Year in Review 2015: Confederate Culture Wars

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On June 17, 2015, a lone gunman walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and opened fire, killing nine people, including the pastor. The subsequent police investigation identified 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who reportedly launched the attack in the hope that he would start a race war.

A photo of Roof later turned up showing him posed a Confederate flag—sparking widespread calls for the removal of the flag from public spaces. That, in turn, sparked calls for the removal of Confederate monuments, the renaming of public buildings named after Confederate figures, and other reforms/purges. Confederate heritage groups, feeling suddenly besieged and embattled, reacted with a rear-guard action that kept them permanently on the defensive.

ECW devoted considerable attention in 2015 to what we collectively called “The Confederate Culture Wars.”

In the wake of the shootings, ECW’s Chris Mackowski visited Charleston and offered his observations. As the situation continued to unfold over the summer, ECW historians offered a variety of perspectives: Bert Dunkerly, Dan Davis, Phill Greenwalt, Meg Thompson Groeling, Steward Henderson, Chris Mackowski, Joe Owen, Jimmy Price, and Sam Smith. A panel of our historians discussed the controversies as part of our Friday evening panel at the Second Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium at Stevenson Ridge.

Twice, the Culture Wars twice served as the topic for Questions of the Week (July 13, 2015 and July 17, 2015), giving ECW readers the opportunity to chime in directly.

As summer turned to fall, the controversy quieted somewhat, but it kept rearing its head in unexpected ways and places. Rob Orrison found himself caught as an innocent bystander in September. Chris Mackowski shared some of the odd instances he encountered. While the culture wars haven’t dominated headlines in the past few months the way they did over the summer, the conflict isn’t over. Just this week, the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools have begun considerations to rename schools named after Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stuart.

One of our jobs as historians is to help people understand the past. Attempts to whitewash it or glorify it both undermine our ability to learn from it. ECW welcomes the opportunity to continue the discussions on race, heritage, history, and memory that have arisen from the Charleston tragedy—which serves as a powerful reminder that those things all have very real impacts on our world today. Similarly, our inability as a society to discuss and debate those things has dreadful consequences.

Our coverage of the Confederate Culture Wars will continue, and we hope you, Faithful Reader, will continue to engage in the discussion with us.

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