“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.

Confederate Iconography and the “Dream” of White America

A week later and I am still digesting Ta-Nehisi Coates’s new book, Between the World and Me. I read it in two sittings and it knocked me right on my ass. I suspect that for most white readers his is a world that can barely be glimpsed. What does it mean to live in a black body that can be taken away in the most violent of ways with no consequences. Before reading this book I rarely thought about what it means to live in a white body in such visceral terms. That is my privilege as a white American. Continue reading “Confederate Iconography and the “Dream” of White America”

Why Threading the Needle Between Soldier and Cause is Doomed to Fail

The call to remove Confederate monuments shows no signs of letting up. Many people who supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia have articulated positions holding the line on removing monuments. For some monuments offer educational opportunities and function as important reminders of the community’s collective past. Others have staked a position around the claim that Confederate soldier monuments can be understood apart from the broader cause of the Confederate nation. In other words, we can honor the memory of the soldier, along with his bravery and strong sense of duty, without having to deal with the baggage of race and slavery.

What follows ought not to be interpreted in support of the removal of Confederate soldier monuments nor should it be interpreted as an attempt to demonize the common soldier or anyone else for that matter. My position on these matters has been consistent. Continue reading “Why Threading the Needle Between Soldier and Cause is Doomed to Fail”

Witness the End of Sons of Confederate Veterans

Consider the following evidence.

Evidence A

Gary Feis, a contractor from North Carolina on a week-long tour of Virginia battlefields, wore a camouflage cap embroidered with the flag and the words “100% Genuine Rebel.” The flag, he said, was nothing more than “a symbol of a rallying point during the battles, so they could know where their people were.” “People are very ignorant of history in this country,” he said as he perused books, bumper stickers and prints venerating the Civil War.

Evidence B

“There’s obviously a visceral reaction to this wave of cultural cleansing, there’s nothing else to call it,” said Ben Jones, the former Georgia congressman best known as the actor who played Cooter on the ’80s series about good ol’ boys in the rural South. “A lot of people have said to me, ‘This reminds me of Nazi Germany in 1933, when they started burning books.’ When you take ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ off the air, this internationally beloved show, and hint that it is because it is racist . . . it’s a bridge too far.” Continue reading “Witness the End of Sons of Confederate Veterans”

Visualizing Charleston’s Memorial Landscape

It is somewhat amusing to listen to people who have suddenly awoken to the fact that there are monuments to Confederate politicians, generals and common soldiers in their own communities. Many have chosen to voice their outrage by calling for monuments to be torn down and/or removed from public land. Since my recent trip to Europe I’ve become more sensitive to these concerns, though I still maintain that the preferred course ought to be the addition of signage that explains the relevant history of both the object of commemoration and the monument itself. More importantly, a number of communities have already moved to add to their memorial landscapes. Such is the case in Richmond, Virginia. Continue reading “Visualizing Charleston’s Memorial Landscape”