Me and Jeff Davis are Finis: The Price of Confederate Heritage

moijefferson-davis-portrait

My journey through the culture of the Lost Cause and what had been (still is?) the cult of Jefferson Davis came full circle years after my initial visit to Beauvoir upon learning about the creation of the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library. This project was initiated by the Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), which owns and operates the site, and through its lobbying efforts became a financial beneficiary of the State of Mississippi. On their own, the Sons were not successful in their efforts to raise money for the library. In fact, the money they raised was not enough to renovate the house, much less build a presidential library.

The original.
The original opened in 1998.

So the Sons lobbied state officials, especially then Governor Kirk Fordice, who confirmed his support for Confederate history during each year of his two terms in office by officially declaring April as Confederate Heritage Month. The SCV’s lobbying efforts to garner funds for the library were rewarded in 1993 when the state gave $1.5 million in bond funds for the project. Then, two years later, Governor Fordice signed a bill giving the SCV an additional $3 million. Thus, the State of Mississippi awarded $4.5 million in taxpayer funds to a private institution to create (without a hint of irony) the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library.  Not “Confederate Presidential Library,” mind you, but Presidential Library.

This kind of state support was common in the early twentieth century.  Throughout the South, state legislatures and local governments gave today’s equivalent of millions of dollars to erect Confederate monuments, build soldiers’ and widows’ homes, and fund other Lost Cause projects.

jimcrowedAs states poured funds into creating stone likenesses of Confederate soldiers, their black citizens suffered as schools were underfunded and many lived in abject poverty.  Not much has changed in the last century.  It may be 2015, but it wreaks of 1915.

In today’s Mississippi, most minorities and poor whites must attend substandard public schools where state expenditures on public education place the state at the bottom in nationwide rankings. And yet there always seems to be money for a historic site dedicated to a pro-slavery president of a defeated Confederate nation.

This was brought into sharp relief when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. It nearly wiped Beauvoir from the map and destroyed the library.  But have no fear, both the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the Mississippi Emergency Management Association (MEMA) came to the rescue. From a report from the Department of Homeland Security:

“As of May 18, 2010, Beauvoir had received a public assistance award of $17.2 million from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), a FEMA grantee, for damages related to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.”
Lost Cause Detritus: Beauvoir after Hurricane Katrina. Author photo, 2006.
Lost Cause Detritus: Beauvoir after Hurricane Katrina, 2006. Author’s photo.
Jefferson Davis Library and Museum, take two.
Jefferson Davis Library and Museum, take two.

Not only was Beauvoir restored, the library was rebuilt to the tune of $17.2 million dollars. This on top of the original $4.5 million comes to $21.7 million for the site. Let that sink in.

Understanding Jeff Davis’s role in the Confederate tradition has, for me, meant truly knowing what a hold the Lost Cause still has on the South. Are white southerners, as my colleague David Goldfield writes, “still fighting the Civil War?” Certainly some of them are.

What’s more significant, I would argue, is that the white South continues to honor, revere, and value Confederate heritage without putting up a fight at all.  It’s all around us if we look, and paid for by local, state, and even the Federal government–especially in the Deep South.

The price of Confederate heritage goes beyond the millions that were spent to commemorate it and the millions spent to preserve it. There’s a price to pay for honoring the heritage that I encountered through the memory of Jefferson Davis.  It’s a heritage that has come at the expense of African American progress and the region’s poorest citizens, black and white. It’s a heritage that has hampered race relations and civil rights. And, it’s a heritage that has hurt the region’s reputation throughout the nation.

Simply put:  Confederate heritage has cost the South too much.

Beauvoir, 2006. Author's photo.
Beauvoir, 2006. Author’s photo.

 

 

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Me and Jeff Davis, Part VI: Living on Jefferson Davis Highway

Map_of_the_Jefferson_Davis_Memorial_Highway
This map does not show the alternate routes I mention here, but it offers you an idea of what the UDC had in mind.

