There Stands Jackson Like … Oops, Nevermind

Several laws took effect on July 1 in Virginia, the most important of which, for our purposes here, is the one that gives localities the authority to do what they want with monuments. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney wasted no time, ordering the immediate removal of several confederate monuments around the city. As this article tells us, “Hundreds of people gathered at the Stonewall Jackson monument Wednesday about an hour after crews arrived to begin taking down the statue of the Confederate general. Crews got there around 1 p.m. with a large crane, a cherry picker (elevated work platform) and a tractor trailer pulling a flatbed. Hundreds of people who worked and lived nearby ran to the scene, cheering on every development by workers. … Mary Strunck and Rory Dunn — both history teachers who live in the neighborhood — saw crowds gathering and came to check out the scene. ‘We teach about this kind of stuff in the classroom. It’s kinda cool to see it play out in real-time,’ Dunn said. ‘I didn’t expect it to be this soon. It’s just been really rewarding to see it play out. I’m excited for my students too because we’ve been talking about it and how history happens in real time, and now that it’s happening. I think it’ll be rewarding for them as well.’ Strunck is from Charlottesville originally and compared Wednesday’s statue removal to that Confederate statue debate that played out in her hometown, which included the white supremacist Unite the Right rally, during which Heather Heyer, a counter-protester, was killed. ‘I’m intimately familiar with the debates surrounding the monuments. I’m phenomenally pleased that this is happening right now without any violence surrounding it — that there hasn’t been any KKK rallies as far as I know,’ Strunck said. She teaches 11th grade US history at Huguenot High School and Dunn teaches world and US history in Cumberland County. Bill Rider, a retired math teacher who worked at Collegiate, hopped on his bike and road over when his wife told him what was happening. ‘It’s gratifying. It means that we’re growing as people that need to reflect about our history,’ said Rider, who’s lived in the Museum District for more than 30 years. ‘As a teacher, it means that I feel a lot better. I had to look my students in the eye and say, ‘I’m not sure why this is still here.’ I was oblivious forever. It’s never too late to keep learning, to better understand the purpose of these monuments and how they affect all of our friends and neighbors.’ He said he was glad that the statues came down due to government action and not forced removal by protesters. ‘We needed this to happen this way because it shows that the government is responsive to the people. Yes, there was a lot of anger — there still is — but we need to show that the folks in charge can do the right thing,’ Rider said. Zach Bazemore, who lives nearby, also was happy the statue was coming down. ‘[The Stonewall Jackson monument] never should have been here in the first place and it’s about time they took it down. It’s one step forward, small as it may be, but we’ve got to start somewhere.’ … The Stonewall Jackson statue by Richmond sculptor Frederick William Sievers was unveiled Oct. 11, 1919. … The statue was removed at around 4:40 in the afternoon after about four hours of work by crews.”

In other developments, we have this essay by Professor Anne Marshall of Mississippi State University. She writes, “When Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill to retire the state flag Tuesday night, it was a truly historic and unlikely moment. The flag, which features a Confederate emblem, has long served as a reminder of the state’s central role in secession and the Civil War. But more than that, in a state with the highest percentage of Black Americans in the U.S., the flag had come to symbolize white Mississippians’ refusal to cede any real political, social or economic power. The Mississippi Legislature adopted the current flag in 1894, nearly 30 years after the Civil War, and just four years after the state revised its Constitution to include Jim Crow laws mandating segregated schools and poll taxes and literacy tests as prerequisites for voting. These restrictions were so effective that when the 1965 Voting Rights Act went into law, only a small fraction of the state’s Black population was registered to vote. The 1894 flag was thus a visual representation of a Constitution that codified the “redemption” of the state from federal reconstruction. The flag adoption also coincided with the heyday of racial violence in Mississippi when white mobs lynched dozens of African Americans each year. The flag’s symbolism seemed ever clearer during the civil rights movement, when Mississippi became known as the state in which racial progress was the hardest to achieve. Among the most notable atrocities were the murders of NAACP field agent Medgar Evers in 1963, and three young civil rights workers during a statewide voter registration drive the next year known as the Freedom Summer. Mississippi also pioneered seemingly less brutal, but utterly reprehensible forms of massive resistance to racial equality. Robert ‘Tut’ Patterson, a former captain of the Mississippi State University football team, started the first White Citizens’ Council in the Delta town of Indianola, shortly after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandated desegregation of America’s public schools. The state even had its own KGB-like intelligence organization, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission. Overseen by the governor, it created files on over 87,000 people suspected of involvement in civil rights activities, and harnessed the power of state and local law enforcement and everyday citizens to pressure and intimidate them. Since the 1890s, the Confederate-emblazoned flag has been a fitting symbol for white Mississippians’ intransigence toward perceived federal interference into their way of life. While many Americans came to see Confederate iconography as distasteful, racist and backwards, white Mississippians disagreed. A 2001 referendum to change the state flag failed by a margin of nearly 2 to 1.”

