Confederate Monuments

I was born and raised in south Arkansas, and am still a proud resident of this beautiful state. I grew up with a sense of pride in my heritage, both as an American and as a Southerner.

My family history includes oral traditions of ancestors who fought on both sides of the Civil War…of men walking the picket lines at night seeking out a beloved cousin fighting on the opposing side, for the purpose of sharing news of loved ones back home. I was raised with a sense of respect for soldiers on both sides of that horrible war. Participants on both sides of that war were largely made up of decent men fighting to defend their homeland.

From the Union perspective, the Confederate soldiers were rebels fighting against their own country. From the Confederacy perspective, the Union armies were invading their homeland.

I’ve always struggled with discussions on the topic of what causes were represented by each side of that war. The oversimplified version in the history textbooks tended to express the causes as simply slave states versus free states…as abolitionists versus slave owners.  I always felt the need to push back against this view…to defend my Southern heritage.  It’s not that the slave –vs- free narrative is false…it is factually based.  Rather, it is that it fails to adequately express the complexities of the issues at the time.  More importantly, it fails to express so much of what is good about our Southern heritage.

General Robert E. Lee is a good example of what I’m talking about. General Lee was a product of his time and his culture.  Some of his views seem very oppressive by our standards.  Some of his views seem very liberal by the standards of his culture and historical period.  Before the war, Lee argued against the institution of slavery.  He also argued against secession from the Union.  Yet, when his home state of Virginia seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, Lee chose to fight for his homeland.  There is something to be said for Lee’s sense of loyalty, honor, and duty to his homeland, regardless of the broader issues of his time.

In every earthly heritage (aside from our spiritual heritage in Christ) there is both good and bad. There are things worth honoring and things to be repudiated.  The South is often remembered for slavery, bigotry and racism…things to be repudiated.  However, the South also has a strong sense of hospitality, grace, honor and loyalty…things to be honored and remembered.

This is not true just of the South. America also has a history of slavery, as does Western Civilization in general…as well as World History.  We have many things in our various heritages to be proud of…and many things that should be repudiated.

I grew up with a strong sense of pride in my Southern heritage as well as my American heritage. I also was raised with a strong stance against racism in any form.  For me, these are not conflicting positions.  I find no contradiction in being both proud of my Southern heritage and strongly opposed to racism.

I was in second grade the year the public schools were integrated in my home town. My parents were very outspoken in favor of the integration and in support of Civil Rights.  My mother volunteered my siblings and me to help with cleaning, repainting, and maintaining the public school buildings in preparation for the integration.  Many of my second grade schoolmates informed me they had been instructed not to associate with me, because my family were “n*****-lovers, Jew-lovers, hippies and communists.”  I was forced to learn at an early age to take a stand on an unpopular position in the face of both name calling and physical threats.  I learned to smile at the name calling and respond, “Well, I reckon so…Jesus is a Jew and I love him with all my heart.  I love all His children, too…of all races.”

So, yes, I have very strong opinions in opposition to racism.

I also have pride in my heritage as a Southerner. I have a love of history and enjoy exploring historical sites while visualizing the scenes from long ago.  I am generally in favor of maintaining historical monuments and cultural symbols.

Lately, though, some of the symbols of the historical Confederacy have been confiscated for use by white supremacists as symbols of racist ideology. And lately, I have become more aware that some things that are, to me, simply symbols of a history and by-gone era are, to others, symbols of oppression, slavery, and racism.

In hindsight, I can understand why.

The Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America for the explicit purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery, as well as all the institutional racism that accompanied the institution of slavery. Yes, this is an over-simplification.  Yes, there were other issues involved…issues of a constitutional crisis…of state’s rights…of economy…of fear of a slave uprising…of violence perpetrated by abolitionists.  Yet, all of these to one extent or another were brought to fruition as a by-product of the slavery issue.  Slavery was the central issue at the time, and even a brief summary of the various constitutions of the states making up the Confederacy make this abundantly clear.

So, despite my personal view of embracing the good while repudiating the bad, it really was quite predictable that symbols of the Confederacy would be viewed by some as symbols of racism and white supremacy ideology.

This becomes even clearer as we recognize that the vast majority of Confederate monuments are not historical to the era of the Confederate States of America at all. The vast majority of those monuments were erected 60 to 100 years after the Civil War ended…for the explicit purpose of preserving symbols of a fading ideology.  I don’t know exactly what the erectors of those monuments had in mind at the time.  I would like to think they, like myself, were interested in preserving memories of the good of our heritage while repudiating the bad.  However, since that same era saw the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the fact is that many of those monuments were, in all likelihood, erected for the specific purpose of instilling a sense of pride in a culture of institutional racism.

So, should the Confederate monuments go?

As sad as I would be to see them gone…and as a proud son of the Southland I would be sad…I would far rather see them removed than to see them used as symbols of hatred and racism…or to see them viewed as symbols of oppression and fear.

So, yes, it is time for them to go.

