Confederate soldiers never reached the US Capitol during the Civil War, but the "Confederate flag" (which was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia) finally arrived in the building on January 6. Join us for a deep dive into the question: why does that symbol still speak to people so long after the Civil War? The answers lie in a disinformation campaign that took root in this country 155 years ago, and still impacts us today. This time on the podcast: the Lost Cause — and the real cost of alternative facts.
A printed poster from 1896 celebrates the Confederacy more than 30 years after the end of the Civil War. It features (center) Confederate Generals Stonewall Jackson, PGT Beauregard and Robert E. Lee along with three versions of the flag of the Confederate States of America and the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Surrounding them are Confederate notables including President of the Confederate State of America, Jefferson Davis, Vice President Alexander Stephens, and storied army officers James Longstreet and A.P. Hill.
Below, some images to help bring the episode to life. (All images courtesy of the Library of Congress)
Confederate General Jubal Early (1860-70)
Officers and men of Company F, 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery in Fort Stevens , 1865
Fort Stevens today (photo by Carol M. Highsmith)
An illustration from Harper's Weekly, October 24, 1874 by Thomas Nast
A print from 1906
The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States primary sources from the American Battlefield Trust
A Measuring Rod to Test Text Books and Reference Books in Schools, Colleges and Libraries by Mildred Lewis Rutherford (1920)
The Ku Klux Klan or Invisible Empire by Laura Martin Rose (1914)
Heather Cox Richardson on How the South Won the Civil War (YouTube)
Lecture Series: The Civil War and Reconstruction with David Blight (YouTube)
How Southern Socialites Rewrote Civil War History (Vox)
Twisted Sources: How Confederate Propaganda Ended up in the South's Schoolbooks (Facing South)
The Civil War Never Stopped Being Fought in America's Classrooms. Here's Why That Matters by Arica L. Coleman in Time Magazine
Who Chooses the History Textbooks? by Kate Slater
Much of the music in this episode was from the Free Music Archive by:
Kelley Lynch (00:00):
History is really just stories—stories, people and societies tell about themselves—about who they are, how they live, what they believe and what they consider important. We have no way of knowing what stories moved. Kevin Seefried to remove Exhibit A, better known as the Confederate flag, from where it was usually displayed outside his house in Wilmington, Delaware, and carry it into the Capitol building on January 6th to "stop the steal" thereby becoming the first person ever to carry that flag into the US Capitol building. Photographers captured Seefried strolling the halls of the Capitol, shouldering that symbol of another insurrection. On one side of him was a portrait of famed Northern abolitionist, Charles Sumner, and on the other Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who was the leader of the Senate's pro-slavery faction. It was like a perfect encapsulation of the two opposing perspectives at the root of what is undoubtedly our biggest national story. And it prompted us to ask why does that symbol still speak to people so long after the civil war? The answer as we came to find out lies in another disinformation campaign, one that took root in this country 155 years ago, and still reverberates today. This week, in our continuing quest to understand more about the past that informs our present and will shape our future, we present the story of America's original Lost Cause and the real cost of alternative facts.
Kelley Lynch (01:56):
Welcome. I'm Kelly Lynch and I'm Cindy Sealls, and this is a new normal—a podcast that reimagines a future that starts with each one of us. This week our story starts close to home at the remains of Fort Stevens—just 10 minutes from where we live before January 6th, this Civil War Fort was the closest the Confederate flag, in battle, ever got to the US Capitol.
Kelley Lynch (02:30):
I drove past here every day, taking my kids to school for like four years. I just drive by and see those kind of hills. And, you know, I never even thought it was anything.
Cindy Sealls (02:46):
Yeah, I knew it was a Fort only because I used to go to church across the street there. And, you know, we used to come over here after catechism class or when my dad was doing his organ practice and we'd come over here and play, wait for him, it was just, we knew it was a Fort. We didn't know why it was a Fort over here. You know, as kids, you don't think about that kind of stuff or you're just like, Ooh, a big hill to run down.
Kelley Lynch (03:10):
Local history, enthusiast, Cliff Schwartz, who's looking around the fort with his wife, Barbara, tells us what we're seeing. Can I get you—because you're so good at describing these things and you probably have a vocabulary that we don't—we don't speak fort. Could you, describe just in your words, like what's here and what we're seeing?
Cliff Schwartz (03:41):
Sure. So this kind of fort is referred to as a not dirt for a works something where.
Kelley Lynch (03:54):
He texted me later to say "the word I was looking for his earthworks..."