In 1913, UDC President-General Rassie White conceived of a memorial project unlike any other. The organization’s success with monuments was evident throughout the South and in some northern cities, including Chicago. Even San Francisco had a Confederate memorial in the form of a park planted with southern trees.

But it was the opportunity to honor their man once again that led President-General White and the Daughters to suggest that a highway, named for Jefferson Davis, be created. The transcontinental route would extend from ocean to ocean and wind its way through southern states, beginning in Washington, DC, and ending in San Diego, California.

2004-D03-315There would also be two auxiliary routes: one from Davis’s birthplace in Fairview, Kentucky, to his last residence, Beauvoir, on the coast of Mississippi. Surprisingly, the other route would follow Davis’s escape route through the South to the site of his capture in Irwinsville, Georgia. Surprising, since this route ended at the place where the controversy erupted over his capture in feminine attire.

The Daughters’ did not fully succeed in completing this highway memorial, as some sections of the road were built but not connected as a continuous coast to coast route. Today, only some parts of the highway carry the Davis name. One, ironically, is U.S. 80 in Alabama, particularly the segment from Selma to Montgomery. It was indeed on this road, named for Jefferson Davis, that the Reverend Martin Luther King led the march that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a story recently dramatized in the movie “Selma.”

The other route, U.S. 1 in Virginia, also carries the name Jefferson Davis Highway. It was through this section of the memorial that I again crossed paths, literally, with the memory of the Confederate president.

In 2001, I moved to Arlington, Virginia.  Friends of mine directed me to some apartments in the area known as Crystal City, adjacent to National Airport (I’m one of those who still resists the name change to Reagan National for good reason.)  Because I had to make a quick decision, I settled on an apartment in this section of Arlington.

jdhwyMy new address, and a big surprise to me, was none other than Jeff Davis Highway. As serendipity would have it, it was there, with a Jeff Davis address, that I put the finishing touches on the manuscript that became Dixie’s Daughters.

For more information on this highway, see: Richard F. Weingroff, “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway,” U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration website, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infastructure/jdavis.htm

My Lost Cause journey with Jeff continues.  Come back next week for Part VII and the story of Jeff Davis and his crown of thorns.

 

Sombreros and Motorcycles with Nicole King

sombreroscoverFor this installment of Porch Talk, Pop South interviews Nicole King, Associate Professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, about her new book Sombreros and Motorcycles in a Newer South.  In it, she examines two iconic tourist attractions in South Carolina–South of the Border and Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest (also known as “Black Bike Week.”)

PS: Your book Sombreros and Motorcycles in a Newer South you investigate the cultural meanings embedded in two very different tourist attractions, both of which are located in South Carolina—South of the Border and Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest.  What drew you to study these two places?

I am drawn to overlooked places that have escaped scholarly attention. Both South of the Border —a Jewish-owned roadside attraction—and Atlantic Beach—a historically black seaside resort—were independently owned tourist sites that developed during the post-World War II rise of consumer culture and have managed to sustain their businesses and built environments outside of the corporate model of tourism. They both possess a distinct retro and individual aesthetic because of their independent histories during the rise of mass-produced consumer culture. Both places experienced their heydays during the period of segregated leisure culture in the South and dealt with desegregation and shifts in southern politics in interesting ways that speak to the importance of leisure culture as a defining aspect of southern culture and identity.

border_signAlso, I grew up in Conway, South Carolina, which is within an hour of both South of the Border and Atlantic Beach. I worked in the tourism industry throughout high school. Both places drew me in with a fascinating built environment that was distinct from the mass-produced tourist destinations in Myrtle Beach. Essentially, I became obsessed with the question: Why do these places look the way they do? What are their stories?

PS: You see these two tourist sites as representative of what you call a “Newer South.”  Explain what that term means to you.

The Newer South entails the refashioning of older regional constructions as they move into the twenty-first century. Like the songs by the Drive-by Truckers or, the independent films of Ray McKinnon, or the recreation of the Confederate flag in the colors of African liberation by young fashion entrepreneurs in Charleston, SC, the “Newer South” explores the “duality of the southern thing.” To me this duality includes a new generation of southerners coming to terms with the past horrors of the region’s past (slavery and Jim Crow) while also moving forward with a more diverse and progressive view on the region’s more postmodern identity—meaning that identity is constantly being refashioned in more hybrid and performative ways. In a historical sense, the Newer South also encompasses a shift in economics from the New South of manufacturing towards the current dominance of the service industries in the region.

PS: What does South of the Border tell us about southern history and culture?

Alan Schafer
Alan Schafer

South of Border represents the constantly changing aspect of southern history and culture on the physical and metaphorical “borderlines.” Alan Schafer, who created and ran the roadside attraction until his death in 2001, used his hybrid Jewish-southern identity to build a diverse base for his business and push social and political boundaries. Schafer was constantly changing and expanding his roadside attraction located just south of the North-Carolina/South Carolina border and working with recently enfranchised African Americans. On the other hand, South of the Border presents the refashioned racism of the Newer South with the mascot of Pedro, a problematic cartoon-like stereotype that essentializes the complexity of Latinos into a singular “lazy Mexican” stereotype. The South of the Border roadside attraction tells us about the good and bad of southern history and culture as it moves into the twenty-first century (still owned and operated by the Schafer family).

PS: How about Atlantic Beach’s Bikefest?

The Atlantic Beach Bikesfest, which began in 1980 as a motorcycle festival for African Americans during Memorial Day weekend in the Grand Strand mecca of coastal tourism in South Carolina, also represents the refashioned racism of southern culture. Following the South’s more blatant racism, which the Civil Right Movement fought against, the more subtle prejudices of the late-twentieth century see the rise of a supposedly post-racial “family values” that is still uses to oppress minorities. The regulation of the freedom of African Americans is apparent in how the City of Myrtle Beach and some local businesses attempted to limit and even bar black bodies from public streets and accommodations during the Bikefest. Because the city treated the black motorcyclists at Atlantic Beach Bikefest differently than they did the white bikers there a week earlier for a Harley Davidson festival—the black bikers had limited access to roads and hotels—the NAACP was able to file a successful discrimination lawsuits against businesses that treated blacks differently. The controversy surrounding this new form of racism played out within the realm of tourism—the new number one industry in South Carolina—and speaks to the importance of personal expression and freedom in leisure and popular culture as well. The young black motorcycle enthusiasts at Bikefest represent a subculture with its own distinct aesthetic—fast neon speedbikes—that is distinct from the history of white motorcycle subcultures.

PS: This blog examines the South in popular culture. Where do you think your book intersects with popular culture and ideas of the region?

The book speaks to the important social and political aspects of tourism as one form of popular culture. However, the overarching power dynamics of popular culture are also complex. There is not a top down model where producers simply control and manipulate consumers. The lines between producers and consumers of popular culture are blurring in the twenty-first century. We need to explore the intertwined mechanisms of control and resistance found in popular culture.

Author Nicole King
Author Nicole King

Furthermore, recreation and entertainment are now big business in the South and must be considered an important aspect of southern culture. We overlook the messages and collective meanings of popular culture at our peril. The images and experiences we produce/consume, even while on vacation, matter.

On Sherman’s March with Anne Sarah Rubin

arubinPop South is pleased to welcome a discussion with Anne Sarah Rubin, Associate Professor of History at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, on her new book Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory.  This is Rubin’s second Civil War-related monograph, the first being A Shattered Nation: The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy, 1861-1868.

PS: What drew you to write a book about Sherman’s March?

