Manual advises how to stop removal of Confederate statues: don’t mention race
A 2016 internal document from the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) organization lays out detailed tactics for members to use in preventing the removal of Confederate monuments and symbols, including lawsuits, rallies, media management and political campaigns.
The SCV is a neo-Confederate group dedicated to preserving what it sees as southern heritage, in particular Confederate statues and war memorials. That task has become far more controversial recently amid the rise of Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests, which frequently target such statues as memorials to racism and slavery.
The 18-page Sons of Confederate Veterans Heritage Defense manual also castigates perceived opponents of the SCV, accusing the NAACP civil rights group of spreading “hate and dissension” under the direction of “Marxists”.
The document is attributed to the highest level of SCV leadership at that time and buttresses its defense of monuments with a detailed account of the civil war which falsely denies the centrality of slavery in the conflict.
The document outlines a range of suggested methods for protecting Confederate monuments, flags, school dedications and mascots from what it describes as “heritage attacks” from those seeking to remove them.
The document groups a number of often bizarre tactics under the heading, “rallies and public events”, which it says can be “a way of showing public support to the public at large” when “a person or group takes oppressive action against … hallowed locations”.
It recommends acquiring permits where possible, since in that case “the authorities will be alerted as to the event and will provide police security”, and “it will also afford the organizer the right to have anyone removed from the event who is causing a disruption”.
It warns of risks in public rallies, which mostly concern the possibility that the SCV’s opponents will muster bigger numbers. It warns “those who oppress us will have a following rally with even larger crowds”, meaning that “the media will frequently try to show that public sentiment is on the side of the oppressors”.
Although the document attributes hate speech and violence at protests to the SCV’s opponents, several members of the group were present at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which was organized in defense of Confederate monuments that the city had decided to remove and in which one person was killed.
Though SCV publicly disavowed the Unite the Right rally, at the time it happened they were engaged in legal action to preserve the city’s Confederate monuments. They have taken similar legal action over monuments in cities throughout the south, and over states withdrawing Confederate flag license plates.
The document’s main author, P Charles Lunsford, who in 2016 was SCV’s deputy chief of heritage, wrote in an email: “We have been here for 125 years. Now all a sudden, we have groups tearing down our monuments and attacking us as individuals. The real questions are for them, not us.”
Media management is also a preoccupation in the document, which gathers 10 “Dos” and “Don’ts” under the heading, “Speaking with the Media”.
Many of these focus on the possibility that activists will be drawn into talking about monuments in ways that touch on race.
One instruction warns that journalists may “try to lead you to recognize them by race, national origin or political bent. Resist this by consistently addressing the opposition simply as ‘opposition’.”
Elsewhere, the document instructs, “Do stay on topic”, warning that “veering into a discussion of taxes, race, political parties/candidates, legislation in other areas, even slavery is a great risk.”
Another “Don’t” counsels against letting “a reporter form the issue as simply one of the South supporting slavery”, offering counterarguments like “slavery has been common for centuries” and “it was the Western world that finally ended it in their civilization” and “It was about independence. Period. That is the reason so many blacks supported the Confederacy.”
Despite SCV’s non-profit status, the document spends much of its length recommending various forms of political action to members, including running for office or supporting candidates who “respect our cultural heritage”.
Its recommendations repeatedly try to reconcile the task of “heritage defense” with the fact that the removal of Confederate monuments enjoys significant support, and that as a 501c3 non-profit SCV is prohibited from engaging directly in partisan political activism.
The document says that “the SCV cannot take sides in partisan politics”, but immediately adds the recommendation that “SCV members run for any office for which they qualify”.
It then offers examples showing how this can help the SCV’s cause: “Being a member of a school board might help prevent the removal of names of Southern heroes from school names in a district. Being on a county commission might prevent the removal of a statue from the courthouse lawn.”
The document puts this even more strongly further on, saying at one point: “As a private citizen you should make it your duty to either run for office or support someone else who is running for office who will respect our cultural heritage.”