Cliff Schwartz (04:00):
But that had the characteristic construction of being piles of dirt with a moat around it. And the idea was that that would slow troops, land troops coming in. Obviously the moat you could shoot down, it would slow them. Having the dirt works, protects the people behind it when you can have tenants, but you don't have that many canons canons, a heavy. And if you have mud, you don't have good roads. How do you get it? You have horses that are pulling it. So this was pretty good protection because it wasn't that easy for cannon--to lob cannon balls over into this Fort. Uwhat you see here of course is cement, but they're simulating the wood that would hold up the dirt works. And also forts in general, you would want as high as possible because not only could you see, but you have a better trajectory. Uhou know, our cannon ball could go farther.
Kelley Lynch (05:15):
And what about this thing in the middle?
Cliff Schwartz (05:18):
So again, this is my guess. It doesn't say on, on that little chart that they have there, but my guess is that this is a pill box there's a door on the other side that goes in, and my guess is that that's where they would keep the cannon balls, the gunpowder, because if you lobbed the cannon ball from the enemy here, it would explode. So you want to keep your ammunition, right?
Kelley Lynch (06:04):
The battle of Fort Stevens took place during the fourth year of the war. At the time, Washington was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the world situated just across the river from Confederate Virginia. The city was encircled by a string of 68 forts supported by 93 batteries mounting over 800 cannons and linked by some 20 miles of rifle pits and trenches Fort Stevens was the city's Northern most Fort. It guarded the entrance to Washington at the seventh street pike, which is now Georgia Avenue throughout the war rumors, circulated of pending attacks on Washington. But in the end, there was only one attempt on the city during the war. And it happened here at a time when the city's rock solid defenses were manned, not by thousands of seasoned soldiers, but by a hastily assembled crew of war, office clerks, new recruits, wounded soldiers, and worn out veterans,
Peter Findler (07:13):
The year is 1864, and the union forces under general Ulysses grant are attacking Petersburg, Virginia
Kelley Lynch (07:24):
American history teacher. Peter Findler has brought his classes to Fort Stevens for years.
Peter Findler (07:30):
And Petersburg is a critical location for the Confederate army under the army Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee, because it provides a critical supply line to Richmond, which was the capital of the Confederacy. So Lee feels as though he may be overwhelmed by Grant's, you know, forces, which outnumber the Confederate forces and this industrial might that they're carrying with them as well, and they may lose Petersburg. So in order to try to get granted withdraw from Petersburg, or at least bring some of his troops out is he sends Jubal Early up the Shenandoah Valley to March into Maryland to threaten Washington DC. And outside of Frederick, Maryland, there's a small battle called the battle of Monocacy and Early's forces defeat Lew Wallace. And then it becomes clear that Early's aims are to take the Capitol and that he stands a good chance of doing that. So Grant, this is when Grant takes his troops and sends them North to Washington, DC.
Peter Findler (08:30):
Early's forces have been marching for maybe a month or two, and they arrive outside of Washington, DC on July 9th and 10th of 1864. They come upon the mansion of Montgomery Blair, who was the founder of Silver Spring. And I mean, they'd been marching right through the summer for months, hundreds and hundreds of miles. They find barrels of whiskey in the basement of the Blair mansion, and they just get completely wasted. And so Early wakes up the next morning to like rouse his soldiers for the invasion of the Capitol, right? And finds half of them are still drunk from the night before. And the other half are laying on the ground, hung over sleeping and he has to delay the invasion until the afternoon, which gives Grant's troops even more time to arrive, to reinforce the Capitol.
Peter Findler (09:27):
Now, one interesting fact--the Battle of Fort Stevens is that it's the only time when a sitting US President has come under fire during a battle. So Lincoln went to the battle of Fort Stevens and as part of a political maneuver, right, to show the people of Washington that everything was safe and we're fine, and I'm even going to go check it out myself. So he gets to the battle and in sort of a bit of a blunder that that could have cost him his life, he gets up on the parapets on the edge of the Fort to look out and survey the battle scene and nearly loses his head. Because there's Confederate sharpshooters that are in the houses in and around Fort Stevens right there within 100, 200 yards. Right. So we're not sure who but it may have been Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Looks up at Lincoln on the parapet, grabs him and says, get down you fool and pulls him down off the parapet, maybe saving his life. Just a kind of a fun fact about Fort Stevens. The fighting lasts for July 11th and July 12th, but eventually Early decides that there's no way that they're going to take the capitol because it's so heavily fortified and so heavily defended. Early retreats on July 12th. And that will be the only battle that takes place in Washington, DC during the civil war.
Kelley Lynch (10:52):
With the surrender of the army of Northern Virginia on April 9th, 1865, Early fled to Texas on horseback. He eventually made his way into Mexico disguised as a farmer. And from there, he sailed to Cuba. And finally to Canada, they're in a self-imposed exile and encouraged by Lee and others who wanted to see the Confederate version of the war on the record as soon as possible. He picked up his pen and with it, he would spend the rest of his life waging a battle for the public memory of the war. Published in 1866, Early's memoir was the first book by a major Civil War figure on either side of the conflict.
