A divisive monument

In 2015 workmen remove graffiti from a statue of John C. Calhoun in Charleston after it was painted with the words “racist” and “slavery.” Confederate monuments in a half-dozen places that week were defaced.  AP Photo/Jonathan Drew, File

The prolific writer Kirkpatrick Sale offered a compelling argument for why the Confederacy should be remembered in his column of Nov. 23. He decried attempts to eradicate the symbols and history of the Confederate States of America and wrote that the Confederacy was “an embodiment of the Jeffersonian vision of an America in which states’ rights would predominate.”

I don’t share Mr. Sales’ fear that the symbols and history of the Confederacy are in danger. Their eradication would require demolishing or renaming the majority of buildings and monuments in the American South.

I have no problem with those who openly cherish their Confederate heritage, as long as it’s not done by legal mandate or in ways that blatantly insult other citizens. I actually encourage merchants who truly cherish their Confederate heritage to display Confederate flags in their places of business, so that I’ll know where not to shop.

I agree with Mr. Sale that the Confederacy should be remembered because the philosopher, poet and essayist George Santayana was right: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

It should be remembered, as Mr. Sale noted, that the Confederacy “served to perpetuate the sin of slavery, which after all was the basis of its prosperous economy.”

The defense of slavery led to the creation of the Confederate States of America and the Civil War. The “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” the companion document to our State’s Ordinance of Secession, made no less than 17 references to the defense of slavery as the reason for secession.

The residue of slavery still impacts life in our state and nation today because of what was needed to justify the evil and sinful institution. Mr. Sale noted that “the Confederate Constitution, reflecting the character of its people, was ... explicit in invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God.”

The seeming paradox of “God-fearing people” buying, selling, raping and otherwise abusing people of African descent led those who perpetuated slavery to hypocritically reason that the slaves were inferior beings whose servitude was biblically ordained.

It may also have led the slave-owning class to assure that the slaves did not find affinity with poor whites who owned no slaves by warning poor whites that people of African descent were not only inferior, but were also ignorant, violent, sex-crazed beasts who would kill them and steal their women and what little else they had if they weren’t kept in control.

That American need to create fear of the “other” still plays out in sad ways today. Fear of the “other” led to the murders of the Emanuel Nine, causes police officers who murder black people to invariably say that they “feared for their lives” and recently led some to say that a police officer who threw a black high school student across her classroom was in the right because she “deserved it.”

Fear of the “other” also drives calls to bar Latino immigrants and Syrian refugees to avoid letting criminals and terrorists into America, while ignoring the fact that the criminal terrorist at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and the accused criminal terrorists at the Emanuel AME Church, and Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colo., were white men.

Fear of the “other” also explains why presidential candidates who articulate no substantive agendas gain wide support from insecure voters by rhetorically demonizing “those people.”

The residue of the Confederacy still soils America. People of good will should remember that and press for the freedom, equity and justice that lie at the heart of America’s promise.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Sale said that he penned his column after attending a recent conference sponsored by the Abbeville Institute, named for the South Carolina hometown of slavery advocate John C. Calhoun. The Institute promotes modern-day secession of the individual states from the United States. Their conference was held in Stone Mountain, Ga., — the 1915 birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan.

I respect Mr. Sale’s right to his opinion, defend his freedom to speak his mind and share his belief that the Confederacy should be remembered, but not for championing the “virtue” of state’s rights.

Every legal advancement for people of color in America came about not because the individual states suddenly chose to take enlightened action but because of federal laws and federal intervention.

The individual states enacted Jim Crow segregation laws over a century ago, and many individual states have enacted 21st century laws to deny the vote to some citizens.

State’s rights, for me, is not a noble principle but an ominous threat.

The remembrance of Confederate history tells me so.

The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.