Jeanette Strong: Tearing down whose heritage?
“We recognized the Negro as God and God’s Book and God’s laws, in nature, tell us to recognize him. Our inferior, fitted expressly for servitude … You cannot transform the Negro into anything one-tenth as useful or as good as what slavery enables them to be,” Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America
The above quote summarizes the underlying philosophy of the Confederate States of America, formed in 1861. Because of these racist ideas, a movement to remove symbols honoring the Confederacy from our public displays has gained momentum. Even Mississippi decided to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag.
But some people, including President Donald Trump, argue against these actions. Trump claims, “The unhinged left-wing mob is trying to vandalize our history.” (June 20) He says, “We must build upon our heritage, not tear it down.” (June 16) To whose heritage is he referring?
These Confederate monuments have nothing to do with the United States’ heritage or Trump’s heritage. Trump’s paternal grandparents came from Germany, his mother from Scotland. Trump was born in New York, never a part of the Confederacy. He has no claim to that heritage.
Someone who does have a claim to that heritage, with the right to speak about it, is me. My great-great-grandfather was Willis Settle. Born in Kentucky, he and his family made the famous Settle rifles. In 1840, Willis owned six slaves, four men, a woman and a girl. I don’t know if Willis fought in the Civil War, but ancestors of mine from Mississippi fought for the Confederacy. This is my heritage.
Am I proud of this slave-owning, Confederate heritage? No. If I was, if I waved a Confederate flag or defended a Confederate statue, I would become part of it. I refuse to do that. Those who are proud of that heritage are proclaiming they are proud of slavery, including all its horrendous practices.
Anyone who wants to claim the Confederacy wasn’t based on slavery needs to read the “Cornerstone Speech,” by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy. In his March 21, 1861, speech, Stephens laid out the basis of the Confederacy: “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [of equality of people]; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
The Confederate States of America were founded on the principles of racism and slavery. Those who continue to wave their flag and honor their statues are supporting these contemptible ideas.
Above all, those who served in the Confederate Army were traitors to the United States. By joining the Confederate Army, they violated Article III, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, “levying War against [the United States].”
Some people claim these statues help remind us of our past mistakes. Removing Confederate statues is not an attempt to hide history. Germany doesn’t need statues of Nazis to remind them of their past. We don’t need Confederate statues to remind us of ours.
How do we decide which statues to remove and which to keep? Columnist Max Boot had an excellent rule of thumb: “… those who contributed a great deal to the development of our country deserve to be recognized, however flawed they were as human beings.” (Washington Post, June 23, 2020)
This preserves statues of leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, but eliminates those who served the Confederacy, since they weren’t interested in developing the United States.
An authority on all this is Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. He knows what the Confederate flag represents. “White supremacy and racism have been the basis of the celebration of that flag for a long time.”
As a young man, Lee came to understand his ancestor had fought against the U.S. to preserve slavery. “He became a traitor to the United States.” Lee concluded by saying, “If I can change, you can, too. The time of lying about our history is past and a new cause is upon us.” (New York Daily News, July 1, 2020)
Supporting the Confederacy equals support for racism. We need to show the world that this is not our heritage. Then maybe we can begin to heal what is called “America’s Original Sin.”
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at email@example.com.