Peter Findler (11:42):
Part of what he references in that writing is his correspondences with Robert E. Lee, that those beliefs about why the war was fought are not just his, that they come from the great Robert E. Lee as well. And those beliefs include that they were trying to hold onto and preserve a legacy of a genteel, peaceful life that they imagined, of course only imagining it for themselves, but not for black folks. And that the Confederate States fought to preserve state's rights and in their minds, they were doing exactly what the colonists did. And so for succession, there, there was a belief among Lee and Early and others that the whole reason for fighting the war was because the Union had encroached upon the rights of States to do various things. Now, if you look at the history for me, that's the right to have slaves, you know, that's the state, right that they were protecting. And I think if you looked into it, you'd probably find that the truth of it is more complicated than just slavery, but at the same time, the idea that the Confederates weren't fighting to defend slavery, that the cause of war wasn't to preserve slavery is wrong. And all you have to do is go look at the succession declarations that were made by the various States and how many times slavery is mentioned as a reason for fighting against the North.
Kelley Lynch (13:14):
This Southern interpretation of the war also argued that Confederates were defeated only because of the Union's overwhelming advantage in men and resources, that in losing to this more powerful foe, brave Confederate soldiers had not surrendered their honor, that all Confederate leaders were great heroes, but especially Robert E. Lee, that Confederate women had willingly sacrificed their husbands, fathers and sons to the cause. And that African-Americans were happy and faithful slaves, loyal to their masters and to the Confederate cause and woefully unprepared for the responsibilities of freedom. It was a narrative that was both therapeutic and political that came to be known as the Lost Cause.
Peter Findler (14:13):
The cities of the South Charleston, South Carolina destroyed. It's in ruins. Atlanta, after Sherman's March to the sea, in which he used total war to destroy the South, to destroy towns, to destroy fields, to destroy what little of railroad lines were in the South at the time on his way to, to really bring the South to its knees, to force a capitulation of the war. So transportation communication, the economy just on top of, of the sheer scale of death was just an incredibly dark time for southerners to deal with. You have 4 million plus former slaves. Who've now been freed and keep in mind, there's all throughout the years in which slavery existed, there was always the possibility of a slave rebellion. There was always the possibility of violence. And so now with 4 million plus African-Americans newly free, there's the possibility of violence against their former owners.
Peter Findler (15:18):
You also have the recognition on the part of the United States army that African-Americans are now privileged to positions of power. We have representatives from the South that are elected to Congress. And so there's this sense that African-American slaves in the South prior to the end of the civil war had always been at the bottom of the social structure. And now that understanding of the world, the understanding of the people in the world is now been completely destroyed. Slaves that were once subservient to you are now seen as equals. And regardless of what you may think about slavery, that is an upsetting thought if you've grown up and lived your entire life with a certain race of people you've been taught as being beneath you.
Peter Findler (16:13):
And you have to remember that this is an entire generation of men that have passed away from the ages of 20 to 40, who are gone now. It's sons. It's cousins. It's brothers. It's uncles, fathers. It's an incredibly sad thing. It's an incredibly devastating reality. And remember that most of the fighting was done in the South. Most of the battlefields were in the South. And so, you know, most of the mass graves of human bodies are in the South. I think there was an intense amount of pain. I think there was a lot of grief about losing. That there was really no going back at this point. And so what's left, you know, what control do they have over anything anymore, except for the memory of why it happened? Why are we experiencing so much pain? It can't possibly be because we've fought for something that wasn't worth fighting for. And so they retreated into this mythological tale.
Kelley Lynch (17:27):
More than 620,000 soldiers North and South lost their lives in the war. An equivalent proportion of today's population would be six and a half million people. Almost one in four of the soldiers that went to war, never returned. It was death and destruction on unimaginable scale. And for those left behind, it was made worse knowing that the bodies of their loved ones lay rotting on battlefields or hastily buried in shallow or mass graves far from home.
Kelley Lynch (18:01):
Shortly after the war union burial crews began the process of recovering the remains of their soldiers from Southern battlefields. By 1870 300,000 Union soldiers had been reentered in new national cemeteries. These efforts deliberately ignored the Confederate dead. In their grief, thousands of middle and upper class, white women, the widows, sisters, mothers, and daughters of those Confederate soldiers joined forces. They created cemeteries, tracked down and disinterred the dead, and gave each set of remains a proper burial. Throughout the South, these ladies Memorial associations also organized Memorial day celebration and erected the first monuments to the Confederate dead. It was a campaign that took off in the 1890s as members of these local groups joined a new generation of Confederate daughters informing what became the largest and most influential Confederate heritage association, the United daughters of the Confederacy or UD. By 1917, the UDC and its almost 100,000 members were well on their way toward transforming their forefathers defeat on the battlefield, into political and cultural victory.
