Attack on Confederacy is just getting started

June 23, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

In late May, G. Elliott Cummings, the "commander" of the Maryland Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, invited me to attend a Confederate Memorial Day ceremony at Loudon Park Cemetery. Taking the invitation for some pathetic joke, I ignored it.

On June 6, Cummings fired off a terse letter, addressed to me, Dan Rodricks, Michael Olesker and Ken Rosenthal. Enclosed therein was a white feather. I reprint the invective in its entirety:

"I did not see any of you at our Confederate Memorial Day Ceremony at Loudon, a ceremony to which you were all invited. Greg, you and Dan were prominently mentioned.

"As I knew you would, you each showed yourselves for the cowards you are, attacking the history, heritage, honor, nation, and Cause of the Confederate soldier from the safety of your computer screens, but unwilling to face those you continuously assault and listen to an opposing point of view.

"Since the 19th century, the white feather has been the symbol of the coward. Therefore in recognition of your most recent cowardice the white feather is enclosed."

It is an epistolary challenge worthy of a retort, is it not? For the edification and amusement of readers everywhere, I offer mine:

"Dear Mr. Cummings:

I do believe you have lost your damned mind. I received your invitation, but as I had already bought a nonrefundable ticket to a jazz festival at Fort Meade, I decided to pass. I spent June 1 celebrating the heritage and culture of my ancestors. You do believe black folks have a history and culture worth celebrating, don't you Cummings? Because your Confederate ancestors certainly didn't, believing we were so much a higher form of livestock. They sallied off to war willing to defend that belief to the death.

"You accuse me of attacking the history, heritage and honor of the Confederacy. You're damned right I have. The truth is, I've only just gotten started. You haven't heard the worst yet. How could I defend a "nation" that was led into war by a horde of boorish, bilious, bellicose, money-grubbing buffoons dedicated to keeping blacks enslaved and poor whites on the bottom rung of the economic ladder?

"This bunch of yahoos in 1850 crammed down the throats of an unwilling country the Fugitive Slave Law, which sent hordes of U.S. marshals north to return escaped slaves to bondage. Some even snatched free blacks under the law. I know you, as all latter day Confederate sympathizers, will claim that only a minority of whites owned slaves, that the masses of southern whites had nothing to do with it.

"But my history says the slave system relied on a group known as "paterollers" to keep blacks in bondage. Paterollers were poor whites who would hunt down runaway slaves and harass those blacks who rebelled against the system. I suspect many of these good ol' boys joined the Confederate army once The War of National Atonement broke out, which gives me reason No. 1,002 for not honoring soldiers of the Confederacy.

"Need more history? In 1816, Georgia slaveholders urged the government to send U.S. troops to destroy a camp of runaway slaves at Blount's Fort in Florida. Some 300, including women and children, were massacred. Only 20 were actually fugitive slaves. The remaining were descendants of slaves who had escaped Georgia decades earlier. But in that idyllic South you so love Cummings, the offspring of livestock were also livestock, right?

"These blacks had formed their own self-sufficient agricultural communities and were minding their own business, living in freedom. It's ironic that when the Confederacy rebelled "freedom" was also their rallying cry, proving that the word means different things to different people. To those Florida blacks, it meant freedom from those who were trying to enslave them. For Confederates, it meant freedom to do something to others, like, say, keep them in bondage.

"I guess Ralph Ellison was right when he wrote that "there's always an element of crime in freedom." That's why when I hear folks saying they want freedom, my first impulse is to ask them "Freedom to do what?" (Ellison was the black author who wrote the superb novel "Invisible Man." No need for you to read it Cummings. I wouldn't want you to do anything that would make your Confederate ancestors cringe, what with their belief that Negroes -- they probably pronounced it "Nigras" -- shouldn't be taught to read, much less write.)

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.