Confederate Iconography Back in the News

The recent past gave us more confederate iconography news.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation that would prevent local communities from removing confederate monuments erected prior to 1998. See story here and here. McAuliffe said the proposed bill was a “sweeping override of local authority.” According to McAuliffe, “There is a legitimate discussion going on in localities across the commonwealth regarding whether to retain, remove, or alter certain symbols of the Confederacy. These discussions are often difficult and complicated. They are unique to each community’s specific history and the specific monument or memorial being discussed. This bill effectively ends these important conversations.”

In Hampton, Virginia, there’s a move to remove confederate names from two local schools. See the story here. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference would like to see the names of Jefferson Davis Middle School and Robert E. Lee Elementary School changed. As an aside, I used to live in the area. I attended Toastmasters International meetings at Jeff Davis Middle School where one could see pickup basketball games being played, and prominent among the players at the time was one Allen Iverson.

Recently, the National Council on Public History held its annual meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. As part of that meeting there was a session on confederate monuments. You can see the storify of the Twitter comments on it here. Attendee Nick Sacco has a thoughtful post reflecting on it here. Kevin Levin has some very useful comments here.

There’s a movement to remove Nathan Bedford Forrest’s name from the ROTC building at Middle Tennessee State University. See blog post here. Historian Elizabeth Catte writes, “I would ask MTSU to heed the recommendations of its own Department of History and sever its extremely public, visible, but also invented connection to Forrest.”

In Charlottesville, Virginia there’s a proposal to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. See story here. Zyahna Bryant, a student at Charlottesville High School, said, “Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty and disenfranchisement flood my mind. As a teenager in Charlottesville that identifies as black, I am offended every time I pass it. Since getting older and more mature, I’ve been able to pick it [racism] out a bit more. You can see a lot of it in Charottesville. There are more people who are OK voicing it. As a student, that makes me uncomfortable.” Predictably, the Virginia Flaggers show themselves to be idiots. One of them wrote a letter to the city council which said, in part, “The call for the removal of the Lee Monument and the renaming of the park smacks of knee-jerk self-righteousness from a myopic Marxist mob.” Kevin Levin has a suggestion for the city council as they look to move forward.

In Mississippi, history teachers are talking with their students about the so-called “confederate heritage month” proclamation from their governor.” See the article here. “The governor’s decision came after a request from the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according toThe Clarion Ledger. The group also does not want to change the state’s flag, which has a Confederate symbol, and the language of the declaration does not mention slavery once, only ‘mistakes’ in the same line ‘successes’ are mentioned. It reads: ‘Whereas it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, to gain insight from our mistakes and our successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage …’ When leaders of the state government endorse this incomplete reading of history, the role of history teachers and professors are especially vital, and educators are bent on ensuring that young people don’t leave their classes with the misconception that supporting Confederate imagery and heritage is harmless.” The article tells us, “Mississippi educators say that it is especially important to drive home the point that slavery was the main driver of the Civil War and that the Confederacy’s interest in states’ rights was inseparable from the economic interest of keeping slave labor.”

There’s some additional pushback to the proclamation in Mississippi. See this article. Derrick Johnson, the state president of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP, suggests the governor proclaim a Union Heritage Month. “If we are to honor those who battled in the Civil War, let us honor all soldiers or, at least, those soldiers who fought for the nation and not against it. It is time for Gov. Bryant to give recognition to heroes other than those who look like him. It is time for Gov. Bryant to honor those brave white and black men and women of Mississippi who fought for what they believed in, who fought for their freedom, who fought for their country and the preservation of the Union, who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation and the promise of equality it held. Gov. Bryant should proclaim the month of May Union Army Appreciation Month and finally give those brave soldiers the honor and acknowledgement they deserve.”

State Rep. Jarvis Dortch of Jackson, Mississippi issued a statement on the confederate heritage month proclamation. “In the Spring of 1861, The Vice-President of the rebelling southern states laid out the governing principles of the newly found Confederacy. In his Corner Stone speech, Alexander Stephens stated that ‘Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.’ The 4 years that followed were not, as Governor Phil Bryant put it in his proclamation, a ‘struggle.’ They were 4 years of total war, waged by the United States, to put down a rebellion. A rebellion that occurred because there were those in the South that would rather die and fight all out war before allowing black men, women and children the right to live freely and not in bondage. This is the history and heritage of the Confederacy. There is much to be learned and debated from this history but little that I find worthy of honor. It’s more than disappointing to have a Governor that finds it appropriate to use the authority of his office to celebrate the actions and symbols of the Confederacy.”

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