Erasing Our History

There’s a lot of talk about "erasing our history.” 

Just the evening before last, on the eve of Juneteenth, a monument commemorating the "Lost Cause" of the Civil War was lawfully removed from the Historic DeKalb County Courthouse. This is one of many monuments being removed, whether lawfully or unlawfully, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the resulting protests. 

The Historic DeKalb County Courthouse, minus its 1908 monument to the Confederacy

My Great Great Grandfather Wrenn, My Great Great Grandfather Paschall, and my Great Great Great Grandfather Strickland all fought for the Confederacy. Great Great Grandpa Wrenn enlisted at the age of 21 in May, 1861. “Grandpa Bob” Paschall was wounded and was a prisoner of war. Grandpa Strickland was wounded at Fredericksburg, a wound that required a few weeks of convalescence. He was also captured, but exchanged and returned to duty. He soldiered on until the surrender at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865. He walked all the way back to Franklin County, North Carolina. 

"Grandpa Strickland"

"Grandpa Bob" Paschall 

Great Great Grandaddy Wrenn

When I was growing up, my Grandfather Wrenn was a proud member of the Sons of the Confederacy, and I used to read his old Confederate Veterans Magazines. I was proud of my Confederate Heritage, and would buy him books and Confederate memorabilia. 

As I've grown older, I've learned more about our true history, and its importance. 

We definitely shouldn't erase our history. We should expose it.

We should expose that when the Confederate monument "Silent Sam" was dedicated at the University of North Carolina, Julian Carr, as he was extolling the virtues of the noble Southland bragged “One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady.”

We should expose that Zebulon B. Vance, the Confederate soldier and Governor for whom my home county of Vance County, NC was named, called the Civil War “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” and threatened to take North Carolina out of the Confederacy. We should expose that Zeb Vance said, “The great popular heart is not now and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of the politicians and not the people.”

We should expose that Stone Mountain Park, "Atlanta's Favorite Destination for Family Fun," hosted Ku Klux Klan cross burnings. We should expose that its giant carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson, was started because Helen Plane, President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, wanted to immortalize these heroes of the Klan: "I feel it is due to the Ku Klux Klan, which saved us from Negro domination and carpet bag rule, that it be immortalized on Stone Mountain," she wrote to Gutzon Borglum, the initial carver (and Klansman) approached to carve the monument. We should expose the history that no work was done on Stone Mountain from 1928 to 1964, until a Segregationist Governor Marvin Griffin was elected after the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court ruling striking down segregation of schools. Griffin urged the Georgia Legislature to purchase Stone Mountain, and the Stone Mountain Memorial Preservation Act became law, stating that it be "ac
quired, developed, maintained, and operated as a perpetual memorial to the Confederacy and the Confederate States of America." This monument to the Confederacy wasn't completed until 1965, dedicated 100 years to the day of Lincoln's assassination. Governor Griffin stated, “Completion of the memorial will be of the everlasting benefit to the present generation.... Now, when attempts are being made to destroy our very way of life, it will serve as a rallying point for all of us who believe in preserving the ideals for which our forefathers fought.” We should expose the history of the "way of life" of segregation that Stone Mountain was meant to immortalize. 

The largest bas-relief in the world, immortalizing the "way of life" that was segregation. 

We should expose the lynchings which happened in our backyards, those lynchings no one ever talks about, designed to intimidate African Americans into “staying in their place.” 

We should expose that the only military coup in the history of the nation happened in Wilmington, NC in 1898, when a white supremacist movement overthrew the elected African-American officials and massacred black citizens. Yet growing up in North Carolina, I never learned of this until a year ago.

We should expose that the federal government actually urged suburbs to adopt exclusionary zoning laws, built racially separate public housing in areas where segregation didn’t previously exist, and how the federal government denied mortgage loans to African Americans, further insuring racial segregation and the inability to build generational wealth.

We should expose the history of some private schools that were set up just so white kids wouldn’t have to go to school with black kids. We should expose the private “membership only” swimming pools that insured that white kids and black kids wouldn’t swim together.

We should expose the revisionist history that made the Civil War an honorable fight, and expose the history of the monuments built forty or fifty years after the war ended to continue to tell that lie as intimidation of African Americans increased. We should expose, as the sign that formerly stood beside the DeKalb County monument to the Lost Cause said, these monuments that limit the full participation of African Americans "in the social and political life of their communities" and foster "a culture of segregation by implying that public spaces and public memory belonged to whites." 

Sign contextualizing DeKalb County Monument to the Lost Cause

Yes, my ancestors fought for the Confederacy. They fought for what they believed to be right; as Zebulon Vance said, they were “poor men in a rich man’s war.”

Yes, by all means, let’s not erase our history. Let’s expose it.

(Blog originally written 6/10/2020; Updated 6/20/2020)


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