Skip to comments.In defense of his Confederate pride
Posted on 10/11/2007 2:41:12 PM PDT by Lorianne
Nelson Winbush is intent on defending the flag of his grandfather. It's just surprising which flag that is. ___
KISSIMMEE -- Nelson Winbush rotates a miniature flag holder he keeps on his mantel, imagining how the banners would appear in a Civil War battle.
The Stars and Bars, he explains, looked too much like the Union flag to prevent friendly fire. The Confederacy responded by fashioning the distinctive Southern Cross -- better known as the rebel flag.
Winbush, 78, is a retired assistant principal with a master's degree, a thoughtful man whose world view developed from listening to his grandfather's stories about serving the South in the "War Between the States."
His grandfather's casket was draped with a Confederate flag. His mother pounded out her Confederate heritage on a typewriter. He wears a rebel flag pinned to the collar of his polo shirt.
Winbush is also black.
"You've never seen nothing like me, have you?"
* * *
Winbush's nondescript white brick house near Kissimmee's quaint downtown is cluttered with the mess of a life spent hoarding history.
Under the glass of his coffee table lie family photos, all of smiling black people. On top sits Ebony magazine.
Winbush is retired and a widower who keeps a strict schedule of household chores, family visits and Confederate events. He often eats at Fat Boy's Barbecue, where his Sons of Confederate Veterans camp meets.
Winbush's words could come from the mouth of any white son of a Confederate veteran. They subscribe to a sort of religion about the war, a different version than mainstream America.
The tenets, repeated endlessly by loyalists:
The war was not about slavery. The South had the constitutional right to secede. Confederate soldiers were battling for their homes and their families. President Lincoln was a despot. Most importantly, the victors write the history.
But Winbush has a conceptual canyon to bridge: How can a black man defend a movement that sought to keep his people enslaved?
* * *
Winbush is one of at most a handful of black members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the country. He knows skeptics question his story and his sanity.
To win them over, he pulls out his grandfather's pension papers, reunion photos and obituary. He also gives speeches, mostly before white audiences.
Winbush believes the South seceded because the federal government taxed it disproportionately. It was a matter of states' rights, not slavery, which was going extinct as the United States became more industrialized, he says. He denies that President Lincoln freed the slaves, explaining that the Emancipation Proclamation affected only the Confederate states, which were no longer under his authority.
"It was an exercise in rhetoric, that's all," Winbush says.
His views run counter to many historical accounts. Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, the field operations chief for the NAACP, called Winbush's arguments illogical. Rivers spoke with Winbush by telephone a few years ago, intrigued by his position. Rivers remembers him being loud and sincere, holding fast to his convictions.
"I was courteous and respectful and respectfully disagreed with him," Rivers said. "This is America. He has a right to believe what he wants to."
At one speech, Winbush stood in front of the square battle flag that draped his grandfather's coffin, retelling the stories he has told so many times that the words emerge in identical iterations.
At the end of his talk, he held the microphone to a stereo and played a song by the Rebelaires, with a sorrowful, bluesy rhythm: "You may not believe me, but things was just that way. Black is nothing other than a darker shade of rebel gray."
Once other Confederates recognize that his story is real, they love him. Opponents often attack white Confederates as ignorant or racist. Winbush is harder to dismiss. If nothing else, the naysayers are more willing to listen.
"It kinda wipes out the whole segregation and hate and racism issue," said Christopher Hall, 29, commander of Winbush's SCV camp. "Coming from him, that really can't be an argument."
* * *
Winbush's views were once more widespread, even in the land of theme parks and turnpikes.
Florida was the third state to secede. Its Civil War governor, John Milton, shot himself rather than rejoin the North, telling the Legislature, "Death would be preferable to reunion." Former Gov. Lawton Chiles defended the Confederate flag in 1996 when black lawmakers asked for its removal from the Capitol.
"You can't erase history," Chiles said at the time.
But now neo-Confederates are losing this second war of culture and memory.
Confederate flags are coming down, especially from the tops of Southern statehouses, including Florida's in 2001.
The agrarian Bible Belt has become the Sun Belt, full of northerners with few deep roots in the area. Identification with the South as a region has declined since the World War II era, which united the country with patriotism and the interstate system. Areas of South Florida, for instance, are known better as the sixth borough of New York than part of the Deep South.
High school teachers don't preach the righteousness of the South. And historians, for the most part, agree that the Civil War was about slavery, undermining the standard neo-Confederate argument.
But Confederate loyalists are digging in. Winbush considers the South his homeland. And his family history, because it's rarer than that of white Confederates, is in danger of extinction.
