Here’s the thing about Confederate monuments, whether they’re statues, buildings, whatever: they were erected and named in order to try to heal the country after a brutal civil war. States and counties and cities put up the statues and named the buildings—try to put yourself in the shoes of the losing side. To half the country, the Confederate monuments were honoring their heroes; many of those men were indeed heroic on the battlefield, regardless of their beliefs or yours.
I don’t think any one of them say “Here lies a great slaveowner.”
People are complicated. Each one of us does good things and bad things. It’s okay to remember the good and condemn the bad. That doesn’t mean you forget the bad.
And trying to ascribe modern thinking to the past will definitely muddle it up.
Comparing Confederates to Hitler is erroneous; Confederates fought in a war, Hitler tried to annihilate an entire people. Yes, it’s that simple.
You should, rightfully, believe that slavery was a terrible thing. Neither you nor I had one single thing to do with it, but yes, our ancestors did. Our ancestors. Not us.
Now, you can be angry, you can be enraged about the Civil War and how people used to think and believe and act, but you also can’t know what each of them were thinking or why they did what they did. Sure, there are still some letters and papers that give clues, but as for individuals, you just can’t know.
The Civil War split families and communities even then, yet here were are, doing the exact same thing. Having an air of superiority about your own beliefs and completely discounting others’ is wrong, no matter the subject.
Do you have kids? Aren’t there some things they’ve done that you’re proud of? Of course there are. What about things they’ve done or said that appalled you? Does that make you say, “Screw them, I hate them, they’re terrible children?” I seriously doubt it.
I’ve told my ancestor story before, but I’ll tell it again:
Once upon a time, a fourteen-year-old boy in Mississippi joined up to fight for the South; so did his three brothers and his father. They were sharecroppers; they owned no slaves. “States’ rights” was a rallying cry then, so maybe that’s why they fought. I don’t know, and neither do you.
Stanford Smith was captured in Arkansas. At some point, he escaped, and he was helped by another young teenage boy, a Yankee soldier. After the war, Stanford became a minister and married a young lady who reportedly had Indian blood. Some time later, that Yankee who helped him escape during the war, Jonathon Kirk, wrote to him about selling some horses; Jonathon and his son, Samuel, took a herd to Mississippi where Samuel fell in love with Stanford’s daughter. They married when she turned sixteen.
That, my friends, is the ultimate healing. No one bitched about a statue, no one burned down a building because of its name, but two families came together. And if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would my cousins.
Even if I knew for sure that Stanford believed in slavery, I wouldn’t slash him from family history—he had his reasons, even if I don’t agree with them, whatever they were. I wouldn’t presume to speak for him, and, maybe the entire point is that he’s been dead for 111 years. Many, many things have changed since then.