March 25, 2017
Creating Confederate History Month, as some lawmakers propose, would be fine with us, but only if it teaches reality instead of myth.
Otherwise, Savannah’s Rep. Jesse Petrea and the bill’s other sponsors should be ashamed of themselves for trying to perpetuate a distorted view of history with no care for the ignorance they spread or the pain they cause millions of Georgians who wish the Confederacy would die, once and for all, or at least not be glorified.
If a Confederate History Month taught the full story, it surely would include the principles underlying the creation of the Confederate States of America.
Despite the deniers who claim slavery wasn’t the primary issue, it was a founding principle as various documents and speeches confirm.
The Confederacy’s “cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man. Slavery – subordination to the superior race – is his natural and normal condition,” the newly-named vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, explained in an 1861 speech in Savannah.What about Georgia’s “Declaration of the Causes of Secession”?
That’s a lengthy discourse of complaints, mostly related to the North’s attempts to curtail slavery. When the document gets around to a simple list of reasons, the first is this: Northern “rulers… have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property,” meaning slaves.
However abhorrent the ideas of slavery and white supremacy are, you might forgive Mr. Stephens for expressing a belief common among whites at the time, and you could recognize that enslaved people were considered legal property back then.
What you can’t do, if you accurately teach Confederate history, is say that slavery and the threat of its abolition didn’t prompt the creation of the CSA.
It’s affirmed in the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes and Justifications Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina,” the first to leave the Union and the first to attack a federal fort.
To be sure, many of the brave Georgians who fought for the Confederacy did so not to preserve slavery but to defend the dignity of the South against an arrogant North.
Most of the CSA’s soldiers owned no slaves, and many slave owners found ways to sit out the war and let others fight for them. Tragically, thousands of young men lost their lives or their limbs or died of starvation or disease.
President Abraham Lincoln himself was conflicted on the subject of abolition when he was elected in 1860. He abhorred slavery and wanted to limit its spread, but he saw no way to abolish it. Students of Confederate history could consider why, then, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation?
Plenty has been said of late in popular culture about the cruelties of slavery. Still, how can you study Confederate history without learning about the realities of the institution that was the cornerstone of the CSA?
Using virtual reality, schools could recreate conditions that slaves endured while working in, and dying in, the rice plantations and cotton fields of Georgia. Recommended reading would include, “Journal of a residence on a Georgian Plantation: 1838 – 1839,” by Briton Fanny Kemble, married to Georgia’s largest slaveholder.
There’s so much material to study and historic sites to see during Confederate History Month, if done right.
What about those Southerners, black and white, who tried to organize resistance? What about those counties that tried to secede from Georgia so they could remain in the Union?
Tell those stories, too.
Unfortunately, the bill proposing such a month doesn’t seem to cover much.
It says southerners formed the CSA and fought the Civil War “for states’ rights, individual freedom, and local governmental control, which they believed to be right and just.”
It goes on to pay tribute to the “more than 90,000 brave men and women who served the Confederate States of America.”
Nowhere in the bill will you find the “s” word. The aforementioned “individual freedom” pertained to white people only.
If we are to honor the valor, the bravery, the sacrifices of the Confederates, we must also acknowledge the cruelty, the degradation, the inhumanity of the institution which was the Confederacy’s founding principle.
Unless we tell it all, we’d be honoring a fairy tale, not history. We’d be dishonoring the millions of Georgians who were kidnapped and sold into slavery or who descended from those who were.
They, too, are citizens of our state and are due the same respect as those who descended from the soldiers and generals of the CSA.