(Picture from newspaper record of the Cornerstone Speech, by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. – Indivisible Ventura originally published this post in 2017. It’s Black History Month and time for a update since the 2015 Dylan Roof massacre and the 2017 Unite the Right rally turned up the fire again. This is probably Tip #2)
“There is no question about what the civil war was about. And there is no question about the monuments to that war, because every person that was lionized in those monuments, may have been brave, they may have been strong, they may have done incredible acts of courage on the battlefield, they killed other people and maybe they gave their own lives… and they did it so they could own other human beings like chattel.
Why isn’t there a statue of Heinrich Himmler in Germany? Why isn’t there a statue of a Nazi soldier saying “Hey, he was just fighting for his country.” They have figured out something that we haven’t and one of the reasons is that they have dealt honestly with their past.” (Jeffrey Robinson, ACLU – if you haven’t watch this video, do so.)
Its not just “monuments”. Racism is woven through our world seamlessly, in our buildings, in our art, in our language and in our deeds. Each racist issue seems obvious once it’s held up for scrutiny, but moments before, that very issue may have been functionally “invisible” to a white majority more than 150 years removed from the Civil War.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has estimated that there are still over 1,747 Confederate symbols, including monuments, flags and other public symbols, as well as the names of schools, towns, counties, military bases, parks, roads and other public works. “Taking down these monuments will not cure the problem, but it’s at least an indication that weare ready to deal with the truth.” (Jeffrey Robinson, ACLU)
- Since Dylan Roof massacre in 2015 and the Unite the Right rally, over 114 monuments have been removed. 700 more to go.
- Over 30 schools have been renamed. J. E. B. Stuart High School, (after a Confederate general) renamed themselves “Justice High” following protests by students and alumni. About 110 more school names to go.
- In Tennessee, murals were removed from school walls that depicted a Confederate flag and their “Rebel’ mascot watching a boy in a blue outfit is being lynched on a tree.
- A Texas school removed a floor tile mosaic donated by the Class of 1968 and a granite sign in front of the school, as both incorporated the Confederate flag, part of the school’s original coat of arms. In addition, the district has dropped “Dixie” as the tune for the school fight song.
- A tile showing the Confederate Flag as part of a larger mural at a Hartford school was removed.
- Racist school mascots and nicknames are being retired. In 2016, the University of Mississippi marching band, called The Pride of the South, stopped playing Dixie.
- Over 1000 streets in the South have been named for Confederate figures, which are slowly being changed across the country.
- Confederate flags have been brought down in public spaces.
- Florida altered its state seals.
- Private businesses have been affected too. A golf course in Tennessee removed a reference to Bedford Forrest from its name. In 2017, Six Flags Over Texas theme park removed their Confederate Flag after flying it for 56 years.. In the 1990s the park renamed the “Confederacy” section the “Old South” section and removed all Confederate Battle Flags. NASCAR has banned the use of the Confederate flag!
- The”Dixie Stampede” is changing its name. For the 2018 season, the show will be known simply as Dolly Parton’s Stampede.
- In 2017, the Washington National Cathedral removed stained glass windows honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and earlier removed small Confederate flags in those same windows.
Some states have taken legislative measures to protect their Confederate monuments. These will last until the lawmakers who voted for them are removed.
“History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.” (Maya Angelou)
People are confused about the removal of these statues. Understandable.
“Slavery’s twin legacies to the present are the social and economic inferiority it conferred upon blacks and the cultural racism it instilled in whites. Both continue to haunt our society. Therefore, treating slavery’s enduring legacy is necessarily controversial. Unlike slavery, racism in not over yet.“ (James W. Loewen)
Not only has our collective education about these monuments been woefully incomplete, but also deliberately deceptive. “More Americans have learned the story of the South during the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction from Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” than from all of the learned volumes of this period. (Warren Beck & Myles Clowers)
We remember this…Embed from Getty Images
We weren’t taught this.
Embed from Getty Images
Two female protesters are shown holding signs marching for civil rights and protesting a play depicting ‘Gone With The Wind,’ March 9, 1940.
