Thursday, August 24, 2017
Facing Rather Than Defacing the Truth
I remember my Grandma telling us how her mother-in-law, Lutie, would order anyone to leave her house if they so much as mentioned Abraham Lincoln's name. Lutie came from a wealthy Virginia family and never reconciled herself to the outcome of the Civil War. Grammie was from Illinois and some of her family fought on the Union side. We asked Grammie how she managed to get along with Lutie. She said, "I bit my tongue."
When I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, a grande dame from Boston took the tour of the city in a carriage. A grande dame of Charleston was her tour guide. The gentlewoman from Charleston referred to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. The Boston matron took serious offense and demanded to be let out of the carriage immediately.
The two women carried on a scorching correspondence in letters to the editor of the Boston Globe and the Charleston News and Courier, respectively. It was rather amusing to us readers but they were dead serious. This would have been in the middle 70's but evidently attitudes hadn't changed much since my great-grandmother's day.
I was all about the south when I was a little girl. This was because I was a huge fan of the Little Colonel. She was my ideal. I read the Little Colonel books over an over and saw all the movies. (My other idol was Billy the Kid - I don't know what that combination says about me). When we moved from Indiana to California, I practiced speaking with a southern accent so I could tell everyone I was from Kentucky.
As I got older, my favorite state was Louisiana. I read every book that had ever been written with Louisiana as a backdrop. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I think I must have lived there once.
When I was young, I never gave much thought to the whys and wherefores of the Civil War. As far as I can recall, out history textbooks didn't dwell on it much. There was slavery; there was a war over it; the north won; the slaves were freed via the Emancipation Proclamation. Abraham Lincoln was a great president. End of story.
It wasn't until much later that I began to seriously think about the ugly brutality of slavery. In Charleston, we visited the old slave auction where human beings were bought and sold, families separated, carried off in chains. We visited the little wooden cabins in the slave quarters behind the magnificent plantation mansions. I think it was really only then, surrounded by the actuality of it, that I had a visceral reaction to the horror that was slavery.
I still have mixed emotions about the statues and the Confederate flag and what they stood for. I don't think either statues or flag should be on any property owned by the government. It has to be bitter for African-Americans to have to support such galling reminders of our hateful history as it pertains to them.
On the other hand, I don't think they should be done away with completely either but instead used as teaching tools. Some of them are beautifully constructed as art works. Many of them were paid for by the Daughters of the Confederacy, not as defiant symbols but rather sad recognition of their lost loved ones. They should be accompanies by explanations, truthful explanation.
Germany is dead honest about the Holocaust. They don't try to sugar-coat what they did but rather they face it with stark honesty in hopes of preventing it from ever happening again by means of museums and pictures, artifacts and textbooks. I think we should do the same with slavery and the Civil War. You can do away with the symbols of history but that doesn't make it not have happened.
And while we're at it, we might acknowledge our genocide of Native Americans as well.