16 April 2014

Why Is Anyone Surprised About Lee Chapel?

Update: My response to Kevin Levin here.
(End of update.)

Part 1.

Last week, I received notice from a friend regarding an effort by students at Washington & Lee University to, among other things, ban Confederate flags from Lee Chapel which, of course, sets on the campus of W & L. Lee Chapel is also the final resting place of General Lee and houses a state of the art museum containing many Lee (as well as Washington) related artifacts. No student of Virginia history, nor the War Between the States, should miss an opportunity to visit. It has been called the Shrine of the South - and for good reason. 

This morning, another friend alerted me to a post by Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory on this same topic. Readers should take the time to read Kevin's post here. Some of the comments are quite enlightening and display an astonishing degree of narrow-mindedness, as well as ignorance. Absolutely amazing.

Though Kevin and I rarely agree on anything, I think his take on this latest PC controversy is correct. However, I'm not quite sure why Kevin (and others) seem to be a bit surprised or think this effort goes too far. After all, this is simply the natural progression of political correctness and Confederate history bashing - which often takes place on Kevin's blog. I recall having a conversation with John Heatwole back in the '90's over the banning of the Confederate flag, even in a historical context, from all public properties. (While I understand that perspective, it seems to always go to the extreme; as in the City of Lexington debacle.) Anyway, I told John that the natural trajectory of such efforts would be to rename Washington and Lee University.

He thought I was being silly. I wonder what he would think now, God rest his soul.

In regards to the Lee Chapel "controversy", it's important to point out that there is hardly a university or college in America dating to the antebellum period that doesn't have some connection to slavery. (I recently posted some observations about Brown University.) A recent book, Ebony & Ivy, explores this connection in some detail. In an article about the book, and efforts by some colleges to address the controversey, the writer notes the following about Harvard University:
. . . universities may not be eager to embrace the research wholeheartedly. At Harvard, a student-generated report on the university’s connections with slavery released in 2011 received personal support and financing from Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, but no institutional response, according to Sven Beckert, the professor who led the project.
“The university itself has not reacted in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Beckert said. “There has been no effort to make this into a broader discussion.”
While acknowledging and discussing the history - including slavery - of any institution is certainly appropriate, the call for apologies and penance is absurd in my opinion; as is the call for removing flags displayed in a historical context, or the removal of statues, or historical plaques and the renaming of buildings, etc. etc. If not, then the majority of monuments in Washington D. C. would have to be demolished. We would also have to rename a very large number of towns and communities. 

Beyond that, making someone (or some entity) apologize for something they had absolutely no control over or responsibility for is ridiculous. It's just political correctness to the absurd and extreme. Moreover, it is also necessary to point out that Lee's connection to the school, as well as Lexington, is inseparable. The same could be said of Washington. It is doubtful the school would have prospered - or even survived - without the efforts of these two sons of Virginia. The ongoing efforts to trash their memory on the altar of political correctness is a very sad thing to observe. It is more than proper for the school to honor these men, while acknowledging they were products of their time and, like all of us, had their moral blind spots. (Without Lee, Jackson and Washington, Lexington would be little more than another small town along the Valley Pike. Many elites in Lexington hate that fact, but it's the truth. It could be said that Lee and Jackson are the only reason many of them are even there. How ironic.)

But why stop at the flags? They're just a piece of cloth. The real culprit is buried in the family crypt downstairs. Why not demand he be dug up and moved? What about the Recumbent Lee lying there in his uniform? Certainly that is even worse and more offensive symbolism than the flag. Should they cover it? Sell it? Put it in storage?

Also, I found this *comment at Kevin's post by a former Lee Chapel docent somewhat curious:
Because of the broad appeal of Burns’s film, the visitation at the Chapel at that time was much greater than neo-Confederate apologists.
Hmmm . . . I must ask, how does one know (with any degree of certainty) whether someone walking into Lee Chapel is a "neo-Confederate apologist"? I've never been asked upon entering and don't know anyone who has been asked, "Are you now, or have you ever been . . .?" And would that label include frequent Lee Chapel speaker, James I. Robertson, Jr. who ostensibly is perceived as (according to Kevin Levin), aligning "himself too closely with neo-Confederate types?" Would that include Robert Krick, who has criticized "anti-Confederate historians" and who has also spoken at Lee Chapel? I could go on, but I think readers will get the point.

