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Sad Songs And The South

Well, I’m tired of being yanked from one side to another on the Robert E. Lee question, based on what I’m reading online. I went to the library today and checked out Michael Korda’s lengthy biography of Lee. I’ll read it and make my own mind up.

I was thinking the other day about the Confederate controversy, in light of the fact that the South is a shame-honor culture, and one where people are deeply rooted in a sense of family and place — for better or for worse. Might it be that non-Southerners, for cultural reasons, simply cannot understand why it’s difficult for Southerners to execrate their ancestors, even if their ancestors did bad things?

That thought came back to me after listening to this amazing episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. [1] It’s about country music, and what sets it apart from other American musical genres. Malcolm Gladwell is not the first person I would go to for insight into how country music works, but boy, was this great.

On the podcast, Gladwell explores why country music has so many sad songs, but rock music does not. After listening to Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” which is about the death of country singer Keith Whitley, who drank himself to death, as well as Gill’s own brother, who died young of a heart attack, Gladwell says:


It’s heartbreaking. Listening to that song makes me wonder if some portion of what we call “ideological division” in America actually isn’t ideological at all. How big are the political differences between Red and Blue states anyway? In the grand scheme of things, not that big. Maybe what we’re seeing instead is a difference of emotional opinion. Because if your principal form of cultural expression has drinking, sex, suicide, heart attacks, mom, and terminal cancer all on the table for public discussion, then the other half of the country is going to seem really chilly and uncaring. And if you’re from the rock and roll half, clinging, semi-ironically, to “Tutti Frutti Oh Rudy,” when you listen to a song written about a guy’s brother who died young of a heart attack, and another guy who drank himself to death, you’re going to think, “Who are these people?”

Gladwell says America is divided along a “Sad Song Line.” Nearly all the performers of the greatest country music songs of all time (according to a Rolling Stone magazine list) are from the South, including Texas. Gladwell says you can stretch that out to the Top 50, or Top 100 country songs, and you’ll see the same pattern.

“Basically you cannot be a successful country singer or songwriter unless you were born in the South,” he says. There are no Jews on the country list, only a couple of blacks, and no Catholics. “It’s white Southern Protestants all the way down.”

On the other hand, writers and performers of the greatest rock songs include Jews, blacks from Detroit, Catholics from New Jersey, Canadians, Brits, and more. “Rock and roll is the rainbow coalition,” he says. That diversity is why there’s so much innovation in rock and roll, says Gladwell, “but you pay a price for that.”

Gladwell discusses a researcher who created an algorithm to analyze lyrical repetitiveness in musical genres. The researcher discovered that rock music is extremely repetitive, lyrically speaking. Gladwell says that this makes sense: because everybody is from somewhere different, you have to write in cliché, or you’ll lose people.

Country music is not like that — and neither, in fact, is hip-hop. Gladwell says if you look at the background of the most successful hip-hop writers and performers, you’ll find “an urban version of the country list.” That is, they’re all from South Central L.A., New York City, Englewood, NJ, or areas very close to them.

When you’re speaking to and about people from your own culture, says Gladwell, people who understand you, you can tell much more detailed stories, and “you can lay yourself bare, because you are among your own.”

I can’t recommend the “King Of Tears” episode of Gladwell’s podcast [1] strongly enough. I’m not a big country fan, but I learned a lot from it. And it made me think of this, regarding the culture war over Confederate monuments.

Southern white people are a people of loss, and traditionally an agrarian people. Their Scots-Irish cultural heritage imbues them with a deep sense of pride and loyalty to family and place. From an essay discussing the particularities of Southern honor culture: [2]

To understand why a more primal and violent culture of honor took root in the American South, it helps to understand the cultural background of its early settlers. While the northern United States was settled primarily by farmers from more established European countries like the Netherlands, Germany, and especially England (particularly from areas around London), the southern United States was settled primarily by herdsmen from the more rural and undomesticated parts of the British Isles. These two occupations — farming and herding — produced cultures with starkly different notions of honor.

Some researchers argue that herding societies tend to produce cultures of honor that emphasize courage, strength, and violence. Unlike crops, animal herds are much more vulnerable to theft. A herdsman could lose his entire fortune in one overnight raid. Consequently, martial valor and strength and the willingness to use violence to protect his herd became useful assets to an ancient herdsman. What’s more, a reputation for these martial attributes served as a deterrent to would-be thieves. It’s telling that many of history’s most ferocious warrior societies had pastoral economies. The ancient Hittites, the ancient Hebrews, and the ancient Celts are just a few examples of these warrior/herder societies.

