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Posts Tagged ‘The Long Shadow of the Civil War’

THE LONG SHADOW OF THE CIVIL WAR, forthcoming, UNC Press, Feb., 2010

I am delighted with the cover designed by University of North Carolina Press for The Long Shadow of the Civil War, forthcoming February 2010. The cover’s shadowy figures and shrouded landscape not only suggest the enduring importance of place, family, and kinship in the South, but also the clandestine, rural world of Civil War Unionists.  Hazy outlines of a makeshift structure put me in mind of the deserter hideouts in the North Carolina Piedmont woods, the swamps of Piney Woods Mississippi, and the Big Thicket forests of East Texas that inspired the essays contained within (to learn more about the book, click here).

My thanks to UNC Press, long known for the high quality of its publications and the highly effective “first impression” quality of it’s book jackets, for showcasing so beautifully The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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You may have noticed that there has not been an original post on Renegade South lately. The reason is that, for the past two weeks, I have been absorbed by the task of getting Southern Communities at War ready for the copyeditor at University of North Carolina Press. I hope to have that portion of its preparation for production finished by June 1. Immediately following that, I will turn to completing forms and questionnaires for the UNC marketing department.

I’m excited for the book to finally be at this stage–as many of you know, I have been working on it for several years. Most of the posts on this site relate to its essays, at least peripherally. But the book especially demands my attention between now and at least June 15, and so the blog will have to take second place for now.

Even while working on Southern Communities at War,  however, I check Renegade South at least once a day. I always find time to respond to comments! And I welcome, as ever, suggestions for future blogs and contributions of material or photos that you would like me to consider posting.

Thanks! Now it’s back to editing . . . .

NOTE, November 24, 2009: Southern Communities at War has been renamed The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. It is scheduled for release on Feb. 18, 2010.

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Many people, perhaps most, think of “race” as an objective reality. Historically, however, racial categorization has been unstable, contradictory, and arbitrary. Consider the term “passing.” Most of us immediately picture a light-skinned person who is “hiding” their African ancestry. Many would go further and accuse that person of denying their “real” racial identity. Yet few people would accuse a dark-skinned person who has an Anglo ancestor of trying to pass for “black,” and thereby denying their “true” Anglo roots!

So why is a white person with an African ancestor presumed to be “really” black? In fact, in this day of DNA testing, it’s become increasingly clear that many more white-identified people have a “drop” or two of African ancestry than most ever imagined. Are lots of white folks (or are they black?) “passing,” then, without even knowing it?

Having said all that, I’d like to provide some historical examples of the shifting and arbitrary nature of racial categorization. Those familiar with Newt Knight already know about the 1948 miscegenation trial of his great-grandson, Davis Knight. According to the “one drop rule” of race, Davis was a black man by virtue of having a multiracial great-grandmother (Rachel Knight). Yet, social custom and the law differed. One was legally “white” in Mississippi if one had one-eighth or less African ancestry, and Davis eventually went free on that legal ground.

Despite Davis Knight’s legal victory, custom (and often the law) at times went even further than applying the “one drop rule.” After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of the races was legal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), census enumerators in the segregated South of 1900 were instructed to list people’s race as either “black” or “white”; there were to be no “in-between” designations. Some enumerators went even further than that. To reinforce the image of a racially-segregated society, they categorized many formerly white-identified people as “black” simply because they lived in multiracial neighborhoods. Hence, Newt and Serena Knight, and their children who lived (and married) among Rachel and her children, were listed as “black” in the 1900 federal manuscript census.

Similar contradictions of racial identification may be found throughout Southern court records as segregation ordinances were written into law. An example of one absurd, yet utterly serious, effort to determine whether an individual was “white” or “black” (which I pieced together from North Carolina state and federal records) follows:

In 1884, Mary Ann McQueen, a young white woman about 33 years old, was suspected of having “black” blood. So strong were these suspicions that her mother, who had always been accepted as white, swore out a deed in the Montgomery County Court that “solemnly” proclaimed her daughter to be “purely white and clear of an African blood whatsoever.” But why did suspicions about the “purity” of Mary Ann McQueen’s “blood” arise in the first place?

It all began before the Civil War, when Mary Ann’s mother, Diza Ann, ended her marriage to Mary Ann’s father, Calvin McQueen. Almost immediately afterward, she married Wilson Williams (aka Wilson Wright). By 1861, when the Civil War began, Diza had given birth to four more children. Meanwhile, Mary Ann’s father, Calvin, enlisted in the Confederate Army in February 1862 and marched off to war. Barely five months later, in July 1862, he was dead from wounds suffered in the battle of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Calvin had lived and died as a white man.

