The Real Danger to Confederate Memorials – A Rejection of Lost Cause Mythology

This is an update of a post originally published on 18 July 2017. Vandalism of Confederate monuments first got a lot of notice at that time and I predicted it would continue and perhaps become more widespread. It is happening on a much greater scale today and will likely continue. While I have never advocated nor endorsed vandalism, my original piece was an equivocation of why we should leave the fate of these monuments up to the communities where they exist. I no longer make that equivocation. I felt that the monuments were “safe” because they were a part of history. But as I stated 3 years ago, their fate will continue to be tied to their ongoing connection to White Supremacist, Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Ku Klux Klan and related fringe movements. The most prominent groups dedicated to Southern History have failed miserably in distancing themselves from these ignorant buffoons and in that failure they are just as responsible for the destruction of the monuments as any of the current protesters and vandals. As the descendant of poor white farmers who fought for the Confederacy, I have no interest in continuing to elevate wealthy slave-owning officers to the god-like status given them by so-called Southern Partisans. They have never represented my background or life experience, nor the background or life experience of the vast majority of Southerners. Most of the men who died for the Southern cause never owned slaves, but were pawns in an effort to preserve the wealth of men who did. As you’ll read below, even Robert E. Lee took offense to such memorializing.

As a white Southerner, I’ve known racists my entire life, but I’ve known many interested in Southern history who aren’t racists. Unfortunately, the longstanding conflation of “white” history movements with Confederate history has brought us to the present moment. I hear from people all the time that they’re sick of being labeled racists for being Southern, or for defending a Confederate monument; the way I see it, to get around that you need to call these racists out, loudly, and without equivocation. And parading around a few black members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a workaround to prove that you’re not what the rest of the world sees isn’t addressing the problem. When the world sees people surrounding a Confederate monument singing Russia is our friend or angrily waving the flags of the Third Reich, so-called Southern Heritage becomes a joke. It’s not just that the media portrays it that way. It’s observable in real time. It’s not caving to political correctness. The continued conflation of these racist fetishes with Confederate history dooms it all.

And it doesn’t help to say the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, or to dismiss it completely, as many apologists do. Taxation and states rights were in the mix, but the entire wealth of Southern states was dependent on the ownership of human beings. And yes, most monuments were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era.  From the growth of the slave trader Nathan Bedford Forrest’s original Klan in the years following the Civil War, to the rebirth of the Klan on Stone Mountain in 1915, there has been and remains a relationship between Confederate symbolism and racist ideologies.

One might be surprised by the words of Robert E. Lee regarding these monuments, but I tend to agree that removing physical totems does not erase history: As regards the erection of such a monument as is contemplated, my conviction is, that however grateful it would be to the feelings of the South, the attempt … would have the effect of … continuing, if not adding to, the difficulties under which the Southern people labour. (Letter to Thomas L. Rosser, 13 December 1866, via Lee Family Digital Archive). I’m not surprised that the descendants of the most prominent Confederate families have come out against the monuments in recent days, largely, I’m sure, as a result of long-term frustration with the racists who have co-opted them for more nefarious purposes.

I’ve worked at a state historic site devoted to the end of the Confederacy. I serve on the board of  a museum based on a Southern town founded by Union veterans. I’ve spent 10 years photographing and documenting White history alongside African-American history. I haven’t done this out of a need to be politically correct yet I have received angry messages from white and black Georgians on a variety of perceived slights, almost always related to racial issues. History is history but if Confederate history is your thing (it’s not mine), keep embracing the radical racism and it will disappear altogether.



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46 responses to “The Real Danger to Confederate Memorials – A Rejection of Lost Cause Mythology

  1. Jennifer Jennings

    I am proud that you are documenting the true history of the south. We the people of the south are not what others believe, we have grown up together and have much respect for each other. We have a spirt of love and value for human life and rights People that haven’t lived here have no idea what a true southern person is or the wonderful life we all share here.

