Blame the North for slavery, too

Chris Caveness
Caveness is treasurer for The Center for Civil War Living History Inc. in Roanoke

The Sept. 19 commentary "The real history of the War Between the States"
by Ronald Mitchiner is perhaps one of the most misguided as well as defamatory
commentaries on Southerners I have read in The Roanoke Times.

Typically one can recognize a position in a debate as not having much credibility
when the debater must rely on cynicism and blatant insults to make his point.
These tactics are often used when there are few facts to support one’s position.

Mitchiner attempts to heap all the sins and responsibility for slavery on the
South and implies that Southerners with any interest in their heritage or the
Confederate battle flag are racist supporters of the Klu Klux Klan. He takes
exception to the realistic viewpoint that the South has a complicated and misunderstood

Let’s briefly examine the guilt for America’s original sin, slavery. Of course
slavery is wrong and has no place in civilized society. The South had large
landholders who used slavery in the conduct of business. However, our society
must also understand the guilt for the institution transcends both sides of
the Mason-Dixon line, as well as the Atlantic Ocean.

New England-based Yankee fleets in large part facilitated the slave trade by
doing business with the African chieftans selling their defeated enemies into
slavery. We should also recognize that Northern corporate America profited handsomely
by insuring slaves as property.

Moreover, the majority of the revenue of the United States government prior
to the Civil War — there was no IRS or personal income tax then — was from
tariffs placed on the export of cotton picked by slaves in the South.

The vast majority of this revenue was spent in the North, building its infrastructure.
Why? Because the North controlled the congressional votes that determined how
revenue was spent. This disproportionate spending was a primary cause for the
South’s interest in secession from the Union.

So, yes, slavery is truly an American sin with blame resting on both sides
of the War Between the States. In the evolution of America, this tragic war
precipitated an end to a horrid institution that benefited certain wealthy parties
residing in both the North and South.

With respect to the Confederate battle flag, more than 90 percent of soldiers
who fought for the South were nonslave-holding citizens, and secession didn’t
occur overnight. Virginians initially were against secession, and it was months
after the firing on Fort Sumter that Virginia seceded.

The North’s decision to invade the South precipitated Virginia’s decision to
secede and join the Confederacy. Our state’s citizen soldiers simply responded
to their state and new nation’s call to duty. Their circumstance is not much
different than, say, the Vietnam veterans who also fought in an unpopular war
but whose courageous service we appropriately honor.

For the millions of Americans descended from the Southern soldiers of the Confederacy,
the battle flag represents this patriotic courage and regional pride. It does
not represent racism to us.

The Confederate battle flag is not copyrighted, just as the stars and stripes
and crucifix are not. These symbols, too, are readily found at Klu Klux Klan
rallies. It is unfair to Southern American heritage to pick and choose which
symbols are racist. Yes, Old Glory flew over a slave-holding nation for nearly
100 years preceding the Civil War, and the Bible is rife with stories of slavery.

It has been apparent for some time that historians and Southern Americans are
faced with the challenge of rescuing the Confederate battle flag, which has
been hijacked by racist groups and extremists on the other side who wish to
characterize the flag as a racist symbol. But we do have history to help us
to provide balance to these modern images we see on our television sets and
Web sites.

Our organization does its part in promoting education by preserving hallowed
ground for living history presentations and re-enactments. To date, we have
facilitated the purchase of approximately $2.7 million worth of battlefield
ground from urban development.

Columns like "The real history of the War Between the States" are
extremist viewpoints that promote racism and widen the division between black
and white, and North and South. The sooner Americans appreciate it’s OK to respect
one’s heritage, the sooner we become a society with multicultural and multiracial

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