United Daughters of the Confederacy & White Supremacy

Published:August 30, 2018 by Brendan Wolfe

Two days ago, Ginger R. Stephens, the president of the Virginia Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, wrote a letter to her “ladies.” “It has been brought to my attention,” she told them, “that Encyclopedia Virginia has a negative article on the UDC.” She explained that she had talked to the encyclopedia’s staff—it was me—and “they don’t seem to be aware of how much harm that article is doing and how critical it is that it be corrected.”

The problem, she wrote, is this: “The majority of the article is about the UDC and Race. The UDC’s Objectives are not included, and there is no mention of any of the UDC’s work.”

Stephens then encouraged her members to write us and request a correction. And they did!

I am requesting a revision of this article to remove the negative information and remarks regarding the United Daughters of the Confederacy …

The article is very biased and paints a negative portrait of the organization. The section on the UDC and Race is longer than the rest of the article, giving that too much emphasis, while ignoring the work of the UDC …

It is truly amazing at all the crap you can read on line. The UDC has nothing in common with the KKK, Neo-Nazi or the white supremacists. Guess you need to go after the ladies now because nothing else has worked. Good old smear campaign!

We’re happy to receive feedback on our entries. We encourage readers to point out factual inaccuracies and we try to respond as quickly as we can. Just in the past few weeks, we’ve made corrections to entries on Cephas Davis, regarding the details of a state election; on John Carlyle, regarding where he is buried; and on J. D. Harris, regarding the date of his death. The latter two came as a result of reader emails.

What we have with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, however, is different. While they argue that we are being factually inaccurate, they are not actually able to identify any factual inaccuracies. Instead, their objections are philosophical, and at this point it would be more efficient to answer them here than to continue to write each complaining member individually.

At the crux of this philosophical disagreement, I think, is the phrase “white supremacy.” The UDC members object to any association of these words with their organization, past or present. To them it puts the UDC in league with the KKK and neo-Nazis, etc. (And sometimes it did!) But what the entry argues is that the traditional efforts of the UDC—raising funds for Confederate monuments, sponsoring Memorial Day parades, caring for indigent Confederate widows, sponsoring essay contests and fellowships for white southern students, and maintaining Confederate museums and relic collections—have been undertaken in the context of the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War.

What do we mean by the Lost Cause? Long the prevailing ideology of not only the UDC but of the United Confederate Veterans, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and much of the postwar elite white culture, it follows several basic precepts:

  • the Confederacy didn’t start the war;
  • slavery had nothing to do with it;
  • enslaved people were generally well-treated and faithful to their masters;
  • the United States only won because of its industry and manpower and a willingness to sacrifice the lives of its soldiers; and
  • Confederate soldiers were uniquely heroic and Confederate women uniquely honorable.

So what does this have to do with white supremacy? All of these things add up to a nostalgic elevation of a society the foundation of which was the violent enslavement of other human beings. And this “elevation” was not by accident. It came at precisely the moment when those formerly enslaved people were competing with their former enslavers for political power. By asserting that slavery was not that bad and that white people had always acted honorably and in the best interests of blacks, the Lost Cause became an argument for a society in which white people belonged at the top of the order and blacks at the bottom.

That’s white supremacy.

What does this look like in practice? A Virginia history textbook from around the time of UDC’s founding, written by a Virginia woman, described enslaved people this way: “Generally speaking, the negroes proved a harmless and affectionate race, easily governed, and happy in their condition.”

Fifty-some years later, another Virginia textbook, co-written by a woman, congratulates those black people who did not join John Brown at Harper’s Ferry: “It is a great tribute to the honor of the Negro race that he was unable to carry out his plot, for only a few Negroes joined him.”*

Another textbook, published in 1957 and used in Virginia schools for the next three decades, asserts, “A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes.”**

When the UDC and other such organizations sponsored essay contests, this is the sort of history that was being promoted. It was not history that acknowledged the actual lives of actual African Americans. In fact, it actively erased them.

That’s white supremacy.

