Confederate Heritage Continues Its Retreat

Here’s another roundup of stories about the continued retreat of confederate heritage.

A protester holds a sign and chants against the relocation of a Confederate statue in front of the Lake County Historical Museum in Tavares, Fla., on Aug 10, 2019. Residents are continuing to fight the statue. (Stephen M. Dowell/AP)

This op-ed piece comes to us from the Orlando Sentinel. It tells us, “This column asked readers some weeks back to provide suggested text to display with the statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, which is slated to come to the Lake County Historical Museum in Tavares. Never mind that Smith has nothing to do with Lake County or that more than 400 people came out in the searing heat of an August day to protest the plan as hurtful and wrong. Why put up a 14-foot-high tribute to a St. Augustine man who fought to keep the institution of slavery? There is no valid reason.” The article demolishes the stupid claim that taking down a statue is destroying history: “Some folks have contended that destroying the statue destroys history. This is nonsense. No one “needs” a statue to learn about history. Take Germany, for example. There aren’t statues of Adolph Hitler all over the place so that Germans don’t forget the maniac tried to extinguish the Jewish race. Somehow, this tends to stick in one’s mind without a visual reminder.” The article has a few suggested texts for the monument if it gets placed in Tavares. It concludes, “Lake commissioners should begin to realize they have made a mistake. It’s not the end of the world, providing they fix it. Until the day this repulsive statue comes to Lake County, they have the chance to send it elsewhere and to repair their damaged relationship with residents.”

This blog post gives us links to the history of the Chatham County, North Carolina confederate monument that was recently removed from Pittsboro, North Carolina. We find that those who celebrated the monument had white supremacist views, and the monument was protested from the beginning, with it being defaced with blackface a week after its unveiling. It had always been a racist symbol.

This op-ed piece by Professor Patrick O’Neil of Methodist University calls on us to be honest about confederate monuments and their being racist symbols. We learn, “Since the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the toppling of the statue of the Confederate soldier in Durham, defenders of Confederate memorials have made an interesting distinction. The Charlottesville statue is of Robert E. Lee, whose willful treason against the United States makes memorializing him hard to defend. The Durham statue, on the other hand, was of a poor soldier, forced by conscription and other means to participate in a war whose premises he could not resist; the same is true of Fayetteville’s Confederate soldier statue. If protesters really believe in equality, why dishonor people who were no wealthier or more powerful than they are themselves? (Note: this argument has been heard on conservative radio in the past few days; this piece in the American Conservative anticipates it: It’s a good question with a disturbing answer. The Durham statue did indeed represent a poor soldier, many of whom were indeed conscripted to fight. But these memorials were used to exploit poor folks as much as to honor them. Because its creation was so well documented, North Carolina’s most famous statue, Silent Sam, offers a good example of how this worked. It was erected during the Jim Crow Era by the University of North Carolina, which comparatively few poor folk could afford to attend. Despite its humble appearance, the statue’s christening speech, given by the wealthy industrialist Julian Carr, shows how the rich tried desperately to enlist poor whites in the fight against racial equality. He ruminated pleasurably on his memory of having ‘horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.’ This had happened, he said, ‘One hundred yards from where we stand.’ Just as important, he emphasized the unity with which, he said, North Carolinians prosecuted the war: fighting ‘without a murmur, always faithful to its duty whatever the groans of the victims.’ ” The article also tells us, “This pattern of wealthy whites claiming a unified front against black equality stretches all the way back to slavery, when rich slaveholders helped to convince poor whites to side with slavery, and against their black allies, friends and lovers, by incentivizing violence against black people (particularly as slave catchers and members of the patrol, one forerunner of the Klan). It also ran through the Wilmington coup of 1898, where rich whites overthrew a democratically-elected multi-racial government by threatening ‘negro supremacy’ and rape. During the Civil War, poor whites frequently were racist but also frequently rebelled against the Confederacy. North Carolina in particular devolved into a brutal civil war, pitting Rebels against unionists who declared that would not ‘fight for the big mans negro’ — that is, they wouldn’t fight to perpetuate slavery, which even racist unionists felt operated against their interest. They knew exactly what the war was about and refused — at the cost of their lives — to side with it.” Professor O’Neil also writes, “In erecting these statues, though, Confederate-sympathizing women and the towns and universities that abetted them (such as towns like Durham and universities like UNC) enlisted poor whites in their cause yet again, papering over their rebellion against the Confederacy and pretending that the whole South was unified in a glorious (and again, nakedly white supremacist) cause. Silent Sam, like the poor Confederate soldiers just about everywhere in North Carolina, faces North, creating a unified phalanx of white soldiers loyal to the Confederacy and what it stood for. (Fayetteville’s own Confederate soldier did an about-face from South to North in 2002.) This is a dishonest reckoning with the conflicting attitudes of poor whites toward the Civil War.” He concludes, “But let’s be as clear as we can: the Confederate memorials throughout the South honor the Confederacy, and through it, white supremacy. Leaving them the way they are dishonors the dream of racial equality.”

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