This essay appeared on September 3, 2017 on page I12 of the Springfield News-Leader under the News-leader’s title “A New Narrative is needed on Confederate Statues."
The recent racist demonstrations in Charlottesville and the ensuing riots are a graphic reminder that all Americans do not share the same values, or the same national story. There are many narratives that Americans have adopted to explain themselves—two conflicting views were in evidence at Charlottesville, revealed by the images streaming from our television sets. Elements of the Alt Right, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Neo-Nazis held a demonstration around Civil War Monuments in Charlottesville celebrating White Power and vilifying African Americans, Jews, and any others they held to be different from themselves. As a result there has been a backlash against civil war monuments. Some have been torn down and others removed. There have been cries to put them all in museums—"get rid of them" seems to be the sentiment of a vocal part of our countrymen.
I am a son of the post-reconstruction South, born in Louisiana, reared and educated in the segregated public school system of Greenville, Mississippi (1940-52). I do not recall ever having seen a civil war monument during my early youth, although I must have seen a few. At least I can say for certain that in my education the War of Rebellion and its leaders were never extolled or held up for special honor. The "stars and bars" as the confederate battle flag is called was, and still is ubiquitous throughout the south, but in Greenville it was never displayed in public buildings or functions. Online I discovered that Greenville has one civil war monument at the Washington County Courthouse, erected in 1909 by the Private Taylor Rucks Chapter Daughters of the Confederacy "To Commemorate the Valor and Patriotism of the Confederate Soldiers of Washington County 1861-1865." The statue itself presents a single common soldier of the line. On the four faces at the base are statements by Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Randolph H. M'Kim, and Charles B. Galloway. Except for the statement by Jefferson Davis (who mentions "the sacred cause of states' rights"), the others do not specifically relate to the war, and in themselves might be judged inspiring.
A 2017 study reported that at least 1503 symbols of the confederacy can be found in public spaces across the United States. These memorials include monuments and statues; flags; holidays and other observances; and the names of schools, roads, parks, bridges, counties, cities, lakes, dams, military bases, and other public works.1
We cannot ease or erase our national shame for having accepted and tolerated slavery as a convenient solution to economic problems (even as early as our colonial period) by eradicating vestiges of the War of Rebellion. Such symbols are part of our history as a people, whatever the reason they were erected. What is needed is a new narrative that puts these symbols into national, rather than regional perspective, so that there is a more compelling narrative that completely disallows racist rhetoric and ideology. These surviving vestiges of the civil war are like the "stones" the Israelites erected after crossing over the Jordan. The stones were to remain a memorial so that "when your children ask in time to come 'What do these stones mean to you?' You shall tell them…" (Joshua 4:1-24). In my view, the monuments should remain in place and not be hidden away, but rather officially placed in perspective as symbols of a flawed cause, misplaced loyalties, and the enslavement of human beings. We must not be allowed to forget.
Any cause that calls one to bigotry, racial hatred, the disparagement and inhumane treatment of others, and/or aims to romanticize or otherwise misstate the national significance of the War of Rebellion by appealing to these vestiges of the war deserves to be condemned.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
Hi Charlie. My home in Chambersburg is 24 miles west of Gettysburg, Pa., home of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
“In 1864, a group of concerned citizens established the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association whose purpose was to preserve portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union Army that fought here. The GBMA transferred their land holdings to the Federal government in 1895, which designated Gettysburg as a National Military Park. A Federally-appointed commission of Civil War veterans oversaw the park's development as a memorial to both armies by identifying and marking the lines of battle. Administration of the park was transferred to the Department of the Interior, National Park Service in 1933, which continues in its mission to protect, preserve and interpret the Battle of Gettysburg and the Gettysburg Address to park visitors.”
Here and at other sites on the net rationales are made for placing confederate statues and memorials in national military parks. That sounds to me like a workable respectful solution. My second choice would be to allow the local boro, town, city governments to decide where they should be placed based on the pressures put on them by the populace.
Charles, I agree with the thrust of your post that racism is bad and removing statues will not erase a racist history in our country. Thanks.
"Any cause that calls one to bigotry, racial hatred, the disparagement and inhumane treatment of others, and/or aims to romanticize or otherwise misstate the national significance of the War of Rebellion by appealing to these vestiges of the war deserves to be condemned."
If the monuments/memorials are moved how would you suggest that the other things in the country that memorialize the confederacy should be handled; such as the flags, holidays, names of schools, roads, parks, bridges, counties, lakes, dams, military bases, and other public works? Or do you think it is enough to stop with the monuments/memorials? In my view consistency dictates that everything should be considered. The problem is bigger than a few statues.