Embed from Getty Images
Anti Racist Protest Against The Movie Gone With The Wind At Chicago In Usa On January 1St 1940
Today’s history textbooks stick closely in spirit to the the 1925 American Legion recommendations for the ideal textbook which “must inspire the children with patriotism…must be careful to tell the truth optimistically…must dwell on failure only for its value as a moral lesson, must speak chiefly of success…must give each State and Section full space and value for the achievements of each.” (Public Opinion and the Teaching of History in the United States (p. 329-30) – 1926)
These imperatives create perfect conditions to slowly and painstakingly alter our perception of history, of truth itself, using cultural racism to its full advantage. First came the successful campaign to muddle the true cause of the war. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group dedicated “…to teaching the next generation “a proper respect for and pride in the glorious war history”, were very influential with textbook publishers, working to replace slavery with “states rights” as the main driver behind secession and presenting the Union and Confederate sympathizers as equally idealistic. In the textbook “The American Way”, “The North fought to hold the Union together while the Southern State fought for the preservation of their right and freedom to decide for themselves.”
By the 1920’s, a Union veterans’ organization complained that American history textbooks were presenting the Civil War with “no suggestion” that the Union cause was right.
Then came sanitizing slavery itself…
“In 1959 my high school textbook presented slavery as not such a bad thing. If bondage was a burden for African Americans, well, slaves were a burden on Ole Massa and Ole Mis, too. Beside, slaves were reasonably happy and well fed. Such argument contitute the “magnolia myth” according to which slavery was a social structure of harmony and grace that did no real harm to anyone, white or black. A famous 1950’s textbook by Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commage actually said, “As for (the black person), whose wrongs moved the abolitionists to wrath and tears, there is some reason to believe that he suffered less than any other class in the South from its “peculiar institution”.” (James W. Loewen “Lies My Teacher Told Me”)
But won’t taking monuments down remove an opportunity to learn about our history?
So how much actual history can be gleaned from these pieces of bronze and granite? Let’s start in Wisconsin, because there’s actually a Confederate monument there. (Not for long though…) One obvious historical lesson…those ladies from the United Daughters of the Confederacy were pretty ballsy. In a state that provided 91,000 soldiers to the Union army, of which 12,000 died, the plaque’s inscription honors the 140 Confederate soldiers who died in Camp Randall as “unsung heroes“.
(Monument to Confederate soldiers in Wisconsin.)
More importantly than eulogizing fallen soldiers, can someone learn the true motivations behind the Civil War from these monuments?
Let’s look at the statue and attached inscriptions honoring Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, the man who gave us the infamous “Cornerstone” speech”. (full text)
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth…”
There’s no mention of his most famous speech, nor analysis of its enduring gift to racism. We are instead left to wonder as to the limits of his “unwearying charity”.
Some other very important information was left off the engravings and plaques… when and why these monuments were installed in the first place.
“Confederate statues were built in waves that corresponded to the creation of the “Solid South” and backlashes against black political power. The Nash County monument was part of the beginning of the second wave, built two years after the rise of the Second Ku Klux Klan and during a period of intensifying race riots and lynchings nationwide.
(Check out larger scale graphic here directly from the Southern Poverty Law Center)
As Jim Crow sub-citizens, black folks could not vote to stop the onslaught of the granite memorials, and they faced cross-burnings and lynchings for daring to speak out against the projects.” (atlantic)
California is NOT excused.
We have work to do in CA too. (Full list of monuments here.)
- Confederate Corners: Established 1868, it was formerly known as Springtown. Renamed after a group of Southerners who settled there in the late 1860s, its name was changed back to “Springtown” in 2018.
- Private land memorials are a different matter legally and were not included on SPLC’s list. However, the Confederate Monument, Hollywood Forever Cemetery was covered with a tarp and whisked away in the middle of the night after activists called for its removal and spray-painted the word ‘No’ on its back,” in August of 2017.
- The Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Long Beach was renamed Olivia Herrera Elementary School on August 1, 2016. The Robert E. Lee Elementary School in San Diego was renamed Pacific View Leadership Elementary School on May 22, 2016.
- Markers of the Jefferson Davis Highway, installed in Horton Plaza in 1926, had been relocatedd to the western sidewalk of the plaza following a 2016 renovation. Following the Unite the Right rally in Virginia, the San Diego City Council removed the plaque on August 16, 2017.
- San Lorenzo High School, whose nickname until 2017 was the “Rebels” as a tribute to the Confederate soldier was retired its mascot “The Rebel Guy” in 2016.
Update on Schools – “The lies they’re telling are a little smaller than the lies they used to tell.
Our school texts are becoming more accurate as to the true cause of the war, and the living conditions of slaves, and more effective than any monuments in conveying the history of the south and of the nation at large, from the pre-war era, through the Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, astoundingly racist Supreme Court decisions and the repeated horrific abuses of black Americans. Film and TV depictions, such as “Roots”, have helped to erase some of the “contented slave” fiction of earlier texts. Still, textbooks tend to accentuate the positives, focusing on heroes like Harriet Tubman and politics and economics, which prioritize white history. Slavery is still often described as a “Southern problem’, not as a business model that helped enrich the North. White supremacy is still hard for white teachers to teach and for white students to accept.
“Saying that the deadliest conflict in American history was fought over an effort to keep people enslaved conflicts with students’ sense of the grandness of America, the grandness of American history and, therefore, the grandness of themselves as Americans,” says Ibram X. Kendi.
- How to teach the Civil War in the Deep South (atlantic)
- Getting the Civil War Right (tolerance.org)
- Why schools fail to teach Slavery’s Hard History (npr)
- Teaching kids how battles about race from 150 years ago mirrors today’s conflicts (hechingerreport)
- It’s time to stop pretending that these statues are benign history lessons.
- It’s time to stop dismissing the significance of their positions high up on pedestals, the treatment reserved for true heroes.
(A statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, unveiled in 1907, stands in the middle of Monument Avenue August 23, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia.)
- It’s time to stop brushing aside the objections of people who’ve seen these statues appear in concert with waves of brutal physical and economic oppression.
- It’s time to wake up and open our eyes.
- So here’s a real history lesson. One that many of us were lucky enough to miss as kids. One that our parents and our grandparents might have missed also. Or even might have contributed a portion of misery to.
- If you haven’t seen this video, it is the most powerful lesson we’ve ever seen about why these statues need to be removed.
Readings about the Statues/ Related issues:
- Whose Heritage – Public Symbols of the Confederacy (SPLC)
- “Lies My Teacher Told Me – Everything your American History textbook got wrong” by James W. Loewen
- How New York City became the capital of the Jim Crow North
- Watch: Was the Civil War about Slavery? (pragerU)
- Racial injustice is not a regional sickness. It’s a national cancer. (wapo)
- Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (splc)
- 19 Racist US Supreme Court Rulings
- Charlottesville Syllabus (White Supremacy History Syllabus)
- Confederate Statues and “Our” History. “Confederate statues do not simply commemorate “our” history, as the president declared. They honor one part of our past.”(NYTimes)
- An open letter from the great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson. (slate)
- Actually, Robert E. Lee was against erecting Confederate memorials (CNN)
- Robert E. Lee’s Descendant On Confederate Statues (npr)
- Growing up in the shadow of the Confederacy (atlantic)
- Lynching in America (eji.org)
- Fighting white supremacy means owning up to American history (thenation)
- Historical amnesia about slavery is a tool of white supremacy. (thenation)
- In some states, it’s illegal to take down monuments or change street names honoring the Confederacy (LAtimes)
- Lee’s Reputation can’t be redeemed (atlantic)
- Heritage: Robert E. Lee and the Persistence of Racism (LAProgressive)
- Of Historical Statues and Monuments. “For a better future, I’d like to see fewer statues to military men and sports heroes and the like, and more to visionaries who sought a better way for us as a people.” (LAProgressive)
- Confederate statues removed across southern US states – in pictures. (guardian)
- How you can identify a white nationalist (huffpost)
- My fellow white Americans (Iambegging)
- I am begging my mother not to read this (Iambegging)
- How America spreads the disease that is racism by not confronting racist family member and friends (medium)
- Adopt-a-Nazi (not really) for the SPLC (gofundme)