Little white boys in the South were once taught that it was honorable being a “Johnny Reb.”
I know because growing up in south Georgia we went on field trips to Andersonville and I watched the boys play “war” in the field there and on the school playground.
I went to one of those all-white private schools that popped up in the early ’70s in response to integration. The boys who played Confederates were “good” guys and the Union soldiers were “villains.” As a teenager introduced to “Gone With the Wind,” I was swept up in the epic saga, the romance, the history served up so majestically.
My dad, a librarian, avid reader and historian, went through a Civil War phase visiting battlefields and having his photo taken holding a Confederate flag at monuments along the way. Seven years ago in Gettysburg, I biked up to the base of the Robert E. Lee statue and had my photo taken. What was I supposed to do? Have my photo taken with Ulysses S. Grant?
In my grandmother’s book, “From Southern Wrongs to Civil Rights,” (she was an Atlanta school board member and civil rights activist alongside Dr. King) she recalls playing with Confederate money in the Georgia red clay circa 1915. The point I’m trying to make is that for those of us of a certain, ahem… age, this way of being a white Southerner is as baked into us as that Georgia red clay beneath us.
We don’t see offense in Confederate monuments because they’ve always been there and it’s been just fine – except it’s not. Many of us are still blind to the hurt and confusion that it causes people of color whose ancestors suffered indescribably in the throes of slavery – even having loved ones, their own flesh and blood, torn and sold away.
Youth today and others who migrated here do not see the world through red-clay-tinted glasses. They see the injustices; they feel the hurt of their forebears. As a 21-year-old settling in Decatur long before it was hip, I often walked past the Confederate obelisk wondering what my black brethren thought of it. How did it make them feel? It made me uneasy.
More recently a local businessman boasted a framed photo in his office of our town square circa late 1800s commenting that he looked forward to the day the soldier statue was returned to its original place in the street with its back “turned toward the North (in defiance) as it should be!”
Statues glorifying the Confederacy do not belong in a place of reverence. These mounds of concrete do not help us heal as a society and move on. They are out of place in the very heart of our town. To preserve them for posterity, place them alongside the resting Confederate soldiers in the cemetery where students, Civil War buffs and tourists can see them.
In time, statues and monuments memorializing the Old South will come down from prominent locations either carefully or by mob. They are coming down or being moved, one way or another, sooner or later.
This Southern Belle guarantees it, because the times they are a’changing, you see.
Larisa Mitchell Scott