As a right-wing Yankee living in a left-wing town in an otherwise Deep South, ultra-conservative state, I tend to wind up on EVERYBODY’s bad side, when I offer opinions on subject like this. But that never stopped me before so…
Here in the South, it seems as if EVERY state has A Jefferson Davis (or “Jeff Davis”) county, EVERY town has a Robert E. Lee High School, and EVERY other high school’s football team is called “the Rebels,” which means the band invariably plays “Dixie” and the students wave the Stars and Bars after every touchdown.
This has always baffled me! For Pete’s sake, I’m from the North… we WON the Civil War, remember? We WON! And yet, there’s no William Tecumseh Sherman County in New York or Massachusetts! We don’t have hundreds of “Ulysses S. Grant High Schools” in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. We don’t have any colleges that play the Battle Hymn of the Republic after a field goal. WE WON, but you don’t see us putting up George Meade statues all over the place, or writing songs like “The North’s Gonna Do It Again”!
Whatever faults we Yankees have, at least we know that the Civil War was a tragedy, and we prefer not to glorify it or trivialize it.
Now, were the Confederates the moral equivalent of the Nazis? Of course not. I can think of dozens of crucial differences. But let’s face facts: the differences must seem MIGHTY slim to the black men and women who were slaves. In the same way, England’s oppression of my Irish ancestors was NOWHERE near as bad as Hitler’s oppression of the Jews, but that doesn’t mean a lot of Irishmen can’t or shouldn’t hate the Union Jack.
Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were NOT Hitler or Stalin, but what they represent is STILL pretty repulsive to black Americans, and you CAN’T tell me with a straight face that you don’t understand why! What’s more, many (probably most) SOutherners who fly the Stars and Bars KNOW how hurtful that is to blacks, and that’s precisely WHY they do it!
Georgia and Mississippi didn’t fly the Stars and Bars continuously since 1861- they ADDED the Stars and BArs to their state flags relatively recently, for NO OTHER REASON than to tick off black citizens, and (in effect) flip the bird to dadgum liberal Yankees. Thus, the argument that the Stars and Bars just represent “tradition” holds no water at all.
Now, is it EVER appropriate to put up statues of slaveowners? Of course, when the slaveowners are worthy of honor for their accomplishments in other areas. When we erect a statue of Washington or Jefferson (slaveowners both), we are NOT honoring them for owning slaves, but for their accomplishments as American patriots and FOunding Fathers.
Is it ever appropriate to honor Confederate icons? Sure, sometimes. Robert E. Lee was the President of Washington and Lee University, so it makes PERFECT sense that there’d be statues/paintings of General Lee on campus, and buildings named after him. Or, hypothetically, if Jeffeerson Davis founded a school or hospital in Mississippi, it would be perfectly appropriate that the institution remain named after its founder. But… her in Austin TX, there’s a statue of Jefferson Davis on campus. WHY??? Mr. Davis did NOTHING for Texas or the University. To keep that statue up offends black students and employees, and for WHAT? To honor a man with NO connection to the state or the school.
I see no justification for that at all.
To offer an analogy, the swastika was NOT an anti-semitic emblem before the rise of Hitler. Indeed, MANY Greek Orthodox churches, and a few Catholic churches, used that symbol for centuries before Hitler was born. Well… even though those CHurches didn’t MEAN to offend Jews by putting up those symbols, the fact is, the swastika now IS a hateful symbol. So… if I were pastor of a church with such a symbol, I’d take it down IMMEDIATELY. Never mind that it wasn’t intended to be offensive! It IS offensive, and I know it. I’d have to be a heartless sadist not to see that, and to remove the symbol at once.
Failure to remove Confederate icons is equally indefensible.