United Daughters of the Confederacy Problematic History
October 8, 2018 10:09 PM   Subscribe

Things the UDC don't want you to know about them. "It’s helpful, in the midst of any conversation about this country’s Confederate monuments, to understand who put these things up, which also offers a clue as to why. In large part, the answer to the first question is the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a white Southern women’s 'heritage' group founded in 1894. Starting 30 years after the Civil War, as historian Karen Cox notes in her 2003 book 'Dixie’s Daughters,' 'UDC members aspired to transform military defeat into a political and cultural victory, where states’ rights and white supremacy remained intact.' In other words, when the Civil War gave them lemons, the UDC made lemonade. Horribly bitter, super racist lemonade."
posted by MovableBookLady (29 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
The article references a lawsuit between Vanderbilt and the UDC on renaming what was then the Confederate Memorial Hall. I managed to find the judgment, if anyone is interested.
posted by gryftir at 11:55 PM on October 8


My impression of the judgment is Vanderbilt lost, and the concurring opinion spills a lot of ink on a recitation of the battles of the Civil War, which is just...weird. Sad and troubling, too.
posted by childofTethys at 4:07 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


My impression of the judgment is Vanderbilt lost, and the concurring opinion spills a lot of ink on a recitation of the battles of the Civil War, which is just...weird. Sad and troubling, too.

Well lost is a matter of opinion. They ended up paying to get out of it, IIRC from donations specifically for that purpose. Yeah, ideally, "Confederates were traitors to the United States, Horrible people, and we should remember and commemorate their victims, but never them." would have been good enough, but sadly our civilization is not yet that civilized.
posted by mikelieman at 5:11 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]


"problematic"?
posted by eustatic at 5:44 AM on October 9 [9 favorites]


Yeah, pretty much any organization with some variation of the word "confederate" in their name is going to be problematic. And their pro-Klan booklets seal the deal. But I somehow missed (or forgot among all the other noise) the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. WTF?! While we're at it, let's go to the WWII veteran's section and erect monuments to all the brave German and Japanese soldiers who died defending their homeland. Of all the places for such a monument, I can't imagine a more inappropriate one, and it says a lot about our country that there wasn't an outcry against it at the time.
posted by TedW at 5:54 AM on October 9 [17 favorites]


The non-problematic parts of their history would make for a much shorter article.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:55 AM on October 9 [9 favorites]


George III only wanted what was best for his subjects #notallmonachs
posted by Groundhog Week at 5:57 AM on October 9 [14 favorites]


But I somehow missed (or forgot among all the other noise) the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. WTF?!

Created by an act of Congress. So that's the way it is to be dispatched.

Voter's reg. in NY ends Oct 12.

Here's a NY State Voter's Registration Form if you need one.

PLEASE, PLEASE, VOTE!
posted by mikelieman at 6:58 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]


But I somehow missed (or forgot among all the other noise) the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. WTF?!

Seems like it would be a fundamental step towards reconciliation following a civil war.
posted by biffa at 7:05 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]


Only if you think that reconciliation with the wealthy white South is more important than the, ah, Reconstruction to allow enfranchisement of the rest of the South, post-Civil-War.

Besides, that memorial was authorized in 1906, commissioned in 1910, and unveiled by good old racist Woodrow Wilson in 1914. Reconciliation following a civil war, my sweet ass.
posted by sciatrix at 7:12 AM on October 9 [34 favorites]


(there's a special place in hell for Rutherford B. Hayes, okay)
posted by sciatrix at 7:12 AM on October 9 [11 favorites]


The often-excellent Encyclopedia Virginia recently wrote up their experiences dealing with UDC members' pleas to edit the UDC page to, in short, focus less on the unpleasant white supremacy part of the UDC.
What we have with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, however, is different. While they argue that we are being factually inaccurate, they are not actually able to identify any factual inaccuracies. Instead, their objections are philosophical, and at this point it would be more efficient to answer them here than to continue to write each complaining member individually.

