On Feb. 10, 2016, Governor Phil Bryant proclaimed April to be Confederate History Month in his state of Mississippi. April was chosen because April 25 is Confederate Memorial Day, a holiday that is still celebrated in some Southern communities. Circumstances surrounding this proclamation are curious, as it was done very quietly and only made public once the Mississippi chapter of Sons of Confederate Veterans posted it on their website and Facebook page.
The proclamation makes the claim that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past, gain insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow.”
At first, this intention sounds agreeabl, even noble, but if this were the sole intention of the decision, the month could have easily been labeled Civil War History Month. Confederate History Month carries certain connotations, which the governor was certainly aware of when he signed the commission.
Invoking the Confederacy recalls a period in our nation’s history when 11 states seceded from the Union and fought to maintain the inhumane practice slavery.
Another controversy surrounding the proper way to remember the Confederacy and its impact on American history occured this past summer, when the South Carolina state legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from atop its statehouse. While some South Carolinians argued that the flag was an integral part of their state history, others argued its presence above the capitol was a symbol of racism. The legislature ultimately deemed it best to remove the flag after the tragic shooting of nine churchgoers in Charleston.
The proclamation given by Bryant prompts us to consider the line between remembering unsavory moments of our history and glorifying those times. Though remembering all aspects of our nation’s history is important, we must remember them in a way that clearly illustrates their perversity, so that no one mistakes our past wrongdoings as acceptable.
The Civil War was a dark time in our history, with brothers fighting one another and families torn apart by the atrocities of war.
We must never forget why we fought. We must continue to not only condemn the practice of slavery but also racial discrimination in all forms, both explicit and implicit.
Recently, I got into an argument on Facebook over a video a schoolmate shared of a young black man who was beaten and thrown to the ground by four white police officers. Ultimately, though he was originally stoped for jay-walking, he was charged with resisting arrest. My schoolmate blamed the man for being noncompliant with the police, but I argued that I would have behaved similarly if beaten for crossing the street improperly.
Given how commplace instances such as the arrest displayed in the video have become, it is clear that we have work to do as a nation. We fought our neighbors to end the practice of slavery. Over one million Americans died in this conflict, and their deeds and memories should be preserved at all means. However, their deaths will have been in vain if we continue to treat each other as unequal. Black or white, immigrant or Native American, gay or straight, we are all Americans.
Governor Bryant’s declaration of the month of April as Confederate History Month will most likely be seen as a slap in the face to the African-American community, who continue to struggle for the equality they fought and died for in the Civil War.
Though both the Union and the Confederacy deserve remembrance, we cannot afford to toe the line between remembrance and glorification. The Confederacy was wrong and Black Lives Matter.
Jacob Vincent ’17 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Bettendorf, Iowa. He majors in mathematics and political science.