July 4. 2020 KELLEY KIDD A friend recently posted on Facebook an article attacking people who have defaced statues of confederate soldiers and generals, Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the confederacy. The article was published first in a publication of the Federalist Society, a group of self-styled “conservatives.” The rationale for opposing the destruction of confederate statues in that article was the claim that these statutes represent “art”. The more frequent argument for preserving the statues has been that they “are history.” Both arguments usually assume that the only alternative to keeping these statues where they are is that of destroying the statues. Hence the opponents of these things are deemed to be out to destroy either history or art or both. This author is certainly NOT opposed to either history or art. And I am NOT in favor of leaving any of those statues on any public lawn. Art and historical statues belong largely in museums and galleries, not on courthouse and state capitol lawns.
The courthouse is the place our public funds create to support the institutions of democracy and justice. There our aspirations to provide equal justice either do that or our pretenses to fairness and justice for all are shown to be shams and false pretenses. The majesty of the law then is mocked when the lawn of that courthouse is adorned with a tribute to the white men who fought to keep the Black citizens of our community in the degradation of slavery. Yet there is such a symbol before the courthouse of Bulloch County where I represent the descendants of slaves.
I have lived major portions of my life in the vicinity of statues that portray confederate soldiers or famous supporters of slavery. My childhood and my school years were filled with both reverence for the confederacy and the presence of memorializing art that carried that message. I was born in a clinic across the street from the building in which my state of Georgia seceded from the union in 1861. in the same building the Georgia laws that created the legal sanctions for slavery during the antebellum period. I went to high school in that building and graduated in the room in which secession became the law. Every year during my high school career we had a special program dedicated to remembering the confederacy and by implication the slavery it embodied. The confederate gray uniform I wore while a student there was also worn by every white male student, and all the students were white males.
All the students in my school were white males because of the same history that produced the secession and the confederate monument. That home was on the same street as the school and the monument because location near that school and monument was prestigious. And my family had money and prestige. My Father and his Father had graduated from the same school, a school which sat on land owned by the State of Georgia and supported largely by local taxes, the burden of which fell on Black folks and women as well as on white males. Poorer white males did not attend the school because the costs of uniforms and books put that option out of their reach. The war in which the memorialized confederate soldiers fought was intended to protect the slave-holding interests of wealthy white males, although most of those who died and were maimed were poor. That history was also carved into the confederate statues, and that history is carved into every confederate memorial, whether or not the carver is aware of any of it.
In my American history class I was taught to revere certain white slave owners, including those who had led the effort to dismember the United States in order to protect slavery from the real of imagined threat posed by the election of Abraham Lincoln, who I was taught to loathe for his Emancipation Proclamation. The proclamation was said to be evil because, as one aunt said, it “exposed white women to rape by slaves” while their husbands were away fighting for their rights to their property”. It was clear to me that fear of black me and a love for the confederacy was powerfully underlain by a foundation of racism that was much deeper than the legal segregation and discrimination which was commanded by the laws of my state. I sensed then that abolishing legalized racism would not change the problem, ut at most ameliorate some of its consequences. Adoration of confederate “heroes ” was and still is a symptom of the intractability of the problem.
In 1962 the truth as published in a book I read outside any of my academic college courses. Michael Harrington summarized the extent and depth of racism.
“If all the discriminatory laws in the United States were immediately repealed, race would rmain as one of the most pressing moral and political problems in the nation. Negroes and other minorities are not simply the victims of a series of iniquitous statutes. The American economy. the American society, the American unconscious are all racist. If the laws were framed to provide equal opportunity, a majority of the Negroes would not be able to take advantage of the change. There would still be a vast, silent, and automatic system directed against men and women of color.”
Harrington was right. Nearly eight decades have passed since that book, Harrington’s book, THE OTHER AMERICA, But the situation he described remains as real as it was then. The very least of the things we can and should do is to remove the visible symbols of our pride that this situation remains to poison the lives of children of color and to symbolize the intractability of this evil. These statues smother the truth that the rebellion called the Civil War was caused by this evil. They proclaim the continuation of this racist system with the heartless pretext that we are entitled to be proud of it.