Report from Louisiana: Revisionist History and Confederate Monuments

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Report from Louisiana: Revisionist History and Confederate Monuments

By: Pat Austin

SHREVE­PORT – The fight to pre­serve Amer­i­can His­tory has now moved to Bal­ti­more with the lat­est attack com­ing from the Spe­cial Com­mis­sion to Review Baltimore’s Pub­lic Con­fed­er­ate Mon­u­ments. Their rec­om­men­da­tion is to move an eques­trian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jack­son which depicts the two men right before the 1863 bat­tle of Chan­cel­lorsville; another statue up for removal is of Supreme Court Chief Jus­tice Taney who wrote the Dred Scott deci­sion in 1857.

The Com­mis­sion has elected to retain the Con­fed­er­ate Sol­diers and Sailors Mon­u­ment and the Con­fed­er­ate Women’s Monument.

Cities across the South have been bat­tling this issue on both pub­lic and pri­vate prop­erty for some time now and it is never with­out con­tro­versy. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Lan­drieu has been try­ing to rid the city of its Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments for two years with­out much suc­cess – so far. The case has been tied up in the courts and is com­ing up for a fed­eral court of appeals hear­ing on Sep­tem­ber 28; this upcom­ing date has renewed the con­tro­versy and the Take Em Down NOLA activist group is threat­en­ing to take the mon­u­ments down them­selves with ropes. Van­dal­ism on the New Orleans mon­u­ments is a con­stant (although it wasn’t as bad until Lan­drieu started this campaign).

In Bal­ti­more, the Spe­cial Com­mis­sion has sug­gested adding signs to the mon­u­ments that present a new his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive “in today’s con­text.” The Mary­land Chap­ter of the Sons of Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans has con­cerns about revi­sion­ist text and believes that the his­tor­i­cal con­text should be accu­rate. Who will write that text?

Add to all this mon­u­ment con­tro­versy the new effort by the National Parks Ser­vice to cre­ate revi­sion­ist his­tory of the Recon­struc­tion period – again, an incred­i­bly painful and inglo­ri­ous time in our nation’s his­tory. The NPS has already

…pub­lished a hand­book for rangers and his­to­ri­ans to ensure that “dis­cred­ited leg­ends” (like neo-​Confederate claims that the Civil War had noth­ing to do with slav­ery) don’t “stand in place of his­tor­i­cal fact.”

And finally, con­sider the recent deci­sion by the Ten­nessee Chap­ter of the United Daugh­ters of the Con­fed­er­acy who reluc­tantly accepted a deal from Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity to rename Con­fed­er­ate Memo­r­ial Hall on their campus:

The final terms of that deal were announced Mon­day after anony­mous donors gave $1.2 mil­lion toward that pur­pose. Despite the pay­out, the orga­ni­za­tion said it was “dis­ap­pointed that an insti­tu­tion such as Van­der­bilt Uni­ver­sity would attempt to white­wash, san­i­tize and rewrite Amer­i­can his­tory.” Uni­ver­sity lead­ers, includ­ing Chan­cel­lor Nicholas S. Zep­pos, have said the word is being removed because of sym­bolic ties with racism and slav­ery that are painful for Vanderbilt’s increas­ingly diverse community.

It goes on and on and where will it end? What is the ulti­mate goal here? What will we have achieved once the word “con­fed­er­ate” is erased from our national con­scious­ness? Will racism and prej­u­dice be erad­i­cated once all the stat­ues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jack­son are gone?

Racism and prej­u­dice are learned behav­iors. They do not come from blocks of stone or from words carved into the name of a building.

When a nation attempts to rewrite its his­tory only bad things will follow.

In the Bal­ti­more study, Fitz Brundage, chair­man of the his­tory depart­ment at the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Chapel Hill has said, “’Why would you have mon­u­ments to Lee and Jack­son in Bal­ti­more?” Mr. Brundage asked, call­ing the two men trai­tors to the U.S.”

I can only imag­ine what he says in his his­tory classes.

And why in the world are we re-​fighting the Civil War any­way? Are we blam­ing all this on Dylann Roof?