  2. Marie Patrick

    You have articulated the paradox of many loyal Southerners’ conflicted feelings; we are not racists overall — and like me, may have even been active in the civil rights movement. But we love the heritage of our region and its many honorable, noble figures. Often overlooked is context: Southern rebels were descendents not far removed from tyrannical governments and were predominately of Scotch-Irish descent– meaning we were stubborn and liked to fight–then and now we do not tolerate being pushed around. This explains why poor dirt farmers (not slave owners) fought. Also, slavery was economic survival for the South. In today’s parlance, agriculture and free labor meant MONEY. What Northern businessman doesn’t understand profit and economic survival?
    Then as now, I say ‘just leave us alone and we’ll work it out’ and without bigoted, hateful fringe groups who do not represent the South.

  3. Sharon Rice

    Brian, your editorial is the best one I’ve read on this subject. I’m so proud of your courage in speaking up for so many of us who share your convictions. I hail from Maine, but I’ve lived in Georgia since 1984, and it’s home now. I’ve admired the southern monuments and memorials as part of our history and it never occurred to me to be offended by them. I found your site through pinterest and thoroughly enjoy it. Please continue to share your beliefs with us, as they are the voice of reason. Thank you!

  4. Suzanne Wojtkowiak

    Very well said! I enjoy your posts a lot and I am a history buff so I am glad to know I will still be able to find ‘history’ on your site. Thanks!!

    • Judith Gresham

      Are you by chance from Michigan Susan? My grandmother had an Aunt whose last name was Wojkowiak. I know this is off topic but just had to ask

  5. G. Robert Ryan, Jr.

    Brian, Thank you for this heartfelt post and for your work in preserving our history. Rob Ryan

    On Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 3:29 PM Vanishing South Georgia Photographs by Brian Brown wrote:

    > Brian Brown posted: ” Today, 18 July 2017, Confederate monuments are being > vandalized at the most rapid rate in their history. I’ve woken up almost > daily to read of new mischief regarding these embattled Southern icons. > It’s happening so fast, I can’t even keep up. First,” >

  6. Jud McCranie

    I’m glad you wrote that. The problem is that modern racists have co-opted Confederate symbols (as you said), plus I think that there is an ignorance of history.

  7. Kathy Boulden

    I thank you for this website and thank God for you!

  8. Lynn Waters

    Thanks Brian for sharing your interest in our Southern history and for standing firm on your beliefs.

  9. Jesse M. Bookhardt

    Your well written comments reflect almost exactly my thoughts. I am a proud Southern liberal who very early in life supported civil rights for all. All my life, I have observed bias against minorities, and having grown up very poor, experienced mistreatment by some of the wealthy powerful white class. Our history is what it is, and removing CSA monuments won’t change it.
    Brian your recognition that Confederate history and symbols have been abused and misused by the extreme right wing white supremacists, and the Nazis is correct. The vast majority of Southerners don’t approve. We abhor these hateful views and actions. We are not racist one and all as some tend to view us. We appreciate our history and the lessons we hope to learn from mistakes. We don’t worship these old monuments. God knows we don’t want to split our country apart again. We are patriotic Americans hoping to make our country better. Removing the memorials will not help that dream come true. Let them stand as artifacts of a past that must never be our future.
    Those who are offended might reflect on the fact that as long as the monuments stand, they will reminds us of a chapter in our story that need never be forgotten nor repeated. We all must strongly stand against the extremists and their hateful message and violent behavior. Let you voice be heard.

  10. Pat Blackner

    Thank you for your stand and all the beautiful history you help us remember. I cannot help but comparing this destruction to the remains of Aushwitz and how many Jewish family members would feel if it was totally wiped off the planet. It stands as a memorial to their family members who died there and no matter how painful it stands as a remembrance to the world of what evil can do. We need to see these things and continue to teach what history has done. If you rewrite or erase history as Isis has tried to do in the middle east what will happen to our society? I like the quote which I can only paraphrase but “Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it”. I don’t want to relive the past but to move forward and continue to build a better future for all of us. Let’s use all of this history as a measuring stick, like marks on a doorway, to measure how far we have come.

