confederate votes," as Howard Dean once did -- joined the chorus criticizing Dowdell.

The solution? One neo-Confederate wrote that an article criticizing the Confederacy made him want to "hunt [the author] down, and shoot him like the dog he is." Another neo-Confederate suggested that "we can hit this bigot where it hurts ... in the pocket book," and launched a campaign to get the "heritage violator" fired from his job.

Neo-Confederates are so bold that they do not use aliases, so we know who they are, and where they work. Just ask yourself, "What would Jeb do?"

What is heartening about McDonnell's insult is that, for once, we are forcing the neo-Confederates back. Usually it's the other way around, as when Jonesborough, Tennessee in 2009 allowed Confederate soldiers to be honored in the town's Veteran Memorial Park -- and the Sons of Confederate Veterans still boycotted the town. Because appeasement doesn't work.

So let us continue our march to the sea.

This is Confederate History Month.