There’s more to it than textbooks, of course. There are memorials. You may have read about Silent Sam, the Confederate statue at the University of North Carolina that was recently torn down by protesters. It was a gift, in 1913, of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and one of the featured speakers at its unveiling was Julian Carr, a local industrialist and Confederate veteran. Here’s what he said at the event about the meaning of that occasion:

The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war, when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South—When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States—Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

When Carr says “the bottom rail was on top,” he means that black people had briefly achieved a modicum of social and political power after the Civil War. Then, using his own cruelty as an example, he suggests that violence is, and has always been, the preferred remedy. (After all, it had worked well in Virginia.) He even notes that the current generation might need a good reminder of that. Hence, this statue.***

That’s white supremacy.

So were efforts by veterans’ and memorial groups to censor textbooks that attempted to advance a different understanding of slavery. So was Birth of a Nation, a film that cast black legislators as corrupt, ignorant, and less than human. So was the violence of slavery brought into the post-slavery world: the lynching of John Henry James just outside of Charlottesville, for instance. A witness wrote her husband two days later that “it behooves the Virginia men to be on their guard at all times” for “black devils” like James, “whom we have been taxed to educate, & give the rights of a white man.” They are not fit for such freedom, she wrote; they will only rape your women.****

That’s white supremacy, but so is a refusal to engage this history. To understand it only as an attack on you or your organization rather than as an attempt to widen the narrative to include those who have otherwise been silenced by the textbooks, the monuments, and the ropes.

If you think the examples above are cherry-picked, then you ought to read more widely in the sources. These were mainstream, acceptable attitudes in their day, and an attempt to acknowledge and understand them is crucial for dealing with the issues of today. (See this and this.)

It is central to the mission of Virginia Humanities—of which Encyclopedia Virginia is but one program—to tell Virginia stories in a way that does justice to the full experience of all people. We do this not to divide but precisely the opposite: to share in a history that belongs to all of us. I have told Ms. Stephens and the United Daughters of the Confederacy that we would like to update the entry to include more information about her organization during the past several decades. In the meantime, if the UDC is interested in grappling with this difficult history and joining us in our effort to tell a broader story, we would welcome them as partners.

* We have a copy of A History of Virginia for Boys and Girls by John W. Wayland and Rose M. E. MacDonald here in the office. It’s the 1948 version, and this quotation is on page 277. You can read the 1920 edition here.

** This is from Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis Butler Simkins, Spotswood Hunnicutt Jones, and Sidman P. Poole. It was published in 1957 and used in Virginia schools as late as the 1980s. We also have a copy in the office. This quotation is from page 369.

*** Or the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, the unveiling of which was preceded by Klan marches.

**** Letter from Florence A. Bishop to Jonathan A. Bishop, July 14, 1898 (Beltrone & Company/University of Virginia Special Collections). We’ll have a transcription up on our site soon.

IMAGE: A Washington state chapter of the UDC, October 1925

Discussion

42 Comments on “United Daughters of the Confederacy & White Supremacy”

  1. Susan Coleman

    Courteous and well-written response. The story regarding the Silent Sam unveiling enlarged my understanding of that and other monuments.

    1. Elie Elis

      The segregation continues. I will not join a group who does little to educate the children of slaves. Turns a blind eye to the evil that slavery is. We got beautiful farms and housed. Economy from a slaves toil but giving nothing in return. Jails are full of undereducated slaves..
      Costing the taxpayer but racist people choose not to care. I’m disgusted with the ignorance of white supreamist people who say their not biased yet do anything to help educate.

  2. Jim O'Hara

    In 1913, the same year that they got the monument erected at UNC-Chapel Hill, the UCD also unanimously endorsed and recommended for use in schools the book THE KU KLUX KLAN OR INVISIBLE EMPIRE BY Mrs. S. E. F. Rose, which described the KKK in glowing terms and praised it for its heroic work in defending “white supremacy” (the book uses that exact phrase). The book also attempts to explain rumors that the KKK was murdering “Negros.” In fact, when a Negro was misbehaving they would sometimes take him out to the woods for a well-deserved whipping. At times, the Negro would attack those were planning to whip him and they would be forced to kill him in “self-defense.” Not murder at all.

    The claim “The UDC has nothing in common with the KKK” is complete nonsense.

    The full book can be seen at https://archive.org/stream/cu31924083530117/cu31924083530117_djvu.txt

    1. Fred

      Thank you for adding your factual historical tidbit to this discussion. Like most southern institutions of that time, UDC was as complicit in the enslavement and Jim Crow subjugation of blacks as KKK and WCC. This pitiful attempt at denial and whitewashing their own documented white supremacist foundations is laughable!

