June 19, 2020
Confederate Flags and Monuments
Protesters putting a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis into the river, Richmond, Virginia
National attention has once again been turned towards Confederate monuments as one of the last bastions of racism. According to vice president of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens , the Confederate States of America was 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 .” [ 1 ] Because of this, Confederate symbolism in public spaces has been hotly contested, and the debate continues.
Confederate monument, Walhalla, South Carolina
Walhalla, South Carolina is one of the many cities that have seen protests this past week to remove Confederate monuments as part of the larger Black Lives Matter movement. Walhalla’s Confederate statue resides on Main Street and, according to local resident Jonathan Chapman, it is merely “ a memorial. This is a tribute to men who had a belief and who fought for a belief and this is also a tribute to the wives of men who went and fought for a belief. It has nothing to do with what is going on with current events .” [ 2 ] Many, however, would beg to differ.
A portion of a Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery reinforcing the “loyal slave” narrative
This Confederate imagery we see today is a product of the Civil War, which, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates points out “ is a story for white people—acted out by white people, on white people’s terms—in which blacks feature strictly as stock characters and props. We are invited to listen, but never to truly join the narrative… For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy .” [ 3 ] Furthermore, the “Lost Cause” mythology that developed after the Civil War has solidified itself in the South, giving people an excuse to dismiss the immediate connections of current racism and the Confederacy. Coates explains that the Lost Cause is “ the belief that the South didn’t lose, so much as it was simply overwhelmed by superior numbers; that General Robert E. Lee was a contemporary King Arthur; that slavery, to be sure a benevolent institution, was never central to the South’s true designs .” [ 4]
Confederate statue erected in 1909, Oxford, North Carolina
The majority of these monuments and memorials were erected under the Lost Cause mythology. This happened decades after the end of the Civil War when white Americans still sought to maintain racial hierarchies and a segregated society. The monument in Walhalla, for instance, was commissioned in 1910. Lawyer Walter Bailey, Jr. (1940 - ), who served on the Shelby County Commission in Tennessee for thirty-five years, explained his efforts to remove various Confederate monuments in Memphis, Tennessee: “ What has happened is those monuments start popping up throughout the South right after the Civil War and Reconstruction. They were designed as symbols to let the world know, and, of course, their fellow citizens here, to let people know we still love our Confederacy, and these are our heroes I don't care what you say about them, whether they, this is where our sentiment is. ‘We think we were right then, and we think we're right now. ’” [ 5 ] Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. (1948 - ), former executive director and CEO of the NAACP, also pointed out the way Confederate statues were an attempt to hold on to the past: “ In the middle of town [in Oxford, North Carolina] they had this Confederate statue. And you have to drive around this Confederate statute, and it said, ‘To our Confederate dead.’ And I always wondered why this statue was up in town. But in a sense, you know, the people in Granville County, in that part of the South, even though I'm growing up there in the 1950s, they, to a certain extent, they were still living in the 1850s. They were still living in Civil War days .” [6 ]
Ku Klux Klan members brandishing the Confederate flag
For some white citizens the Confederate statue may be a simple memorial. For others, however, Confederate symbols stir memories of violence, oppression, and white supremacy. Harry Carson (1953 - ), a nine time NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, told of his experience growing up in Florence, South Carolina while the Confederate flag, often flown by the Ku Klux Klan, loomed over him: “ I got a good sense of what race relations were like in my hometown just by living. You know, I'd see the Klan… they'd come around in pickup trucks with a Confederate flag flying behind it... white folks in their homes, and you can see the Confederate flags. You know, occasionally, you would hear somebody in a car and they'd go, ‘Hey, nigger, get, go back where you come from’… it's one of those things that you sort of live with it because what is the alternative? When you go to the doctor's office, you don't go in the front door, you go in through the back door. When you go to the movie theater, you don't sit downstairs, you sit upstairs… you go into a Belk's department store, and there's a white fountain and there's a black fountain. [ 7 ] Former New York City College president Gregory H. Williams (1943 - ), whose parents passed for white until he was age nine, told of similar experiences his father and grandparents had with the Klan and the Confederate flag in Muncie, Indiana: “ My dad remembers one event where they [Ku Klux Klan] had the march downtown and there was a very, very prosperous lawyer in my hometown who was the head of the Klan in my hometown. And so my grandmother [Sallie Higginbotham Williams] was standing on the side of the street as they were riding by on the horses, and, and this guy shouts at my grandmother who's standing there kind of trembling, ‘Nigger salute this flag.’ You know it had a Confederate flag. And so she's there saluting and she's so nervous that actually she urinated on herself and so my dad, about a block down the road, picked up a rock and threw a rock and hit this guy. Didn't knock him off the horse, but you know, but then took off running .” [8]
The Dixie Division band members, c.1950s
