Enough Already


“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

It’s been 154 years since the Civil War ended and still Southern white supremacists expect everyone else in the country to walk on eggshells around them so as not to upset their mythology or the chips on their shoulders. Yesterday, July 13, was Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee, a holiday there since 1931, when it seemed like a good idea to commemorate a Confederate general who murdered captive black Union soldiers during the war, and after it became the first national leader of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Now it’s 2019, and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee‘s lame excuse for continuing the practice is that it is what’s expected of him under the law, even though he could push to have the law changed if he had the political will and courage.

All this hiding behind the disingenuous mantra of “heritage, not hate” is for the purpose of upholding monuments to and celebrations of Confederate leaders whose actions and beliefs, however much they deluded themselves and others in their own times into feeling were noble and righteous, have in the past 154 years proven to be in the service of one overriding principle – white supremacy. Dress up evil however you want, turn somersaults in logic if you like – in the end it’s still evil. Once state and local governments withdraw their sponsorship of these Confederate monuments and celebrations, individuals are still free to honor them in private if they are so inclined. No one is infringing their First Amendment free speech rights in speaking out on behalf of their Confederate idols in the public square; it’s just that everyone else no longer has to be subject to the constant looming presence of publicly sponsored monuments and celebrations reminding them to know their place, particularly if they are the descendants of slaves.

Birth of a Nation theatrical poster
Theater poster for the 1915 D.W. Griffith film The Birth of a Nation. The movie glorified the KKK and set the stage for the organization’s resurgence shortly afterward.

In the past two and a half years, because of the tone set by the White Supremacist-in-Chief occupying the Oval Office (proving not all white supremacists are Southerners, by any means), more awful people have crept from the shadows into the light than many decent people were aware existed. As the specter of awful behavior grows, it is not enough for decent people to shun it and the awful people who afflict society with their malevolent derangement; decent people need to confront it, preferably without violence, but by speaking out forcefully and often in public, because otherwise a bully will always take silence to mean assent, even approval.

A clip from an August 2017 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert which aired shortly after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

After a generation has passed, will we erect monuments to the malignant culture that has grown within Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Border Patrol? Will we celebrate the concentration camps for brown-skinned immigrants at “detention sites” from Texas to California and elsewhere around the country? Stopping the cancerous growth of white supremacy will require more decent white people standing up to it and saying “enough already”, an outspoken attitude of noble and righteous indignation that is long past overdue, as evidenced by a state still celebrating in 2019 the hateful heritage of Nathan Bedford Forrest.
— Vita


A Very Long Weekend


Lee-Jackson Day is not a holiday that is generally recognized throughout the United States, and even in Virginia, where the holiday originated, most people are unaware of it. Yet it persists, tied to the Friday before the third Monday in January, which happens to be Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For nearly 20 years at the end of the twentieth century, the two holidays were bundled together in Virginia on the same day, making it an even more peculiar observance. Since the separation of Lee-Jackson day to the Friday preceding Martin Luther King Jr. Day, some of the minority of people who regularly note its passing are the state workers who get Friday off, and therefore a very long weekend on account of the national holiday the following Monday.

Giving some state workers an extra day off is a poor excuse for continuing a holiday that most people have little enthusiasm for observing. There are small groups of Southern history enthusiasts who gather in Lexington, Virginia, every year on the long weekend (long, but not very long, because it includes Friday, but generally not Monday), where both Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are buried. Washington and Lee University, a private institution in Lexington, and the place where General Lee was president from shortly after the Civil War until his death in 1870, only recently started distancing itself from the Confederate memorializing controversy by refusing to lend its facilities to these Southern history groups and by canceling classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Southern history enshrined by observances like Lee-Jackson Day and by monuments to the Confederacy is a peculiarly blinkered history, however, and for enthusiasts of that narrow vision to act perplexed when some other folks object is either daftly naive or disingenuous, more likely the latter. In the Jim Crow days of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when many of the Confederate memorializing was first officially sanctioned as a means of reminding everyone who was still really in charge in the South, fans of the Confederacy could be quite open about their views and not be concerned over anyone’s objections. It was easier then to point out such people for what they were, even if it was harder to do anything about it.

Arlington House
Arlington House, former home of Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, with Section 32 of Arlington National Cemetery in the foreground. Photo by Protoant.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the civil rights leader most instrumental in changing all that in the middle of the twentieth century, and for his accomplishments he has been nationally recognized with a holiday on the third Monday in January. Discrimination against black people was certainly nor restricted to the South, but since it was there where it was most culturally and institutionally ingrained, that was where Dr. King held his rallies, boycotts, and marches.

The regional holiday of Lee-Jackson Day is a holdover from the Jim Crow era, and for the people of that time, who could be open about their white supremacist views, the holiday certainly represented something less innocuous than the claims today’s Southern history enthusiasts make for it. Some of those Confederacy fans understand that, but they also understand that these days it behooves them to be less open about their views, in great part due to the legacy of Dr. King. Nowadays they are often as not passive-aggressive in defiance of others’ objections to their glorification of white supremacy, saying “Oh, does this [Confederate statue, battle flag, etc.] bother you? I’m so sorry to bruise your delicate feelings, Snowflake.”

