Approaching the 1-year anniversary of the Charlottesville terror, the battle over Confederate monuments looks something more like the beginning of a long war.
An article from USA Today notes that while some 75 such monuments have been renamed or removed in the past year, the attention to the issue has led to the discovery of dozens more than previously realized. On top of this, the research has led to the realization that Confederate monument-fever still lives: at least 44 such monuments have been newly installed since the turn of this century. Currently, 1,740 public monuments have been tallied.
While some monuments have come down, some with prominent controversy, their removal in some places still, unbelievably, seems to lack enough public enthusiasm to overcome the vocal minority opposed. The effect is that the literally-white-supremacist settlement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries still prevails. The effect is that the “lost cause” mythology still stands erect, proud, striding down the streets of Richmond on bronze horseback with the very idea of racial reconciliation under its hooves.
Richmond’s “Monument Avenue” could be considered the Mecca of the Lost Cause, boasting huge statues of Davis, Lee, Stuart, Jackson, and more. United Confederate Veterans rallies drew thousands there all through the turn of the last century. By 1896, the annual gathering drew 65,000 attendees and a whopping 150,000 viewers of its parade (see The Problem of Slavery, 205).
During the past year, a committee tasked with studying its awkward little problem could not muster the necessary support. It ended up recommending at best the erection of more friendly statues to emphasize the other side of the story.
The proposal took me back to some notes I uncovered researching The Problem of Slavery. We discussed how whites viewed blacks throughout the era when all these statues went up. Predominantly, blacks were despised and marginalized, when not terrorized, except when they could be used as political tools. Otherwise, any civilization they ever achieved in America was credited to the influence of whites. The last Senator to have once owned slaves sat only briefly in 1922, but her rhetoric was representative. As we wrote:
The “good example” of white slaveowners had provided blacks dignity “by reason of discipline and habit, restraints on idleness,” according to Georgian Rebecca Felton, the first woman Senator in the U.S. and the last member of either House of Congress to have owned slaves. Without slavery, Felton argued vehemently, blacks were “half-civilized gorillas” driven by “brutal lust” and hellbent on raping white women.
Politicians, preachers, writers, and other leaders of the era referred to these “loyal” blacks as “old-time Negroes”—you know, the kind that smiled and said “yes massa,” and did their work “happily.” When the proposal came, however, actually to memorialize this political lip-service, the outcry arose:
While countless monuments of Confederate heroes were erected all across the South, the thought of memorializing the “loyalty” of these “old-time Negroes” was far too much. Upon one such proposal, Daughter of the Confederacy W. Carleton Adams objected that the South was “already black with their living presence.” Loyal slaves had already received their reward, and the money for such a monument would be better spent on a home for Confederate women. Would not such a monument be an affront, after all, “when there is not a State in the South not in mourning for some beautiful woman whose life has been strangled out by some black fiend?” (see The Problem of Slavery, 205.)
While a few memorials of the terrors of slavery have indeed appeared in much more recent times, the spirit Ms. Adams here still seems to prevail. To what degree is the real question. The response to the Richmond committee’s ideas will be telling, but the opposition to simply tearing down the Lost Cause affrontery speaks loudly enough already.
There could possibly be more than one reason for continued resistance to removing such monuments. Much like the common man during the war itself, today the average conservative would rather live with the evils we know (especially since they never bothered him much to begin with) than cede even a sliver of the public square to what is perceived as a liberal progressive cause. They’d rather be called racist indefinitely than let them “Demoncraps” get their way. Buying in to the lies of the lost cause—“they’re trying to erase history and take away our freedom!”—comes so easily with such a reactionary mindset.
That’s not even including the ones that truly are racists. Again, just like with the common man during the war, there is no telling how much these two groups overlap. Certainly, the two were almost synonymous in 1860 and 1918. Most of those that may have disapproved of southern slavery were still overt racists and segregationists.
Some still carry on these traditions a century later. Even just from personal experience, I can remember in the 1990s, at an early job of mine, everyone in the room thought it was funny to refer to MLK Day as “James Earl Ray Day.” I was only about 18, but this took place in a white-collar business office that worked on Public Works projects for the City. I have been in the room with police officers within the past few years who made similar racist jokes to approving audiences.
In the meantime, the site of the murder of Emmett Till is now on its third sign, each successively vandalized, the last two being riddled with bullet holes. Given that the sign is a couple miles down a remote gravel road, the repeat vandalism is neither surprising nor random. It also speaks rather loudly that one of the nation’s foremost seething hatreds, historically, still seethes.
If there has ever been a time for Christians to understand the history, the true depths of the problem, and to formulate practical, biblical responses, it is now. The reactionary entrenchment against liberalism is the best argument conservatives have so far, but it is worth nothing. Political and social solutions built on fear and hate lead only to greater suffering. They also lead only to greater losses for conservatism in the long run. Why choose a losing strategy?
Instead, conservatives should be out in front of these issues. They should be the first ones marching against such affrontery, historical or not, with the Bible in one hand, and their black brethren’s hand clasped tightly in the other.