Wednesday, August 23, 2017

RE: Confederate Monuments

The Confederate Soldier statue in Greenville, Texas

I have stated my views about the War Between the States and how to commemorate it before.  Although that article is more than two-and-a-half years old, my opinions are unchanged about this period in our history and the criticalness of remembering it and the people of it.  If anything, my thoughts have become more ingrained, especially in the sense of how we should study the subject and arrive at informed opinions.

What has changed is the wild-eyed Bastille-ism now affecting Confederate symbolism around the country.  I stated in the article that basic recollection of the war and its memorials were soon to fall off a cliff of ignorance, but I meant that in terms of simply knowing key nouns by anyone under the age of 40.  I did not predict the devilish glee a bunch of self-righteous revolutionary wannabees would be demonstrating around and toward various statues, etc.  The racist socialists on the one side are, of course, repugnant by any measure.  And the righteousness of the be-tolerant-or-die leftists to “stand up to white supremacy” and “right the wrongs of the past” is as hypocritical as their lack of direct involvement with the black community to start with.

In the face of this chaos, I will continue to be the voice of reason, no matter how weakly my voice may sound amidst the shrieking.  Accordingly, I will lay out what I think is a sensible way to address Confederate monuments – a policy that may surprise some of my brothers in arms – but I must first correct some publicly disseminated ignorance.

The non-profit Texas Tribune recently reported on an estimated 180 Confederate-named locations in Texas.  This list, as reported, used as its starting point a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Although some of their legal tactics against the KKK and Aryan groups have been effective, the Southern Poverty Law Center has its own questionable heritage, but that is another blog.  Suffice it to say the SPLC is primarily a fundraising organization which, like many of them regardless of the cause, end up spending more money to raise it than they do in supporting their stated purpose.

In terms of the SPLC list, I have uncovered a blatant falsehood, which I think proves that anti-monument people aren’t really interested in facts or, worse, the decisions that some communities have already made on this issue.  The error that the SPLC and, by extension, the Texas Tribune are making concerns a Confederate memorial in my own hometown of Greenville.  The reference is to Smithsonian American Art Museum inventory record #TX000782, the Confederate Soldier statue commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter 1236.  The Smithsonian record is not up to date (but why should the SPLC or anyone else care about accuracy?).

This statue was first put up on the Greenville High School Wesley Street campus in 1926 (the GEUS Customer Center currently occupies this space, for those of you in/from G-town).  The statue followed the high school when it moved to a new building built on Texas Street in 1951.  Then, the marble sculpture of a simple CSA infantryman moved again to a new Junior High School on Stanford Street in the 1970s.

Due to it being a repeated target for vandalism, the statue was moved to its current resting place on the grounds of the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum along I-30.  Incidentally, I-30 is also named locally as the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freeway within the city limits.  Why was the statue vandalized?  Local race issues may have been a factor over the years, but more often than not it was simply teenage hooliganism.  Regardless, there could be no better, safer place for it than its Blackland prairie spot between the Ende-Gillard House (also relocated to the museum grounds to protect it from vandals) and our town’s awesome bronze statue of Audie Murphy.

And this is a prime example of why so much ignorance persists when it comes to memorials.  No one bothered to check on the true status of the statue before they pushed it on out as something that should be taken down (this is the push of the SPLC website; the Tribune may not overtly be advocating it, but their reliance on the SPLC for sourcing brings their objectivity into question).  I hold these organizations responsible for these details.  As researchers, they should have contacted the Smithsonian to verify that their survey was up-to-date; if they did, then the blame is on our esteemed national curation system.  NOTE:  I will be copying and pasting my blog address into the form the Tribune has provided for “monument reporting.”

And to further correct the constant ignorance that is being perpetuated on this issue, I will lay out what I think should be the solution.  It’s very simple, and it’s an idea recently referred to by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz as he referenced the monument situation at UT Austin:  let the community decide.  In other words, let’s try to go back to good ol’ fashioned local democracy and allow citizens to make their own choice.  And it can be done through a public comment system, a city council agenda item, or even a full ballot referendum; just let the people – and not a liberal, Orwellian elite – decide for everyone else, which is the path we are on.

The irony is that by doing so, we would be returning to the original process that plunged the country into the Civil War in the first place and all its nightmare after effects:  popular sovereignty.  Abraham Lincoln split the country not because he was for or against slavery per se; he was, however, steadfastly against the people deciding about advancing slavery in new states, and this what drove the South to secede (in their racism, they wanted at least the option of extending human bondage all the way to the Pacific, as cotton could be grown in optimal conditions in Arizona).

True, much in terms of how America would view equality hung in the balance on these questions at the time, and I don’t want to minimize them.  But a step in healing of all the bad decades to follow would be to allow communities to wrestle with these issues themselves, today, independent of any kind of dictum, be it a law or attitude.

But it can’t be done with apathetic and inaccurate information.

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