At the crux of this philosophical disagreement, I think, is the phrase “white supremacy.” The UDC members object to any association of these words with their organization, past or present.
posted by introp at 7:14 AM on October 9 [23 favorites]


The comments on that article, introp, are... illuminating of precisely the point raised by the authors. I encourage people to read them; there's a lot of useful case studies in them, as well as some solid historical pointing out of inaccuracies and errors in the framing of the UDC's defenders.
posted by sciatrix at 7:23 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]


The UDC members object to any association of these words with their organization, past or present.

They can take their objections and go pound sand. This organization should die off. Good riddance.
posted by Fizz at 7:42 AM on October 9 [9 favorites]


Gotta love the UDC monument to Shepherd Heyward at Harper's Ferry, which reads:
On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepherd, an industrious and respected colored freeman, was mortally wounded by John Brown’s raiders, in pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, he became the first victim of this attempted insurrection. This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of Negros who under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war. So conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.
It's hanging out on a corner near the location of the armory, serving as a perfect window into the psyche of the UDC.
posted by Atreides at 7:57 AM on October 9 [7 favorites]


But I somehow missed (or forgot among all the other noise) the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. WTF?!

Seems like it would be a fundamental step towards reconciliation following a civil war.


It went up in 1914 and was dedicated by a president so racist that he was notably racist in 1914. This wasn't about "reconciling" 49 years after the war ended, it was reminding certain people not to get out of line.

Arlington National Cemetery is the memorial to reconciliation: Robert E. Lee broke his oath to the United States of America, and those re-United States took his farm and buried our honored dead on it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:20 AM on October 9 [26 favorites]


I've been to Harper's Ferry many times, I've probably seen that boulder. (We even went through the wax museum there once.) The story of John Brown's uprising is tremendously tragic. It has always struck me though that mentioning Heyward Shepherd is an early example of those whataboutisms that are so common among Fox News the racists these days. "They came to free the slaves, but they killed a free black man!" does not mean all black people were free, or that the abolitionist cause isn't morally just, even if Brown's raid was risky and wrong in it's violence.
posted by Catblack at 9:13 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]


An ex of mine joined the UDC, which involved quite a lot of paperwork - in 2011. I had no idea she had any interest and it was a topic of discussion which contributed to our parting being unamicable (in a small way, other issues seemed much larger at the time.) I was so floored that she wanted to join. She shut me down on the racist concern.

It was a very weird thing and obviously was in a pre-2016 environment so perhaps didn't have the same feeling as it would today, but it did contribute to a sense that I never really actually understood her thinking on a lot of things. This makes me even more horrified, since she was actually inside the organization and must have known a lot more about it.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:20 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Gen. James S. Brisbin, December 1865: The moment they lost their cause in the field they set about to gain by politics what they had failed to obtain by force of arms.

Race and Reunion is a great book if you want to read about what reconciliation and the rhetoric of reunion actually meant in the decades after the war (tldr: it meant the triumph of white supremacy at a national level, enabling whites across North and South to overcome their former antagonism by agreeing to ignore the cause of the war).

Back on topic, I wonder what would have happened if women in the South, and in America generally, had access to more avenues of expression. The UDC is such a blatant performance of the "Southern belle" style of femininity, but at least it was a way women could form and lead their own organization and gain political influence. Louise Young covered a similar phenomenon in a different context in Japan's Total Empire: women's organizations in Japan heavily backed the imperial war effort, running public campaigns to buy armor and equipment for soldiers deployed in colonial Manchuria. It wasn't "bring them home", it was "help them win". There's nothing sadder than seeing a subordinate class in society throw another subordinate class under the bus.
posted by hyperbolic at 9:20 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]




Yeah, pretty much any organization with some variation of the word "confederate" in their name is going to be problematic. And their pro-Klan booklets seal the deal. But I somehow missed (or forgot among all the other noise) the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. WTF?! While we're at it, let's go to the WWII veteran's section and erect monuments to all the brave German and Japanese soldiers who died defending their homeland.


