In recent days the removal of several Confederate monuments in New Orleans, Louisiana, has sparked passion on both sides of the issue. We applaud the statement of Mayor Mitch Landrieu:
“These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, and the terror it actually stood for.”
We cannot celebrate equality by glorifying the legacy of enslavement and oppression. We cannot celebrate community by promoting division. A memorial to men who preferred a forever-divided society, dedicated to the proposition that some men are meant to be kept in chains, to one, unified nation that has abolished the abominable practice of chattel slavery, attempts just that. We cannot choose our history, but we can choose to emphasize the parts of it that bring us together. This is exactly what the city of New Orleans has done. The decision to remove the statues was not made by federal fiat, but by local government responding to the concerns of their citizens that their city’s unique culture is not represented by extolling the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy.” Surely there can be no greater example of subsidiarity and solidarity than to stand with those who have been marginalized by the “Lost Cause” retelling of history.
Some will say that this represents an attempt to suppress parts of history. That is emphatically not the case. The only purpose of these monuments, erected many years after the Civil War by resurgent white supremacists who intended to keep African Americans in subjugation, was a post facto glorification of the Confederacy, with all that such entails, including a mythological recasting of the reasons for which the war took place. Our effort, therefore, is to cast aside the revisionist history that has for more than a century served to excuse, and in many ways to continue, both the explicit and systemic oppression of Americans of African descent.
The nearly four-century legacy of slavery is a grotesque stain upon the history of the United States, the depth and magnitude of which cannot be overstated. This is especially the case in regard to the states that seceded to form the Confederacy. On 21 March, 1861, 22 days before Southern forces began the war by firing on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina, Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens spoke these words:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from that of equality of the races]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
A deeply tragic war ensued, costing the lives of hundreds of thousands on both sides, in defense of the proposition that the Confederacy was entitled to its “right” to hold men and women as slaves. Whatever other factors may be considered in regard to the Civil War, the Southern defense of slavery was paramount.
As Mayor Landrieu continued:
“To literally put the Confederacy on a pedestal in our most prominent places of honor is an inaccurate recitation of our full past. It is an affront to our present, and it is a bad prescription for our future. History cannot be changed. It cannot be moved like a statue. What is done is done. The Civil War is over, and the Confederacy lost and we are better for it. Surely we are far enough removed from this dark time to acknowledge that the cause of the Confederacy was wrong.”
In 1967, during the struggle for equal civil rights that had been delayed for a century by the political resurgence of white supremacy across the American South, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say:
“Why is equality so assiduously avoided? Why does white America delude itself, and how does it rationalize the evil it retains? The majority of white Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro. They believe that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.”
Nearly two decades into the 21st Century, we cannot let this remain the case.
Thus, the American Solidarity Party of Kentucky calls for the various localities of our Commonwealth to act likewise in the pursuit of justice by effecting the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, as well as the statues of John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge from the old Fayette County Courthouse in Lexington, and then applying the lens of racial justice in scrutinizing the other memorials of the Confederacy within the state as to the purpose which they were designed to serve. For too long we have allowed symbols of oppression and subjugation to stand, whilst we have been either oblivious to, apathetic about, or hostile toward understanding what their presence means to our fellow African-American citizens.
While we strongly urge our state, county, and municipal governments to take this step, we also urge those who will celebrate such a decision to employ compassion. Historically, the white population of Kentucky has been less than sensitive to how its celebration of the Confederate sympathies of a certain portion of its members over the 150+ years since the Civil War, as well as the government-sponsored promotion thereof, may affect those of African American descent or other racial minorities. The removal of the monuments would be good first step towards ameliorating this oversight. But if the effect of this action is to deepen the lines of division between members of the same society, it is indeed counterproductive. Even as we rightly note the lack of character that led some men to embrace a cause they did not themselves fully support, we must remember there are good people in Kentucky who have been taught to revere their ancestors. They too are descendants of proud, good people, perhaps Confederate veterans who served in the army out of duty to their homeland or simply because they were drafted. Both sides had a real issue of “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” We urge all to use this experience to come together in a manner that honors Kentucky’s unique culture, one in which black, white, American Indian, and many other ethnicities have all played a role. Let us celebrate unity, not division, and our great Commonwealth that makes it all possible.
Memorial Day, 29 May 2017