As it happened, the Scotch-Irish settlers that poured into the Southern colonies from the late 17th century through the antebellum period were genetic and cultural descendants of the war-like and pastoral Celts. Hailing from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and the English Uplands, these Scotch-Irish peoples made up perhaps half of the South’s population by 1860 (in contrast, three-quarters of New Englanders, up until the massive influx of Irish immigrants in the 1840s, were English in origin). As the Celtic-herdsmen theory goes (and it is not without its critics), their influence on Southern culture was even larger than their numbers. These rough and scrappy Scotch-Irish immigrants not only brought with them their ancestors’ penchant for herding, but also imported their love of whiskey, music, leisure, gambling, hunting, and…their warrior-bred, primal code of honor. Even as the South became an agricultural powerhouse, the vast majority of white Southerners – from big plantation owners to the landless — continued to raise hogs and livestock. Whether a man spent most his time working a farm or herding his animals, the pastoral culture of honor, with its emphasis on courage, strength, and violence — characterized by an aggressive stance towards the world and a wariness towards outsiders who might want to take what was his — remained (and as we will see later, continues even to this day).

The essay is really insightful about the roots and the particulars of Southern honor culture, especially how (and why) Southern whites were much more likely to value thick family ties, and ties to place. And here’s how it played out in the Civil War:

While both the North and the South saw the war in terms of honor, what motivated the men to fight differed greatly. In the North, volunteers joined the cause because of more abstract ideals like freedom, equality, democracy, and Union. In the South, men grabbed their rifles to protect something more tangible — hearth and home — their families and way of life. Their motivation was rooted in their deeply entrenched loyalty to people and place.

But what if a man felt allegiance both to the principles espoused by the North, and the honor of the South? The ancient Greeks had grappled with what to do when one’s loyalties to one’s honor group conflicted with one’s loyalty to conscience. Such a conflict has been a struggle for warriors ever since, and is best embodied during this time in the life of Robert E. Lee.

Lee was the perfect example of the South’s genteel honor code and what William Alexander Percy called the “broad-sword tradition:” “a dedication to manly valor in battle; coolness under fire; sacrifice of self to succor and protect comrades, family, and country; magnamity; gracious manners; prudence in council; deference to ladies; and finally, stoic acceptance of what Providence has dictated.” He had also served and greatly distinguished himself in the United States Army for 32 years, so much so, that as the Civil War loomed, Lincoln offered Lee command of the Union forces. Lee was torn; in the days before secession, he wrote, “I wish to live under no other government & there is no sacrifice I am not ready to make for the preservation of the Union save that of honor.” Lee did not favor secession and wished for a peaceable solution instead; but his home state of Virginia seceded, and he was thus faced with the decision to remain loyal to the Union and take up arms against his people, or break with the Union to fight against his former comrades. He chose the latter. Lee’s wife (who privately sympathized with the Union cause) said this of her husband’s decision: “[He] has wept tears of blood over this terrible war, but as a man of honor and a Virginian, he must follow the destiny of his State.” In a traditional honor culture, loyalty to your honor group takes precedence over all other demands — even those of one’s own conscience.

Read the whole thing. [2] Really, do it. The author says that even though modernization and urbanization have mitigated the Southern honor code a great deal, you can still see it in Southerners. He’s absolutely right. I see it in myself, wrestling with what to think about the Confederate statues. The North’s cause was right, but even if I knew nothing of the history, I can feel in my bones the mandate to fight on the side of one’s people. Robert E. Lee embodies the tragedy of the American South: he was the best military man in America — remember that Lincoln offered him command of the Union Army — and wanted to keep the Union together. But his sense of honor directed him to violate his own conscience and stand loyally with his own people — defined by him as the people of Virginia.

A Northerner sees him as a traitor and a warrior for slavery. Yes, some no-count Southerners would see Lee as a warlord for white supremacy, and cherish him for that. But more thoughtful Southerners see him as a tragic figure: a good man who fought in a bad, doomed cause, from a sense of loyalty to his people. Moreover, this makes sense to us, because we see it in our own lives and families all the time, in all kinds of ways. It’s why we’re such good storytellers — and songwriters. We have a tacit understanding of the ways human beings fail, despite themselves. Until the day I die, I will meditate upon my own family’s story, and how my late father and my late sister, two of the most morally decent and worthy people I have ever known, set out to protect the legacy of family and place, but chose to do it in an honor-obsessed way that ended up destroying it.

