So, we are back to arguing about Confederate flags, statues, and names on bases. Will it never end?
The South was defeated 155 years ago in a bloody war that cost the lives of at least 600,000 soldiers and even more civilians. Why would we glorify that? Confederate leaders were, in modern terms, guilty of treason.
Our adoration of Confederate icons gained steam in the early 20th century. My profession, historians, contributed temporarily by arguing that the Civil War was rooted in competing economic systems. But, clearly, the Confederacy’s distinct economic foundation was slavery. We finally got it right; almost no respectable historian now argues that the South’s determination to preserve slavery was not the root cause of the war.
Initially, Abraham Lincoln did not fight the war to emancipate the slaves but to salvage the Union. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, as a war measure – emancipating slaves only behind Confederate enemy lines, and exempting border states allied with the Union. All slaves, including the border states, were not formally liberated until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. However, Lincoln certainly knew that his proclamation was the irretrievable first step in the demise of slavery.
Then what is “Juneteenth?” June 19, 1865 was the date that Union soldiers took control of Texas, effectively emancipating the slaves in that most remote Confederate state. African Americans have come to revere June 19 as the date slavery effectively ended, although the Thirteenth Amendment was not ratified until December 1865.
Given this history, why do we cling to icons of these defeated enemies of the United States? What if the Confederates had won? America would never have become the nation we salute in the Pledge of Allegiance, one nation “indivisible,” professing “liberty and justice for all."
We do not dedicate statues of Nazi leaders. We do not name military bases for Japanese commanders who launched the attack on Pearl Harbor. Why then, do we insist on retaining these tributes to the Confederacy? Black Americans think they know why; we cling to them as comforting reinforcement for our continued bigotry, rooted in slavery.
Enough! Pack up your Confederate memorabilia; store them somewhere out of sight. Please do not display them publicly, especially on Juneteenth. Doing so will only add to the pain for our black brothers and sisters.