By Sara Fraser
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville protests, discussions regarding the removal of Confederate monuments in the South have become vehement. Sara Fraser explores why some people have a misconstrued idea when it comes to honoring Southern heritage.
The Memphis City Council has recently passed the first of three votes on a resolution that will eventually remove the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue from Health Sciences Park in downtown Memphis. The Charlottesville protests that began as a response to the city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee have escalated the longstanding debate regarding the place Confederate monuments have in America, particularly the South. The conversation about the lingering legacy of the Confederacy is now more prevalent than ever.
Many argue that by allowing the statues to remain standing we are fostering racism and white supremacy. Others claim that by taking them down we are erasing memories and not honoring the past.
It is essential to acknowledge that not every person who supports the preservation of these monuments supports racism. In fact, through exposure, many Southerners have become desensitized to the horrific connotations attached to the history of Southern iconography — like the Confederate flag. Further, our generation has often inherited the desire to maintain the “Southern tradition” that accompanies the material legacy of the Confederacy. It’s probably safe to infer, or at least hope, that MUS or CBHS boys with Confederate flags hanging in their rooms, for example, typically don't mean to propagate white supremacy or neo-nazism. They, like so many other Southerners, are simply eager to uphold the traditions of their culture. Regardless of intentions, however, they are blatantly exhibiting a symbol of an institution which wrought hatred and racism for centuries and continues to do so for many still today. But this line between pride for the South and pride for the Confederacy is near impossible to draw, given the historical context.
Langston Myers (11) says, “Confederate flags are not just a symbol of the Old South, but of slavery itself; they are a reminder of the mistakes America made.” She thinks that there are many people who just associate the Confederate flag sticker on their cars or flags on their porches with being a good ole' southern family, but are ignorant to the fact that it stands for so much more.
The “so much more” Langston is referring to is white supremacy and pure racism. The problem with honoring the historic South through the Confederate flag is that not everyone can ignore the main message the flag bears. Although the flag has a complicated history, it is a material representation of the Confederate States of America, a group so diametrically opposed to the American value of “liberty and justice for all” that it went to war to uphold the practice of slavery.
Annie Leatherman (11) says that she “understands how some Southerners can feel nostalgia for the thriving south when agriculture was the main source of economy and the Delta was known for its chivalry, beautiful homes, and elegant traditions; however, it is not to be forgotten how Southern families earned their money.”
It’s difficult to approach the subject of why individuals feel the need to identify with the Old South’s support of the Confederacy. Ultimately it boils down to folks either genuinely not making the connection between the red and blue diagonal stripes and the carnage it represents, or intentionally disregarding the deeply offensive meaning behind the flag. These symbols of the Confederacy have been introduced to our generation in a sanitized way, often branded as historical artifacts “completely separate” from their racist implications. We tell ourselves that only the symbols, not the racism, have been passed down through Southern families and are now on the bumper stickers of people we may consider friends. However, we must ask ourselves if complete separation could, or should, ever be possible.
The heritage of the South is so much more than just a flag. If we want to truly honor the people and traditions of the “old South” that are actually worth celebrating, we need to stop using an item that represents so many other terrible ideals. Flying a flag that represents hatred and racism destroys any positive effect of the “Southern hospitality” that we pride ourselves for having.
It is time to stop embracing a symbol of a war fought over slavery. It is important to try to have those difficult conversations with people who you think might be spreading the wrong message about Southern history and work to understand their opinions.
Likewise, it is equally crucial to never ignore the irreparable damage Southerners caused to African Americans by upholding slavery for so many years. Yes, we definitely should stop glorifying the Confederacy by removing statues and taking down flags, but forgetting the horrors of Southern history would be pretending that the enslavement of black men and women never happened.
We must stop keeping the principles of white supremacy alive through the bearing of Confederate flags and show the rest of the United States and the world that we are working to fight hatred and racism. Memphis no longer wants to be known for the Confederacy and racism, but we will never forget the horrors inflicted upon African American slaves.