        1. Steve Annie

          I have lost several friends due to their blind faith in Trump. There is an obvious parallel there.
          This is not a simplistic idea. It shows a divide in the country and that is strong.
          You should ask yourself, in the early 1940s, would have Trump got behind the strong man or the intellectual in Britian?

  3. Ginger Stephens

    I am a little confused regarding some of the information in your blog entry. I wrote to you about the UDC article on Encyclopedia Virginia and you did tell me that it was on a list of articles to be updated. However, when I offered assistance, I received no response. Now, I find that you chose a blog entry to state that you want to partner with the UDC, when all you needed to do was respond to my questions and let me know how our organization could help.

    I sent a write-up that included information which I thought might be a useful in expanding the scope to include a positive aspect of the UDC’s work. More could have been provided, but your response indicated that Encyclopedia Virginia does not work that way. So, I asked if we could help, and I received no response once you explained that your staff is small.

    The reason that our members were asked to contact you about the article is very simple. You stated in your initial response to my inquiry that only two people had commented that they felt that the article needed to be updated. I had several people complain to me about the article, and since you were not responding to offers of assistance, it seemed that the complaints should be directed to Encyclopedia Virginia so you would have a clearer understanding of the number of complaints about the UDC article.

    If you would sincerely like to partner with the UDC, please email me and let me know how that would work so we can discuss further.

    1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      Thanks for your note, Ms. Stephens. I think the first step to working together would be for you to substantively respond to the history as we have presented it above and in the entry. If you believe your organization was not associated with the Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War, please explain why. If you believe that issues of race and white supremacy ought not be associated with the UDC, please explain why. It’s not enough to call us “biased” or “negative.” The history is there to be engaged with, and if you are willing to do that, then we would respectfully join you in that discussion.

      1. Kathryn Fowler

        Ms. Wolfe, I am not defending any party here, but your post does indicate a willingness to have the UDC provide information on more recent work they are conducting. However, when a respondent offered to do so, you raise the bar and say that UDC must first admit culpability. In so doing, you damage the image of your publication as fair and complete in its coverage. Why not accept the information and expand the information? You can still attempt to engage the UDC in conversations about its past record.

        1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

          Thanks for your comment, Ms. Fowler. We have had numerous UDC members, publicly and privately, offer us information about what the UDC does in its work today. The purpose of this post was not to solicit more; it was to suggest that the UDC needs to grapple with its difficult history. When respondents have almost universally avoided the substantive arguments raised in the post, I’ve tried to nudge them back in that direction. I don’t think that’s “raising the bar,” as you say; rather, it was the entire point of the essay.

          One additional comment: There is an implicit assumption, by the UDC themselves and others, that the organization, whatever it may have been in the past, is today completely different. I’m not so sure. The UDC attacks any association of the organization to white supremacy without engaging the actual arguments that lead to such accusations. Simultaneously, its leadership and members (either in comments to this post or in letters such as this one: https://bit.ly/2wzYJH3) insist that significant numbers of African Americans voluntarily joined the Confederate cause during the Civil War. Such claims have not only been debunked by historians (https://bit.ly/2N5KjrO), they serve to erase the reality of slavery. The lived experience of African Americans and their descendants (see: https://bit.ly/2PtxJA9). That’s white supremacy. That’s the argument I made above and that’s the discussion that the UDC refuses to have.

          It is not asking them to “first admit culpability” in order to take this history seriously. They don’t have to agree with the arguments made above. They just have to sincerely engage them, rather than constantly changing the subject.

          Thanks again for your comment.

        2. Leslie Ackel

          That is logical and fair Ms. Fowler. Very pertinent point. I can’t imagine this “Encyclopedia” being anything more than a student blog, really.

      2. Heather

        Ms. Stephens,

        Will your organization retract its previous endorsement of publications such as “The KKK or Invisible Empire” by Rose? Until your group retracts its support of earlier such writings, can accurately define “white supremacy”, and acknowledges slavery as central to the Civil War and today’s ongoing inequities, your group has earned its association with white supremacy.

