Yes, tributes to Confederate soldiers are coming down all around the southern states. The “erasing our history” argument is pretty well worn at this point and it’s getting old. It also doesn’t hold water. I keep hearing that advocates of this kind of change are trying to re-write and erase history. The purpose of erecting a statue of someone or naming a building for a person is to honor them. These things are done in tribute.
I’ve never learned much by looking at a statue or by walking into a building because of the name attached to it. If your knowledge of the Civil War came from looking at statues and recognizing the names of generals on buildings and roadways, then I’m afraid you’ve missed quite a bit.
I understand that these names and figures might not mean supporting a return to slavery or the support of bigotry to you. But let’s be clear: the Confederacy rebelled against the Union to retain the right to own and exploit human beings. If you don’t agree with this, look no further than Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ Cornerstone Address. It was given weeks before the start of the Civil War, and in it he states in no uncertain terms the fundamental differences between Confederate and Union ideals.
He states “Our new government’s foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.”
It could not be more clearly stated. He explicitly states that the disagreement about slavery was the immediate cause of secession.
If you don’t believe this or have never heard of it, please read it. Not knowing or acknowledging this while propping up Confederate heroes is to disregard history, not preserve it. It’s hard to hear arguments about erasing and rewriting history from the same people who support the idea of the Civil War being about protecting the southern way of life and states’ rights. The pot never met a blacker kettle.
I have yet to hear anyone calling for an end to educating ourselves and our children about the strife and conflicting principles that led to the war or the horrors that it brought. If it’s about preserving history, we should be naming buildings and schools for the indigenous people who were forced from the lands we now call home.
Symbols mean different things to different people. But if you can read the quote above from Stephens and not understand how someone sees symbols of the Confederacy as symbols of hate, and as an affront to their very existence as Americans, that is willful ignorance at best. If you can understand this and continue to believe and fight for the idea that these symbols stand for your heritage despite what they mean to others, I worry that is something worse than ignorance.
There are plenty of Southern traditions more worthy of our time and energy. Hospitality and care and consideration for your neighbor are a nice start.
Zach Motyka lives in Harrisonburg.