* * *
Slowly, in his deep, rough voice, Winbush tells the story of a young slave from a Tennessee plantation named Louis Napoleon Nelson, who went to war as a teenager with the sons of his master.
"They grew up together," Winbush says.
At first his grandfather cooked and looked out for the others, but later he saw action, fighting with a rifle under the command of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and plantation owner.
At Shiloh, a two-day battle in 1862 in which more than 23,000 American men were killed or wounded, the Confederate Army needed a chaplain. Louis Nelson couldn't read or write, but he had memorized the King James Bible.
He stayed on as chaplain for the next four campaigns, leading services for both Confederate and Union soldiers, before they headed back to the battlefield.
He also foraged for food. One time, he killed a mule, cut out a quarter and hauled it back to his comrades.
"When you don't have anything else, mule meat tastes pretty good," he would tell his grandson.
Some topics even the loquacious grandfather considered off limits. He wouldn't talk about the Union siege of Vicksburg, a bloody battle that captured an important Mississippi River port and effectively split the South.
After the war, he lived as a free man on the James Oldham plantation for 12 more years. Then he became a plasterer, traveling the South to work on houses.
Over the years, he went to 39 Confederate reunions, wearing a woolly gray uniform that Winbush still has.In photos, he stands next to two white men who accompanied him to soldiers' reunions until they were old men. Through the sepia gleams a dignity earned on the battlefield.
"When he came back, that was storytelling time," Winbush says.
His grandfather died in 1934 at the age of 88. The local paper ran an obituary that called him a "darky." Winbush is proud that his grandfather's death was marked at all.
* * *
Winbush grew up in the house his grandfather built in 1908, a two-story yellow structure with a wraparound porch in Ripley, Tenn. The Oldham plantation, where his grandfather was a slave, provided the wood in recognition of his loyalty to the family.
Winbush and his siblings lived in a family of educators. His grandmother and mother were teachers. He says he first went to school as a baby in a basket.
All three children went to college. Winbush studied biology in hopes of becoming a doctor but didn't have enough money for medical school. He switched to studying physical education.
Winbush moved to Florida in 1955, a year after the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandated school desegregation. Like many around the country, Osceola County schools remained segregated for several more years.
He didn't mind the divide because he felt both black and white students got a better education by not being able to use racial conflict as an excuse. When the superintendent, a friend of his, decided it was time to integrate in the late 1960s, Winbush agreed. The time had come, he thought, when people could accept the change.
Winbush thinks that people will get along if they know each other. He says he never suffered any blatant racism. The small Southern towns he lived in were familiar and accepting.
He remembers the "I Have A Dream" speech that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. He respects King but disagrees with his reverence for Lincoln.
Winbush wasn't moved by the speech. King was just speaking the truth, he says, but it didn't change the daily reality of blacks.
* * *
Winbush's convictions about the war lay dormant until 1991, when the NAACP began an all-out campaign against the Confederate flag, saying it was a symbol of hatred. It vowed to have it removed from public places by the end of the decade.
Winbush saw it differently, and he was retiring. He no longer worried about what some "Yankee boss" would think.
"I got fed up about all this politically correct mess," he says.
He joined the Sons and started speaking at their events. He twice appeared before the Virginia Legislature to dissuade them from taking down the flag. He collects clippings of newspaper stories written about his speeches. One shows him posing in front of a statute of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Winbush acknowledges that misuse of the Confederate flag has made it a symbol of hate in some people's eyes. But he says the American flag is just as racist. Troops of color are sent to die disproportionately in American wars, he says, and the Stars and Stripes flew above slave ships.
Rivers, the NAACP official, said people like Winbush need to let go of their family history and admit that all people, even those now dead, are imperfect.
"Just because your grandfather was wrong does not mean you can't break the generational curse and not be wrong too," he says.
* * *
Winbush is the last direct link to his grandfather, someone who heard the stories firsthand and felt the passion.
He feels the legacy of Confederate soldiers like his grandfather won't survive unless the history is passed within families, from one generation to the next.
But it's not easy. Even Winbush's son, a Naval Academy graduate who works for IBM, once suggested Winbush donate his Confederate collection to a museum.
"This is the only way some people will find out what did happen," he said. "The history books leave it out."
Winbush knows he won't be around forever. He only hopes that someone will continue to tell the stories.
Times researchers Carolyn Edds and John Martin contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at email@example.com.
History books leave out a lot of things about the south in order to demonize it.
We could start with the fact less than 5% of southerners owned slaves they were too expensive to keep and those that owned has less than 3.
Some well off southerners would buy whole families in order to keep them together in stead of allowing them to be split up.