Every family has a story like that somewhere. Robert E. Lee? Hell, that’s my own father’s story. He was a good man whose fierce dedication to family and place, and sense of honor, led him to pursue a strategy that cost him the thing he treasured most of all. Even though I suffered personally from his tragic arc, it doesn’t make me feel hard towards him, not at all. It makes me ache for him, because I know he would not have wanted it this way, but he could not see what he was doing. Same with my late sister. They could have been me. It might yet be me one day, because men are frail, men are blind, the heart is deceitful above all things … and life is tragic.

Northerners think they’ve found us out when they point out that we are the most religiously observant region of the country, but also the most morally unruly (to put it delicately). “Hypocrites!” they say. We just shrug. We see no contradiction there. The distance between our ideals and our behavior, and all the contradictions within that space, is the truth of our lives. Often it’s our shame, and sometimes it’s our honor, but we are strings anchored tautly together across that valley of human experience. The collision of time and fate with those strings strikes what Lincoln called in another context “the mystic chords of memory,” and the music it makes can break your heart, just like Malcolm Gladwell said.

The point I wish to make here is that even though Northern iconoclasts are morally and historically correct to judge the Confederate cause wicked, they would do well to understand that the fact that we white Southerners feel a visceral sense of piety towards our ancestors does not mean that we hold them blameless. They would also do well to understand that they are asking us to despise our family and our homeland to prove to them that we are morally acceptable.

That’s not going to happen.

Finally — to tie up the Gladwell insight and the Southern honor culture material — consider The Band’s song “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” written by Robbie Robertson (a Canadian!) with historical research assist by Levon Helm of Arkansas. The rock critic Ralph Gleason wrote of the song: [3]

Nothing I have read … has brought home the overwhelming human sense of history that this song does. The only thing I can relate it to at all is The Red Badge of Courage. It’s a remarkable song, the rhythmic structure, the voice of Levon and the bass line with the drum accents and then the heavy close harmony of Levon, Richard and Rick in the theme, make it seem impossible that this isn’t some traditional material handed down from father to son straight from that winter of 1865 to today. It has that ring of truth and the whole aura of authenticity.

Here’s the Band performing the song. Listen especially to the third verse — the land, family, death, defeat — and know that for very many of us, that is the South. It’s not the whole South. “Strange Fruit” is also the South. But it’s one true story of the South, and if you can’t feel the tragedy and the heartbreak of a poor, proud Southern man laid low in this song, friend, I cannot help you:

UPDATE: Look, if you are going to go to the comments section and say, in effect, “But enough about Southern white people and Civil War history, what about Southern black people, huh, HUH?!” — save it. I’m not going to let you threadjack. This is not a post meant to put down or to diminish the point of view of Southern black people. It’s meant to speculate on why many Southern white people who are not particularly racist nevertheless have complicated feelings about how we ought to remember the Civil War and those who fought it on the Southern side. If you have something to add to that discussion, let’s hear it. If you just want to whatabout, and say the same things here that you’ve said on every other thread we’ve had about monuments, save it for later.

280 Comments (Open | Close)

280 Comments To "Sad Songs And The South"

#1 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 25, 2017 @ 10:02 pm

“Honestly, Rod, I think this essay may be the first one in which a Southerner even passingly acknowledges the Northern view that Lee (and Jackson, and Jefferson Davis) was a traitor to the Union. For me, as a Northerner, *that* is the main reason why statues of Confederate *leaders* ought to come down. ”

I sympathize with this, though I would rather keep most of the statues up. If more Southerners showed 1/16th of the character and thoughtfulness in the past 50 years as Rod has here we wouldn’t be having this conversation and we’d be building, not tearing down. Of course, we Northerners could use some more character as well these days. Very good post Rod.

