Keri Leigh Merritt on the New Lost Cause

Historians in the News
tags: Confederacy, Lost Cause, Capitol Riot

This week on CounterSpin: As media sift through the fallout of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, it’s important to see that the insurrectionists were not simply victims of a modern disinformation campaign, hoodwinked via social media into believing that Donald Trump got more votes in the election; they were also participating in a tradition “deeply rooted in the American experience,” as historian Eric Foner put it, that says that only some people’s votes should count—that Black political power, as exercised in Georgia, represents a threat to the “natural” societal dominance of white people, and that violence is appropriate to neutralize that threat and maintain that status quo. That resonance is why historians are shaking their heads as media talk about January 6 as “unprecedented”; while shocking and dispiriting, it has layers and layers of precedent that need to be learned and engaged, if we are ever to actually have the racial reckoning that corporate media are forever insisting we’ve already had.

Keri Leigh Merritt is an independent historian and filmmaker, author of the book Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Her essay, co-authored with Rhae Lynn Barnes, “A Confederate Flag at the Capitol Summons America’s Demons,” appeared on CNN.com. We talk with her about this country’s past that is never dead, or indeed even past.


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