The seller of the Forever Lee Circle beads, Miriam Owens provides a physical totem for Lost Causers to declare their rejection of Lee’s removal. Her own views drift from Confederate apologia to alt-right white supremacy while her popular Facebook page provides a forum for hate speech. (See Part 4 to read her flawed goals for her committee.)
We did Google “Lee kept slaves safe” and this came up: how Robert E. Lee’s slaves, rather than being freed immediately upon their former master’s death as promised, were brutally worked on a plantation for an additional five years. What a Virginia gentleman! Oh, and that Lee “never spoke out against slavery.” (And before the Lost Causers jump in – we’ve read that quote in context.)
It is, of course, a basic tenet of the Lost Cause that slavery was a benevolent good, filled with happy slaves and kindly masters.
Owens embraces a number of Lost Cause revisions. Even simple facts – like that Beauregard’s Confederates fired the first shots of the war at Ft. Sumter with South Carolina’s secession – become twisted into Beauregard was “intentionally provoked by the North in order to make it ‘appear’ as if the South was the aggressor.” Or that the connection between these monuments and Jim Crow is somehow “fake.” (New Orleans, it must be reminded, had a statue that literally had “white supremacy” chiseled into it.)
Miriam Owens’ flawed history occasionally gives way to bigotry. According to Owens, the real perpetrators of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were “the Jews, the Muslims, and the Africans themselves.” Or that a new plaque going up in the French Quarter that teaches about the slave history of New Orleans “feels more like an opportunity to shame than an opportunity to learn.”
Even worse, Owens dredges up pieces of alt-right memes to share with her thousands of followers. Multiple times she has joked that Mayor Mitch Landrieu should be renamed “Mitchell Luther Kang,” a reference to a meme “We Wuz Kangz.” “We Wuz Kangz” uses a bevy of stereotypes around African-Americans claiming a link to their ancestry – that Africans were kings – to denigrate the study of African-American history and African-Americans in general. Owens clearly expects her audience to get the joke.
She even shared a picture of an “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” poster to discuss how whites are being “suppressed” by revenge-thirsty blacks. “IT’S OKAY TO BE WHITE” is an alt-right slogan popular with trolls and white nationalists, especially on college campuses. (In their minds, colleges are designed to tell students that it’s not okay to be white.) Locally, the posters have appeared at Tulane and at Ben Franklin HS. From this very post:
There is a movement afoot to condemn “Whiteness” and those who are white are automatically “White Supremacists” or as I’ve been called “Nazi’s”.
The [Charlottesville] Torch rally was a REACTION to the “down with Whiteness” movement.
When has the suppression of one group in order to lift another up ever worked?!? Also do they expect cart blanche with no resistance. Is it OK to be proud of your heritage if you’re White? Is it OK to be proud of our country and flag?!? [She means the Confederacy.]
The black experience of suppression has led to some becoming the suppressors. The taste of revenge can be sweet. I urge America not to go down this road. We don’t need to suppress American “Whiteness” in order to lift up Black Americans or any other group. We shouldn’t shame white Americans because that achieves nothing.
Miriam Owens is a great example of how easily Lost Cause thought aligns with both subtle and overt racism, because these ideas – a benevolent slavery, a kindly Lee, a wronged Confederacy – derive from a place and time of white supremacy. This is her real heritage: a century-old tradition of funneling white grievance and white supremacy through Confederate memory.
UPDATE (5.29): Since being called a white nationalist in this article from Splinter, Owens is out trying to convince the world she’s not a white supremacist. In response to a Times-Picayune article Forever Lee Circle posted a letter – possibly written by someone else, but at least endorsed by Forever Lee Circle – ending with this. Clearly the best way to prove you aren’t racist is by referring to “Negroid” people, claim you know racism is alive because you heard “the Afro American community when it comments on whites” and saying “Mayor Cantrelle” should see the city through “rose-colored glasses” and not “black lenses.” And, yes, the author refers to her as “Cantrelle” throughout. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