#2 Comment By Ellimist000 On August 25, 2017 @ 10:11 pm


“Ok, unmask the Yankee. How about the Black Codes forbidding free blacks in Northern States? How about the government supported Ubion League who during military occupation (“Reconstruction”) and looting killed Freedmen if they did not swear allegiance to the Republican Party? ”

You might want to read more of Rods articles. The more activist left isn’t necessarily inclined to give Northern whites a pass either (and really, I can live with that)

#3 Comment By Scott On August 25, 2017 @ 10:17 pm

There is much debate over whether slavery was (or was not) the reason for secession. I’ve yet to see a good discussion (anywhere) (what if) on what would of become of slavery had South Carolina simply done nothing? No secession at all? We do know no other western nation had a war to abolish slavery. Slavery was not going to be spread to the territories, and cotton was/is a hard crop on your soil.

#4 Comment By Hammersmith On August 25, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

The successful, from the Northern perspective of course, Civil War ensured America could become the great nation it is today. (LOL)_

#5 Comment By Gentillylace On August 26, 2017 @ 12:56 am


I found this Wikipedia article to be both interesting and informative:


There is a local link for me. A Union garrison, New Camp Carleton, was established in 1862 “on the right bank of the San Gabriel River, four miles north east from El Monte, the nearest post office, and which is distant thirteen miles from Los Angeles”. I suppose that it was located in what is now Baldwin Park, where I attend Lay Carmelite meetings monthly at St. John the Baptist parish. The purpose of New Camp Carleton was to keep an eye on the El Monte area, where there were many Confederate sympathizers:


#6 Comment By James Hartwick On August 26, 2017 @ 10:10 am

Recent work in Political Science supports the view that Confederate volunteers (as opposed to draftees) were much more likely to be wealthy than one would have expected. Southern wealth came primarily in the form of land and slaves. [6]

Much more likely? From the link that you provide, households that had no slaves averaged 1.78 soldiers per household. Households that had more than 10 slaves averaged 2.19 soldiers per household. There is a difference between “Confederate volunteers were much more likely to be wealthy” and “wealthy people were much more likely to volunteer for the Confederacy.” Are we talking about (number of wealthy Confederate volunteers) divided by (number of Confederate volunteers)? Or are we talking about (number of wealthy volunteers) divided by (number of wealthy Southerners)? In either case, I don’t think the paper you link to supports your assertion.

Indeed the paper goes on to say:

Two simple facts emerge from this analysis. First, the propensity to fight in the Confederate Army is lowest for those households owning no slaves. Second, the Confederate Army as a whole still contained a majority of non-slaveowners. Despite the rate of fighting being lower, non-slaveowners still composed more than half of the army, simply because the majority of southern men did not own slaves. Indeed, according to our data, there were more households without slaves who nevertheless provided Confederate soldiers than there were households with slaves, in total.

One overall problem with doing things on a per household basis is that the size of households varies. A household with no slaves could easily be just a nuclear family, father, mother, and children. A household with more than ten slaves could very well be a plantation, with several (white) nuclear families living together. I would expect the plantation to provide more soldiers “per household” than the family farm, based solely on the number of (white) members of the household. Does the paper account for this?

#7 Comment By route66news On August 26, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

Scott wrote:

Slavery was not going to be spread to the territories, and cotton was/is a hard crop on your soil.

You’re correct on the latter, but very wrong on the former.

One of the big reasons the Civil War occurred was the South absolutely wanted to expand slavery into other U.S. territories.


#8 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 26, 2017 @ 12:28 pm

I’ve yet to see a good discussion (anywhere) (what if) on what would of become of slavery had South Carolina simply done nothing? No secession at all?

I’ve read a good deal which speaks to that question. Seek and ye shall find.

1) All territories not yet a state would have been closed to slavery. No new state would have been admitted without a constitution prohibiting slavery.

2) Slavery would have been left intact in the states where it existed.

3) The resale value of slaves would have dropped drastically — which was the real motive for secession. Reduced demand, reduced price, reduced assessed value. Like real estate.

4) There would have been a patchwork pattern among different states as to whether Negroes could live in the state at all, whether they could vote, whether they could testify in court against a “white” person. Sort of like states having different provisions for women voting, or not, until the 19th Amendment.

The rest is indeed hazy… how fast slavery might or might not have faded away in those states that permitted the practice, what the rights available to people of African descent might have been, how violent a reaction there might have been, whether there would eventually have been a constitutional amendment standardizing the definition of citizen across all state lines.

There is an interesting video on line by a man who highlights how easily the statue that came down in Durham crumpled as it hit the ground. The reason is, statues that went up wholesale circa 1900-1915 were cheap, mass-produced numbers, intended to go up fast and en masse, not carefully sculpted individual notions that grew out of specific local devotions.

