On refusing to honor the 'Old South'
“Privilege is when you have the choice of whether or not to care,” a friend (who identifies as Anglo-American) recently told me. Our conversation came in the aftermath of my chance encounter with a man at the courthouse less than a mile from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where I live and study.
This man was a member of the organization “Sons of Confederate Veterans,” and he held three versions of the confederate flag while wearing confederate soldier clothing. He greeted my friend, a Chinese-American like myself, as we exited a restaurant, asking in enunciated, extra-slow syllables if we were visiting.
"No," I replied. "We’re from down the street, and we go to school here."
He introduced himself as a colonel and successor of Confederate soldiers and described his understanding of the flags' histories. He explained his aim of commemorating the Confederacy during April, "Confederate History Month," standing outside the courthouse each day and educating passersby about what he knew about the Confederacy, “confronting them with the truth.”
“Do you deal with any protesters?” a passerby asked.
“Nope," he explained. "I got a little pushback at the UT campus, but hey, the only group in the United States that is allowed to be discriminated against is the white, southern male. It’s part of the territory." He said that he taught local middle school students about the “truth” of the confederacy.
I told my education professor, and I asked her to write a response in my school newspaper to this man and his organization. She said, “I merely direct them to read the 1861 Texas Ordinance of Secession."
That document reads:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Maybe this man didn’t share these particular beliefs of the Confederacy, but in sharing whatever he did, he was promoting a nation whose ideology was founded upon the idea that men are not created equal.
More recently, two days before the start Black History Month, our county museum hosted a Civil War-themed ball at the town square. Attendees were encouraged to wear era-appropriate clothing and dance 1860s style upstairs in the courthouse.
Locals organized a silent protest outside the event. I came dressed as I would have been in the 1860s, as told—in torn, oversized servant's clothes as a Chinese coolie. A week later, I saw a photo in the local newspaper of a man dressed in a gray uniform, giving his hoop-skirted daughter (maybe between 7 and 10 years of age) a twirl.
The supporters of the Old South Ball and Confederate presence in Georgetown claim to remember history, “warts and all,” as one attendee said. But to present a historical “wart” as a ball, a nostalgic party consisting only of lavish hoop skirts and pressed tuxedos, does not replicate the strife that was essential to this historical “wart.” The Old South Ball and Confederate-hailing sanitize history in such a way that does not admit the slavery and human exploitation that formed the basic ideology of the Old South and Confederacy.
Of course I agree that the deaths of soldiers, no matter the ideology they fought for, is tragic and worth remembering. But why commemorate the clothing and flags these soldiers wore as they fought to the death, or the nation whose foundational ideology led to those deaths (as well as the deaths of servants and slaves of color)? Why celebrate an era and a war that needlessly stole the lives of former residents of our town?
Dylann Roof lived in a state that hailed the Confederate flag and taught children to honor it as they would an American flag. Children at the Old South Ball or in the classes taught by the "colonel" learn that the Confederacy is not a history worth denouncing.
Seeing a Confederate flag flying next to the flag we pledge allegiance to doesn’t directly teach us to hate non-white people, but it teaches us to accept a nation that was founded on the hatred of non-white people.
Will removing the Confederate monument at the county courthouse, the Confederate History Month “educational” events and Civil War-themed celebrations erase the poverty and homelessness that black, Asian and Latinx Georgetonians experience? No. But it would at least make the statement that Georgetown does not honor the Confederate ideology that helped establish the racial segregation we see today.
It's time the South chose to care about the families starving before our hoop-skirted eyes and get over the Confederacy.
Amy Gu is pursuing degrees in the liberal arts and thrives on opportunities to contribute to education and social justice. A Chinese-American Texan from Austin, she loves quirky art, slam poetry, local cafes, tea and cats.
Photo credit: Michelle Hershberger