Editorials

Do we dare display the whole Civil War story?

The backlash has set in after Charlottesville as a new wave of cities have taken down Confederate monuments.

We’re hearing the usual arguments, from President Trump among others: the statues are “heritage’” they remind us of the courage and honor of Southern fighting men; you can’t change history by pulling down a monument down, etc.

True enough. We revere heritage as much as the next person. Perhaps, though, there’s not enough Civil War heritage in our region. The Confederate statues tell only part of the story. Along with the noble warriors of the Glorious Lost Cause, how about some statues that show us what they were fighting for?

A nice re-creation of a plantation overseer whipping a slave? A touching tableau of an African-American toddler being ripped from his mother’s arms to be sold? Surely we can muster a re-creation of a slave auction.

Let’s face it: The Civil War was about Southerners keeping their slaves.

In a speech on March 21, 1861, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said this about the government Southern states had formed: “Our new government is founded upon … the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

The problem is, of course, the same heritage looks different to different people. Some Southern white folks see Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, glorious battles and honorable leaders.

African Americans see the chain, the lash, the branding iron, the noose, the rapes.

Telling part of a story without telling the other half is a lie. The problem is, down South, we’ve been telling just part of the story for way too long.

It’s telling when these monuments were put up. The statue of George Davis, the Confederate attorney general, at Third and Market streets, was erected around 1910. A decade before, the N.C. General Assembly had effectively ended black voting.

The Confederate Memorial, at Third and Dock streets, was erected in 1924, the year a resurgent Ku Klux Klan gained a membership of millions.

Make no mistake – such monuments are not relics of a war that was fought decades before they were erected.

Until we can agree on our common story, it’s hard to see how we can come together. Simply suppressing part of the story won’t work.

What can? That ought to be our next big conversation.

  Comments