Guy Lancaster, editor of the Enyclopedia of Arkansas, has written a new entry he calls the “epistemology of ignorance.”
You could also call it deliberate misinformation.
I might put it this way: You have to be really dumb to wave a Confederate flag around in 2020 and talk about how it’s all about glorious heritage.
Lancaster writes, to begin, about how little people understand the history of Arkansas in the Civil War era. It is too often invisible, particularly the black participants.
For example, I was once in conversation with a man on the prevalence of anti-Confederate sentiment in Arkansas during the Civil War. Of course, the story of the Arkansas Peace Society, a pro-Unionist organization in the Ozarks, has been fairly well documented, most recently in a book by James J. Johnston. Less well known are the Union sympathizers of the Ouachita Mountains. One band of Union sympathizers and Confederate deserters under the command of Andy Brown fought the Confederate Homeguard at McGraw’s Mill in Montgomery County in February 1863, and later that year, a Union expedition to Mount Ida recruited a number of local men to the cause.
Such instances were well known to my conversation partner. However, I astonished him immensely when I claimed that some eighty percent of the population of Chicot County were likely against secession and the Confederacy. “No way!” he insisted. “Sure, in the uplands, where slavery was not that common or that profitable, there was general opposition to secession. But in a place like Chicot County, cotton plantations were immensely profitable, and people there would have been very interested in protecting the institution of slavery. Where is this eighty percent figure coming from?”
“That,” I said, “is the percentage of the enslaved population in the county in 1860.”
“Oh,” he said. “I guess I wasn’t thinking about them.”
And that’s a common enough mistake—not to think about the slaves. Or, at least, not thinking of them as anything other than background to the story of the Civil War, not thinking of them as people with their own volitions and desires, not thinking of them as people whose own feelings about their condition of violently enforced servitude may have had an impact upon the larger historical narrative. This, despite the fact that we know that many freed slaves immediately enrolled in the Union army in order to free their brothers and sisters, parents and children. If you are white, like I am, you simply are not accustomed to thinking about the slaves themselves as agents, even when telling the story of a conflict rooted in slavery.
He moves on to other topics, including the symbolism of the route taken by protest marchers in Little Rock — on Interstate 630, a racially divisive addition to Little Rock, and past the Broadway site of a Little Rock lynching. He also writes about the creation of the Lost Cause myth, which has left the South and beyond littered with statues to losers who fought to preserve slavery. They’ve been tumbling lately with the growing Black Lives Matter demonstrations, though not yet in Arkansas.
You may be sure tearful Sons of Confederate Veterans will thunder about the sainted Marse Robert and the glories of Dixie should any serious assault — legal or otherwise — be mounted on the two tributes to slavery’s defenders on the Capitol lawn or the monument to them at the city’s MacArthur Park. Gov. Asa Hutchinson is no doubt ready to re-activate the National Guard should vandalism be threatened.
Removal of the statues at the Capitol by peaceful means would require an act of the legislature, thanks to a law passed in 2017 — I said 2017 — to be sure slavery’s defenders would not be consigned to a location less offensive to at least some portion of the people represented by those who assemble in the Capitol.
This is what the keeper of the Capitol, secretary of state John Thurston, says when people ask him about removing the statues:
On behalf of Secretary Thurston, thank you for your inquiry regarding the removal of monuments located on Arkansas State Capitol grounds. In accordance with Act 274 of 2017, codified at § 22-3-503 (c), the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission shall not consider the removal of a monument from the State Capitol grounds unless authorized by an act of the General Assembly. The Secretary of State, as Chairman of the Capitol Arts and Grounds Commission, will ensure that all future acts pertaining to monuments on State Capitol grounds will be promptly brought before the Commission for due consideration.
Is there a legislator willing to try? I can think of a few. Is there a majority willing to vote for it? I think you can find the answer in the “epistemology of ignorance.” See Donald Trump’s emergence as what someone called the second president of the Confederacy with his refusal to consider renaming 10 military bases named for Confederate generals that are populated with thousands of multi-racial troops
For another time we may have a discussion of how Arkansas offers a historic rebuttal to the notion of sending in the military to quell civil unrest.
We went down that road in Elaine a century ago. As Ernie Dumas summarized it in a note to me, “Lawmen, a massive vigilante posse and then battle-hardened federal soldiers (think Tom Cotton) slaughtering defenseless black people and then prosecuting blacks for nonexistent crimes.”
If only the cell phone camera had been invented then.