Those Southern secessionists whose national flag we are now celebrating have become identified not only with a lost cause but with a now publicly condemned one. Confederate flags have been removed from government and educational buildings throughout the South, while Confederate dignitaries whose names and statues once adorned monuments and boulevards are no longer deemed as fit for public mention.
The ostensible reason for this obliteration or dishonoring of Southern history, save for those civil rights victories that came in the second half of the twentieth century, has been the announced rejection of a racist society, a development we are persistently urged to welcome. During the past two generations or so, the South, we have been taught, was a viciously insensitive region, and the Southern cause in 1861 was nothing so much as the attempt to perpetuate the degradation of blacks through a system based on racial slavery. We are being told that we should therefore rejoice at the reconstructing of Southern society and culture in a way that excludes, and indeed extirpates from our minds, except as an incentive to further white atonement, the pre-civil rights past, also known as “the burden of Southern history.” This last, frequently encountered phrase is from the title of a famous study of the South by C. Vann Woodward, who in his time was a liberal-minded Southern historian.
Arguments can be raised to refute or modify the received account of Southern history now taught in our public schools and spread by leftist and neoconservative journalists. One can point to the fact that a crushing federal tariff falling disproportionately on Southern states contributed to the sectional hostilities that led to the Southern bid for independence. One can also bring up the willingness of Southern leaders to free blacks and even to put them in grey uniforms, as the price of the freedom that Southerners were seeking from Northern control. And even if one deplores slavery, this commendable attitude, which was also shared by some Confederate leaders, does not justify the federal invasion of the South, with all of its attendant killing and depredation. That invasion took place, moreover, in violation of a right to secede, with which several states, including Virginia, had entered the Union.