by Tom Regan
About 25 years ago I accompanied my then fiancé, and now wife, to visit friends in the small town she grew up in just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I had never really been in the South before, and so I was unprepared for what I found.
During our visit, one of the tourist attractions that she took me to see was Stone Mountain. In case you have no idea about what Stone Mountain is, it is the Confederacy’s equivalent of Mount Rushmore. In what is apparently the largest bas-relief carving in the world, three of the main figures of the Confederacy are carved into the north face of a huge granite outcropping: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davies.
What is also interesting about Stone Mountain are historical markers and plaques placed around the outcropping. In all these various bits of historical literature, not once was the Civil War mentioned. Instead, the great conflict that took place between 1861 and 1865 is referred to as “The War of Northern Aggression.” It’s also interesting to note that Stone Mountain was the initial meeting place of the second version of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915.
And I remember that my main thought that day was, “Wow. These people have a really problem with historical revisionism.”
It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers. Because that is what the Confederacy was. A group of racist losers. But the whole idea of racism, and the whole idea of losing, seems to have been vanished from this pro-Confederacy narrative, better known as the “Lost Cause.”
It has always puzzled me why so many Southerners, and their sympathizers in other places around the country, are so intent on linking their “heritage” to a bunch of racist losers.
The Lost Cause was one of the greatest propagandistic public relations efforts ever conducted. It did not begin until after the Civil War was over. The government in Washington, reeling from the loss of Abraham Lincoln and trying to deal with the inadequacies of his successor Andrew Johnson, was busy just trying to put things back together. Meanwhile southern supporters of the Confederacy saw their chance. They invented the story that went something like this: slavery was on its last legs anyways, it would’ve died of its own heavyweight, and the real fight was about states’ rights. All Conderate leaders were great men, who really didn’t believe in slavery. This is of course nonsense – any legitimate reading of history would show that. There are numerous statements by Confederate leaders made during the Civil War that document th Confederacy was fighting to retain the right to own slaves.
The numerous Confederate statues that sprung up in places like Richmond, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana are just one outcropping of this propaganda battle. But they’re more than that. I think New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu really hit the nail on the head in the speech he gave the other day after his city removed the last of four statues of Confederate figures.
The statues, he said, “were designed not to honor the men, not to honor Robert E. Lee, P.G.T. Beauregard, Jefferson Davis. They were put up to send a message [of] who were still in control, notwithstanding the fact the Confederacy lost the war. Now that’s intimidating, and the consequence of that was that people who didn’t feel comfortable here left.”
The message of who is still in control. And that is the real meaning of these monuments. It was a way for the racists who had lost the Civil War to ensure they would continue to terrorize the African-Americans they had fought to enslave. And they did so for almost another century.
But it’s time for them to go. All of them. Stone Mountain. Monument Alley in Richmond, all of the statues of all the Confederate figures scattered throughout the cities and towns of the South. And holidays that celebrate the Confederacy, like the one in Virginia known as Lee-Jackson day. Because it’s time people who claim that the statues and things like the Confederate battle flag are their “heritage” face the truth: they are honoring a group of men who fought to enslave other human beings for purely racist, monetary reasons. Plain, pure, and simple.
And by claiming this is your rightful “heritage” you make yourself no better than they were.