I still opt for leaving them in place and working on our national narrative to put them into proper perspective. If anything is done it should be a local initiative, and the rationale for what is done should not be a kneejerk reaction.
Monuments are generally propagandic and tell one more about those who erected them than the "history" of the one for whom the monument is erected. The greatest numbers of Confederate monuments were built in the 1890's - 1920 roughly, at a time lynching was a Southern sport (a federal law was passed in 1922 that curbed that), at a time that the KKK was re-organizing (1915). It was a time when every African American was kicked out of a county in my state, property seized, and a time when Leo Frank was lynched. That's what was going on when these "heritage symbols" were constructed down here in Jawjuh.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
So what would you do with the monuments and all the other stuff?
Charlie, I had to laugh when I saw the title you gave the War Between the States... You called it "The War of Rebellion." I hadn't heard that in a long time... Growing up in the South, my family referred to it as "The War of Northern Aggression!" I sat on a Civil War Round Table years ago- I cannot tell you how many times I heard people tell me "the war wasn't fought over slavery! most southerners didn't even own slaves- they were fighting for states rights!!" That was then, this is now.... My question is: where are those people today? I'm sure they are scared to death to voice such opinions in today's climate. I wish I had kept in touch with them- I'd love to know their feedback on these events in Charlottesville and elsewhere. (and I did point out to them at the time that if the war was over states rights- why weren't states rights mentioned in any of the state's declarations of secession?? That didn't earn me any popularity points with them- but I enjoyed the back and forth)
If you want to talk about statues being "trigger objects," let me tell you what a statue of William Tecumseh Sherman would to do to southerners in Georgia and South Carolina... They wouldn't burn anything down, but believe me, they hate him more than any general in history except maybe Grant. In the 1800s, southerners despised pious and self righteous northerners telling them the evils of slavery- even southerners who hated slavery themselves. It was the fact that some do-gooder from up north would come down and tell them how to run their life that riled them more than anything... So now they have the same scenario of activists coming down there to rip up states and continuing to preach to them the "right" way to honor our nations history... Listen, I have no sympathy for the South losing the "War of Northern Aggression," but I do feel for them being the constant butt of national outrage and media bias... I can see how they get tired of being told they're on "the wrong side of history." Who has the moral authority to make such a claim? I certainly don't. Elizabeth
PS: I made a mistake in typing and typed "states" instead of "statues" regarding activists ripping up Confederate monuments
Good Morning Elizabeth,
Here are a couple of points worth noting about the war. First, the first shot of the civil war was deliberately fired by the South at Fort Sumter on April 12 1861, which as far as actual combat is concerned would make the South the aggressor, it would seem.
As to the cause of the war: Jefferson Davis in his speech to the U. S. Senate on January 21 1861, "On Withdrawal from the Union," specified "states rights"--that is the right of a state to secede from the union as the justification for secession and he further describes slavery as the reason making secession necessary.
Yes, Charlie, he certainly did describe slavery as the reason making secession necessary... I raised that point many times, and was shot down by their repeated cries of "But a majority of people in the South didn't even own slaves." What do you say to that?
Also- what would you say to southerners outrage over the rampant destruction by Sherman's army of civilian homes, crops, and other buildings? Sherman's army killed less people than Lee's... But Sherman is seen as a "monster" and Lee was revered as a "fighting gentleman." Southern chivalry and all that claptrap. Do you think Sherman's destruction was justified? I do. Did you know he taught school in Louisiana? Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I am afraid that I do not have enough personal knowledge to say anything interesting about your two questions: number of slave owners in the south and Sherman's march to the sea. But here are two items of information that I ran across on line:
1. In 1860 28% of the white population owned slaves and of these the vast majority owned fewer than 10 slaves.
2. Sherman's scorched earth policy was a military strategy to destroy anything that might be useful to an enemy in a given area. His rationale was this: in order to win the war with fewest possible casualties one must wage "hard war" (i.e., total war) not only against enemy combatants also against enemy civilians on the home front who engaged in providing arms or food to the enemy.
Although I have over 30 years military experience I am against war in principle.
I would begin with those to the VP of the Confederacy, Alex Stephens, and inscribe words from his "Cornerstone Speech" onto them, in which he says that the founders of the USA were errant in thinking slavery was wrong, adding, "Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition" (from an AJC guest column by two of his descendants imploring that his statue in the US Capitol be removed. If one is to leave them up, be honest about what these miscreants (among them over half a dozen of my ancestors) really stood for.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Your thought provoking post and the readers' comments bring my attention to some of the successes & failures of the U.S. War of Rebellion:
1. constitutional amendment to abolish slavery
2. insured the end of state secession
On the other hand, some failures:
1. did not end racial prejudice
2. instigated "Jim Crow" & KKK
3. did not end the legacy of 150+ years of slavery
4. contributed to generations of racist politics
Good Morning Jim,
I agree, but would add to your "successes" list an integrated public school system and an integrated military. Although they came along later, I think they were a direct outcome of the civil war.
