It’s time to wear our colors as we work to
help finish the Civil War.
In a recent book about the Southern Civil Rights Movement, professor, SNCC veteran, and author Charles E. Cobb tells a story that is useful to us today.
Among the people who turned out for the fourth day of the 1960 sit-ins in Greensboro, N.C., were the members of the football team at the historically-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. When the team got to the downtown Woolworth’s store, the site of the sit-ins, it found that a mob of whites had formed a cordon around the place. So the team formed a flying wedge and as its members broke through, one of the jostled whites hollered “Who do you think you are?” “We’re the Union Army!” a footballer hollered back.
Today we are facing a situation in which, especially in the South, people want to relocate, remove, rename, or otherwise sideline the Confederate symbols that blight our cities. I think I speak for many Southern whites when I say that we have too long labored under myths that apologize for the Confederacy and slander Reconstruction.
In several cities some of us have lately written letters to officeholders and demonstrated for the cause of making history right, but our movement doesn’t even have a name. The AT&T football player, I think, has given it to us: We are the New Union Army.
The name has a virtue not evident
at first glance.
The name has a virtue not evident at first glance: it is almost infinitely malleable. It can be modified regionally as the Houston (or Atlanta, or Memphis, etc.) Union Army, the (unlikely) Highland Park Union Army, or the Joggers and Power Walkers Union Army. It opens a door to anybody who wants to join.
For 10 to 20 dollars anyone can also order a reproduction of the kepi caps worn by the Grand Old Army of the Republic. Wearing those caps is unobtrusive, and provides a means of identifying partisans of our cause. If at our demonstrations many of us wore those caps, photos would get into the media, and by wearing them in other places, we’d invite questions about our attire, the answers to which would aid in recruitment. Pretty soon, somebody would propose a national meeting to form an organization that might stick together until the cause is won.
Nothing is ahistorical about this idea. If the racists contest our demands with their “Heritage, Not Hate” slogan, we can challenge them on “heritage,” too. In every Southern state hundreds of whites joined the Union Army in the months following secession, and thousands more, black and white, freemen and slaves, fled or deserted to the Union Army during the war. In the North, millions of people are descended from Lincoln’s troops. We are merely carrying on a legacy in which Americans should take pride.
The job before us is the one that was halted when Reconstruction was shelved. We have to Finish the Civil War!
Read more articles by Dick J. Reavis on The Rag Blog.
[Retired Texas journalist Dick J. Reavis, the author of six books, was a senior editor at Texas Monthly and taught English at North Carolina State University. Reavis, who now lives in Dallas, was a contributor to the original Rag in Austin and was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ]