Where to stick those Confederate monuments

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In the south Mississippi town where I was born and raised, folks are in an uproar over the possibility that the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn may be removed or demolished.

Well, some white folks anyway. I did not see any brown or black faces among the Facebook profile photos of the more than 800 people who shared or weighed in on a post, a rumor that the city council was meeting to decide the monument’s fate.

Here are a few of the comments, verbatim:

“Taking a statue down is not going to change anything,” wrote one resident. “It is history you cannot erase history you learn from history but you cannot erase it.”

“If we can’t have our history then why should they have theirs?” said another. “No more Martin Luther King streets and statues! We have to learn from history. This is all so absurd! 🤬 we should just have a bunch of pacifier statues for all these babies that get their feelings hurt about crap that happened decades ago! RIDICULOUS.”

“This is a statewide epidemic,” said another. “they’re in gulfport and meridian, all with the same agenda as you see going on across the nation, they’ve made attacks on the Alamo in Texas and petitioned to get Mt Rushmore taken down. A bunch of ambulance chasers riding the Floyd outrage while chasing the ‘white supremacy’ Sasquatch.”

Others intimated more extreme action. “Where did all this bs come from just all of a sudden,” a resident wrote. “It didn’t, this is a orchestrated act of war. A civil war is close at hand.”

Said another: “Sounds like we need to load up and go stand for what we believe in need to pick a date and Jones county need to come together and stop all this!! A civil war is coming people needs to wake up and get ready!!”

* * * * * *

There are a couple ironies regarding this particular statue that are worth mentioning.

The town, my home town, is Laurel, Mississippi, which some of you will recognize as the star of Home Town, a very popular home makeover show on HGTV.

Laurel did not exist during the Civil War. It was founded in 1882, 17 years after Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, by a group of northern lumbermen who saw gold in the region’s dense forests of yellow pine and stayed around to instill ideas and fund public works that made Laurel for many years the most progressive metropolis in the Magnolia State.

An even greater irony is that Laurel is in Jones County, the most famous of a handful of Dixie counties that protested the formation of the Confederate States of America by telling Jefferson Davis to go to hell.

Jones County seceded from the CSA. Maybe you saw the movie that was made about it a few years ago, Free State of Jones, in which Matthew McConaughey starred as resistance leader Newt Knight.

The folks in Laurel who are so worked up are right about one thing: The statue that stands on the courthouse lawn does have historical significance, though not precisely Civil War history.

Like hundreds of monuments and statues across the Southern states, it’s a relic of a post-Civil War campaign by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to justify the staggering casualties and impart nobility to the secession, the cause that was misbegotten before it was lost. It was unveiled in 1912, when Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terrorism were an everyday fact of life for black Mississippians.

So, yes, the monuments do tell us something about United States history. They are also works of art that, one could argue, are a deserving of protection as any number of more recent works of art that offend many people.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t have to be African-American to understand why it’s offensive to see memorials — on public land and maintained with their tax dollars — to men who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved. I mean, imagine having your kinfolks insist on erecting a statue to the father who beat or raped you when you were a child.

What then should we do with all these statues of generals — Lee, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson et al — and those gaunt infantrymen, composite Confederate cannon fodder, who tower from pedestals over town squares from Nachez, Mississippi, to Richmond, Virginia?

One possibility would be to act on the monuments’ defenders and protectors “teaching opportunity” suggestion: Leave the sculptures where they stand but add big plaques that explain exactly what they mean historically and why and how they came to be.

Another would be to round them all up and truck them to a big piece of land that one of the Southern states could set aside as a theme park — Rebel Land perhaps, or Secession World — and charge an admission to whomever wants to see some post-Civil War history and snap some photos.

Still another option would be to sell the monuments and statues to private collectors who could do whatever they wished with them — melt them down, crush them, display them on their estates or alongside their trailers.

In both these last two cases, all proceeds would be placed in a trust to provide scholarships and business loans for the descendants of slaves. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is another way to underscore that black lives matter, then and now.

Written by

Mississippi native, award-winning veteran of The Orlando Sentinel, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newsday, stand-up storyteller, lives in Athens, Ga.

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