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Now What?

(I wrote this for the Urban News in July 2020.)

So, protests have swept the nation. There were protests from California to Texas to Florida and everywhere in between. There were protests in large cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago. And there were protests in small towns throughout the United States like Canton, MO, Morgantown, WV, Potsdam, NY, and Woburn, MA. More than a hundred protesters even showed up for Black Lives Matter in Pen Argyl, PA (population 3,600). The majority of the protests were peaceful. Unfortunately, there was some looting, though whether connected to protesters or simply opportunistic is in question. Lately, it appears that the protests have been centered around Confederate monuments.

This whole movement, whatever you want to call it, must be about more than pulling down Confederate monuments. There must be something tangible that comes out of all this heartache and pain.

I grew up in the South. I have lived more than 90 percent of my life in the South—from Dallas, to Shreveport, to Atlanta, to Asheville. I live and breathe southern culture. We glossed over the Civil War in high school. I did read Battle Cry of Freedom, an 800-page monstrosity written by James McPherson. It is incredibly detailed; it even appears to me that McPherson told it like it was. Like it still is.

States’ Rights v. Slavery
When you grow up in the South, you are taught that the Civil War was fought because of “states’ rights.” That is, the southern states simply wanted the right to do whatever they wanted without Washington telling them what to do. And because of this, young men took up arms against those bad old Yankees. And, the argument continues, Southerners just wanted to be free. They were rebels against too much government power.

Unfortunately, this is a nice, innocent, and utterly dishonest retelling of history. The South wanted to own slaves. The Civil War was about slavery.
Now, when I look back at it, it was almost funny, if not criminal, the way the Civil War was taught in high school. We only really covered three things: we learned about a few battles; the North won; and Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

That was mostly it. Oh, and there was this thing called Reconstruction, but it didn’t last.

But when you delve deeply into the War Between the States, you see something different. South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the union. Their leaders wrote up this very nice document that resembles the Declaration of Independence in some ways. They laid out their grievances. They opined that the Constitution of States that were the original 13 states were to be “free, sovereign and independent states.” (They did write this in CAPS, just to make sure that nobody misses it.)

The truth
But toward the end of their declaration they began to rail against the “non-slaveowning states,” writing, “They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies whose avowed object is to disrupt the peace and to eloign [take away] the property of the citizens of other states. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes, and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”

It would be heartwarming if South Carolina were the only state that openly stated they left the union because of slavery. But, almost every one of the states that seceded had something like this in their declarations of secession. More importantly, in the Articles of Confederate States (Constitution of the Confederate States), the document that the seceded states put together, clearly delineates in Article 1, section 9 that the South was about slavery. The clearest section is subsection 4, No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in Negro slaves shall be passed.

To me, this is pretty clear. The Civil War wasn’t about honor or virtue. Now, did honor and virtue occur during the war? Of course they did. Honor and virtue appear during every war. So does noble sacrifice, and even heroism. All of these are noble qualities.

But that’s not what the Civil War was about. The Civil War was about slavery. It was about the South’s right to keep human beings enslaved as personal property; as chattel. That’s what the Civil War was all about.

Until we, as Southerners, understand this, embrace that truth, make it become one with our souls, we are doing everybody a disservice. (more…)

By |2020-09-23T19:32:15-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Civil Rights, Newsletter|Comments Off on Now What?

Happy 4th of July (Update)

I hope that everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July.

Let me share this with you:

July 4, 1861 — exactly a hundred and fifty years ago — witnessed the reading aloud, on the floor of Congress, of Abraham Lincoln’s Message to Congress in Special Session.

The circumstantial appeal of Lincoln’s message turned on his defense of the Union against the threat posed by secession, and that is the part most people have in mind when they recall the most famous words of the address: “This is essentially a People’s contest.” Lincoln was speaking for democracy. He was also speaking for a Union, popular in character and progressive in direction, as the heart of all future hopes for democracy.

Another part of the Special Message matters more to us today. For Lincoln saw an unresolvable tension between the constitution of a democratic republic and the policies of aggrandizement and intemperate self-interest that lead from the manners of freedom to the slavish love of power. He spoke of the difference between the work of establishing a constitutional republic and the longer task of maintaining it. But maintaining it against what? Lincoln’s answer was always the same: against the internal pressure of greed, and the external pressure of war. The predicament of the country in 1861, he said, “forces us to ask: ‘Is there, in all republics, this inherent, and fatal weakness? Must a government,
of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?'”

We are now ten years into a policy shared by two successive administrations to plant a new understanding of the spirit of the laws in America. That policy has pretended there is a “trade-off” between liberty and security, and that in a time of crisis, security ought to have the upper hand. The Cheney-Bush and Obama administrations have accustomed us to laws and language concerned above all with the “protection” of citizens — as if there were something higher or more worth protecting than the liberty that is guaranteed by our laws and
the framework of laws, the Constitution. (more…)

Update: I really liked this photo. It captures the 4th at least it did for me. So, I posted it.
American Puppy

By |2011-07-04T07:00:13-04:00July 4th, 2011|Domestic Issues|Comments Off on Happy 4th of July (Update)

Another cause for the Civil War

I have read lots of explanations about the start of the Civil War. The census may be the most unique.

From the New York Times:

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing; a lot of it can be deadly. Such was the case on the eve of the Civil War. Among all the events that touched off the great conflict — John Brown’s raid in 1859, Abraham Lincoln’s presidential victory in 1860 — there is one that has been strangely ignored by most historians. True, it was less dramatic than the others. It occurred when enumerators traveled from door to door throughout America, counting up Easterners and Westerners; Northerners and Southerners; blacks and whites; freemen and slaves. The numbers that they came up with helped to split apart the Union.

Eighteen-sixty was a federal Census year, and the results had begun coming in early that autumn — with exquisitely poor timing, as far as Southern paranoia and Northern hubris were concerned. At the very moment that the slave states faced the imminent election of a Republican, antislavery president, a candidate who would win without a single vote in the Deep South, came other, equally shocking signs of change.

Preliminary figures that began appearing in the press as early as September 1860 confirmed what many Americans already suspected: immigration and westward expansion were shifting the country’s balance of population and power. Since the last count, in 1850, the North’s population had increased an astonishing 41 percent, while the South’s had grown only 27 percent. (Between 2000 and 2010, by comparison, the entire nation’s population grew just 9.7 percent.) Tellingly, the statistical center of national population had shifted for the first time not only west of the original 13 states, but also from slave territory into free: from Virginia to Ohio.

Some regions of the country — places that just a few years earlier had been sparsely populated forests and prairies, with unfamiliar Indian names — were now thriving states. In a number of cases, the growth had been astonishing. In 1836, one of these upstart territories had claimed fewer than 12,000 inhabitants. Now, in 1860, it boasted 778,000 — an increase of almost 6,400 percent in less than a quarter of a century. (more…)

By |2011-04-08T05:50:14-04:00April 8th, 2011|Domestic Issues|Comments Off on Another cause for the Civil War
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