I’d like to add some context to this discussion for those not raised in the deep South which might hold some insights about why so many still venerate Confederate leaders and the Rebel flag.
I was raised in Texas, attended public schools, and graduated in the early seventies. I can’t say how rapidly the teaching of history changed since I graduated, but I expect it took decades for the teaching of actual Texas history to slowly replace the fairy tales we were taught at that time, and I expect the schools in the southeastern states are far behind even Texas.
Next, especially in what I call the deep South, from Louisiana to Florida and north to the Mason-Dixon line, the lack of real history lessons combine with the stories families pass down from generation to generation. Those southern family stories aren’t anything like northern family stories. Sure, there are stories about the exploits of soldier family members, but they don’t end there. There are as many or more stories about deprivation, extreme poverty, carpetbaggers, and the abuses of reconstruction. I have a relative who grew up in middle class Alabama, and those are the stories she remembers most.
There was no Marshal Plan for the south. The conquering north didn’t help rebuild the south, they raped it. To this day, most of those states economically still lag behind their northern neighbors. Some will say they absolutely deserved it, but that’s a very short sighted view.
The banks failed. Capital was scarce. Municipal and state governments were bankrupt or near it, at the same time they were suddenly responsible for education millions of uneducated former slaves. The federal government offered little assistance.
What followed, across the south, were eighty years of societal and economic upheaval and decline, and miserable poverty that didn’t really end until WWII. Property values declined. Taxes skyrocketed. The percentage of farmers who owned their land declined, and continued to decline all the way through the Great Depression.
Due to the combination of horrific family histories and whitewashed civil history, the only positive outcome of the Civil War for the average White citizen of the deep south was the ending of slavery. By almost every other measure, the war resulted in almost a century of misery and poverty.
Most of the people who suffered the misery of that period share a common history of deprivation, pride in having endured, and are generations removed from the institution of slavery.
There are millions of people who were taught only a small minority held slaves. They were taught that the poverty and misery of the period between the Civil War and WWII was deliberately imposed on the south by a federal government intent on punishing them, and enriching northern industrialists. Most importantly, most of those people believe even their ancestors bear no responsibility for slavery.
Much veneration of the Confederate Battle Flag and of Confederate Civil War heros has far more to do with that common bond of misery (deserved or not), than it does with racism of any kind. The KKK and White Nationalists don’t represent the vast majority of Southerners.
Unless, like me, they have a particular reason to go back and relearn history, those beliefs, some true, some rationalization, some whitewashed and some pure fantasy, are ALL accepted as true by millions of southerners.
I’m over sixty. I’ve read two papers a day and a book a week for the past forty years. Until we adopted minority children from foster care a few years ago, the gaps in my education regarding race in America was an absolute embarrassment.
I was taught that slavery was rare in Texas, and that the Civil War barely encroached on the state. I was taught Texas History (a required high school course), which left out the detail that Texas fought Mexico for independence because Mexico outlawed slavery. I learned only months ago that in the county I live in, slaves outnumbered White residents by almost 2 to 1 in the 1860 census.
The people of the south who defend Confederate statues are not much different than me. They were never taught the truth at school, and while the family histories they hear are generally true, they were never exposed to context and the broader picture of American history.
Only education is going to change that, and it’s kinda hard to be angry at them for believing the hundred years of lies they’ve been told.