Suicide, by late nineteenth century, had transformed from a shameful, sinful act to one of sacrifice and courage. The most famous suicide of the Civil War, that of Edmund Ruffin, shows this evolution in attitudes about suicide. Ruffin’s suicide is venerated in Lost Cause literature as an act of patriotic martyrdom. The glorification of (white) suicide converged with the racial politics of the era as seen in the classic film, Birth of a Nation, and on the novel on which it was based, Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman. Suicide had become a marker of racial superiority that anchored the act to a neo-Confederate identity. By contrast, black suicides were either denied or explained as the acts of uncontrollable, manic, crazy former slaves no longer under the constraints of enslavement. Heroic suicide instilled meaning into the vast suffering in the failed effort at independence.
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