Thu 12 May, 2011
Tags: Confederate flag, Fort Sumter, Missouri, Slavery, Sons of Confederate Veterans, The North, U.S. Civil War
“Civil War 150th” is a periodic compilation of information related to the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the U.S. Civil War (2011-2015). In keeping with the theme of this blog, the focus is on the often-misunderstood role of slavery and race in the war.
Today’s “Civil War 150th” includes the North’s relationship to southern slavery, battles over the Confederate flag and commemorative license plates, and the complexity of Missouri’s role in the Civil War.
Readers are encouraged to share these stories and to offer their thoughts at the end of the post.
“Civil War’s dirty secret about slavery.” On the 150th anniversary of the war’s outbreak at Fort Sumter, CNN’s web site ran a commentary that I co-authored with Katrina Browne under the headline “Civil War’s dirty secret about slavery.” The subject was the widespread perception that the North was innocent in slavery and fought the Civil War in order to end southern slavery. In fact, as we show in the essay, northerners were deeply complicity in southern slavery and profoundly ambivalent about abolishing slavery after the war.
Does the Confederate flag stand for racism? The Louisiana Supreme Court is hearing a case this week in which the death penalty for Felton Dorsey, convicted of killing a white firefighter, is being challenged because a black juror felt he was unable to serve properly with the Confederate flag flying outside the Caddo Parish courthouse. The ACLU is arguing that flying the “stars and bars” outside a public courthouse “presents an intolerable risk that African-Americans may be intimidated to serve on juries.” The NAACP led a protest last week, and Professor Charles Ogletree, director of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, has stated that the Confederate flag stands for a “vicious, ugly, degrading, racist, and incomprehensible past.” Chuck McMichael, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has responded that the flag represents not racism, but instead “men who answered the call of their state to protect their state from a hostile army.”
Do Confederate license plates promote a positive image? Meanwhile, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are campaigning for specialty license plates with the Confederate flag in Florida, Texas, and Kentucky. “The plates promote a positive image of the Confederate States of America,” says a spokesperson. “The Confederate soldier, he takes a beating nowadays. We’re trying to divest ourselves of the negative association.” The group already receives revenue from plates in nine southern states—Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia—and has won court cases to prevent states from refusing to offer the plates.
Two civil wars in Missouri. Missouri, according to historian Arnold Schofield, fought two civil wars in the 1860s: one between the Union and the Confederacy, and another between southern partisans in Missouri (the “Bushwackers”) waging a guerrilla campaign against Union troops from Kansas. Missouri, of course, was a border state which officially sided with the Union, but the Confederacy also recruited troops here. Missouri also illustrates the ambivalence towards slavery common in the Union: Missouri was a slave state until 1865, and even many Union supporters expected to continue owning slaves after the war.
For another look at a divided Missouri during the early days of the Civil War, see yesterday’s installment in the New York Times‘ “Disunion” series, “How St. Louis Was Won.”