Time to Let Go

The end of April brings the end of Confederate History Month in six southern states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia.  For many Americans of southern ancestry, the American Civil War is a defining moment.  It is central to the identity of virtually every southern state.  Why?  Many southern states and municipalities have various designations honoring that part of their heritage.  As a black person of Southern ancestry, I have never understood this fixation with the Confederacy or the Confederate Flag. I don’t profess to speak for all Black Americans but personally, its difficult to imagine how one can honor anything associated with the confederacy without offending every black citizen and many of the current men and women in uniform who take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  After all the Confederate States tried to tear America apart to preserve the institution of slavery.  Memorial Day began in the 1870s as Decoration Day.  It was a day of remembrance for those who died in the Civil War.  Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead.

General John Logan officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 Decoration Day, “As National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, General Order No. 11, The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of Decoration Day, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

On the first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, and 5,000 participants decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.  The first state to officially recognize the holiday was New York in 1873. By 1890 it was recognized by all northern states. Southern states refused to acknowledge the day, honoring their dead on separate days until after World War I (when the holiday changed from honoring just those who died fighting in the Civil War to honoring Americans who died fighting in any war).

This history is relevant because it demonstrates honest intentions by the northern states to honor all who died in the deadliest war of our nation.  Perhaps the wounds were too fresh for the south to feel really a part of the union in 1870, a mere five short years removed from the war’s end. It’s been over one-hundred and fifty years since the end of the Civil War.  Let it go my friends and neighbors.  It’s time the sins of the fathers’ stop being the sins of the sons.  By honoring “Confederate Heritage” in such a demonstrative fashion apart from Memorial Day, reserved for all Americans the subtext is: the rebellion was kind of cool and noble, I kind of wish they would have succeeded, and I might not think it a bad idea to try again at some time in the future...

Southern states have hundreds of years of culture and heritage of which to be very proud; the four years of the confederacy (1861-1865) are nothing to be proud of.  Document it, catalog it in libraries and museums, but don’t celebrate it.  The United States is the only nation in the world that fought a civil war over the issue of state-sanctioned slavery; the issue haunts us to this day.  Other nations figured out that slavery was immoral, vile, reprehensible and stopped the state-sanctioned practice.  Ending the divisions that exists along these lines of confederate heritage would go a long way in ending America’s race-related problems.