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It Has Always Been About Slavery

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It Has Always Been About Slavery

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Slavery

“Our new government is founded 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.”
— Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, 1861

As if he had not already dumped enough fuel on a raging inferno, President Donald Trump has now taken up common cause with the Lost Cause: the historically inaccurate, myth-driven campaign to sanctify the Confederacy. The president was apparently not satisfied with merely showing his sympathy for white supremacists, insisting that their ranks include some “very fine people.”

A day or so later, he went on Twitter to bash the movement to take down Confederate monuments and statues — though he had previously said those decisions should be left to local authorities. Trump tweeted that he was “sad” to see the “history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

That is nonsense — sanitized blather that is widely repeated among Confederate sympathizers and apologists for Southern secession. As a Southerner born and bred, I’ve heard those arguments my entire life. And I’ve walked past elaborate memorials to men who preferred a broken, war-scarred land to a nation where black men and women could be free to own their bodies and their labor.

Neither history nor culture would be “ripped apart” by the removal of Confederate statues to museums, where they belong. Instead, the civic fabric can begin to mend when memorials to secessionists are removed from public spaces.

The mythology that honors those Confederate icons is as elaborate as it is false, with tentacles that extend through generations. There are, indeed, many “very fine people” among those who wish to keep such memorials in place, who continue to defend Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis as patriots. They don’t wish to wrest citizenship away from black and Jewish Americans, but they cannot admit that their ancestors supported the horrific institution of slavery.

But those who insist on honoring the mythology of the Lost Cause should consider this: White supremacists see the Confederacy for what it was. They know that Lee and Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest and P.G.T. Beauregard fought to preserve an institution that kept black men and women in bondage — never paid for their labor, whipped and beaten at the whim of their masters, their children and spouses sold off for profit.

That’s why so many rebel flags hover over white nationalist rallies; that’s why neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, the Traditionalist Worker Party and other hate groups gathered at Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Lee. They weren’t there just to defend a piece of bronze. They were there to defend the ideology for which Lee was prepared to give his life — the South’s right to enslave men and women of African heritage.

Since Reconstruction, Confederate sympathizers have been about the business of constructing a competing narrative about the Civil War built on “alternative facts” — otherwise known as lies. They claim that the secessionists wanted to protect the South against “Northern aggression.” They insist the war was waged to defend states’ rights. (The states’ right to do what?)

According to Vice News, there are more than 1,500 Confederate memorials scattered throughout the country, most of them, as you might expect, in the 11 states of the Old Confederacy or border states such as Kentucky. A few, however, are in the Northeast, the Midwest and even the Far West.

Most of those memorials were erected long after the war ended — between 1890 and 1940, according to historians. That’s no coincidence: Those statues began to rise after Union troops pulled out of the South and white supremacists began to assume power once again. The KKK was created, Jim Crow laws were passed, and the lynching of innocent black people became commonplace. That’s what those statues commemorate.

If we are going to honor history, let’s do that. Let’s honor the facts, the sordid truth, the ugly reality: The Confederacy was built on a defense of the institution of slavery — an insistence that the white race was morally and intellectually superior and ordained by God to rule over the black race.
David Duke knows that. That’s why he was in Charlottesville.

Cynthia Tucker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.

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19 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth August 18, 2017

    As I commented at length earlier today, the institution of slavery and its excessive misuse is a main contributor to what deeply ails the country, and systematically breaks down moral resolve to do the right thing.

    However, slavery is an institution which until only recently(1960’s) was outlawed in Saudi Arabia—but vestiges still remain in the Kingdom; in Yemen for decades, there has been hidden and open slavery. Even in both countries it’s prohibited, yet customs and traditions compel slave-owners to keep slaves. In Mauritania, the custom and practice is so hard-wired into the psyches of both fair-skinned Mauritanians and those darker-skinned fellow citizens who are held in bondage legally, and conditioned to accept their slave status. And across North Africa, and in the Gulf countries there is still a stigma associated with anyone whose facial features mark them as descendants of those who were once enslaved.

