For true sons of the South, Ty Seidule’s new book “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause” (St. Martin’s Press, 2021) may be a hard pill to swallow. I am not making this claim lightly. My own great-grandfather, like so many of his generation, was named in honor of the general in the late 1800s, a time of rising Jim Crow practices. Although I was not raised with any of the prejudice or hate, I can see that the myth of the Lost Cause has been pervasive throughout our lifetime, perpetuated in school and in popular culture.
Seidule, whose most important claim is that the Civil War was about slavery and only slavery creates an undeniable argument against Lost Cause thinking. Having grown up in Virginia and Georgia and attending Washington and Lee for undergraduate studies, a reverence for Lee permeated his young life. To be like Lee and emulate his Southern, Christian gentleman persona was his goal. It was only when his wife questioned the truth of this upbringing that he began to examine its reality.
As a brigadier general, historian, and professor at West Point, his research led him to view with startling clarity the facts through primary source Civil War generals’ own words, the real history of plantation life, the treatment of Black people during the Jim Crow era, the enshrinement of Lee at Washington and Lee University, and the perpetuation of Lee’s memory at West Point. Using Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” and popular children’s books and movies of the time, such as Disney’s “Song of the South” shown to millions of children on Sunday night on the Wonderful World of Disney, Seidule exposes the myth's many insidious entries into American minds.
Laying out fact after fact, Seidule concludes that Lee committed treason. As Seidule says, the Lost Cause is not only a myth, it is a lie. Letting go of the romance of the tradition, however, is not so easy. Our country continues to grapple with old thinking that can either send us backward or spark a higher transformation. To paraphrase what Seidule says of his own awakening, we know the questions, but not all the answers. Reading “Robert E. Lee and Me” is only the beginning.
Professor Seidule suggested red beans and rice for this column, a traditional Southern dish we can all agree on. You will get a better taste with dried beans, but as everyone knows, canned will also work.
Red Beans and Rice
1 cup dried red beans, preferably light red
1/2 lb. salt pork, ham hock, or diced smoked ham
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced
Cayenne to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon
2 bay leaves
Dash of ground thyme
Dash of basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon paprika
4 dashes Louisiana hot sauce
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cups cooked rice
Chopped parsley or green onions
Wash beans and quick soak. Sauté sausage in oil and drain. Sauté onion, green pepper, garlic, and celery until onion is translucent. Place all in a Dutch oven with ham hock, add next seven ingredients. Cover with water, cooking until beans are tender. (You can use your instapot according to directions for dry beans.) In the meantime, prepare the rice. When beans are done, if they are too runny, thicken them with a bit of flour and butter mixed together. Mash a few of the beans, if desired. Serve hot over rice and garnish with parsley and/or green onions.
Reach Melony Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (918) 683-3694.