Because he was my grandfather and he didn’t own any slaves. He fought because that’s what seventeen year olds who could get away with it did – and he wanted to be with his brothers. And because he watched as other soldiers lived on the undigested kernels of corn they could find in horseshit.
I can do it because he was placed in a prison camp much worse than Andersonville. But most people never heard of it because the South lost the war. Where that camp once stood is the largest mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.
I can pay homage to him because he admitted that it would never have done for the South to have won the war.
When he was sixty-one, his wife gave birth to their last child, a boy. He was the youngest of seventeen in a blended family. That child never forgot what it was like to be hungry or go without. And it frightened him to hear his father and uncles talk about the war so he would hide from them – especially crazy Uncle John who went wild and rode with Jesse James and cried when he was an old man and said he had seen too much blood.
But what that child learned from his father shaped forever how he felt about injustice and cruelty and smugness. When he opened his own business – a grocery, feed and seed store – on the streets on the town in the 1930’s, he did his best to see that all people that came to his store were treated decently.
There were a lot of people in that town that did not go hungry because of him. And he helped them to buy their own property too. And much of this even his wife didn’t know until other people told her when they were both old.
When the Civil Rights tensions of the 1950’s and 1960’s became an issue in the South, this man, my father, had already been working for the rights of Blacks for twenty years. He took a stand against the very church that his father and grandmother had helped to found. As an elder, he spoke out against its racism. For a small town business man, that was a big risk.
It wasn’t until 1976 that he took me to show me where my grandfather was buried. There was no marker. They had all been too poor when he died. But because I asked
him to, he did have a stone laid for him. It is was the custom in earlier times to indicate which men were Confederate soldiers. On my grandfather’s stone it just says his name and, “Soldier of the Civil War.”
Because of my father and grandfather, I became a teacher in 1969 and asked to be assigned only to integrated schools. I spent all twenty years in the inner city and I’ve never stopped missing my students or the chance to make a difference.
I no longer find the Confederate flag beautiful as I did when I was in elementary school. Some people are able to disassociate it from the element of slavery, but I am not. If they see it only as a symbol of the incredibly good things that exist and have existed in the South for centuries, then that is their right.
That we were an historical enemy to the union (sic) is the least of my concerns.
Now you have heard just a tiny part of the reason that I can call myself an American and pay homage to the South.
I’m glad you asked.
What have you done lately to promote those still disadvantaged by having had their cultural heritages torn away by slavery?
Why do some Northerners pretend that the North had no slaves or racial prejudices? Are you like that?