by Gerald Britt
The tragedy of Charottesville, Virginia is looking more like a watershed moment in terms of 21st century race relations. The deaths of two police officers and Heather Heyer, who forever deserve to have their names etched with the names of Civil Rights martyrs, being seen as living drama that demonstrates America’s unfinished business – the business between blacks and whites – is not, and cannot be, easily resolved.
Emblematic of that unfinished business is the existence of monuments dedicated to Confederate soldiers that literally litter our public spaces.
Subjects of these monuments – whether Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, JB Hood or Stonewall Jackson – often have inscriptions which extoll the sacrifice, the nobility, the gallantry, the valor of those soldiers who fought in this apocalyptic misadventure which led to the deaths of 600,000 to 700,000 soldiers and a conflict which they lost.
Such monuments do not mention, the gallantry, the nobility, the sacrifice, the valor of the more than 3 million slaves whose lives were disrupted, whose families were destroyed, whose women were violated and whose bodies were mutilated and who served as the free labor that made the wealth of the Confederacy possible. The Civil War was not about economics (only in as much as it was fought to maintain that free labor) it was about the ‘right’ of southerners to retain their property – human beings ‘owned’ by other human beings. It was about a system of subjugation and oppression so complete that it included not only commerce, but history (they tried to blot out the history of the slave), politics (it was legal for slave owners to rape, murder and assault, physically and psychologically the slave), culture (there was a whole raft of rules, written and unwritten regarding how a slave should act) and religion (slavery was taught as the God-ordained order of life). In other words, what the South fought to preserve was antithetical to every democratic tenant we hold dear.
And yet we have these ‘monuments’…
But thankfully the times are changing. Charlottesville was a 21st century battle against the relitigation of the Civil War’s end. It is a relitigation that has been going on ever since reconstruction ended. Whether culturally, through movies like “Birth of a Nation”, to the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, to institutionalized bigotry and oppression, the South (some not all) has continually reasserted its right to be its own country. The Confederate monuments, the names of Civil Rights school buildings, are constant delusional reminders that the South ‘won’.
But Charlottesville may also be seminal in another way. Through the sacrifice of Heather Heyer, the two policemen, the extreme hatred and violence of Neo-Nazis, the Klan and other white supremacists and the determination of those who opposed them, we may actually have viewed not only true bravery, but a true confrontation of what we really value and our toleration of these totems of oppression. White allies who are equally ashamed of what these monuments represent and the myths they perpetuate, may have brought us all to the point where we can say ‘enough is enough’.
We are having this fight in Dallas, where working with some members of our city council, we have fashioned a resolution which calls for the immediate removal of these remnants of a hoary history. We also are calling for and are making suggestions regarding a commission of respected educators, historians, civil servants and activists to make determinations on when they come down, how to pay for their removal, what should be done with them and what should replace them.
I encourage every believer of good conscience and good will, to call upon whatever authorities have jurisdiction to have the moral courage, the convictions of their faith and their commitment to social justice to do the same.
The time has come. The South lost. It’s time to move on…