      3. Dulcinea Calloway

        Ms Stephens is not obliged to respond to your article or your pompous request. YOU need to put your faulty implications aside and do some reading about US history in the 19th century. Your definition of the Lost Cause is ridiculous and calculated to boost bias and distrust. The Cause was the effort to secede. It was lost. That’s it!
        If you insist the South sponsored the cause of white supremacy, study the complicity of northern governments and northern businesses to maintain bondage. Do you know that 40 cents on every dollar made from slave trading and the profits of goods made by slaves was made in NYC? What state was the biggest importer or slaves? Rhode Island. Northern mills wanted Southern cotton to set up their textile industries. They didn’t care who grew it, picked it, baled it, or loaded it.
        After the war, the state of Illinois wrote a new law that forbid any person of color to enter the state of Illinois.
        The UDC honors those who gave their lives for their country. Very American, right?

    2. JIm O'Hara

      Does anyone care if the UDC was also doing some “positive” things while they were promoting white supremacy and dangerous false versions of history? That’s like serving someone a manure sandwich and saying “but the bread is very fresh.”

  4. Helen B Webster

    Just as our countries attitudes about race, religion, sexuality, war, women’s rights, etc. have evolved over the generations, so has UDC. There is no discrimination as to color, religion, sexuality, socio-economics in this organization. We, gasp!!, have Ladies of color, Ladies who are Lesbian, Ladies who Bisexual, Ladies who mixed race, Ladies who are old, young, middle aged. Ladies who are Rich and those who are poor. In other words, if you go to a Division wide meeting you will find a Rainbow of women. All Chapters have a Charter that requires them to do certain things. Our Chapter contributes 10 months a year to our local food bank. We contribute personal care items to our local Day Care homeless shelter. We collect metal can pull tabs for our local Ronald McDonald House. We collect stamps for a Veterans long term out of state Rehabilitation Center. We collect and donate books and magazines to our local Veteran’s reading room and Library. We contribute funds to Scholarships available to young people in need. If you hear from other Chapters you will find them also supporting charitable works/needs in their communities. We do not allow racists comments or accept women who are racists. We do not discuss politics or Religion in our meetings. What we do require is that anyone wishing to join trace their “roots” back to either a CSA member or an individual – male or female- that was employed by the CSA or Confederate Government. Perhaps you should acknowledge that their were a large number of Free African Americans who choose to fight for or work for the same. These facts or supported by Roster Cards and payments to those individuals. In Virginia in 1860 there were 69,000 free people of color. The American Civil War was a horrible thing that did not have to occur. Wealthy and Powerful men in the North and the South could had prevented this tragedy by working together to phase out slavery in the whole country. I did not know my Ancestors. I cannot judge them. I will acknowledge their loss of life and the impact that had for all the generations that followed. Of Interest, several local women of color indicated a desire to join UDC but were intimidated by the extremes in their “community”. Perhaps we should all move away from extreme polarization, move to the center where all can be respected and allowed to exist without demonization based on non factual social media. Want to come to a UDC meeting??? Contact me. We had a delightful program last year on doing laundry in the Civil War Era and how todays laundry products still contain many of the same ingredients. You would have been bored. We were delighted!!!

    1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      Thanks for your reply, Ms. Webster. I don’t doubt any of the things you write, and the entry in Encyclopedia Virginia doesn’t contradict this. The issue here is not polarization but history. And that history does not include “a large number of Free African Americans who [chose] to fight for or work for” the Confederacy. It simply didn’t happen but rather reflects exactly the Lost Cause interpretations I wrote about. I despair of how we can find common ground for discussion if you cannot sincerely and honestly engage that difficult history.

