Tag Archives: Confederate Statues

Two Opposite Views on Confederate Monuments

(August 4, 2017) The current issue of Civil War Times contains an article in which a number of authors state their opinions about the future of Confederate monuments. Provided below are two contrasting examples.

First is the summation provided by Megan Kate Nelson who writes the regular “Stereoscope” column for Civil War Monitor.

I [Megan Kate Kelly] would like to propose that Confederate memorials should neither be retained nor removed: They should be destroyed, and their broken pieces left in situ.

On a scheduled day, a city government or university administration would invite citizens to approach a Confederate memorial, take up a cudgel, and swing away. The ruination of the memorial would be a group effort, a way for an entire community to convert a symbol of racism and white supremacy into a symbol of resistance against oppression.

Historians could put up a plaque next to the fragments, explaining the memorial’s history, from its dedication day to the moment of its obliteration. A series of photographs or a YouTube video could record the process of destruction. These textual explanations may be unnecessary, however. Ruins tend to convey their messages eloquently in and of themselves. In this case, the ruins of Confederate memorials in cities across the nation would suggest that while white supre-macists have often made claims to power in American history, those who oppose them can, and will, fight back.

Second is Robert K. Krick who is  Civil War historian whose interest is concentrated in the Eastern Theater.

We live in an age riven by shrill and intemperate voices, from all perspectives and on most topics. No sane person today would embrace, endorse, or tolerate slavery.

A casual observer, readily able to convince himself that he would have behaved similarly in the 1860s, can vault to high moral ground with the greatest of ease. Doing that gratifies the powerful self-righteous strain that runs through all of us, for better or worse. In fact, it leaps far ahead of the Federal politicians (Lincoln among them) who said emphatically that slavery was not the issue, and millions of Northern soldiers who fought, bled, and died in windrows to save the Union—but were noisily offended by mid-war emancipation.

It is impossible to imagine a United States in the current atmosphere that does not include zealots eager to obliterate any culture not precisely their own, destroying monuments in the fashion of Soviets after a purge, and antiquities in the manner of ISIS…On the other hand, a generous proportion of the country now, and always, eschews extremism, and embraces tolerance of others’ cultures and inheritances and beliefs. Such folk will be society’s salvation.

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What Confederate Statue Critics Don’t Know

(July 30, 2017) In 1958 a nearly forgotten thirty-four year old Texas author named William Humphrey debuted his first novel, Home From the Hill, to widespread praise. Legendary director Vincente Minnelli released a film version only two years later. Both the book and the movie are highly rated by Amazon customers. The novel begins as follows:

Early one morning last September the men squatting on the Northeast corner of the town square looked up from their whittling to see…under the shadow of the Confederate monument, a dirty long black hearse with a Dallas County license plate.

Confederate Solider Statue: Clarksville, Texas

Thus, the curious reader is prompted to continue in order to learn the identity of the deceased who was returning from a distant big city to a place where the memory of the Confederate soldier remained central to the culture. In a later novel Humphrey wrote: 

If the Civil War is more alive to the Southerner than the Northerner it is because all of the past is, and this is so because the Southerner has a sense of having been present there himself in the person of one or more of his ancestors. The war filled merely a chapter in his…[family history]…transmitted orally from father to son [as] the proverbs, prophecies, legends, laws, traditions-of-origin and tales-of-wanderings of his own tribe….It is this feeling of identity with the dead (who are past) which characterizes and explains the Southerner.

It is with kin, not causes, that the Southerner is linked. Confederate Great-grandfather…is not remembered for his (probably undistinguished) part in the Battle of Bull Run; rather Bull Run is remembered because Great-grandfather was there. For the Southerner the Civil War is in the family.

Clannishness was, and is, the key to his temperament, and he went off to war to protect not Alabama but only those thirty or forty acres of its sandy hillside, or stiff red clay, which he broke his back tilling and which was as big a country as his mind could hold.

About twenty years after the war a foppish stranger stepped off the Dallas-bound train when it stopped at Clarksville. Even though he spoke English none of the whittlers at the station could understand him, which they later learned was due to his Italian accent. But eventually the stranger—who identified himself as a professor—was granted an audience with the aldermen during which he explained that he could build a marble monument to the Confederate infantryman for $5,000. For $25,000 he could erect one depicting a mounted cavalryman, or officer.

The town chose the $5,000 option. After the professor labored creatively and submitted a finished design the aldermen gave him a $2,500 deposit. A year later he returned with the sculpted components and erected the statue. The unveiling was a celebration that attracted nearly everyone in town, white and black.

A good many years elapsed before anyone from Clarksville traveled far along the railroad from whence the sculptor arrived. But when one resident eventually travelled to Georgia he noticed that there was “hardly a town of monument-aspiration size along the railway line all the way to Atlanta without a copy of our soldier.”

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Tampa’s Confederate Soldier Statue

(June 21, 2107) Like many Southern towns, Tampa contemplates removing its solitary  Confederate statue. As a tangible historical representation of the popular sentiment in the area when it was erected in 1911, however,  it should remain. Later memorials can similarly show—tangibly—how sentiments changed.

Few present critics realize Florida’s extraordinary commitment to the Confederacy. It was the only state that provided more soldiers than were registered to vote at the start of the Civil War. There can be no wonder that the surviving family members wanted to honor the loved and lost. It would have been unnatural if they had not. Modern critics also fail to realize that the survivors endured forty-five years of post Civil War poverty before they were even able to save enough money to afford a statue, despite the fact that Northern statues permeated the battlefield parks, beginning decades earlier.

