The Summer of the Rising Tides, Day 25: Monumental Possibilities

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June 25, 2020-

I see that Arizona’s Confederate Memorial, ensconced on the State Capitol’s Wesley Bolin Plaza, is cleaned up and the focus of more civil protests than that of a lone vandal, who splashed red paint all over it. The namesake of the Plaza himself had a checkered record on Civil Rights, having grown up in a rural area of west central Missouri, and adopting a “live and let live” attitude towards the former Confederacy. He readily permitted the erection of this monument, in 1962, and spoke at its dedication. At the same time, he did not stand in the way of the advances made by nonwhite people in Arizona, after the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Many argue that Confederate forces were fighting against the United States of America. The heart of the matter is a bit more disconcerting. They were fighting FOR a vision of the United States that was doomed to failure-secession or no secession; victory over the North, or not. Chattel slavery was either abolished, or on its way to abolition, in the countries which had fueled the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, in the first place-by the time Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1863. This table gives a complete account of the installation and abolition of both slavery and serfdom, from ancient times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_abolition_of_slavery_and_serfdom

It remains, though, that slavery is reprehensible, in all its forms. There is much to be done, in eliminating the chattel aspect of imprisonment, for example. Finally, there is enough civic awareness for people to recognize that the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution contains a loophole:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” The involuntary servitude part has been used as justification for inmate labour, for nearly 140 years. More people than is often recognized have been incarcerated for relatively minor offenses, and the majority of these have been Black-or Native American.

Last July, I visited the South Carolina State Museum. It has, in aquiet corner of the first floor, a Cofederate Relic Room and Military Collection. There, and in small museums in Charleston and Greenville, is where the first state to secede from the Union, in 1861, has chosen to present its Confederate past. There are statues around the state, as there are across the South-and across the nation. These will continue to be problematic, as we move towards a true sense of unity in diversity.

My own thought is that, no matter where the statues, flags and memorabilia of the Confederate past are presently found, they are best placed in a current, or future, museum of history- or National Historical Monument. There is already a Museum of the Confederacy, that is nested under the National Museum of Civil Rights. No one is proposing razing Confederate cemeteries, or closing our National memorials to the event, anymore than we would want the institutions that commemorate the War for Independence, French & Indian War, the conflicts between First Nations and settlers, or the Holocaust of World War II, to be shuttered and forgotten. Conflict is a hard teacher, but it is a true one, and must remain so, if we are to avoid reverting to the very behaviours that brought on the conflicts of the past, in the first place.

We are already witnessing severe proposals, across the country-to remove memorials to just about every historical figure who had blind spots, when it came to some, or all, people who weren’t white. This has extended to other parts of the world, as well. Washington, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt despised Native Americans; U.S. Grant was of two minds towards the original inhabitants of this country; Churchill despised anyone who wasn’t European; Gandhi had to overcome his bigotry towards Africans. When it comes down to it, most of us have had to go through personal growth, when understanding and fully accepting people who “don’t look like us”.

Nelson Mandela had it right: Reconciliation, not revenge, is the most promising path forward.