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(A caution to readers who are easily offended by political or historical images of complex past events. The following opinion might stir anger, sadness, or frustration. You see, many of us are sick and tired of the endless litany of lingering guilt trips regarding America’s tumultuous past. Understand that you are not the only citizens who take umbrage at differing views of our culture. Please understand also that when it comes to beloved memorials, Americans can be very testy.)
It is bad enough that Rappahannock has citizens who feel it is their duty to castigate the sentiments of other folks whose families have lived here for generations, some for centuries. Idealistic young people and condescending “come heres” never fail to take umbrage at some of our traditional rural culture nor fail to disparage the genuine familial respect that so many Southerners have for their Confederate ancestors.
Get this straight: We are not now, nor will we ever be, ashamed of them. We understand that they were “of their time,” and we honor them for their courage and sacrifice.
Now the Rappahannock News has apparently extended the right to insult and demean us to the Culpeper County morality brigade. In a letter entitled “Hurtful reminders in our community” which ranges across a number of subjects of possible interest to Culpeper County, signed by the George Washington Carver Alumni Board of that county and submitted by a member of that association, we are told that certain public displays are “ugly and hurtful.”
The unidentified writer remarks, “The courthouse monument and the Confederate battle flag send an ugly and hurtful message about our community. As has been mentioned, the inappropriateness of such symbols is being recognized by many throughout the nation. Hate is not heritage.”
Here we are told that what is obviously my heritage is, in fact, “hate.”
Remember, though this is in the Rappahannock News, the unidentified writer is apparently talking about Culpeper, although that is never made explicit.
But where is the evidence? “Ugly and hurtful”? Really? Most of those monuments are beautifully crafted, some are even touching and gracious. Hurtful? Now that gets to the crux of the entire matter. Of course, the anonymous author is not talking about the aesthetics of the displays, but of his own sentiment regarding what he has been told and taught were the realities of that conflict, the crucible of the American Experience. And that, despite the organized “ugly and hurtful” wave of violence and rage that our nation has recently witnessed against these historical displays, it is these remembrances themselves, not the violent attacks against them, which are considered “ugly and hateful.” Go figure.
Slavery was not “the fault” of the South. In fact, it was a northern enterprise, funded by northeastern interests. It produced Southern cotton for immense Northern profits. President Lincoln, in his first Inaugural Address, proposed that slavery be made permanent and Constitutionally protected by the Corwin Amendment. These are inconvenient facts that put the lie to the national guilt trip that the South and slavery were the sole cause of The American Civil War.
These monuments and remembrances are heartfelt reminders of the sacrifice made by Southerners in that terrible division. They do not glorify the “cause”of the South, but the “effort,” the courage of those young men who went off to face the most powerful Army ever assembled in this hemisphere, just as their fathers and grandfathers had gone off to face the British army a generation before.
The South and its people, black and white and red, were destroyed by the events of 1861 to 1865. There was no “Marshall Plan” to rebuild the South and its economy. Instead, a punitive “Reconstruction” was the order of the day until it was cynically lifted by the corrupt “Compromise of 1877.” It was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s that the Southern economy started to recover and boom. We, black and white Southerners, have done this together. The real punishment of the Civil War was the enduring “punishment of poverty.”
It seems to me that we must continue to work together, respecting our different paths to the present, and understanding that our national memory is reflective of endless viewpoints, most of them benign. There is a dangerous movement afoot that wishes to destroy any progress toward a deeper understanding of our differences. It is called “cultural Marxism” and it is rotting our nation’s soul.
It is all the rage in academia, the arts, and politics. It works by setting people against each other regarding the values and history we regard as meaningful.
The unknown author of these opinions closes with “Hate is not Heritage.” Well, sadly, “hate” is in fact the “heritage” of those who have been taught prejudices which outweigh their good sense and the natural blessings of a loving community. That is a sad fact which transcends race and class and education.
My own heritage includes folks who lived in slavery and folks who fought for the Southern cause. They are a part of me and I am a part of all of them. I have tried to understand why they did what they did, when they did it.
They were “of their time,” not ours. Their images are not hateful or hurtful. They were just common folks, the salt of the earth. And they are worth remembering and honoring.
— The writer, a former U.S. congressman, is an honorary Life Member of the NAACP and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He lives in Harris Hollow.