The Alabama Legislature adjourned in 1900 so the United Daughters of the Confederacy could convene its national convention in the state Capitol.
The women sat just steps away from the spot where Confederate President Jefferson Davis took the oath of office 39 years before.
“You stand before the world the living witness that the past is not dead, but all in it that was good and great and true still lives and has its worshipers,” Marielou Armstrong Cory told the UDC in her opening address. “To you the selfsame welcome of the heart goes out as went that day to Jefferson Davis, the martyr chieftain of our sacred cause.”
That sacred cause — or Lost Cause — is a legacy of the UDC that critics say amounts to whitewashing the history of a slave-owning South.
Today, hundreds of UDC Confederate monuments are under attack as Black Lives Matter activists target them in protests against the killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. While monuments endure until a mob or mechanized crane removes them, historians and academics say the UDC holds a more lasting and insidious influence over generations of minds in the South.
“The conventional view of the UDC is that they are innocent old ladies who just want to remember their Confederate ancestors,” said Jalane Schmidt, a race and religion professor at the University of Virginia. “They created an ideology which glorified the ‘Old South,’ and dressed this up in seemingly harmless cotillion balls and bake sales.
“What is harmful about them is that for generations, they vetted textbooks, which were adopted into Southern public schools. These books promoted a false Lost Cause version of history to impressionable young white students, who then grew up to enforce segregation.”
Chief among Lost Cause principles is that the Civil War was not about slavery. The Confederacy was simply defending its states’ rights and homeland from Northern aggression, according to that belief. Another idea included in the Lost Cause is that slaves were contented and happy with their condition, and slaveholders were mostly kind to them.
These principles permeated the South through textbooks, pamphlets and speeches written or influenced by the Daughters, according to historians. Today, Southerners often repeat these same ideas when they oppose removing monuments.
For example, when the Lauderdale County GOP Executive Committee recently passed a resolution against moving a courthouse monument in Florence, the document stated the Confederate Army “fought against oppressive taxation and to preserve states’ rights, in an army that included African-Americans in support and combat roles,” according to the TimesDaily newspaper.
The 52-foot-tall Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park came down at the direction of Mayor Randall Woodfin in June. The UDC dedicated the monument in 1905.
Seven Confederate markers and monuments stand in Montgomery County. The UDC erected at least four of them, including the Dexter Avenue monument, Jefferson Davis statue, first offices of the Confederate government marker and Jefferson Davis presidential star.
Working Quietly In The Background
National and Alabama UDC officials did not respond to email and phone requests for comment. The phone greeting at the UDC national headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, said the office is closed for reconstruction. Someone tried to burn down the headquarters during protests in late May.
On the group’s website, President General Nelma Crutcher said: “We are saddened that some people find anything connected with the Confederacy to be offensive. We as an organization do not sit in judgment of them nor do we impose the standards of the 19th century on Americans of the 21st century.
“It is our sincere wish that our great nation and its citizens will continue to let its fellow Americans, the descendants of Confederate soldiers, honor the memory of their ancestors.”
Crutcher said the United Daughters of the Confederacy, “like our statues, have stayed quietly in the background, never engaged in public controversy.”
But Schmidt said the UDC’s actions also led to beliefs that Reconstruction, a brief period after the Civil War in which blacks won the right to vote and gained political representation, didn’t work because black politicians were stupid and easily manipulated. After Reconstruction, Southerners disenfranchised black voters and adopted Jim Crow terror tactics that included hundreds of lynchings.
Karen Cox, professor of history at University of North Carolina Charlotte and author of “Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy,” calls the work of the UDC an indoctrination campaign.
“Monuments are the least of what they did,” she said in a Vox video. “They were the leaders of the Lost Cause into the 20th century, and they made it a movement about vindication.”
The UDC efforts in promoting a positive version of Southern history date back to its founding in 1894.
During a meeting of the Alabama Division in 1897, the women discussed school history textbooks and “whether or not there was a truthful school history in print,” according to the state UDC website.
