By Robert Meredith
Meredith is a minister, a historian, and a citizen of Franklin County.
Franklin County is home to two prominent figures from American history: Booker Taliaferro Washington and Jubal Anderson Early. Both of these men contributed much to the history of our great nation. If you drive through our county, you can drive on a highway named for each of these great Americans. Franklin County can be proud to claim both men as native sons. This is our history; it belongs to all of us.
160 years ago our nation was divided. We were on the brink of a great war. Slavery was a major factor and that cannot be denied. However, this war had been culminating since the inception of the nation.
The United States itself was a Confederacy from 1776-1789 when the constitution was ratified. The constitution shifted more power to the federal government. The battle lines were drawn and the tension has existed ever since. A deep dive into history will show the nuanced complexity of this issue.
Civil War was narrowly avoided for years with a patchwork of compromises. Contained within the idea of a confederacy is a deep seated sentiment and confidence that we have a right to govern ourselves with little or no interference from the government. This sentiment remains deep-seated throughout the South.
No Christian wants to be on the wrong side of a moral issue, but they should not have to choose between a rich heritage and a peaceful future. That heritage is a part of who we are as a nation.
Racism is a sin. God despises it. It is not a matter of we must do better, it is a matter that all people are created equal. Brutality and homicide must stop, whether from citizen or those in authority. People of all races must be protected, respected and be able to live without fear.
Racism and bigotry is an ugly scar on our nation’s history, but we all need to own it. It was prevalent throughout our history against people of all backgrounds. The history of slavery belongs to all of American history.
It was more prevalent in the South’s agrarian society, but Northerners were equally racist and bigoted toward ethnicity of all kinds. I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said if he could preserve the Union without freeing any slaves he would have done it. Do you hear of any petitions to remove the Lincoln memorial from the National Mall?
History is there whether you like it or not, it simply is what it is and we are who we are as a result of it. History is there to learn from.
Southern Heritage, built on the foundation of the right of the people to govern themselves, “Sic Semper Tyrannis” (thus always to tyrants), and Do not tread on me also can admit that slavery is wrong and work hand in hand with people of all ethnicities to bring reconciliation through love.
But that doesn’t mean we erase the history of our great nation.
160 years of history have passed since the Civil War began. This tension still exists.
The answer is not the absence of this tension, but learning to manage it and live together with our differences in a peaceful, loving, and understanding community.
The answer is not one side winning.
The answer is not erasing the history of a particular region of this great nation.
If you were not born a southerner you will never understand why this monument is so important to us.
As distinguished professor Bud Robertson from Virginia Tech stated, “People need to remember that Southerners are the only American citizens who have ever been defeated in war. Winners always forget the war, and losers never do. The South can’t get over the Civil War, and they can’t let go of their flag.”
Regional differences are what make America unique.
It was Karl Marx who said, “Take away a nation’s heritage and they are more easily persuaded.”
I believe we need more history, not less. I am an advocate for more education, more history books, more conversations, more flags, and more historical monuments.
Most of the conversations today are for relocation of historical monuments from the public square.
I would advocate that we in Franklin County consider a different approach.
Instead of erasing history, why not enrich it?
I would recommend we consider erecting a memorial to Booker T. Washington adjacent to the memorial to the Confederate dead on our courthouse grounds.
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