This post originally appears on The Good Ole Boys Radio Network.
Anyone paying any attention to the domestic news this week has become aware of the horrendous events stemming from the large gathering in Charlottesville, VA of college boy ultra-right wingers, tearful Hitler Humpers, they took our jobs types, and America’s oldest batch of terrorists. Under the guise of protesting a pending removal of a statue or Robert E. Lee by the city of Charlottesville, the defenders of whiteness road into town to protest what they perceived to be an attack on their “culture” by liberals, black and brown folks, and all of the unsavory progressive types whom they think took their country from them.
So what happens when large groups of Alt-Right activists and Nazis show up somewhere carrying rifles, wearing riot gear, while chanting about “blood and soil” and not being replaced by Jewish folks? They are of course met by large groups of people who loathe everything they believe.
Protesters and counter-protesters would skirmish for hours on Saturday, August 12th. Until a young woman, Heather Heyer was run down in the street in an act of vehicular homicide by gutless, fascist man-child whose name I will not waste keystrokes typing.
Members of the nation would then watch our president flail and try to equivocate counter-protesters to a large hoard of fascists who helped propel him to the White House. Yes, this is his base, his hateful, paranoid, off-kilter base. A few days later we would watch or hear our president appear to call out white supremacists that were actually legally protesting in Charlottesville but illegal assaulting counter-protesters and allegedly murdering Heather Heyer. We would then see our president hold a press-conference, seemingly recanting his prior condemnation of the Alt-Right, and again comparing the counter-protesters to those, who he will not condemn. He would keep the hits coming and speak out about the erasure of history that occurs when Confederate monuments are removed, invoking a possible slippery slope of the removal of the Confederacies “heroes” by asking if monuments honoring the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would be next.
Washington and Jefferson are by no means saints. (You won’t find any of those in any history books, though.) Washington and Jefferson were also not seditious towards the United States of America. To the English crown yes, but not to the nation they founded.
Do you know who was actually seditious to the United States? Men like Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson-the men who the president compared to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as a justification for his position being against monument removal.
I’m not here to write about the president. I’m here to write about being a proud black southerner who lives in a region that has more than many monuments to a group of men who sought to keep my ancestors as chattel and were willing to rip the nation apart to do so. If you live in the southern United States you probably have seen shirts or bumper stickers that read “Heritage, Not Hate” emblazed over an image of the Confederate battle flag, the same flag that arose to prominence decades after the American Civil War as a symbol of southern resistance against the removal of Jim Crow laws and the invoking of equal rights for people of color across the American south.
I’m here to write about the ideal of southern heritage being tied to the image of the long-dead Confederate States of America. I’ve written about the conflict of being a proud southerner and a black man before but I must assert this again.
Just because your great-great-great whatever’s, who probably owned nary a slave was duped or conscripted into a cause fighting an armed act of treason does not make you anymore southern, proud or otherwise, than me. While your great-great-great whatever’s was dodging mini-balls and cannon fire in some peach orchard or wheat field somewhere my great-great-great whatever’s had their backs bent in a cotton field somewhere in South Carolina praying they live to see the guys wearing blue win. Praying for that long-wanted freedom from those who abused, worked them nearly to death, raped, and fed scraps until they were used up and sold off to someone else who would try to find a way to work a little more of their souls out of them.
My family and my friend’s family are all mostly southern and black and we simply do not find anything close to Neo-Confederatism enduring or anything to be proud of.
You simply don’t get to be anymore southern than me and the folks I hold dear. We’re descended from those who, after your ancestor’s ill-conceived attempt at maintaining slavery, somehow eked-out a life chopping logs, picking cotton, harvesting turpentine, laying rail, raising the children of others while neglecting their own, walking behind mules, and cooking for those who looked down upon them. What you worship is nothing but vestigial remains of an era that sought to control my ancestors’ actions well after the notion of owning a man had passed.
Nothing about the south, heritage-wise or geographical is solely yours. It never was. It could never be. From the food you love, the rhythms you dance to, the everyday lexicon, to some of the songs you sing while you worship on Sunday morning-it’s all a mixture of my heritage. A heritage which we managed to scrape out the sandy dirt of South Carolina, the red clay of Georgia, and the other open landscapes of the south that were cleared and worked by those who had no say in the matter.
Seeing that I’m a big advocate of historical preservation I would not want many of these statues destroyed. They can find their rightful place in historical museums that would allow people to truly understand the entire context of what occurred at the hands of those who fought for the Confederacy. Robert E. Lee himself was seemingly against the notion of monumental worship of the Confederacy and the American Civil War asserting that “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
Lee, unlike many of his devoted modern followers, seemed to get the point of moving on. Hell, he and Stonewall Jackson’s descendants seem to agree fully. So why can’t many neo-Confederates do the same? As a figure in American history, I compare Lee to Erwin Rommel. He’s a talented soldier who fought for an abhorrent cause that sought to continue the oppression of many. Sure he can be tactically celebrated but this has to be done while delving into the whole person including the nasty parts, especially the nasty parts.
These nasty parts have a place, a place in state museums in cities and towns like Columbia, Atlanta, Raleigh, and Nashville. Not in the face of those trying to move on and embrace the South’s whole past and not just a horrid part of it.
So why cling to that part of your heritage? Why wallow in a long-ago defeat that you cannot change or undo? Why tie yourself to that aspect of a larger whole? All it does is keep bad wounds open. That’s simply not healthy for you, your community, or the south you claim to love. Because I love the south just as much as you do but I realize one key fact- the part of the south that you love is dragging you down while mine is lifting me up.
Vaya con Dios.