PBS’s Poisonous Reconstruction Series

Caught a tweet tonight from Professor Henry Louis Gates, the Executive Producer of this PBS mini-series on “Reconstruction.” He was jubilant that the series had won a Columbia/Dupont Award for Journalism. I checked out the other 2020 Award winners: NPR, CNN, Nation Magazine. All leftist outlets. NPR is high quality. Nation, depends on the writer. CNN is pretty worthless–Clinton News Network.

So, you know where the biases are today in mainstream media and its institutions.

Reconstruction for me, means, above all, the oppression of Confederate-supporting Southerners between 1865-1877. Southerners are the only Americans who endured the 12 years of military rule without rights (sorry, I’m not here to argue about slavery which was legal in all the United States until 1865). Now, we can’t be a great America, without equal rights for minorities, the largest used to be African-Americans–but that was not really something white America really thought much about in the 19th Century.

 In the 21st Century, Latinos will continue to grow and become at least half of the US population by 2100. Maybe, we’ll have a different ethno-view by then. Perhaps we’ll become calmer and less obsessed or guilt-ridden about the African American Experience before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

It’s not my race guilt, by the way, as a Vietnamese-American whose family paid the ultimate price in the two major wars of Indochina between 1945-1975. Just another reason why I love the Confederate South. The South was right. The South is still right.

Right now, there are also 19 million Asian-Americans. The third largest ethnic grouping and will continue to grow. They certainly didn’t own Black slaves (save for two Antebellum Chinese brothers during the entire history of the Old South–whose two eldest sons fought in the Army of Northern Virginia–both were wounded in combat). 

Why would Asian-Americans agree to the Democrats’ support for slavery reparation in 2019/2020 for goodness’ sake? Freed Blacks could also own slaves in the South. I remember fond discussions with my old Yale colleague, David Brion Davis, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian on Southern slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

David talked about this one African-American family in South Carolina, who were large slaveowners, but kept to themselves, understandably. This family was accepted by white gentry society so they had their own family pew in the main part of their Episcopal parish, where only distinguished white families owned pews. Their eldest son was buried in South Carolina with attending Confederate veterans, including his commanding officer.

In Louisiana, where French Creoles were the most open about racial intermingling in America before modern times, wealthy Creole planters would allow their Franco-African sons, the métis, to inherit their wealth. These sons were raised with high French culture–some were sent to France for their education. They were known as ‘les gens de couleur.’

After the defeat of the South, the North still continued segregationist & racist policies against African-Americans. One of my favourite writers in the late 19th Century, Lafcadio Hearn, was fired by the Cincinnati Observer for marrying an African-American woman. The last I heard, Ohio fought as part of the Union & produced several post-War Yankee Presidents.

Racism & oppression are universal, just as is slavery–which still exists in places like Libya where people are being sold as slaves. Globally, we need to fight sexual slavery. We humans need the grace of Christ, since we’re not going to do so well without Him.

But it’s time to stop beating the Old South to death. It’s time to appreciate what was good, right, and beautiful about the Traditional South. Goodness, the Old South was NOT the Heart of Darkness!

During the last two decades, African-Americans living in the North have been migrating back to their ancestral South, not just because of the job opportunities, but because of the quality of life, and because traditional Black families want to escape the hideous conditions of many urban areas in the North. This is especially important for northern African-Americans who have retained their Southern ties. 

This PBS series, “Reconstruction”, is well made, but the writers & scholars interviewed, like the narrative, focus upon White Southern racism & supremacist views. You’ll see heinous lynchings & everything that the Nightmare South is supposed to be about. Yes, there was evil then. There is evil now, and it’s not just an American thing. The Left will never be happy until it reconstructs our Southern culture 100% into its own image.

We need a PBS Reconstruction series about what White Southerners went through after the destruction of their world. Shelby Foote, where are you?

Cleanth Brooks used to tell me, ‘you love the South, not because of its virtues, but despite its faults.’ For those of us who think this, we can watch this series. But just remember, PBS provided a classroom module for teachers who wanted to show this programme to their students. If you have children in public schools, Episcopalian schools, Lutheran schools, and Catholic schools, this is potentially how they are learning about their ancestral South. 

If you want to read some great scholarly works on slavery that are fair, I recommend the following:

1) Eugene Genovese. Roll, Jordan, Roll: the World the Slaves Made. It won the prestigious Bancroft Prize and was written from a Marxist point of view.

2) Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. The definitive Feminist study.

3a) Ulrich Bonnell Phillips. Life and Labor in the Old South

3b) Now with Phillips, he was a Southerner born at the end of Reconstruction. He is the father of the modern study of slavery in the South. His views were more Old South than what we’d think today. But it was Phillips who thought that slavery was doomed anyway, and that the War Between the States was not necessary. I’ll stop here. I’ll save this for another essay. As Phillips suggested, the South would have found its own solution to freeing its slaves without the horrors of the worse war in American history. The Union invasion of the South was not at all for a noble cause. 

