Purifying strategies and the confederate diaspora

Curator's Note

In 2016, as national attention turned to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, The New York Times and USA Today published articles centered on celebrations of Confederate imagery in the small Brazilian town of Santa Barbara D’Oeste. In the aftermath of the Civil War, Santa Barbara D’Oeste became a destination for embittered confederate immigrants, wherein they could construct and preserve a confederate cultural legacy. The yearly celebration of confederate iconography is a stark illustration of the successes of southern authors in constructing and repackaging the Confederate cause following the loss of the Civil War.

The end of the Civil War provided the exigence for construction and propagation of a new southern lost cause discourse. The works of confederate authors like Jubal Early and Edward Pollard opened discursive space for the proliferation of a new southern version of the war. These authors intended to cultivate and maintain a southern culture because they believed that the South would rise again, around the values that were fundamental to their society. This new narrative of the south strategically attempted to purge the stigma of slavery from popular conceptions of the war. Through the selective valorization of specific aspects of southern culture, confederate authors gave hurting southerners a newly-constructed lost cause narrative upon which they became agents in the preservation of the “southern” way of life. The retelling of such stories allowed individuals to play active roles in cultural cultivation and the construction of post-Civil War southern society.

What we see reflected in the Santa Barbara D’Oeste confederate celebration is the successful diffusion of a repackaged southern lost cause narrative. As Simon Romero uncovers in his New York Times article, the celebration is a purified and sanitized version of confederate history. Romero (2016) points out that many attendees defend the use of the Old South imagery, because “the Confederate flag symbolizes family, unity, fraternity and friendship.” The yearly celebration and veneration of confederate imagery reflects the endgame of post-Civil War southern authors; they intended to win a “war of ideas.” Confederate author Edward Pollard (1866) explicitly calls upon southerners to put down their guns and “take up the weapon of argument.” As fighting ended on the battlefield, powerful southern voices waged a culture war that remains at the heart of our continued struggle against persistent confederate adoration.

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