It came from a confluence of events when I was back in graduate school:  I read and loved Charles Royster’s The Destructive War, where he analyzed the ways that Americans become accepting of a different, more devastating to civilians, sort of war.  I saw Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March, which made me think a lot about the reasons that this one event continued to resonate. I also heard about and ultimately read James Reston’s Sherman’s March and Vietnam which didn’t ring true to me.  And finally, the opportunity to really engage critically with Gone with the Wind, one of the great Southern novels, was irresistible.

Anne Sarah Rubin
Anne Sarah Rubin

PS: How is your book different from other books on the March?

I think my book is different because it doesn’t simply retell the story of the March, but rather tries to get at the ways that Americans ascribed meaning to this event. To that end I look at the March and its aftermath from a range of perspectives: Southern white civilians, African Americans, Union veterans, and travelers. I also see how perceptions and portrayals of the March changed over time, from 1864-65 up through the present day.

The other difference is broader, and more about the ways that historians talk about “memory.” I didn’t want this to be a book that argues that there is one story of Sherman’s March and that lots of the stories people told were false and here’s why. Rather, I was interested in why certain narratives persisted and others didn’t. So I consciously shifted away from the language of “memory” to the language of “storytelling.”

PS: For the readers of Pop South, can you talk about the various sources of popular culture that you drew upon? Is there anything specific that really grabbed your attention?

I had a great time doing that research—I looked at fiction, poetry, films, photography, art, and music. The novels about Sherman’s March were generally pretty formulaic—lots of 19th century “romance of reunion,” although some of the 20th century novels, like those by Cynthia Bass and E. L. Doctorow were very powerful.

I liked working with Herman Melville’s two poems about the March, “The March to the Sea” and “The Frenzy in the Wake.” He’s able to show two completely different views of the same events, and it tied in so well with what I was doing. I also became really interested in George Barnard’s photographs, and the ways he did—or didn’t—represent the March.

Barnard
George Barnard (American, 1819–1902). Ruins of the Pinckney Mansion, Charleston from the album Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign. Credit: http://www.moma.org

PS: Your book explores some of the misconceptions surrounding Sherman’s March? What is the biggest misconception about this event?

I think the biggest misconception is that the March mowed down everything in its path, and left Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina as smoking ruins. It was much more narrowly focused. Whenever I give talks I always say the same thing: “It’s a mistake to imagine the March as mowing down everything in its path; rather it’s better to think of it as rows of stitches, with untouched spaces in between.”

ShermansmarchPS: Tell readers about your website Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory.

I wanted to explore new innovations in digital history—I had worked on a large digital project in Grad school, and wanted to get back to it. Specifically, I wanted to use digital media in historiographical ways, making the same kind of arguments in my book, making ideas about memory visible. Fortunately, we have an amazingly talented group of visual artists/animators at the IRC who have been working on some of these kinds of projects or questions for years. Through a collaboration with Dan Bailey, and especially Kelley Bell, a professor in Visual Arts, we came up with a scheme for all of this, funded by an ACLS digital innovation grant and then UMBC.

We decided to use maps as our guiding metaphor and interface. The maps would be a way into the myriad strands of memory.   But I didn’t want just one map—I wanted several, in order to represent the different kinds of accounts I was using. Then I could get the multiple perspectives across in a visual and intuitive way. The idea of a journey seems a natural metaphor for the kind of exploration and excavation I’m doing in the larger project. We ultimately settled on five different maps, each with a different look and feel:

  • The Sherman or Fact Map, which lays out the basic events of the march.
  • The Civilians Map, for events involving African Americans and Southern civilians.
  • The Soldiers Map, for events told from the perspective of veterans.
  • The Tourism Map, which is about tourism and travel accounts.
  • Finally, the Fiction Map, which plots places both real and imagined.

Each map then has around 15 or 20 significant points marked. The idea is that you can toggle between the maps, and see how different people remembered or wrote about different places or events. Not every place appears on every map, but most of them are on two or three, and Atlanta, Savannah, and Milledgeville are on all five.   But of course the maps alone can’t really tell the story, or make the kinds of arguments about the uses and possible abuses of memory. So what we decided to do was to create an animation or a mini-movie for each one of the map points. We pretty quickly realized that wouldn’t be feasible—too much work. So, we decided on 3-5 films per map, the rest done with single screens.