She continues, “But the flag is hardly the only icon of the state’s Confederate past. The University of Mississippi’s halting attempts to remove Confederate iconography from its campus culture is telling. In the 2010s, in the face of much alumni opposition, the university changed its mascot from the ‘Rebel’ to the ‘Black Bear,’ and then to the ‘Landsharks.’ In 2016, the university ceased playing the song ‘Dixie’ at sporting events, but it has yet to relinquish its moniker, ‘Ole Miss,’ a vernacular term for a plantation mistress. None of this reflects, however, the many Mississippians, both white and Black, who have long disapproved of their state flag and its celebration of the state’s obstinance to racial change. To those people who love the Magnolia State, ‘not for the virtues, but despite the faults,’ to paraphrase William Faulkner, the flag was an embarrassment, a poor reflection of all the richness and human goodwill that abounds in their state. After 2015 and 2017, when Dylann Roof in Charleston and the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville underscored the connection between contemporary racism and Confederate symbolism, these Mississippians renewed their call for changing the flag. But the opposition from state lawmakers to such a move was strong, and no one was surprised when just two months ago, Reeves re-dedicated April as Confederate Heritage Month. Then came Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Their killings provided an opening for people across the country to rethink and admit the connection between historical statues and iconography with systemic and individual racism in modern America. Pressure to jettison the flag came from within and outside of the state, building throughout June. Then last week, with bewildering speed for a state that often seems to move at a glacial pace, both houses of the Legislature agreed to a bill to remove the flag. After pausing to celebrate, Mississippians should ponder whether the willingness to change a symbol translates into the harder work of dismantling 150 years of white supremacist policy. Pessimists may be justified in thinking it will not. In an impoverished, unhealthy state, African Americans are poorer and sicker than whites. Just last week, a health expert examined the state’s mismanaged penitentiary at Parchman, whose inmate population is more than two-thirds African American, and declared the conditions ‘subhuman and deplorable.’ The state’s public education system still suffers from the loss of buy-in from many white citizens who founded a robust system of segregationist “academies” after 1970 and continue to support them.”

Professor Marshall concludes, “Will white Mississippians who took generations to understand and revoke the connection between the state’s identity and racial oppression take the next and much harder steps to root out current practices that perpetuate racial inequality in the Magnolia State? Only time will tell, but what has happened in the last month shows that the improbable is not the impossible.”