Influencing minds about Southern history continued to be a focus of the group for the decades to follow.
Elizabeth Burford Bashinsky, a professor at what is now Troy University, was elected president general of the national UDC in 1929.
“The foundation stones of our organization are memorial and historical, and faithfully and well have we builded upon that foundation,” Bashinsky said. “Let us make education the capstone of this beautiful, wonderful structure. It is well to build with marble and stone, but better to build with minds and character — temples not made with hands but riveted of hearts.”
Today, the UDC’s objectives include “collecting and preserving the material for a truthful history of the War Between the States.”
For historians, the settled and truthful history is that the South went to war to preserve slavery. But the issue never seems to die, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. This is because many people confuse the cause of the war with why rank-and-file Confederates fought in it, according to Eric Foner, a Civil War author and historian at Columbia University.
Foner said the Confederate government went to war to preserve slavery, but most armed rebels were not slave owners. These combatants enlisted in the Confederate Army because they viewed it as the patriotic thing to do, he said.
‘Know Alabama’ and Other Textbooks
Hilary Green, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, said fourth-grade textbooks in the state, such as “Know Alabama” and “Exploring Alabama,” were holdovers from the UDC’s influence over textbooks.
“Whenever I teach the textbook campaign, I incorporate examples from ‘Exploring Alabama,’” Green said. “I usually have several students tell me about how little had changed between the previous ‘Exploring Alabama’ textbook and the one used in their K-12 classes.”
“Know Alabama,” published at one time by two officials from former segregationist Gov. George C. Wallace’s administration, was considered so egregious that it became a topic in 1970 during the U.S. Senate hearings before the Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity. Parties at the hearing said funds should be used to purchase or rewrite textbooks to make them reflect the contributions of blacks to society.
“A perfect example of this would be the rewriting of the Alabama fourth-grade history textbook,” education reform activist Winifred Green told the committee. “This book, entitled ‘Know Alabama,’ is one of the worst examples of the way textbooks are used to perpetuate false stereotypes held by the white community and causes black children to doubt their worth in society.”
Green shared two sections of the textbook with the committee:
- As you ride up beside the Negroes in the field they stop working long enough to look up, tip their hats and say “Good morning, Master John.” You like the friendly way they speak and smile; they show bright rows of white teeth. “How’s it coming,” your father asks one of the old Negroes. “Fine, Marse Tom, jes fine.” We got “most more cotton than we can pick.” Then Sam chuckles to himself and goes back to picking as fast as he can.
- The Klan did not ride often, only when it had to. But whenever some bad thing was done by a person who thought the carpetbagger law would protect him, the white-robed Klan would appear on the streets. They would go to the person who had done the wrong and leave a warning. Sometimes this warning was enough but if the person kept on doing the bad, lawless things the Klan came back again. They held their courts in the dark forest at night, they passed sentence on the criminals and they carried out the sentence.
“Is that textbook still being used in Alabama today?” Sen. Walter Mondale asked Green during the hearing.
“Yes sir, it is,” Green answered. “Black parents protested the use of that book. It is being revised for next year, and it is my understanding that these two passages are still in the book. The only addition about the Klan is the fact that they were active in the 1960s, and that there is no condemnation of this type activity.”
The next generation of the fourth-grade text was published in 1970. “Exploring Alabama,” by Kathyrn Tucker Windham, included sections about how whites were abused and were victims of rampant crimes during Reconstruction:
The white people who had lived in Alabama before the war had no special protection. They appeared helpless, and many of them were frightened. The authorities were not able to control the stealing, arson, murders, and destruction that were being committed.
Finally some of the people took matters into their own hands. They organized secret societies to help protect their special interests. The best known of these was the Ku Klux Klan.
The textbook suggested students undertake the following activities:
– Draw a picture of a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Why did Klansmen wear hoods to hide their faces?
