Honoring Confederates and racists from the past


A couple of days ago, a black food service worker at Yale smashed a stained glass window at the University’s John C. Calhoun College. It showed the South Carolina apologist for slavery along with some scenes of black slaves working cotton fields, a scene that many at Yale thought to be racist and disgraceful. This particular fellow, who has apologized, just didn’t want to walk by that window every day as he went to work.

This photograph is from the New Haven Independent newspaper article in the link above.

The University takes the point of view that the college ought not to be re-named, as requested by many students and faculty, because, they say, “We need to confront history, not erase it.”

This photograph is from the New York Times article about this incident. Is “altered” the right word to describe what befell this window?

My opinion is that confronting history, is just fine, except that the administration does not confront history today. The Times article says that they are considering removing this window and several others, and then to put them on display in a museum with suitable historical context. That’s good, if it happens, and it’s about time. They are doing it only under informed pressure. The University, however, is strongly resisting changing the name of the residential college.

Those who advocate keeping around honors to past racists, such as President Wilson, Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, or President Jackson, on the grounds that we cannot erase our history are precisely the ones who erase the disgraceful aspects of their heroes’ history from history, and who resist presenting their full history. In Arthur Schlesinger’s famous biography, The Age of Jackson, he makes no reference whatsoever to Jackson’s attacks upon native Americans living in what are now Mississippi and Alabama, driving those people out and across the Mississippi, The Trail of Tears, in the interests of white slave-owning plantation owners who wanted the land for cotton. Where’s the confrontation with history, balancing a subject’s good and bad qualities, strengths and weaknesses? This type of material is elided from historical discussions of all of the men I list.

Now I agree with thoughtful people who say that it is unfair to judge people of the past by today’s standards. But the idea that the white Southerners who rebelled against the United States government were both traitors and violent advocates of the evils of slavery was in the minds of many people in the 1850s and 1860s. It is not necessarily an anachronism to criticize the slave owners and apologists in my list above. Indeed, Princeton University honors its former President and Professor, a Virginia born and reared Jim Crow era racist and makes no mention of his racist views. (He segregated the federal civil service, for example, which lead to many hard-working black citizens losing long held jobs. I doubt that the University mentions this in any proud lists of the President’s achievements.)

I quoted from those famous remarks by Grant in my Tampa Tribune op-ed essay about Tampa’s Confederate Soldier’s monument (after I removed my description of the honored soldiers as traitors along with the definition of treason from the Constitution in an early draft). There I said that the cause of those soldiers was slavery, and everyone on both sides knew this at that time, which is why I quoted Grant and also a famous speech by the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. That speech is known as the Cornerstone speech because he argued that slavery was the cornerstone of the Confederacy, the key to its economic and social system, and that it must be defended by violence if necessary.

What inspired this blog post was the post below, by UC Berkeley Prof. Brad DeLong. He began with an article from a few months ago about George W Bush explaining why and how he removed Confederate flags from Florida government facilities. He says that there isn’t a problem with displaying the various flags to honor the Civil War era Confederate soldiers or government officials. The problems only arose when racists, segregationists, and white supremacists began using the flags for their own purposes. In this view, the former president is merely repeating the view, common among Southern white people, that the Civil War was fought by honorable men for honorable ends. DeLong quotes Linconln’s Second Inaugural Address and a few paragraphs from Grant’s memoirs to refute that view. Grant, however, says that the Southern white armies fought bravely in a dishonorable cause.


July 12, 2016

Hoisted from Six Months Ago: Somehow I think Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant had a problem with the Confederacy, even though JEB! Bush does not:

JEB!!The Problem With Confederate Flag: “There’s a way to find the right balance, as you’re bringing up…

…because, look, the Confederacy is a part of our heritage, and it should be respected like other parts. It doesn’t have to define who we are either. Because that symbol–the problem with the Confederate flag isn’t the Confederacy, the problem with the Confederate flag is what it began to represent later. And that’s what we have to avoid to heal those wounds…


Abraham Lincoln:

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves…. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes:

Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said:

the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether…

Ulysses S. Grant:

When I had left camp that morning I had not expected so soon the result that was then taking place, and consequently was in rough garb. I was without a sword, as I usually was when on horseback on the field, and wore a soldier’s blouse for a coat, with the shoulder straps of my rank to indicate to the army who I was. When I went into the house I found General Lee. We greeted each other, and after shaking hands took our seats. I had my staff with me, a good portion of whom were in the room during the whole of the interview.

What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse…


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