Shelley Mays/The Tennessean

In this article we learn, “As Confederate symbols and statues have come down around the South at an unprecedented rate in the past month, Tennessee’s own controversial bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest has remained firmly situated, roped off from the reach of the public inside the state Capitol. While legislators in Mississippi voted overwhelmingly Sunday to change the state flag, which features a Confederate battle flag, the Tennessee legislature’s Republican majority in recent weeks rebuffed bipartisan attempts to move the bust of Forrest, who was an early Ku Klux Klan leader and a slave trader. But the will of Gov. Bill Lee — whose position on the bust has evolved significantly in a year and a half, from initially opposing removal to now appearing to maneuver behind the scenes to facilitate it — may prevail. Lee on Wednesday called for a meeting next week of the State Capitol Commission, the 12-member group with authority to determine, with buy-in from the Tennessee Historical Commission, whether the bust can go. The commission is set to meet in person at 9 a.m. July 9, though members who need to attend electronically will be permitted to do so, according to Lee’s office. ‘It’s my expectation that they will vote on whether to move the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust,’ Lee said. ‘I’ll make a special proposal for what they’ll vote on next week.’ Lee declined to offer specifics about his proposal on Wednesday. Most proponents for taking down the bust have suggested it be relocated to the Tennessee State Museum, where there is currently a display on Forrest. The governor’s call for a meeting of the commission to vote on removal is a rapid development in a fight that has lingered for decades, since the bust was first installed outside the House and Senate chambers in 1978. ‘This process is the opposite of the mob rule that unfortunately has been dominating the national headlines around historical displays,’ Lee said, apparently referencing protesters who have torn down statues in recent weeks. … Tennessee legislators’ refusal to take action on the bust in recent weeks stands in contrast to decisions by government entities in other states — even those seen as more conservative than the Volunteer State — to bring down controversial statues and symbolism. Besides Mississippi’s actions over the weekend, municipalities in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Virginia have removed Confederate monuments in the last month as the North Carolina governor ordered the removal of Confederate statues from Capitol grounds. While lawmakers from both parties made emotional appeals for unity during legislative proceedings last month, Tennessee saw no notable shift among the Republican-controlled General Assembly when it came to sentiments on removing the Forrest bust. Rather, Republican lawmakers not only killed multiple legislative efforts to take down the bust, but approved a bill that gives them more representation on the State Capitol Commission if it becomes law. That legislation was widely seen as an attempt to offset Lee’s efforts to stack the commission with appointees who would vote in favor of removing the controversial statue. But by holding a meeting before the House and Senate speakers can each appoint an additional private citizen to the commission, Lee is effectively preempting the legislature’s plan. While Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, have not publicly said who they intended to appoint to the commission, their appointments could have affected the outcome of the vote and prevented removal.”

We see in the article how defenders of confederate heritage continue to lie shamelessly: “McNally quickly responded Wednesday to the announcement of the meeting, reiterating in a statement that he believes Forrest was ‘a problematic figure,’ but that the state should merely add historical context next to the bust. ‘The left-wing activists who are pushing an anti-American, anti-history agenda here in Tennessee and across the nation will not stop with Nathan Bedford Forrest,’ McNally said. ‘They have made clear Forrest is merely the tip of the iceberg. They mean ultimately to uproot and discard not just Southern symbols, but American heroes and history as well.’ His spokesman, Adam Kleinheider, said McNally ‘would prefer to have the additional legislative appointees in place before any meetings are held or any binding votes are taken, but that is ultimately at the discretion of the chairman of the commission.’ ” It’s amazing his pants don’t spontaneously combust as he’s saying that pack of lies. Imagine–someone defending a traitor to the United States by claiming those who oppose the traitor are “anti-American.” His claim of being “anti-history” is equally dishonest.

The article continues, “Sexton did not provide an explicit position on removal, but said because of the ‘diverse membership of the Capitol Commission,’ he believes the group is ‘well-positioned to make decisions that represent all Tennesseans.’ ‘I do not yet know how the Commission will ultimately proceed, but we must be very careful with the internal destruction of our history and our heritage,’ Sexton said in a statement Wednesday. ‘We can all agree the men and women who founded our country were not perfect, but they bestowed upon us the liberties and individual freedoms of a representative republic that no other country in this world has ever seen before. Destroying them is similar to destroying our country and the very people who gave us this republic.’ ” Forrest doesn’t belong in the same conversation as our nation’s Founders. These people really are shameless.

