By Benjamin Olivo | Downtown writer | San Antonio Express-News
I was sitting in the parking lot of Grady’s Bar-B-Q, listening to the Chi-Lites’ Oh Girl when the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, walked into the party room.
It was the monthly meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Alamo Camp #1325, and I’d inadvertently written myself into an invitation.
I’d written a column sarcastically dismissive of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. While proclaiming my pride in being a child of the South and Southwest, I took issue with McDonnell’s initial declaration of Confederate History Month — on behalf of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — which ignored slavery, and with Perry’s earlier suggestion of secession.
The Heritage of Honor page on the SCV website didn’t mention the word “slavery” either, but I saw that membership is open to “all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed services” and that I qualified.
I wrote, “I’m a Son of Confederate Veterans as well as a son of slavery” and expected an application.
I got one, as well as an invitation to attend the May meeting, from Russ Lane, the affable head of Alamo Camp #1325. I never doubted I’d go, just as I never doubted I would be treated kindly.
Including wives, there were about 30 people in the meeting that began with “the Pledge of Allegiance” to “the United States of America,” which heartened me to know I wasn’t in the presence of secessionists.
Afterward, each person stood to introduce him or herself and name an ancestor from the Confederate Army. They named them with the pride anyone should have when speaking of an ancestor.
When it was my turn, I stood and said, “The reason I’m here tonight is because of a slightly sarcastic column I wrote.” There was good-natured laughter.
I continued, “Russ respectfully invited me, and I respectfully accepted. But my great-great uncle, Phil Coe, who was white, served in the Confederate Army. His half-brother, Dan, who was a slave, was my great-great grandfather. But Phil is better known because, in October of 1871, in Abilene, Kan., he became the last person killed by Wild Bill Hickok in a gunfight. We call Uncle Phil the white sheep of the family.” I sat down to laughter and applause.
There were favorable comments about state rights and an unfavorable one about Abraham Lincoln. The man dressed as Jefferson Davis, local attorney Tom Jackson, gave a good and balanced presentation on the Confederacy’s president.
I had only two cringe-inducing moments. The first was leafing through a copy of Southern Partisan magazine and seeing a glowing two-page spread on the first home of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. The story didn’t mention that Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
The other was when the meeting ended, as it always does, with a rousing rendition of Dixie. I tried singing a few lyrics, but knowing that the song was composed for a black-faced minstrel show and in the supposed dialect of a black man, I stopped. I felt ridiculous standing there singing it.
But I’ll return. That is, if they don’t mind the company of a left-of-center, Obama-voting, Lincoln-revering, Rachel Maddow-watching and Chi-Lites listening kin of someone killed by Wild Bill Hickok.
After the meeting, a lady sweetly said to me, “For these guys, it’s about heritage.”
I told her I understood. It was important for me to be there, to hear their affection for their ancestors and to see that, for them at least, it was about heritage and not hate.
I also believe it was important for them to be in the presence of someone who shares their biological connection to Confederate soldiers but who also has the bloodlines of those who, without their shackled presence on Southern soil, there would have been no Civil War.
I share with the Sons of Confederate Veterans — my brothers — a desire to preserve Southern history even if it means some spirited, civil discussions about circumstances surrounding the war. Some differences may not be reconciled, but they’re worth discussing.
As I left, one man said, “Don’t be a stranger.”
That’s why I went and will go back.
Cary Clack‘s column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. To leave a message, call 210-250-3486 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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