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Regular Contributor Out Yonder
With all the ruckus about statues being offensive now that people have a reason to pay attention to them, I was reminded this week that in the North it is taught that, as a Southerner, my ancestors were traitors and deserve no honor or respect. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly the characterization I traditionally use to remember my kin who fought in the War Between the States, and it struck me as an overly simplistic way of seeing the past.
Many of those who fought that war didn’t own slaves, and contrary to popular belief, slavery is not why many of them left their homes to defend the land they were born on. My ancestors never owned (or even probably saw) a slave, being up in the backcountry of Virginia and all. Like more than 90 percent of Southerners at the time, they were poor and had no slaves. They spent their lives scratching a living out of the ground God’s Providence gave them, and politics was something that only old men or hotheads sat around talking about. The rest were too busy to bother with it.
When the time came, the men of the South took up arms for many reasons, defending slavery being one for some, but not for all. Whether they felt a threat to their way of life, were deceived by the propaganda of the day, or even dared to believe they were making a new country, they were still wrong. The truth is that they were on a fool’s errand, and deserved to lose. From the highest general to the lowest private. The lesson learned for the South was a hard one, and a bitter pill to swallow, but slavery had to be destroyed despite what they believed, and they paid a great price for taking the position they did.
That doesn’t make them irredeemable, though. It took many good men to raise the South from the destruction it had suffered. Many men and women, both black and white, had to look each other in the eye, pull themselves up from the misery they found themselves in, and work to get along and build it all back. Amid grinding poverty, prejudice, and bitter feelings, they slowly moved beyond the shock of war. It took decades of pain, suffering, blood and sweat before the South was once again strong, and went on to become the powerhouse it is today.
Go to any Southern state, pick any one. You’ll see both good and bad there, both remnants of hate and glimpses of hope, and also evidence of people who came back together over generations to restore the goodness of Southern charm. Having felt the wrath of God’s judgment, they tapped into the power that forgiveness and perseverance can bring, and worked within their communities to heal the scars of war. They still weren’t perfect, and made mistakes over the years, but they rebuilt the towns and lives and moved on, remembering the events with respect and mourning for the suffering they had caused.
I learned that those statues were to remind us of the fight the nation had with itself, brother against brother against brother, the shame it brought to all of us, and the power of forgiveness it took to heal those wounds. I can’t say every Southern kid was taught this, but I was, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. These days, it appears those wounds are only slightly healed, and are still tender to the touch. Those statues are there to remind us of our inhumanity to each other, if not anything else, a way to tell the story about each community’s place in that conflict.
If all of that is forgotten now, and the kids can’t see past their Judgment of the Day, then it’s better to put the statues away. I figure I’d rather have them put into the hands of those who will respect them and care for them. This way, people who want to do so can pay their respects in peace. I’d rather not see them being spat on in the streets anyway.
I just hope the actual remains of Robert E. Lee, currently buried under a church at a liberal university in Virginia, won’t be dug up and desecrated by those who hate him now. By their logic, he’s a traitor and doesn’t deserve to be buried in a chapel on public property.
I mourn for this country. More treasure lost.