Finally, for the Georgia campaign I created a day-by-day blog of primary sources, which is now being updated less frequently for the Carolinas Campaign.

Followers of Pop South are encouraged to read Rubin’s book and to explore the terrific website that explores the March in greater depth.  Check it: http://www.shermansmarch.org

 

 

Gone with the Wind and America’s Nostalgia for the Old South

gwtw

A few days ago, stories on the 75th anniversary of the premiere of Gone with the Wind (GWTW) on December 15, 1939 circulated in the news media. A new anniversary edition of the film has been released, one of many that have appeared as different anniversaries of the film have been celebrated.  It is a testament to the staying power of the film David Selznick produced when he brought Margaret Mitchell’s book to the big screen.

Gone with the Wind is a story that holds the “land of Cavaliers and cotton” on a pedestal, and when it arrived in theaters in 1939, it fed America’s nostalgia for the Old South then and for decades to come.

Shirley Temple was box office gold during the Depression.
Shirley Temple was box office gold during the Depression.

Hollywood already had terrific success with antebellum stories set against plantation backdrops. Throughout the 1930s there had been numerous films set in the Old South, many of which were successful. Some, not so much.

But it didn’t matter. Old South nostalgia was a Hollywood staple.

Among the successes were The Littlest Rebel and The Little Colonel which appeared in 1935, both of which starred child star Shirley Temple. In 1938, the most successful pretender to the GWTW throne was Jezebel, starring Bette Davis who won an Oscar as Best Actress for her performance as a “scarlet spitfire.” (The GWTW reference was intentional.)

Film still. So Red the Rose (1935)
So Red the Rose (1935)

Surprisingly less successful was So Red the Rose, a film based on the best-selling plantation novel of the same name written by Stark Young.  Young’s novel, set in Natchez, Mississippi, might have been the most important plantation novel of the decade had it not been for Gone with the Wind.

This is all of way of saying that Hollywood had primed the Old South pump for years, so that by the time GWTW premiered, a lot of the groundwork for the film’s success had already been laid. Still, there can be no doubt that GWTW eclipsed all that had come before.

From the opening scenes and first few minutes of dialogue, moviegoers were whisked into the mythical South of faithful slaves, southern belles, cavalier gentlemen, cotton fields and beautiful mansions.  American popular culture fed this nostalgia, too, particularly during the 1930s, and not just on the big screen.  It could be found among advertising icons like Aunt Jemima, radio shows such as the Maxwell House Showboat, and through the revival of Stephen Foster’s music and the “Dixie songs” of Tin Pan Alley. The film version of Gone with the Wind had all of that helping it succeed, too.

As the film is being celebrated on its 75th anniversary, it is interesting to note the ways in which Americans are still nostalgic for the Old South represented in GWTW.  In Georgia, there are tours of the facade of Tara (the film set), there are online fan clubs, a website dedicated to Scarlett touted as “the most comprehensive Gone with the Wind site on the Internet,” and you can still eat at Aunt Pitty Pat’s Porch in Atlanta.

It is important to note that Gone with the Wind is also reviled for its racism, and yet despite this it is easy to predict that when the film turns 100, there will be another anniversary edition for sale.

America’s nostalgia for the Old South is a hard thing to shake, thanks in large part to the cultural imprint this film has made.

 

 

Headin’ South on the Dixie Highway

dixiehighwayPop South spoke with Tammy Ingram, Assistant Professor of History at the College of Charleston, a couple of months ago about her new book Dixie Highway: Road Building and the Making of the Modern South.  If you’re traveling between Michigan and Miami this summer, you might actually be driving on portions of the Dixie Highway.  Read about this road that connected North and South causing some to refer to it as the “Dixie Peaceway.”

PS: Briefly, what is the Dixie Highway?

