Confederate 'Lost Cause' Defenders Run to Keep Seats in Southern Legislatures

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tags: Confederacy, Lost Cause, State government

Created after the Civil War by groups including the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), who continue to promote it today, the Lost Cause ideology was based not on historical fact but on fiction and twisted propaganda intended to justify slavery, secession, and the Confederacy itself. The Lost Cause ideology holds that slavery didn't cause the war, that slaves were happy and well treated by benevolent masters, that President Lincoln was a tyrant akin to Adolf Hitler, and that the Ku Klux Klan was a heroic protector of victimized white Southerners. Spread through textbooks in Southern schools for generations, it was the driving force behind the push to erect monuments to the Confederacy across the South in the period after Reconstruction, when Black Americans had their voting rights and other freedoms taken away under Jim Crow laws and segregation began.

Still today, in the midst of a national uprising over racial injustice, and with the toppling of numerous Confederate monuments that embody it — 96 in the South alone since the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to the Southern Vision Alliance — Lost Cause ideology lingers in the region's politics and its statehouses. In fact, there are three state legislators, all Republicans, now up for reelection across the region who have continued to promote Lost Cause lies through legislation and other official efforts. They are Rep. Tommy Benton of Georgia, Rep. Larry Pittman of North Carolina, and Sen. Joey Hensley of Tennessee.

Straightening up with the Klan

In Georgia, state Rep. Thomas "Tommy" Benton of Blue Ridge, a former history teacher in Jackson County Public Schools, is facing off against Democratic challenger Pete Fuller, a systems administrator with a master's degree in instructional technology from the University of Georgia. Benton, an SCV member, was first elected in 2005 to represent District 31 in Jackson County, where the population is 88% white and 7.4% Black.

Benton's Lost Cause version of history has been raising eyebrows in Georgia since at least 2016, when in an interview with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution he denied slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Instead, he claimed, it was a war of independence from a "tyrannical government." He went on to praise the Ku Klux Klan, calling it "not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order. … It made a lot of people straighten up."

In 2017, the state GOP stripped Benton of leadership positions and a committee chair after he mailed to House members an article that denied slavery was the cause of the Civil War. The article was from that year's March/April edition of Confederate Veteran, the SCV's membership magazine.

Benton was again stripped of a committee chair this year over remarks he made on a radio show following the death of U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the long-serving Georgia Democrat and prominent civil rights leader. Referring to Bloody Sunday, the 1965 incident in which Alabama state troopers attacked peaceful voting rights marchers on a Selma bridge and fractured Lewis's skull, Benton said Lewis's "only claim to fame was that he got conked on the head at the [Edmund] Pettus Bridge … and he has milked that for 50 years." Benton was arguing against replacing one of Georgia's two official statutes at the U.S. Capitol — a marble likeness of Alexander Stephens, former Georgia governor and vice president of the Confederacy — with one of Lewis.

Benton has sponsored legislation to force Georgia to recognize Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee's birthday. When he had to withdraw his legislation due to public backlash, he tried introducing a resolution to have the state House recognize April as Confederate History month and to observe Confederate Memorial Day.

Read entire article at Facing South

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