#9 Comment By Lllurker On August 26, 2017 @ 1:03 pm

“Ok, unmask the Yankee. How about the Black Codes forbidding free blacks in Northern States ….”

There were and are many, many sins related to race in the rest of the country. Especially up here in the Midwest. Some have been overcome, many are still with us.

This issue of minorities getting unfair and/or rough treatment from law enforcement is a particularly pernicious problem. The truth seems to be that it has never not been that way, the black community has been vocal about the problem as long as they’ve had the freedom to be vocal, and yet they’ve never been taken seriously. The focus now of course is on deadly shootings caught on camera but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There are lots of other issues, I don’t think anyone denies that.

#10 Comment By HP On August 26, 2017 @ 2:42 pm

Sorry, just can’t sympathize. I’m thinking of a hypothetical song called “Die Nacht das sie Deutschland vernichtet haben” and frankly it’s repulsive.

[NFR: Because the Confederacy = Nazi Germany? Wow. — RD]

#11 Comment By Jerome On August 26, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

A precursor work was Sen. James Webb’s, ” Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America Paperback” (2005). Perhaps mentioned in other earlier comments, but it provides an important cultural framework for the Scots-Irish in America. Webb’s thesis is that the Scots-Irish, with their rugged individualism, warrior culture that was built on extended familial groups and an instinctive mistrust of authority, created an American culture that mirrors these traits.
A sample, “(The) journey (of the Scots-Irish)…has been not simply one of hardship or disappointment, but of frequent and bitter conflict. These conflicts, from which they have never in two thousand years of history retreated, have followed a historically consistent cycle of, among other things, a values-based combativeness, an insistent egalitarianism, and a refusal to be dominated from above, no matter the cost.” Worth considering.

#12 Comment By JRR_Lovecraft On August 26, 2017 @ 3:19 pm

If the South in its infinite hubris had not fired the first shot and started the Civil War before Lincoln was even inaugurated (precipitating an over-reaction from the North to punish the South – think how Israel over-reacts when it is attacked by one of its neighbors) then Southerners wouldn’t have had a need to “[grab] their rifles to protect something more tangible — hearth and home — their families and way of life.” Country music and Southerners are so sad because they cannot come to grips with their shameful past – just like alcoholics.

#13 Comment By Lllurker On August 26, 2017 @ 4:32 pm

“There is much debate over whether slavery was (or was not) the reason for secession”

Scott there really isn’t. There are a lot of spinmeisters who want there to be a debate…

At the time of the start of the civil war the states wrote down in crystal clear terms that it was all about slavery and the principals also gave speeches indicating the same. Unfortunately there have been a whole lot of school textbooks printed, probably millions, that strained terribly to spin the war into being about anything but slavery. They are from the so-called Dunning school of thought, which persisted from the early 20th century well into the 60’s when Dunning’s teaching was debunked. Apparently someone figured out that all of the old documents and speeches still existed and they didn’t tell the story as Dunning and his followers had been teaching it.

The textbook industry however has responded *very* slowly. If from your American History courses you mostly remember talk of Scalawags and Carpetbaggers, and the survey of the period tried to teach you more about Reconstruction than anything else, you probably got the Dunning treatment, which is akin to the Lost Cause narrative.

So nowadays anyone can access the original text from all the key documents and speeches from the actual period. The so-called Cornerstone Speech by Jefferson Davis’ vice president Alexander Stephens has become especially well-known because on the particular question of slavery he was … well … not exactly vague:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly [this] idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

There are documents aplenty from the period that are more diplomatic but say the same thing..


#14 Comment By Jeff Clothier On August 26, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

What Malcolm Gladwell fails to point out with sufficient emphasis in his podcast is that country music is not a pure successor of Old English and Gaelic ballad. It would not have existed had it not been for the Collision of those ancient music forms with African American patterns and forms that we know currently as the Blues.

Nearly all American popular musics are result of African traditional music forms in collision with art music and folk-forms of their European-American cultural overlords.

Put simply, the Blues plus French chamber music begets New Orleans jazz. Blues plus Gaelic ballad begets country. Black migration to Northern industrial centers begets rock and roll.

#15 Comment By ddh On August 26, 2017 @ 5:13 pm

Perhaps one reason a Canadian could write “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” is that Canada is really a Scottish-French country and not so much English-French.

