After a post below about people who want a “Confederate Memorial Day,” a commenter named Terry wrote,
My ancestors fought for the South because their lands were invaded by Northern troops. None owned slaves, even though loyal Union families in the border states did until December 1865 - 6 months after the war ended. I consider what they did a good and honorable thing. The observance would help tourism in an area that took 100 years after the Civil War to recover from the damage done by the war.
I am torn between my frustration at such a comment, whose understanding of American history I profoundly reject, and my desire to try to reach some common ground with Terry.
I write as someone whose Southern ancestors did own slaves and did participate in the Confederacy. I’m not just a Yankee carpetbagger. (In the plus column, members of the St. Louis branch of the family gave Dred Scott his freedom.) My roots in the South go pretty deep—to 1638. My cousins and I still own land in Virginia—the remnants of the family plantation. (I think it was a beautiful spot once, but now it’s not accessible by road, the bugs are terrible in the summer, and poachers are a concern.)
And I certainly don’t think the South has any monopoly on racial problems. I’ve lived in New York and Boston; plenty of racism in both places. I grew up in Connecticut, which, when I was in college, had the most KKK members per capita of any state in the country. So don’t think that I speak from any sense of holier-than-thou morality.
That said, I think you’re being dishonest about history and the motives behind the push for a Confederate Memorial Day.
To your point about “your lands being invaded”…well, the South fired first. But more importantly, since the United States was a single country until Southern states began seceding, I’m not sure that you could call the presence of Union troops in the South “an invasion.” You can not invade your own country.
As for your ancestors, with all due respect, fighting for the Confederacy—which was, at its heart, a defense of slavery—was not “a good and honorable thing.” Southern whites want to believe this is so, but this is an unsustainable myth. Doesn’t mean that our ancestors weren’t brave or that they didn’t make enormous sacrifices. It does mean that they were misguided and wrong and that that is something their descendants have to come to terms with, just as Germans had to come to terms with Adolf Hitler. While the courage of those who fought for the Confederacy is to be respected, their choice is not.
I can’t say how long it took whatever area you’re talking about to recover from the Civil War, but even if it did take 100 years, that still puts us at, oh, 1965. Regardless, the proper response is not to sanctify the Confederacy. I’m sure that there are plenty of ways to promote tourism. But instituting a holiday memorializing a racist state shouldn’t be one of them.
Unless, of course, you’d like to attract all those KKK members from Connecticut, and all the people who opposed the Martin Luther King holiday in Arizona, and the people who just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Barack Obama….
In the end, Terry, there’s just no way that a Confederate Memorial Day wouldn’t be divisive. Once again, it would put the South on the wrong side of history. Isn’t there a better way to promote tourism?