  11. Rusty McDonald

    Brian, Well said. Thank you for all your work.

  12. Kathy Blankinship

    Brian, thank you for your efforts in preserving our history through photographs. We need to preserve our history, monuments and documents, whether we are happy about the reasons behind their existence or not. Our European, Western and Eastern ancestors have done an amazing job at preserving the past. We would do well to follow the same path to help our future generation understand their past. What are we without an understanding of our past!

  13. Patricia Jackson

    This is one of the most well articulated ed ops I have ever read. As an African American, this is a viewpoint that I can appreciate.

  14. Susan Crawford

    Thank you for your remarks, Brian. I can’t help but wonder if the hatred and violence we are seeing so much of isn’t deliberately generated and also funded. I am glad you are helping to preserve our history.

  15. Well said, Brian….thank you!

  16. John Rabun

    Brian: Thank you for this statement of support for the cause of preserving Confederate monuments. At the rate the destruction is going, there will soon be none left to preserve. I think that the Georgia Historical Society, the Georgia Archives, the Atlanta History Center, and the lineage societies, whether Confederate oriented or not, should become involved in this movement.

    I thinkt, too, that the arts community might be persuaded to lend assistance. It is more involved in art than in history, of course, but can’t a case be made that the monuments are sculpture and an art form that should be preserved for future generations?

    I don’t agree with you entirely about the alt right’s involvement in fighting this battle. As a member of the SCV, I can attest to the fact that it is an innocuous group and that its members whom I know are as fearful as the rest of society about being called racists.
    John Rabun

  17. Janette Campbell

    Amen! Thank you for expressing what I have been trying to find the words to say myself. Also, thank you for all the work you and others have done to record our “vanishing” heritage!

  18. Twila Stubbs

    Well stated! I applaud your efforts to document history. Sad that every one is in such divide!

  19. Dear Brian,
    You certainly have contributed greatly to the preservation of Georgia’s history!
    People ought to respect our young nation’s History and we never can re-write it! Neither take all statues down.
    Coming from the Old World on August 29 1983 to Georgia, I noticed a lot of differences. There seems to be not much pride here in conserving old buildings and like you do, photograph its presence. Europe is so old and it has fabulous places that go way back in history.
    As for racism and slavery, that is also artificially inflated by the MSM.
    My very Parents both were in Serfdom too! That’s how life was back than and it affected almost all people, except the few wealthy that lived an easy life, compared to the masses.
    Did my Parents’ generation hate those wealthy farmers that took them into Serfdom? NO! Guess it taught them a life’s lesson, one that made them strong for living through the Depression years and WWII.
    There is more danger in the later decennia where so much has been thrown overboard. So many people get through life now without a moral compass! That has to change and respect needs to be restored.
    But you certainly keep doing what you do; it is a wealth of information for generations to come!

  20. Raleighwood Dawg

    Thanks for all you do, Brian!

  21. Susan Hogan

    Brian.. thanks for continuing to document our heritage and sharing your thoughts.

  22. AJ

    Well said, Brian Brown! Keep up the good work! We look forward to your emails! Fantastic photography!

  23. Jan Muggridge

    Thank you for everything you do. I love this site. I wish people could wake up and see one another as Americans not color or nationality. I had people in my family who fought for the South and some fought for the North.

  24. Judith Gresham

    I really appreciate all the wonderful pictures you post and on occasion I see one that relates to our family. I hate to see the monuments coming down as it is beyond me how a statue can hurt you. I especially hate hearing the fine young men that fought for the Confederacy being called traitors. I pray each day that sanity returns to out great country soon

  25. Deborah c

    Well said and thank you

  26. Elliott Brack

    Would you be amendable to me printing this in GwinnettForum next week?