I received a liberal education in a segregated public school system in which racist attitudes were not overtly taught. But the very fact that the system was segregated (as were the churches, the movie theatres, hospitals, YMCA, and the "public" swimming pool) it subliminally reinforced racism. One reason that I question the intentions of the Secretary of Education is her strong support for private schools, where it is easy to indoctrinate the students.
Good Morning Dennis,
I agree that is a great idea! It is something that the Secretary of the Interior can do for statues on public property, but would have to receive permission to do for statues on private property. I also think that a more compelling narrative about the reasons the North resisted the Southern cause (states rights and the institution slavery) should be included with every monument on public property.
What would you do with the other memorials to the southern cause (see my comments in the blog for a listing)?
Some personal sharing! I'm amazed at the experiences some of the group have shared about the civil-war and growing up in the South. I've never heard phrases like "war of the rebellion," for example.
I grew up in small town north central Pa. My mother taught elementary school and my father was a pump mechanic for Atlantic Refining. I never went out to a restaurant to eat before leaving for college. I did not meet a black person before going to college.
I don't remember the civil war being mentioned in my home, and I don't even remember studying it in high-school history. I don't remember sitting down and discussing it with any kind of group during 7 years of college and seminary.
I think that I began taking the civil war seriously when I moved close to Gettysburg in 1970. I tend to think of that war as one event in the entire history of humanity's slavery of one another, but also a turning point in American history. We are all equal before God. Had I been raised on a Southern plantation in the 1800's I could well have been one of the soldiers mowed down in Pickett's charge.
I support all non-violent attempts to gain equality for the races and sexes. I carry a huge guilt to this day that I didn't leave the comfort of college and join the non-violent marches of MLKJr. I consider groups like KKK to be terrorists and cults.
What do you think? Would there be any value to taking the statue of Lee down from a public place and putting up a statue of Grant, or vice versa, of course not. But moving them to an applicable historical site, I think, would be fine.
Gene, I do think it's fairly common for the Civil War to be a much more discussed subject in southern circles than northern... Of course, I only speak anecdotally. My husband is from St. Louis, and he said the same thing as you. He can't ever remember anyone talking about the Civil War or even hearing much about it at school even. I remember playing Trivial Pursuit with my family and it was one of the first times he had been around us... And one of the questions was "where did Lee surrender to Grant?" And he couldn't even pronounce Appomattox Courthose, much less heard of it... We were appalled! So, you are right- it is a cultural thing. (by the way, they still haven't forgiven me for marrying a "Yankee") I just really know from experience how much pride southerners take in their ancestors who fought for the "Cause." It's not a racial thing, they don't mean any offense by it, but I do wonder if they are perhaps looking at it in a different light now. That's why I would love to ask the Civil War Round Table members what they think- I'm sure they have to be a LOT more careful what they say and how they say it. Elizabeth
Charlie, Craig just texted me from our son's football game and said the number of people who choose not to stand for the national anthem is growing more and more at each game. As it relates to this subject of the history of racism in our country- what are your thoughts on whether to sit or stand for the national anthem? Again, this is anecdotal evidence, but personally I am bothered by it. However, I won't let it stop me from showing respect for our anthem at football or any public event. If they were to do away with singing the national anthem at sporting events- is that taking things a bit too far in your estimation?
With regard to Betsy DeVos, what evidence have you seen that suggests she favors private schools over public ones? I've seen no such evidence myself. Elizabeth
In answer to your question I favor leaving them in situ but putting them in perspective (a combination of what I suggested and what Dennis suggested). I don't think a central park of all civil war statuary is practical and the government would even then still have to do something like what Dennis and I suggested. In short I am suggesting that the public ought to be educated in the War of Rebellion statuary in the places where they were erected.
As far as I am concerned we should always show respect for the flag (my military training, I suppose). So I will always stand at attention during those times, even if I am unhappy with the contemporary actions of a given administration.
Look up Betsy Devos in Wikipedia. She has long been known (the entry says) as a supporter of school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools, all of which in various ways undermine or minimize the importance of the local public school and/or seems to foster a kind of elitism.