Such people may be ignorant of the view of their hero, General Lee, who did not approve of memorializing the Confederacy because it would prevent wounds opened by the war from healing. It could be, however, that since they are not the ones who suffered any wounds, they lack the imagination or the empathy to understand Lee’s sentiment. Then there those who recognize the wounds in others and seek to keep them open, even salting them occasionally, because it gives them power or satisfies their spitefulness. Those are the ones who held rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, in July and August of last year. Everyone should consider honestly then whose interests are served by propping up outdated and outmoded Confederate memorializing, whatever form it takes, and by relating a history of stars and bars while glossing over shackles and whips.
― Vita


This Land Is Our Land


The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12 ended up being more about the neo-Nazi version of white supremacy than the purported issue of memorials to the Confederacy and whether or not they represent another version of white supremacy. Despite that difference, it hardly matters to the victims whether white supremacy is rooted in Nazism and World War II or slavery and the Civil War. The neo-Nazis merely co-opted the issue of removing a statue of Robert E. Lee from a public park in order to further their own hateful agenda.


The backlash to the rally in Charlottesville has had the effect of expediting removal of Confederate memorials around the country. Instead of preserving memorials to the Confederacy, an issue which the neo-Nazis obviously had an interest in only as a flash point, the effect of their demonstration has been to bring to the attention of the general public the real purpose of many of those memorials and why it is a good idea to remove them. The majority of the statues, for instance, were put up in the Jim Crow era, often outside courthouses, and it is clear from dedication speeches of the time that the statues were meant to serve the dual purpose of preserving the memory of the rebellion as well as reminding black people and their few white allies that the old guard was still in charge, no matter what the Constitution of the United States had to say about equality of the races.

Woody Guthrie NYWTS
Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), writer of “This Land Is Your Land”, performing in 1943. The sign on his guitar says “This machine kills fascists”. Photo by Al Aumuller of the New York World-Telegram.

Another bump in confederate memorializing came during the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Through the Jim Crow era assertion of the old order and then reassertion during the Civil Rights era the rest of the country took little note of the symbols being put up all around the South. Visitors might think some of the memorializing was odd to the extent that they noted it at all, but for the most part they put it down to a “Southern thing” in which it was best not to interfere. The region’s inhabitants, black and white, surely understood why the memorials were there, though some of the white people among them chose to gloss over their uglier meaning by looking at them only as symbols of plucky defiance against Northern aggression, ignoring the centrality of slavery to the conflict, which was written down in the Declarations of Secession by their own leaders.


Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, a region sacred to many Native Americans.

Now that the issue of Confederate memorials’ role in asserting white supremacy has come to national attention, it is perhaps time to start examining white supremacy memorials in every context across the country. The idea expressed by the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville that white people have an inherent right to lead this nation and subjugate other groups is self-evidently asinine. Native Americans are the only true Americans, and they of course are not white people. It is entirely unlikely at this point, however, that hundreds of millions of people, black and white, African and European, will board ships and return to their lands of origin, much as the real Native Americans may wish that at least some troublemakers would do just that.

Like it or not, this land is now populated by one big, argumentative family. Some of us hate each other, and it appears that will always be so, but the idea that one group of the family, namely white people – and in particular a subset of privileged white heterosexual males – should continue to dominate the others is an evil premise. Stow your petty, self-pitying grievances and move on, so that when we all get together for Thanksgiving we can have peace in the family.
― Vita

An August 1993 performance at Wolf Trap in Virginia. Arlo Guthrie’s daughters sing backup, his son plays keyboards, and Pete Seeger’s grandson is the singer in between Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger on stage.


Heritage of Hate


The evening before the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist marchers wound their way across the Grounds of the University of Virginia (UVA) in a torchlight parade. That demonstration caught city and university officials by surprise. The “Unite the Right” rally organizers had a permit from the city for a demonstration on Saturday, August 12, at a city park, ostensibly to protest the imminent removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They made no formal arrangements with the university for their torchlight parade the evening before, on August 11. It was at the rally on UVA grounds that the marchers showed their true colors.

German American Bund NYWTS
German American Bund parade in New York City on East 86th Street on 30 October 1939; photo by New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer.


Chanting “Blood and Soil” and “Jew will not replace us”, neither of which bear the slightest relationship to Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, or the often disingenuously used slogan “Heritage not Hate”, but everything to do with Nazism, the marchers dropped any pretense they were gathered from around the country to promote a positive program of support for white culture in general, and for southern heritage in particular. They were gathered to instill fear and to vent hatred in the manner of the white supremacists of Nazi Germany before them.
The “Blood and Soil” slogan was telling because it came directly from the Nazi policy of promoting pure Aryan blood heritage over all others, and exalting ties to the native land, or soil, of which the Nazis had an expansive vision, since it included the grain fields of the Ukraine. That expansionism, seen by the Nazis as their birthright, was known as “Lebensraum”, or Living Space. All that has not even a tenuous relationship to issues of southern pride, for which the marchers were supposedly gathered. The anti-Semitic slogan speaks for itself.