#16 Comment By DRK On August 26, 2017 @ 6:41 pm

…the United Daughters of the Confederacy were bankrolling the statues they also were dictating what every school kid was taught about the war and prewar slave/master relations. There are some old preserved documents that dictate exactly how the story was to be told in all the textbooks. And apparently the UDOC had enough clout at the state level that these things were non-negotiable. It’s pretty remarkable stuff.

I ran across the documents online a couple days ago and at the moment I can’t seem to find my way back to them or I’d post the link.

Llurker, was this the story?


It is a remarkable article, and now I can see why my Southern-educated 80-year-old mother, who is an intelligent woman, did not realize the South had actually lost the “War Between the States” until she was 12 years old.

#17 Comment By Andromeda On August 27, 2017 @ 1:33 am

I like what Wendell Berry had to say about southern white people in The Hidden Wound. He says that southern white people in order to deal with the history of the systemic violence of slavery created a romanticized poeticized ornamental mythology. Read Wendell Berry’s The Hidden Wound.

#18 Comment By ualk., On August 27, 2017 @ 7:31 am

Re: How about the Black Codes forbidding free blacks in Northern States?

No one thinks that racism was not a general problem, both North and South. Though with a twist. As is often said, Northerners allowed that the black folk could be equal, they just couldn’t be close. Southerners allowed them to be close, just nit equal.

#19 Comment By ualk., On August 27, 2017 @ 7:40 am

Re: . But by and large, northern public opinion let go and let the Redeemers have their way.

Some context is called for I think.
In 1873 the world’s economy took a nose-drive in what was called the Panic of 1873. It was actually a fairly severe depression and this wiped out the War and its aftermath as the dominant issue in people’s minds. A bill was proposed and passed in Congress to remedy the situation– which President Grant vetoed for reasons that sound remarkably like a modern Republican’s (he feared it would cause inflation and discomfit the rich by eroding the value of their bank accounts). Simultaneously ugly scandals erupted among Grant’s subordinates. The popularity of Grant administration collapsed and with it went public support for the program of Reconstruction. It’s easy to blame northern racism for abandoning the effort in the South, and there’s some truth to it, but other things were in that mix too.

#20 Comment By Elaine On August 27, 2017 @ 11:33 am

You may not have many Af-Ams reading this blog and commenting. So, even if you choose not to publish my comment, I will write it, because I would like to express myself on this topic.

Thank you for finally explaining this to me. This sounds sarcastic. It is not. Truly. I am from the North and I am African-American. And I never understood the reverence for men who were, to me, my dire enemies.

I mean imagine, those who swore to destroy you, and failed, given statues and honor after their defeat. Spoken of with pride.

Its not an exaggeration to say I avoid going to the South. I had to drive thru once and I was terrified. To me, those who could celebrate my enemies, were my enemies. They might smile to my face while serving me delicious pie. But they would do so under a flag that symbolized sadness at my not being born a slave.

Its also very easy to revere people when there is no cost to your doing so. Had they won, you would have been fine. That, I suspect, makes it just a bit easier to celebrate their human failings.

Imagine if ‘Black Lives Matter’ triumphed. And you had to live with flags, and statues and what-not celebrating the horror of your existence, and sadness at your being free.

But see, I am a grown-up. And I understand life is complicated. And people fail. (though I am so glad these men are dead and that they lost. SO very very glad.)

And even if I do not agree with it (statues, flag etc), at least now its just a little bit closer to comprehensible why they have remained. And why some are fighting to keep them.

My thoughts on this are complicated. And I do not agree with their destruction by the way. Forcibly removing them only makes them into martyrs.

I only wanted to explain how, for what its worth, the statues make me feel.

TL;DR They do not make me feel good.

Not that that matters to anyone, or should. JMVHO.

#21 Comment By Thrice A Viking On August 27, 2017 @ 12:58 pm

You know, a thought just occurred to me: this Southern attitude isn’t particular or peculiar to that part of the US. Well, OK, we knew that before, but perhaps it should be emphasized more. I remember reading that Russians in the Soviet era were loathe to wish for another government than that to which they were used. Such a change seemed to them equivalent to switching your parents for another couple. Perhaps such attitudes are pervasive throughout most of the world, rendering our efforts to effect progress so often in vain in fairly traditional societies.

