Veneration Creates Normalcy

I would recommend the following essay from Rose Sampley:  A Southern Woman Shares Her Story of Statues, Lies, and Listening.

A sample:

In fourth grade I took a field trip to Stone Mountain to see the faces of Jefferson Davis, Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson up close and personal.

This is a very fond memory for me of my childhood.
I remember salt water taffy and blown glass figurines in the park.
I remember riding the Summit Skyride and just looking out for miles and miles.

But you know what I don’t remember? Anyone telling me,
“These men carved into this mountain are the men that lost the Civil War.
These are the men who fought to be a separate America and lost.
These are the men that fought to keep slaves.”

No one took the time to educate me on the real history of these men.

Instead, I was filled with fun, happy thoughts.
How could these guys be bad people?
I mean, they’re riding horses, come on!
Every ten year old thinks someone riding a horse is cool.

And here is the problem.  Put people on pedestals, and those who see them will assume good things about them.  It really isn’t much more simple than that.

If one is unfamiliar, here is the tribute to Davis, Lee and others carved into the side of a granite dome just outside of Atlanta:

03-24-06 (04)

And is it is in perspective, with my family in the foreground over 11 years ago:

03-24-06 (01)

Notice the happy tourist village (with the aforementioned salt water taffy and blown glass figurines).

Also, a great view from above:

03-24-06 (23)

I am not sure what you do with this monument–it isn’t so easy to take down. But some contextualization sure would be nice. But, at a minimum, this is a great illustration of how CSA symbols are used in way to create warm fuzzy feelings and positive associations.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, Race and Politics, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. al-Ameda says:

    Steven,
    I’m a Boomer, and I attended a good inner suburban high school in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I now look back on the American History that I was taught and I realize how cleaned up and sanitized it was, in particular, the history of the run-up to the Civil War, the War, and the subsequent Reconstruction.

    At that time Civil War era history was taught as largely a chronological recitation of dates and facts, that Slavery was not good, and, with the exception of Lincoln, thumbnail sketches of the main political and military characters of the day.

    It was not until my university coursework that I was exposed to a rigorous analysis of the period 1848 to say 1880 – bookending the events preceding the Civil War and the later reaction that left Southern States in de-facto apartheid until well into the 20th century . A seemingly distant yet extremely important context to the delayed Cicil Rights revolution that happened about a century after the Civil War.

    Americans are always in a hurry to leave unpleasantries out of the history books, and yet we pretend to be surprised when someone brings up unpleasant historical facts.

  2. gVOR08 says:

    I wouldn’t advocate defacing something like that, and additional carving of, say, Lincoln, Grant, and King, would be more money than anyone wants to spend. So yes, some contextualization would be good. I wouldn’t mind some lost cause narrative, if it included that it was lost because it was stupid.

    Years ago one of the big name British military historians remarked that every century seems to get one military genius. Unfortunately for us, in the 20th century is was Vo Nguyen Giap. He said the 19th was rare in that it had two, Lee and Grant. Of the two, he felt Grant was the better general because he had a plan to win the war, Lee never did.

    Davis’ leadership skills strike me as an asset for the Union.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    I lived in Georgia for three years and went to Stone Mountain one weekend. I had asked for good places for a day hike and the locals suggested that. No one, not one, explained that it was a monument to the Civil War. (Sorry, “The War of Northern Aggression”) I became more and more uneasy as I walked around. The carving of the Confederacy leadership is bad, but the random graffiti from decades of Ku Klux Klan outings made me sick to my stomach. Some of it obviously took a long time to create and looked like it had been touched up over the years. And some was only a year or two old. I looked around at the families with little kids running around and thought “What kind of person brings their kids to the KKK’s stomping grounds?”

  4. DrDaveT says:

    I am not sure what you do with this monument–it isn’t so easy to take down.

    My preference, as with the statues, is to leave it in place but change the informational context and tone.

    Explain that it was a product of the Jim Crow South, intended as a combination of propaganda and intimidation of black Southerners.

    Explain how the original owners of the property were instrumental in the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, and how they granted the Klan a permanent easement to use the property before deeding it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

    Explain the other legacies of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

    Explain how the site was purchased by the State of Georgia during the early days of the Civil Rights movement to reinforce the message.

    Replace the fun rides and the kitsch with a Museum of Jim Crow.