The whole thing makes me sad and makes me wish Shelby Foote was still alive who once said this about the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle flag:

I can’t really argue with the people’s deci­sion to remove it; if a con­sti­tu­tional body decides to remove the flag from a cer­tain place, I can’t argue with that deci­sion. I dif­fer with it, but I can’t really argue with it because it’s a fait accom­pli. But to me the flag is a noble sym­bol, and I’m sorry to see it scorned. The con­fed­er­acy stood for a great many things other than slav­ery. A depen­dent slav­ery is part of its right to decide what it wanted to do, but that was not what peo­ple fought the war about on either side. It was greatly con­trib­u­tory to start­ing the war and it was con­trib­u­tory to the North win­ning the war because of Lincoln’s def­i­n­i­tion as a war about slav­ery. It was not that in the first place or the last place. It was other things, many other things.

Much more than we can go into here; my point sim­ply is that eras­ing it all changes noth­ing and only makes us igno­rant and less informed.

Chang­ing the name of a build­ing changes noth­ing but the name of the building.

Only edu­ca­tion can bring change and wisdom.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreve­port.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – The fight to preserve American History has now moved to Baltimore with the latest attack coming from the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Public Confederate Monuments.  Their recommendation is to move an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson which depicts the two men right before the 1863 battle of Chancellorsville; another statue up for removal is of Supreme Court Chief Justice Taney who wrote the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

The Commission has elected to retain the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Confederate Women’s Monument.

Cities across the South have been battling this issue on both public and private property for some time now and it is never without controversy. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has been trying to rid the city of its Confederate monuments for two years without much success – so far.  The case has been tied up in the courts and is coming up for a federal court of appeals hearing on September 28; this upcoming date has renewed the controversy and the Take Em Down NOLA activist group is threatening to take the monuments down themselves with ropes.  Vandalism on the New Orleans monuments is a constant (although it wasn’t as bad until Landrieu started this campaign).

In Baltimore, the Special Commission has suggested adding signs to the monuments that present a new historical narrative “in today’s context.”  The Maryland Chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans has concerns about revisionist text and believes that the historical context should be accurate.  Who will write that text?

Add to all this monument controversy the new effort by the National Parks Service to create revisionist history of the Reconstruction period – again, an incredibly painful and inglorious time in our nation’s history.  The NPS has already

“…published a handbook for rangers and historians to ensure that “discredited legends” (like neo-Confederate claims that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery) don’t “stand in place of historical fact.”

And finally, consider the recent decision by the Tennessee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy who reluctantly accepted a deal from Vanderbilt University to rename Confederate Memorial Hall on their campus:

The final terms of that deal were announced Monday after anonymous donors gave $1.2 million toward that purpose. Despite the payout, the organization said it was “disappointed that an institution such as Vanderbilt University would attempt to whitewash, sanitize and rewrite American history.” University leaders, including Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, have said the word is being removed because of symbolic ties with racism and slavery that are painful for Vanderbilt’s increasingly diverse community.

It goes on and on and where will it end?  What is the ultimate goal here?  What will we have achieved once the word “confederate” is erased from our national consciousness?  Will racism and prejudice be eradicated once all the statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson are gone?

Racism and prejudice are learned behaviors.  They do not come from blocks of stone or from words carved into the name of a building.

When a nation attempts to rewrite its history only bad things will follow.

In the Baltimore study, Fitz Brundage, chairman of the history department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has said, “’Why would you have monuments to Lee and Jackson in Baltimore?” Mr. Brundage asked, calling the two men traitors to the U.S.”

I can only imagine what he says in his history classes.

And why in the world are we re-fighting the Civil War anyway?  Are we blaming all this on Dylann Roof?

The whole thing makes me sad and makes me wish Shelby Foote was still alive who once said this about the Confederate battle flag:

I can’t really argue with the people’s decision to remove it; if a constitutional body decides to remove the flag from a certain place, I can’t argue with that decision. I differ with it, but I can’t really argue with it because it’s a fait accompli. But to me the flag is a noble symbol, and I’m sorry to see it scorned. The confederacy stood for a great many things other than slavery. A dependent slavery is part of its right to decide what it wanted to do, but that was not what people fought the war about on either side. It was greatly contributory to starting the war and it was contributory to the North winning the war because of Lincoln’s definition as a war about slavery. It was not that in the first place or the last place. It was other things, many other things.

Much more than we can go into here; my point simply is that erasing it all changes nothing and only makes us ignorant and less informed.

Changing the name of a building changes nothing but the name of the building.

Only education can bring change and wisdom.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.