    2. Louis Albert

      Mrs. Webster,
      If you cannot see how patronizing your comments are, well, there is little hope of you ever seeing the light. Your claim that you allow “gasp!!, Ladies of color, Ladies who are Lesbian, Ladies who Bisexual, Ladies who mixed race, Ladies who are old, young, middle aged. Ladies who are Rich and those who are poor” is so condescending that it’s laughable. At least it would be laughable if you weren’t serious. How could anyone look at it any other way? Especially when it’s shortly followed by your claims about membership eligibility. Pray tell, Mrs Webster, exactly how many women of color are in your organization who can “trace their ‘roots’ back to either a CSA member or an individual – male or female- that was employed by the CSA or Confederate Government?” I’m very curious to learn. People of color in the confederacy had about the same rights as livestock, so it’s hard for me to imagine there were many employed by the CSA or its government. Unless, of course, by employed you mean held against their will and forced through violence to perform tasks. If that’s the case, I bet your membership rolls are over flowing with women of color.
      Also, you seem to believe that the good deeds your organization absolves you all of the history and the damage your organization has done over the decades. You actively support and have supported a cause that called for the enslavement of human beings. Think about that. The enslavement of human beings. Women and children and men who were slaughtered and treated worse than animals simply so your vaunted ancestors could save a few dollars on the cost of labor. And then, to make matters worse, for decades your organization pushed for a whitewashing of history and even more violence against the people you’d already treated so abhorrently. Dear Mrs Webster, is what you believe in? Because, all platitudes aside, that’s what the confederacy and UDC is all about, what it was built on, why the war was fought and why you all continue fighting it 150 years later. You can lie to yourself about these basic facts, dear Mrs Webster, you can lie to each other about them and, hell, you can even lie to God, but that doesn’t change reality. And by defending your organization, you are no better than the men who wore the hoods or brandished the whips.
      One final point/rebuttal: Your argument that there were “Free African Americans” that fought for the Confederacy and that both the North and South were at fault for the war because they couldn’t come to an agreement to “phase out” slavery (Phase out human slavery? do you hear yourself talking?) is tantamount to Nazis arguing that Hitler wasn’t so bad because he built roads, got the economy going and saved his one Jewish friend (Ernst Hess) from the ovens. Sorry lady, a couple of meetings about Civil War-era laundry and volunteering at the food bank does not absolve one of supporting a cause that was driven by evil solely for financial gain.
      Dear Mrs. Webster: I don’t expect anything I’ve written here to change your mind. After all, you are the same person who had the audacity to write the following sentence: Of Interest, several local women of color indicated a desire to join UDC but were intimidated by the extremes in their “community”. Your words, dear Mrs. Webster, speak much louder than your actions.
      So, while your preposterous effort to explain away the evil the confederacy and its supporters let loose on this world must be commended, I must close with a good old-fashioned Southern maxim we all know the true meaning of: Bless your heart, dear Mrs. Webster. Bless your heart.

      1. Tina Cavitt

        I’m 4% african and joining the UDC. Very proud of my heritage this article could not be even more wrong. UDC does great work and is more than just Democrats and snowflake crybabies crying over RACE! That’s not what the civil war was about anyone. Suggestion to the snowflakes go get an education.

        1. Dee C.

          You don’t even count at 4% African descent! Who are you trying to fool? In this country if you have 18% of African descent you are considered Black – so the government even says that you don’t even count! I would not even tell anyone about the 4 % because I guarantee you that you and everyone around you still see as white because you are! Don’t spend anymore money on those cheap DNA tests because they can be deceiving!

          1. Geoff

            We have elected representatives claiming 1/1027 percentage justifies geoup identification. I think worrying over 4% is a tad much.

      2. Leslie Ackel

        Blog author,
        In order to be more comfortable with the relevance of your employer, and the encyclopedia’s publishing of facts about any subject, I must inquire specifically,
        From whom did you get your facts on the rules of eligibility you state a student must have in applying for a UDC scholarship? I’d like to hear more of your fact based history lessons toward that end. As all editors would ask of their reporters, — state your sources. I feel your ethical journalism waning here. And certainly after this childish ranting against Mrs. Webster, dear boy.
        If I am to read more of your argument or take you seriously in the slightest, I, as your audience and reader, need to know that you write from factual knowledge, spoken to more than one source on the issue and that your statements can be firmly trusted. Please be specific on this issue to seriously and honestly as you say, engage in the difficult history.

        1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

          Ms. Ackel, I’m happy to provide sources, but neither my blog post nor any of my comments references scholarships. If you’re referring instead to our entry, could you be more specific and provide a quotation? That will help me respond accordingly. Many thanks.

  5. John Gergely

    Mr. Wolfe asked for “identification of factual” inaccuracies in his blog. Let’s start with the statement that the UDC sponsors “essay contests and fellowships for white southern students”.

