New On the Confederate Heritage Front

There’s still confederate heritage news for us. We start with this article from “The Friendliest Town in America,” Murray, Kentucky.

Liam Niemeyer / Ohio Valley Resource. Protesters gather by the Confederate monument on county courthouse grounds on July 15, 2020.

“The city of Murray had unanimously passed a resolution to remove the monument, which features a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and a memorial to the Confederate soldiers from the county. The local university and governor of Kentucky also supported removal. Yet, county government on July 15 passed a resolution – again, unanimously –  saying the monument would stay. Following that vote, dozens descended on the monument in protest that evening, including the Murray State University football coach who sparked the recent calls to remove the statue. ‘If my brother who was a captain in the United States Air Force right now in Japan took up arms to kill people in the United States, then I would expect people to spit on his grave if he was right here,’ said Sherman Neal, said that night at the monument, adding that rebels like Lee shouldn’t be memorialized. Neal is a licensed attorney and U.S. Marines Corps veteran, and has lived in Murray for less than two years. He stood alone at first — a Black resident in city that is 83% white, according to latest data — sending an open letter to city and county leadership, calling for the monument’s removal out of a sense of morality and to set an example for his two children. The monument was installed in 1917 with funds from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. It’s sat there undisturbed until this recent push, spurred by nationwide Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd was killed in May by Minnesota police. Talk to people around town and it becomes clear that there is no consensus on what should happen to Robert E. Lee.”

The article also gives us those who show their ignorance: “Scott Pitt from a neighboring county doesn’t see the monument as a symbol of oppression. ‘Well, it’s been a very long time, what’s the problem now,’ said Pitt, 33. ‘I mean, you don’t know what you’ve gained unless you know what you’ve accomplished. You know what I’m saying? And I just don’t think that there’s a reason to move it.’ Pitt said if the monument was moved from county courthouse grounds, he wasn’t sure where it would go. Removal advocates have previously proposed a cemetery in town. Several other people said they want the statue to stay for similar reasons, because they see it as a part of the history of their county, or a remembrance of the Civil War. ‘When you begin trying to erase your history, you’re bound to repeat it. So, I think we should just put up some more monuments for the other side and their beliefs, and just let the American history stand,’ said 54-year-old Theresa Perkins of Murray. Perkins said that Lee was unfortunately a man who ‘stood up for the wrong side’ and that she isn’t for the idea of the Confederacy, but that the monument should remain where it is as a reminder not to repeat the Civil War.” “The problem now” is that finally people are realizing Black opinions matter just as much as White opinions matter, which is why confederate statues are no longer welcome in many localities. And statues aren’t history. Moving statues does nothing at all to “erase history.” Without any monuments we would still know there was a Civil War, and we would still know how much it cost. If you need a statue to remind you there was a Civil War, you’re too dumb to vote.

In this article from McDonough, Georgia, we find, “A Confederate monument in Georgia was removed overnight on Wednesday by workers who used a crane to pull the figure off its pedestal. Crews began removing the monument that stood in McDonough Square Tuesday night and finished it off early Wednesday morning, WSB-TV reported. The Henry County commission voted to remove the statue, which has been a fixture at the site for over 100 years, earlier this month amid the national protests against racism and police brutality. Multiple law enforcement agencies were present during the removal, where one person was arrested and protesters surrounding the statue were forced off the sidewalks, WAGA-TV reported.”

According to this article on the same subject, “It’s believed the Daughters of the Confederacy put up the statue in 1910. Close to 14,000 people signed a petition to have it taken down. … In 2017, Channel 2 Action News talked to people on both sides of the debate to remove the monument. The Young Democrats of Henry County and DeKalb County said the monument was offensive. Supporters of the monument said the group needed to get a life. There have been a number of Confederate monuments and statues that have come down in north Georgia in recent weeks. Last month, a huge crowd cheered as crews removed a Confederate memorial from the Decatur Square. The monument was erected in 1908 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Earlier in July, a Confederate monument that stood for 107 years in Conyers was removed. County officials are talking about relocating the statue to the old cemetery in Rockdale County where there are Confederate graves.”

