The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Defending the Antebellum South, Neo-Confederates To March on Montgomery, Ala., Saturday

By Heidi Beirich on February 16, 2011 - 4:18 pm, Posted in Neo-Confederate

This coming Saturday, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) is holding a major event to honor the sesquicentennial, or 150th anniversary, of the beginning of the Civil War. The festivities will “commemorate” events that most Americans see as a terribly dark period in American history: “the founding of the Confederate States of America, the inauguration of Jefferson Davis and the raising of the first Confederate Flag.” Little mention is made by the SCV, which calls the Civil War a “Second American Revolution,” of the widespread devastation and death that accompanied the war the Confederate States of America (CSA) fought to defend slavery.

Taking the end of the same route as Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others who participated in the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march in 1965, the celebrations will include a march up Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue to the Capitol, with participants festooned in hoop skirts, battle flags and other period dress. On the steps of the Capitol, the group will reenact the swearing in of Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the CSA. The march begins at 11 a.m.

Expect to see the SCV joined by members of local hate groups active in the neo-Confederate movement, in particular members of the racist League of the South, which believes that slavery is “God-ordained” and that “Anglo-Celts” should be put in charge of an independent South, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist group that argues that black people are “a retrograde species of humanity.” The SCV will visit Montgomery again in July, when it plans to hold its “Confederate Sesquicentennial SCV Reunion” at the downtown Embassy Suites hotel.

So who exactly are these folks who can’t get enough of the Confederacy?

The SCV, which is open only to male descendents of Confederate veterans, sees Southern history differently than most historians. From the group’s point of view, the CSA was simply a victim of Lincoln’s tyranny. The South did not intend to fire the first shots on Fort Sumter; rather, Lincoln manipulated them into it. There was no “Civil War,” but instead an attempt by one country to invade another, the CSA, that was simply fighting for “independence.” The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves and the war had nothing to do with slavery. The SCV can’t even admit that the South, home of slavery, may have been uniquely racist, arguing that there was more of that in the North. It is no wonder that hate group members are attracted to the SCV and its celebration of the blatantly white supremacist CSA.

For most of its more than century-long history, the SCV identified closely with the white supremacist beliefs of the pre-1865 South. Early editions of the SCV’s Confederate Veteran newsletter defended the Ku Klux Klan, argued that the United States was created “for white people,” and complained that “when a Negro has learned to read he ceases to work.” In its first decades, the SCV had few members, and had so declined by 1932 that its newsletter ceased publication.

In 1953, the SCV came under the control of William McCain, a hardened segregationist and staunch supporter of the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, the notorious government agency created to spy on and undermine the budding civil rights movement. In a 1960 speech in Chicago sponsored by the commission, McCain explained Mississippi life to the folks in Illinois, saying that those blacks who sought to desegregate Southern schools were “imports” from the North. “We insist that educationally and socially, we maintain a segregated society. … In all fairness, I admit that we are not encouraging Negro voting,” he said. “The Negroes prefer that control of the government remain in the white man’s hands.”

By the time he died in 1993, McCain had restarted the Confederate Veteran, pushed SCV membership to more than 18,000, created a sizeable endowment, and purchased a national headquarters—an antebellum plantation home no less—in Columbia, Tenn. Within the SCV, McCain is a legend and the group’s library is named for him.

But starting in the late 1980s, certain members decided it was finally time to modernize and give up the segregationist ghost. They tried to clean the SCV’s ranks of extremists and those with racist ideas and reorient the organization towards historical endeavors. In 1989 and again in 1992, the group passed anti-Klan resolutions, the latter one also condemning “all others who promote hate.”

But that victory for tolerance was short-lived. By the early 2000s, hundreds of anti-racist members had been kicked out of the group and the national leadership was taken over by bona fide extremists (for more, read here and here). One of those newly empowered extremists, white supremacist attorney Kirk Lyons, was advocating an end to the no-Klan policy. “Mere Klan membership should not be sufficient to remove a member,” Lyons wrote in a 2004 E-mail.

In the end, the extremists won the battle for the SCV and are now firmly in control. The current commander is Michael Givens, who is best known for his 2000 video about a “heritage celebration” held in Columbia, S.C., to defend the display of the
Confederate battle flag over the statehouse there (the flag was taken down in July 2000). The video was heavy with interviews from hate group members and other extremists, including Lyons. Lyons remains in the group’s leadership on the committee that oversees its Sam Davis Youth Camps, which indoctrinate children in the SCV’s whitewashed version of history. Lyons’ close ally Ron Wilson, who was once commander of the SCV and who oversaw the purge of anti-racists from the group, is on the same committee. Wilson, whose articles have been published in the CCC’s newsletter and whose company sold an anti-Semitic book, is also the current director of field operations for the group, tasked with expanding its ranks.

