A (Relatively) Quick Rebuttal of the "Jim Crow" Confederate Monument Argument
The main point of the opposition's argument is that our monuments represent
power. And in their highly politicized progressive/liberal vision, that's true. Everything to them is about politics from the food you eat to the color clothes you have on. Today's historians are some of the worst perpetrators of this lie. To them, historical research has to fit "The Narrative," which is an over arching story of American history that subtly, and sometimes blatantly, fits a modern political agenda that concentrates on America's faults, ignores its virtues, and never recognizes the times and world context that these faults existed in.
Confederate monuments represent "low hanging fruit" because of the ease with which soldiers can be connected to elites who were proponents of slavery. Then all can be easily painted with a brush of racism and hate. And it's not just about Confederate monuments. I submit attacks on Columbus this past weekend as evidence. This may seem like a digression, but it is important to establish the motivation for attacking the monuments so as to refute them.
But what about the monuments themselves? While the 1880s and '90s were an era of Jim Crow, it was also when Congress began designating Civil War battlefields as National Parks for our national heritage. This prompted the states and the people to begin memorializing veterans, nationally and locally. Far from being politically motivated, advertisements from the Confederate Veteran, the magazine of the United Confederate Veterans and later the Sons of Confederate Veterans, carried the tag line, "Honor them while they are here to be honored".
This is remarkably similar to the urgings in our life times for WWII monuments and memoralization. Interestingly, of the ads surveyed covering the immediate years around the purchasing of the Munn Park (Lakeland, FL) monument, only one ad spoke about "the cause." All others focused on the soldiers, the women and children who served on the home-front and those left behind by soldiers who did not come home. Not one word about power, political or otherwise.
In 1898, the United States fought a war with Spain. In it, sons of Union and sons of Confederate veterans fought together under one national flag, frequently under former Union and Confederate officers. Former Confederate commanders, such as Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Maj. Gen. Fitz Lee, led United States troops in Cuba, both as major generals of volunteers.
Around the same time, William McKinley, the last Union vet to serve as president, was traveling by train through Virginia. He was disturbed by the neglected state of several Confederate cemeteries along the route. He asked that graves of his former enemies be tended by the U.S. government. Senator Hawley of Connecticut, proposed the legislation that made it happen in 1900. This led to internment at Arlington National Cemetery as well as the beautiful monument installed there. The monument, by the way, was sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a man of Jewish decent, now believed to have been gay, and a Confederate veteran: Virginia Military Inst., battle of New Market. Of course that doesn't matter; according to Samantha Baskind, professor of art history at Cleveland State, Ezekiel is still a white supremacist.
There are also those who say African-Americans, or more specifically, Freedmen, were targets of terror propagated by these monuments and would have opposed them if they could. Let me introduce you to Black Republican and former slave Mr. John F. Harris, speaking in the Mississippi Legislature:
"Mr. Speaker, - I have risen here in my place to offer a few words on the bill. I came from a sick bed and was forced to struggle up leaning on the arm of a friend. I stand in considerable pain. Perhaps it was not prudent of me to come. But, sir, I could not rest quietly in my room, sick though I am, and allow this discussion to pass without contributing to it a few remarks of my own. I was sorry to hear the speech of the young gentleman from Marshal county. I am sorry that any son of a soldier should go on record as opposed to the erection of a monument in honor of the brave dead. And, sir, I am convinced that if he had seen what I saw at Seven Pines and the Seven Days’ fighting around Richmond, the battlefields covered with the mangled forms of those who fought for their country and the country’s honor, he would not have made the speech.
When the South was to be invaded, those men went forth to fight for what they believed, and they made no request for monuments to commemorate their brave deeds and holy sacrifices. But they died, and their virtues should be remembered. Sir, I went with them. I, too, wore the gray, the same color my master wore. We stayed four long years, and if that war had gone on till now I would have been there yet. I know what it all meant, and I understand the meaning of my words when I say that I would have been with my countrymen still had the war continued until this good day. I want to honor those brave men who died for their convictions. When my mother died, I was a boy. Who, sir, then acted the part of a mother to the orphaned slave boy but my “old missus”? Where she living now, or could speak to me from those high realms where are gathered the sainted dead, she would tell me to vote for this bill. And, sir, I shall vote for it. I want it known to all the world that my vote is given in favor of the bill to erect a monument in honor of the brave Confederate dead."
This speech was printed in the Jackson Clarion Ledger Feb 23, 1890 (MS), the Independence Reporter Apr. 25, 1890 (KS), the Livingston Journal Apr 11., 1890 (AL) and the Washington Gazette, Apr. 3, 1890.
Before anyone claims Representative Harris to be a "sell out" or anything of that sort, let me present his credentials: Rep. Harris served as magistrate in Washington County, Mississippi shortly after the war and founded the Mississippi Bar for Colored Lawyers. He defended a number of clients accused of murder through his career. He formed the Mississippi Loyal League after the 1890 constitution was adopted so as to restore the vote to black men. He died in 1913 in Greenville, Mississippi. Clearly, this was a man who stood on principle and spoke his mind.
Also, let's be clear on people who were racist and who were interested in power. During the time period between 1875 and the early 1900s, people did not use hidden agendas or hide behind ambiguously worded memorials. They were blatant. They passed laws. They made speeches. They were crystal clear when they spoke on the matter and did not hesitate to make their ideas known. Suggesting that the same people who created laws that outright denied blacks and other minorities their God-given rights hid their intentions behind memorials to the dead is ignorant at best and are out-right lies at worst.
Now, did political speakers sometimes highjack monument dedications for their own purposes? Absolutely. We see that in the speech a politician made whose words were later used to condemn the memorial in Tampa. A politician who clearly was not talking about soldiers and sacrifice but about his beliefs in an attempt to further his career. But in John Harris' and Park Trammel's words we clearly hear the spirit in which the vast majority of these monuments were built.
Florida Governor 1913-1917 Dedication Speaker, Munn Park, Confederate Veteran Memorial
More info: www.sshfl.org