WD Photo

This article from Texas lets us know the issue has decisions on both sides. “A Confederate statue that has been a major point of contention between Weatherford and Parker County residents the past few weeks will remain in place after county commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to leave it where it is on the courthouse lawn. Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley made the motion to keep the statue in its place. ‘That statue honors the dead, it doesn’t honor the Confederacy,’ Conley said. ‘I’m going to make a motion that we leave the monument where it has been for over 100 years and get on with whatever happens after that.’ … ‘It represents our history, it represents those that have died in war on both sides,’ County Judge Pat Deen said. ‘It represents a time in our history that no longer exists today, thankfully. If we look at what the constituents want here, I can speak for myself, that there’s been an overwhelming number to not remove that statue.’ ” Of course, that’s a lie. It doesn’t represent those who died on both sides. It only says those who died for the treasonous confederacy that was fighting for slavery are worthy of honor.

The article continues, “Large protests for and against the removal of the statue took place on July 25. ‘This past Saturday there was an event that took place on the courthouse lawn that escalated to a point that involved multiple law enforcement agencies and actually was stopped for an illegal gathering because of the safety factor to the community and the law enforcement agencies who were here,’ Deen said. ‘What happened Saturday is not who Parker County is, it’s not who Weatherford is and that has to come to an end, that has to stop.’ The commissioners met on June 22 to discuss the removal of the statue; however, no action was taken after the statue’s ownership came into question. The commissioners received a letter from the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy asking that the statue be relocated. But according to the Texas division of the UDC, it was not the Weatherford chapter’s call. Although the county is not the owner of the statue, Texas United Daughters of the Confederacy President Dorothy Norred said their organization would not move the statue unless a vote from the commissioners court told her to do so. Norred said she received numerous messages from residents wanting to keep the statue on the courthouse lawn, adding that she doesn’t want to see anyone get hurt or the statue get damaged. ‘I just want to say that there seems to be a misunderstanding because they think I want to move it, which I don’t. This monument has been here over 100 years, this is its home, the citizens of Parker County and Weatherford want to keep that monument,’ Norred said. ‘After Saturday’s protest that got a little violent I understand, I don’t want to see individuals hurt or anything happen to our statue. I’ve had messages that if I don’t get rid of the statue that they will come after me, and I’ve had messages that if I don’t get rid of the statue that they will tie a rope around it and they’ll drag it through the streets, and I don’t want to see that happen either.’ … A member of the Progressives of Parker County, the group organizing the protests to remove the monument, was left reeling after the commissioners voted. ‘What happened is a travesty,’ said Tony Crawford, a longtime Weatherford resident. ‘This is a deep-seated thing we’ve touched on in Weatherford. We need to take a deep breath and regroup.’ Crawford said he doubted claims by Deen and other commissioners that an overwhelming number of calls from constituents drove the unanimous vote, and said he suspects many of those calls came from right-wing groups fighting to keep the statue.”

The article concludes, “Despite the commissioners’ vote, Crawford said he believes in his hometown and the people’s hearts who live here, adding that there are good people around now like there were more than 150 years ago when two of his relatives were lynched on the courthouse lawn not far from where the statue resides. ‘When we found the newspaper clipping on our ancestors being lynched, one of the things that stuck out to me in that news clipping was it said that the hanging of my ancestors set neighbor against neighbor, which means Weatherford always had some good people,’ he said. ‘They were just outnumbered by people whose ideology is wrong, and it still is today in this community.’ “

This podcast from the New England News Collective features Professor Manisha Sinha of the University of Connecticut talking about taking down controversial statues. It’s a good interview and Professor Sinha has some great things to say. It’s the first twelve minutes thirty seconds of the podcast.