    A favorite derisive term used against darker-skinned Arabs, who are from sub-Saharan countries, is to shout out at them “ya abeed” or just “abeed” [slave]. The Baha’is in those countries are silently and discreetly teaching their fellow citizens who’re Muslims to abandon these attitudes.

    In Oman where I have friends who I visit whenever I get the time and money, the “Afro-Arabs” are seen as low on the social ladder because of their appearance, and sometimes are privately castigated for being “descendants of slaves”—but the average Omani is too polite to make an issue of it publicly. Courtesy is, fortunately, and ingrained feature in Omani society, and many Omanis will chastise less sophisticated Omanis who make disparaging remarks about those Omanis of darker complexion.

    Reply
    1. jimmy midnight August 19, 2017

      Thanks 4 some interesting factuals. I don’t doubt that some of this, “White all right, brown stick around, black get back,” stuff is going on in Africa. We dare 2 hope that it’s getting less frequent, and less intense, there, as it is here in USA.

      Reply
      1. dpaano August 21, 2017

        As I’ve said before….these Africans did NOT beg to be brought to America in the bowels of slave ships and to be bought and sold into slavery……they would have chosen to stay in their own countries. To have these white supremacists say they want to take back “their” country is hypocritical……first of all, the country actually belonged to the Indians, who had been here for centuries before the English came and took the land from them; secondly, Africans were brought here unwillingly by the white population……had they been left alone, we’d probably have fewer African Americans here…..so who is to blame!! Personally, I like the diversity in our country, the browns, the blacks, the whites, the yellows….all colors – this is what makes our country great!

        Reply
        1. jimmy midnight August 21, 2017

          Quite right. We wouldn’t want just one color of flowe :-)rs in our gardens, either. Let’s all think, if only 4 a moment, about how much more there is 2 Humans, even those Jesus called,”The least of these,” than there is 2 a Zinnia, or Snapdragon, or even a Rose. 🙂

          Reply
    2. stcroixcarp August 19, 2017

      Thank you, Aaron. I always appreciate your Baha’i take on things. I find myself leaning more and more in that direction.

      Reply
  2. idamag August 18, 2017

    On my first visit to the South (Atlanta) I was appalled to find they were still fighting the Civil War.. We made a trip to Stone Mountain that honors the Confederate generals. Up until then I thought everyone in this country was a loyal citizen to the United States of America. We attended a lecture before we went out to view the light show. The woman said they were attacked by northerners who wanted to tell them how to live. Whole different story than they fired on Fort Sumner and started the war. Their slogan is probably still “Save your confederate money, the south shall rise again.” Again, on a later trip, we went to South Carolina and was visiting the Biltmore Mansion. My grandson, who is now a resident of Georgia, was with me. We were standing in line at the gift shop when the man in front of me said, “I hate Northerners. They have always came down here and told us how to live.” I don’t know if my accent told him I was from the North and it was directed at me, but I said to him, “That isn’t very nice to say when I came all this way to visit your area.” My grandson was trying to shush me. He said, “He didn’t mean people from the Northwest. He means Yankees.” Well, my great grandfather fought in the Union side and was wounded at Fort Donelson. I said, Loudly, “I am a Yankee by birth.” I am sure my grandson was thoroughly mortified.

    Reply
    1. dpaano August 21, 2017

      He should have been proud that you stood up to this man! I applaud you and hope he realizes that you were correct! My great-grandfather also fought in the civil war; unfortunately, having the misfortune of being born in Texas, I guess I’m not a Yankee. However, lucky me, my parents got me out of that state when I was 3 mos. old and brought me to wonderful California!! Plus, my father was born and raised in Indiana and my mother was raised in Michigan….Yankees all!

      Reply
  3. TZToronto August 18, 2017

    I’ll always remember my first encounters with segregation. I think the first was on the Chesapeake Bay ferry, before the bridge/tunnel was built. The ferry was segregated, of course, but it didn’t really mean much to me then since I was a child. I believe that my mother (white) intentionally found a seat in the “colored” section. I doubt that anyone bothered her about it, but I’m certain she knew what she was doing.

