Activists on one side of the Confederate statue controversy have suggested that if memorials to Confederate Generals Lee, Jackson and Forrest should come down, those to Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other national heroes should also be removed. After all, didn’t they own slaves too? Yes they did, but they didn’t take up arms in treasonous rebellion against their own country. In fact, in his later life Jefferson, in speaking of slavery, wrote "I fear for my country when I reflect that ours is a just God." And Washington freed his slaves in his will.
At the Civil War’s close the South was defeated militarily, economically and spiritually. The former Confederates were desperate for respectability and heroes. Starting in the 1870s memorials to Lee, Jackson and other southern military figures began to go up in southern parks and town squares, usually financed by private subscription. These memorials increased in the 1890s along with the proliferation of Jim Crow laws. The trend resurfaced in the 1950s as a protest against court-ordered desegregation. As a child growing up in the Deep South I can hardly recall seeing the so-called "Rebel Flag" displayed (actually, it’s not the official Confederate "Stars and Bars," but the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia). But after the 1954 Desegregation Court Decision these began popping up all over the South, especially on pickup trucks, as an arrogant symbol of southern defiance.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar societies soon began to get out on weekends and reenact Civil War battles. This makes about as much sense as Jews reenacting the Holocaust. My great grandfather, Captain Isham B. Small, Company E, 48th Alabama Infantry, lost his life in that bloody, lousy, senseless war. His family lost their property and my grandmother was raised without a father. For our family there is little about the Civil War to commemorate or honor except for the slave descendants who still carry the family name.
As for the statues, I personally will plead a states-rights (sound familiar?) position. I think each state should decide for itself by referendum on any policy regarding Confederate memorials, The verdict, however, will probably be challenged in the courts whichever way it goes.
In the deep-South culture in which I was raised the term "War Between the States" was often used rather than "Civil War." This bestowed a certain legitimacy on the southern cause. But if the states had a legal right to secede wouldn’t the procedure to do so have been outlined in the Constitution? And if the War was about states’ rights rather than slavery, as many southerners claim today, wouldn’t it have been mentioned in the various states’ secession declarations as a cause for leaving the Union? Although each state declaration complained of the North’s refusal to recognize the South’s constitutional right to own slaves, their refusal to return runaway slaves and their prohibition against transporting slaves across free states into the territories, states’ rights were not mentioned. It was all about slavery. After 156 years isn’t it time we southerners got realistic about the civil War and got on with running our country?
Another subject we avoid. For better or worse, the United States has become the world’s melting pot. And if present demographic trends continue, somewhere around the middle of this century the Caucasian race, that’s most of us, is predicted to become a minority. Dwell on that one if you will.
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.