Kelley Lynch (19:34):
As women, they were considered apolitical, which meant that they could promote and spread the Lost Cause ideology without being accused of inciting rebellion. And because they were focused on mourning, memorializing and commemorating the dead, their efforts more easily gained the kind of state support that helped them to establish the lost cause as official public memory. They lobbied for the creation of state archives and museums, historic highways, parks, and national historic sites. They named schools, streets and highways after Confederate generals, put Confederate portraits and flags into schools. And in States across the North and the South, they erected hundreds of Confederate monuments.
Peter Findler (20:22):
Many of the memorials, what they were also trying to promote was the importance of messaging about the history of the war and a fight for control over the memory of the civil war. What are we going to say about why we fought. And in their minds, it was, if we let northerners tell the story of the civil war, then they're going to tell it wrong. And they're going to say that it was about slavery, and they're going to say it was about emancipation and that we were fighting to defend slavery. When in reality we weren't. And so the memorials go up all over the place.
Kelley Lynch (21:00):
They came in two waves.
Peter Findler (21:03):
One is the statutes that come like in the immediate years of the war, right? So it's the widows, it's the family members, it's the raise a couple of dollars to put some gravestones up or a, you know, an obelisk or something like that.
Peter Findler (21:17):
And then there's another wave that happens kind of at the turn of the 20th century, in the first two decades of the 20th century. And those are the more nefarious monuments to me. Those are the ones that are coinciding with the film, the Birth of A Nation, which is like America's first Hollywood blockbuster, which is this incredibly racist film that actually was based on a book written by a good friend of Woodrow Wilson's. So when Birth of A Nation becomes popular, Woodrow Wilson screens it in the White House. And so this is happening at the same time as the second rise of the Klu Klux Klan who had gone sort of quiet, a bit dormant through the 1880s and 1890s. Because if you think about what the KKK is, it's this terrorist organization that has to operate in secret because they're doing these terrible things to people, but when reconstruction ends, you don't need to really be all that secret about it anymore. It's just kind of out in the open? Right? The federal troops have been removed from the South, you know, lynchings are, it's all good. So you see these pictures of people and they're not afraid of being like ID'd. They're all standing there smiling, celebrating a lynching because there was no threat that any sort of legal punishment would come from their actions.
Peter Findler (22:43):
So at the turn of the 20th century, there's a second rise of the KKK, which by the way, happens in the North, as well as the South and Woodrow Wilson is screening, you know, Birth of A Nation in the White House, the KKK is rising and these monuments begin to be constructed as well. That are, to me, they are signs that African Americans need to stay in their place. And so there's a, there's a second wave of these memorials and monuments that are built at that time as well. And during the same time, textbooks are written to ensure that children in the South learn what they would call the quote unquote right history of the civil war. And to do that by preventing other narratives from even being taught in schools from even from being held in libraries throughout the South in this broader historical context of a doubling down on the lost cause and white supremacy,
Kelley Lynch (24:01):
Cynthia, how are ya?
Cindy Sealls (24:03):
Hey, doing good. I've been searching around and found some juicy textbook information for us. So in your search type in Mildred Rutherford, Measuring Rod.
Kelley Lynch (24:22):
Cindy Sealls (24:23):
All right. Okay. You want to look for the one that's that's under archive.org and it says a measuring rod to test textbooks and reference books and click on that link and it takes you right to the document.
Kelley Lynch (24:38):
Okay. Got it. Got it. Yeah.
Cindy Sealls (24:41):
Yeah. So it's written by this woman, Mildred Rutherford, who was the historian general for the United daughters of the Confederacy. And it's basically guidelines for people who are reviewing textbooks, books to go into schools or books that will be reviewed to go into a library as to what should and should not be in the books as pertains to the South and the Civil War. And if you did not follow these guidelines and standards, your book could be marked Unjust to the South, which meant it probably wasn't going to get read or, and it definitely wasn't going to be in the school.
Kelley Lynch (25:30):
Cindy Sealls (25:30):
Look on page five. And this is the one that says warning at the top. Huh? Yeah. So if you read down that list, there are things for instance, look at where it says reject the book that calls the Confederate soldier, a trader or rebel or a rebellion. Hmm.
Cindy Sealls (25:55):
Reject a book that says the South fought to hold her slaves, huh? Reject a book that speaks of the slave holder of the South as cruel and unjust to his slaves. Wow. She has. So some of the headings in this little, I guess it's a pamphlet of some sort. But one of them says secession was not rebellion. The North was responsible for the war between the States. Oh yeah. That's a new one for me. Boy. Never.