    Good work on your thoughts!

    And which city do you live in?

    On Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 3:28 PM, Vanishing South Georgia Photographs by Brian Brown wrote:

    > Brian Brown posted: ” Today, 18 July 2017, Confederate monuments are being > vandalized at the most rapid rate in their history. I’ve woken up almost > daily to read of new mischief regarding these embattled Southern icons. > It’s happening so fast, I can’t even keep up. First,” >

    • Elliott, I’ll get back to you no later than tomorrow morning. Attending a memorial service on Jekyll Island today.

    • Kathy Blankinship

      Hi Elliott Brack, it’s nice to see your name. I miss hearing of your adventures and friendship with my husband, Bill Blankinship. He passed away almost a year ago. I’m not sure you knew. Kathy Blankinship

  27. Andy Knight

    Brian, your commentary is an excellent piece…don’t do anything different! You, like myself, and so many other native-born (& adopted) Southerners love the SOUTH…our beloved DIXIE. We thank the Good Lord for dedicated Documentarians such as yourself, and are so grateful and privileged to enjoy our GEORGIA through your eyes and camera lens!

    • I agree and thank you, Brian Brown for keeping history alive so well. If ever in Cochran, please snap some good ones of my beloved childhood home? Cedarcrest, 706 Beech St. with the great wrap around porch. It had the part of the porch where residents stepped into their horse drawn buggies… before Automobiles. I think they changed the address.

  28. It”s terrible what is being allowed to happen in our country.

  29. Donna

    Well stated, Brian. Thank you for your work. I really enjoy your photos and posts.

  30. Brian, I have been a fan of your work as long as I have known about it. I, too, am a lover of history, It really distresses me when I see monuments, statues, homes or just plain country relics destroyed. Each of those items, at one time, meant something to someone else, and whether we like them or not they ARE a part of our history. I like all people, but at times I DON’T like their actions, and I just cringe when I see another piece of Southern history being disrespected. PLEASE continue what you have been doing so capably for so long so that at least we will have memories of how things “used to be.” God bless.

  31. pastor Paul W Hall

    Thanks Bryan for all of your hard work. I found your site several years ago and really appreciate all you do to keep Georgia history alive
    I was born and raised in Georgia but moved to delaware over 20 years ago. Your pictures remind me of my southern heritage for which I am very proud.

    I appreciate your we rounded depiction of history including sites from all races and creeds. I agree with your comments about confederate monuments and what our reactions to racism should be. It can not be condoned or tolerated but neither should the destruction of our southern heritage
    Keep up the good work and God bless
    Paul W Hall
    Millsboro, DE

  32. Sonny Seals

    Well said. We have to own our history good and bad in order to learn from it. To have this issue hijacked by these pathetic fringe elements is sickening. We love what you do and you do it well.

  33. Jackie Johnston

    Well said. I totally agree

  34. Olivia

    You said it well. And there is the fact that the War was as much about Northern taxation, if not more, than slavery. History is history. How are we supposed to “learn from history” if it is eradicated.

  35. Elaine Gazaway

    I appreciate all the research you have done and share your views. Love history and I belong to UDC and many other organizations that honor our ancestors. Grew up in Georgia and it comes naturally.

    Sent from my iPhone


  36. betty fleming

    IM WITH U BRIAN…keep up the great work you are doing❣️

  37. vernon Goode

    Well said….thank you!

  38. Ben dooley

    Nicely said Brian.

  39. bethgatorfan

    Thank you for speaking up. Keep on keepin’ on!

  40. J. Johnson

    Brian, thank you for your stated position. Your heartfelt passion for all good things about everyone’s heritage – the good, the bad, the guilty and the innocent – we all carry luggage from our past. The trick is to use the contents of our baggage to improve the lives of those around us. Your work does just that for each of us.

  41. Timothy O. Davis

    Thanks for your comments and please keep doing what you do.

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