My piece in Disunion in the New York Times finally appeared late Friday night. If you haven’t read it, here is a <link>. I received an email Saturday from John C. Van Horne of the Library Company of Philadelphia to alert me to a neo-Confederate photo forgery associated with the 1st Louisiana Native Guards. I already knew about it. I was going to write about the photo forgery in my article, but the piece was getting long, and I wanted keep the focus as much as possible on the Native Guards and not give contemporary Confederate partisans undue attention in the Times. Van Horne also alerted me to a website put together by Jerry Handler and Michael Tuite (www.retouchinghistory.org) debunking the photo forgery. I would certainly recommend it.
This website deals with what is merely the tip-of-the-iceberg in terms of the neo-Confederate phenomenon. It is not surprising that the Confederacy continues to attract supporters 150 years later, despite the fact its cause in essence was keeping nearly 4 million Americans enslaved. Despite the growing homogenization of American culture, the South remains one of the most distinct regions of the United States and justly proud of its heritage. Many descendants of Confederate soldiers also live there and elsewhere in country, and want to think well of their ancestors. Plus, the Confederate cause has the inertia of decades of being romanticized in popular culture and appeals to contemporary political conservatives opposed to what they see an overly powerful and overreaching federal government. These last factors explain much of the appeal of the Confederacy outside the South. One finds neo-Confederates just about everywhere in the United States. Last March, I had one of them from Minnesota, calling himself “Jefferson Davis,” go after me on this blog. (Read the comments for this <blog entry> if you’re interested in studying his rants.)
For a complete run-down on the neo-Confederate phenomenon, check out Kevin Levin’s piece on it in Disunion from January 2011 and from his blog, Civil War Memory. Although highly problematic as good history, in a way it is actually encouraging that the extreme southern partisans of the 21st Century in their myth-making are choosing to pencil in African Americans as supporters of the Confederate cause. The real Confederates of the late 19th century, except for a few mentions of “faithful slaves,” largely kept black Southerners out of their remembrance of the war. It says a lot about the positive changes in the United States, especially those won by the post-World War II civil rights movement, that contemporary Confederate partisans are so energetically attempting to insert African Americans into their Confederacy of memory. I sometimes wonder what the real Jefferson Davis and the other marble men of Confederate cause would make of it.