Salutations, y’all. Today’s post comes courtesy of the Exploring Virginia Facebook group, a group that is supposed to be about celebrating the beautiful state of Virginia, but often ends up with people arguing politics among themselves. I guess it makes some sense, since Virginia used to be a staunch red state, but it’s now turned purple, as more people from the North move to the South.
I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t think of Virginia as a southern state. Those people are just plain wrong. In fact, Virginia is not just a southern state. It’s where the Confederacy was based for the longest period of time. Spend some time south of Northern Virginia, and you will soon see why it’s a southern state. Lots of people in Virginia are still very staunch Republicans, and many of them are still very proud of their southern roots. And, some of those people are still fighting the Civil War, which supposedly ended on April 9, 1865.
Virginia boasts a lot of Civil War sites. Lots of people come to Virginia to see those sites. Some even go there to do Civil War reenactments. George Carlin famously quipped about how some people still enjoy fighting a war that ended so long ago. See below…
George Carlin really was a genius. But, I digress. Also, I wouldn’t want to encourage more people to use live ammunition in the United States. All too many people are quite willing to open fire on their neighbors.
In any case, this morning, I came upon someone’s post about the Civil War Graffiti House near Culpeper, Virginia. Someone happened to visit there recently, and decided to share their photos with the group. Lots of people who fought in the Civil War on either side of the issue covered the house’s walls with graffiti. That’s cool, right?
Well, naturally, that post sparked controversy. Behold…
Now, I was born and raised in Virginia, so I’ve been hearing the southern version of events for most of my life. Many southerners insist that the Civil War was 100 percent about states’ rights. And today, in 2023, if anyone in their presence dares to say it was about slavery, they suddenly become “Civil War scholars” /sarcasm, and it turns into a hostile argument. Check this out…
I don’t actually remember learning a lot in school about the Civil War. Granted, it was a long time ago. But I went to a public Virginia high school in the mid to late 1980s, and back then, there wasn’t as much political correctness as there is now. My guess is that I learned the state approved version of events regarding the Civil War. I did have a very good teacher. His name was Mr. Zuger. He also taught my older sister, who is eight years my senior. Mr. Zuger is a UVa graduate. He probably knows his stuff. *shrug* He also used to eat chalk.
I do remember there were a lot of things we had to cover in history class, so I doubt we spent a whole lot of time poring over historic documents or having in depth discussions about what the Civil War was really about. I doubt it would have gone over well, though, if a teacher told students that it was about slavery. Where I went to school, there are many proud southerners who are very rigid in what they think and believe. In those days, quite of a lot of them were comfortable openly displaying Confederate battle flags. They saw nothing wrong with it. To them, it was a symbol of “southern pride”. While I admit I don’t know for sure, my guess is that where a person went to school has/had a lot to do with what historical perspectives regarding issues like the Civil War are taught. I would imagine it’s taught differently in Alabama or Georgia versus, say, California or Vermont.
I didn’t take any history classes in college, beyond Western Civilization. But– as an English major, I was exposed to a number of historic works in literature, and there I did have occasion to read slave narratives, poetry, novels, and other works that were either written during the Civil War era, or were by Black authors. So, although I didn’t read much about official 19th century era state government policies, I was exposed to the stories passed down by actual slaves. And having had that experience, I can’t help but not give a flying crap about why the Civil War was fought. I care about the end result, which was that slavery was officially abolished, and it became illegal for U.S. citizens to buy, sell, and own other human beings and treat them like livestock. Granted, officially ending slavery did not fix everything for Black people, but it was an important start. And that, to me, is what is most important.
But not everyone is like me, as I continually find out on a daily basis. Because these guys continued to compare swords. Have a look.
Notice how the dude in the above comment addresses his opponent as “sir”, but does so in a belittling way. He doesn’t really think of the other guy as a “sir”. He’s not being respectful. He’s being a bit patronizing, as he lectures the guy who disagrees with him about the cause of the Civil War. I’m not sure why it’s so important to him to insist that people up north didn’t care about slavery, or that Democrats circa the Civil War era wanted to maintain slavery. Clearly the version of the Democrat Party that existed back then does not exist today.
I’m not saying the Democrats are perfect. They definitely have their problems. And I’m not saying that Republicans don’t have cause to be irritated by far left thinkers. I find some of what they say and do rather insufferable, too. But it’s pretty clear that in 2023, Democrats are more interested in promoting and maintaining human rights and fairness to everyone. Republicans are focused on maintaining cheap labor, low taxes, and white male supremacy. And they champion leaders who are nothing like Christ, even though they claim to care about Christian values.
