“The Self-Pity of the Defeated” Loses Momentum

And so, Nikki Haley (R), the Governor of S.C. who once said that during the Civil War “you had one side of the Civil War that was fighting for tradition, and I think you had another side of the Civil War that was fighting for change,” has, according the The New York Times, “signed a law removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.” Good for Governor Haley and all those who have so vigorously fought against this symbol ever since the flag went up in the early 1960s in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.

Somehow, though, I doubt this is the end of this fight over the symbols of the Confederacy.  In 1930, the African American poet Sterling Brown said this about those who glorify the antebellum South (page 199, Loathing Lincoln):

“Since ‘Lee’s surrender,’ defenses of the lost cause, strident and pathetic, have been frequent. It was natural. It is the human way out of dilemmas to rationalize. The self-pity of the defeated, graduates into self-justification. Having nursed his wounds, he nurses his woes; and having recovered his strength, tells the world of the wrongs he has suffered.

Today the tradition of glorifying the South gains momentum. Certain evils of modern life furnish the impulse to an easy romantic escape in dreams of a pleasanter past. Young men of the South, keen of mind, having set themselves up as ‘liberals,’ after having learned the most advanced technique, now use that technique for the buttressing of ancient prejudices.”

Still, today, we can hope that Brown is finally wrong and that “the tradition of glorifying the South” is losing rather than gaining “momentum.” In the meantime, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in” and work assiduously to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence “in all coming days” so that “it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyrany [sic] and oppression.”




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