Phase 1 of America’s Civil War was a horror – the number of soldiers who died from a combination of battle and illness was over 750,000, “far greater than the number of men who perished in all other U.S. wars put together.” Ecstatic Nation
Human beings are complex creatures and many things drove the war, but slavery was at its core – in the new states of the west as well as the old south.
After such a terrible war, the North was willing to turn towards commerce and away from black citizens. Today, we might call the Klu Klux Klan and Jim Crow an insurgency – it certainly was violent enough to qualify.
There was a huge riot in New Orleans, which really turned into a massacre against the black community in 1866, and then there were acts of mob violence against black voters. And in broader Louisiana, you had some of the worst political terror and mob violence committed in all the Reconstruction years, most famously the Colfax massacre of 1873, which was the largest mass killing in American history until 9/11. Isaac Chotiner slate.com
Gradually the violence decreased (though it never disappeared) and a new normalcy settled on the backs of black Americans. Many whites in the defeated South began to “write magnolia-scented history” where Lee was nobler than Grant and Confederates were finer men than Unionists. In an exception to the common view that the victors write history, the South was fairly successful in their efforts. Ecstatic Nation
Phase 2 launched a hundred years later with the Civil Rights Movement– there was more violence but also more progress towards a fair and democratic America. In the mid 1970s, society settled down again – another new normal.
Perhaps we are entering Phase 3 after only forty more years. There is growing tolerance and willingness to protest continuing discrimination, as well as a new insurgent backlash, and a counter-reaction:
In June 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine black parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. That hate crime prompted South Carolina to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the state capitol, and communities throughout the country debated the continued presence of monuments to the Confederacy in the public square. Isaac Chotiner slate.com
It may take a generation to ripple through the country, but the debate over Confederate monuments will, I think, be engaged in every state. What should we do? How should we feel? What should we teach the next generation?
My ancestors were slave owners who fought for the Confederacy. I take no pride in that, nor am I ashamed of it. They were men of their time and place. But this is our time, and our place. Tulane history professor Randy Sparks
That sounds like a promising attitude to me.
As Chotiner writes, it’s easier to build monuments to a war than to its aftermath.
We honor the dead [soldiers] for good reasons. But we don’t know quite how to build monuments and memorials to the aftermath, because they are not about valor or sacrifice or blood necessarily. They are about a political process that is often deeply divisive and deeply problematic.
He suggests we build new monuments rather than tear down old ones.
I like that idea. To me, Confederate monuments represent a miserable part of history – America’s history, my history – and belong in museums to be remembered but not celebrated.
I’m not responsible for what people did in the past, but I am responsible for what I do today.