    My second encounter was in a town park in Texas. I was 16 at the time. We were driving across the USA and were on our return trip from California to CT. We stopped for a picnic, and I used the restroom. There was one for whites and another for “colored,” as well as separate (but equal) drinking fountains. I had never seen this before, but I understood what was going on and didn’t like it. A couple of years later, this separation would be illegal. (I’m sure many of the people in the town hated the Civil Rights Act, which forced them to integrate many of their businesses and public facilities.)

    There are only a handful of the contiguous 48 states that I haven’t visited. Two are Alabama and Mississippi. (The others are Delaware and Washington.) I have no desire to visit the Deep South.

    Reply
    1. Independent1 August 18, 2017

      After reading the article I’m about to post for you, I’ve been trying to get my mind around what America would look like today if the South had won the Civil War. According to this article, there was great contention over slavery between the North and South during the 1850s which appeared to be at a fever pitch when Lincoln won the presidency.

      It appears that at the time Lincoln became president, trying to control the slaves in the South had become a full time job for a number of police and militia like people, or vigilantes, and those living around Charleston, SC were described as living in police state and according to one Charleston lawyer – the people were living under a ‘reign of terror’. If this is true, and the South was already being run like a police state with people living in fear of fheir lives that the slaves would create uprisings, can you even begin to imagine what our country would look like today had the South won the war??

      See these excerpts from an article recounting the history of the Civil War:

      There is, of course, a historical backdrop that formed the foundation of experience for Southerners in 1860. More than 4 million enslaved human beings lived in the south, and they touched every aspect of the region’s social, political, and economic life. Slaves did not just work on plantations. In cities such as Charleston, they cleaned the streets, toiled as bricklayers, carpenters, blacksmiths, bakers, and laborers. They worked as dockhands and stevedores, grew and sold produce, purchased goods and carted them back to their masters’ homes where they cooked the meals, cleaned, raised the children, and tended to the daily chores. “Charleston looks more like a Negro country than a country settled by white people,” a visitor remarked.

      Fear of a slave rebellion was palpable. The establishment of a black republic in Haiti and the insurrections, threatened and real, of Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, and Nat Turner stoked the fires. John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry sent shock waves through the south. Throughout the decades leading up to 1860, slavery was a burning national issue, and political battles raged over the admission of new states as slave or free. Compromises were
      struck – the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850 – but the controversy could not be laid to rest.

      The South felt increasingly beleaguered as the North increased its criticism of slavery. Abolitionist societies sprang up, Northern publications demanded the immediate end of slavery, politicians waxed shrill about the immorality of human bondage, and overseas, the British parliament terminated slavery in the British West Indies. A prominent historian accurately noted that “by the late 1850’s most white Southerners viewed themselves as prisoners in their own country, condemned by what they saw as a hysterical abolition movement.”

      As Southerners became increasingly isolated, they reacted by becoming more strident in defending slavery. The institution was not just a necessary evil: it was a positive good, a practical and moral necessity. Controlling the slave population was a matter of concern forall Whites, whether they owned slaves or not. Curfews governed the movement of slaves at night, and vigilante committees patrolled the roads, dispensing summary justice to wayward slaves and whites suspected of harboring abolitionist views. Laws were passed against the dissemination of abolitionist literature, and the South increasingly resembled a police state. A prominent Charleston lawyer described the city’s citizens as living under a “reign of terror.”

      https://www.civilwar.org/learn/articles/why-non-slaveholding-southerners-fought

      And conservatives today complain about ‘liberals’ being shiftless and not willing to work, when even back in the 1850s the worthless Southerns did virtually nothing except force their slaves to do about every ounce of work that needed to be done. If the South had won the Civil War, where would all the white people be doing for work with them foisting everything that resembled work onto the slaves they owned. Talk about deadbeats!!!

      Reply
      1. dpaano August 21, 2017

        It’s interesting because I heard recently that they were going to do a movie about just that thing….if the South had won the war and what our country would be like today. However, they decided against doing the movie right now…..I don’t think it would go over relatively well with ANY group.

        Reply
    2. Eleanore Whitaker August 19, 2017

      I know what you mean. Coming from NJ and visiting my ex’s relatives in Florida in 1964, we stopped in to see his uncle in Tampa. That was the first time I’d ever seen a sign over a school entrance saying “Whites Only.”

