Statues, Memory, And Soil

I’ve been reading lately about the heated atmosphere surrounding the removal of statues of Confederate figures in New Orleans. I know those statues and have often used them to give directions to people attempting to get to various places in the French Quarter.  I’ve followed the story of their plight with some interest, as I am from the South and this IS a particularly and peculiarly Southern problem.  The South is dotted with statues, obelisks, plaques, and other monuments to the glorious heroes and fighters of the Lost Cause. Now, mind you, when you grow up in the South, as a young child it can be a LONG TIME before anyone ever tells you THAT THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO LOST THE WAR! I had extraordinary parents who did do and at an early age. I reasonably asked,”Then why are there statues of them everywhere?” My father sighed and replied, “This is the South; that is a difficult question; you’re much too young for hard liquor.”

Personal history aside, I’ve heard the arguments that we should leave these things up for the sake of history and as some sort of teaching instuments. I find those argument totally and completely spurious. For the sake of history? Like the entire South is going to have a complete bout of amnesia, should the monuments get taken down? The battles of the Civil War and the struggles upon which it was based-that of slavery and man’s oh-so-human urge to trample wholesale on the rights of others based on skincolor-are soaked into the very soil of the Southern states. Southerners, whether there by birth or geographical accident and whatever their race-are confronted with the legacy of the slavery every day, like it or not. I hardly think that the absence of some statues will make us forget. Not when we’ve got neighbors who persist in flying the Confederate flag from their pick-up truck or porch. Not when we’ve got the legacy of Jim Crow lingering in our voting districts, our laws and our attitudes. Not when when we’ve got a resurgence of white supremacists looking back fondly to a society that exists only in fiction and calling it the South. I’m not sorry to see the statues et al. coming down.  As for the “Never forget!” contingent, some of us are busy trying to build a new society, not hark back to the Old Dixie that lives mainly in your beer cans and fevered imagination.

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3 thoughts on “Statues, Memory, And Soil

  1. Wow! You nailed it on so many levels!

    I’m a Southerner too and I’ve written about my recent research into my family’s roots in Washington County, Virginia. Fortunately, I started with a direct line back to my 4th and 5th great grandfathers who both had military service during the American Revolution (my wife’s family were Loyalist, but that’s another story!). I feel great pride that my forefathers took part in establishing the United States.

    BUT – as I started to pull the threads and look at these men and their children, I inevitably began to discover that they were slave owners. My pride instantly turned to shame when I read a will leaving a piece of property “Sally, and her issue” to his wife and children after he died.

    Then, as I looked at more recent generations, of course I discovered quite a few proud men from Washington County that served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. What to do with that? It happened, they believed (or more likely their fathers) so strongly in their way of life that they went to war! In one situation, two brothers from my Garrett ancestors (they lived near Damascus) were killed in the same battle.

    So, when I look at the Confederate Soldier statue at the Courthouse in Abingdon, it reminds me of a painful time. When brothers died, right or wrong, for something they (or at their fathers) believed was a battle worth fighting. I feel great sadness.

    I looked at the news about Mitch Landrieu and the City of New Orleans removing Confederate statues and I was SO GLAD! I listened to the arguments and I believe it’s the right thing to do!

    BUT, if anybody wants to take down the Confederate Statue in Abingdon? I might be pretty upset – I know it doesn’t make any sense, but there you have it. My wife and I both went to school in Richmond (at one point the Capital of the Confederacy). I would be pretty upset at the thought of removing Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee’s statues from Monument Avenue! I know – I know . . .

    So my neighbor here in Meadowview flies a HUGE Confederate Flag at his annual July 4th cookout. It is offensive to me because I think it represents a modern excuse to display a racist symbol. BUT, my neighbor is one of the best neighbors you could ask for. He’s a decent person, always willing to help me start the tractor when it won’t. He has used his truck to pull my mower out of a ditch and scraped snow from my driveway after a snow storm. Do I know for sure he’s a racist? – no I don’t. Do I hate him? – no I don’t. Do I like his flag? – no I REALLY don’t.

    I guess my rambling thoughts take me to the conclusion that these symbols are just that: symbols. These Confederate monuments can represent a time of cruel, inhuman treatment of precious people at a time when slavery was tolerated. They can also represent a time of bravery when men and women were willing to die for their way of life (right or wrong).

    What we need to examine is our hearts TODAY – what kind of American do we want in 2017. And you are so right: We’ve got a lot of work to do. We need to be working together to build a new society. If these symbols are just excuses for open racism, take them down. For me, I look at the Confederate Soldier in Abingdon with great sadness. But I do not want it removed. I wish for a time when we look at that Soldier and ALL of us vow, never again.

    I really enjoy your writing – thanks for giving me a space to share my thoughts too!

    MH

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    1. I’m happy I can provide such a space and that my writing promotes such a platform. That means I’m doing the job for which I set my sights!
      Re the Confederate statue in Abingdon: I passed by it yesterday. I found myself wondering when the inevitable conflict would reach our little town. When it does, I will asuredly write about it-and be marching with those who wish to see the statue removed, should there be such a march!

      Liked by 1 person

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