Kelley Lynch (26:28):
She's got lots of justifications. Apparently it looks like for that.
New Speaker (26:32):
Oh yeah. We heard that we've all heard this one before. This is an oldie, but a goodie, the war between the States was not fought to hold the slaves. Here's another one, slaves were not ill treated in the South. That's another oldie, but goodie. And they have a couple of quotes in here. Some guy who was traveling through the South and came upon a plantation and he says, quote, "How they sang, how they danced, how they laughed, how they shouted, how they bowed and scraped and complimented so free. So happy.
Kelley Lynch (27:11):
Does it make you miss slavery even though you weren't there?
Cindy Sealls (27:14):
Yeah, man, I, gosh, look at, I missed, Oh my gosh. He says he could do, he goes on to say "To me, it is the dearest institution I have ever seen. And these slaves seem far better off than any tenants I have seen under any tenantry system."
Kelley Lynch (27:34):
Oh my God. Wow.
Cindy Sealls (27:37):
What was wrong with those people? Those slaves running away. You know what it was, it got good after they left. You know how it is when you're at a show and the show is pretty bad or the movie's bad. And you say, this is terrible. I'm going to get up and leave and you leave halfway through. And then the show, or the movie gets better at the end. Everybody says, Hey, you should've stayed. It was awesome. Same thing. You know, it got better after they left.
Kelley Lynch (27:59):
Oh my God. Yeah.
Cindy Sealls (28:03):
It is pretty amazing. Oh man. And the last one, I guess, you know, it's a little bit of, what do they call it? Grievance? The South has never had her rightful place in literature. Of course the measuring rod was published before Gone with the Wind was published.
Kelley Lynch (28:23):
And that is the ultimate lost cause novel.
Cindy Sealls (28:29):
All right. And then you have to type in the KU Klux, Klan or invisible empire.
Kelley Lynch (28:38):
Cindy Sealls (28:40):
And it should be by Laura Martin Rose.
Kelley Lynch (28:45):
Okay. archive.org. Yeah. Okay. All right.
Cindy Sealls (28:56):
Did you open it up? Do you see a little cartoon character? Ku Klux Klan guy.
Kelley Lynch (29:02):
Oh man. Dude on the horse.
Cindy Sealls (29:04):
The dude on the horse and the horse, even a Ku Klux Klan horse, who's got a sheet on and the eyes are cut out. So this book is dedicated by the author to the youth of the Southland. If you look a little further, it's got, you know, the stamp of approval from the UDC and I'm sure Ms. Rutherford. This book was unanimously endorsed by the United daughters of the Confederacy and convention in new Orleans, Louisiana, November, 1913, and cooperation pledged to endeavor to secure its adoption as a supplementary reader in the schools and to place it in the libraries of our land.
Kelley Lynch (29:48):
Chapter one, the Ku Klux Klan, reasons for its existence. The KU Klux Klan or the invisible empire as it was also called, was an organization formed at the close of the war between the States during the period known as reconstruction for the purpose of protecting the homes and women of the South.
Cindy Sealls (30:11):
The South was under what was known as the carpet bag regime men without principle were in power and Negroes already demoralized by their freedom were elevated to the highest positions. The black and tan government composed of Republican carpetbaggers, homemade Yankees or scallywags and ignorant and brutal Negroes now held full sway. Union leagues whose members were mainly Negros and the lowest element of whites were hotbeds for engendering, racial strife and Negro equality and plans to place the black heels on the white necks. The Negro considered freedom synonymous with equality and his greatest ambition was to marry a white wife.
Kelley Lynch (31:03):
Hmm, Hmm is that so.
Cindy Sealls (31:05):
Yeah, I guess they did a survey. They found out under such conditions. There was only one recourse left to organize a powerful secret order to accomplish what could not be done in the open. So the Confederate soldiers, members of the Ku Klux Klan and fully equal to any emergency came again to the rescue and delivered the South from a worse than death. Wow. Oh, they said violence was only used as a last resort. Repeat it. Warnings Kelly. We're giving to her. That's true. That's true. Because when the black people were trying to register the vote, they just come, they've just come in a night, you know? And I just looked burn a little cross on the yard. Hey, we were here. Don't do that again. Don't go try to vote again. You know? And then the next time they would go, I mean, they had to do something. It was a last resort. Well, they got to do. It says it is true that some Negroes were killed by the KU Klux. The Klu Klux would visit a Negro who had been guilty of wrongdoing and who had been repeatedly warned to conduct himself in the proper manner. They would carry him out to give him a severe whipping as punishment and in order to scare him into behaving himself and the Negro would make an attack on the KU Klux who were then forced to kill him in self-defense.
Kelley Lynch (32:32):
God, that all sounds so tremendously familiar.
