One of the constant themes of The Fog of Policy is that the world can be a strange little place full of weird little surprises. For example, there are festivals in Brazil dedicated to celebrating the American Confederacy.
The sight of Confederate battle flags waving in the streets of a South American town while men parade in battle grays and sabres might, at first, seem strange. Upon further reflection, it remains strange – but it turns out to be rooted in some interesting history.
At the end of the Civil War, as many as 20,000 former confederates picked up and left the South, preferring to emigrate than to live under Reconstruction. Many of them ended up in Brazil, which didn’t outlaw slavery for another two decades. There, they founded a community around a town that came to be known as Americana. As immigrants do, they integrated into their host society over time – and to preserve their heritage, they founded the American Descendants Association, which hosts the peculiar confederate parade several times a year.
Cultural practices are usually what social scientists call path dependent – a fancy way of saying that you take one step and then another and another until you end up at some pretty interesting places. The idea that somewhere in South America there is a town named Americana where a racially diverse group of people celebrate the lost cause of Southern independence feels somehow revelatory, but I have no idea how or of what.
Here’s another wrinkle: in 1972, Jimmy Carter visited the Confederados and paid his respects at the grave of an old relative who was among the original settlers. In five generations, the descendants of the Old South had intermarried, but many had continued to pass down their English. The future President remarked that, in their speech at least, the Confederados were indistinguishable from the Southerners he’d grown up with.
What else they did and didn’t pass on might serve as a case study in cultural legacies. The Confederate field days feature hoop skirts and Southern faire, along with old ballads and country music. Writing for Vice News, Mimi Dwyer had this to say:
For the Confederados, the legacy of the South is all innocence, no reckoning. Their Confederacy is a collection of sounds and words and images: a Johnny Cash song, a western, a flag. White Southern bitterness has melted into kitsch—or else denial, oblivion.
And maybe Brazil’s Confederados are, in fact, all satin with no memory of the lost fight over slavery that gave rise to their exodus. While reporting for The New York Times, though, Ron Soodalter saw it differently. He chose to end his account of the Confederados with a quote from a local:
We’re the most Southern and the only truly unreconstructed Confederates that there are on Earth. We left right after the war, and we never pledged allegiance to the damn Yankee flag.
It’s all a keen reminder that few things in history can be tied up with a neat little bow – somewhere, even in the jungles of South America, you’re bound to find a loose satin thread.
Follow Pedro on Twitter @IamPedroA.
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