Here’s a section from Fred Bassett’s second novel Honey from a Lion that consists of a conversation between Barsh Roberts, the protagonist, and Angela Kundera, who will become a member of the faculty at Cooper College in small town in Upstate South Carolina. Barsh, who is chair of the Humanities Division at Cooper, picked her up at the Charlotte Airport, and they are in his car headed for dinner before checking her in a hotel. She is down from Providence, Rhode Island, for a job interview.
I’ve selected this section to share because of its relevance to the current controversy about the Confederate flag and the Civil War.
Barsh and Angela have already talked about a variety of thing, getting to know each other, when Barsh says:
“Actually, I’ve been reading to become a generalist in the humanities. Two years ago, we changed the academic year to include a January Interim. The students spend the whole month studying a single subject designed specifically for the interim. The first year, I taught a course on Perspectives in Black Literature, and this year I taught one on Sexuality in Contemporary Fiction. My approach was to look for ideas, world views, that kind of thing.
“Those are the kind of courses I would enjoy teaching.”
“Then Cooper just might be a good place for you. If you’re passionate about a special subject, Catherine, that is Dean Thompson, will let you develop that passion into a new course, and only you will get to teach it. Over the years, she has become my closest and dearest friend.
The two of us have wide-ranging discussions on a regular basis, and sometimes we’re on opposite sides.”
“The Civil War for one thing. Catherine still laments it as The Lost Cause.”
“She defends the Confederacy?”
“Yes, but from a philosophical position: the sovereign rights of the states and the rights of the people to assert their independence from old unions and form new ones. She has a point given the philosophical notions found in the Declaration of Independence.
“The difference between us lies in the fact that I cannot separate slavery from the political position of the Confederacy and she can. I do not believe the Southern States had a just cause for seceding from the Union. There were significant regional differences, but I do not believe the Southern States would have seceded if it were not for the issue of slavery. Because here is no valid justification for slavery, there was no valid justification for the Confederacy.
“General Grant was only half right in asserting that the Confederate cause was one of the worst for which people ever fought. The South fought, with justification, to defend its homeland from the invading forces of the Union. I only fault the Southern States for seceding without just cause, not for defending their homeland. So I agree with Dean Thompson who calls the conflict the War of Northern Aggression.
“True, South Carolina fired first on Fort Sumter, but they considered it a foreign fort in their homeland. The matter should have been resolved through negotiations, and South Carolina had appointed a commission to do that.
“The Union definitely brought the war to the Confederacy. Therefore, I fault the Union for two things. First, I see no moral justification for the Union to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of its own people to conquer the Confederacy. Second, there was no moral justification for the brutal way the Union ravaged the Confederate States. Although freeing the slaves became a significant byproduct of the war, the primary mission of the Northern armies was to defeat the Confederacy and bring the Southern States back into the Union.
“In spite of all the horrors caused by both sides, I do find two redemptive things about that war: the restoration of the Union and the abolition of slavery. That means the South had to lose, no matter what the cost. And both sides paid a horrific price. It has taken the South a century just to begin to heal from the curses of slavery and the devastation of defeat.”
Silence, except for the sounds of the Audi as they sped down the Interstate. What was she thinking? Had he just blown the case for Cooper?
“Angela, I’m sorry I brought up the subject. I’m afraid I’ve given you the wrong impression of Dean Thompson. She holds the South responsible for its ungodly system of slavery, and she is by no means a racist. She led the fight to integrate Cooper.”
“Please, I don’t have a problem with Dean Thompson. Besides, you just told me she is your dearest and closest friend. You’re lucky and I’m envious. I’ve never had a friendship like that.”
“Okay, you’re on. Take me into the world of Angela Kundera while I drive us to Jackson’s Steak House by way of Cherokee Falls.
“I was born in Peekskill, New York. It’s on the Hudson River not far from New York City, and I have always lived near the Big Apple…”
They were headed south on I-85, Angela sketching the highlights of her youth, Barsh soaking up every word with pleasure. For the moment, he had forgotten his troubles.
A native of Roanoke, Alabama, Fred Bassett is an award-winning poet and Biblical scholar who holds four academic degrees, including a Ph.D. in Biblical Literature from Emory University. His poems have been published in more than eighty journals and anthologies.