The death of George Floyd has ignited something both in this country and throughout the world:
People are galvanized not just against police brutality but a cold focus is being placed on systemic racism throughout society, whether it be subtle or only too obvious.
I think I wrote about this before so excuse me if I’m repeating myself: I’ve lived in many places throughout my life. My early years were spent in four different countries, the longest sustained time of which was spent in South America -Venezuela to be precise- before permanently moving to the United States.
My first semi-permanent “home” was in a High School, specifically a boarding school in Jacksonville, Florida. When I got there, there were plenty of new and interesting things for me to experience, but one of the stranger ones proved to be sightings here and there of the Confederate flag.
You might see someone with a T-Shirt or baseball cap with the Confederate flag on it or perhaps a passing car -often pickup trucks- would sport such flags on their rear windows or perhaps emblazoned on their door or, the smallest example I can think of, it might be a bumper sticker.
While it might have been a relatively small number of people, there was a definite Confederate flag culture, if one could call it that, back then. Please note: We are talking about Jacksonville as I experienced it nearly (*gasp*) forty years ago and my most recent visits, the last one I did not even two months ago, show the place to have changed quite a bit. I don’t see what I saw back then and, in that respect, the city has certainly matured.
Yet those memories persist and I distinctly recall when I first got to the city being bewildered by the sight of any Confederate flag.
Because up to that point though I had been raised in “American” schools (there was one!) in Venezuela, the history books I read and what I was taught tended to be pretty straight-forward regarding the Civil War rather than being suffused with revisionism and/or the glow of nostalgia or something far more sinister.
When studying the Civil War, the history was simple: The North wanted to get rid of slavery while the South wanted to keep their slaves.
However one tries to cut it, this is what that war ultimately was about and when looked at that way, there is simply no “kind” way of looking at those who fought for the South and what they hoped to achieve.
For what they sought was a continuation of the cruelty of slavery, no matter how one tries to frame it now.
Over at CNN.com, George Shepherd offers a fascinating opinion piece regarding the various Civil War monuments and one in particular, that found at Stone Mountain in Georgia…
Mr. Shepherd, far better than I, provides a history of these various monuments/statues to the Confederacy and the dark reality of what they represented: A visual reminder to African Americans -and any others- that though the Civil War was lost by the Confederacy, the defenders of that cause are still very much around.
Or, as Mr. Shepherd puts it:
Like so many Confederate monuments, the carvings on Stone Mountain were not an innocent artifact of Civil War history. Instead, they were a middle finger both to African Americans and to the federal government that was trying to end discrimination.
If you’ve been to Stone Mountain -I have- there is no denying seeing those massive sculptures is an incredible sight.
But there is also absolutely no denying the subject matter, General Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis represents exactly what Mr. Shepherd noted above.
Considering what the Confederacy was fighting for, it is difficult to argue that statues and monuments to that cause should remain. We do not see statues or monuments dedicated to Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler. We see no monuments dedicated to Benito Mussolini.
Indeed, any building or park that once displayed material identifiable to these individuals in Germany or Italy or Russia has been stripped. In Germany, whatever monuments you see are dedicated to the victims of these people, not to the people who inflicted their cruel harm.
So it should be, Mr. Shepherd concludes, with the case of the Confederate monuments and statues. Instead of honoring those who fought to keep the brutal institution of slavery, we should instead have monuments dedicated to the victims of that heinous institution.
As Mr. Shepherd so eloquently concludes:
African Americans should not have to encounter each day the equivalent of state-endorsed swastikas. Museums should be established not to explain the Stone Mountain carvings and other Confederate memorials, but instead to explain the scar on Stone Mountain that will exist after the images of the white-supremacist leaders are blasted away. Like the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., an apt memorial for the Confederacy is a scar, not an heroic statue. True healing will begin only when the pressure of racist monuments is removed from African Americans’ necks.
Just as I was posting this, the following news appeared online.
The article is by Steve Almasy and is presented on CNN. The headline tells all:
Rather incredible -and welcome, IMHO!- turn of events.