In the wake of the shootings in Charleston, an amazing national groundswell of support has built for removing the Confederate flags that have flown from state capitals throughout the South. Businesses like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart have banned the selling of flags and flag-related material. The country’s largest flag maker has said it will stop making the flag entirely. And guerrilla protestors around the country are starting to deface the statues honoring Confederate generals and politicians.
But the reach of the Confederacy–and the almost-insane tone-deafness of organizations and politicians who celebrate its history–goes well beyond the flag and hides in other insidious ways throughout the region. Here are just a few examples:
Kappa Sigma is a fraternity founded at the University of Virginia in 1869 (note, after the South had lost the Civil War). Today, it boasts more than 18,000 collegiate members and many more alumni, including North Carolina Senator Richard Burr. It also boasts one–and only one–honorary member: Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, racist, and traitor to America.
The fraternity likes Jefferson Davis so much that, in 2013, it wished him a “Happy Birthday” on its national website. This page was taken down once we called to ask about it, but as you can see, the URL makes it clear what was there. Plus, here’s a picture:
In January of 2014, the national website welcomed a new member: “Brother Hayes-Davis is the great-great grandson of Jefferson Davis, Sr., who is Kappa Sigma’s only honorary initiate.” (This page, too, has been taken down, but again, the URL reveals all).
We called the frat for comment about what it planned to do about its honorary member, but no one got back to us. They did, however, quickly delete those pages.
On a larger political scale, there’s also Senator Thad Cochran, the current senior senator from Mississippi. Senator Cochran recently issued a statement saying he thinks Mississippi should change its flag, which features a large Confederate flag. But when the senator goes to the U.S. Senate chamber, he sits at a desk that was once used by Jefferson Davis, when Davis was a senator from Mississippi, before he betrayed his country by leading a breakaway republic based on maintaining the institution of slavery.
The desk–and a “cute” story about how it was almost destroyed by right-thinking soldiers from Massachusetts before they were stopped by some Senate factotum–is featured all over the Senate’s website. The desk is notable not only because it is Davis’s old desk, but because Cochran himself spearheaded a Senate resolution in 1995 that officially makes Davis’s desk the desk of the senior senator from Mississippi. Thad Cochran made a law that he has to have the desk used by the President of the Confederacy.
We called Cochran’s office for comment about whether he would keep using the desk. They have not gotten back to us, but a reporter from Roll Call tracked him down in the Senate. The Senator had this to say:
“I don’t know. I don’t want them taking my desk away either. That’s Jefferson Davis’s desk over there where I’m sitting. …I’m very proud to have that. The senior senator from Mississippi always is given the opportunity to sit at the Davis desk.”
And finally, there is Stone Mountain. Stone Mountain is the Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy. This is quite literal: It was carved by the same men who carved Mount Rushmore. But instead of four presidents, it features 190-foot tall likeness of Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. It’s in a park owned by the state of Georgia, which also features a replica of a working plantation and other tourist attractions. The park is on Robert E. Lee Boulevard.
Just in case you think the potential racism of a memorial like this is merely symbolic, you should know that the monument was an official gathering place for the KKK for many years, where they burned crosses and held rallies. Now there are laser shows “to honor our troops” that are projected on the monument to three men who spent years fighting and killing American soldiers.
The governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, recently came out in support of a “redesign” of the state’s license plates honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans, so that the plates would no longer show the Confederate flag (they would still exist and honor the Sons of Confederate Veterans, though). We got in touch with the Governor’s office to see if he also supported doing something about the state park which features giant carvings of Confederate heroes; they didn’t respond.
The flags are an excellent first step. The statues and monuments may be next. But Confederate ephemera has seeped deeply into the institutions of the South, and even the whole country, in much more subtle ways than just flying a flag. It will take a long time, and a lot of effort, to root it out.