The great American author, William Faulkner, said the past isn’t dead — it isn’t even the past.
Nowhere is that more apparent then in the various cities, including Lexington, struggling with the moral dilemma of what to do with statues commemorating the old Confederacy — a political organization formed specifically to protect and preserve slavery and willing to divide the country to do it.
I am not God’s gift to American history, but I do have a master’s degree in the subject and taught it part-time in college for 10 years. Yes, there is continuing controversy over the cause of the American Civil War, but there should not be.
Let’s be clear: The states that seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy all said in their ordinances of secession that they were doing it to protect and perpetuate slavery. All of them — without exception.
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Truth often is a disturbing thing to those unwilling to accept it but that is undeniable truth. If there had been no slaves there would have been no war. What I call “modern Confederates” should accept that truth.
Still not convinced? Read President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. He said slavery was the cause of the war but it was a national sin, not a sectional one. The North allowed it to continue and profited by it, too. Cotton kept the New England looms humming and the New York banks thriving. In fact, at one point, New York City, itself, considered seceding and declaring itself a free city. Google it and see.
The war ended slavery but not the primal and residual racial prejudices it left in its wake. It’s that cultural residue we are struggling with now. The problem is determining what the statues now represent.
Statue supporters say they represent heritage, not hate. But that’s misleading. The Confederacy’s primary purpose was to perpetuate slavery. That is not a heritage now worth celebrating. It is not honorable to memorialize dishonor.
Any statue that does is outdated because the current prevailing sentiment about slavery and secession is not the same that prevailed when they were erected. Leaving them in a public place symbolically endorses the causes they represented — slavery and secession.
Yes, we cannot sanitize that history and should not try but leaving them there without a modifying context is the same as endorsing their cause. Only a museum can do that. That’s where they now belong.
But there is another heritage that I think supporters are really talking about that does have merit — the sacrifice of their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
The Civil War often has been called the “War of Northern Aggression” and that’s accurate. The North had to force the South back into the Union at the point of a bayonet. That meant poor Southerners who had no connection to slavery had no choice but to fight to protect their hearths, homes, farms and families.
I have no problem honoring them. Who among us would have done less? But their sacrifice and roles are quite different from the slaveholders who forced the war.
The statues on public places seek to honor the Confederacy and its legacy of slavery, not the sacrifice of the poor Southerners who had to fight and die because of it. If ever there was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight it was in the South in the 1860’s. Therefore, the monuments must go.
Incidentally, the statue of John Hunt Morgan in Lexington has him riding a stallion. He preferred mares. Even the monuments themselves often distort history.
Barry Peel, a retired TV reporter, is a commentator on Hometown Radio Network in Danville.