“The Dixie Highway was the first modern interstate highway system in the country, and it lasted from approximately 1915 to 1925. It was originally planned as a single route between Chicago and Miami Beach, but a fierce routing competition transformed it into an ambitious and sophisticated network of nearly 6000 miles of roads looping through the Midwest and South from the Canadian border all the way to Miami Beach.”

PS: How did the Dixie Highway change the South?

“The obvious ways that the Dixie Highway changed the South were economic: It gave farmers easier and more flexible marketing options for their crops, allowed rural southerners access to larger towns and cities, facilitated the Great Migration of rural African Americans, and opened up the South to new tourist-related businesses. It changed the ways in which people moved around in the South. Before the Dixie Highway, roads were entirely local in both scope and governance. But the Dixie Highway challenged that model by making automobile travel an alternative to railroads for long distance trade and travel. In doing so, the Dixie also transformed southern—and national—politics by centralizing control over massive public works projects. During the brief lifespan of the Dixie Highway, road building shifted from the jurisdiction of local authorities into the hands of state and federal bureaucrats who wielded tremendous political power and controlled massive budgets.”

PS: Since this is a blog on the South in pop culture, can you tell us about the ways that the DH entered into American popular culture?

The DH also made it into popular song. Image credit: IN Harmony Sheet Music Collection, Indiana University
The DH also made it into popular song. Image credit: IN Harmony Sheet Music Collection, Indiana University

“Although many people have never heard of the Dixie Highway, a century ago it helped to create the modern automobile tourism industry. Gas stations, roadside motels, and tourist attractions were unheard of in most of the country—and certainly in the South—before the Dixie Highway, but by the mid-1920s they lined the route from Michigan to Miami Beach.

The highway also helped to turn the South itself into a destination instead of just an obstacle for wealthy northern and Midwestern tourists bound for Florida resorts. Enterprising southerners marketed everything from antebellum mansions to peach and cotton farms to automobile tourists, and northern businesses named (or in some cases, re-named) their establishments in honor of the Dixie Highway. “Dixie” motels and gas stations in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio were commonplace. So were songs, postcards, magazines, and road maps that advertised (and celebrated) the Dixie Highway.”

 

 

PS: As a native Georgian, how do you think being a southerner adds to your perspective on the Dixie Highway?

“I learned how to drive on narrow, rural dirt roads that were not entirely unlike those that comprised the original route of the Dixie Highway. Navigating those roads could be difficult even in the best of weather. When it rained, some of the roads were impassable. We obviously also had modern, paved roads in South Georgia by the 1980s, but we were isolated in other ways: We were among the last places to get things like cable television and even dial-up internet, and the only tourists who ever passed through town were on their way to the beaches in the Florida panhandle. When I discovered the Dixie Highway while doing research for my original dissertation topic on the Great Migration, I think I was drawn to it because the struggles rural people were facing at the turn of the twentieth century felt a little bit familiar to me.”

PS: What projects are you working on next that followers of Pop South would find interesting?

Tammy Ingram, author of a new book on the Dixie Highway. Photo credit: College of Charleston
Tammy Ingram, author of a new book on the Dixie Highway. Photo credit: College of Charleston

“I’m excited about my next book project, which is tentatively titled Dixie Mafia: Sex, Race, and Organized Crime in the Sunbelt South. It covers a wide array of organized crime activities in the postwar South, but it focuses on a story that has long fascinated me: The murder of Albert Patterson in Phenix City, Alabama in 1954. Like many other small towns situated near military bases, Phenix City’s main industry in those days was vice: Mobsters made tens of millions of dollars a year on gambling and prostitution, and local law enforcement and city leaders were getting a cut of the profits in exchange for their cooperation. Patterson became a target for the mob because he ran for attorney general and promised to go after them. But they went after him, instead. It’s a fascinating story, and all the more so when you consider it within the context of the Civil Rights Movement and the Cold War.”