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.
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.