To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Okay, time for more controversy. Went to lunch with some co-workers today, and we started talking about the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue, which is quite large and depicts him on a horse, and stands in the eponymous city park. Earlier this year there were some people trying to get that statue, and the bodies of him and his wife, moved back to historic Elmwood Cemetary where they originally were. There were demonstrations, and counter-demonstrations by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or some such, and in the end the park was unchanged.

We had quite a lively discussion about that statue. My contention is that it needs to be moved yesterday, and that park renamed. Why? Because Forrest was (a) an army general in a country (C.S.A.) that was at war with my country (U.S.A.) from its conception to its demise; (b) a founding member of the KKK; and (c) a slave trader. Not just owner, trader; he made his fortune from buying and selling black folks. And possibly (d) a war criminal too, depending on your take of the Fort Pillow massacre. One of my coworkers argued that slave trading wasn't different from slaveholding (I disagree) and that if we get rid of the Forrest statue we have to go after the Washington Monument next. My answer was, tell me something positive that Forrest contributed to the world, that means he needs to be honored by the City of Memphis. The statue's been there 100 years, isn't that enough? And further, white folks like to tell black folks to quit griping about the legacy of slavery, 400 years of oppression, Jim Crow, and so forth; let go of the past and get with the program. If I were black, all I would have to do in response is point to that statue and ask why black people have to let go of the bad old days when white people clearly refuse to.

I feel the same way about the Confederate flag. When Ole Miss banned the waving of that flag at football games many years ago, I thought that they were throwing away an old tradition. Turns out that flag only started being waved when Ole Miss was desegregated. That puts a totally different spin on the whole thing, and it's what started me down the path of disliking displays of those things.

If people want to have the Confederate flag displayed in their home or business, I wouldn't stop them. I think it has no place as part of a state flag, or flying on government property (except military parks like Shiloh).

And I consider myself a Southerner, yes, I do. Those years from 1861 to 1865 do not define the South. I've lived here all my life and I never want to live anywhere else. "American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God"; I feel that way, and I'd wear the shirt if I could get one without that cottonpickin' flag.

So why do so many white Southerners insist on holding on to that stuff? And why does racism persist so? C.S. Lewis wrote that people have trouble forgiving people they have wronged. If that sounds backwards, it's not. I think being a white person who is not a racist means not sharing the guilt of those who were responsible for slavery, Jim Crow, and so forth. That doesn't mean defensively saying "I didn't enslave anybody!" It means letting go of all that old crap and not identifying with it anymore. Slavery was and is an evil thing. Horrible and wretched. There's no excuse for it and there never has been. I refuse to defend it. I'd like to think that if I had lived in the antebellum South I would have had the moral clarity and the guts to be an abolitionist, like I am an abolitionist about abortion now. It would have taken a lot of courage, that's for sure.


Cobra said...

Great post, Laura! I agree with much of what you say here. It's interesting, because I was in Memphis this past October, visiting my cousin, and as we were driving past the VERY park you mentioned, we had a discussion about Forrest.

I, like you, wasn't too keen about the idea of that particular statue, but my cousin (who needs to get his own blog by the way, because he can talk an owl out of a tree) didn't have a problem with it, and was upset that "outsiders" came in to protest it. Now, he's a transplant from California himself, but notwithstanding, he believes that the statue represents history, and removing a statue will not remove the history of the person and events the statue represents. He also thinks black people should get their priorities straight, and that there are more important issues and battles to fight than over a statue in a park.
Of course, we debated into the night about it, with nobody conceding anything (surprise!).

Memphis was a whole lotta fun. Beale Street, the trolley ride--walking along the Missississippi...and the guitars hanging in the Rum Boogie Cafe are outstanding!


Laura(southernxyl) said...

I'm glad you liked Memphis. You should have given me a holler, we could have had lunch.