The people of the South are a patriotic and proud folk, as passionate in the defense of their heritage as they are in defense of the United States.
They have good reason to be proud of their heritage. The South has produced some of the greatest Americans in history.
George Washington, the nation’s first and perhaps greatest president, was born in the southern state of Virginia. He not only led a rag tag army of poorly-supplied, poorly-trained troops against the greatest army in the world at the time and won, he defined what being president means for all the men who came after him.
Billy Graham, spiritual adviser to presidents Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon, was born in North Carolina. Dr. Graham was a believer in racial integration, inviting African-Americans to his revivals in the 1950s, when doing so was both radical and potentially dangerous. He was a great friend to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, a Tennessean, bailing him out of jail in the 1960s when he was arrested for protesting against the mistreatment of African-Americans.
“People who do not look back to their ancestors will not look forward to their posterity.” -Edmund Burke
Rosa Parks, the “first lady of the civil rights” and the “mother of the freedom movement,” was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, home of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary, all-black Army Air Corp pilots who fought the Axis during World War II, destroying 262 enemy aircraft during 1578 combat missions.
Mrs. Parks fought her battles against racism in the 1950’s, earning her both the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. She was only the third non-government person and the first woman ever to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda after her death in 2005.
Civil rights legend Rosa Parks was born in Tuskegee, Alabama.
In addition to these great people, the South is home to some of America’s greatest military academies, producing the finest generals and soldiers this country has ever seen.
The most notable of these is undoubtedly The Citadel, a storied school that produced Major General Lewie Merritt, the pioneer of combat aviation who developed the tactics of dive bombing and close air support of ground troops, and Gen. Edwin Pollock, recipient of the Navy Cross for his actions at Guadalcanal. Gen. Pollock founded the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas in 1965.
The South also counts many of the greatest novelists of all-time among its numbers. Eudora Welty, William Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren, born in Guthrie, Kentucky, author of “All the King’s Men,” a novel about the use and influence of political power, were all southerners who wrote seminal books about the South.
The list of southern heroes and accomplishments could go on for far longer than any reader has the stamina to finish, but, unfortunately, the heritage of the South is in danger of being permanently tarnished by men who have no affection for its true past.
The alt-right, KKK and neo-Nazi protesters who descended on Charlottesville, Virgina this past weekend seek to co-opt the South’s storied heritage, turning it into a platform from which they can launch their campaign of hateful racial grievance. If not countered by real southerners, men and women who honor the history of their home by opposing bigotry and violence, the alt-right might well succeed.
Using the pretext of defending monuments to Robert E. Lee and other southern heroes, the alt-right chose Charlottesville in an effort to rebrand their movement as something other than what most Americans see in it, a collection of under-educated bigots, dressed in clothes designed to intimidate and threaten minorities and whites who stand against them, into something more aesthetically acceptable.
In some ways, the alt-right succeeded in this mission when people like Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos presented their tidy, shirt and jacket act to mainstream American whites many of whom, for a time at least, bought their new brand of soft racism. Charlottesville was supposed to carry on that act.
Hordes of well-dressed white men in khaki pants and button-up Oxfords were going to show America that racism had a new, country club look to it. “I don’t think that adopting the garb of a movement from 70 years ago is going to be very productive,” Spencer said in a speech last November. “I certainly evoke the past in a lot of my aesthetic but I’ve never tried to engage in live-action role-playing reenactment—I don’t think that’s ever going to be positive.”
But, unfortunately for organizers, the ugly face of the alt-right never got the message that it was supposed to stay put under the rocks where polite people didn’t have to look at it. When the streets filled with sheet-wearing Klansmen and men wearing Nazi uniforms or T-shirts emblazoned with flags of the Confederacy, the ruse was over. “Going forward we’re going to have more tightly controlled rallies and demonstrations,” Spencer told a reporter from The Atlantic about the Charlottesville gathering.
No matter how it dresses itself, the alt-right is simply ugly, the manifestation of racial and religious hate it has always been. No blazer or Brooks Brothers suit is going to change that.
Where the alt-right succeeded, though, in Charlottesville is it found an issue that resonates with southern Americans who aren’t bigoted buffoons. These southerners responded to the alt-right’s message that the heritage of the South should be protected and preserved as important symbols of America’s past.
Removing monuments like ones to southern hero Robert E. Lee struck southerners to the core, making them feel their history was being erased, in large part, by people who didn’t share their heritage or love of the South.
Encouraged by President Trump’s campaign that offered white nationalists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller important roles in the administration, the alt-right recognized it had an opportunity to take its message to the mainstream of American political thinking. But it needed the right message and vehicle to get there.
“Yesterday, the Alt-Right came to Charlottesville to defend Southern heritage,” wrote Hunter Wallace in the alt-right nationalist site Occidental Dissent, a site where comments by readers are often accompanied by American-like flag icons where the stars are replaced with Swastikas. “It makes sense when you think about it. As Richard Spencer has repeatedly said, the Alt-Right is about identity. These Confederate monuments are expressions of Southern identity. They were erected by the sons and grandsons of the Confederate generation and were put in prominent public spaces in the South as a tribute to the sacrifices of our fathers in the War Between the States.”
The problem with this message is it doesn’t stop there. Instead of stopping at a point where decent people could still agree, the alt-right goes further, into a dark place where powerful conspiratorial forces seek to not only wipe out monuments to the South’s past, but to wipe out white people, in general.
The Robert E. Lee monument in Charlottesville has been a frequent site for those protesting against the removal of Confederate monuments.
“We see where this is going. That is the reason why there were Northerners in attendance at that vigil last night in Lee Park.” wrote Wallace. “This is about wiping all of us out – all of us for being White. This isn’t about history so much as it is about the modern day Mao Zedong’s and their Cultural Revolution. As I was watching the vigil last night, I was also following #WhitePeople which was trending on Twitter. This cultural genocide isn’t going to end with monuments. It never does.”
The alt-right’s message is designed to get people who hear it to feel threatened by others who are not like them, to fear black, Jewish, Muslim and other minority Americans who, the narrative goes, are out to destroy them, to destroy their culture and heritage, to defile their daughters. It isn’t to preserve the South’s heritage, but to secure the white race.
UVA student Weston Gobar, a senior History and Government major, had this to say to the New York Times about what he saw at the rally, “After this weekend, there should be no excuse for anyone to not take white supremacy seriously. Certainly the neo-Nazis who came to Charlottesville to intimidate minority communities take themselves seriously: They showed up with assault rifles and guns, wearing camouflage. They marched through a college campus with lit torches, yelling Nazi-era slogans and phrases like, ‘You will not replace us.’ The intention of this ‘alt-right’ rally was clear, and it had nothing to do with a statue. It was about intimidation. We need to call this violence — which culminated with the death of a 32-year-old woman — by it’s name: domestic terrorism.”
If real southerners want to protect their heritage against those who would do it harm, they must demonstrate against the alt-right, the Klan and the neo-Nazis who came to Charlottesville to intimidate and strike fear in the hearts of those who heard their words.
If, instead of speaking out, southerners refuse to identify by name the terrorists who are attempting to hijack the legitimate concerns of good people, they will be complicit in their silence in the destruction of southern heritage, just as was President Trump when he weakly refused to call out the alt-right specifically, instead meekly blaming “many sides” for the violence .
If southerners don’t want their heritage and culture to be seen by the rest of the nation as synonymous with alt-right extremism, they need to stand up and proclaim loudly that the Richard Spencers of the world don’t represent the South