In three days we will move on to a historic anniversary year, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. 150 years ago this year, the States that comprised the Confederacy seceded from the Union and eventually attacked Fort Sumter which began the Civil War. Time has a way of softening the rough edges of history and in this case history is not so much written by the victors but being rewritten by the decedents of the defeated.
More Americans died in the Civil War than any other war in our history. Just under two percent of our total population was killed in fighting during the war. 600,000 soldiers died as a direct result of this schism. These are facts that are not disputed, what is being papered over and disputed it why the Confederate States broke away.
Those who hold on to the idea of the “Glorious South” will try to tell you that it was all about states rights. This, like so many conservative spins is true as far as it goes. The problem is that what these states wanted to the right to do was to keep other human beings in chattel slavery.
Even though the Confederacy lost its bid for independence and the right to for continued ownership of humans as slaves the damage this institution did was a long lasting one. It took more than 100 years before the descendants of the former slaves could be reasonably sure that they would be able to exercise their rights as citizens without threat or coercion.
Even now the specter of racism is not gone from our nation. Depending on how you define it lynching continued into the late 1980’s with the dragging death of James Byrd or the random killing of Michael Donald by two Klansmen. In any case there was not an anti-lynching statute at the federal level until 2005, 144 years after the Civil War began.
It is no surprise that the so called Southern Strategy is based in race baiting. It has been fertile ground for the Republican Party to plow, stocking white resentment against African American citizens. The idea of the “Welfare Queens” was just barely disguised racism. The idea that affirmative action was some how giving people of color and women something for nothing, instead of trying to address over 100 years of organized discrimination all are based on race baiting and division.
As these ideas have taken hold in the Republican Party the attempted rehabilitation of the Confederacy has continued apace. Text books have been written claiming that thousands of Black Soldiers fought for the Confederacy. This is a total lie. While there may have been a few random black Southern soldiers there is no chance that the slave owners would want to arm and train their slaves. That is how rebellions start and they had enough trouble with trying to sustain their own rebellion without having an internal one.
Over the next few years there will be many “celebrations” of the Civil War. It is important that we do remember a time when American fought American. These things should not be forgotten, but equally we should not allow these anniversaries to blind us to the fact of what we fought over. The ability to own human beings and force them with violence to work against their will.
For the Confederacy apologists to claim that the fight was about freedom is to turn things upside down. The average life expectancy of slaves at birth was 21 to 22 years. That is it. They were worked to death in the fields of their owners. They were not allowed to marry. Children born to slaves could be sold like so much cattle. If a male overseer wanted to rape a slave, there was no recourse, no justice. They were housed almost like horses and fed only as much as it would take for them to do a days work.
There was never anything good about the institution of slavery. Yet we are going to see a parade of Republican politicians at the parties which attempt to rewrite history over the next five or so years. They will be glad handing the people who want to make some kind of Disney fairy tale of Southern Slavery. There will be balls where folks dress up as the leaders of the Confederacy and in the gray uniforms which that failed rebellion dressed its troops. They will have pictures taken and act as though the Union was at fault for stepping in to not only keep our nation together but to end in this nation the practice of slavery.
There is nothing we can directly do for the slaves and their decedents who suffered under slavery and then Jim Crow. They are dead and gone, still we can honor the memory of their plight by not allowing this revisionist history to gain a further hold. Whenever there is a so-called celebration of the Civil War we must speak up about slavery. It is something that time should not blur the edges of.
Just as our personal mistakes should not be forgotten, lest we repeat them, letting the fact main fact of the Civil War be forgotten puts us in a terrible moral position. It is the shame of most nations that they allowed slavery in the first place. It is the particular shame of this nation that it took a war which killed 2% of its population to end that institution. Without that context first and foremost in all our thoughts about the Civil War we lose the lesson of that shame.
If there are those who want to stand up and say that slavery was okay, then let them do so openly. If they are so cowardly as to romanticize the founders of the Confederacy without that assertion, then we should make them own and it everyday.
The floor is yours.