Cindy Sealls (32:40):
Remember this is a children's book, Kelly. Okay. Children must have a bedtime story. This is the story of the Klu Klux Klan. What did the book for the adults look like? And we chopped off each one of his fingers in the blood ran...
Kelley Lynch (33:07):
Says here the attractive illustrations and true history should make interesting reading for young and old. And for all of those who hold the glorious deeds of our Southern heroes in everlasting remembrance.
Cindy Sealls (33:23):
Well, they right about that. It has been an everlasting remembrance hasn't it. Now, here we are in 2021 talking about the KKK.
Kelley Lynch (33:38):
And the lost cause.
Cindy Sealls (33:39):
And the lost cause.
Kelley Lynch (33:52):
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Ms. Millie, as she was known and the United daughters of the Confederacy, the happy slaves, evil Northern carpetbaggers and crusading Knights of the KKK lived on in Southern textbooks into the 1970s. Rutherford called for committees to scrutinize not only history textbooks, but also American literature and geography to make sure that they presented the right version of history. She called out offensive textbooks by name and the organization worked to have them banned. UDC members were appointed to state textbook commissions. They served on local school boards and two States, Mississippi and Texas partnered with the organization to choose their textbooks.
Kelley Lynch (34:43):
As the organization's power began to wane a generation of segregationist politicians that had grown up on the lost cause took up the fight. In the 1950s, based with school integration, protests, marches, and progress on voting rights. They doubled down on the lost cause pushing it even deeper into the curriculum. In 1957, for example, for Virginia commissioned a new series of lost cause textbooks. By the time these textbooks were phased out of the schools in the 1970s, more than a million children had learned an official version of state history that blamed the civil war on Abraham Lincoln, said that abolitionists lied about slavery in the South, and showed illustrations of happy, captive Africans in Western dress clothes, shaking hands with their new masters on slave ships.
Kelley Lynch (35:46):
I can see people saying, so what, why should I care about some 50 year old textbooks or myths about history that are more than 150 years old? Cindy, Peter, what would you guys say to them? Cindy? How about you go first? You're the African-American here.
Cindy Sealls (36:06):
I mean, I would say that it affects all of us, but it's not just something that happened in the past. It's happening now all around us. Think about it. 70 million children were enrolled in elementary and secondary schools in the South between 1889 and 1969. That's 70 million children who learned the lost cause version of history and not just the children in the South because Texas is so large that many of the textbook publishers would market the books made for Texas to other parts of the country. So those books would trickle out all over the country to other States and goes into the novels, goes into the movies pretty soon, it's embedded in the minds of the people in the South and in the North. Today's political leaders, people who hold positions of power in our country, they probably learned the lost cause version of history. So how does that affect the way that they're legislating? How does that affect the way they see their constituents?
Kelley Lynch (37:36):
Peter, what do you think, would you say that that narrative is one of the main reasons we still have so many unresolved issues around race in this country?
Peter Findler (37:48):
I think without the lost cause narrative, we wouldn't have the racial tension we have in our country today. I think there's no doubt about it. I think that we never dealt with America's original sin of slavery and that if we had something like South Africa, a truth and reconciliation commission that would have provided some healing and some dialogue and a path forward, much of the racial tension that we see still today wouldn't exist. I think there's no doubt about it. No doubt about it. And I think you have to look at reconstruction to understand how this came to be.
Kelley Lynch (38:32):
I think it might be really helpful, at least for me, if you could give us a quick refresher onn reconstruction.
Peter Findler (38:40):
So when the civil war ended there were competing visions over what the new nation would look like, competing visions over reconstruction plans that involved what to do with former Confederate soldiers, general sympathizers, what to do with the Southern economy and how to provide a way forward for civil rights in the South. And unfortunately, but all come to a screeching halt in 1876 with the election of Rutherford, B Hayes. Prior to that election, the radical Republicans, which were a wing of the Republican party at the time had taken a majority in the Senate and had taken a majority in the house after the midterm elections of 1866 and had instituted military reconstruction, which involves separating the South into military districts and enforcing the end of slavery and civil rights for African-Americans in the South, through military law.
Peter Findler (39:51):
So fast forward 10 years to the election of 1876, Samuel Tilden is the Democrat and Rutherford B Hayes is the Republican and the election resulted in neither candidate winning a majority of electoral votes. And so a special electoral commission was sent to Florida and I believe maybe a few other States, but to recount the votes and this special electoral commission had Republican members and Democrat members. And they both recounted the votes or oversaw that process. They both brought envelopes with those recounted votes back to Washington DC. And what do you know, the Republican envelope counted more Republican votes in Florida and the democratic envelope counted more democratic votes in Florida? So a compromise was engineered in which the Democrats would allow Rutherford B Hayes to be the president of the United States if he agreed to one condition. And that condition was to remove federal troops from the South. And as soon as he's inaugurated, federal troops are withdrawn and white Redeemer governments who can preserve and enhance white supremacy in the South are installed. And that ends reconstruction.