    True, the UDC does offer this help to enterprising students. But, they are not limited to “white southern students”. The student help is available to students who are descendants of Confederate veterans. This includes descendants of the thousands of free and enslaved black veterans of the Confederacy, including children of the many black members of the UDC.

    Interestingly, the many “white southern students” who are not descendants of Confederate veterans are excluded from participation. I know this for a fact. My children, who certainly were “white southern students”, were not eligible for the UDC scholarships because neither their mother nor I had any Confederate veteran ancestry.

    Therefore, since certain African-American students are eligible, and many “white southern students” are not eligible, eligibility does not depend upon one’s race as Mr. Wolfe purports.

    1. Monica Martinez

      I would love it if this organization can list ANY black student that has received any of these scholarships.

      1. Leslie Ackel

        Yers, Monica four of the six senior recipients of UDC scholarships from Pontchtoula High and Hammond High Schools in Tangiphahoa Parish are black student leaders during the 2016- 2018 award years.

    2. Alec Whispers

      Not surprisingly, an online search revealed no UDC women of color. The pictures of UDC members were pretty indistinguishable, a group of 10 to 20 white older women dressed like even older women. I never get an answer so perhaps since you possess knowedge of all things confederate you can give me one. If there were “thousands of free and enslaved black veterans of the Confederacy,” could you tell me where their statues are? What streets or schools were named after them? Could you name 5? Out of thousands surely a few acted in a way worthy of recognition.

      1. Geoff

        The statues currently up honor non-white Confederate veterans, as well. At least, that’s how I view it, and I support those monuments staying up. Monuments’ meanings can change with the time– I’m sure the tourists who feel pride at Plymouth Rock don’t believe all Catholics are going to Hell like the Puritans did. The Puritan belief in the damnation of Catholics was no less fervent than any Southern idea about race, yet we don’t feel the need to put an extra plaque with “context” at Plymouth Rock. That’s because semiotics aren’t fixed– they can change and adapt. That’s why memorials and monuments are primarily visual– that makes them flexible enough to change with the times. I would argue the same is true of Confederate memorials.

        There are a few problems with your first point, re: not finding any “women of color” in the UDC. First, I dont think a quick online search constitutes legitimate research. Have you called a branch of the UDC to ask them about demographics? That would at least demonstrate your willingness to speak to those who don’t share your interpretation.
        Second, lumping those few women you did find together (“a group of 10 to 20 older white women”) is reductionistic and unfair to them. Unless you know each of those people in the pic you referenced, you’re making an unfair generalization about them.

        Third, the way you’ve phrased your response (“knowledge of all things Confederate”) demonstrates why groups like the UDC exist in the first place. If those of us with Confederate heritage are going to be stereotyped, of course we’re going to be defensive about it, and look for sympathy. What perpetuates the sort of flame war you see in these comments, more than anything, I’d argue, is that those of us whose ancestors fought for the South are used to being treated as a punchline at best, and a public enemy at worst. As long as we’re treated as scapegoats, and misrepresented, you’ll have a lot more people defending their ancestors, and a lot more acrimony.

    3. Leslie Ackel

      Simply put and correctly stated, Mr. Gergely – straight out of the UDC Bylaws on scholarships correct! From where did the writer employed by this “encyclopedia” find his sources when he states with certainty, the criteria for awarding a UDC scholarship?

  6. Helen B Webster

    Monica, would you want your name or your child’s name put out there?? I think not. Brendan, Are you saying that the 1850 and 1860 census records are fake??? That the National Archives Records of “captured Rebel roster cards, payment cards, hospitals etc. are fake??? Are the State Records of Pensions given to Black soldiers and those employed by the CSA fake?? This country has treated EVERY new ethnic group badly. We don’t seem to learn. We cannot undo the past. We have history to guide us to a better place. We need that history around us daily. We need to add to it. We need to tell the truth about it. Please base that truth on facts. In my rather large UDC circle I know of no woman who mourns the “Lost Cause” or long for the “Old Days” or sees Blacks as ” lesser people. Today’s UDC is an inclusive welcoming organization.

