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Words about the Not-so-"Recent Unpleasantness" - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
captainsblog
captainsblog
Words about the Not-so-"Recent Unpleasantness"

That latter phrase was a Southern euphemism for what we learned to call the Civil War, and which true rednecks refer to as the "War of Northern Aggression."  They do this, hand in battle flag, with denying that slavery was the primary motivation behind the secession.  Although the sesquicentennial of the Confederacy's surrender at Appomattox passed earlier this year with little notice, there've been plenty of more recent occasions to ponder those events of 150 years ago and even earlier.

I'm currently reading a book by a fairly recent Facebook friend named Karen Abbott- who I connected with through two very different friendlines (novelist Joshilyn Jackson, and Hofstra professor and Mets conference co-chair Paula Uruburu). It's called Liar Temptress Soldier Spy, and it remains an amazingly bargain-like $2.99 in Kindle-land.  She's researched, and brought brilliantly to life, the stories of four women, two on each side of that war, who show or hide their true loyalties (among other things) in varying ways.  I'm barely ten percent of the way in, but two things get made very clear in those screens. First, slavery was essential to the rebel cause and way of life.  She recounts conversations with more reasonable members of Confederate households, which show a resistance to any form of compromise, as we see these Southerners and treating their chattels exactly like they were animals or durable goods. 

Second, rebel soldiers made pretty clear that, once in the heat of battle, they weren't interested in anything other than victory and vengeance, either. The author describes brutality to Union soldiers that would've gotten them strung up under the Geneva Conventions if  they'd been sent back in time to the early 1860s (I know, the earliest version dates to 1864, but the victorious United States didn't ratify even those simplest precepts of decency until the 1880s).

We accepted their surrender. With few exceptions, we did not prosecute or persecute their leaders.  And until about the mid-1950s, we acted as if they'd won the fucking war, allowing decades of everything from prejudice to lynchings with little changed except "slaves" becoming "sharecroppers."  It's no wonder these "proud Southern heritage" types act so entitled about keeping their treasonous trimmings- because we did everything except pay them for taking their slaves away.

Leave it to Great Britain to have done THAT.

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We might not have noticed an American PBS series shedding light on Britain's sordid past- if it hadn't been for Batman:

This year history gate-crashed modern America in the form of a 150-year-old document: a few sheets of paper that compelled Hollywood actor Ben Affleck to issue a public apology and forced the highly regarded US public service broadcaster PBS to launch an internal investigation.

The document, which emerged during the production of Finding Your Roots, a celebrity genealogy show, is neither unique nor unusual. It is one of thousands that record the primal wound of the American republic – slavery. It lists the names of 24 slaves, men and women, who in 1858 were owned by Benjamin L Cole, Affleck’s great-great-great-grandfather. When this uncomfortable fact came to light, Affleck asked the show’s producers to conceal his family’s links to slavery. Internal emails discussing the programme were later published by WikiLeaks, forcing Affleck to admit in a Facebook post: “I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed.”

Holy awkwardness! But at least the BenMan's ancestors weren't alone in this shame: the records of British slave-ownership up until their Veddy Public Abolition in 1833 are damning of thousands of others, many of them famous or with famed descendants (from George Orwell to the current PM) who also profited from the slave trade even after that abolition act:

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 formally freed 800,000 Africans who were then the legal property of Britain’s slave owners. What is less well known is that the same act contained a provision for the financial compensation of the owners of those slaves, by the British taxpayer, for the loss of their “property”. The compensation commission was the government body established to evaluate the claims of the slave owners and administer the distribution of the £20m the government had set aside to pay them off. That sum represented 40% of the total government expenditure for 1834. It is the modern equivalent of between £16bn and £17bn.

The compensation of Britain’s 46,000 slave owners was the largest bailout in British history until the bailout of the banks in 2009. Not only did the slaves receive nothing, under another clause of the act they were compelled to provide 45 hours of unpaid labour each week for their former masters, for a further four years after their supposed liberation. In effect, the enslaved paid part of the bill for their own manumission.

Wow. It's no wonder Victoria closed her eyes when she thought of England. And she being, essentially, an obsessive-compulsive Saxe-Coburgian, her minions kept meticulous records of all of it, just as her Nazi grandnephews did a century later- the who's, the how much's, and, in the case of the slaves themselves, the what's.

None of this directly impacted the continued Southern resistance to abolition- although in hindsight, the Brits don't come out looking quite as noble about the whole thing as some of their history books might suggest.

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Having traveled back to 30-ish years before Appomattox, we end by jumping not quite a century after it- to the early 1960s.  That's when the battle flag began its ugly return to southern state flags and statehouse grounds, inspired by the first gains toward black equality since the 13th-15th Amendments.  It's also when a young Alabaman author penned one of the siren songs of the whole business known as To Kill a Mockingbird.  Tomorrow, her publisher will release.... something.  In time (both 50-ish years later published and later in time portrayed), it's a sequel. Some records suggest it's more of a first draft.  Nobody really knows what Harper Lee thinks of the whole business.  Advance review copyreaders have quickly called out the shock of the story- that Atticus Finch, her hero and stand-in for her own lawyer father, turned out to be a supporter of the very Jim Crow institutions that essentially lynched Tom Robinson on the government payroll. The publisher has had to walk back much of the hype, faced with these revelations, by disclaiming having made any "editorial intervention" in the miraculous manuscript from all those years ago.

I did not pre-order, and am undecided on whether to dive in, tomorrow or ever.  I'd really like to know more of the author's true wishes on the subject, not those coming from the family-firm lawyer who made this discovery so soon after the death of Harper Lee's sister.  Whether I do or not, though, it will never undo the change that Mockingbird's Atticus Finch had on our culture.  It belongs firmly in the most honored halls of our libraries, just as that damned flag belongs only as a museum piece among the legion of losers with whom it shares shame and defeat:



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