The opening scene of the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird, introducing a farmer, Mr. Cunningham, portrayed by Crahan Denton, when he visits Scout and her father, the lawyer Atticus Finch, to partially repay his debt for Mr. Finch’s legal help.

The white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville this past weekend had no business being there other than the convenient rallying point of the removal of symbols of the Confederacy from public spaces. They wanted to vent their own petty grievances and hatred against a culture that is leaving them behind. They pretend that America was and is theirs to do with as they please, and that everyone else who has other ideas is an interloper and an enemy to be intimidated, beaten, and ultimately disposed of. The Native American tribes would have something to say about who belongs here and who are the interlopers. Hitler, for whom the American theft of land and expulsion and genocide of native peoples served as a model for what he wanted to accomplish in the Ukraine and in eastern Europe, would no doubt support this past weekend’s white supremacist warriors.

Later in the film, Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck, holds off a lynch mob intent on dragging out of jail his client, a black man named Tom Robinson accused of raping a white woman. Mr. Finch receives inadvertent but effective help from Scout, portrayed by Mary Badham, who singles out Mr. Cunningham from the crowd, talking to him about personal matters like his property entailment. Mr. Cunningham is embarrassed by Scout bringing up his financial embarrassment in public, the matter which Mr. Finch has been helping him resolve, and Mr. Cunningham can no longer remain a faceless part of the lynch mob. Unlike the white supremacist mob gathered in Charlottesville, chanting “Blood and Soil”, Mr. Cunningham was a true man of the soil, and he was tied by family blood to his entailed property in rural Alabama during the hard scrabble times of the Great Depression. He was also capable of feeling shame, and therefore capable of redemption.


Robert E. Lee, the forgotten man supposedly at the center of all this, would have been befuddled by the slogans expressed at the torchlight rally. Thomas Jefferson, whose statue in front of the Rotunda at UVA was the focal point for the end of the evening’s march, would have been disgusted by the slogans and the people expressing them. Yes, both men owned slaves and were in that sense white supremacists themselves, but they had a grander idea of the world than to shrink it down to hating others as they might have hated themselves. It would have been beyond their dignity to portray themselves as victims and whine about the erosion of their privileged position, as those people supposedly gathered in Charlottesville to worship their graven images have done. Those people have a more fitting recipient for their craven idolatry, a man who died amid the ruins of his bigotry in Berlin on 30 April 1945.
― Izzy


Hail the Conquered Heroes


The 1944 film Hail the Conquering Hero, written and directed by Preston Sturges, satirizes our need for heroes and the lengths we will go to in order to assert myth over reality.


People seem to have a deep need for heroes, and will invent mythologies around the ones they anoint and erect monuments to them. If worshiping their hero and fetishizing the symbols around him or her serve as a poke in the eye to some others, well then that’s too bad. Those in power decide who gets a monument, and the powerless have to live with it. When some citizens criticize the symbolic nature of those monuments, the powerful react with anger, as if some people have a lot of nerve for objecting to getting poked in the eye.


All around the former Confederate States of America, civic arguments are going on over the proper role of Civil War symbols and monuments in public places. Almost all of these symbols and monuments are martial in nature, with an undertone of defiance. For some, the War Between the States continues, 150 years on, and those whose eyes are poked because of it need to remember their place. One wonders how they would feel if a statue of William Tecumseh Sherman was put on prominent display in Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia. How about a statue of the English King George III in New York City’s Central Park? Since at least a third of residents of the American colonies were Loyalists during the Revolution, that war can be considered the first American Civil War, or War Between the Revolutionists and the Loyalists, if you prefer.

He burned atlanta
General Sherman Memorial, Washington, D.C.; photo by Flickr user debaird.


New York City. After a public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, a crowd pulls down the statue of King George III to be melted into bullets. Contemporary engraving.

The Civil War monuments should not be removed, as that would silence part of history, like the activists who want to silence speech they don’t agree with. A better policy is to acknowledge and memorialize those other people from history, the ones who have been ignored while the powerful played up the mixed accomplishments of generals and statesmen. In Charlottesville, Virginia, where one of those civic debates is going on about the desire of some to see statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson removed from public parks, the former head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the 1950s, Eugene Williams, believes the statues should stay, but the city should also memorialize the slave auction site at Court Square. Auctioning slaves within sight of the seat of justice, the local courthouse, is a stark reminder of the contradictions in our culture, and memorializing both the auction block and Generals Lee and Jackson on their horses would yield a more complex, adult understanding of history than listening to only one side of the story.
― Vita