The same was not true, however, of Diza’s second husband, Wilson Williams, who was listed as a “mulatto” by census enumerators. This meant that Mary Ann McQueen grew up in a multiracial household with a stepfather and several siblings all classified as mulattos. By 1884, as segregation expanded and lines of race correspondingly hardened, many folks wondered how this white woman could have mixed-race kinfolk without being mixed herself.

With racially discriminatory laws a fundamental part of segregation, Mary Ann had a lot to lose in civil rights, as well as social standing, if she could not rid herself of the “one drop” taint. Perhaps because she lived in a small community with a long memory, her mother’s sworn statement, which reminded the court that Calvin McQueen and not Wilson Williams was Mary Ann’s biological father, seems to have won Mary Ann her whiteness, at least legally. By 1900, the federal manuscript census for Montgomery County, N.C., listed a Mary McQueen, born 1851, as “white.”

That does not mean however, that Mary Ann’s social status was restored. If this is our Mary Ann, she apparently never married, despite having given birth to a son, also listed as white. Were Mary Ann’s chances at marriage to a white man compromised by her mother’s interracial marriage? In the era of segregation, most certainly they were.

Today, most scientists agree that there is no genetic basis for the idea of humans as separate “races,” or subspecies. But, as we see in the case of Mary Ann McQueen and the more recent trial of Davis Knight, societal beliefs about race were written into law and political policy, and reflected historical struggles of power over slavery, segregation, and civil rights.

NOTE:  The stories of Davis Knight and Mary Ann McQueen are discussed in my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War.

Vikki Bynum

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By Ed Payne

(NOTE:  This brief history of the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the Ellisville Patriot is being posted both to explain the newspaper’s relationship to the theme of the Renegade South and in the hopes that someone may possess some yellowing remnant of this fleeting Piney Woods publication–Ed Payne.)

On April 26, 1895 the citizens of Ellisville, Mississippi were greeted by the appearance of a third weekly newspaper in their small community, the Ellisville Patriot.  While the rival Ellisville News acknowledged the event with a few dry comments, the more partisan New South launched a vicious attack upon the upstart publication, its politics, and most especially its co-founder, Jasper Collins.  The fact that New South editor Frank Parker and Jasper Collins belonged to the same Masonic Lodge did not inhibit Parker, who characterized his journalistic rival as “the old Beelzebub”—which was among his milder invectives.  But the sparks emanating from this newsprint tempest were short lived.  Within two years the Ellisville Patriot and the cause it espoused had passed into history.

For many Southern renegades, their actions during the Civil War marked a single instance in which they felt compelled to defy the expectations of the larger Southern community.  The increasing glorification of the Lost Cause during the late 19th Century caused some of these renegades to affect a selective amnesia about their wartime activities.  But others, such as Jones County native Jasper Collins, never apologized for their opposition to the Confederate cause.  Indeed, Jasper’s actions during the Civil War were just one example of a lifelong willingness to take stances that ran counter to those of the prevailing Southern culture.

Although he receiving only minimal schooling, Jasper Collins was by all accounts a well-read and thoughtful man.  He enlisted in the 7th Battalion Mississippi Infantry in May 1862 only when confronted with the threat of conscription.  While in that unit he participated in the Battles of Iuka and Corinth.  However, the passage of the “20 Negro Law” by the Confederate Congress—which granted military exemptions to slave owners at the rate of one per 20 slaves owned—outraged his sense of Jacksonian democratic egalitarianism.  In a characteristic display of his sense of propriety, Jasper informed his company commander of his impending desertion, giving the reason for his actions.  He returned to Jones County where his involvement in the Knight Band has been described in Victoria Bynum’s Free State of Jones.

After the war Jasper continued to exhibit an independence of thought and action.  In 1867, he named his first son born during the Reconstruction era Ulysses Sherman Collins.  However, he and others—whether former secessionists or Unionists—had their hands full trying to adjust to the harsh realities of the post-war Southern economy.  A decade and a half after the defeat of the Confederacy, the 1880 census listed Jasper heading a household composed of a wife and five children.  That year he reported a farm income of $250, about average for those trying to scrape a living out of the Piney Woods soil.

It was the plight of the agricultural economy that compelled Jasper into another noteworthy period of contrarian political action.  In the final decades of the 19th Century farmers throughout the United States became entrapped by an ever-tightening economic squeeze.  The combination of government action to reduce the amount of currency in circulation as part of its return to the gold standard and the increase in agricultural output emerging from newly settled prairie lands produced a protracted deflationary spiral.  Farmers received less and less for their crops while paying off bank loans and purchases in ever more scarce dollars.  As their situation worsened, those who tilled the soil came to see both the Republican and Democratic parties as captives of Eastern financial interests.  Out of this frustration grew the Farmers Alliance cooperative movement and, when its leadership proved reluctant to adopt an openly political role, the People’s Party—more commonly referred to as the Populist Party.