Peter Findler (41:16):
And during that time, during that 10 year phase of 1866 to 76, blacks were voting. Blacks were being elected to the highest levels of power in the house of representatives. And in the Senate, the Freedman's Bureau was building hospitals, building schools. The 14th amendment was passed, which provides birthright citizenship, equal protection under the law. The 15th amendment was passed, which guarantees the right to vote to all men regardless of color. And in order to be readmitted into the union, Southern States had to prove that they were allowing everyone to vote, that they were abiding by the terms of the 15th. And then, and so as soon as the federal troops are removed, all of that protection goes right out the window.
Peter Findler (42:08):
This is the era when poll taxes were created and when literacy tests become common. And when the Jim Crow segregation laws are created. And so there was a need and in the minds of southerners, a desire to preserve the old way of life. And along with that comes your view of your own history. You know, because the way that you view your own history is tied up in your own identity. It's who you believe you are right now. So that the writing of those textbooks were absolutely a part of the failures of reconstruction and the unfettered access to power that the Redeemer governments of the South held. And they called themselves that they were the white redeemers. They were going to redeem the South from this terrible thing that had happened to them. And that's why the civil rights movement is also known as the secondary construction because a hundred years later African-Americans in the 1960s are still on the outside looking in when it comes to political power in this country.
Peter Findler (43:33):
So the poll tax, for example, isn't eliminated until the middle of the 1960s, which was a way of a way that was designed to keep blacks out of the polls is they, Southern States would say, okay, if you want to vote, you have to pay a tax. Well, if you were a slave two weeks ago, you probably don't have very much money. You don't have a job literacy tests were created, which were designed to keep African-Americans out of the polls. There were these impossible tests that you had to pass to prove that you were educated. But they were full of ridiculously worded questions. And if you got one wrong, you failed and it was timed. And so the grandfather clause was created too, because they realized poor whites would be unable to pay the tax and then able to pay the test as well. So the grandfather clause said, well, if all else fails, if your grandfather voted, you can vote. Okay. There were no, there were no black people in the South. His grandfathers could vote. I mean, it just wasn't 1866. It just wasn't the case. And at the end of the day, if all that fails, there's terrorism at the polls.
Peter Findler (44:42):
We'll just stand there with, with a gun and a couple of thugs to, to make sure that if they try to vote, they know what's going to happen. As soon as they come out of the poll. I mean, it was just a disaster. It was an absolute failure. And that was the time when we could have made a path forward and had some kind of reconciliation. But because that failed, we have a further entrenchment of racism that still hasn't been dealt with.
Peter Findler (45:21):
I look at it like a wound, you know, if you have a wound that's unintended, it will fester, it will become infected. It will grow, it will begin to affect other parts of your body. And I think as a nation, we have a wound that we haven't really dealt with. We've tried to ignore it at times. We've tried to pretend like it's not there. But it keeps making itself known. And I think until we have a healthy dialogue around it, we're not going to have any closure.
Kelley Lynch (46:00):
So one place, there has been a lot of conversation lately is around the Confederate monuments. What do you think we should do with those?
Peter Findler (46:10):
Those monuments belong in museums because they are objects that are to be studied and discussed and pondered. They are not to be celebrated. Okay. And that's not my line. They should be remembered, not celebrated. I don't know somebody else smarter than me, so that, but that's what they're there for is to be celebrated. And I think that we shouldn't, I think that the desire to destroy them right, to like set them on fire and throw them in the ocean is the wrong impulse, because they were constructed in a specific historic moment. We can learn a lot about the people who lived at that time by studying what they thought should be celebrated, but they needed to be taken down off of their celebratory pedestals for sure. And maybe it's a matter of also, you know, you can buy and sell slaves on the national mall up until 1850 on the national mall, but you're not going to see a plaque or a statue about that. You know, maybe we need more of that if you've been to Georgetown right there at the Dean and DeLuca, that was a slave market, right on M street, there's an awareness issue. So I think the teaching, the classrooms and the, and the, the history piece is important, but also public history, museums memorials. I think this debate that we're having right now is a really good thing about these Confederate statutes, because it's, it's creating an awareness of that history that we haven't really talked too much about. And that conversation, I think in the long run will be really good for us. I think it's a little messy right now, but I think in the long run, it's a good thing.
Cindy Sealls (48:04):
Of course, another prominent symbol of that history is the Confederate flag. And that's what kinda got us started on all of this in the first place. It would be good to go back and talk about that.