Most people who had a slave worked in the field right along side their slave and the slave(s) ate, lived, and worshipped with the white family. The illusion of all southerns being large plantation orders is a crock.
Most slaves jobs were task oriented and assign duties at the beginning of every week, if they finished these tasks early they were allowed to travel freely over county lines ( several miles ) to visit friends and family as long as they returned by an allotted time simialr to our weekends.
The mistreatment of slaves was not as rampant as movies/liberals depict, why would you beat something you paid lots of money for, i.e. like a race horse and risk damaging it. I am not saying it didn’t happen, it did.
The state of Ohio ( a northern state ) was founded as a sanctuary for freed and run away slaves but had a state law prohibiting black from immigrating there. Other northern states also had prohibition on blacks.
If you doubt this read some memoirs and biographies of black slaves that are in the Library of Congress and other places that the Jesse Jackson of the world don’t want you to read.
They tell a different story.
“History books leave out a lot of things about the south in order to demonize it.”
If I was trying to list things for Southerners to base regional pride upon, slavery would not be on the list.
Yes. Unfortunatly you southerners should know that the CBF has been the flag of choice for Yankee racists in places like central PA and Wisconsin for at least three decades now. I think you guys should start telling these folks to stop stealing your flag.
What would you list...??
I know Americans who had no ancestors in America in 1865 who are proud to don the gray and commemorate the patriots of the War for Southern Independence. American heroes are heroes for ALL Americans who choose to recognize them. To properly appreciate the service of those who preserved the Union, one must understand the nature of those who fought to leave it.
And yet at leasst two southern states, South Carolina and Mississippi, had more slaves than whites, and in several more they were more or less equal in population.
Why,,,You think Yankees are smart enough to understaand the truth...?
What is a you guys..?
As opposed to Illinois, which banned blacks.
Maybe because they are history books and not fairy tales? Other than the figure that 5% owned slaves I'm not aware of any source that supports any of your other claims.
That would come as a heck of a surprise to the thousands of blacks who lived there. According to the 1860 census, Illinois' free black population of 7628 was larger than the free black population of all but two of the original 7 rebelling states. In fact, Illinois had more free blacks than Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas combined.
Let me interject a sec, because I'm a 13th generation Yankee who moved south 21 years ago.
We know how to vote and keep the states Red, unlike, most anyone north of the Mason-Dixon. We have a much better mix of cuisine. We can decorate homes a hell of a lot better. Our single-wides are nicer than northern ghetto homes. We don't take two decades to repair a highway and we can build tunnels underwater better than Northerners can through mountains. And last, we don't tax ourselves into the poor house.
And you have nothing to say of the man this article is about..?
And yet the 1860 census counted 7628 of them living there, more than the free black populations of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia combined. Some southern states had laws that forced freed slaves to leave the state or be returned to slavery.
Not a lot, no. I have no doubt that his beliefs are sincere but he keeps spouting the same old southron song-and-dance. It wasn't about slavery. Unilateral secession was constitutional. Lincoln was a dictator. The South paid a disproportionate part of the taxes. Slavery was dying out. No different than any other southron supporter who has drunk the confederate koolaid..
I know! The USA hasn’t done well at all since 1865.
Not any different than you then,,you do the same..
What do you think the rebs were trying to set up? They tend to get a free pass because they failed and we do not get too see what they were going to develop into. But given the Confederacy's early behavior, had they won we would have a bloated Leviathan in Richmond as well as on the Potomac.
Sure this guy real name isn’t Clayton Bigsby?
(Funniest Dave Chappelle skit ever)
Other than the few groups of abolitionists in the New England states the North had no truck with slavery. The modern history books would have us all believe that the South and the North locked horns over it and the heroes won and abolished it. Problem is for the South it (the expansion of slavery to the territories and new states) was one of many reasons to secede. For the North it was a non-issue. The North made war on the South to preserve the union. Period.
So try as you might, you cannot find any source anywhere that would convince you that any southerner ever bought a whole family, that any southerner worked in his own field, that any slave ever got to travel off the plantation, that any slave was ever well treated, or that Ohio ever turned away a freed slave?
That doesn't mean he didn't exist, but it is a bit of a mystery.
Maybe the website's incomplete, but could it be that Nelson wasn't considered a soldier by the Confederate Army during the war?
There's more here.
BTW, when you were in the service, did you get to bring along your own bodyguard? Sounds like a great deal, especially if you didn't have to pay him.
Illinois banned free blacks from moving into the state. Free blacks who were already there were severely restricted.
