“This Time We Aren’t Fighting the Yankees”

With the release of Harper Lee’s new book, Go Set a Watchman: A Novel, I decided to go back and re-read To Kill a Mockingbird before diving in. It’s been a long time since I first read it. This afternoon I came across a wonderful passage in chapter nine, which is the first mention of Atticus’s case defending Tom Robinson. Scout asks Atticus if he believes he can win the case.

“Atticus, are we going to win it?”

“No, honey.”

“Then why–”

“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.

“You sound like Cousin Ike Finch,” I said. Cousin Ike Finch was Maycomb County’s sole surviving Confederate veterans. He wore a General Hood type beard of which he was inordinately vain. At least once a year Atticus, Jem and I called on him, and I would have to kiss him. It was horrible. Jem and I would listen respectfully to Atticus and Cousin Ike rehash the war. “Tell you, Atticus,” Cousin Ike would say, “the Missouri Compromise was what licked us, but if I had to go through it again I’d walk every step of the way there an’ every step back jist like I did before an’ furthermore we’d whip ’em this time…now in 1864, when Stonewall Jackson came around by–I beg your pardon, young folks. Ol’ Blue Light was in heaven then, God rest his saintly brow…”

“Come here, Scout,” said Atticus. I crawled into his lap and tucked my head under his chin. He put his arms around me and rocked me gently. “Its different this time,” he said. “This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.”

It’s a wonderful response that seems fitting to share in light of the very emotional and vitriolic debates throughout Southern communities concerning how to interpret Confederate iconography and the Civil War.

6 comments… add one
  • Annette Jackson Jul 22, 2015

    I am an outsider, in that I was born in California and lived there until 1994. Even the time I have spent here (Virginia) doesn’t make me into a southerner. As a white, openly liberal “Yankee” I am looked upon with suspicion by many, but am often asked to give a different perspective in discussions. When I do engage in these discussions I try to be honest. Even though I grew up in a different part of the country, my parents, particularly my father, were very prejudiced. The whole civil rights movement was anathema to him. George Wallace was a hero to him. My mother was not quite as bad, but one of her biggest fears was that black people would integrate our 95% white community. My home town is now 50% Asian-American, about 48% white, and the rest “other.”This trend started before she died in the summer of 2001. So it did integrate, just with a different demographic.

    When I was a child I idolized my father in the same way Scout idolized Atticus. As a teenager, and later an adult, I challenged him the way I understand grown-up Jean Louise challenges her elderly father. But I never got to the core of his racism..I still don’t know where it came from, although I know his older sister felt the same way and neither of them ever set foot in the south. Their views are still out there, alive and well under a veneer of old Southern politeness that I think is more a white than black construct. And when I see people up north or out west waving a battleflag I know wonder what part of their heritage it represents

    • Bryan Cheeseboro Jul 23, 2015

      “My mother was not quite as bad, but one of her biggest fears was that black people would integrate our 95% white community. My home town is now 50% Asian-American, about 48% white, and the rest “other.”This trend started before she died in the summer of 2001. So it did integrate, just with a different demographic.”

      I think your mother would be mostly okay with a 50% Asian-American demographic in your home towm. However, a 50% African-American demographic, even if it were educated, working Black people like those in Prince George’s County, Maryland (one of the wealthiest predominantly African-American places in the country), would be a different story.

  • Craig L. Jul 22, 2015

    I visited Atlanta with my wife in 2001, about a month and a half after 9-11, and on the same trip we drove through South and North Carolina to Lynchburg, Virginia, to visit friends, a couple, who were born and raised in Virginia. They had introduced me in Seattle to the woman I married thirty years ago, who was from Wisconsin where my dad was born and raised. My wife and I spent an afternoon at Stone Mountain in Atlanta, a week after I had failed to persuade my southern friends in Lynchburg to drive eleven miles down the road to see the courthouse at Appomattox. We did the Blue Ridge Parkway instead, all the way down to Danville and back. A month after 9-11 American flags were flying everywhere. Confederate flags were wholly invisible.

    Fifteen years ago I didn’t even imagine that I might have a Civil War ancestor. Six months ago in December my wife’s mother died at the age of 93. My mother-in-law was German on both sides of her family. She grew up speaking German in the Roaring Twenties. Her family, like mine, came to Wisconsin around the time of the Civil War. During the wake after the funeral my wife’s brother insisted, despite his German surname, that he’s Irish, not German, and he wanted to know where I got the strange notion that he’s somehow German. I’ve had a membership on Ancestry.com for about ten years now. My brother-in-law is actually one eighth Irish and it goes back to the Civil War. His great great grandfather was in the 9th Wisconsin, an all German regiment. My Civil War ancestor was in the 27th. Both units spent a full half of their three years of service occupying Little Rock. Both units fought in the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry which was featured in the opening scene of Spielberg’s Lincoln.

    My wife’s Civil War ancestor, unlike mine, survived the war. Most of his seven children were born before the war. One of them, born in 1858, married the daughter of an Irish saloon keeper and started a hardware store in the old part of downtown Milwaukee. My wife’s grandfather sold the hardware store during the Korean War and proceeds from the sale were used to build the house where my mother-in-law lived for the last sixty years of her life. It took four months and twenty thousand in repairs, but we finally got the house sold in Milwaukee, two days after my dad died in Seattle in the middle of April. We’re using the proceeds from the house in Milwaukee to pay off the mortgage on a rental property we bought new in 2007 near Seattle. We’ve kicked out the tenants and have made it our summer home. From the bath in the master bedroom I can see three, sometimes four, aircraft carriers in the mirror while I shave. The two biggest of the three carriers are the Nimitz and the Stennis, berthed side by side. The Stennis has a nickname. It’s known to the sailors as Johnny Reb.

    Our friends from Virginia are coming to visit us in Honolulu this October.

    • Annette Jackson Jul 22, 2015

      One of my 2nd GGFs was with the Union 8th Missouri Cavalry in Arkansas and participated in the Battle of Little Rock and other engagements. The forgotten front.

  • Annette Jackson Jul 22, 2015

    We are a mobile society, so it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that someone originally from the south would move out west or, less likely, up north. Look at the number of ultra conservative people there are in Arizona and Texas, many waving the battle flag. If you ever really want to get discouraged about the state of race relations in this country, poke one of the flaggers and it will often come pouring out in the most hateful manner. We need to get beyond this flag controversy..it is just fueling the fire.

  • Annette Jackson Jul 22, 2015

    Read NPS Curator Emmanuel Dabney’ article in the recently issued October 2015 issue of THe Civil War Times.

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