The Walker County Commissioners once again chose to remain mute on the question of the Confederate patriots monument on the square.
They have gotten an earful from a fair number of citizens, the majority of which have argued for removal of the memorial. Why the inertia on the part of the Court to make a decision? True, no decision is a decision. Is that what the Court intends?
Practically speaking, this is not a real difficult issue to resolve. We are not talking about renaming a street, as is the case in Houston and other cities. No one’s address will be affected. Cost is not an issue, since this block of stone isn’t much more than waist-high, if that. It’s not a statue of anyone, whose descendants might object to it being removed. In fact, there are no names on it, just an organization. It does not mark a specific historical event, but lumps nameless “patriots” together in a timeframe encompassed by the Civil War. At that, one must admit that “Confederate patriot” is something of an oxymoron.
“Patriot” is defined as a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. To be considered a patriot on this continent these days, one must be a citizen of the United States of America or Canada. Yes, the Confederate States of America was a “country” for a few years, and those who supported her were patriots to her cause, but they also were rebels to the country that gave them birth. Some say “traitors.”
Admittedly, it has been so much easier to revere the South, with its dashing generals like Lee, Stuart, and Longstreet. The North was stuck with generals who were reluctant to fight, until Lincoln found Grant. The South was always the underdog, with noble agrarian traditions and chivalry. My mother loved the Confederate south and Robert E. Lee. As a kid, I knew the name of Lee’s horse, had his biography. Who knew the name of Grant’s horse? Or cared?
As a student of history I learned early on that history teaches us nothing. It’s historians who teach us, as they write and interpret history that influences generations. The Confederacy, for a losing cause, had a good run for a long time among historians. But history is constantly being reviewed and rewritten. Historians, like anyone else, are products of their time and influenced by their culture. They do not write in a vacuum. Nor is all history ever available to the historian, only recorded history and such artifacts as remain.
So we find ourselves in a time of revision. We see in the cold light of today that the Confederacy was not all noble and chivalrous. The CSA stood in the way of America becoming the nation it was destined to be, a world power capable of defeating fascism and imperialism, and outlasting the threat of world communism. And not to be overlooked, the CSA championed the cause of involuntary servitude – slavery; states rights and freedom from economic suppression by the North yes, but slavery nonetheless.
Inextricably intertwined with the Old South is the issue of slavery. The extension of slavery has been perpetuated in Jim Crow laws, “separate but equal” court rulings, lynchings, segregation, and nonviolent civil rights protests quelled with fire hoses and police dogs. That history is very real to the minority of our population which has felt it first-hand. While some may think all that is behind us, it is clearly not to others.
And so we find ourselves rethinking what is truly important about our country. Most would agree that 600,000+ lives lost in a brother-against-brother conflagration was a horrendous and regrettable event, and that the losers, however altruistic they might have been, are not the ones we want to be celebrating today. That’s different than what many of us learned in school and college. It goes against the 20th century entertainment industry’s nostalgic recollections of the past. This doesn’t mean we have to stop watching reruns of The Rebel on TV or proscribe watching Gone with The Wind. It does mean that we entertain the serious notion that many of us have been celebrating something worthy only of remembrance, not celebration.
Our commissioners are reasonable, level-headed men. They have listened patiently to the appeals for removal of the monument. Removal is the key word. Not destruction but removal from public grounds and public view. Removal from the implication that the Stars and Bars and the Confederate cause are somehow still endorsed by our county government. Removal of any possibility that Walker County looks back on the “good old days” of segregation with nostalgia. As a majority of the court are church-going men, it might be good to recall the New Testament admonition “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.” The monument is indeed offensive and needs to be severed from our county. Times have changed.
Clearly a monument honoring a time and culture when slavery was deemed appropriate is offensive to many in our county. In the case at hand, it costs us nothing to be considerate of others. Commissioners, please heed the people who have stepped up, put an end to this debate, and find another resting place for this historical anachronism.
Gene Blair has been a resident of Huntsville for 40 years. He is retired from the Criminal Justice Center at SHSU, and is also retired from the U.S. Army. He is a director on the executive board of CASA of Walker, San Jacinto, and Trinity counties.