Southern Hospitality and Monumental Obduracy

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I’ll admit i don’t understand the whole statue and monument removal argument.

Maybe if my ancestors had been stolen from my native land and sold to the highest bidder into a life of forced labor, I would feel differently. Maybe if the roots of my family tree were torn out I would feel more entitled to an opinion. Maybe if the statues depicted those who led the battle in a war to deny my people freedom I would understand wanting them removed.

On the other hand if my people put up those statues to remind the colored folks that – while they might be technically free – they are still not fully human … well then I might be a little protective of those  pieces of stone and metal.

Surely though I don’t think anyone who defends the statues is a racist? No, I suspect a good number don’t  really understand the whole damn thing any better than me, but feel compelled to take a side. What I find disturbing though is that most of the good folks who don’t understand it, automatically take the side of  the statue defenders without really  knowing why.

“Wait a minute,” you say, “I know why. Because removing statues is erasing history.”  Maybe you even believe that. The thing is though, history has been written down. It’s been recorded and it wont change no matter the fate of statues, No matter how many monuments get taken down or never put up, the triumphs and tragedies of history remain.There are no statues of Hilter in Germany and Nazi symbols are outlawed and yet sadly, the pages of history still include the Holocaust.

No, being desirous of keeping these statues may not mean you’re a racist but let’s be honest, If you really believe the argument that statues, street names, parks or plagues dedicated to the confederacy is about honoring the valor of  war heroes, then you should stable your horse and watch the race instead.

So what is it about then?

Charlottesville VA. Mayor Micheal Singer voted against the removal of the Robert E Lee Statue and in his explanation of his dissent he said  “I believe the Lee statue should remain as a reminder that many Americans were once treated as the property of others, then as second-class citizens.”

Really, a reminder to who?

At least Singer is honest. These statues were put there to remind the “colored folks” of exactly what he said.

Most of the statues and monuments which have the racists taking up Tiki torches and pepper spray to “preserve”, were put up in the late 18’s and early part of the 19’s. This erection of stone and iron likenesses of dead guys started in earnest after the racists won a court victory known as Plessy V Ferguson.

The Plessy V Ferguson case was the result of a carefully orchestrated civil action taken in defiance to a state segregation law. The Committee of Citizens, set things in motion for Homer Plessy  to be charged with violation of Louisiana’s separate rail car act so they could challenge the act in court.  The case did not go as planned. The eventual decision by the Supreme court condoned segregation from a legal standpoint, established the separate but equal doctrine and codified the Jim Crow Laws which plagued the south for decades.

The “colored people” didn’t need to be reminded that they were considered second class citizens. Segregation and bigotry where part of the daily struggle.  Racism was so ingrained in the southern laws and culture that it would have been impossible to forget  Congress may have freed them but it didn’t mean the south had to like it. Whites may have been required under the law to allow the Negroes to eat in their restaurants but that didn’t mean they had to let em sully things up for the good God fearing white folks.

Our constitution guarantees the right to petition for a redress of grievances. Civility (of which i am most always a fan) requires that the legal proceeding involved be allowed to be carried out without undue influence and that, once a legal decision is arrived at it be adhered to. So, what if it’s not? Is vandalism or violence acceptable then?   In short no, but it  may be inevitable.

Not long ago Folks in Charlottesville VA. expressed that the statues honoring the confederacy and particularly the confederate generals grieved them. Irrespective of your personal feelings on the sanctity of statues and irrespective of your lack of understanding as to why they would be grieved,  they have that right.

As a result of those requests a special commission was created by the Charlottesville VA. city council. The commission had a long and important sounding name and was given the charge of recommending  to city officials how to best deal with two statues of confederate generals on the City’s property.

The commission returned a recommendation that the Statue of Robert E. Lee  be moved to a different park while the Stonewall Jackson likeness be kept in place. Instead the city council voted to remove the statue of Lee  in a 3-2 vote and to rename Lee park  in a vote that was unanimous.

Several groups joined together as plaintiffs and filed suit against the city claiming the vote didn’t matter since state law will not let statues be removed. A judge issued a six month stay to the removal  while the legal morass was untangled.

Then all parties sat back and  waited patiently to see how the whole thing came out , right?  Hardly.

Just  about a month after the stay was issued, avowed racist and generally despicable alleged person Richard Spencer held a rally in  the Charlottesville park where the Lee statue is. Spencer – a Northerner who may never have set eyes on the statue prior that day  –   along with his gang of racists claimed to be protesting the removal of the statue  depicting General Lee. In reality they were unduly influencing the legal process and worse yet broadcasting a warning to any who dare challenge white privilege.

This was only the first of three rallies which have been held including the most recent one where Heather Heyer was killed and more than a dozen injured in an act of terrorism by one of the  white supremacists .

This complete lack of consideration for civil proceedings  is certainly nothing new to the south. 50 years after Plessy in the case of  Morgan V Virginia the Supreme court ruled that segregation was illegal on interstate bus lines. This ruling was simply ignored  as was the later Boyton V Virginia which extended this ruling to restaurants and restrooms in terminals that served interstate buses.

Boyton was decided in 1960. Before that civil rights groups had won several cases including Keys and Browder  which chipped away at racial segregation. These had some effect in pockets and patches, but largely lawmakers and police in the south just thumbed their noses. At the federal level  Interstate Commerce Commission Chairman  J. Monroe Johnson, simply refused to enforce the rulings. The south was so unpropitious toward change, so rooted in sameness, so antipathetic to the thought that the “Negro People” deserve humanity that they simply did not care what the the robed folks in D.C. said. The god fearing racists in the south shrugged their shoulders and  went on about  polishing the white privilege they protected.

When civil action has no effect you can become uncivil or you can take bigger civil action. The  Journey of reconciliation which followed Morgan and the Freedom Rides which followed the Boyton decision were bigger civil actions. The journey of reconciliation had little effect other than to inspire the later action. The Freedom Rides, however got a reaction.

Riders were met with racist cops and goon commissioners, and took beatings at the hands of the KKK.  God fearing Christians in Sunday go-to-meeting clothes took time from Mothers Day festivities to firebomb the first bus and then hold the door closed hoping the occupants would be burned alive.

The rides were seen as unpatriotic including by the Kennedys who claimed they were embarrassing the nation and who called for a cooling off period. Attorney General Robert Kennedy,  famously said that he “does not feel that the Department of Justice can side with one group or the other in disputes over Constitutional rights.”  Apparently wielding baseball bats  and Molotov cocktails against  peaceful civil activists is a  constitutional right which I am not aware of.

The actions of the Freedom Riders didn’t embarrass the nation, the reaction of those defending racism did. Kennedy’s myopic response did. It wasn’t the freedom riders who eventually convinced Kennedy to demand the enforcement of the court decisions it was the pressure applied by those who were disgusted at the history that was playing out in the south and who finally noticed becuase of the ugliness of the racists.

It is hard to come away from reading about the Freedom Rides with any sort of pride – southern or otherwise –  about that time in history, Maybe we can be proud that we as a nation finally tore down these horrible laws a few years later? Of course was must also recognize the shame of what  the more than 450 people who participated in one or more of these rides endured. The angry mobs that met these buses with bats and clubs, the police who did not intervene, the press which blamed the riders all represent racism and tolerance of racial violence  at ts most raw, its most ugly and its most insidious.

Racism by whatever name you chose should not be tolerated and it sure as hell should not be celebrated. No one should be proud to have opposed the civil rights movement, especially when that opposition included fire bombs and baseball bats. No one should be proud to intervene in the legal process that is still playing out. Irregardless how you feel about statues.



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