This may come as a surprise to some, but not everyone who was born and raised in the southern United States in the past century is obsessed with the Civil War.
Not all of us claim as part of our “heritage” the treasonous acts that led to the division of this great country of ours and the South’s yearslong and bloody losing battle for the right of white people to own Black people.
Make all the arguments you want, but I will never believe there was anything noble about it. I will never accept there was such a thing as a benevolent slave-owner or that there was anything “gracious” or “good” about a society whose wealth was built on the broken backs or shattered families of others.
I’ve been hesitant the past few decades to describe myself as a “proud” or “true” Southerner because, in my mind, at least, that description always conjures up images — right or wrong — of someone who wraps themselves in the battle flag of the Confederacy or sports a “Hell no! I ain’t fergittin’!” bumper sticker on their mud-splattered four-wheel drive pickup that’s decked out with a gun rack and a pair of Truck Nutz.
Fergit what, exactly? That 155 years ago the Confederacy had its ass handed to it by a superior force on the right side of an issue? That maybe Robert E. Lee was not the military genius everyone thought him to be? Fergit that there is no justification, whatsoever, for the horrors visited upon a whole race of people just for being?
On second thought, let’s not fergit.
Like any other person across this land of ours, I have a lot of regional pride in where I come from. But, fortunately, because of the way I was raised, that pride never encompassed a weird obsession with latching onto a long-lost cause. The pride comes from my family and my friends and a long, long list of childhood memories I still like to revisit from time to time.
So, I really am a true, proud Southerner, I suppose, just definitely not one who has ever spent much time at all worrying about the Civil War and its outcome.
In fact, the only time in my life I ever remember worrying about it at all was in the fifth grade, when I had to write an essay about it for my Georgia history class. I failed that class. I am convinced it is only because my essay included a much more exciting version of Gen. William T. Sherman’s march through Georgia being aided and abetted by the Green Lantern.
But then, more than 40 years ago now, I moved here, to Our Town, where the Civil War is a tourist attraction, every other street is named for a dead Confederate general, fake battlefields are funded by public monies and a few archaic social clubs — whose members seem to think they were cheated out of their destinies when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation — appear to have enraptured some of Our Leaders into believing the antebellum South was nothing more atrocious than an innocent era of petticoats, mint juleps on the veranda and meandering summer strolls beneath live oaks draped in Spanish moss.
And then there’s the statue in the middle of Our Town.
I like to think that I’m a live-and-let-live kind of person. I have my opinions, of course, have never been afraid to speak my mind and have always accepted the consequences, good or bad, of doing so. But, for the most part, I’ve never been bothered by what other people choose to put their time or money or effort into.
Hell, I can quote, verbatim, certain episodes of “The Walking Dead,” can name all of the characters in “Game of Thrones,” alphabetically, and think Stephen King is the world’s greatest living author, so I’m not really one to talk about what weird stuff other people get up to in the privacy of their homes.
It means nothing to me if someone has a Confederate-battle-flag-themed man cave in their home, chooses to spend their weekends participating in Civil War battle reenactments or gathers together with like-minded people to commiserate that 155-year-old loss.
And I have pretty much just ignored all those folks who seem to think the Confederate monument on our public square is the linchpin that somehow holds Our Town together; that the thousands upon thousands of people, as well as the many major corporations, who have moved here in recent decades have done so only because of some folks’ weird reluctance to let go of a questionable past.
I made the decision not to listen to those folks all these years because, quite frankly, I care little to nothing at all about that statue.
And that’s a problem, because I should care.
I should care that our beautiful square is under a shadow cast by a spire of stone erected in the name of those who fought to maintain an institution that literally tore this country apart. I should care if a single one of our friends or neighbors or co-workers who pass that statue every day is reminded of the humiliations and horrors in their family’s past. I should care if a single African American parent struggles to find words to explain to their child why they’re expected to tolerate such a thing because, well, that’s just the way things are in Our Town. I should care that the voices and opinions of so few still carry so much more weight than the voices and opinions of so many more.
I, at least, have decided I’m pretty well sick and tired of all those tortured, paper-thin arguments made by pandering, white politicians from the halls of our state houses or federal buildings as to why it is still so important we continue to honor those who fought and died in defense of the indefensible crime of slavery.
Contrary to those feeble arguments, I don’t think we’re in any danger at all of forgetting the atrocities of our past.
So, let’s do something for our future and take the statue down.