It was the movie adaptation of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage which first sparked my interest in the American Civil War. In the days before the Internet was in nearly every home, I relied on books to learn about the conflict, which raged from 1861 to 1865. It wasn’t long before I happened across the picture of an African American man, his back a cobweb of scars from being savagely whipped again and again. I thought a framed print captioned “Just like family” should hang in the home of each person who tried to dress up the institution of slavery, attempting to sanitize one of the evilest parts of our nation’s past. Yet, those who try to obfuscate such a tragedy would probably derive some sort of perverse satisfaction from the image, so it was likely a bad idea.
I’ve long been baffled by those who sympathize with the fallen Confederacy, those who make efforts to revise history, to make believe the war wasn’t about slavery. Granted, the Union may not have gone to war to end slavery, though President Lincoln’s views on blacks did evolve during the conflict. However, there is no doubt as to the reason eleven states seceded. Look at the secession declarations from states such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, and read the words of men like Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who said, “Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place.”
Remember the Past
While I believe it’s important to remember the past, lest we be condemned to repeat the mistakes made therein, it’s an entirely different matter to exalt historic evils, which is why it was appropriate, in May, for New Orleans to remove four monuments which paid homage to the Confederate States of America. As workers dismantled one of the statues, Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a speech. He said, in part, “The historic record is clear: the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.”
A Step in the Right Direction
This is a step in the right direction as is the recent backlash against the Confederate Battle Flag, though it took the murder of nine African Americans at the hands of Dillon Roof during a church service to finally awaken many to the real meaning of that symbol. Still, there is a long road ahead. For instance, shortly after the actions in New Orleans, Alabama passed a law to preserve its monuments. Proposed by Republican Senator Gerald Allen of Tuscaloosa and signed by Governor Kay Ivey, the law includes protections for Confederate and other tributes created as recently as twenty years ago. Removal or renaming now requires approval from the Committee on Alabama Monument Protection.