    1. Brendan Wolfe Post author

      Ms. Webster,

      As long as we personalize this discussion and make it about whether you or other people you know “sees Blacks as lesser people,” we’ll get nowhere. This isn’t about whether you or anyone else is racist. It’s about acknowledging and trying to better understand the history. Toward that end, no, I’m sure those records aren’t fake. But those records do not indicate that any significant number of African Americans “chose” to work for or fight for the Confederacy. Many were impressed into service involuntarily. Some accompanied their enslavers to camp and in a few instances into battle. To argue otherwise not only ignores the evidence as gathered and interpreted by historians (see our entry: https://bit.ly/2N5KjrO), it also advances the very Lost Cause arguments I wrote about above. It dismisses the violent reality of slavery in favor of a world in which blacks and whites were somehow on the same side in the South. It erases the lives of the overwhelming majority of people who, quite naturally, wanted nothing to do with the men and women who kept them in bondage. And it does so in order that we might be more comfortable with our history. Is that really worth it?

    2. Heather

      The fact that your organization still supports confederate monuments in public spaces—spaces where no one should walk through and see tributes to lost cause propaganda and white supremacy — shows that your group has no concept of its role in maintaining white supremacy.

      When you wrote “Perhaps you should acknowledge that their were a large number of Free African Americans who choose to fight for or work for the same”, you just proved the point of this blog post. The narrative you’ve learned about the history of the south and the Civil War is loaded with racist innuendos and themes. Please consider what “white supremacy” means, as it doesn’t refer merely to those marching with tiki torches or white hoods. The fact that you will make no concessions in regards to the historical inaccuracies your organization has promoted, that your organization has not changed a bit since its founding, and that you’re still defending monuments because they reflect “your” heritage, is textbook white supremacy.

  7. Helen B Webster

    Those same cards clearly indicate which Black and White men were impressed. When you do not look at the whole picture of History you do not learn from it. As this country moved past the Civil War many wrong things were done to blacks and whites. And to women. When you get into the 1900’s you see the violence pointed at Blacks who prospered in their own communities and the Whites who acknowledged them and lived side by side with out racism. Black men defended the USA in Revolutionary War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam. They came home to an ungrateful Country. After WWI they found themselves and low income whites on the streets, riding box cars, depending on soup kitchens. Viet Nam draft excluded college men( so mostly blacks and low income whites were sacrificed). I do not care for the extremes. Tell the whole story. Your refusal to even contemplate that UDC has progressed into a new day is curious. You will continue to argue we are a racist organization because that is your mantra. Your attention getter. I have read about our history – information put to hard copy by Black, White, Tan, Male and Female authors. You hit the nail on the head when you talk about Historians “interpretation” of our history. It is interesting that there are Black authors who do not see things the same way. I find it interesting that you are unwilling to admit that “things” have changed for a lot of people. You and I could agree that mean, vengeful, hateful, violent people come in all colors, sizes, sexes and in my opinion, act out of frustration and fear. “We can’t change history. It is our choice to not repeat it.” The History of slavery in the South is being told. White people are going to Montgomery and to D.C. There needs to be more attention placed on the brutality of man kind against man kind. Why does it continue. Still think you should come to my UDC Chapter meeting.

  8. Anne Mitchell Whisnant

    This is an outstanding piece of courageous, responsible public history. Excited to share it, and the discussion that ensued above with my public history students at Chapel Hill in the coming weeks.

  9. Kyle Hickman

    Ms. Webster, your post on August 31st perfectly demonstrates the point of the blog post and many of the comments by Mr. Wolfe and others. Your comment states that “Black men defended the USA in Revolutionary War, WWI, WWII, Korea, Viet Nam.” While you not only leave out several conflicts your glaring omission is of course leaving out the Civil War, which based on the history of the UDC is right in line with one of that organizations core purposes since it was founded. Namely, to perpetuate the Lost Cause narrative that was begun by white southerners after Reconstruction to help reestablish white supremacy in the South. Black men fought and died in the Civil War to end slavery and preserve the USA. By the war’s end blacks made up around 10% of Union forces. Without their contributions the end of slavery and the preservation of the USA would not have been achieved. This is another part of the the historical record you must acknowledge and engage in.

  10. Geoff Hoppe

    I’m glad to see people are having this argument, but I think we’re all missing something.