Extremists on the general staff include: Lt. Commander Charles Kelley Barrow, once was a member of the League of the South; Adjutant-in-Chief Chuck Rand, also a former leaguer; and Chief of Protocol Lee Millar, once the contact for an event scheduled to feature a blackface group called the Snowflake Minstrels. There are many more extremists to be found on the group’s many committees, including the Chaplain Corps’ John Weaver, an adherent of the anti-Semitic “religion” Christian Identity; Loy Mauch of the convention planning committee, who is a former chairman of the Arkansas chapter of the LOS, and Gene Andrews of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Boyhood Home committee, who casually boasted in a newsletter a few years ago that he belonged both to the CCC and the LOS.

No wonder then that just last week it was reported that the Mississippi division of the SCV wants the state to issue a special license plate, tied to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest — a millionaire Memphis slave trader before the war, an apparent war criminal who presided over the massacre of surrendering black prisoners at Fort Pillow, Tenn., during it, and the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan afterward, when the Klan’s terrorist violence paved the way to a Jim Crow South. Forrest seems like just their kind of man.

  • D.E. Geesaman

    Let’s be cautious not to generalize. Not all SCV members are white supremist or racist. The Civil War is a uniquely interesting time in history–Our History! Thousands of AMERICANS died in this conflict on both sides. Because when the war ended we all became Americans. As Americans we love to celebrate our heros, no matter which side they fought on. One cannot look at History through a 20th or 21st century political prism. Sadly many school children do not know when the Civil War was fought, let alone why, since most textbooks just cover US History starting the 1870′s. ” Those that ignore history are bound to repeat it.”

  • Mitch Beales

    @Mike Menkes “…long extinguished racial fires…” are you nuts or just a liar?

  • Sam Molloy

    I think if you dig deep enough you will find that the Post Commander did not want to turn them out, as there was a March snowstorm, but the orders came from Washington, after being alerted by the request for building materials already mentioned.

  • Sam Molloy

    I don’t know where I read that but it wasn’t on some bathroom wall somewhere. It was said to be not widely known. The Historical Marker there says “23,300 slaves were freed here by congressional order in March of 1865″. It doesn’t mention the weather at the time. I’m not a revisionist and don’t really know what to make of it except that there was racism among Union troops also.

  • Mike Menkes

    Man y’all are scraping the bottom for this article …. Fanning long extinguished racial fires for a blog entry ….. Come on man, be inclusive …. Read a real history book …..

  • Snorlax

    Historical revisionism at its worst. Slavery wasn’t so bad…and the Holocaust never happened.

    Yeah, right. Sur-r-r-e.

  • Ken

    Sam Molloy is just conflating. Even if what he asserted was true, it wouldn’t meant that the two sides in the Civil War were equally immoral. Neo-confederate apologists love to find any instance they can in which somebody from the other side behaved cruelly. They believe it means their ancestors were not the bad guys.

    Reading the word “terrorism” in this context moves me to suggest the book “The Bloody Shirt (Terror After Appomattox) ” by Stephen Budiansky. All Americans should be educated in how the Reconstruction era actually unfolded.

  • buz t

    Regret being a Southerner? Well Willy DELTA is ready when you are. You want be missed with that attitude….. As a Southern by birth I love the South and so do most of you Yankee Libertines and carpetbaggers. Why do you keep movin down here?.. We are not going to change and do it the way ya’ll did it in Buffalo. That what keeps it RIGHT.

    Now if you were going to have a LIncoln Day parade we wouldn’t care, so what gives you the moral right to slam my loved activity… Get use to it …. We are here to stay…..SCV proud member
    You did win the war but you didn’t change a thing……..

  • william edwards

    I get sick of those who can’t come into the 21st century. Those who would like to bring an evil dark age to this nation.I can assure these nuts, these evolutionary deadends,that what their starting they will not finish. they make me regret being a southern white male

  • Marsha Abelman

    I, too, wait for some citation to back up your statement, Sam. No expert on the Civil War, but I don’t recall ever hearing that. A brief search on Google led me to nothing about that. Please enlighten?

    I did find a Camp Nelson site that included a copy of a letter requesting Federal funds to build shelters for the growing number of slave refugees (http://www.campnelson.org/colored/letter.htm)

  • Mitch Beales

    Sam Molloy do you have a reference or are you content to post lies?

  • Sam Molloy

    At Camp Nelson, on the river between Lexington and Danville Ky, hundreds of freed slaves had appeared, being newly unemployed, homeless and starving. The Union army fed them until the coldest part of the winter, then turned them all out to freeze to death.

  • Larry

    It is amazing to see this kind of ignorance in this nation at this time in our history. Do these people have any life or education?

  • Marty

    Once again the anachronistic clowns have an opportunity to dress up and wave little confederate flags. These people are not worthy of the analysis of a thoughtful historian like Mr. Fuchs.
    The license plate is another matter. Mr. Barbour reminds me of the old George Wallace, before he saw the light, and of Lester Maddox of axehandle fame. These people need a good, big federal marshall or a federalized national guard to show them to the door. This BS has to end someday, doesn’t it?