Peter Findler (48:21):
Well, I guess the first of all, the stars, the stars and bars flag that we see now, as touted as the Confederate flag was never the flag of the Confederacy. It was a Virginia Battle flag. So I have a friend, and I went over to his house one day and I was stunned to see a Confederate flag hanging from his garage. And I said, what's up with the flag? You know, like, why are you, why are you flying the flag? You know, that Confederate flag represents a nation that declared war on the United States and, and lost. And he's like, well, that's not what it means to me. What his view is is that it represents like his family, his culture, his state, and he used the phrase that you often hear. He said, it's heritage not hate. But to me, there's a, there's an oversimplified version of history that he's bought into, which is that, that flag doesn't actually represent a fight against the United States to defend the state's right, to have slavery because that flag was used by soldiers to defend the Southern way of life. And the root of that Southern way of life was the enslavement of thousands and thousands of people.
Cindy Sealls (50:02):
Given what we just talked about, it seems to me that the lost cause is part of the reason that flag still speaks to so many people, so many years after the civil war.
Peter Findler (50:16):
Yeah. I think there is a through line there. I think that that his view that that flag represents heritage is a byproduct of the lost cause myth because his belief is that that flag represents the heritage of Southern States. It represents the culture of the South and that that culture has somehow been divorced from racism. Right? But you can't divorce the culture of 1860s, Virginia from racism. You know, the two are bound up in the same story. Racism was the fundamental piece of, of the economic and social life of southerners. And so to believe that it was anything else is, is, is a result of being told.
Kelley Lynch (51:10):
So after all of that, what do you think about the Confederate flag has doing this episode changed anything for you?
Cindy Sealls (51:20):
Yes. I still don't like it. It's still a symbol to me of a mindset that believed that black people were not human beings and we're inferior and we're not even worth being treated as well as animals. That's what it means when I see it. But I do understand that lots of people have been taught that it's a different kind of symbol that yes, it can be seen as that symbol, but then it's this other symbol too. And they learn that in school. And when you learn something in school, you tend to think it's true. So, I mean, I'll feel the same when I see it, but I'll understand that those people don't realize that they were taught something that was not true. Hmm.
Cindy Sealls (52:24):
What about you? Did you learn anything from this?
Kelley Lynch (52:27):
As somebody who has not been the most historically savvy person on the planet, having done this episode and learning more about reconstruction and what happened, I see so many echoes. I mean, as Mark Twain would have said rhymes, I mean, I'm thinking about Kevin Seefried with his flag, walking through the Capitol. We have no way, again, of knowing what that flag meant to him, but we do know that he was there to support the "Stop the Steal" thing—.
Cindy Sealls (53:09):
—Another Lost cause narrative.
Kelley Lynch (53:12):
Exactly. That's exactly what I was thinking. I mean, and it's like textbook lost cause you know, it's like white grievance. The idea that Trump was rightful winner...
Cindy Sealls (53:27):
All those fake ballots, it's like the North, they, the South would have won, but the union had too many more soldiers and the Trump would have won, but there were too many more votes for the other side.
Kelley Lynch (53:42):
And then you had also all the, all the other forces aligned against him, you know, the deep state and these horrible Satan worshiping socialists Democrats
Cindy Sealls (53:54):
They're like the carpet baggers in the scallywags, you know everybody was against him and against his people. And so that's the only reason why they lost—
Kelley Lynch (54:06):
And he was supported by his generals. You know, I mean, Robert E. Lee had Jubal Early and Trump has, you know...
Speaker 3 (54:16):
Kelley Lynch (54:17):
They almost sound the same.
Kelley Lynch (54:30):
Thanks for listening. We hope you found this episode worth the wait. We really enjoy taking the time to delve into all of this, doing lots of research and some occasionally more than occasionally obsessive thinking to bring you something we hope you find both entertaining and informative. We're really grateful for your comments, your reviews, ratings, and shares. We want to say a big thank you to Peter Findler for sharing his time and his insights. Little does he know I've been looking for an excuse to have an extended conversation with him about American history. Ever since my daughter had him as her ninth grade history teacher, which was almost a decade ago every afternoon, when she came home, I'd asked her to tell me all about what she learned in her American history class. Needless to say that didn't yield much information, but it did convince me that what I learned in my high school history classes so many years ago was woefully inadequate.
Kelley Lynch (55:34):
I would imagine I'm not the only one who feels they would benefit greatly from a historical refresher course or two in midlife with a great teacher like Peter this week. I hope you'll check out the show notes for some interesting books and articles and videos that have informed our research. For this episode. You can find them at our website, a new normal podcast.com and be sure to sign up for our newsletter while you're there. We'll let you know by email when the next episode comes out. Another way to make sure you never miss an episode is to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. We're not yet sure where the story gods will take us next, but we look forward to being back in your ears with another episode until then take care.