    We’re treating the phrase “white supremacy” as if its meaning has remained, unchanged, for the past few centuries. For all the historical thinking above, we need to also think in linguistic terms. Words, and phrases, have connotations. Those connotations change over time. “White supremacy” in 1910 had radically different connotations than “white supremacy” does today. Or even twenty to thirty years ago.

    I don’t see anyone here accounting for the fact that the phrase “white supremacy,” at least in the 1990s, commonly referred to neo-nazi groups who committed felonies, rather than normal people interested in their heritage. Certainly, the phrase “white supremacy” as it’s used today has radically different connotations than it did in the 90s. The mainstream press now uses “white supremacy” as only the looniest of progressives used it in the 1990s.

    Thus, to throw the term “white supremacy” around as if it’s some unchanging, Platonic ideal is intellectually irresponsible. The term itself, though, is also pretty sloppy. Somehow, the same term that applies to Ed Norton’s character in “American History X” today describes Ms. Stephens, or her great-grandmother, or me.

    Nowadays, when you see “white supremacy” used in mainstream media sources, it seems to have a vague, negative meaning. “White supremacy” seems to be a hazy term used to imply anything that isn’t “progressive,” or an example of “racial justice,” or “economic justice.” I’d argue those last two ideas are far more potent in their hateful divisiveness than any others in the intellectual stew of 2018.

    In other words, “white supremacy”– in 2018– is less a semantic marker than a pragmatic club. It’s a rhetorical weapon used to scare people into silence, by associating them with actual felons. That is, until people like Ms. Stephens have the temerity to insist on unpleasant realities, like the fact that her “white supremacist” group is actually a charitable organization. If there’s anything scary in the above comments, it’s the fact that so many people seem determined to deny the reality of moral complexity. Yes, the people you disagree with may do good things, too. If you can’t accept that, then the pluralistic society that survived a Civil War where people actually, physically bayonetted each other, might not be doing so well in a decade.

    I’d argue that any responsible history needs to account for the way the phrase “white supremacy” has changed. Lumping in anyone proud of their heritage with the KKK or the Unite the Right idiots– which, like it or not, happens when you use the phrase “white supremacy” as you did– is unfair and ridiculous. I’d argue it also prevents the sort of dialogue that needs to take place. To those of you so determined to pin “white supremacy” on us: all you accomplish is alienation. Case in point, the comments section above is loaded with defensiveness, insults, and finger-pointing. I’ve spent over an hour on this response because I’m sick of people mislabeling me and my family. If what I’m writing makes you mad, and you want to face your enemy, go look in the mirror. Want to fight hate? Start with the plank in your eye. Start by extending charity to your opponent. Start by not name-calling.

    Brendan, I know you are a careful, sensitive writer from reading your work here, and elsewhere. I believe you have the ability to be both sensitive with language, and engaged with history. But I don’t think the above post capitalizes on those talents. Your insistence on branding people as “white supremacists” is what seems to take precedence in this post. The rhetoric of your phrase “that’s white supremacy,” repeated as its own paragraph, makes that painfully clear. For God’s sakes, I am not your enemy, and those of us who are proud of our Confederate ancestors are not your enemies. Moreover, the sort of thing you’ve written above isn’t going to change our minds.

    The Encyclopedia Virginia has the potential to be something very great, if it stays objective. I think we need that more than anything else right now.

    1. Raymond Turner

      Very well expressed Mr. Hoppe. Also, today’s generation would not survive thirty days living in the conditions that existed during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. It is also easy for a Nation of people who live in luxury, compared to the times before electricity, to criticize and judge the generations before them that endured everyday hardships such as very basic housing ( 3 rooms ), no running water, no sanitation, lack of decent food, lack of decent clothing and widespread illness’s with very crude medical treatment…if any. Their average lifespan was 45 years. If the United Daughter’s of the Confederacy want to honor their ancestors, they have every right to.

  11. Monica

    If I had any confederate ancestors in my family that would not be a cause for celebration. Quite frankly I would be embarrassed to say the least. To Ms Webster. I truly do understand why a black parent who allowed their son or daughter to write an essay about confederate history in a POSITIVE light in order to obtain a few pieces of silver by way of a scholarship. If I were one of those parents ( just a note I wouldn’t be). Quite frankly I would never be that hard up for money.

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