Our national reckoning with racial injustice must first happen in individual hearts and minds and the changes in those deep parts of us can feel glacial. The author of this book has experience with one of those personal transformations—his own.
Seidule was born and raised in the south and attended one of thousands of “seg schools” that cropped up in the wake of the landmark Brown v. Board of Ed that compelled desegregation of public schools. He grew up revering Robert E. Lee and learning the “Lost Cause” mythology that emerged among defeated southerners in the years after the Civil War.
It is often said that the winners write the history books, but Seidule suggests that in the case of the Civil War, the opposite is true—that the forces aligned behind the white supremacists in the south may have seen the war as simply a lost battle in a larger war for hearts and minds.
The true gift of this book is the way Seidule models the process of personal reckoning on race. He does this by asking himself hard questions, and not shying away from the difficult answers. He pulls the loose threads on the mythology he grew up believing and went on to embody, recognizing that there will be a cost to facing the truth. He is willing to pay that cost.
I could not help feeling a simultaneous gratitude for the careful and efficient way Seidule excavates and examines his life from boyhood through school, college and a military career for evidence of how he came to believe the Lost Cause lies, along with a frustration that it would take such a well-educated, thoughtful, Christian person so long to reckon with the facts of history. In fact, Seidule did so only after contributing to the systems upholding of white supremacy and inequality for most of his life. He is a history professor, after all. A southerner. A military man. But Ty is me. And I am Ty.
I, too, have looked the other way, accepting redacted histories for most of my life. I did not know many people of color personally growing up in rural Wisconsin, and was taught by Christian parents that we should be “colorblind” and “take personal responsibility.” But given how broken things in our country seem, I began to question the colorblind approach, seeking out books and articles that introduced me to voices of color, and the parts of history that were glossed over in my formal education. I began to understand the differences between personal racism and systemic racism. I began to understand the reasons why true equity has been elusive in this country. And like Ty, I am changed by what I have learned.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the process of personal reckoning, understanding southern cultural mythology, Confederate monuments, and Civil War history.
QUOTES: “Racism is the virus in the American dirt, infecting everything and everyone. To combat racism, we must do more than acknowledge the long history of white supremacy. Policies must change. Yet, and understanding of history remains the foundation. The only way to prevent a racist future is to first understand our racist past.” – p. 256
“Today, we are finally, finally, having a national dialogue and what the confederacy and the lost cause myth meant. It’s gut wrenching. The truth is ruthless. We are finding out that many of the stories and myths that white America grew up with were untrue and racist. We are finally taking into account the millions of African-Americans who lived enslaved, realizing that their lives were every bit as important as the white planter class. Cities and schools across the country are confronting the past.” – p 254
Seidule has been involved in committees and decisions related to how military leaders are commemorated, and parts of this book explore different monuments and the stories behind the monument designs. Memorials discussed at some length include the Confederate Memorial, added to Arlington National Cemetery in 1914, the West Point Battle Monument, dedicated to the professional soldiers of the Union in 1898, and the art and sculpture in the “chapel” on campus at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA.
Washington Post Book review:
Reviewed by Vanessa Griffin,
Member, First Pres Libertyville - Committee on Anti-Racism and Equity (CARE) & Elder