The prioritization of the preservation of “Southern Heritage” has recently entered the forefront of the American consciousness, but the roots of the controversy lie much deeper than the last few months. In fact, many have been set in stone for 150 years. The memorials built in commemoration of the former Confederate States of America litter not only the South, but many states further west, and some states as far north as Montana. The impact of these memorials on the American psyche has perpetuated a spirit of acceptance for the heinous atrocities committed by the Confederate States of America. These statues have become more than simple tokens of the past. Killers such as Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the Charleston massacre, have used the Confederacy as a bastion for their cause. The solution? It’s simple: Discontinue the lionization of a hateful tradition and choose to remember, not celebrate.
First, it is important to form a distinction between the different methods of commemorating Confederate history. Many states have cemeteries and graveyards dedicated to those who lost their lives on the Confederate side of the Civil War. Others have grounds dedicated to remembrance of the battles which littered the American South. However, many monuments stand in direct opposition to the ideals that many Americans stand for. There are ten forts in the American South dedicated to leaders who sought to defeat the United States in battle. 109 schools, ranging from Florida to Montana, bear the name of Confederate leaders like Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, continues to be revered in places of education, with seven schools in the United States named after him. Other monuments bear inscriptions claiming a “Southern revival.” It is no coincidence that many of these monuments were built at the same time that the Civil Rights movement flipped “Southern tradition” on its head. There is a concerted effort to appreciate generations of hate. Many Southern states recognize “Confederate Heroes Day” alongside eight other Confederate holidays. The lionization of Confederate “heroes” is marginalization of the pain of millions of African-Americans over the course of American history.
What do we do now?
It’s time to draw lines between remembrance and celebration. It’s time to remove the idea of a heroic Southern cause. The Confederacy should not be forgotten, but it also should not be idolized. Statues, schools, and Confederate battle flags scream belligerence and rebellion into the face of an American people 152 years removed from a war predicated on hate.
How do we do that? We have to change the way we think, speak, and teach. The youth of America should not associate the Confederate flag with a sense of pride. No student should have to wear a t-shirt bearing the name of the founder of one of the largest hate groups in American history. If we see history as it is, if we look over battlegrounds and graveyards with the knowledge of previous events, if we can tear down Confederate banners while still remembering what they had to say, a wiser generation can destroy this bent and flawed ideal that in some way represents the Confederate States of America. “Southern Heritage” has been debated to exhaustion. It is hate. It is unequivocally predicated on bygone ideals and rose-tinted glasses. It is time to think, to educate, and to let the false idols fall.