Instead of removing the 1911 monument it is better to authorize new memorials honoring later historical figures that championed reformations reflecting the attitudes of their own times. One Tampa example is the renaming of fourteen-mile long Buffalo Avenue for Martin Luther King.

In fact, Florida seems to have done more to memorialize King than have many Northern states. Our state has 19 MLK streets distributed among its cities whereas Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island have none, while Iowa and Minnesota have one, Connecticut two, Massachusetts two, and Pennsylvania three.

Moreover, all the former Confederate states generally have far more streets honoring King than similarly sized Northern states. North Carolina and New Jersey, for example, have comparable populations but the Southern state has twenty-nine MLK streets whereas the Northern one has only eight. Similarly, even though Ohio has four times the population of Mississippi, the Buckeye State has only eight MLK streets whereas the state with the Confederate banner in its flag has sixteen.

When using MLK street memorials as a yardstick it seems that the Northern states are the ones with a racial sensitivity deficit.

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Confederate Monument Problem

(December 14, 2016) According to The Washington Post Confederate monuments are a “problem” that needs to be fixed. Nonetheless, destroying Confederate monuments—or “reinterpreting” them with qualifying remarks cast in bronze—under the gun of political correctness is a bad idea for three reasons.

First, the history of the South’s evolving society is more apparent by adding new shrines to honor more recent heroes than by destroying or reinterpreting old ones. Moreover, the region has independently demonstrated an inclination to do so without any moral instruction from The Washington Post. 

There are, for example, memorials to Martin Luther King in Atlanta, Memphis, Montgomery, and Austin, among other Southern places. Statues to the nine black teenagers who integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957 were erected on the grounds of the state capitol on the fiftieth anniversary in 2007. Yet the same grounds include two Confederate statues put up in 1905 and 1913, respectively: One for the ordinary Rebel soldier and one honoring the women of the Confederacy.

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Second, as Alexander Dumas put it, “The difference between patriotism and treason is a matter of dates.” Similarly, qualifications for political correctness fluctuate. Consider, for example, the possibility that future feminists might demand that monuments to Martin Luther King be destroyed because he was unfaithful to his wife. Consider also that a future hypothetical misogynistic society might demand that Arkansas remove the statue to Confederate women, which it erected without any edification from the Gloria Steinem brigade.

Third, condemning Confederate monuments because of the atavistic racial feelings of the era among the people they represent begs the question of whether the policy should also apply to Yankee statues. Consider the Lincoln Memorial. A couple of months before he announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 Lincoln met at the White House with African-American leaders and urged that blacks leave the country. He even arranged congressional funding for their emigration.

Addressing his guests Lincoln said: “You and we are of different races. We have existing between us broader differences than exist between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”

Adding new monuments to more recent heroes while keeping the old ones in place provides a tangible record of how society evolved.

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Should Hendricks Statue be Destroyed?

Pictured below is a statue in downtown Indianapolis of Thomas H. Hendricks who was Vice President of the United States under Grover Cleveland, running mate for Samuel Tilden in the controversial presidential election of 1876, and a prominent Indiana senator and congressman  during the Civil War and Reconstruction eras.

Hencricks

Nonetheless, despite his accomplishments he held racist views. For example, as minority leader in the U. S. Senate after the Civil War he said of African-Americans:

I say we are not of the same race; we are so different that we ought not to compose one political community…I say…this is a white man’s Government, made by the white man for the white man…I am not in favor of giving the colored man a vote, because I think we should remain a political community of white people. I do not think it is for the good of either race that we should attempt to make a Government a mixed Government of white and black…I am not in favor of attempting to mix these races. I want to see the white race kept a white race and the power in this country without mixture and without attempt at mixture.

Confederate Monuments

Few, if any, leading historians voice unqualified objection to the destruction of Confederate monuments. The most tolerant among them instead suggest that the memorials should remain, but with new explanatory inscriptions offering “context”—a code word that simplifies to: South=Bad, North=Good.

Consider, for example, the contextual marker that might be added to Liberty Hall, former home of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. No doubt it would emphasize the racist remarks in his Cornerstone Speech. But I’d wager $100 against a good Cuban cigar that it would ignore his address to the Georgia legislature after the war when he urged the body to adopt laws to protect African-Americans “so that they may stand equal before the law” partly because “we owe [them] a debt of gratitude…”

More significantly, adding additional perspective to Rebel memorials begs the question of whether the policy should also apply to Yankee monuments. Consider the Lincoln Memorial. A couple of months before he announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 Lincoln met at the White House with African-American leaders and urged that blacks leave the country. He arranged congressional funding for their emigration.

DRC_ConfederateMonument_2

Addressing his guests Lincoln said: “You and we are of different races. We have existing between us broader differences than exist between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”

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My Civil War Books

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated

To be released next month and available for pre-order: The Confederacy at Flood Tide

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Four years earlier when campaigning to replace Stephen A. Douglas as a U. S. Senator from Illinois, Lincoln explained:

I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Although sometimes labeled the Great Emancipator, Lincoln’s famous proclamation was more controversial than commonly supposed. Contrary to popular belief, many contemporaries were confused, critical, and frightened by its implications. Major General George McClellan, among others, believed it was a deliberate attempt to incite a slave rebellion in the South in order to end the war by forcing Confederate soldiers to return home. Such an interpretation could be inferred from its statement that “the military…authority…will do no act…to repress such persons [slaves]…in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom.” The British especially feared that the proposal would set an example to ignite genocidal race wars throughout the Western Hemisphere and thereby decimate Atlantic trade.

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