    I don’t want to tear down Auschwitz, either — but I want people who visit there to learn the truth about it.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    @al-Ameda: Oh, I don’t know. How much could it cost to build, say, twenty open hole latrines directly above their heads and have it serve the picnic areas surrounding it? Georgia could invite people who believe in justice and equality from all over the world to come and enjoy the park and eat plenty of roughage while there. I for one would gladly hike hours up a steep path just for the satisfaction of sh*tting on their heads…

  6. James Pearce says:

    From Wikipedia:

    American sculptor Augustus Lukeman continued until 1928, when further work stopped for thirty years. In 1958, at the urging of Governor Marvin Griffin, the Georgia legislature approved a measure to purchase Stone Mountain for $1,125,000. In 1963, Walker Hancock was selected to complete the carving, and work began in 1964. The carving was completed by Roy Faulkner, who later operated a museum (now closed) on nearby Memorial Drive commemorating the carving’s history. The carving was considered complete[8] on March 3, 1972.

    Not only is the recent vintage rather striking, but the GA state government involvement is……weird.

    It is nearly inconceivable that anyone on the CO legislature –R or D– would purchase parkland and allow anyone for any reason to carve anything on it.

    I guess we just have different ideas of what to venerate out here.

  7. @al-Ameda: I had high school US history in SoCal in the 1980s–same experience (as well as with 8th grade US history in Texas).

  8. An Interested Party says:

    I’ll ask the question again…is there any other country in the world where there are monuments dedicated to traitors/losers who tried to overthrow the government of that country? This amply illustrates how ridiculous racism and hatred are and the idiotic acts such thinking leads people to…

  9. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    I guess we just have different ideas of what to venerate out here.

    The actions of the Georgia legislature in buying and expanding the Stone Mountain monument were not about venerating anything. They were about making it clear to uppity n!ggers that they would not be getting any damned civil rights in Georgia any time soon, no sir.

  10. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    They were about making it clear to uppity n!ggers that they would not be getting any damned civil rights in Georgia any time soon, no sir.

    And now they just look stupid. It’s like a tramp stamp, a permanent reminder of someone we no longer are.

    (Well, most of us anyway.)

  11. Hal_10000 says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I grew up in Georgia and was at Stone Mountain many times. Never encountered any KKK stuff out there, although I was mostly at the animal zoo and stuff. I did have a cross burned on the lawn of my synagogue once.

    I think contextualization is the answer here; a reminder that racism didn’t end in 1865. Or 1965. Destroying a monument like that really would reek of a Taliban-esque purging.

  12. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    And now they just look stupid. It’s like a tramp stamp, a permanent reminder of someone we no longer are.

    Except that, in this particular case, we still are. Check out the other thread on the National Statuary Hall at the Capitol. Georgia still chooses to be represented by slavers and traitors. Mississippi still chooses to be represented by slavers and traitors. Those legislatures aren’t stupid; they’re just venal — they calculate that choosing to replace those statues with actually honorable people would cost them more votes than it would gain them.

    The saddest thing is that they may be right about that.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    Of the two, he felt Grant was the better general because he had a plan to win the war, Lee never did.

    Lee didn’t have a plan to win the war because he knew he couldn’t. His plan was to ‘not lose’ via making the war so painful for the North that Lincoln would lose the election and his successor would sue for a peace that left the Confederacy intact. Think about what that means: To kill as many Northerners as he could, no matter how many Southerners it took to do so, all for the preservation of a way of life that benefited only him and few others at the top of Southern Aristocracy.

    Hard to call that anything BUT moral bankruptcy.

  14. Slugger says:

    Longstreet predicted that Lee’s plan was a loser at Gettysburg, and Pickett was quite vocal in blaming Lee after the battle. Lee acknowledged his failure by his “this is all my fault” comments in the aftermath. However, the creation of the mythos of the grandeur of the CSA required a rehabilitation of Lee, and by 1900 he became a brilliant field commander.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Hard to call that anything BUT moral bankruptcy.

    One of the biggest lies in American history is that there was anything honorable about Robert E. Lee…

  16. JohnMcC says:

    @An Interested Party: It’s the conviction that the unique culture/history/society of the deep south is the pinnacle of Anglo-Saxon civilization. Gen’l Lee represents a chivalric ideal not unlike Lancelot or Good King Alfred. That he lost to the forces of machine age civilization and mass mobilization makes the loss more poignant. You should read some Sidney Lanier.