Remember, the sober reckoning that Germany undertook after World War II did not happen in 1945.

It started in 1968, because of German baby boomers, NOT because of their parents. A monument like that could well have happened if not for the events of 1968.
posted by ocschwar at 10:04 AM on October 9 [10 favorites]


Arlington National Cemetery is the memorial to reconciliation: Robert E. Lee broke his oath to the United States of America, and those re-United States took his farm and buried our honored dead on it.

Then in 1882 a 5-4 Supreme Court decision returned the land to Lee's grandson/heir, who immediately sold it back to the federal government.
posted by XMLicious at 10:46 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]


My aunt has never recovered from the insult of me laughing so hard that sweet tea came out my nose at her statement that I should join the Daughters. Cause I'm so into all that history stuff, and we are related to the President and all. I honestly did think she was joking because a thinking historian-type person is the last person the Daughters want in their ranks, but apparently, she was serious and continues to be deeply offended that I thought the association so laughable.

If I had the moment back, I don't think I would have laughed so hard, but I definitely would have spent more time explaining to her how dangerous and unpleasant the Daughters are and how they are the very antithesis of the person I ever wanted to be. But honestly, laughing and tears probably got the point across as well.
posted by teleri025 at 11:06 AM on October 9 [19 favorites]


"The Josef Mengele Fan Club's Problematic History"
posted by Rust Moranis at 12:16 PM on October 9 [18 favorites]


Ah yes. Women who love the Confederacy. Saw plenty of them when I was teaching in Louisiana. Did I mention the frat which staged a march across campus in CSA uniforms, to be met by their sister sorority in full antebellum get-up?
posted by doctornemo at 4:24 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Back to the other end of the Confederacy, I think the UDC paid for the Confederate memorial pyramid in Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery.

(If you haven't seen it, it's quite an experience. Enter on foot from the main gates and you can examine many splendid cemetery sites and stories, including at least one haunting, and at least one dog memorialized in stone.

Then you turn down one path and walk between some trees, until a different cemetery opens up before you. Row upon row of stones marking the graves of CSA veterans. Each time we've been there many have been dotted with clean little Confederate flags.

On one side is this towering, titanic pyramid, built from unworked, undressed stones. It looms at certain times of day like a Lovecraftian idol.

It's like stepping into an alternate history where the CSA won.)
posted by doctornemo at 4:28 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]


Isn’t it just a bit ironic that any group associated with the Confederacy would be promoting patriotism? I thought not being proud of being part of the US was kind of the Confederacy’s thing.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:07 PM on October 9 [5 favorites]


It is, but various Confederate fans speak of pride in their particular state, or in the CSA as an enterprise, and that satisfies them. Some will argue that they are actually realizing the American Revolution's ideals.
posted by doctornemo at 8:20 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


> On the night of October 16, 1859, Heyward Shepherd, an industrious and respected colored freeman, was mortally wounded by John Brown’s raiders, in pursuance of his duties as an employee of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, he became the first victim of this attempted insurrection. This boulder is erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of Negros who under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war. So conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races.

A truly fascinating amount of racist ideology is packed into that seemingly-respectful label. It's disgusting yet masterful (pun intended.)
posted by desuetude at 11:08 AM on October 10 [1 favorite]


Did I mention the frat which staged a march across campus in CSA uniforms, to be met by their sister sorority in full antebellum get-up?
Ah, the delightful brothers of the Kappa Alpha Order. They're infamous for that bullshit, and used to do that every year at every chapter. It was a foundational event for them. My "nerd frat" (actually the Men's Honor's Dorm, but if it walks kinda like a duck...) at Alabama had a KA-mocking party in the mid-80s called Old North Days in response.

Fortunately, I'm glad to note that the national office of KA officially banned the use of confederate uniform parades YEARS ago.

By which I mean eight years ago.
posted by uberchet at 1:45 PM on October 12 [3 favorites]


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