This video discusses the monument issue as well. Dr. James Grossman of the American Historical Association has some good things to tell us. Fortunately, we don’t have to sit through too much of the SCV baloney along the way.

This article looks at the way former confederate states tried to protect their monuments to slavery and treason from being removed by local governments who no longer wanted to see those two things honored. We learn, “Robert Harris’ parents were sharecroppers who attended civil rights meetings and registered to vote. For that, their landlord plowed up their yard.  ‘They wasn’t told they had to leave,’ Harris said. ‘The land they were raised on, they would just drive the tractors up by the house, as in the yard space. That was letting them know they had to go.’ It was one in a long chain of incidents of racial oppression in Lowndes County, 25 miles west of Montgomery, Alabama. More than two-thirds of Lowndes’ population lived in slavery in 1860. Whites lynched at least 16 people in the county between 1877 and 1950. A column dedicated to Confederate veterans outside the Lowndes County Courthouse in Hayneville, Alabama — where Harris has served on the county commission for 22 years — was a reminder of that oppression.”

We also learn, “Like Lowndes, as the desire for Confederate monument removal continues to gain traction, cities and counties across the region face a problem: whether the state government will punish them over the removal. Seven former Confederate states have passed laws limiting or preventing local governments from removing monuments — and all within the past 20 years. In 2017, the Alabama Legislature, whose membership is 76% white, approved a law known as the Memorial Preservation Act. The law makes it legally impossible to remove monuments 40 years or older. A government that does so faces a one-time fine of $25,000. A bill that would have increased the penalty to $10,000 for every day of violation did not advance in the regular session of the legislature this spring. A message seeking comment from the Alabama attorney general’s office about the Lowndes County Commission’s decision was not returned. Harris said commissioners had some conversations about fundraising if the state tries to punish the county over the removal. ‘There haven’t been any in-depth discussions about that,’ he said. ‘But I know there may be a possibility that the fine will be raised by outside sources.’ In Tennessee, the General Assembly in 2013 passed the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, amending it again in 2016 and 2018 — in the midst of Memphis’ fight to remove multiple Confederate statues in city parks — to make it even more difficult for local entities to take down monuments. After years of attempting to go through Tennessee’s system for removal and repeatedly being blocked, the city of Memphis turned to a creative solution: selling the parks to a nonprofit that would not be subject to the state law governing public monuments. Statues of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and Confederate President Jefferson Davis came down hours after the sale in December 2017. ‘The whole momentum of the country now is to not honor Confederate soldiers, and these laws really stand in the way of local people making decisions about local parks and statues,’ said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, who worked for months with a small group of city officials and attorneys to quietly orchestrate the removal before the state or private groups could block their new plan. As a result, the state legislature once again tightened its monument protection law to prevent another city from transferring statue ownership. It also withheld $250,000 that had initially been budgeted for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration. All of the obstacles were worth it, Strickland said, to remove monuments that were not reflective of Memphis, a city that is roughly 65% Black. ‘I think in the end, most all of these will come down,’ Strickland said of similar statues across the South. ‘It’s the right thing to do, and I think it’s inevitable.’ ”

