A Brief History
On January 19, 2018, Texans celebrate Confederate Heroes Day, while in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi Robert E. Lee Day is celebrated. In 2017 the United States was torn by protests and counter protests, notably leading to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the subject of removing Confederate statues and monuments from public areas. Previously, campaigns to remove Confederate flags from public places resulted in South Carolina becoming the last state to stop flying the “Stars and Bars” over its capital (2015). Americans seem torn between honoring their ancestors and erasing every trace of what is deemed to be a shameful chapter in American History.
In recent years the widespread use of video recording devices, especially in cell phones, has made the recording of police arrests and use of force commonplace, as has the increasing use of police dash-cams and body-cams. The public has been subjected to many videos seeming to portray police as acting with brutality, often with embellishments and a lack of careful investigation into the real circumstances. Most of these controversial recordings are of police (White or Black) subduing or shooting African American offenders. The subject of racial discrimination against African Americans, especially by the police has been with us seemingly forever, but the recent rise in video of such incidents (starting with Rodney King back in 1991) has kindled a great flame of distrust and even hatred toward the police by the African American community (and many others of all races). It turns out these incidents have been aggravated by the Russian use of social media and other means to exacerbate racial tensions in the US so as to undermine US government authority. The media has also falsely portrayed some incidents (notably the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman incident) to create phony outrage.
With the background of controversy over police practices, the display of the Confederate flag, and Confederate monuments, the election and inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the US has further hurt race relations in the US. The virtual exclusion of African Americans (aside from token participation) in his presidential campaign and White House decision making group is combined with numerous statements and actions that cause many Americans to think of President Trump as either an out an out racist, or at least racially insensitive to the extreme. His comments just this week about Haiti (a virtually all African country) and countries in Africa as being “sh*thole countries” shocked and dismayed not just Americans, but outraged many around the world. The treatment of former President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, by Donald Trump and other “birthers” that insisted Obama was not a real American and the unprecedented disrespect shown our 44th President has further eroded race relations in the United States.
In light of these developments, the question about honoring former Confederates and the cause they represented has become a national debate. Many African American citizens are highly insulted by the presence of Confederate flags, memorials, monuments, holidays, and their depiction in school books as men of honor and heroes, despite being slave owners or supporting the slavery of people of African descent. The descendants of Confederate soldiers, sailors, and politicians resent the denigration of their ancestors, people looked upon as doing what they thought was right and devoting their very lives to the cause. Many people that celebrate Confederate heroes and causes are proud of their heritage and are willing to defend that heritage fiercely.
Question for students (and subscribers): So what should Americans do? Should Confederate Holidays such as Confederate Heroes Day (not celebrated on the same day in all states) and Robert E. Lee Day (now often celebrated on the third Monday in January instead of January 19th, Lee’s birthdate) have any official government status (state or local)? Should such days of honoring the Confederacy be banned? Should the many statues and memorials be destroyed or removed to private property? Is flying a Confederate flag “hate speech?” Should other Americans respect the rights of Confederate sympathizers to worship their past as they please? Where does one draw the line, or lines? Please give us your opinions on these topics, preferably making your arguments civil, in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Barr, John McKee. Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. LSU Press, 2014.
Coski, John. The Confederate Battle Flag. Harvard University Press, 2005.
Thomas, Emory M. Robert E. Lee: A Biography. W.W. Norton, 1995.