Spoiler alert: the Confederacy lost.
I realize I just ruined the Civil War for folks, but there’s some confusion to be addressed.
Sure, most United States history classes teach that the War Between the States ended in 1865. Though math has never been my strong point, even I can determine that this was a few years ago–oh, 100+, to be inexact.
Plenty of time for news of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House to spread, right? Granted, the war sputtered on after that but, by May, the 11 seceding Southern states had rejoined the Union and in December, Congress ratified the 13th Amendment (how many amendments to the Constitution are there, anyway?*). In consumer terms, the Confederacy is Zune to the Union’s indefatigable iTunes. Done. Vanquished. Rendered obsolete.
In current POTUS parlance, losers.
We must remember, however, that these events occurred when Twitter was but the sound of birds in Virginia’s trees on that fateful April day. Without a daily newsfeed or Saturday Night Live, it could be difficult knowing exactly what’s happening in American government.
Despite an appalling lack of information technology, word that the Confederacy had been defeated leaked. Now, I know conspiracy theories abound (I myself enjoy the idea of an alternative universe these days), but hard evidence exists in support of this so-called Union victory: common American currency, nation-wide elections, and a unified NFL. Plus, you don’t need a passport to enter Texas–yet. That requirement is probably under consideration, just as soon as the #Txlege gets done with the busy work of ensuring women’s health providers, immigrants, and people searching for a place to pee aren’t welcome in the Lone Star State.
Slow, untrustworthy reportage is only a small factor in lasting confusion about the Civil War. Clearly, there’s an optics issue. With all the monuments and statues glorifying Confederate leaders sprinkled throughout the South, you’d think these guys had invented sliced bread, the internet, and cotton gins. Or won the war.
Visual learners across America must be confused. I’ve seen those monuments with my own two eyes. Why trust some “expert” or all that fake news floating around, created by shady journalistic publications and weird government scholars? Sure, they say Mahatma Gandhi was a great man who changed the world, but have you ever seen his statue here? I rest my case.
Truly, aside from social media followers, how does any red-blooded American really know who’s a hero if not for an Everytown USA memorial?
Take, for example, the Lee statue in New Orleans. Man, this behemoth, a 16-foot high erection immortalizing the “hero of the South,” went up quickly. The group behind its 1884 installation even renamed the location “Lee Circle.” Clearly, the general was to be honored for his role in American history, setting aside any significance this icon of the South might hold for New Orlean’s Black citizens. Lee’s likeness there is probably as popular as, say, an immense cornucopia representing Panem’s fallen Peacekeepers, erected in downtown District 11, after the 74th Hunger Games. [Yes, I avoided “rued the day” in that comparison. You’re welcome.]
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a pretty good speech this week about why that statue had to come down in May 2017. He nattered on about “you elected me to do the right thing, not the easy thing” and lectured a bit on how “there’s a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for it.” And, as American government lovers are bound to do, he trotted out equality (“In our blessed land we all come to the table of democracy as equals”) and unity: “We forget, we deny how much we really depend on each other.”
Mayor Landrieu even talked optics. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, and we’re a nation of short-attention-span visual learners, statues glorifying the Confederacy’s “we can have slaves, y’all” leadership are just plain wrong.
We can’t keep confusing the nation with fake news and bad optics.
The mayor was somewhat more eloquent, but who has the time for well-crafted words in this age of 140-character attention spans? Perhaps an emphatically worded tweet from the president would clear things up.
But Wait, There’s More!
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s amazing speech, text here and below, the video for those who don’t like to read:
Timeline of the United States Civil War (some cool photos, if you’re a history buff)
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”~13th Amendment
*Easy-to-read summary of 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution (first 10=Bill of Rights)
Constitution of the Confederate States (you don’t have to wade through the white nationalist hate sites to find a reputable source)
What is “The Lost Cause” ? (viewpoint mentioned by Mayor Landrieu)
Eli Whitney patented the cotton gin (but did a Black man invent it?)