Given the current debate over the Confederate flag at the S.C. General Assembly today, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my own posts on the flag, Neo-Confederates, and the misguided men and women who still insist the Confederate flag is a symbol of “heritage not hate.”
For starters, I’ll begin with this satirical post from April 1, 2014:
(Knight-Rider) Aiken, S.C. — When Lorne Ashley Rutledge dropped off his son Bixby at the gates of Johnny Reb’s Confederate Camp for Kids, he thought his son would spend the summer learning about the legacy of the antebellum South, the events that led up to the War Between the States, and the bravery of the men who gave their lives to defend their homeland from an invading force. Little did he know that his son would be forced to witness atrocities and participate in activities which sullied the good name of all of those who fought under the command of Robert E. Lee.
“When I picked up Bixby, he couldn’t look me in the eye. He was quiet, didn’t say a word,” Rutledge says. “So I pressed him, and I pressed, and finally he told me what had happened. And that’s when I realized that the people behind the camp didn’t care about Confederate history, they didn’t care about the South, they didn’t care about Southerners. This wasn’t heritage. It was cultural genocide.”
The story that Bixby told was one of suffering and pain — tales of forced labor and public lashings. Throughout it all, Bixby remained unharmed. He was just an observer. The real victims were a group of African Americans, men, women, and children — all wearing tattered clothes and torn shoes, that is if they wore anything at all.
Although Bixby never felt the sting of the lash, he was traumatized by what he saw at the Confederate Camp for Kids. Rutledge for one was furious. “This is not the antebellum South that I remember,” the angry father says. “What kind of monster forces kids to sip on mint juleps and watch a slave auction?”
That monster is Wyatt Duvall, the noted provocateur, author, and entrepreneur. “For the record, those were virgin mint juleps, and if you want to call me a monster for refusing to give minors alcohol, then so be it” Duvall says. “No child was ever harmed at Johnny Reb’s — not even the black ones.”
Duvall scoffs at the idea that he doesn’t respect the men and women of the slave-holding South. “Look, if anything, I want Southern boys and girls to bask in the simple joys of plantation life, to get a taste of what it was like to be a member of the aristocracy in the antebellum South. That’s why we had nightly balls and slave auction Saturdays,” Duvall says. “I’ll admit the kids were a little taken aback by that latter one, but they eventually started to enjoy it. Seriously, you’ve never seen a bigger smile on a wee one’s face then when he orders his slave to bow before him and kiss his feet for the first time. It’s pure joy.”
As for the men and women who Duvall hired to play the parts of the slaves, none of them really seemed to mind. “The way I see it,” says Isaiah Middleton, “we’re part of a living history exhibit, and it’s our job to bring the past to life, no matter how ugly it is. And the pay’s pretty good too.”
But for Bixby Rutledge the cost was just too much. His entire life has changed. “My son refuses to attend Civil War reenactments with me — he loved those things — and he took down the Confederate Flag in his bedroom,” Lorne Rutledge says. “It’s like I sent my son to that camp, and someone else came back. I don’t even recognize him anymore.”
While the League [of the South] minimizes the roll of the flag, Save the Sons of the Confederate Veterans’ Walter Hilderman, of Eutaville, sees it a bit differently. For him, extremist groups like the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens and Black Mountain, N.C., attorney Kirk Lyons’s Southern Legal Resource Center (SLRC) saw the Confederate flag brouhaha as a way to bring more members into the fold. “The LoS realized that with their 9,000 members they had gotten as far as they could into American society selling neo-secessionism. They needed a hook. The hook is the Confederate flag,” Hilderman says. “It’s sort of a natural fit for folks to look around and say, ‘If we all join forces, we can turn this into a modern political movement and use the Confederate flag as the bait and pull a lot of people into it.’”
Hilderman also believes it was at this critical moment in South Carolina history, most notably at the Confederate flag rally in 2000 in Columbia, these Southern heritage extremists saw the opportunity to launch a takeover of the largely benign and historical Sons of Confederate Veterans. “These folks… looked at those 7,000 people out there waving flags in the streets around the capital and then realized that the SCV has 33,000 people and has a nationwide infrastructure – camps, communication, money, all those things,” he adds. Since then, Lyons’ radicals have essentially taken control of the SCV while Hilderman was kicked out of the SCV for criticizing the new leadership.
At first, I thought the flag should stay on top of the dome. It was our history, a rather nasty bit of history to be sure, but it was ours and it told the rest of the U.S. exactly what they could do. It was a part of what we were in South Carolina.
And then I learned something that changed my mind. I had always thought the Rebel flag had been there since the Civil War. But then I found out I was wrong. The flag hadn’t been placed on top of the Statehouse until the 1960s, right as the civil rights movement was just starting to really gear up. Heck, it wasn’t even the actual flag of the Confederacy. And it was then that I began to see the flag for what it really was. It was a revisionist middle finger.
Joining Fondry in the hotel hallway are other merchants selling their wares and services. Dixie Outpost is pushing books like The South Was Right, The Real Lincoln, and The Hunt for Confederate Gold, as well as an assortment of flags — South Carolina State flags, Confederate flags, the Christian flag, and the S.C. Secessionist flag — the kind favored by members of the neo-Confederate hate group, the League of the South. The company also sells a variety of T-shirts with Southern nationalist themes — one features three mice holding a Confederate flag. Above the cheerful trio, it reads, “Dixie Baby.” Another T-shirt features the image of a Jesus fish with the Confederate flag imprinted inside of the little beastie. The words “Proud Southern Christian” encircle the fish.