Those laws were not enforced. They were enacted during the period when the northern states were trying to eliminate their own black populations through structures manumission laws.
And the free black numbers in the census are known to be bogus. Free black men listed their wives and children as slaves for legal reasons.
Your post is a hoot! Yes let’s just make slavery look romantic. Please. It was a tragedy and should be told rightly so. The south botched up that part of history. Just deal with it. However, I will give you kudos for making a funny...
Lincoln said the war was not about slavery.
Lincoln Said secession was legal earlier in his career.
The South did pay a disproportionate part of the taxes.
Slavery was dying out. It had died out everywhere in the west by 1884.
And what the southerners really wanted with the western territories was a place to get rid of their black population. There was never any real hope of extending the plantation system there. The land there won't support it.
I wouldn't say it was a non-issue for the north. What the republicans wanted was to deport the blacks out of North America altogether, and to keep them in the South until that could be arranged.
You sir, do not know the history of the Southland and you show that clearly by your comments. The history is out there and I suggest you read some of it.
Neither were Illinois', apparently.
They were enacted during the period when the northern states were trying to eliminate their own black populations through structures manumission laws.
What are "structures manumission laws"?
And the free black numbers in the census are known to be bogus. Free black men listed their wives and children as slaves for legal reasons.
B) What legal reasons would those be? The not-enforced laws demanding freed blacks leave the state?
“What would you list...??”
Wrong person to ask. Ask a proud Southerner.
I am sure there a plenty of worthy claims, besides slavery.
Well as long as we're talking about just dealing with history...
Let's remember that it was yankees who ran the transatlantic slave trade after 1836 and continued to do so until the 1880's. Let's remember that the biggest port of entry for African-American ancestors is Newport, RI. Let's remember that it was New York bankers who financed the domestic as well as international slave trade. And let's remember that it was Yankee insurance firms who insured all of this valuable property.
The Mayor of New York lives in a mansion that was built by a prominent New York family from profits made founding the Mobile slave market.
“Winbush’s son, a Naval Academy graduate who works for IBM, once suggested Winbush donate his Confederate collection to a museum.”
A museum would bury it in their archives. This doesn’t meet their staqndards for PC-ness.
We were at the Atlanta History Center about 12 years ago and saw them turn a young black man away from an encampment. He had proof his ancestor had been a free black living in LA and he wanted to portray his ancestor. We overheard tyhe discussion he had with the museum people who said he was WRONG, blacks didn;t serve in the Confederacy. We had supper with him at the Johnny Rockets down the road and he gave our children a history lesson they would never get in schools or museums. He had the evidence to back up all his statements.
The young man also said that his ancestors owned slaves. You should have seen the looks on the museum staff’s faces.
Amen to my Yankee friend. LOL. Good to see you Tony. So, when are you coming down to South Carolina to visit?
And yet their numbers increased by about 40% between 1850 and 1860.
If you're referring to the Mexican War speech, what he said was that there's a natural right of revolution.
Just thought I’d ask ,, nothing more to it ,, ..
Yes they were. They prevented immigration and were quite effective.
What are "structures manumission laws"?
The structured manumission laws specified that slaved born after a certain date had to be freed when they reached a certain age. The age was always when the slave would be at his greatest value and the expectation was that owners would sell them rather than free them.
The southern states protested this practice but there wasn't much they could do.
Not legally - except by natural increase.
No one can know what we would have turned into but the South was not happy with what the North was turning into. The South was against big centralized government and wanted what was truer to what the Founding Fathers put in place, individual states united. That would be States Rights and all that goes with that.
Had the South won their independence the North would be what it is now I expect. I’d like to believe though that the Southland would have been less intrusive, clung to States rights and less taxed.
I live down here and even now, even with the the intrusion of the Federal Government, we are less taxed and live with less regulation.
OK. So the North was not innocent. My life has not changed one way or the other! Thanks for the facts though. Interesting especially about Newport, Rhode Island.
Blacks did serve in the confederate army but until the very end of the war it was not legal. Many officers had servants with them who ended up fighting as well. Nathan Bedford Forest freed fifty slaves in return for service under him. There was a Louisiana volunteer unit that was made up of freed blacks who were rebuffed in their attempt to join and ended up doing local duty. The Union army swallowed them up after the war and sent them out west to shoot Indians.
One of Mao's principles for controlling the masses was to disrupt and redistribute their communities, destroy the temples and graves, and wrench the people away from their history.
Hope it does not work as well here.
I consider myself well-versed in the history of both sides of the War of Northern Aggression but I have never heard of the concept you reference above.
If true, it would blow my mind!
Except I provide evidence supporting my positions.