It is the rallying cry heard from pro-Confederate activists all across the country – “Heritage, Not Hate!” With its steadfast persistence, one might be tempted to believe that it originated immediately after the Civil War, or perhaps during the Lost Cause era, the Centennial or even the Civil Rights movement. But it’s much more recent than that, not appearing on bumper stickers or license plates until the early 1990s.
Setting the Scene: The Civil War and the Mainstreaming of Black Culture
The last decade of the Twentieth Century was a strange time for popular race relations. Since the late 1970s, American popular culture saw the rising of hip-hop counterculture. Even more apparent, black media in general saw a giant upswing on television. The culmination of all of this was movies such as Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing (1989).
The tie to the Civil War was 1989’s Glory, starring Denzel Washington three years prior to his portrayal of the civil rights leader, Malcolm X. Glory was still in theaters when Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” reached Number One. As largest grossing post-Gone with the Wind Civil War film, Glory raked in $28 million. With this, the awareness that black history existed wasn’t just in popular society, but now within the Civil War community as well.
Less than a year after the release of Malcolm X, Gettysburg (which took in only enough to fill but half of Glory‘s coffers) was released on both the big and small screens. This, along with Glory, contributed to the overall rise in the Civil War’s popularity, which correlated with the rise in the greater acceptance of black popular culture.
Backlash Against the Confederate Flag
Between the release of Malcolm X and Gettysburg, Georgia’s Governor Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat who would later go on to be the keynote speaker at the 2004 Republican National Convention, proposed that the state flag, two-thirds of which was actually the Confederate battle flag, be changed to not include the divisive symbol. This was largely in response to students voicing their dislike of the symbol. 1Sam Stein, “Long Before Nikki Haley Took On The Confederate Flag, There Was Zell Miller,” Huffington Post, June 22, 2015, accessed August 13, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/22/nikki-haley-confederate-flag_n_7641008.html.
Several incidents, such as a Confederate flag burning, soured the state legislature to the change, but the movement continued to grow. The large civil rights march which took place before the Georgia state capital in February of 1993, cemented the popular (though certainly not new) idea that the Confederate flag was a symbol of hate. Of course, this wasn’t just going on in Georgia. Mass media took up the coverage, and the nation, especially the South, watched along.
The push-back against this opposition came especially from the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This organization had established for itself a curious history of not only heritage, but pro-segregation politics. For instance, in 1948, they declared their support of the States Rights Party – the so-called Dixiecrats, the pro-segregation break-off of the Democratic Party. Three years later, the SCV’s adjutant general explained that “We are against the national Administration’s effort to eliminate segregation in our Southland.” 2John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009) 140-141. Across the ensuing couple of decades, the Sons of Confederate Veterans did basically nothing to change their image and association with racism. This was a problem since they were also the public face of the Confederate flag.
‘Heritage, Not Hate’ is Finally Born
But in the early 1990s, the SCV were beginning to change with the times. In this same year of intensity (1993), a local SCV camp actually protested against the KKK. 3White Robes and Burning Crosses: A History of the Ku Klux Klan by Michael Newton (McFarland & Co.; 2014) p227. This was possibly Secession Camp No. 4 out of Charleston, SC, who also helped clean up after a KKK rally.
This did not mean, however, that the SCV had abandoned what they perceived as Southern heritage. When the call to remove the battle flag from Georgia’s state flag erupted, the SCV was there in force to speak out against it’s removal. One of their most vocal members was P. Charles Lunsford, the head of the SCV’s Heritage Defense. And it was he who coined the slogan “Heritage, Not Hate” at this time. 4Heidi Beirich, “The Struggle for the Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Return to White Supremacy in the Early Twenty-First Century?” in Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction, ed. Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, “The Struggle for the Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Return to White Supremacy in the Early Twenty-First Century?” (University of Texas Press, 2008) 286.
P. Charles Lunsford was not just vocal about the attack on Confederate symbols, but about the newly-established idea that scads of free black men had willingly fought for the Confederacy. In an article for the Confederate Veteran, Lunsford put forward the fiction that “more than 300,000 blacks, both free and slave, supported the Confederacy – far more than supported the Union.” 5Charles Lunsford, “The Forgotten Confederates,” Confederate Veteran, 11/1992 (1992).
As he joined in the chorus of voices claiming that multitudes of black Confederates actually existed, he encapsulated the entire early 1990s Confederate movement in the slogan: “Heritage, Not Hate,” creating a meme that will likely exist in perpetuity.
Heritage and Hate
But the story doesn’t end there. Lunsford, like his meme, lingered on. Though he claimed that his own stance was “Heritage, Not Hate,” he had been warned by the more moderate SCV president, Norman Dasinger, that he wasn’t to attend any more meetings of the Conservative Citizens Council – an organization that rose from the ashes of the incredibly racist White Citizens’ Council. Though the CCC’s racism was largely unknown until the late 1990s, the Sons of Confederate Veterans must have been fairly aware of it. When word got back to Dasinger that Lunsford had not only attended, but made a speech before the CCC, he was either removed or asked to step down.
More recently, Lunsford found his way back into the good graces of the SCV. But his racial issues seemed to have found their way back too. Though the SCV is outwardly anti-racist, an in-house email written by Lunsford in August of 2004 hinted that there might then remain some grand dragons in their closet:
“Those who say that the SCV has somehow changed in recent years are full of it. Our great mentor Gen. William D. McCain was a lifelong segregationist, never repenting until the day he died. Our CiC [Commander-in-Chief] during the early 1990s was Nathan Bedford Forrest III, and he simultaneously held the position of Grand Dragon of the KKK. So what?!” 6Douglas B. Chamber, The Past is Not Dead: Essays from the Southern Quarterly, (University Press of Mississippi) xvii.
Of course, not all who have waved the banner of “Heritage, Not Hate” are secret racists. But knowing the meme’s author as well as its historical context can give us a bit of insight into the minds of those who, though racist, insist that the Confederate flag and cause are not.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇡||Sam Stein, “Long Before Nikki Haley Took On The Confederate Flag, There Was Zell Miller,” Huffington Post, June 22, 2015, accessed August 13, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/22/nikki-haley-confederate-flag_n_7641008.html.|
|2.||⇡||John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009) 140-141.|
|3.||⇡||White Robes and Burning Crosses: A History of the Ku Klux Klan by Michael Newton (McFarland & Co.; 2014) p227. This was possibly Secession Camp No. 4 out of Charleston, SC, who also helped clean up after a KKK rally.|
|4.||⇡||Heidi Beirich, “The Struggle for the Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Return to White Supremacy in the Early Twenty-First Century?” in Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction, ed. Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich, “The Struggle for the Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Return to White Supremacy in the Early Twenty-First Century?” (University of Texas Press, 2008) 286.|
|5.||⇡||Charles Lunsford, “The Forgotten Confederates,” Confederate Veteran, 11/1992 (1992).|
|6.||⇡||Douglas B. Chamber, The Past is Not Dead: Essays from the Southern Quarterly, (University Press of Mississippi) xvii.|