Some might could stay, such as those explicitly commemorating a battlefield or maybe those truly historic to the era of the Confederate States of America.  Some might could be recontextualized or moved to museums accompanied by explanations of why they were erected and why they were removed.  But any monuments erected during the Jim Crow period for the purpose of validating racism need to go, one way or another.

And all this rhetoric about slippery slopes and where to draw lines…rhetoric about are statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson going to be next…it is just that…empty rhetoric to support an unsupportable position.

Why?

Because, whether we like it or not, the Confederate States of America was founded for the specific purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery. Whether we like it or not, the Confederate symbols have become symbols of racism, bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy ideology.

The same is not true of the United States of America.

Yes, slavery existed in the early days of American history…that is a historical fact. However, the United States was not founded for the explicit purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery, nor are monuments of American Independence viewed as symbols of racism and hatred.

The slippery slope argument is an illogical argument…an attempt to equate two completely different things that simply are not equal…with the intent of shutting down reasonable discussion of the topic.

That’s how this proud Southerner sees it.

6 thoughts on “Confederate Monuments

  1. You’ve explained this well, Joe. I was in 3rd grade when our schools integrated in Alabama. Some of my friends who had previously been in public school with me in 2nd grade, left at that time to go to private schools. My parents instead chose to get more involved with the public schools so I was able to make friends of all colors. For years I didn’t think anything either about the Confederate flags, etc., because I thought of them as heritage of our region, not of slavery, but now I see it differently and agree with you that it’s time to let go of those symbols. They now represent racism and I want no part of that in any form, so good riddance. I’ll choose people over statues any day!
    Lisa notes recently posted…Want Him to Read Your Mind? Yada, Yada, YadaMy Profile

    • I love your comment, Lisa! Especially this part, “They now represent racism and I want no part of that in any form, so good riddance. I’ll choose people over statues any day!”

      Yes, people are much more important than statues!

      Thank you!
      joe recently posted…Confederate MonumentsMy Profile

  2. Joe, my sister and I went to school with Pote’s galore. I appreciate your explaining you reasoning for our statues to be taken down. I, too had family on both sides even both sides at different times. We really did not want war,but the war kept my family fed, reasoning for going back and forth. We never owned slaves, in fact as Mother puts it, being a slave for our family would have been a step up, at least our family would have had a place to sleep and food to eat. Now back to bringing down the history of our nation, a lot of folks I disagree with say it’s a celebration leaving the statues up. If so, let me be the first to sling the wrecking ball. But I am worried about our history. There are those who are saying the Holocaust was a lie, are they going to say that about our mistreatment of not only our blacks, but our Jewish,our Acadiana, or our native Americans. Please explain how we would not lose our history so we won’t repeat it. If we don’t lose our history, let me be the first to move the statues.

    • At this point, I’m more concerned that by keeping the Confederate monuments we are actually contributing toward possibly repeating the same mistakes. I watch the videos and newsreels of these white supremacists marching while calling cadence with their racist slogans…and in my mind I overlay that scene with one from my own youth…of me and my friends talking about our proud Southern heritage and jokingly saying things like, “The South shall rise again!”

      For us, it was said in jest…and with a tinge of nostalgia for a bygone era that ended long before we were even born. We certainly did not want to return to slavery and racism. Nor did we really want to see another secession or a new nation founded.

      And yet, I realize the expression of those sorts of sentiments have led (directly or indirectly) to the romanticizing and glorifying of an oppressive system based on racism, that some, today, are actively working to make a modern reality.

      It’s not that I think we should forget our history or attempt to erase it. It’s that I think we’ve done a poor job of remembering it in a proper context.

      There is a reason we have a Holocaust Museum rather than a Nazi memorial. There is a reason we have a 9/11 Memorial and not an Osama Bin Laden memorial.

      When horrible atrocities are committed we strive to honor the lives lost while also remembering the horror…so as to not repeat the same thing.

      In the case of the Confederacy, though, we have tended to romanticize the men and the culture while conveniently dismissing the slavery and racism as “part of the times.” There is a reason we have done that…but it has become apparent it is time to change.

      We need to remember…but in the proper context…
      joe recently posted…Confederate MonumentsMy Profile

  3. Robert e. Lee did not believe in slavery. His wife taught the negros how to read and right. The monuments are part of our history. There is nothing negative about them. The negativity is in some people’s mind.

    • “The negativity is in some people’s mind.”

      I would say that perception in people’s minds is what counts. Where else would negativity exist other than in people’s minds?

      I too have tended to view Confederate history and Southern heritage as something where I can celebrate the good while denouncing the bad. However, it has become clear not everyone sees it that way. And, in all honesty, I cannot even mount a good defense for why they should, given the Confederate States of America were founded for the specific purpose of protecting and preserving the institution of slavery.

      Some people see those monuments as glorifying a culture of racism and white supremacy…and I cannot really argue that it doesn’t…because the historical fact is that it does.
      joe recently posted…Confederate MonumentsMy Profile

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