Readers Discuss Our December 2018 Issue

Your thoughts on “Costs of the Confederacy” and much more

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“I have never been more proud of kids that were not my own,” Teresa Zieminski-Myers said of the Parkland, Florida, students (“Fighting for Their Lives”), who were among the recipients of our 2018 American Ingenuity Awards, the subject of December’s cover. Our investigative piece about public money spent on Confederate sites and monuments (“The Costs of the Confederacy”) sparked an outpouring of passionate commentary (and more than 25,000 shares on Facebook). Supporters of such memorials objected, saying the story was “liberal,” “biased,” a “diatribe” that succumbed to “political correctness.” But others welcomed the article as “well researched,” “eye-opening” and “fascinating.” Taxpayer money, said Laurie Wilding of Anaheim, California, “shouldn’t be spent on glorifications of people that made their livelihoods on the backs of enslaved people.”

Remembering the Rebellion

I found “The Costs of the Confederacy” incredibly one-sided. To lump all those linked to the Confederacy as promoting a white agenda is wrong. Today’s values should not be applied to people who lived in the past. Southern states have a right to preserve their history—the good, the bad and the ugly. Articles like this do more to promote hatred and division than to bring us together.

Selena Levitt | Wildwood, Missouri

History is just that, history. People should learn from history, not tear down and destroy the symbols of it.

Daniel S. Pokorney | La Grande, Oregon

There are two types of Civil War monuments. We should keep the historical ones, erected right after the war to honor dead and wounded community members. But heritage monuments, erected long after the war, were intended as propaganda, pure and simple. Voltaire said, “If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities”; the heritage monuments of the Confederacy are absurdities, and have directly lead to atrocities. If we can’t bring them down, then at least we should defund them.

Coryn Weigle | Alexandria, Virginia

As long as our leaders fail to address racism (which is not limited to the South), taxpayers will continue to support what is ultimately a white nationalist cause. Unlike Germany, which acknowledged its horrific history, we are mired in sentimentality for a past that never existed.

Darryl Engle | Chandler, Arizona

While tax dollars should not support Lost Cause mythology, the question is how to deal honestly with this shame to our nation’s history. This article is a step in this long struggle.

Robert Willett | Pasadena

I wanted to clarify a few points in your story, “The Salvation of Atlanta.” During the 1934-36 restoration, Wilbur Kurtz had access to the 1886 photographs of the painting in Minneapolis. He reversed Atkinson’s pro-Confederate changes – that was not part of our recent restoration. There was one exception, and that was a captured Confederate battle flag being carried off their field – Kurtz did not re-paint that one, but we did. Kurtz did not add any Confederate flags – he painted over the ones that were already there (he made the existing white flags with red diagonal crosses into the battle flag version). Kurtz did add six Confederate soldier figures in the painting where part of the canvas had been excised. Kurtz wrote that it looked funny to have US soldiers shooting at nothing, so put in the Confederates.

It is an exaggeration to say that Kurtz was responsible for the “entire look and feel” of the Gone with the Wind movie. He was hired as historical advisor and as such he sometimes clashed with the director(s). For example, Kurtz famously backed Margaret Mitchell who insisted that the movie version of Tara should not be a stereotypical white-columned mansion. Also, it was Mayor William Hartsfield who was responsible for the Clark Gable figure – Kurtz was not involved in the decision or in making the figure.

Howard Pousner | Atlanta History Center

Wild Bison

Political Animal” (November 2018) ignores the hardships of transferring bison to the Tribes. The Tribes have constructed a quarantine facility to return brucellosis-negative buffalo to tribal lands and restore their historical connections with American Indians. But the state of Montana, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the livestock industry have obstructed this effort. The government took buffalo from American Indians and now it refuses to give them back.

Daniel Wenner | Legal counsel for the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation

Benjamin Harrison's Legacy

The article on the Atlanta Civil War Cyclorama in the December issue of Smithsonian contains a brief passage on Benjamin Harrison that gives a distorted impression of both the military and political careers of the 23rd president. Regarding how the Theodore Davis portrait came to be replaced by one of Harrison, the article leaves the role played by “some bright Harrison campaign operative” unsubstantiated. But the question of the painting’s retouching is essentially trivial; the insinuation that it represented “stolen valor” on Harrison’s behalf is quite another matter.

Harrison needed no “stolen valor” to burnish his exemplary record as a soldier. As the colonel of an Indiana regiment, he showed skill and determination. He and his men did fight in the Atlanta Campaign, and after he exhibited exceptional daring and fortitude at Resaca at the beginning of that campaign, his superiors put him in charge of a brigade. The article correctly states that Harrison lost the popular vote in 1888 but won the electoral college. Missing, however, is any recognition that Harrison was a “minority” president only because of the overwhelming suppression of the African-American vote by white supremacists in the southern states, where Democrat Grover Cleveland rolled up huge majorities that yielded Cleveland a plurality over Harrison nationwide.

Also missing is any reference to President Harrison’s fervent efforts in behalf of legislation to expand federal protection of voting rights, which passed the House but lost narrowly in the Senate. In sum, Harrison fought valiantly during the Civil War and upheld the ideals of Reconstruction long after many in his party and the country had abandoned them.

— Charles W. Calhoun | Author of Benjamin Harrison (Henry Holt, 2005), Thomas Harriot College Distinguished Professor, Department of History, East Carolina University; Charles A. Hyde | President & CEO, Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site

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