Lost Cause

02.20.13

Down South, The Civil War Didn't End in 1865

Chris Herrington makes an excellent point in the Memphis Flyer: you can't remember the Civil War without also remembering what came after it:

The parks issue is essentially a localized proxy war in a larger conflict over the past, present, and future of Southern identity. Memphis' Confederate parks and monuments, like most remaining emblems of the Confederacy throughout the South, are essentially political. They were not and are not about remembering the Civil War but were and are symbols of resistance to what came after, namely the long, hard slog toward the equality that the Confederacy was organized to deny. Anyone clinging to long-corrupted memories of the Confederacy in 2013 is not doing so out of a respect for history or fealty to ancestors but out of their own present resistance to changing demographics and other impingements of modernity.

The most common and most eye-rolling complaint about the prospect of renaming these parks or removing these monuments is the contention that to do so is to erase or whitewash history. In fact, that's exactly what the parks and monuments were designed to do.

This suggestion is an affront to the very notion of historical seriousness. As if these inherently political 20th-century monuments to racist defiance are somehow akin to the sacred battlefields of Shiloh or Gettysburg. The monuments are part and parcel with the immediate attempt by the Confederacy and its descendants to rewrite the meaning of the war. And few were so flagrant in this regard as Jefferson Davis, whose three years living in Memphis late in life in no way justify the blight of his visage along Front Street today.