The SCV was once a rather mild-mannered group of descendants of Confederate veterans, generally representative of the genteel Old South "aristocracy." They held memorial services, researched genealogy, preserved Confederate gravesites, marched in parades and participated in other relatively harmless activities.
Since 2002, however, the SCV has gradually been taken over by a more radical faction, currently led by Commander In Chief Denne Sweeney of Texas. The new aggressive leadership, evincing a too-common attitude I call the Angry Southern Martyr Complex, has thrust the SCV into numerous disputes over Confederate symbols — usually the "Stars & Bars" battle flag. Members who've dared to criticize the group's new direction have been expelled, including more than 300 members from North Carolina (many of whom are now part of a new group, Save the Sons of Confederate Veterans).
Under the leadership of Sweeney and his predecessor, Ron Wilson of South Carolina, the group has ratcheted up the rancor of its rhetoric, and alliances have been made with openly racist groups such as the League of the South. The SCV has even openly debated admitting Klan members. In old-time Southern terms, this is a church-deacons-vs.-snuff-dippers conflict, and even though one of my great-great grandfathers was a scout for Lee's army, I don't have a dog in that particular fight. I do care very much about a couple of things here, however:
1. Public funds are being given to a group that has become so virulent and bitter, the "n word" practically jumps out at you between the lines of their writing; and
2. Cabarrus County's official acknowledgement of the "new" SCV perpetuates the stereotype of the South as the province of knuckle-dragging racists.
Not to mention that we Southerners who champion and benefit from the racial and cultural progress our region has made will have to listen to more B.S. from our Northern friends and in-laws — which is nothing to sneeze at.
Although SCV still maintains its members are normal, neighborly types — and I have no doubt many of them are — the group's leadership has been quick to support or sponsor events that should raise some serious questions among Cabarrus County officials. Two weekends ago in Memphis, for instance, SCV celebrated the 100th anniversary of a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest — the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — with a festival that included a blackface minstrel show called Snowflake's Minstrels.
The SCV also boasts a number of prominent members with white supremacist beliefs. In 1996, then-SCV leader Peter W. Orlebeke said slavery could be defended biblically, and wasn't really so bad: "[T]here have been times that I wish someone had said to me, 'I'll give you a job for the rest of your life.'" Members also include Donald and Walter Kennedy, charter members of the white supremacist League of the South; Jared Taylor, editor of the racist American Renaissance magazine; and Kirk Lyons, a well-known white supremacist lawyer whose group, the Southern Legal Resource Center, has received thousands of dollars from the SCV to litigate in favor of the use of the Confederate battle flag, and who has stated that "Mere Klan membership should not be sufficient to remove a member [from SCV]."
And did I mention that the SCV rejects interracial marriage and believes the South should be "Anglo-Celtic"?
Trouble is, the Cabarrus County Tourism Authority has hosted these guys before. In fact, the SCV held a "special convention" in Concord three months ago that effectively barred more moderate, former leaders from sitting on the group's executive council, further solidifying the radical new leadership's position. SCV leaders must love Concord, because they also held an executive council meeting there in December 2004 — a meeting that was later declared illegal.
Cabarrus County officials want the $960,000 in economic impact they say would be created by the SCV convention, and County Manager John Day contends the SCV can't be barred from using the arena if the group is obeying the law. But common decency demands some limits on how low you'll sink to make money. If you can't bar hate groups from plopping down by the hundreds in your burg, much less deny them tax money to help them do it, what kind of governing body are you?
People throughout the South, including Cabarrus County, are undergoing wide-ranging changes and a never-ending redefinition of what it means to be Southern. Not everyone who is interested in Southern history is a racist, just as not everyone who claims to be "progressive" is a godsend to the region. But we sure as hell don't need to officially sanction groups like the SCV who radiate racial intolerance.