This article from Baltimore tells us, “Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s name has been removed from a historic warship in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor by the Living Classrooms Foundation amid an ongoing national reckoning over monuments and other historical ties to racism. The former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney, a national historic landmark and the last surviving warship from the attack on Pearl Harbor, serves as a museum for students and the general public focused on the men and women who served aboard. Its namesake served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and delivered the majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott v. Sandford case, which asserted that free Black people and enslaved persons were not U.S. citizens at the time of the country’s founding and had no pathway to citizenship and no rights. … The ship will, at least for now, be referred to by its hull identification WHEC 37, which stands for high endurance cutter, according to the foundation. The Taney name already has been removed from the ship’s stern. ‘The name is being removed because it is a symbol of hate, repression and racial inequality,’ said Chris Rowsom, executive director of the Historic Ships in Baltimore museum and vice president of Living Classrooms. ‘All of her records and artifacts and photos and documents we’ve collected over the years — nothing like that is going to be changed.’ The decision was approved by Living Classrooms’ board of trustees and its Historic Ships in Baltimore advisory board. The Coast Guard was notified of the change by the foundation in coordination with the city of Baltimore, a spokesperson for the service confirmed. ‘To preserve the proud naval heritage of the ship and honor all who served aboard during its 50 years of service, the Coast Guard recommends referring to the vessel by its hull classification symbol of (WHEC 37) per standard Coast Guard cutter designation,’ said Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride in an email.”

According to the aticle, “Born in Calvert County, Roger Brooke Taney studied law in Annapolis and was admitted to the Maryland bar in 1799. He became a prominent figure in the state’s Federalist party and eventually moved to Baltimore. He supported the candidacy of Andrew Jackson and was named U.S. attorney general in 1831. Together, they led the crusade against the National Bank, and the president later named Taney as treasury secretary before appointing him to the Supreme Court. Taney’s archaic and racist views are prompting people to question the legacy of a man who has been valorized with statues. Statues of Taney outside the Maryland State House in Annapolis and in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon were removed in 2017, following the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that summer and the subsequent calls to remove Confederate-era memorials around the country.”

We have this article from Rockdale County, Georgia. It tells us, “A Confederate statue that stood in the heart of old-town Conyers for 107 years is now gone. Channel 2 Action News was there as crews removed late Tuesday night. Rockdale County says it will relocate the monument, though a final decision on that hasn’t been made yet as to where. A group of collegiate activists started a campaign to have the statue removed. In less than a week, they received more than 1,200 signatures on a petition demanding the removal of the monument.

This article on the same subject tells us, “A Confederate monument on display at the old Rockdale County Courthouse was taken down late Tuesday night. City and county officials confirmed they plan to remove the statue that stands outside the courthouse building on Main Street Tuesday night at 10 p.m. They are still determining where it will be placed. The task was completed before midnight. Groups – both for and against the removal of the monument – gathered outside the courthouse at that time, where they were able to express their viewpoints – passionately but peacefully. Conyers Police was also on sight. The monument has stood for more than 107 years, after it was erected in 1913 by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The group raised the money for the statue, erected to commemorate Confederate soldiers from the area killed in Civil War battles. But, in recent years, groups campaigned to remove the monument. Now, the chair of the Rockdale County Commission Oz Nesbitt, Sr. said he’s found a way in state law to issue an executive order to remove the monument. And Commissioner Sherri Washington added that this is just the start of a difficult process. ‘That’s just the beginning,’ she said. ‘Now we have to have serious conversations about racial equity, and we have to have serious conversations about economic empowerment going forward. … And I want the community to be just as adamant about achieving those goals as they are about taking down a monument.’ ”

