Lyons

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page -

de­fend­ing chat­tel slav­ery, a grotesque rem­nant of hu­man history. There’s noth­ing to be gained by pre­tend­ing other­wise.

That said, I think there’s also no point in a strug­gle to tear down every half-for­got­ten Con­fed­er­ate memo­rial across the South. The war’s over and Jim Crow is gone; mil­lions of Amer­i­cans now liv­ing in the re­gion have lit­tle in­ter­est in this aged feud. Be­sides, peo­ple have a right to their il­lu­sions.

As some­body who had no an­ces­tors liv­ing in the United States at the time of the Civil War, maybe that’s easy for me to say. How­ever, as an Ir­ish-Amer­i­can who has al­ways thought St. Pa­trick’s Day was non­sense (es­pe­cially the vom­it­ing in the gut­ters part), I’ve no sym­pa­thy with trib­al­ized pol­i­tics of any kind. Cer­tain as­pects of ev­ery­body’s past, their his­tor­i­cal “iden­tity” if you will, are best for­got­ten. Fight­ing over sym­bols gets you nowhere.

Writ­ing in the Guardian, Lin­coln bi­og­ra­pher Sid­ney Blu­men­thal has a good idea. In­stead of tear­ing mon­u­ments down, why not build new ones up?

“States and lo­cal­i­ties,” he sug­gests, “should es­tab­lish com­mis­sions to build new mon­u­ments, stat­ues and memo­ri­als, par­tic­u­larly across the South, to com­mem­o­rate the he­roes of the an­ti­slav­ery strug­gle, the union­ists dur­ing the Civil War, ad­vo­cates for Re­con­struc­tion, foes of Jim Crow and cham­pi­ons of the civil rights move­ment.”

An ex­am­ple of what he means can be found in Arkansas, where I live. Yes, the State Capi­tol grounds fea­ture the tra­di­tional mon­u­ment to Johnny Reb. But also a strik­ing mon­u­ment to the Lit­tle Rock Nine, a group sculp­ture de­pict­ing the brave African-Amer­i­can stu­dents who de­fied a seg­re­ga­tion­ist mob to en­ter Lit­tle Rock Cen­tral High School un­der the pro­tec­tion of the 101st Air­borne in Septem­ber 1957 -- Arkansas’ most his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant event of the 20th cen­tury.

Peo­ple visit the memo­rial from far and near. To my knowl­edge, no­body finds it con­tro­ver­sial.

Ceme­ter­ies, too, are ap­pro­pri­ate places to memo­ri­al­ize the Union and Con­fed­er­ate dead. Mean­while, if it’s history and her­itage you want, visit Gettysburg, Vicks­burg Memo­rial Na­tional Park, or Ap­po­mat­tox Court­house, among many oth­ers. Care­fully pre­served Civil War bat­tle­fields are scat­tered across the South: real history, and solemn re­mem­brance.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and coau­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­lyons2@ ya­hoo.com.

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