Poet Samuel Greenlee (1930 – 2014) explained what happened when he joined the ROTC during the Vietnam War: “ It was my first contact with Southerners. The Dixie Division had fought for the Confederacy. The division flag is the Confederate battle flag. The band marched in Confederate uniform… They threatened to court martial me because I refused to wear the division insignia… I said, ‘I understand what that means to you. It's representative of a glorious past.’ I said, ‘But what it represents to me is enslavement of my people. And with all due respect, I'm not gonna wear it .’" [ 9 ]
School desegregation protesters at West End High School Birmingham, Alabama, 1963
The Confederate flag was also used frequently in protests against school integration as C.T. King-Miller (1947 - ), who integrating Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama in 1964, recalled: “ It was a lot of confederate flags. It was this guy with this big car named J.B. Stoner, I didn't know who he was at the time, with a confederate flag, yelling all kinds of ugly things. But my father had just told me before he had gone to work, ‘Remember it's not you, it's them. You're the chosen one. You have every right .’” [ 10 ]
Tuskegee University professor Frank Toland speaking to protesters surrounding a Confederate statue, Tuskegee, Alabama, c.1966
Samuel Young
In an act of resistance similar to those surrounding Confederate statues today, social activist Ruby Nell Sales (1948 - ) explained that in 1966, Samuel Young was murdered while trying to use a bathroom in Tuskegee, Alabama, and “ the whole campus of Tuskegee [Institute, later Tuskegee University] went berserk with grief and with anger… [the] whole school left and went to the center of town and painted all the confederate statues black, and had a sit-in in the heart of town, almost ended up in a riot. [ 11]
A protest at the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, which the Governor has since ordered to be removed
Debates over the continued existence of Confederate monuments, flags, and statues will persist, but Khalil Gibran Muhammad , professor of history, race and public policy at Harvard University, points out that “ we can’t get to learning from our history if we keep accepting that racism should be celebrated in American history .” [12 ]
Happy Juneteenth from The HistoryMakers
A portion of the first Juneteenth memorial, located at the Texas State Capitol in Austin
Today we celebrate emancipation and Juneteenth, as told by Norma Adams-Wade (1944- ), the first African American full-time general reporter for The Dallas Morning News : " Well the tradition was at Juneteenth black people, African Americans would congregate... celebrating the news of emancipation coming to Texas and, of course, you know the story is that when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the news didn't make it to Texas until two years later in '65 and so Colonel Granger from the Union Army came down to Galveston [Texas] and stood on the banks of the boat in the river and read the Proclamation and that's how blacks in Texas learned that we were now free. And June 19th became the celebration day because that's when it was read and every year after that Texas blacks would have this big celebration and it became known as Juneteenth short for June 19th ." [13] 
[1] Alexander Stephens. “Cornerstone Speech” (Athenaeum Theatre, Savannah, Georgia, March 21, 1861).
[2] Allen Devlin. “Protesters clash for 4th straight day over Upstate Confederate monument,” WYFF News 4 . June 16, 2020.
[3] Ta-Nehisi Coates. “Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?” The Atlantic .
[ 4 ] Ibid.
[ 5] Walter Bailey, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2010.089), interviewed by Larry Crowe, July 28, 2010, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 7, story 1, Walter Bailey, Jr. talks about the Confederate Park in Memphis, Tennessee.
[ 6] Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. (The HistoryMakers A2004.267), interviewed by Racine Tucker Hamilton, December 20, 2004, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 1, Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. talks about the community of Oxford, North Carolina where he grew up.
[ 7 ] Harry Carson (The HistoryMakers A2016.015), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 1, 2016, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 5, Harry Carson remembers racial discrimination in Florence, South Carolina.
[ 8 ] Gregory H. Williams (The HistoryMakers A2007.176), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, May 16, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 10, Gregory H. Williams describes his father's experiences with the Ku Klux Klan.
[ 9 ] Samuel Greenlee (The HistoryMakers A2001.028), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 1, 2001, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 1, Sam Greenlee details his refusal to wear Confederate insignia in the Army's "Dixie Division".
[ 10 ] C.T. King-Miller (The HistoryMakers A2011.009), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 8, 2011, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 4, C.T. King-Miller recounts registering for school at Jones Valley High School in Birmingham, Alabama.
[ 11 ] Ruby Nell Sales (The HistoryMakers A2003.226), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 15, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 4, Ruby Nell Sales talks about the trial of Tom Coleman, who murdered civil rights worker Jonathan Daniels.
[ 12 ] Jasmine Aguilera. “Confederate Statues Are Being Removed Amid Protests Over George Floyd's Death. Here's What to Know,” Time . June 9, 2020.
[ 13 ] Norma Adams-Wade (The HistoryMakers A2014.083), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 6, 2014, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 5, Norma Adams-Wade talks about the Juneteenth tradition in Mexia, Texas.
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Civil Rights Activist
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