Sons of Confederate Veterans in its own Civil War
Heritage is battling hate as civil war engulfs the 'non-political' Sons of Confederate Veterans
By the late 1980s, SCV leaders, trying to stay in tune with the changing times, were seeking a more moderate stance. In 1989, the group passed its resolution, clearly aimed at the Klan, condemning use of the Confederate flag by groups or individuals espousing "political extremism or racial superiority."
At least once, in 1993, an SCV camp counter-demonstrated against the Klan. And while the SCV has never tried to bar members from joining hate groups, it did begin enforcing a constitutional provision that required members to be apolitical during SCV events. Association with hate groups was discouraged.
This was evidenced most clearly with the 1994 ouster of P. Charles Lunsford, the SCV's "chief of heritage defense."
In an extremely unusual move for the SCV, Lunsford was removed from his post after making a speech in his role as an SCV official to the CCC, defying the SCV's moderate then-commander-in-chief, Norman Dasinger, who had many concerns about the organization.
Ironically, it was Lunsford, with his ear for a catchy slogan, who had popularized the phrase "Heritage, not Hate," widely used to project a benign SCV image.
Lunsford was not pleased with his dismissal. "The SCV will no longer be fighting the fight for Southern heritage," he said, "and those of us who made the SCV famous by fighting these battles and swelling the ranks are being purged."
But he may have spoken too soon.
A Hate Group is Born
The year 1994 also saw the formation of the League of the South, a group that threatened a renewed effort for Southern secession, proposed a theocratic government based on its particular brand of Christianity, and increasingly came to embrace racist attitudes toward black people.
League founder and President Michael Hill, who has called blacks "a compliant and deadly underclass," pushed the idea of the South as "Anglo-Celtic," a culture created by and for whites.
The timing was favorable. A backlash against affirmative action and similar race-based programs was well under way in the United States. The white percentage of the nation's population was clearly declining, with the loss of an overall white majority projected for some time around 2050 — a prospect that frightened many.
At the same time, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, ethnic nationalism was exploding around the world, evidenced most horrifically in the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia. Opposition to globalization was becoming widespread among racists who despised multiculturalism.
Around the Western hemisphere, nationalist movements based on ethnic purity were on the rise.
SCV members were in the League from the start, with a handful among its founders, and it wasn't long before League members were pressuring the SCV to help popularize their ideas. But SCV leaders initially resisted.
In 1995, Perry Outlaw, commander-in-chief of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars (an SCV affiliate for the descendants of Confederate officers), wrote a scathing article in Confederate Veteran magazine denouncing members who had taken up Hill's secessionist views.
Dasinger — who told the Intelligence Report that secession proposals were "about as stupid as stupid gets" — echoed Outlaw's remarks in the SCV newsletter the following year. And later in 1996, the SCV banned all discussion of secession from its new E-mail list.
These limited moves hardly reflected a full-scale purge of racists in the SCV. One example of the many who remained was Leonard Wilson, who today is an officer of one of the SCV's three regional divisions.
In 1956, according to several books on the subject, Wilson was a key figure in violent demonstrations over the admission of Autherine Lucy as the first black student at the University of Alabama. Leading chants of "Keep 'Bama white!" and shouting racist jokes, he led riotous students through two terrifying nights of racial unrest.
Wilson was prominent in the White Citizens Councils and, in 1985, became a founder of the CCC. In an official yearbook, the SCV mentions almost none of this, simply describing Wilson as "a political activist since junior high school."
Neither Wilson nor anyone else has ever been ejected from the SCV for supporting segregation, according to its current commander-in-chief. But Ken Burns, who made the critically acclaimed 1990 public television series "The Civil War," was kicked out after he suggested that Robert E. Lee was responsible for more American deaths than the Japanese in World War II.
The Backlash Begins
The banning of secession topics from the SCV's e-mail list provoked a backlash, with Walter "Donnie" Kennedy, a member of the SCV executive council, resigning his council post in protest.
Kennedy had co-authored the key neo-Confederate text The South Was Right!, which argues that slaves basically were happy with their condition. "If [secession] was 'Right' in 1861," Kennedy wrote in his angry resignation letter, "Why is it 'Wrong' today?"
It was after Kennedy's resignation in 1996 that George Kalas, webmaster of the League's Internet site, wrote that a struggle had begun for "the heart and soul of the SCV."
Describing himself as an "unreconstructed Confederate," Kalas blasted "Eat, Meet and Retreat (EM&R) Confederates" who accepted that the Civil War was fought over slavery. But Kalas did not take Kennedy's tack.
"I strongly urge you not to resign," Kalas wrote to SCV members. Instead, he said they should join other "unreconstructed" camps in "actively resisting the EM&R crowd's effort to impose a 'politically correct' regime upon the SCV."
There were other important developments in 1996. In North Carolina, Kirk Lyons and friends formed the Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC), which described itself as a "nonprofit legal foundation waging a counter-offensive to preserve Southern Heritage" and prevent the "Ethnic Cleansing of Dixie."
In the years to follow, with Lyons in the lead, the SLRC would increasingly take up cases involving the defense of the Confederate battle flag. More and more of these kinds of cases would be referred to SLRC by officers of the SCV.
Late that year, the SCV began to shift back to the right with the election of Peter Orlebeke as commander-in-chief. After his win, Orlebeke described some of his views to The Dallas Morning News:
I really don't think we had that much problem with racial relationships until Reconstruction. Slave life ... wasn't great conditions. Don't get me wrong. But there have been times that I wish someone had said to me, "I'll give you a job for the rest of your life."