Scalawags Said to be Useless
ASHS Column for 12 14 06
Sometimes in trying to decide what to write
about in this column, I find myself with a total
lack of inspiration. Other times, I have so
much that I think might be entertaining and
informative, that the difficulty lies in choosing
which topic would be the best. Today I’m in
the latter predicament. There is so much
material that I can’t decide what you’d like
How about Bonnie Beach? I’ve always
wanted to find out more about that little
resort a bit north and across U.S. 31 from
the paper mill south of Brewton. You’ve
all seen the big white building straddling
the creek on the west as you go back
and forth along 31 and wondered what
it’s doing there, right? Well, maybe not
all of you, but a lot of folks wonder about
it. I located a little more about it and not
just from my faulty memory. But finding
out new information occasionally means
there’s yet more to the story and such is
the case with Bonnie Beach. So that’s
not a good choice this week.
Well, how about the first months of
Century’s existence? Same thing as
with Bonnie Beach: since I found out
more, I think the story would be better
if I compiled even more information.
At least now I know why the neighborhood
where I live is identified on county maps
as "Woodruff Subdivision." But there’re
additional things I need to dig up so I
won’t tell you an unfinished story.
Then what about the fatal shooting at the Century L&N depot in 1905? That would be a great tale, except a relative of the shooter asked me to wait before I publish that. He wants to give me the "rest of the story," as Paul Harvey says.
So I found something that you might enjoy reading about. It has to do with the word "scalawag." I have an idea that many of you, just like me, used that word once or twice yourself, without realizing all its different implications. By the way, one reason you may not want to trust "Wikpedia," a popular online encyclopedia, is that some of its definitions are posted by people who don’t know as much as you and I do. For example, this is copied verbatim from Wikpedia’s definition of scalawag:
"Scalawags are very prestigious very indigenous people. They are pioneers of their time. They started by using carpet bags to kidnap and kill little children. They would sacrifice children and their wives to the devil for exchange for special powers to take over the civil war. They liked black women. They were not loyal or trustworthy you could trust a cow more than a scalawg."
Poor grammar and punctuation and little sense in this entry tells me the scalawag that wrote this definition graduated from a podunk university with no honors.
Where were we? Oh, yes. As I was saying (much of the following information comes from The Alabama Department of Arcives and History):
George Wallace epitomized the general lack of information about scalawags and carpetbaggers when he attacked Southern Federal judges using the phrase "scallawagging carpetbaggers" in his l970 gubernatorial campaign. There is no such thing as a scallawagging carpetbagger.
In the 1800s, the accepted stereotypes were spoken ill of and were supposedly unimportant, poor, illiterate farmers from north Alabama with no antebellum political experience, and who were outclassed by carpetbaggers. Generally speaking, scalawags were Southerners who supported Reconstruction. Opponents also applied the uncomplimentary term to those who joined with carpetbaggers and freedmen to support Republican Party policies.
The term, of unknown origin, was used from the 1840s to denote a worthless farm animal and later a worthless person. Scalawags included former Whigs and hill-country farmers with Unionist sympathies and constituted nearly 20% of the white electorate after the Civil War. Many held government positions in the South and advocated moderate reforms.
In actuality, scalawags won many political offices during Reconstruction, and many of these scalawags were from Black Belt counties and were very influential leaders in the Alabama Republican party. Significant numbers read law or attended colleges.
Most scalawag leaders were lawyers, but others were newspaper editors, businessmen, physicians, teachers, manufacturers, planters, merchants, or clergymen. Many scalawag leaders came from the state's prominent families, and many owned considerable wealth. They had extensive prewar political experience in a variety of elective and appointive offices.
Most of the prominent scalawags did support Douglas or Bell in l860, although many later served in the Confederate army. Many others were ex-Confederates. They dominated state-appointed and elective positions, but won fewer federal positions than carpetbaggers.
Personally, I don’t want anything to do with someone who’s called a scalawag – their reputation might rub off on me – or vice-versa.