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Celebrating Confederate History

By Marlin D. Paschal

As Confederate History Month draws to an end, I am pondering how much I should really care. Should it bother me that six state governments formally recognize and honor the history of the Confederate States of America? Should I care whether statues of folks like Lee, Jackson, and Jefferson Davis still adorn public spaces throughout the south? Should I look down on my fellow citizens who see this month as a tribute to their ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War?

In one sense, it probably doesn’t matter one way or the other. In fact, it is just easier to label supporters of the “southern cause” as a fringe group of southern sympathizers who don’t know any better. But in another sense, it’s not quite that easy. Although most Americans reject Dylan Roof’s racially motivated murders in 2015 – a majority of white Americans still regard the artifacts of the old Confederacy as symbols of “southern pride.” For supporters – the civil war wasn’t about slavery, but about “states’ rights” and defending the southern way of life. The fact that this way of life was firmly built on the institution of slavery is largely marginalized or completely ignored.

Because of this willful ignorance, it troubles me that Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday in several southern states. As Trevor Noah asked so eloquently on the Daily Show – “what are black people supposed to do on that day?” It’s funny, but this holiday is nothing more than a public endorsement of white supremacy. It largely ignores the evils of slavery and what the Confederacy really stood for. Those who celebrate it trivialize the significance of history and mock our collective identity as Americans. Defending these relics says less about the history of the Confederacy and more about the backwardness that still grips the South today.

So – should I care? I no longer care about the sensibilities of those who defend the historical significance of these relics. I doubt most of them even know their history or the impact of slavery and post-slavery discrimination on their fellow citizens. But I do care about the actions of states and local municipalities who have decided to take action. I support the actions of cities like Charlottesville, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana, which have taken steps to rid these icons from our public spaces. But in most cases, these actions are a simplistic response to a deep rooted malady.

Ideally, it is probably better to preserve these artifacts in museums or national parks and place them in context with their slave owning past. Unfortunately, nuance and civility in such matters often gives way to the binary choice of either allowing these artifacts to remain or uprooting them. Given the choice, I prefer the latter than to allow them to remain as celebratory reminders of white supremacy and the Confederate cause.

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