      There were lines of white students entering Tampa University through the front double doors while black students had to use a side entrance that had a single narrow door.

      The top 10 states with the most hate crimes are all in the states you’d expect, MO, MS, TN, KY, AL, GA, VA, SC, ID and MT.

      VA proved for all time that allowing Neo Nazis to parade armed in our streets is a grave danger to public safety.

      Reply
    3. johninPCFL August 19, 2017

      In those “deep south” states the civil war is remembered as “the northern war of aggression” and the KKK Democrats abandoned their political party after Johnson pushed through the civil rights acts. They all became GOP stalwarts (except for a few like Strom Thurmond in safe districts.)

      Reply
    4. dpaano August 21, 2017

      My first encounter with segregation was in Anniston, Alabama, which is where I went for basic training in 1967 for the Women’s Army Corps (we were WACS in the 1960’s). First of all, none of my African American friends were allowed to leave the base; secondly, when I did go into town, I went into a JC Penney’s to purchase a jacket because it was cold in Alabama in August. I was in line to pay for the jacket, behind an African American woman; however, when it came her turn to pay….the cashier told her to get behind me as she needed to take care of me first. I put the jacket down and promptly left the store. I never went into another JC Penney again since that time! I got on the bus and went back to the base immediately and spent the rest of the day with my friends and co-soldiers in arms! It was very distressing to me to see people treated this way…..I had spent my earliest years in Compton, California….probably the only little white girl in kindergarten. I didn’t know I was white until we moved to another city where the school was more “white” than anything else. It was a rude awakening, I can certainly tell you that!

      Reply
      1. TZToronto August 21, 2017

        I grew up in Manchester, CT. At that time, Manchester had a population of about 45,000, and there was only one high school. It was, of course, integrated–there was only one African American family in town. The mother of the family was a kindergarten teacher at the elementary school I attended. The father was a Phys Ed teacher at the high school. The son, Richard, was a first-rate football player ( a running back) in high school and at the University of CT. The daughter, Dorothy, was my cousin’s best friend. They were also Catholic, which was unusual at the time. A very well-respected family in Manchester during the ’50s and ’60s. As far as discrimination goes, I never saw it in relation to this family, but I have no doubt that it existed. Your story reminds me of Steve Martin’s movie, “The Jerk.” He thought he was black because he grew up in a black family.

        Reply
        1. Independent1 August 21, 2017

          Did you graduate from the MHS campus on S. Main street or from what was the new school on E. Middle Tpke? I graduated from one of the last classes at S. Main in ’55. I think my wife graduated from the first class on Middle Tpke in ’58. It’s a small world.

          Reply
          1. TZToronto August 21, 2017

            I graduated from MHS on Middle Tpke in ’65. One sister graduated from MHS on South Main in ’53, I think, and my other sister from the Middle Tpke location in ’60. I did go to the South Main location, though. Then it was Barnard Junior High (later Bennett JH).

            Reply
          2. Independent1 August 21, 2017

            I had an older sister he graduated from MHS in ’51 but she’s gone as are my parents and my wife and I are now living in Maine. Sounds like you may have become a Canadian citizen? But do you still have family in Manchester?

            My wife has family in Manchester and E. Hartford; and we have 4 daughters with their families who live east, south and northwest of Hartford. But we haven’t been back to the state in the past 4 years; we find it a bit busy when we get there now but we don’t see that Manchester has really changed all that much.

            Reply
  4. JimMayor August 19, 2017

    Even in the North, before the era of Civil Rights activity, I learned in history that the “causes” of the Civil War were economic — the economic disparity between the industrial North and the agricultural South — and states rights — the ability of the individual states to control their own destiny. BUT the underlying reason for both was slavery! It has always been about slavery!

    And, by the way, the one word that describes Robert Edward Lee, Jefferson Finis Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and the rest of the Confederate higher echelon is TRAITOR! That seems to be one word completely missing from the media’s discussion of memorial removal.

    Reply
  5. johninPCFL August 19, 2017

    You can absolutely bet that Agent Orange would own slaves if allowed, and that the naming of “No Browns” Bannon to the campaign was because of his stated positions.

    Reply

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