The recent uproar regarding Confederate Monuments resulting from the ugly display in Charlottesville, VA is long overdue. I am an ardent fan of studying history and have always been astounded that a traitorous uprising is so broadly celebrated in so many places. The facts are so simple and yet an entire segment of our population has been swayed by a re-branding and keep themselves willfully blind from the truth.
As our continent was colonized by white Europeans there were not enough workers willing to do the hard labor in unsettled lands. Newly established trade routes permitted easy enslavement of Africans and an insidious philosophy of racial superiority transformed the practice into policy. As subsistence farming gave way to larger plantations and cotton became a labor intensive money crop the only way to sustain that economy was through the forced labor of slavery. Yes, slavery had been around a very long time in many other cultures but usually based on defeated peoples, for a limited period and not focused on a single “race” of people. White supremacy is the original sin of our nation.
After gaining independence we began expanding across the continent. Already at the creation of the Constitution we struggled with the concept of slavery as part of the system, retaining it in some states as we grew. As industrialization and free labor slowly ascended and enlightenment steadily spread (ask me later about my John Locke theory) many parts of the nation eliminated slavery. The country was split by the system of retaining human beings in bondage and servitude, required in most southern states and outlawed in most northern states. Our state/federal system could not survive such a split, and it grew more rancorous. Abolitionists knew they could not immediately eliminate southern slavery and so worked to limit its spread as new states were added. Southern politicians enjoyed an advantage by counting 3/5 of each slave as people they represented but holding the power. They saw their clout slipping away in the 1850’s and secession was their last ditch effort to hold onto their peculiar institution. Though that goal was clearly stated in documents of the time it was later whitewashed after they lost.
When the Confederate States of America was defeated, a strict Reconstruction regime was installed by the victors. Ironically it would have been less restrictive had Lincoln survived. Just over a decade of Reconstruction was not enough to fully reverse centuries of oppression of the slaveholders and power base in the south. The contested election of 1876 was resolved with an agreement to end Reconstruction and why we know of President Hayes and not President Tilden. It was in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when the contested monuments were raised (often with private money of the southern white power base on public land newly controlled by that same resurgent white power base).
These monuments hailed traitors and were clearly meant to intimidate African-Americans newly controlled by Jim Crow laws in place of direct slavery. It showed who was in charge. It has always rankled me that these monuments existed. During the last decade I have been fortunate to have two of my full length plays receive readings and one a full production in Greenville, South Carolina. When I visited I made sure to stop by the Museum and Library of the Confederacy found in that city. It openly glorifies the CSA and demeans Lincoln and his administration and exists to this day. It is explicitly but quietly racist and I am astounded it can survive in today’s America. I do not advocate having the government shut it down but am dismayed that it receives funding from locals to stay open. It is a totem of the “Lost Cause” fallacy that captivates so many southern citizens. White citizens anyway.
Take them down. Long past due. End the charade.
Sorry for the length of this post, I promised to keep them short. But this topic needs to be discussed and cannot be encompassed in a few paragraphs.
TOMORROW: A very special birthday