Thursday, April 8, 2010

The South Shall Rise Again (Or At Least Erect)

Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, breaking from the precedent set by the previous two governors, has brought back Confederate History Month in the state. He also managed to omit the word 'slavery' from all traces of the proclamation, for which he caught so much heat that he ended up apologizing.

Despite the apology, you would be mistaken if you're inclined to think this kind of thing stopped with McDonnell. Whitewashing the Civil War and race relations, or even glorifying the Confederate side, is a problem throughout the South.

Nathan Bedford Forrest has 32 historical sites dedicated to him in Tennessee, more than any other American in a single state. Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is most famous for his command at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, during the Civil War. According to 'Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong' by James W. Loewen, which speaks extensively on our topic today, the Union surrendered, but Forrest was not inclined to offer quarter. Or at least, he was not inclined to offer quarter to the black Union soldiers. 64% of black Union soldiers died compared to 33% of the whites. Some black soldiers attempted to get on their knees to the Confederates, but they were ordered back to their feet, then shot. Acording to a later Congressional inquiry, some soldiers were buried alive, and others were crucified and burned on tent frames.

In Louisiana, there is a statue called, alternately, 'Uncle Jack' and 'The Good Darky'. It depicts a disheveled black man with poor posture, tipping his hat in content subservience. Originally standing in Natchitoches, and reading "Erected by the city of Natchitoches in grateful recognition of the arduous and faithful services of the good darkies of Louisiana," has been since moved to Baton Rouge's Rural Life Museum, and has since seen the inscription covered up, but that only leaves the statue with no context at all.

And then there's Stone Mountain, Georgia, which sees three people carved into the mountain: Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee, a project undertaken by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (who are responsible for a large quantity of historical monuments glorifying the Confederacy, though this one proved beyond their financial means), and has over the years been used repeatedly for KKK rallies. One incarnation of the Klan was in fact founded at Stone Mountain. For everyone else, it's a nice picnic area. With fireworks.

These are only three examples, but similar occurrences can be found throughout the South; monuments that seek to deny racial injustices or atrocities, or even glorify them.

They should be monuments of apology. Or maybe, not even monuments at all.

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