I would like take a few moments to explain how this choice of internship has impacted the current research I am doing and the future career path I plan to take. Interning at the archives has earned me a more thorough understanding of the Lost Cause ideology (which will have its own featured blog at a later date). The Lost Cause is the ideology that began to be espoused in the South after the Civil War as a method of vindication for the South’s military defeat. Within this ideology the South justified its causes for war, claiming that God had been on their side during the Civil War. In doing this they gave up on the notions of political autonomy, but clung to the hope of the South as a separate cultural entity. This explains the distinct Southern culture that exists today, and I would argue there is not a better place in the world to see the legacies of the Lost Cause and Southern culture than my hometown of Laurens, South Carolina.
This summer, during Summer Fellows, I began to look into the legacy of the Confederacy in Laurens. This project centered on the symbolic confusion surrounding the Confederate flag and the controversy surrounding the famous Redneck Shop. The Redneck Shop is a novelty store located in downtown Laurens where one can purchase all matters of Southern paraphernalia including bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, Klan robes, and Confederate flags. The owner of the shop is John Howard, a sixty-five year old resident of Laurens County. A former Grand Dragon of the KKK, and a lifetime member, he is happy to share his memories and thoughts on the Klan with anyone who asks. However, not everyone is as excited about the shop as Howard and his contemporaries.
David Kennedy, a local African-American Baptist pastor, has been leading a protest against the shop for several years now. Kennedy is an adamant civil rights activist who has fought against civil injustice across the state of South Carolina since his youth. He is the pastor of a church located five miles from the Redneck Shop and also a prominent leader in the black community. Howard and Kennedy have been in and out of court for nearly a decade and now find themselves involved in another legal dispute concerning the ownership of the building. Small town rumor has it that through a series of events, Kennedy has come to own the old Echo Theater building which the Redneck Shop is located in. Howard denies any claims of this, and the pair have been set to face off again in court this coming year.
The situation as seen in Laurens County is just one of many ways in which Confederate memory has gripped the South in its legacy. Confederate memory is the way in which the legacies of the Civil War are kept alive and appear in modern society. This can not only be seen in the Redneck Shop, but also in the local camps of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It is certain that within at least one section of the community, Confederate heritage is alive and well and by working at the archives my understanding of Confederate legacy has deepened.
Being a part of Laurens County and the South, PC is no exception to the legacies of the Confederacy. In fact, PC’s own history is closely intertwined with the emergence of the Lost Cause ideology. The Archives contains a collection owned by the family of Stonewall Jackson, a prominent Confederate general. We also have a vast collection of literature circulated by D.H. Hill, the main proprietor of the Lost Cause in the aftermath of the Civil War. After defeat, he used his magazine The Land We Love, to espouse Southern sentiments and vindicate the South’s surrender. Also, PC has a copy of South Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession because the college’s founder, William Plumer Jacobs was the clerk for that session of the state legislature. PC had deep ties to the Lost Cause ideology and is a living testimony to the legacies of the Civil War. Learning all of this has deepened my love for Southern history and my interest in the subject. I am currently continuing my research into the area of the Lost Cause by taking a Southern Studies course and working with faculty on an independent study relating to memory and the Civil War. Therefore, my experience in Archives this semester has persuaded me to pursue a career in Southern Studies after graduation and to possibly go on to work for larger research projects such as those found in historical houses and plantations across the South.