Michael Cook: Confronting The Confederacy

by Michael Cook ([email protected]) 230 views 

The past ten days have been a roller coaster of emotions with tragic lows and hopeful highs for Americans and Southerners in particular.

We all experienced the same sorrow when we heard the news of nine Americans gunned down in a place of worship by a white supremacist who decided to murder them because of the pigmentation of their skin.

The Charleston massacre unexpectedly led to a re-examination by some white Southerners of the symbols and mythology of the Confederacy, which I believe is sign of hope for our country.

Since the end of the Civil War, white Southerners created the myth that the real reason for the war was due to the issue of state’s rights. It ‘s a grand, romantic mythology, full of noble Confederate soldiers and generals fighting against an oppressive federal government who wanted to impose their will on the South.

White Southerners probably created this storyline because the truth was too horrific to admit: The South took up an armed and treasonous rebellion against the United States of America in order to protect their right to own people as slaves.

Looking at the past from another jarring angle, white Southerners will shudder when considering the horrors of Nazi Germany, but yet completely, perhaps conveniently, forget America’s history when it comes to slavery.

Consider this horror. It was once perfectly legal in Arkansas for a slave owner to whip, rape or kill a human being if they were a slave.

Also consider the horror that not only was it legal, but that it was part of Southern culture, like beans and cornbread. It was a culture where white ancestors of some Southerners might gather together on their front porches in the humid summertime evenings, exchanging such banalities on how they had to whip one of their slaves that day because they talked back. No one wants to consider their ancestors doing such things, thus the mythology had to be created.

There is almost no greater symbol of this Confederate mythology than the Confederate flag and in the aftermath of last week’s Charleston massacre its usage came under incredible scrutiny.

Almost like dominoes, southern governors, prominent elected officials and corporations declared they would no longer support the display or selling of the Confederate flag.

So what was different?

Opinion writer Jonathan Chait summed it up this way:

The reconsideration of the Stars and Bars runs wide and deep, ranging from Walmart (a retailer shedding its identification with red America) to the governor of Alabama.

The movement against Confederate symbolism encompasses a mix of business logic — an association with backward thinking prevents states for competing for economic talent — to apparently heartfelt realizations, like this moving statement from South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney: “I blame myself for not listening closely enough to people who see the flag differently than I do. It is a poor reflection on me that it took the violent death of my former desk mate in the South Carolina Senate, and eight others of the best the Charleston community had to offer, to open my eyes to that.”

It’s a shame that it took fifteen years into the 21st century and a tragedy for us to begin re-examining the symbols, mythology and true history of the Confederacy.

150 years after the end of the Civil War, maybe now white Southerners can conduct honest conversations and come to terms with the horrors of slavery and oppressive Jim Crow laws that their ancestors supported and created.

It’s a conversation that is long overdue.