Home > Uncategorized > Why the Confederacy should not be honored – posted 7/5/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/10/2020

Why the Confederacy should not be honored – posted 7/5/2020 and published in the Concord Monitor on 7/10/2020

President Trump has complained loudly about the attacks on Confederate statues. He has also criticized the idea that military bases named after Confederate generals should be renamed.

Trump has said that this is “a battle to save the Heritage, History and Greatness of our country”. At Mt. Rushmore he described a merciless campaign to defame our heroes and erase our values. He vowed to veto a defense bill if it stripped Confederate officer names from military bases.

I do think it is valuable to revisit this history. We are now 155 years after the Civil War but too many Americans suffer from misremembering or lack any historical awareness.

The Confederacy was not a noble cause and its leaders were not heroes. It was a treasonous, secessionist movement dedicated to the maintenance of slavery and white supremacy.

Confederate sympathizers have tried for generations to spin a narrative of the poor victimized South facing a war of Northern aggression. They present a picture of Southern pride and rebellion with supposedly saintly leaders like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Their army of Johnny Rebs was the bravest. In this narrative, Black folks were incapable of freedom and were better off back on the plantation under benevolent paternalistic care.

This story was sold by groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy who fought to put up statues honoring Confederates. They also fought to get Southern military bases named after Confederate generals. Their story hides the moral horror of slavery and evinces a total disregard for the humanity of Black people.

We should take a close look at who the Confederate leaders were who Trump believes we are supposed to celebrate. It is a safe bet Trump has never looked at any specifics about who these men were. Trump thought Frederick Douglass was still alive and he thought Andrew Jackson lived during the Civil War. Intellectual investigation would be entirely out of character.

A good place to begin is with Nathan Bedford Forrest, a much celebrated Confederate. Tennessee alone has 32 historical markers dedicated to Forrest. A current battle is going on over whether his bust should be removed from the Tennessee state capitol building.

Forrest was a Confederate general. His bust has been in the state capitol for 42 years. Supporters have praised him as a daring military tactician and as representing the heritage of the Old South.

Left out is Forrest’s role in the April 1864 massacre of 300 Black Union troops in the battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee. Troops under Forrest’s command slaughtered the Union troops after they had surrendered. Forrest, who was a slaveholder, joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1867 and was elected its first Grand Dragon.

Then there are the Confederates who have had military bases named after them. Henry L. Benning, a lawyer and slaveowner, had his name bestowed on Georgia’s Fort Benning.

Benning played an important role in the secessionist movement. In 1849, twelve years before the Civil War, he advocated Southern secession as the only way to protect slavery. He led a walk-out of pro-slavery Southern delegates from the 1860 Democratic Party Convention after Northern Democrats refused to explicitly support slavery in the party platform. He called Blacks “savages who would exterminate the white race”.

Fort Bragg in North Carolina is another military base named after a Confederate leader. Braxton Bragg served as a general in the Confederate Army. A sugar plantation owner, Bragg used 105 enslaved Africans for his personal profit. He was widely considered one of the worst generals of the Civil War.

Leonidas Polk, a major general in the Confederate Army, was the military leader who provided the name for Fort Polk in Louisiana. Polk had an unusual resume. He was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. He was also a very large slaveholder, owning between 215 to 400 slaves. Union forces killed Polk in 1864. Although he had a poor record as a field commander, the South greatly mourned his loss.

The Army still has 10 bases named after Confederate leaders. There is a failure of reckoning here. Celebrating Confederate generals would be akin to Germans now celebrating Nazi General Erwin Rommel. You do not see it happening there. Being a skilled military tactician cannot be celebrated outside the context of the horrible cause served.

Confederate generals represent a heritage of treason against the United States. That is true for all the Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Even worse, the naming of military bases after Confederate leaders covers up the betrayal of Black Americans since Reconstruction.

There is a cluelessness about Jim Crow laws, lynching and segregation that amounts to disrespect about the struggle for Black equality. The army is made up of people from all races. You simply cannot have bases named after oppressors.

It also must be noted that we live in a time when the white supremacist movement is a clear and present danger. Under Trump, that movement has surged, including in our armed forces. Part of rooting out racism is rooting out the insidious Confederate legacy that exists inside all branches of the military. It is past time to remove all memorials, statues and bases named after Confederates.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Patricia Dawson
    July 6, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Well said.

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