A recent Associated Press story delved into the question of why black citizens are largely avoiding commemorations of the Civil War. Admittedly, the Sesquicentennial is only a few weeks old, but the account they present certainly points to the beginning of a trend.
It’s possible that, as events migrate toward Northern battlefields or commemorate events in which the Union was victorious, the number of black attendees will grow. However, we believe the number should grow sooner rather than later. This admittedly pasty Southern man hopes our Real Southern brothers of another color will boldly step forward to claim their piece of American history.
Let us explain why:
1. Black citizens were largely left out of Civil War Centennial commemorations.
Think about it. It was 1961. Unfortunately, the last vestiges of the Old South were still clinging tightly to racist dogma that only served to rub salt in old wounds – and set the South back to cultural and economic lows rivaling only Reconstruction. Fifty years later, it’s a perfect time for the events to feature Americans of all colors.
2. It’s time for black citizens to stop being ashamed of the heritage of slavery.
I didn’t realize until recently that many African-Americans are ashamed of the fact that their ancestors were slaves. If any race should feel shame about slavery, it certainly isn’t the one of African descent. To come through the hellish existence of being another man’s supposed property takes a level of strength and fortitude that few of us today could ever understand.
Though the war was not fought entirely over the issue of slavery, the election of the decidedly abolitionist President Lincoln proved a tipping point toward Southern secession. The fate of not only a nation, but a race hung in the balance. When the ruling classes of certain states chose comfort and wealth (borne on the backs of an oppressed people) over basic human rights, “liberty and justice for all” prevailed. Freedom is worth celebrating.
3. It’s time for all of us to grapple with our forebears’ lives and choices.
During the war, black men, many freed slaves, fought and died for a Union whose citizens were lynching free blacks in the streets, a Union that would deny them basic rights for the better part of the next century.
Though a controversial topic – one with much twisting of historical fact – it’s even more curious that some black men fought for the South.
It may be painful and difficult for some black citizens to reconcile these facts of history. It is no less painful for a white Southern man who loves his home and many of its cultural traditions to wrestle with a pro-slavery heritage. But if we are to ever fully move past racism in America, we not only need to understand one another, but understand the darker sides of our own history.
4. Remembering the war does not mean honoring oppression.
It may be easy for some men to take pride in their Confederate heritage, to don the Grey for the sake of their forefathers’ love of home and state. They may be able to easily separate the history of slavery from overarching political issues like state sovereignty and the nature of our Constitution. It’s not that easy for black Americans. We get that.
Marking the Civil War is not like celebrating the 4th of July. Monarchal rule was not overthrown for the sake of liberty. A modern constitutional republic was not born. A nation broke itself in two and was mended only
at the tip of a sword. The Sesquicentennial is to be marked soberly, not with jubilance.
But there is something here worth celebrating. This nation emerged from that bloodiest of conflicts beaten and scarred, but whole. With time, we became a better nation, one that values human dignity and equality. While the underlying political conflicts over the balance of power between state and federal governments still simmer, the issue of human freedom for people of all races is settled. And all races should come together to remember the war that began to settle it.