In this essay, Professor David Blight of Yale University compares the fall of confederate monuments with the fall of the Berlin Wall, then discusses the lost cause lie. “We should not celebrate too much as monuments topple and old slave-auction blocks are removed. History did not end when the Soviet Union dissolved, and it will not end now, even if a vibrant movement sweeps a new age of civil rights into America. Most of all, we must remember what the Lost Cause is and was before we try to call it past. As so many now understand—whether they have read William Faulkner or Toni Morrison or the thousands of scholars who have reshaped American history in the past three generations—slavery, the Civil WarReconstruction, and segregation are never purely historical. They still haunt the air we breathe, or cannot breathe. They are what W. E. B. Du Bois once called, in 1901, our ‘present-past.’ They are a history never to be erased, even if and when the bronze Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee can be carried out of the U.S. Capitol and left at the Smithsonian Castle, for a decision on their final resting place. The Lost Cause is one of the most deeply ingrained mythologies in American history. Loss on an epic scale is often the source of great literature, stories that take us to the dark hearts of the human condition. But when loss breeds twisted versions of history to salve its pain, when it encourages the revitalization of vast systems of oppression, and when loss is allowed to freely commemorate itself in stone and in sentimentalism across the cultural landscape, it can poison a civil society and transform itself into a ruling regime. Some myths are benign as cultural markers. Others are rooted in lies so beguiling, so powerful as engines of resentment and political mobilization, that they can fill parade grounds in Nuremberg, or streets in Charlottesville, or rallies across the country. The Lost Cause ideology emerged first as a mood of traumatized defeat, but grew into an array of arguments, organizations, and rituals in search of a story that could regain power. After the Civil War, from the late eighteen-sixties to the late eighteen-eighties, diehards, especially though not exclusively in Virginia, and led by former high-ranking Confederate officers, shaped the memory of the war through regular publications and memoirs. They turned Robert E. Lee into a godlike Christian leader and a genius tactician, one who could be defeated only by overwhelming odds. Their revolution, as the story went, was a noble one crushed by industrial might, but emboldened, in the eighteen-seventies, by righteous resistance to radical Reconstruction, to black suffrage, and to the three Constitutional amendments that transformed America. The Lost Cause argued that the Confederacy never fought to preserve slavery, and that it was never truly defeated on the battlefields of glory. Lost Cause spokesmen saw the Confederacy as the real legacy of the American Revolution—a nation that resisted imperial and centralized power, and which could still triumph over rapid urbanization, immigration, and strife between labor and capital. Above all, the Lost Cause seductively reminded white Americans that the Confederacy had stood for a civilization in which both races thrived in their best, ‘natural’ capacities. The slaughter of the Civil War had destroyed that order, but it could be remade, and the whole nation, defined as white Anglo-Saxon, could yet be revived. By the eighteen-nineties, the Lost Cause had transformed into a widespread popular movement, led especially by Southern white women in the United Daughters of the Confederacy (U.D.C.), and by an increasingly active United Confederate Veterans association (U.C.V.) and its widely popular magazine, The Confederate Veteran. The first commander-in-chief of the U.C.V. was General John B. Gordon, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia and a former governor and senator for that state. Gordon became famous for his particular brand of reconciliation, which involved popular lectures that humanized soldiers on both sides of the war, and for his tales of the ‘kindliest relations’ between masters and slaves in antebellum times. He is one of the ten former Confederates for whom United States military forts are named across the South. From the eighteen-nineties through the First World War, as Jim Crow laws and practices spread across Southern states, and as lynching became a ritual of terror and control, it was organizations like the U.D.C. and U.C.V. that placed hundreds of monuments, large and small, all over city squares and town centers. By 1920, virtually no one in the South, black or white, could miss seeing a veterans’ parade, or a statue of a Confederate soldier leaning on his musket with sweet innocence and regional pride. Schools, streets, and parks were named for Confederates. And, at one dedication after another, the message sent to black Southerners was that the Lost Cause was no longer lost. It had, instead, become a victory narrative about the overturning of Reconstruction and the reëstablishment of white supremacy. The myth had become the ruling regime, which governed by law and by violence, and because it controlled the story. What’s more, the nation largely acquiesced to, and even applauded, this dogged Southern revival.”