Another point (and I realize that I’m late in making both of these): blacks, even north of Mason-Dixon and west of the Pecos, are very much like white Southerners in terms of their religiosity vis-a-vis hypocrisy. It’s un-PC to say so, of course, but African-Americans combine religious fervor – more so than whites – with much higher rates of both serious crimes and out-of-wedlock birth than those less religious palefaces. But show me a professor at a prestige school or a journalist at a MSM outlet who would call them hypocritical, and I’ll show you someone who’d better start looking for new career opportunities. Southern whites, OTOH, are fair game for such accusations.

#22 Comment By Lllurker On August 27, 2017 @ 10:08 pm

DRK: “Lllurker, was this the story?


“It is a remarkable article, and now I can see why my Southern-educated 80-year-old mother, who is an intelligent woman, did not realize the South had actually lost the “War Between the States” until she was 12 years old.”

That story I haven’t seen, thanks for posting the link.

@scott if you’re still following along I recommend that link relative to our back-and-forth about slavery and the war. There’s where your Civil War that wasn’t about slavery came from.

@DRK: If I had to guess, what I came across the other day might actually have been a source document for the Daily Beast reporter who wrote that article. IIRC it was a scanned or photographed copy of some old typed documents, or maybe of a column in an old magazine. At any rate it was about exactly the same thing as the DB article, just containing original source documents. By the way see my post above that mentions the “Dunning” textbook propaganda that also seems to be a part of the UDOC brew of bad history.

The following quote I pulled from your DB article. There should be a special place in that very hot place for people who would deliberately brainwash kids with this crap. And they did it to millions and millions, over many decades …

“Southern men were anxious for the slaves to be free. They were studying earnestly the problem of freedom, when Northern fanatical Abolitionists took matters into their own hands.”

The writer just sort of forgot to mention that during that same prewar time period Lee was horse whipping escaped slaves and pouring brine on the wounds.


#23 Comment By Lllurker On August 27, 2017 @ 10:14 pm

@Elaine I for one appreciate your candor and willingness to comment here. Don’t worry about Rod not posting your opinion.

[NFR: The reason you can thank Elaine for her comment is that Rod posted her comment. Strange, innit? — RD]

#24 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 27, 2017 @ 10:26 pm

I’d like to add a few brief footnotes to Elaine’s remarks. Whatever African descent I may have is minimal, and nobody reviewing my job application or seeing me walking down the street would treat me as “black.” But I have studied a lot of history, and had a few personal experiences in the southern states.

I have read correspondence from northern-born people of African descent who had a genuine horror of having to take a train across the south during the Jim Crow era, for obvious reasons. I have read accounts of people raised in the north who said their father always got a sleeper compartment for the family, so avoid the Jim Crow car, but getting off the train at the station, ‘there they were, just like we hear about, water fountains labeled “white” and “colored.” No, those don’t exist anymore, but a certain level of apprehension is justified.

This is less empirical, but many here believe in ghosts and possession and exorcism… While driving through Tennessee to visit my mother’s cousin, I got off the freeway to take a scenic old federal highway down into the valley. I saw almost nobody — it was a Sunday evening or something like that — but I had a vague eerie feeling that if a friend who is quite visibly African American were with me, I would not choose to take that route. Later, my cousin told me “nobody black has ever lived in that county.” (Its also the county my great great grandfather had to leave because the KKK kept trying to burn down his house.)

Now, on the plus side… I have observed that the southeastern half of West Virginia, which leaned confederate during the Civil War, has much more relaxed race relations that the northwest half, which led the charge to remain in the Union. And at least in the piedmont areas of the Carolinas, I’ve seen something similar… the people I was visiting being black, so its not an impression I got from hearing white folks talk about how nice they are.

So like everything else, there is a patchwork, uneven effect, different impressions and attitudes and pressures in different areas.

It’s easy to blame northern racism for abandoning the effort in the South, and there’s some truth to it, but other things were in that mix too.

Oh, that’s true enough. I would say (summarizing an awful lot of books into a few sentences) that initially the north was indifferent rather than committed to racism. They just weren’t going to be bothered with what happened to Negroes in the south anymore… rather like, they wouldn’t have gone to war to free Negroes. Actual adoption of overtly racist attitudes drifted by osmosis from the lying southern books more like 1900-1920, with an assist by that virulently racist progressive, Woodrow Wilson. In the 1890s, black students found full acceptance at the University of Chicago, whereas by 1910 or so, they were not allowed in the dormitories.