As the article also tells us, ” ‘Most have not been toppled down by protesters,’ said Hillary Green, a professor at the University of Alabama who studies the Civil War, Reconstruction and 19th-century history. ‘The majority that are coming down are the ones in front of courthouses.’ Most Confederate monuments erected before 1890 tended to be memorials to dead soldiers, erected in cemeteries. But as the Jim Crow South emerged and white Southerners stripped Black citizens of the right to vote, the memorials began moving into public spaces. White women’s organizations, particularly the United Daughters of the Confederacy, spearheaded the construction and creation of the monuments. ‘The UDC might have fundraised to design and purchase and then put in place the monuments, but it’s subsequent governments who continued to uphold and maintain them,’ Green said. ‘While they look like a private organization, they’re going hand in hand with the emergence of a white supremacist racial government structure.’ The Black press and African American groups fought the rise of the monuments, though there weren’t the mass protests in the streets seen as part of today’s opposition to Confederate monuments. Kevin Levin, a historian and author of multiple books on the Civil War and the legacy of the Confederacy, said the monuments were ‘about solidifying white rule,’ and noted that due to disenfranchisement, Black citizens wielded little power to take part in discussions about what should be placed in a public square. ‘These monuments were about making sure the younger generation that didn’t experience the war, didn’t experience Reconstruction in the 1870s, that they never forget what their parents and grandparents fought for,’ Levin said. ‘That the cause of white supremacy was their cause moving forward into the 20th century.’ Learotha Williams, a historian in Nashville and professor at Tennessee State University, has traveled the state studying historic markers. ‘When it comes to public memory, I’m sure that around the time when these statues went up, there were people walking around who remembered the buying and selling of human beings in that space,’ Williams said. He noted a nameless Confederate soldier monument erected in 1899 in Franklin, Tennessee, just south of Nashville. ‘He stands in the same square where they had lynched a man a few years before they put it up,’ Williams said. Monument erection slowed down after the 1920s, due in part to saturation, but rose again during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Efforts to remove symbols of the Confederacy go back decades. Black legislators in Alabama fought for years to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol, placed there in 1961, before finally succeeding in 1993. The efforts accelerated after a white supremacist killed nine Black worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, and after a white supremacist killed a protester and wounded 28 others in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. All the state laws protecting Confederate monuments in the former Confederacy are 20 years old or younger. Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee have either enacted or strengthened their preservation laws in the last five years.”

In this column, Professor Lucas Morel of Washington and Lee University lays out the case for keeping Robert E. Lee’s name on the university. He writes, “Robert E. Lee committed treason when he became general of the Army of Northern Virginia in support of Southern secession. Its goal was a separate nation devoted to white supremacy and black slavery. But with the Union victory, Lee submitted to federal authority and set an example of reconciliation for a defeated South. Lee’s post-war leadership of Washington College led the faculty to ask that his name be added to the school’s masthead. One hundred and fifty years later, Washington and Lee University’s faculty want to remove Lee’s name. This would be a mistake. By accepting the invitation to be president of Washington College, Lee showed white southerners how to accept their defeat and resume their loyalty to the United States. Lee signed the amnesty oath on the same day he was inaugurated as president of Washington College. As he wrote to the trustees, ‘It is particularly incumbent on those charged with the instruction of the young to set them an example of submission to authority.’ The Confederacy’s greatest hope chose unity over division. Lee raised money, attracted students from the North and South, reinvigorated the Honor Code, built a chapel, and enforced a policy against student misconduct that applied both off and on campus. He restored a ravaged college to financial solvency, annexed a law school, instituted new majors in journalism and business, and began instruction in modern languages. In doing so, Lee set the course for the institution’s current status as a world-class university. Simply put, my school’s identity does not celebrate the Confederacy but champions an elite, liberal arts education that teaches students of diverse backgrounds and perspectives to think, do good and equip others to do the same. By leading Washington College for the last five years of his life, Lee followed in George Washington’s footsteps by working toward national unity and ‘the healing of all dissensions.’ To be sure, he achieved notoriety by turning down Lincoln’s offer to defend the nation established by Washington. Lee instead chose to lead rebel forces in an effort to dissolve the American union. But in the final act of his life, he sought to heal, not divide. ‘I think it the duty of every citizen,’ Lee told the trustees, ‘in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony.’ ”

