Op Ed

Why Honor Confederate Leaders?

Would we honor Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, who led the attack on Pearl Harbor?

By - Jun 21st, 2020 12:52 pm
Confederate monument to Robert E. Lee is removed from its perch on May 17, 2017. Photo by Abdazizar / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0).

Confederate monument to Robert E. Lee is removed from its perch on May 17, 2017. Photo by Abdazizar  (CC BY-SA).

The massive protests against racism have brought new attention to the display of the Confederate battle flag and the honoring of leaders of the Confederate army. What justification can there possibly be for flying the flag of an army that sought to destroy our nation in order to continue human enslavement? Yet, hundreds of monuments of leaders of the confederacy continue to stand. Ten army bases are even named after generals and colonels of the Confederate army — military leaders who killed soldiers of the U.S. Army and sought to destroy the United States.

Symbols have potency. They represent what is honored in society. Continuing to celebrate the army that fought to preserve the brutal system of enslavement sends a message that unequal treatment of African Americans is acceptable. As James Grossman, the director of the American Historical Association put it, “Those statues legitimate racism. They legitimate violence against Black people, because slavery was a system of violence against Black people.”

Monuments of Confederate leaders and the Confederate flag are symbols of white supremacy. It’s no coincidence that many of those monuments were erected during imposition of Jim Crow laws in the late 19th century. More recently, the confederate flag was adopted as a symbol of opposition to the civil rights movement.

If we Americans, as a society, are truly going to fight racism, then flying the Confederate flag and allowing statutes of Confederate leaders to remain in places of honor must no longer be tolerated.

Confederate apologists attempt to rewrite the history of the Civil War. Make no mistake: the purpose of the Confederacy was to continue enslavement. The resolution adopted by the state of Mississippi to justify taking up arms against the United States reads, in part, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery … A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” Other Confederate states expressed similar reasons for declaring war on our national union. Texas asserted, “The servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator.” And in Louisiana, “The formation of a Southern confederacy is to preserve the blessings of African slavery. … The people of the slaveholding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”

Southern politicians have justified the flying of the Confederate flag (which is still a part of the state flag of Mississippi) by saying, for example, “the flag stands for traditions that are noble.” How would we react if a state in Germany flew the swastika at their Parliament building as a way of “honoring their noble traditions”?

To their credit, both the Navy and Marines have now banned the display of the Confederate flag. However, Army bases continue to bear the name of Confederate Generals including Fort Bragg, Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, named after John Brown Gordon, the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia. An Army spokesperson rationalized that the “Army has a tradition of naming installations for historical figures of military significance.” Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto led the attack on Pearl Harbor and is certainly of historical significance. Is the military going to name a base after him?

Wisconsin has a proud Civil War history. Almost 100,000 Badgers fought with the Grand Army of the Republic to preserve the United States and to end the brutal regime of enslavement. 12,216 brave Wisconsinites perished in that fight. Flying the Confederate flag dishonors their sacred memory.

This column was first published by The Cap Times in Madison. 

Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee.

More about the 2020 Racial Justice Protests

Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

One thought on “Op Ed: Why Honor Confederate Leaders?”

  1. mkwagner says:

    Overall a good piece. However, there are a couple of significant inaccuracies.
    (1) The majority of the statues and monuments honoring Confederates were installed in the 1920s. While very much in the height of Jim Crow, the monuments were erected in response to the wave of race riots that occurred between 1919-1921. The one that has been in the news of late is the bombing and total destruction of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK (1921.) The Confederate monuments were public reminders to African Americans that just because they fought during the Great War (WWI) did no negate the fact that they were second class citizens without the right to vote or control their destiny.

    (2) The Civil War was fought over chattel slavery, which is very different from the slavery practiced in ancient cultures. The difference is in the recognition of the basic humanity of the slave. Slavery in ancient cultures (as well as African and Asian societies including the Mideast) the humanity of the slave was never questioned. This meant that buying and selling of slaves was strictly regulated (including how slaves were able to buy their own freedom). Slaves had rights and they were not wiped from human record. Aristotle was a slave. I can assure you, he never suffer the degradation inflicted on slaves in this country. Particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries slaves all came from cultures deemed so inferior that they were not really human. Individual slaves were treated no better than beasts of burden. Killing a slave was no more a crime than putting a horse down. Chattel slavery was the process for “domesticating” peoples who sub-human. This is the legacy that underscores the institutional racism we live with today as well as the white supremacy that fuels white privilege.

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