On the specific issue of efforts to retain Confederate symbolism in city or state flags, the document points out that these decisions are made by elected officials, so that “in these fights, having our members or supporters in elected positions is paramount”, adding that “having our people run for elective office cannot be overemphasized.”
Similarly, on the question of renaming schools or changing mascots, the document points out that “mascots for public schools are decided by school boards. Having supporters elected to these boards is very important.”
The document also recognizes the possibility of taking legal action where political means are ineffective. It suggests that lawsuits brought by state organizations – such as those brought by SCV against several states over the removal of Confederate imagery from number plates – are centrally coordinated and bolstered by the legal expertise of some members.
Asked about the document’s simultaneous disavowal of partisan politics, and its urging members to run for office, Lunsfordwrote: “There is no prohibition against anyone associated with any charitable organization that operates under Section 501 (C)3 of the US Internal Revenue code participating fully in the political process.”
Asked if the recommendations in the document indicated that SCV was becoming more politicized, Lunsford wrote that “We do not suggest a political party, nor a political agenda. Thus, we are not political. We only recommend defending through civic action, against those who oppress or attempt to harm us.”
The document devotes almost a fifth of its length to historical arguments which it says support its position on Confederate monuments, and the nature of what it repeatedly refers to as the “War for Southern Independence”.
The arguments are drawn exclusively from a book by an early “lost cause” activist and historian who served as a Confederate infantry captain, campaigned against Reconstruction in the wake of the south’s defeat, and who himself participated in the erection of Confederate monuments in the early 20th century.
The book, The Southern View of the Invasion of the Southern states and the War of 1861-65, was published by Samuel Ashe in 1935. Ashe served in the Confederate army, was elected to the North Carolina state house in 1870 and was vice-president of the SCV’s forerunner organization, the United Confederate Veterans.
The document follows Ashe in arguing that the war was not primarily about slavery, but driven by anger at taxes imposed by a Congress dominated by northern politicians, and a fear not about the dissolution of slavery per se, but because emancipation would “devastate the capital infrastructure” in the south.
Adam Domby is a historian at the College of Charleston, whose book The False Causehighlights the construction of false “Lost Cause” narratives in the south which sought to rewrite the history of the war. He pointed out that Ashe was “not a trained historian in the modern sense, and he served as a Confederate soldier”.
Domby added that Ashe “worked to disenfranchise African Americans and cement whites firmly in power” and that the “narratives he wrote were in support of that goal”.
He said that in drawing so heavily on his book, SCV “are ignoring 100 years of scholarship”.
In its narrative of the controversy over Confederate symbols, the document claims that during the cvil rights movement led by the Rev Martin Luther King Jr in the 1960s, “not a single complaint was made concerning Southern symbols”, but from the 1980s, groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led a “national effort to divide the population of the South and cause strife”.
In explaining the NAACP’s actions, the document raises the bizarre possibility that “it was an attempt by Marxists to sow dissension among Southerners who were beginning to accept one another”.
Karen Cox is professor of history at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte and the author of No Common Ground, a history of opposition to Confederate monuments in the south.
She said in a telephone conversation that during the civil rights era, “there were always complaints about the Confederate flag”, and there were “documented confrontations at Confederate monuments” between civil rights activists and their opponents during that period.
“This is the thing about the SCV,” Cox said. “They don’t know their history.”
The document’s authors are listed on the front page along with the ranks they held in the organization at the time: Charles Kelly Barrow, commander-in-chief; Curtis Harris Collier, chief of heritage operations; Byron E Brady, deputy chief of heritage promotion; and P Charles Lunsford, deputy chief of heritage defense.
Barrow is a teacher in Georgia’s Henry County Bureau of Education, and a member of Georgia’s public Civil War Commission. Brady is a contract engineer for the City of Durham. Collier has worked as a sales consultant for a medical device manufacturer, Schein, for 20 years.
Although the men have since left their offices, they are listed as active members in member data, and the document has neither been removed nor superseded by SCV’s current leadership.
Besides Lunsford and Barrow, who deferred comment to Lunsford, none of the other members listed as authors immediately responded to requests for comment. SCV administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the SCV’s current commander-in-chief, Larry McCluney Jr.