Personally, I think a lot of “Civil War buffs”, who are obsessed with proving that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, are really just a bunch of white guys who want to divorce themselves from the reality of what slavery actually is. They bring up economics, and the fact that in the South, there were vast plantations where cotton was grown. It was a labor intensive job to grow and pick cotton, and the plant thrived in the South. But we didn’t have the modern machines back then that we have today, so a lot of manpower was needed in order to be able to send the cotton up North, where it could be turned into textiles, which were then sold for money.
The way they phrase it, the southerners were team players, doing a solid by growing cotton for the United States, and slaves were a necessary part of the plan, because no one was immigrating to the South. Because they needed the labor, and no “white” people who could be paid were moving down there, they had to enslave black people to get the job done. Or, at least that’s what one of the above commenters wrote. The way he frames it, those liberal northerners were trying to use the government to take over and turn their plantations into government owned communist paradises, and if only more white people had moved down South, they could have had well-paying jobs!
Now… I wish to reiterate, I don’t actually agree with that take on things. One commenter writes that “slavery was on its way out” and slave owners were letting their slaves go. But as I sit here and think about it, I wonder… Was this really a situation in which wealthy white men with FREE labor and access to female enslaved people for sex were suddenly having an attack of consciousness and saying, “Gee. I’ve owned these people for long enough. It’s time I did the right thing and let them go so they can pursue their own interests.”? That doesn’t seem very realistic to me.
Seems to me that even if some people were actually doing that– having a change of heart and turning their slaves loose– that wouldn’t stop other people from recapturing freed enslaved people and forcing them back into slavery. So even if a former slave owner decided to be decent and stop enslaving people, the people they freed would still be in great danger. Because, clearly, not everyone felt that way about ending slavery. Greedy people still abound today, and we still have many business leaders who, if they could get away with it, would continue to pay as little as possible and offer no benefits to workers so that the business owners and stockholders can get richer. Meanwhile, the working poor who don’t have enough money, even though they work three part time jobs with no benefits, are told they should stop complaining, and simply “work harder” or get another job.
When I think about the Civil War era and slavery, I do feel emotional. I think about what it must have been like for the Africans who were kidnapped and forced in chains on a boat, taken across the Atlantic Ocean in deplorable conditions, and then required to work very hard on plantations, while living like livestock. I think about women who were used for sex and forced to give birth in chains, then separated from their babies, as they were forced to be “wet nurses” for wealthy white women. I think about enslaved mothers watching their children being sold.
My guess is that the Confederate fans don’t like to think about those things. They’re focused on money, much like the people today who will happily champion a criminal like Donald Trump so they can have $1.89 gas again. They don’t want to talk about what that would mean for the people who aren’t courted by Trump… which, really, includes all of us. Donald Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. Whatever promises he makes are made only to score votes.
Otherwise “decent people” who admire Trump don’t want to think about what happens when the focus is only on money and commerce. They overlook the concept of greed, and the sins that many people will commit in the name of being greedy. When there’s the prospect of wealth and power on the table, some people find it easy to ignore the pain and humiliation suffered by people who are less wealthy and powerful. They don’t have time to think about how they might feel if it were them wearing the chains, being brutally whipped for some transgression, after performing twelve hours of backbreaking labor in the hot sun. And this, all because they have dark skin and were born somewhere far away, with different cultures, mores, and customs…
Granted, the United States is not the only place where slavery has ever existed. In fact, slavery continues in some places even today… even within the United States, actually. But to continually argue with strangers about what caused the Civil War is, to my mind, a ridiculous waste of time. To me, the main point is that the Civil War officially ended slavery, and the U.S. government slowly started recognizing people of color as human beings, worthy of basic human rights. Certain white people have been pissed off about that ever since. Some of them continue to try to make themselves feel better by not thinking about the actual horrors of slavery, and empathizing with how they might have felt if it had been them in chains. They just want to minimize the horrors by talking about economics and arguing about what events caused the Civil War.
Well… part of me wonders if I should stop following the Exploring Virginia page. It seems like so many posts turn political, and then they quickly become insulting. But, I can’t deny that those posts do offer some food for thought.
If you have the time and inclination, I highly recommend watching the brilliant actress, Azie Dungey, on the YouTube series, Ask A Slave (produced by Jordan Black). It’s very interesting and entertaining, and the episodes are based on ACTUAL questions she fielded when she was a living history character at Mount Vernon. Below is one of several videos she made.