Charlie, supporting school choice in no way undermines the importance of public schools. If you think that it does, perhaps in another blog you can demonstrate how. But just "saying" that it undermines public schools doesn't prove anything. I was wanting to know specifically how that happens. Until I see evidence of how this the undermining occurs, I remain a supporter of school choice. Elizabeth
Thank you for pushing back. This is not my area and I only know what I read. Here is what I found on Wikipedia as a definition of "school choice." School choice is a term for K-12 public education options in the US describing a wide array of programs offering students and families alternatives to publicly provided schools to which students are generally assigned by the location of the family residence.
There can be many reasons why a student/family may wish to abandon the local school for another school--one of these reasons is no doubt to seek a school with better educational opportunities for the child, although some other reasons may not be as honorable. Not every student can abandon the local public school and choose another school, and that inability for them to do so sets up a system of elites (those who have the ability go to the more excellent schools) versus the "average" students (those who do not have the ability for whatever reason to escape the "poorer" schools).
At any rate the two broad groups (as I have described them above) will simply not have the same educational or socialization experience, which over time will further divide the country when they reach maturity.
Since our K-12 public education has historically been the country's "common educational core," I favor strengthening the local public school to accommodate all those educational advantages that might attract students to schools outside the local area.
For the record: My own children were public school graduates from the California Public School system.
Hi Charlie, I do see that your main concern is that public schools would be "abandoned" and left behind by the elite private institutions. Vouchers enable students who are not being served well in public schools to access those elite institutions... So I don't see how they would be abandoned. The whole purpose of this is to bring accountability to the public schools whose teachers are not performing to the standards that are required by The Dept. of Education. The unions these teachers belong to do not allow them to be penalized for failing to perform their duties as required by law. They are uniquely protected and immune from accountability- plus their advancement is dependent upon seniority, not upon merit. Which makes it difficult to hold them accountable. This comes at a price which is paid by underprivileged students who deserve better. And this is why Betsy Devos and others want to give these students alternative choices... Since teacher unions prevent the ability to weed out unproductive and poorly performing teachers and administrators, they consequently prevent the strengthening of local schools to accommodate all the educational advantages you mentioned earlier. As you know, not all public school systems are equal. Urban ones in particular are those whom Betsy Devos is trying to help by giving them vouchers.
My son also attended public school and had many friends who were bussed into our district from the inner city. Elizabeth
I'm not as knowledgeable about this subject as I should be. What are the criteria for determining how many vouchers, who gets a voucher, and where the voucher money comes from?
Do you think that DeVos, whose first duty is to the public school system, sees that as her primary job?
Gene, I am not a spokesperson for Ms. DeVos so I can only interpret her actions as an outsider... To answer your question, no, I do not think she sees handing out vouchers as her primary job at all. She sees it as a last resort against the powerful teacher unions who are consistently failing their students in inner city districts. Her first choice would be to "clean house" and get more competent teachers into those districts and remove the poorly performing ones. Since that is not an option (due to the power and influence of the teachers union), vouchers do seem like a viable alternative... But certainly not a perfect solution. The perfect solution, as I said, would be to hold those districts responsible and to have disciplinary jurisdiction over them. It's the students who suffer.
As for the criteria determining who gets the vouchers and how much money is given, etc... My understanding is that that is decided by the local municipalities and perhaps the state legislatures... But I am not certain about that. Like you- I have only enough knowledge of the situation to make me dangerous, so if anyone else has information suggesting otherwise... Please let me know.
Elizabeth, thanks for the reply. The question I meant to ask was: (1) Do you think that Devos sees her primary job as developing and improving the public school system? (2) Are you of the opinion that unions do more bad than good, or does it just apply to teachers?
Yes indeed, I do think she sees her primary job as improving public schools. However, the unions use her support of vouchers to imply that she wants to abandon the public school system, which is not true. Just because she supports the use of vouchers in some cases does NOT mean she wants to let the public school system wither on the vine. Like I said- the vouchers are only an option as a LAST resort, not a first. It's my understanding that she would first do everything to aid and assist those failing public schools as much as possible in the inner city. But if this is met with resistance from the unions, and her administration is unable to hold them accountable (or impose disciplinary measures), then I suppose vouchers would be an alternate route.
So how would that be undermining public schools? How would using vouchers only as a LAST resort do harm to anyone?
With regard to unions- I do not know what purpose they serve other than to demand higher wages and higher benefits through collective bargaining. When they first came into existence, they improved working hours and working conditions immeasurably. Back then, we did not have OSHA. Now, we not only have OSHA, but we have child labor laws, overtime laws, equal opportunity and anti-discrimination laws.... We have so many federal law for workers, I cannot even list them all. It's not that I think unions are "bad" or "good," I just don't see what their purpose is- other than to collectively demand higher wages and benefits. The goodness or badness of that is dependent on whether you're an employee or an employer, I suppose. It's all subjective.
Post a Comment