“States’ rights” is just another way to justify racism and hate
Lately we have heard a lot about “Confederate heritage.” You can almost see Scarlett and Rhett sitting on the porch of the plantation house sipping mint juleps while the happy slaves sing and dance under the live oaks. Believing this portrait requires a powerful suspension of disbelief, willful distortion of reality, and a healthy measure of ignorance.
The central reality of the Confederacy was the oppression of African-Americans with 222 years of legal slavery, and it was followed by 100 years of Jim Crow terrorism and disenfranchisement. Even after civil rights legislation was passed, the South continued to support racist oppression that was more covert, but just as pernicious.
In the interest of full disclosure: I grew up in a family that was “a house divided against itself.” My mother’s family fought for the Confederacy and my father’s family fought for the Union. One of my maternal great-great-grandfathers was a slave holder and a captain in the Confederate Army. Snow Hill was named for him. One of my great-grandfathers was his executive officer.
When the Confederate Army came through Georgetown “recruiting,” one of my paternal great-great-grandfathers hid from them.Then he ran away and joined the Union Army. He was a private that died of pneumonia during the war. I have never felt that my personal identity or self-image was determined by either history.
The “heritage not hate” crowd would have us believe that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery; it was all about “states’ rights.” But not-so-oddly enough, “states’ rights” has consistently been associated with the oppression of African-Americans. Freedom and equality for African-Americans have been blocked consistently by whites screaming “states’ rights” and waving the Confederate flag.
Over the 396 years of African-American oppression, whites have used “states’ rights” as camouflage, rationale, and excuse. When Republicans began to pander to racists in the South, “states’ rights” was the loudest of the racist dog whistles.
Even if you blind yourself to the racism of the Confederacy, there are still more damning realities to acknowledge. The Confederacy was an insurrection against the United States of America.
When I was sworn into the U.S. Army, my oath was to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It was the same oath that Robert E. Lee and many of his generals took before they chose to commit treason and join a rebellion against the U.S.A.
That heritage is nothing to elicit pride. There is not enough antebellum denial in the world to paint over the shame of being a traitor.
The most undeniable reality is that the South lost the Civil War. Not only did it lose the war, but it lost the battle to keep African-Americans “in their place.” Blacks withstood KKK terrorism, lynchings, cross burnings, bombings, and church burnings. They survived Jim Crow, segregation, disenfranchisement, and mass incarceration.
Southern racists have fought a losing battle since the Civil War. It’s time to surrender…and turn in your battle flags.
Terry Stulce was born in Birchwood and raised on a farm in Ooltewah. He attended the University of Tennessee on an ROTC scholarship and graduated magna cum laude in 1967. He served two combat tours in Vietnam, one with the 101st Airborne and one with the 69th Border Rangers. He was an LCSW and owner of Cleveland Family Counseling before retirement in 2009.