In the South the rise of the Populist Party was greeted first with skepticism and then hostility by the Democratic press.  Even though former slaves and their descendants were being steadily disenfranchised, any political movement that offered the faintest hint of a return to a two-party system threatened the status quo.  And protecting the status quo united Southern political, journalistic, and religious leaders in sounding a chorus of alarm.

Jasper Collins took part in the Farmers Alliance and its transformation into the Populist Party.  His most active accomplice in this endeavor was his youngest son, Loren Riley Collins.  Even more than his father, Loren had a passion for politics and political journalism.  Twenty months in advance of the crucial 1896 election, father and son launched the Ellisville Patriot to provide a voice for the Populist cause in Jones County.

During its brief heyday, Populist Party candidates achieved some electoral successes in agricultural states, including some in Mississippi.  But the movement failed to transform itself into a viable third party.  Democratic Presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan so successfully espoused Populist themes that officials at the 1896 national Populist convention convinced delegates to choose Bryan as their Presidential candidate as well.  As a result, the Populists went down in defeat with the Bryan-led Democrats and, in the process, managed to hopelessly compromise their independent status.

It seems likely that the Ellisville Patriot ceased publication by the spring of 1897.  What little we know about its run comes from the comments of its competitors.  No copies have been located, nor has republication of content from it been found in surviving issues of other state Populist periodicals.

Four years after the demise of his newspaper, Jasper Collins participated in another event that seems to have constituted one final expression of his dissatisfaction with the status quo: he helped found a Universalist church near his farm in Moselle.  Jasper may have come to view his native Baptist church as too closely aligned with the Democratic power elite he opposed.  If so, it would not have been a trivial decision.  The Collins family had long-standing, if occasionally contentious, ties with Primitive Baptist congregations.  There can be no doubt that Jasper had received a lifetime’s worth of highly articulated descriptions of the eternal damnation awaiting those who took the wrong spiritual path.

Iconoclasts who live long enough may eventually gain respect for, if nothing else, sheer endurance.  Jasper Collins outlived many of his detractors.  In April of 1913, at age 86, he was the subject of a lengthy article by the editor of the Jones County News.  The paper was a renamed offshoot of his old nemesis, the New South.  The article recounted his descriptions of antebellum life in the Piney Woods.  When he died that same August, the News paid him glowing tribute—although carefully omitting any mention of his Civil War or Populist activities.  Instead, it judiciously observed that the deceased “was ever noted for his independence of action and great force of character, and when he believed that a cause or principle was right, he espoused the same and heeded not public censure or applause.” His neighbors respected Jasper’s independence enough to have elected him to several terms on the county Board of Supervisors.  Later they would elect his defiantly named son, Ulysses Sherman Collins, to the same post. ‘Lyss’ Collins would also win several countywide elections, including two terms as Chancery Clerk.

After the 1896 election effectively sounded the death knell of the Populist Party, Loren Collins became a lifelong Republican.  This relegated him to the role of a political gadfly whose sole outlet was sending oppositional letters to the editor to newspapers in New Orleans, Vicksburg, and Jackson.  Late in life he typed up a collection of these epistles along with a brief autobiographical sketch, but he included no mention of his tenure at the Ellisville Patriot.  Loren’s aversion to the single-party political establishment did not mean he disavowed all Southern customs.  His vision was of a healthy competition between Southern-based Democratic and Republican parties, both lily white.  He railed against the blacks who held the reins power over Mississippi’s token Republican apparatus and who dispensed patronage—often to white Democrats—during Republican presidential administrations.  At the time of his death in 1952, Loren was engaged in a quixotic campaign as the Republican candidate for Congress.  Another dozen years would pass before the Presidential bid by conservative icon Barry Goldwater finally make it palatable for large numbers of white Mississippians to cast ballots for a Republican candidate.

Jasper Collins and his son Loren serve as two examples of how the Renegade South manifested itself not only during the Civil War, but also into the 20th Century.  If any copies of the Ellisville Patriot could be uncovered, it would shed new light on this history.

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You may have noticed that there have not been many posts on Renegade South for the past week or so. The reason is that I made a big push this past two weeks to get a revised version of “Southern Communities at War” to the University of North Carolina Press. I finally got it into the mail this Friday, then found the energy to post one column, and then pretty much collapsed from fatigue. But it’s Sunday evening now, and my partially-rested brain is already starting to churn up ideas for a new post.

So stay posted; we’re back in business. And please remember to read the comments and questions left by others–you might be the one person who can answer them! Or you might find a comment that spurs you to add your own insights. Hope to hear from you.

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