– Have you ever seen a Confederate flag? … Find pictures of the Confederate flag. Can the girls in your class make a Confederate flag?
– Many dishonest people tried to take advantage of former slaves after the war. One dishonest man made thousands of dollars by telling ex-slaves that President Lincoln had sent him to baptize them again. He charged them $1 each to be baptized. Do you think he should have been punished and, if so, how?
The UDC, working with United Confederate Veterans and Sons of Confederate Veterans, pressured libraries and schools not to acquire books that were unfavorable to the South, or to stamp the books with a warning on the cover.
Targeting Southern Children
Hilary Green said the UDC mainly targeted children.
“They desired future generations would continue to promote their understanding of the Civil War,” she said. “Therefore, children were active participants at monument dedications and unveilings. Textbooks and children’s literature were created for this audience. In segregated white schoolrooms, pictures of Robert E. Lee and other prominent Confederate leaders were displayed. Children, white and black, participated in Confederate Memorial Day and other commemorative celebration events.”
Green said the Daughters influenced Alabama lawmakers to approve three Confederate holidays in which state workers receive the day off with pay.
The state does nothing to observe the emancipation of 435,080 slaves, who accounted for 45% of Alabama’s population when the Civil War began. Those slaves would not have been freed in 1865 if the Confederates who are celebrated in the state holidays had won the war.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kay Ivey told al.com this week that the governor is open to discussing changing the Confederate holidays, but ultimately it is up to the Legislature.
UDC Relationship With The KKK
Schmidt, who is a Black Lives Matter activist, said the history of the UDC is intertwined with the Klan.
“For decades after their founding, the UDC promoted the Klan,” she said. “That is an incontrovertible fact. Their official publications repeatedly featured speeches, essay contests, books and pamphlets — for children, no less — which glorified the Klan.”
UDC Historian General Mrs. S.E.F. Rose, of Mississippi, wrote one of these books, “The Klan or The Invisible Empire.” The UDC unanimously endorsed the book for distribution to libraries and schools, Schmidt said, which means it received the Alabama Division’s vote.
The book was published in the early 1900s when the installation of UDC Confederate monuments was near its peak. Here is an excerpt:
Too long have we of the South remained silent and perhaps our silence has been construed as an acknowledgement of shame of being connected with the Ku Klux Klan and its history, where it should be our proudest boast as it was organized and kept by our best and noblest men, who had proven their worth and valor on so many battlefields, and who preserved the purity and domination of the Anglo-Saxon race.
The Alabama Department of Archives and History has a digital image of a postcard showing the Klan grand Cyclops in full regalia. The photo caption says the postcard was on display in the Florence chapter office of the UDC. Florence has been among the cities in the news recently for efforts to remove a UDC Confederate monument from a county courthouse.
UDC President General Crutcher does not address the group’s past relationship with the Klan in her statement on the website, but she said her organization is “grieved” that hate groups are using the Confederate flag and other symbols.
A reaffirmation of the group’s objectives on the Alabama Division website states the UDC “does not associate with or include in its official UDC functions and events, any individual group or organization known as unpatriotic, militant, racist or subversive to the United States of America and its flag.”
Children Of The Confederacy
Schmidt finds one UDC program especially disturbing.
The group maintains the Children of the Confederacy youth organization, which includes the Confederate Catechism. Just like a religious catechism, Schmidt said, children memorize the beliefs, which include what she calls “Lost Cause dogma.”
As of August 2018, according to the Associated Press, the catechism still stated that “Slaves for the most part, were faithful and devoted. Most slaves were usually ready and willing to serve their masters.”
“I would describe this, and many other parts of UDC programming, as whitewashing and romanticizing — which is very damaging, because it minimizes black pain and suffering, and thus humanity,” Schmidt said. “Someone who believes such falsehoods about the past is unlikely to perceive, much less empathize with, contemporary black oppression, whether being beaten by police or discriminated against by the mortgage board.”