I am a son of the South, not by choice, of course. Blame my parents. And their parents. And their parents, all the way back to some Durens immigrated from Germany, and some Bakers who, it seems likely, made bread.
All my years have been lived in three southern states, Alabama briefly, Georgia for 4+ decades, and now Tennessee. I’ve never known breakfasts that did not include eggs and grits. I’ve had tea so sweet you could pour it over pancakes. Nearly everyone in my family owns a gun or ten. My family owns or has owned 4-wheel drives, tractors, farms, fast cars, horses, cows, sleeping bags, dirt bikes, and kudzu. Most have hunted and fished, if not for food for sport.
My mother’s first meal at her future in-law’s home was pig brains and eggs. It’s a wonder I’m even here.
I knew what grits were before I knew what a girl was. I’ve organized snipe hunts, and warned my terrified sister about the “Wampus Cat,” as my deadpan uncle spun the wondrous tale. “Yankees” was an insult before it was a baseball team.
One of my earliest memories was a tag of the front of my Dad’s 1966 Ford Galaxie 500. It had a short, stubby Johnny Reb–not unlike a Confederate Yosemite Sam–posed with the Rebel flag and the saying, “Hell, no! I ain’t forgetting!” There existed a picture of me and Dad in front of that car.
I could take you to the Confederate Cemetery in Jonesboro, GA. One family history includes an ancestor killed by one of his slaves. We’ve never lived far from Civil War reenactments, with full uniforms, horses, and black-powder rifles. As if by script the South never rises again.
I watched the Dukes of Hazzard on Fridays and talked about it in school on Mondays. I’ve been to the carving on the side of Stone Mountain with Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and CSA president, Jefferson Davis.
My education–as best as remember those long years ago–included a balanced view of the War Between the States, or Civil War. I remember no teacher using The War of Northern Aggression to describe the same event.
We had our share of racists, both overt and covert. The Knights of Supreme Ignorance (the Klan) showed up in our county periodically to pass out leaflets spelling out their delusion-of-the-week. I may have told one of them he was going to hell. Most of the people I knew, however, thought the Klan to be a bunch of morons. The bedsheet-wearing, hooded cowards couldn’t even make it up to “Redneck” on the social ladder.
The “n-word” was not reserved for rap and hip-hop, and was sometimes defined in a way that it applied not only to Black people. That in spite of the fact 99.9999999% of the time it was used in reference to Black people.
I have never to this day had a conversation with anyone who wished slavery was still an institution. I’m not saying such people don’t exist, but after thousands of conversations, if my life experience were my only guide such a person would be a absolute anomaly like an alien who looks like Jennifer Aniston instead of ET. Not implying such people do not exist, but I’ve never had a conversation with anyone who wanted to go “hunt n-gg-ers” or destroy the property of a Black person.
This is the Southern heritage I know. It includes personal growth in racial reconciliation. I never had to move above the Mason-Dixon line to discover prejudice and racism is wrong. I learned it in the South. I did not visit Gettysburg to be convinced of the Union cause; the outcome was already settled.
I learned it by reading of the sins of my Southern forefathers and brethren. I learned by reading of Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers, Harry T. Moore, MLK, the Birmingham church bombing, the firehoses, George Wallace, White and Colored water fountains, the convict-lease system, and Jim Crow.
I learned it was wrong through the gospel of Jesus, the reconciling insistence of the apostles, and the justice saturated preaching of the prophets. It was here I was changed.
There are preferred, nearly benign narratives of the Confederacy, but one thing is absolutely inarguable: whatever else may have been involved, the bedrock of the CSA was African slavery built on a mythology of White superiority. It was the culture, the politics and the preaching. It matters not if not everyone owned slaves; everyone believed slavery was righteous. Those who fought fought to defend it and extend it.
And, the one thing that has lasted as the reminder of those wicked days is the flag commonly known as the Rebel flag. It adorns belt buckles, shirts, trucks, and porches. For me that particular flag cannot abide a “heritage” descriptor unless one accepts all the baggage that goes with it. If you are all about “Southern heritage,” why not the actual flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars? It’s so unrecognized the average Southerner would probably reckon you a visitor from Barbados.
I disagree with those who may call for the bulldozing of monuments; those can be used like museum pieces. No one ever flew a life-sized iron replica of Stonewall Jackson on his horse from his truck’s CB antenna while yelling “White Power” from the side window. The flag though? Yeah.
Perhaps additional info is needed alongside monuments to balance accounts, to point out the obvious: these were flawed men fighting and dying for institutional injustice. History is not our enemy; history is our teacher. Taking down the flag is not a “cultural cleansing of the South.” You won’t have to take up arms defending your sweet tea and pecan pie.
At the end of the war, Lee refused any attempt to have him occupy any position of leadership and even thought that Confederate monuments should not be erected believing that they would only serve to inflame passions at a time when the nation needed to concentrate on healing the wounds of war.
In Charles Bracelen Flood’s book Lee: The Last Years, he tells of a time after the Civil War when Robert E. Lee visited a woman who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least sympathize with her loss. Lee paused, and then said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and then forget it.”
It’s time to take Lee’s advice. Bring the flags down. Focus on the one who brings us together, just as the 9 of our Christian brothers and sisters were doing last Wednesday night when their lives were taken.
If Lee needed no reminders of the confederacy for which he fought, nor do I. I daresay he would be appalled at some of the justifications being offered today.
There are in my heritage things admirable and things detestable. So, if I must choose between a divisive heritage and a reconciling Savior, I choose reconciliation. If General Grant can be magnanimous, so can we.
I don’t need an objectionable banner to remind me that I’m Southern, or what Southern culture is like. I have a country, the U.S.A., so I do not need the CSA. I have a flag, the Stars and Stripes, so I do not need the Stars and Bars, or any banner associated therewith. I am an American, not a Confederate. Nor do I dishonor my heritage by admitting some parts of it should no longer be celebrated.
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