  • Herbert E. Larson

    I find it very sad that so many people try to bring legitimize and honor to a life made possible only by slavery. Once again
    the disconnect reality and truth and how I feel about things shows.

  • Kevin Brown

    You know it is really sad, having grown up in Alabama I saw first hand the schizophrenia-like relationship modern day southerners have with Civil War history. I myself am a historian and had a great-great grandfather who fought with Longstreet’s First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. While I do take a certain pride in that fact I have to resign myself to the reality that he was fighting for the wrong side. My ancestor did not own slave (we were of the poor white yeoman-farmer variety of southerners) but the fact that we did not personally own slaves does not take away from the fact that my family was fighting for a South that had seceded on one ideology-the ownership of other people. So I take pride in the fact that my great-great grandfather was a brave man but he was fighting for a wrongheaded cause. Oh and I would never consider joining an organization like the SCV which is little more than a nest of racist vipers, and that is the real shame.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    While the Klan certainly deserves the epithet “terrorist” it seems like an historical misprision to apply that term to all those who participated in the Confederacy. I recently put a review on Amazon making this point in the context of a review of Fry’s great book Dixie Looks Abroad. That work shows how ridiculous the Confederacy was in their attempts to deal with the world outside their insular universe. I strongly feel that is the best way to quash all the bizarre nostalgia for what was an entirely blunderbuss regime. Realistically, there may have been separable moments of honor, but the context as a whole was, of course, just stupid. And serious scholarship regularly shows just that. Such is the best way to limit the emotional pull these odd Neo-Confederate organizations have on people. They don’t stand for any over-arching principle that some member might have had, in spite of the contextual stupidity. Rather theirs is a hankering for something that did not even exist. For the reality was pure nuttiness on a large scale.

    It is in this limited ambit that I want to mention the theological nexus between the recent tendencies of the Roman Catholic Church and the rhetoric of nostalgia. Let me be crystal clear. The huge majority of Catholics are absolutely distant from the very ethos of such things. But the contiguity of reductionist, hyper-traditionalist theology and an attraction to nostalgia induced rhetoric, like Neo-Confederatism cannot be dismissed, as a logical matter in the history of ideas. And there is nothing anti-Catholic in pointing out that Pope Benedict’s giant gaffe with Bishop Williamson shows this exactly, at the very least by omission, That is omission of care because of basic theological similarity, not necessarily political. On a more limited basis it seems that there is an attraction of some libertarian Catholics like Thomas Woods
    to Confederate nostalgia, and he has admitted to being involved at one time with the League of the South. There are even people calling themselves something like Slaves of Mary who have demonstrated online at times a very curious logic about the history of the South. And I can personally testify that someone I knew early in life, as a teacher, was both a member of the Society of St. Piux X and a member of the Klan, to my grief.

    The broad point is that a liberal viewpoint is the antithesis of all this nostalgia, though paradoxically such liberalism did exist in the South. Indeed, it was so limited that it appears now perhaps merely an intellectually historic artifact, though a significant one. Still, highlighting that limited existence of liberal tendencies in the South, to my mind, is the best way to show how destructive the much larger ultra-traditionalist tendencies were. Further, the creeping rigidity of today’s doctrinal fanaticism is the true bedfellow of this benighted nostalgia, and should be identified as such in a decent society.

  • john h`

    If I could go, I would carry a sign listing the prices slaves were worth at the beginning of the civil war.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    The Federal government needs to raise some regiments ASAP and put down this rebellion! See, THIS is what happens when we waste our military resources in places like Iraq or Afghanistan.

  • Difluoroethene

    First of all, the fact that so many neo-Confederates are anti-Semitic (such as Ron Wilson and the book he promoted) is more than a little ironic due to the fact that the fourth-highest leader in the original Confederacy was Judah P. Benjamin, who was Jewish (Benjamin, along with Robert E. Lee, was one of the more moderate Confederates, as he thought that slaves should be freed if they agreed to serve in the Confederate army, a proposal which Nathan Bedford Forrest and the more extremist Confederates strongly opposed). Perhaps the anti-Semitism of modern neo-Confederates stems from their dislike of Benjamin’s “insufficiently racist” views?

    Second of all, Haley Barbour (the governor of Mississippi and a 2012 presidential hopeful) recently refused to condemn the proposed Nathan Bedford Forrest license plate. Barbour said that he “didn’t want to denounce anyone”. Personally I think that was a cowardly move on his part; surely if there was anyone from the old Confederacy that should be denounced, it would have been Forrest, who broke the law by importing slaves into the US after 1808, continued to rebel against the Union following the Confederacy’s defeat, and by far the worst of all, was a co-founder of the KKK. If Barbour can’t denounce someone like that, he must be quite spineless indeed, and that isn’t a quality most Americans would want in a future President.