Ulysses S. Grant would not agree with Professor Morel. In a May 12, 1866 interview published in the Lewiston Journal, Ulysses S. Grant said, ” ‘Some of the rebel generals are behaving nobly and doing all they can to induce the people to throw aside their old prejudices and to conform their course to the changed condition of things. Johnston and Dick Taylor particularly are exercising a good influence; but, he added, ‘Lee is behaving badly. He is conducting himself very differently from what I had reason, from what he said at the time of the surrender, to suppose he would. No man at the South is capable of exercising a tenth part of the influence for good that he is, but instead of using it, he is setting an example of forced acquiescence so grudging and pernicious in its effects as to be hardly realized.’ ” [PUSG Volume 16, page 258]

Professor Morel continues, “Lee also came to advocate emancipation both personally and publicly. In 1862 he freed the one slave family he owned through his mother’s estate, as well as the slaves who were part of his father-in-law’s will. While Lee never endorsed civil or political equality for Black people, he did lobby for emancipation in the waning months of the Confederacy, holding out freedom as a reward for those who served as soldiers.” I would love to see the documentation that he freed ANY of the enslaved people he owned through his mother’s estate. Also, he didn’t free all of the Arlington enslaved people in 1862. We have letters from Lee in 1863 and 1864 showing some were still enslaved. As to lobbying for emancipation, he didn’t do so because he thought slavery was wrong. Longtime readers of the blog may remember this post about Lee and his support of slavery.

Moreover, Professor Morel writes, “It is remarkable that a man who fought to destroy the American union devoted his post-war years to rebuilding it.” As we’ve seen, that’s a debatable assertion. Continuing to the conclusion: “In choosing to lead a college named after Washington, Lee followed the nation’s greatest founder by training America’s youth in the way they should go — trusting that his efforts would be ‘advantageous to the College and Country.’ Washington and Lee shared a common motive in their contributions to my university: to unite American youth in their devotion to their country. Next to Washington, no one did more to keep the college from financial ruin than Lee. For today’s beneficiaries to remove Lee’s name would be the height of ingratitude. The question is not whether this decision redeemed him of the sin of treason, white supremacy and slavery. It’s whether Lee’s transformative leadership of a college and submission to federal authority served as a much-needed model for a defeated rebellious citizenry. In the end, the trustees of Washington and Lee University must decide if they value Lee’s pivotal contribution to a school, as they note, that has taken 150 years to build a reputation as one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country — a contribution that pointed white southerners away from further resistance and toward national unity. Lee could have endorsed guerilla warfare, undermined Reconstruction and fomented civil resentment over emancipation. With the eyes of the South (and the North) upon him, he chose not to. Instead, he assumed leadership of a college in disrepair to set an example for rebuilding and reuniting under the federal Constitution. Do current faculty value his efforts? Do the trustees appreciate his postwar service to the college and the country? Keeping his name will show that we do.” Ultimately, I don’t find Professor Morel’s case to be that persuasive, considering the depictions of Lee at the university that are most visible are of Lee the military man, not Lee the educator. It seems to me if they want to keep Lee’s name on the university, they should get rid of the military depictions of Lee.

In this article we see the result of two reporters with presumably cast iron stomachs talking with the SCV to see why they lie so much about history. The article says, “The Sons of Confederate Veterans is a nonprofit organization founded in 1896 dedicated to ‘preserving the history and legacy’ of the short-lived Confederacy and, according to their website, making sure ‘that future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.’ To be a member, one must be male and a descendent of a Confederate soldier.” First of all, the SCV can’t even tell the truth about what they do. On their website they claim, “the SCV continues to serve as a historical, patriotic, and non-political organization dedicated to ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.” A “true history” is the last thing they want. Instead, their “charge” from confederate veteran Stephen D. Lee was, “To you, Sons of Confederate Veterans, we will commit the vindication of the cause for which we fought. To your strength will be given the defense of the Confederate soldier’s good name, the guardianship of his history, the emulation of his virtues, the perpetuation of those principles which he loved and which you love also, and those ideals which made him glorious and which you also cherish.” A “true history” won’t do a thing to “vindicate” the cause of the confederacy, nor would it “defend” the confederate soldier’s name.

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