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The Daughters of the Confederacy Who Turned Their Heritage to Political Ends

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Tony Horwitz, who died in May, was the author of eight books, including, most recently, “Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide.” He was a frequent contributor to the Book Review.

In 1974 Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, a young oral historian, went to Virginia to interview two elderly writers. One occupied a ramshackle rural house and spoke bitterly about the ruin of her literary career. The other, living comfortably in Charlottesville, was immersed in her final work, a biography of the renegade abolitionists and women’s rights advocates Sarah and Angelina Grimké, despite a publisher having deemed them “minor figures.”

Hall’s interview subjects were likewise sisters and pedigreed white Southerners who broke radically with their caste. Now, four decades after finding Grace and Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Hall has delivered an epic, poignant biography of siblings “estranged and yet forever entangled” by the South, each other and their haunted family saga.

Hall’s narrative, “Sisters and Rebels,” encompasses a third sister, though she mainly serves as a marker of how far her rebel siblings traveled. Elizabeth Lumpkin was the eldest and favorite of their father, a resentful ex-Confederate from a once-prominent slaveholding family in Georgia. After the Civil War, he joined the Klan and fervidly embraced the cult of the Lost Cause, also ensuring that his children were “dipped deep” in this white supremacist ideology.

Elizabeth, born in 1881, became a celebrated orator on the Confederate circuit, extolling aging veterans as “grand old men who guarded with your lives the virgin whiteness of our Georgia.” She married a wealthy doctor at a “Confederate wedding” with a Rebel honor guard, and remained an “eternal loyalist,” ending her long life writing nostalgic fiction about a faithful slave and his “saintly” master.

Read entire article at NY Times

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