In any event, given the current emphasis in historiography among academics and the constant Confederate-heritage bashing on blogs and in print, this latest effort really shouldn't come as a surprise. It is simply a natural progression and the fruits of political correctness. I do not doubt for one moment that we will see more of this type of thing. And we know full-well where much of the responsibility for that lies.

*The rest of that person's comments were, overall, reasonable. I just found this particular one curious and a bit revealing.

As an aside, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (neo-Confederate apologists?) once saved Lee Chapel from being razed in the 1920's. The idea to raze the chapel was the idea of the president of W & L. I'll post a part 2 to this taking some comments from a presentation I gave on Lee Chapel at Liberty University a few years ago.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand how it is OK for students to threaten teachers -- or the administration. Teachers of toddlers won't give in to tantrums. This is something that little children do - ages 3 and 4. By age 5, they are starting to learn better. Is it OK for high school students to threaten their schools? Teenagers are expelled for making threatening comments on social media.

With all the recent publicity about random violence in institutions of higher learning, why are such threats not taken seriously? A child has been expelled from school for nothing more than biting his pop tart into the shape of a gun.

Shouldn't we expect more mature behavior from people who are old enough to join the army?

What kind of disorder do these people have in mind? Property? Personal? If they are in law school, what is wrong with using civil law to address the issue, rather than threats.

And now a word about "social competence." Are these people "aware" of the possible results this may have socially? Will the effects be harmonious or divisive?

Good schools will go looking for good atheletes. What schools would go looking for prospective students who get their names in the papers for something like this?

What about employers?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Youthful indiscretion.

ropelight said...

Battle flag bashers like Kevin Levin and David Blight often announce themselves perplexed over the persistent popularity of the Dixie Cross. Just why that might be is a recurring opening gambit in Blight's public writings (which almost invariably devolve into a denunciation of nullifiers and TEA Party patriots.)

If it was true the Dixie Cross was a symbol of slavery only advocates of slavery would celebrate it, but since veneration for the Battle Flag is an ongoing national phenomena, (and can even be found in other nations,) and since almost no one outside certain Islamic and Third World backwaters still embraces the peculiar institution, we must conclude that contrary to the neo-abolitionist's hissy-fits the Confederate Battle flag symbolizes something other than support for slavery, and always has.

So, what could that something be? How about self-determination, or possibly resistance to government tyranny. Would either of those be worth fighting for?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I'm actually not a "big flag guy." I fly one at my home occasionally, but I also fly the U.S. flag, the Virginia flag and the flag of Scotland. I don't display one on my vehicle, though I have in the past. My father and grandfather displayed the battle flag at their homes. With us, it has ALWAYS been a matter of heritage and pride. And, as I noted, I see far more of them being displayed now than I did as a child. This is due, I believe, in large measure to the campaign to abolish it from as many places as possible. It is, in many case, simply a cause célèbre - and that goes for both sides of the debate.

The pro-flag folks often don't really understand the flag's meaning and history any more than do those opposed to the flag - for whatever reason.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

We know why Blight hates the flag and he seems to be making your point:

"Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? . . . Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history?" ~ David Blight

ropelight said...

Well, yes, that's almost it, not quite, not exactly, but damn close. The spiritus mundi that animated the Confederacy still remains the greatest single example of conservative resistance to federal tyranny. And, rightly so.

No doubt about it, and no one with the brains of a popsicle would deny it, no one on the up and up anyway. But wait, there's more (with my apologies to the poet.)

...Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Whenever I see the Red, White, and Blue (Stars and Stripes, Stars and Bars, or Dixie Cross) flapping free my heart sings. I love the USA, all of it, warts and all. It ain't perfect but neither am I, and I don't expect others to be perfect either. I'll take the good with the bad and make the best of it.

50 years ago I stood up and swore to protect and defend the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and I'm still doing it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Rope - great comment. I took an oath as well, not as a soldier, but as a judicial officer. As far as I'm concerned, that oath does not have an expiration date.