Phillips is now, of course, called out by current academics for being a Southern white-supremacist because he emphasised that Southern plantation owners were patriarchal & benevolent towards their slaves. There were evil slave masters. But the Southern slaveholding class, a tiny minority in the Old South, were also believing Christians. They knew their Bibles and were practising Christians. There was also a much smaller circle of what we know as Southern Stoics, my soul-mates, who certainly would embrace benevolence as part of the Southern Gentleman’s Code & his duties. Slavery was part of the Southern way of life, as been said many times. But it had both social and legal strictures.

I have read the document of a Southern legal trial where a White slaveholder was executed for what he did to a Black slave. If you want to understand what Phillips is trying to say, just look at the life of our first President, the great Virginian George Washington, who had at least 300 slaves. He was a benevolent master as you could ever ask for. Washington wanted to see the end of slavery. 

Before he died, Washington owned some 123 slaves directly, and his wife, Martha, the First Lady of our Country, owned some or more than 177. So many of General Washington’s slaves had married Miss Martha’s slaves, and shared offspring, that it was legally impossible to manumit everyone at the same time, since the family relationships were so entangled.

The only Washington slave freed immediately after General Washington’s untimely death, was his war-time valet, the unmarried Billy Lee, who combed the General’s hair every morning & tied it with a ribbon in camp. This was the same Billy who was an expert horseman like the General, and given personal military messages to be brought to Washington’s commanders, who was freed, at the General’s death, with an annual pension, and had his own house at Mount Vernon. 

Martha Washington was able to release the rest of General Washington’s slaves when she died. Washington, according to his 1799 will, since he could free only Willy Lee, prohibited the sale of any of his slaves & that they were to be treated well, kept together and provided for until their deaths, or until Martha Washington could free them. Washington also made sure, in this way, that their families stayed together. One of the great evils of slavery was the separation of families through sales of husbands, wives, parents, children. General Washington understood that. He was born into the Southern social system, and he represented the best we had, and was revered North and South. 

So, whatever you think of Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, the founder of the scholarly study of Southern slavery, and his social views which were between the late 19th & early 20th Century–commonly held by educated Anglo-Americans. He was a Georgian who died as a Yale professor where I later attended and became a Cleanth Brooks disciple and assistant.

Eric Foner is today the most famous Marxist historian of Reconstruction, and his books are now standard textbooks in most college classrooms for the study of Reconstruction. He’s necessary reading if this is your field of study. However, despite being a great scholar, he’s extremely biased. I wonder why does anyone study a culture and a people for whom they have such hatred?

Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese were leftists when they wrote the first of their several masterpieces on slavery & the Old South; however, they also loved the South & were sympathetic to Southern slaveholders and their dilemma. 

Indeed, I remember my final lunch with Gene & Betsy in Atlanta.

It was a nice Italian bistro in Buckhead. Gene grew up in the Bronx. He joined the Communist Party at age 15. Later, he was kicked out of the US Army for his Communist sympathies. He later abandoned Communism, but not Marxist ideology in terms of academic methodology. The Genoveses were accompanied by their only child, a dog named Stalin. Gene smoked a cigar, and told me in his thick Bronx accent, ‘Alphonse, I think there are too many Yankees in the South.’

My recommendation is to put on your bookshelf, C. Vann Woodward’s The Beginning of the New South. Also his book, Tom Watson, the latter is a complicated story–but the South and its history is complicated, during Reconstruction and its aftermath–1877-1913, which covers many of the years that the PBS Reconstruction series does–and later on until the Civil Rights Era. We Southerners will never be left off the meat hook by our enemies until our old culture is sledge-hammered, corrupted, revised, reconstructed, and finally disintegrate entirely. The Yankees as well as our own deracinated Home-grown Yankees will never be satisfied until the Traditional South is as extinct as the Dodo Bird.

Virtue-signaling by the Left is abominable. It’s time to lay to rest this race-card playing anti-South narrative. We’re losing more and more of our traditional culture. Let’s look at our common bonds. The largest Black middle-class in the entire world live here in America. And where are they most concentrated? In the former slave-holding areas of Washington-Maryland-Northern Virginia and Atlanta. In other words, the South. Human slavery has been around for more than 5,000 years. But America, and especially the South, has shown its Christian spirit, and capacity for moral change. Although slavery meant that hundreds of thousands of Africans were sent against their will, often sold by African leaders to Muslim traders, who then sold these poor souls to Europeans who sent them across the Atlantic to the Americas as slaves, I cannot imagine the vibrant South that I love, without the African contribution which joined itself to the British and French heritages of the South to make this unique culture I love. From evil, God made good. Let’s not forget that. Enough of Reparation talk. Reparation has already been made good in America, and certainly in the South

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