Accountability History Racism

Stop Honoring Confederate Heroes

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Today is Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery. Juneteenth is the day in 1865 when black people in Texas finally got the news that slavery had been abolished. There is currently a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Many large corporations already recognize its importance.

Now, as the nation is rocked by demonstrations and protests against racism, is a good time to stop honoring Confederate heroes.

Education Week conducted a survey and identified some 174 schools, all in the south, that honor southern heroes, mainly Robert E. Lee. Let’s face it. The leaders of the insurrection were traitors to the United States. Their “sacred cause” was white supremacy. The war they fought to secede cost more than 600,000 lives.

Alan Singer says it’s past time to remove all the statues and memorials honoring Robert E. Lee, who violated his oath to serve his country and waged war against it.

Growing up in Houston, I attended Albert Sidney Johnston Junior High School, named for a Confederate General, the first of his rank to die in the Civil War. I didn’t know anything about him as a student, although everyone memorized the school marching song that honored his name (he died in the Battle of Shiloh in 1862).The school’s name was changed only four years ago, along with those of other schools in Houston named for heroes of the Confederacy.

Recently, the leaders of the military proposed renaming military bases that bear the names of Confederate generals. Trump flatly rejected the proposal, claiming that it would dishonor the military. Strange words from a man who ridiculed Senator John McCain because he was captured in Vietnam. Why praise generals who lost a disastrous rebellion while demeaning a war hero who refused the opportunity to be freed until the other American captives imprisoned with him were released?

Democrats are demanding the renaming of the military bases named for Confederate generals. House Democrats have vowed to attach their demand to the defense funding bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren is attaching an amendment to the Defense Authorization act requiring the renaming of the bases.

Justice Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, was outraged by Warren’s amendment. He sent out a blast email to the other judges and their clerks calling her amendment “madness.” A day later, a black clerk responded to Justice Silberman, risking his job, defending Warren’s proposal.

The Intercept reported:

“Hi Judge Silberman,” began the career-risking reply-all email, “I am one of only five black law clerks in this entire circuit. However, the views I express below are solely my own,” they went on. “Since no one in the court’s leadership has responded to your message, I thought I would give it a try.”

[M]y maternal ancestors were enslaved in Mississippi. While the laws of this nation viewed my ancestors as property, I view them as hostages. In a hostage situation, when someone does something that leads to the freeing of the hostages, I am not sure if the hostages would be concerned as to whether the person that saved them, actually intended to save them. In this instance, as people considered to be property, my ancestors would not have been involved in the philosophical and political debates about Lincoln’s true intentions, or his view on racial equality. For them, and myself, race is not an abstract topic to be debated, so in my view anything that was built to represent white racial superiority, or named after someone who fought to maintain white supremacy (or the Southern economy of slavery), see Photo of Liberty Monument attached, should be removed from high trafficked areas of prominence and placed in museums where they can be part of lessons that put them in context.

In your message, you talked about your ancestors, one that fought for the confederacy and one that fought for the Union. This seems to be a true example of a house divided. However, it is very clear what the Confederacy stood for. In 1861, at the Virginia secession convention, Henry L. Benning (for whom Fort Benning is named) in explaining the reasoning for Georgia’s decision to secede from the United States stated, “[it] was a conviction … that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery…[I]t is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back.” Unfortunately, in this scenario, no matter how bravely your uncle fought for the Confederacy, the foundation of his fight was a decision that he agreed more with the ideals of the Confederacy, than he did with those of the Union. And in the end, he chose the losing side of history.

Finally, I will note that the current movement to rename Government owned facilities is in line with your previous opinions on the importance of names and what they represent. In 2005, you publicly advocated for the removal of J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building due to the problematic material you came across in your review of his FBI files after his death. You equated it to the Defense Department being named for Aaron Burr. In view of your opinion of J. Edgar Hoover’s history and your advocacy for renaming the FBI building because of the prominence it provides Hoover’s legacy, it is very strange that you would be against renaming our military facilities, since the legacy of the Confederacy represents the same thing. This moment of confronting our nation’s racial history is too big to be disregarded based on familial ties.

The correspondence was provided to The Intercept by a member of the Court staff on the condition the identity of the clerk (who was not the source) and judges who replied be kept confidential.

After the clerk’s response came out, others spoke up, including two black judges.

Slam dunk.

This flurry of activism is a response to the outrage kindled by the murder of George Floyd. It is a response to a newly awakened public opinion. It is a testament to the work of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Rename the schools. Rename the bases. Honor heroes of freedom and democracy. Put the statues of Confederate military leaders in a museum where their words and deeds and legacy can be studied as part of American history. To be discussed but not to be honored as heroes.

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