Removing Confederate vestiges honoring slavery in public venues

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

It should not be surprising with the election of President Trump that once suppressed voices of racism and White supremacy ultimately feel they have an open and comfortable venue to show their true colors. Under the rallying call ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’ which most African Americans find mentally offensive, many uncovered White racists feel they have carte blanche to come out of their closets in support of a time in American history when they openly manifested and flaunted having the upper hand.

Many African Americans feel this slogan refers to a time in history favoring slavery, Jim Crow Laws, Black Codes, and segregation that catapulted many Whites to securing unprecedented wealth and privileges—while minimizing and dehumanizing the value of Blacks to either ‘property’ or second class status. In fact, it is insulting for Blacks when some Whites try to dilute or rationalize the reality of chattel slavery as if it hadn’t been that bad, with most slaves being happy and complacent. Give me a break.

You cannot erase the reality of a horrendous and unholy practice whose tentacles are ever present and institutionalized in our lives, even today. The institution of slavery in the United States cannot be dismissed and down played, especially when the repercussions are still felt by African Americans—socially, economically and psychologically every day. It shouldn’t be surprising that African Americans are highly offended when they see public monuments, schools, institutions and streets paying homage to radical extremists with a known history of perpetuating slavery and White supremacy.

Why is it so hard for many White supporters of the Confederacy to understand the feelings Blacks feel toward that time of history and not see that it is literally a slap in their faces when some Confederates are honored publically? Surely if supporters of these Confederate monuments put themselves in the shoes of the descendants of slaves, they could understand their stance to remove these hurtful vestiges of a time that African Americans detest and have no desire to honor.

No one is trying to erase history. It happened, good or bad. But many of these former avowed slave owners and slave traders find themselves on the wrong side of history and should not be honored in public venues. Let’s not sugar coat slavery. It was cruel, oppressive, and horrendous—supporting a privileged way of life for rich southern Whites, promoting White supremacy. No one is trying to take away anyone’s Southern heritage, but flagrant supporters of its abuse should not be honored and celebrated publically at the expense of the descendants of those enslaved.

Celebrated heroes of the Confederacy can be remembered and discussed in books, museums, and privately in homes but should not be honored or celebrated publically. If you are cognizant and respectful of other’s feelings, would you flaunt things in their face that could be seen as disrespectful causing them hurt and psychological pain? African Americans feelings are real just like anyone else’s and shouldn’t be trivialized as inconsequential.

It is quite evident that many Whites know that publically displaying the Confederate flag is disrespectful and hurtful to Blacks, but they don’t care. It just reminds us that this inherent air of privilege and entitlement many Whites entertain supersedes everything, supporting an attitude of White supremacy.

For those who think that African Americans are being too sensitive and thin skinned in rallying to remove offensive tributes to the Confederacy, just talk to the Jews and ask them how they feel about honoring Germans involved in the Holocaust. Would you erect a monument honoring Hitler or any of his generals or executioners? Better yet, would you openly flaunt a swastika (symbol of Nazi Germany) in public? I think not. In fact wearing and Nazi paraphernalia is illegal in Germany. You can be arrested.

Would you tell a Jew to get over the Holocaust? I would think not. So why is it so hard to understand how African Americans feel about removing Confederate imagery in public places? For some who might not get it, African Americans have feelings like everyone else. Our pain and hurt are real and should not be taken for granted.

Kudos to New Orleans for removing its four monuments honoring the Confederacy—monuments dedicated to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy; Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard; and a monument honoring a White supremacy group’s attack on the city’s integrated police force. Thanks to the states refusing to let the Confederate flag fly over government buildings. You got it right.

Tennessee should be ashamed of harboring a bust of Nathan Belford Forrest in its State’s Capitol. Forrest was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, a slave owner and trader, and the Confederate general responsible for the slaughter of 300 Union troops (half of them African Americans) seeking to surrender during the battle at Fort Pillow. The bust of Forrest is located in the lobby between the House and Senate chambers of the Capitol Building. Adding insult to injury, the bust is protected by the law—a flagrant sign of disrespect and symbol many Blacks feel represents White supremacy. It is nothing more than a visual slap in the face to African Americans in Tennessee.

There are groups working to have visitors, companies, and conventions boycott doing business in Tennessee until the vestiges commemorating hate, slavery and White supremacy are removed from public venues in the state. Many Black Nashvillans feel our Black legislators have compromised their dignity and integrity by walking past the bust and not demanding its removal by whatever means necessary. It is unacceptable, disrespectable and degrading regardless of the rationalizing by some supporters making excuses for its presence. Eradicating this problem should not be contentious if you are interested in doing the right thing. It’s a ‘no brainer.’ The bust must go as well as other vestiges publically honoring the Confederacy in the state of Tennessee.