“Heritage, not hatred” – The puzzling motto behind southern pride

With my dog, I used to run the two-mile trail that looped the Union and Confederate trenches of the Battle of the Wilderness, fought in May 1864. The two armies met in skirmishes along Plank Road, and in an effort to outflank one another, made their way further from the road into the forest until organized combat became entirely ineffective.

One day, when I finished a run, I was giving my pup some water at the visitor’s center, which had a small parking lot of about 15 spaces. As I stood in front of my car and caught my breath, I saw two motorcycles pull up in the spaces next to me. Each had two passengers, and all four were wearing black motorcycle jackets.

As one of them hopped off, she turned around to get something from one of the storage compartments, and I noticed the large patch on the back of her jacket.

It was a circular patch, with a rose in the middle. Lining the edge of the patch were the words “Order of the Confederate Rose.” It looked something like this:

On the back of her helmet, there a Confederate flag and more writing: “Heritage, not hatred.”

Later that night, while sitting on the deck of a lake house and watching the sunset, I thought about that phrase: heritage, not hatred.

It seemed to strike me as quiet strange for two reasons:

First, the heritage was based on hatred, as southern states seceded from the Union for the sole reason of preserving their ability to enslave other human beings they viewed as not human. It remains the single greatest atrocity our country has ever committed.

Second, the 11 southern states that seceded from the United States and all of the Confederate soldiers and statesmen who joined the secession would be guilty of treason, as defined by 18 U.S. Code § 2381: Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason. As the Confederate states waged a four-year war against the United States in what has been the bloodiest conflict our country has ever seen, that sounds like treason to me.

So why do these motorcycle clubs (and many other southern-related organizations) still exist and idolize Confederate soldiers who were traitors to their country, bigots, and human rights abusers?

We can look (and many historians have, including me) at the Civil War and study its battles, commanders, and strategies and learn lessons about leadership, combat, valor, civil-military relations, and more. Of course, we can do the same for any war. Thousands of historians have studied the German war machine in the Second World War and have analyzed the successes and failures of German commanders like Field Marshalls Heinz Guderian and Erwin Rommel.

But think about how you would react if a friend of yours told you he was proud of his family’s ties to Nazi soldiers and that he was a member of the Order of Heinz Guderian and invited you to a dinner to celebrate Guderian’s birthday. If you have a soul, you’d be horrified. These men led an army that was responsible for the world’s greatest atrocity, the Holocaust, and (according to some estimates) 20 to 30 million deaths of other men and women. Yet for the “southern pride” groups, idolizing Confederates seems common, accepted, and perhaps expected.

In researching this post, I came across the website for the Florida chapter of the Order of the Confederate Rose. It reads:

The Order of Confederate Rose (OCR) is an independent support group to the Sons of the Confederate Veterans (SCV).  We are a nonprofit, nonracial, nonpolitical and nonsectarian group. The idea for the Order of Confederate Rose came to Jane Latture of Birmingham, AL, after a Robert E. Lee birthday dinner in January 1993, when the speaker, Charles Lunsford, told Mrs. Latture of an Order of Robert E. Lee that had been reactivated in Georgia [and she] felt the need to help combat the growing attack on their Confederate Heritage.

Non-racial? I’d like to see how many people of African descent are in their group. An order for a traitor? Combat what growing attack on Confederate heritage?

In the end, I suppose they want to combat a post like this, one that questions why they do what they do, questions why they have such pride for traitors and human rights abusers, and questions why their love of the Confederacy is any different than someone loving Nazis. As a person who lost ancestors in the Holocaust, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the attraction to the slave-holding south and the what groups like this are trying to behold. Because remember, according to them, it’s heritage, not hatred.

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