Professor Blight continues, “The language of the Lost Cause, as well as its monumental presence, is now what many of us desire to banish. But as we do so it is useful to hear its chords, since they still echo today in precincts of the American right. In 1868, Edward A. Pollard, the former editor of a Richmond newspaper, in his book ‘The Lost Cause Regained,’ urged ‘reconciliation’ with conservative Northerners, as long as it was on Southern terms. ‘To the extent of securing the supremacy of the white man,’ he wrote, ‘and the traditional liberties of the country . . . she [the South] really triumphs in the true cause of the war.’ Such an achievement would take years, but it did come. When a former Confederate officer, John T. Morgan, addressed a meeting of the Southern Historical Society, in 1877, he framed the preceding nine years as the ‘war of Reconstruction.’ The South, he maintained, had just won this ‘second war,’ and therefore no one ‘need inquire who was right or who was wrong’ in the first war. This was never easy for Union veterans to swallow, but it was how white supremacy became an integral part of the process of national reconciliation.”

Further, Professor Blight tells us, “The ultimate sick soul who had to be healed was Jefferson Davis, the former President of the Confederacy, whose large memorial has now been toppled in Richmond. After he was released from prison, in 1867, without ever having been tried for treason, Davis gave a heartbeat to the Lost Cause story. His two-volume, 1,279-page memoir, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government’ (1881), is the longest and most self-righteous legal brief on behalf of a failed political movement ever produced by an American. Davis laid all responsibility for secession and the war on the ‘unlimited, despotic power’ of the North. To Davis, slavery was in no way the cause of the conflict, and yet, like almost all Lost Causers, he went on at great length to defend the enslavement of blacks. Black people had already been enslaved in Africa, Davis argued. In America, they had been ‘trained in the gentle arts of peace and order,’ and advanced from ‘unprofitable savages to millions of efficient Christian laborers.’ The ‘magic word of ‘freedom’ ‘ had ruined this peaceful world like the ‘tempter . . . the Serpent in Eden.’ Confounding as these arguments may seem to most twenty-first-century minds, Lost Cause spokesmen were deadly serious, and their ideas propped up a story that many Americans still accept. Around Memorial Day in Richmond, 1890, when the spectacular Robert E. Lee equestrian statue was unveiled before a crowd of up to a hundred and fifty thousand people, a Lee cult seemed in total triumph. Confederate flags waved everywhere. A women’s memorial association had managed to wrangle many factions into agreement on a design and artist for the statue, and on elaborate ceremonies to anoint it. Twenty-five years after Appomattox, the general who had led the crusade to divide and destroy American democracy stood high astride his monument, the first in a series of statues that became Monument Avenue. Much of the Northern press called the statue evidence that Lee had become, as the New York Times put it, a ‘national possession.’ Not everyone was celebrating, of course. Many black men, needing jobs, had worked on the crews that pulled and set the giant granite structure into place. The three black men on the Richmond City Council had voted against an appropriation for the Lee monument. And John Mitchell, the editor of the Richmond Planet, the city’s black newspaper, wrote that those who wore the ‘clinking chains of slavery’ had a perfect right to denounce the spectacle of the unveiling and all that lay behind it. Black men, Mitchell said, helped ‘put up the Lee Monument, and should the time come will be there to take it down.’ The state of Virginia apparently wishes to do just that, in an act that many of us who have studied these matters thought would never occur. When it does, one can hope that a line of black citizens might be given pride of place in holding the ropes.”

Professor Blight writes, “What comes after this change in commemoration will determine whether we are truly witnessing the death of the Lost Cause. Structural racism remains present in nearly every corner of the United States—in the material worlds of health careeconomic inequality, and policing, and in our politics, which are split between a white-people’s party and a party trying in fits and strides to be a voice of pluralism. … The statues are being toppled, but the story that built them remains.” He concludes, “If this is to be our 1989, we must make the most of it. The whole world may be watching.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: