The Gwinnett County, GA Board of Commissioners moved a Confederate Monument into storage in February. And I applaud them. That was a perfect way to commemorate Black History Month. But why haven’t more cities and counties around the South followed their lead?
There are still over 1,000 streets in the USA named for Confederate icons. And there are many more statues and busts on the steps of Southern courthouses. Some readers may think, “Why can’t we just leave them up?” The answer is more complicated than just political correctness.
I’ve lived in the South most of my life. My wife, three children and eight grandchildren are all native Southerners, descended from Confederate soldiers. There are many positive aspects of Southern culture and heritage that should be celebrated by them. For example, Southerners (black or white) are the friendliest, warmest people in the nation.
However, the glorification of the South’s role in the Civil War (still known to some white Southerners as the “War between the States” or the “War of Yankee Aggression”) is not one of those positive attributes. We should not have public memorials or name streets for traitors to the USA, responsible for hundreds of thousands of dead in an immoral secessionist war. The Civil War should never have been started by the leaders of Southern states, including these very generals and politicians memorialized in these statues.
I can hear the white nationalist objections coming hard and fast: “We’re proud of the South,” “It’s our heritage,” “You can’t forget history.” Turning the very real debate on white supremacy into a debate about Southern heritage is exactly what these racists want.
No, you cannot forget the past, but it must be remembered accurately. Confederate leaders attempting to destroy the United States of America in the name of perpetuating slavery is clearly not a part of Southern heritage of which we, white or black, should be proud.
Further, monuments to Confederate war heroes that were placed on the steps of the county courthouse by people wanting to undo the results of the Civil War send the wrong message. These memorials and streets are a constant reminder to African American citizens that white Southerners are proud of the institution of slavery, the true cause of the Civil War as clearly stated in many of the official secessionist documents issued by Southern legislatures (for example, see South Carolina).
However, the most important issue is not the monuments. That is just what the KKK and Nazis want us to argue about. Slavery and white supremacy were, and still are, 100 percent inexcusable evils and this fact needs to be openly acknowledged without reservation.
Also, we must all realize that the USA did an extremely poor job of bringing former slaves into American society; Reconstruction was a dismal failure due to politics, including push back by the Southern states. That lack of proper integration is the cause of the problems in current day African American society, from crime to education to jobs. The Civil Rights Act in the 1960s did not make up for a longstanding legacy of persecution and neglect that continues today.
It is past time to remove these monuments, if for no other reason than to let our neighbors of all races know that we understand why the Civil War was fought. And that the Civil War is not something that we, as 21st Century enlightened Southerners, wish to celebrate. A few years back, Atlanta’s African American mayor, Keisha Bottoms, stated, “The imagery and symbolism of these [Confederate street] names and monuments represent systematic injustice, persecution and cruelty. That is not who we are as a city.” She is 100 percent correct. That’s also not who we are as a state and nation.
At long last, after 250 years isn’t it finally time to truly bring the American people together? All Americans of goodwill must condemn white supremacy, period. We must also condemn those saying that there is an alt-right and an alt-left and that they are both wrong, as Trump did in Charlottesville. There is still racism and bigotry. We Southerners must declare that those who defend them are morally wrong.