Date of Award
Ph.D. in History
Charles Reagan Wilson
Scholars of the Lost Cause have tended to end their examinations of the Confederate commemorative movement before the 1920s. Citing a variety of indicators that range from veterans' mortality rates to national reconciliation, these historians have assumed that the Lost Cause became increasingly irrelevant in southern society. Yet, veterans organizations and their auxiliaries put a great deal of energy into constructing an historical interpretation that would vindicate their actions to future generations. This dissertation therefore extends the examination of the Lost Cause movement throughout the twentieth century. Limiting the geographical scope of the research to a state study of Mississippi also highlights the extent to which the political system granted legitimacy to the Lost Cause through legal statutes and appropriations. From placenames and textbook censorship to funding memorials, the state, county, and municipal governments in Mississippi have assisted in the preservation and interpretation of Confederate memory. Despite this official endorsement which began immediately upon the war's conclusion, other historical interpretations existed within the state. In fact, the U.S. Army and Reconstruction Republicans attempted to leave their own Unionist marks on Mississippi during the late 1860s and 1870s. By the 1890s when the federal government again began to play an occasional role in commemorating the Civil War within Mississippi's borders, a tone of national reconciliation stressed the honor and skill of combatants on both sides. Meanwhile, the black community managed to preserve its own memories of slavery, the war, and Reconstruction. As the Civil Rights Movement began to escalate, segregationists used the white South's loyalty to the Lost Cause as a means of rallying support. While the federal Civil War Centennial Commission urged a program of national reconciliation, the Mississippi Commission on the War Between the States attempted to manipulate the anniversary to assist the cause of white supremacy. For both segregationists and civil rights activists, the identity of similar actors and agendas evoked rhetorical parallels between the past and the present, particularly after the 1962 riot at the University of Mississippi. During the 1966 Meredith March, blacks began to publicly challenge Confederate monuments and flags as symbols of white supremacy. By the 1980s when civil rights advances had granted African Americans access to political power, their own long-held memory of the past no longer remained isolated within the black community. Indeed, controversy over Confederate symbols sparked extensive dialogue across Mississippi on the interpretation of the antebellum and Civil War past. The Lost Cause continued to influence many within the state, but its adherents could no longer prevent alternative memories from entering the public realm.
McWhite, Sally Leigh, "Echoes of the lost cause : Civil War reverberations in Mississippi from 1865 to 2001" (2002). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1731.