What’s in a Name? For Some Clubs in the South, Uneasy Ties to the ConfederacyHistorians in the News
tags: Confederacy, public history, golf
For years at Secession Golf Club in Beaufort, S.C., a private, links-style course surrounded by marsh brimming with nature, the club featured two sets of tees after Union generals (Grant and Sherman) and three after Confederate generals (Lee, Stuart, and Jackson).
Or it did up until late August. The tees now carry the names of important people in the club’s history. In response to the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of police and the ensuing nationwide protests over racial injustice, the walking-only course, which opened in 1992, has taken a number of small steps in recent weeks to avoid the perception that it is paying homage to the Confederacy. In addition to replacing an adaptation of the Confederate States’ first flag with the state flag of South Carolina in their crossed-flag logo (the other is Old Glory), the club also has removed a copy of the Ordinance of Secession, which was first drafted in Beaufort, from a wall inside the front door. (Full disclosure: I know this because I was once a member.)
“The tragic killing of George Floyd caused a lot of people in our country to rethink things, and certainly our situation was no different,” says Mike Gonzalez, the club’s president who, like the majority of members, doesn’t live in South Carolina. “So, I invited our members to weigh in, and it was clear we needed to do something [to separate themselves], particularly anything that could be deemed to be connected in any way to the Confederate cause, which is certainly nothing we could support. I didn’t want to take any chance that we could be perceived to be something we’re not, because Secession is a very welcoming and inclusive club.”
Changing the name was also considered, but after speaking with many of the 900 members, including all African-Americans members (the club wouldn’t divulge how many there are), Gonzalez concluded that that step wasn’t necessary because the name is meant to acknowledge the broader history of the area, not the act itself. He cites the fact that the Reconstruction Era that enfranchised African Americans, at least for a while, began in Beaufort in 1861 after the Union Army overtook the Lowcountry following its decisive amphibious assault at the Battle of Port Royal. The white plantation owners fled while more than 10,000 enslaved people, about one-third of the enslaved population at the time, stayed and became free.
Also being questioned this year are the handful of clubs named after Confederate generals. Perhaps the most famous is Wade Hampton in western North Carolina (No. 25 on Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses).
“The history that they're tying into is one that is often viewed of as romantic,” says Adam Domby, a Civil War historian at the College of Charleston. “The reality of that history that usually goes unsaid is that Wade Hampton used violence and terror to maintain control of enslaved people.”
Carrozza, who grew up in Massachusetts, is sympathetic to courses faced with the Confederate dilemma and feels they shouldn’t be forced to change their name to be politically correct. “I think it’s dangerous to hide history,” he says. “It’s American history. There were Americans on both sides. This was a Confederate area, so you still have generations of people who grew up here whose distant relatives died fighting for what they believed in. I kind of think that it was about more than just slavery. It’s complex.”
No, it’s not, says Domby, an expert on “The Lost Cause,” the attempt by organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) to position the “War of Northern Aggression” as a just cause about states’ rights.
“Let’s be clear: The Civil War was about slavery. It’s important to remember that. But the ‘Lost Cause’ wants you to believe it’s about states’ rights instead because then they’re not losers and because states’ rights become a key way of fighting African American enfranchisement and equal rights efforts by the Federal Government. After the war, the past was rewritten in a way that romanticized the Old South and the Confederacy.”
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