Well, I suppose it won’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’m going to step into the debate about Confederate statues. It has obviously become something of a lightening rod after the incidents in Charlottesville, VA last weekend. I am seeing what too often happens, and it started with Trump’s tweets. There is this effort to try to claim there are two-sides to this, and that everyone is at fault, so the White Supremacists are not at fault…or something like that.
False Equivalency of “Two Sides”
Let me be right up front. To compare the two sides in this debate is a false equivalency of the highest order. The counter protestors in Charlottesville did not show up carrying clubs, armed to the teeth with high-powered firearms, and wearing body armor. They didn’t beat anyone, let alone any black people, as some of the racists protestors did, and they most certainly did not deliberately drive a car into the crowd…something that would be an act of terrorism if the driver had not been a white male.
The racists are people who think they are patriotic Americans, yet fly flags of traitors and fascist Nazis. It seems, based on the logic of those fighting to preserve our racist past, since all the high visibility spots for statues are already taken with Confederate Statues so the WWII statues can’t be seen (or were never erected), they’ve forgotten that we fought a war against Hitler and the Nazis. Let me repeat that. We fought a war against the Nazis. We won, but paid a terrible price in lives and treasure to do so. And now, we have a President who believes those who worship under that flag, today, on U.S. soil is the equivalent of those who would oppose them. No sir Trump…there is no longer any quarter for Nazis in this country or elsewhere in the world.
Those marching did not have slogans or chants praising the men who died fighting the Civil War. They chanted denunciations of Jews, they called people “faggots,” and they used Nazi slogans from Hitler’s Reich. So this had nothing to do with the Statue of Lee, nor of preserving the heritage of the South…this was about hating others they think are not like them.
Heritage or Treason?
I’m from the south. Born, raised, educated, and still live in the south. I don’t hide from that, and there’s much about the south, and North Carolina I’m proud of (a lot lately to be ashamed about given the Republican Controlled Legislature’s penchant for setting back the state a couple hundred years, and dismantling the once great public education system, but that’s another post). I’m not, however, proud that the south’s economy was built on the backs of slaves, and I’m not proud that the southern states left the union for the purpose of protecting and perpetuating that institution. Yes, it happened. Yes, it is a part of our history, but it is not a part we should be celebrating and honoring.
Most certainly, we need to record and remember that history, but that’s done in libraries, history courses, and museums. It is not done by putting monuments in places of honor for those who perpetuated that part of our heritage.
Also, that Confederate Battle flag, they love to wave, was not actually the flag of the Confederate States, so clearly celebrating the Confederate States and its heritage is not the intent. The fact is, most of these people have no clue what that heritage is. The guy who drove his car into the crowd in Charlottesville was from Ohio (OHIO). Richard Spencer, the latest and most public face of the white supremacist movement was born in Boston, and got his M.A. at the University of Chicago. He spent the summer of 2005 and 2006 at the Vienna International Summer University. You tell me how much “Southern Heritage” you think he’s celebrating.
And lest you think slavery wasn’t the reason for treason by the southern leaders, I’d call your attention to some very explicit language in the Confederate Constitution:
Article I, Section 9, Clause 4 prohibited the Confederate government from restricting slavery in any way: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
Article IV, Section 2 also prohibited states from interfering with slavery: “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.”
Article IV, Section 3, Clause 3 offered to slavery in all future territories conquered or acquired by the Confederacy: “The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several States; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.”
The Timing of It All
Pretty much, to a one, these statues were not erected just after the Civil War, but later in the late 1800s to 1915, a time of Jim Crow laws when blacks were still being suppressed. And to make clear the racist position of the white ruling class of the time, I’d call your attention to the remarks of the State Attorney, Herbert S. Phillips, speaking on the enshrinement of the Confederate War Memorial on the Courthouse grounds in Tampa, Fl, in 1911. “The South stands ready to welcome all good citizens who seek to make their homes within her borders. But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any way, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race.”
There was yet another uptick of monument erecting in the late 1950s and early ’60s as the civil rights movement was gaining steam.
These statues are not and were never intended as a celebration of any of the good aspects of southern heritage. They were erected for the express purpose of celebrating a racists view of the world, and instilling fear within the black community. You can like that or not, but that’s precisely the intention and purpose of the people who erected these statues.
Moving the Goal Posts?
Times change, as do attitudes. We’ve taken down the obvious “No Coloreds and No Jews” signs, though some argue still they should be allowed. No one clamors for Hitler statues. We’ve come to finally realize what these symbols really stand for, and the majority of Americans want to move past this legacy. We had this discussion after the Mother Emmanuel shooting, when even the State of South Carolina agreed to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol Building. People keep claim there should be a calm and reasoned discussion about this, but we had that, after Dylan Roof, for the stated purpose of starting a race war, killed nine worshipers at that Church. We’ve had the discussion. There’s no reason to have it over and lover. You can’t keep moving the goal posts.
General Lee himself, whose historical judgement of the time likely shows a bit more insight than anyone today can bring to that time, refused to ever again wear his uniform, or be buried in it. He told his soldiers to never wear theirs, and discouraged the erection of monuments and statues.
Combine that with the fact that most racists today also associate themselves with fascist Nazi beliefs, I’m surprised and disappointed that anyone can associate with, condone, or support this movement. We fought a world war, and thousands of good American men and women died defeating fascism and the Nazis, and to believe that should be welcome and celebrated today on U.S. soil is anathema to what those people fought and died for. And that’s how I know none of this is about celebrating southern heritage.