If the South in its infinite hubris had not fired the first shot and started the Civil War before Lincoln was even inaugurated

To paraphrase the pagan Greek original, those whom God would destroy, he first makes mad.

#25 Comment By HP On August 28, 2017 @ 2:39 am

“Because the Confederacy = Nazi Germany? Wow.”

Well it’s really the closest analogy. What other western nations do you know that went to war in the name of what is essentially a racist Weltanschauung?

That is also why all the stuff about most Confederate citizens not owning slaves or being good people is completely besides the point. Do you think all Germans killed a Jew, or were bad people for that matter? Don’t you know that, in the end at least, they were defending their Heimat against implacable foes? That’s the problem with America’s Manichean reflexes, it’s a bulwark against real morality. It’s easy to understand and condemn bad people doing bad things: nobody thinks of himself as a bad person anyway, so it’s really a shrug. In reality it’s good people, or people who think of themselves as being good who do bad things. The Germans have understood that, and so have white South-Africans, if you really want a less dramatic analogy. That is why they have managed to put the past behind them and become respectable again. But in the US, slavery (not to mention imperialism, the part of the Confederacy’s programme that is often forgotten) can be magically turned into a “detail of history” because the boys in grey were good people, or at least that’s what their descendants would like to think. The best that can be said for those people is that they were misguided dupes who fought for an evil cause. Too bad if that hurts their descendants’ pride.

#26 Comment By Lllurker On August 28, 2017 @ 8:42 am

“The reason you can thank Elaine for her comment is that Rod posted her comment. Strange, innit?”

I meant to reassure that you don’t truck in that sort of censorsip. Tryin to be encouraging here…

#27 Comment By Oakinhou On August 28, 2017 @ 9:47 am

“And at least in the piedmont areas of the Carolinas, I’ve seen something similar… the people I was visiting being black, so its not an impression I got from hearing white folks talk about how nice they are.”

I travel to the Raleigh-Durham area several times a year, and I find racial attitudes to be as you describe, fairly relaxed. I was actually there when the Durham statue was torn down, and the majority response (as well as the Distric Attorney’s) was fairly nuanced: yes, it’s vandalism, and we prosecute vandals, but the symbolism of the statues do matter, and most probably should be moved, taken down, or contextualized.

But I went to see the totality up in the mountains bordering Tennessee. And it felt very different. Not a single black person (though a noticeable number of Hispanics, and Mexican restaurants (*)). And the stars and bars flying up here and there. It felt, different. And not in a very good way.

On a separate but related note, the level of organization and preparedness these little communities displayed in handling this massive invasion of visitors is nothing short of admirable. A big shoutout to Cherokee co. NC, and their school district. Amazing job, people. Thank you.

(*) I have the theory that, just as Irish, Poles, and Italians first, and Jews afterwards, Hispanics -and eastern Asians- are being accepted as white by even the most race conscious people. It’s a fact that even some white prison gangs accept Hispanics in their ranks. White is defined basically as not-black.

#28 Comment By JonF On August 28, 2017 @ 2:03 pm

And this is the second thread where a comment by me as come through named “ualk.,”

#29 Comment By Brendan from Oz On August 29, 2017 @ 5:11 am

Australia’s “Bush Songs”, often from the Irish/convict tradition, often focused on chains, slavery, whipping, drought, hunger, stockmen, drovers, wrongful transportation and such. That was the life they new and sang.

So come all me hearties
Let’s roam the mountains high,
Together we will plunder,
Together we will die.
We’ll wander over valleys
And gallop over plains
And scorn to live in slavery
Bound down with iron chains!

The Wild Colonial Boy, chorus

#30 Comment By Born on the Bayou On August 29, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

When I saw the photo of the late Mr. Helm I thought, oh man, this is going to be good. I already knew the history of The Band and that Levon Helm (of Arkansas) was the only American. (Canadian indeed!) And though The Band were what most would consider a Rock and Roll band, I don’t see them in quite that way. They were far more folky and traditional than almost everyone else that got airplay on FM rock station before FM was ruined in the early-mid 1970’s. CCR comes close, but they weren’t The Band. Glad you posted that clip from “The Last Waltz”. If you get a chance search out “Acadian Driftwood” by them. I think you’ll like it.