Last week while perusing Pipe Dream, many readers no doubt came across a column titled “Opposite sides of history combined, poorly,” by Madison Ball, that talked about the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and the celebration of Robert E. Lee’s birthday being combined into a one-day celebration. Gasp! Apparently this is appalling to some.
While the one-day celebration could be considered somewhat controversial, it is not racist, nor is it combining the celebration of men with ideals completely at odds.
Everyone can agree that slavery was a very dark time in America’s history, but it is unfair to accuse all Southerners, even Confederate generals, of perpetuating “mass genocide,” which slavery, for all its horrors, was not.
It is easy to celebrate the work of Dr. King, but what we must realize is that Lee was not some villain or an “American traitor.” He fought on the side of his state as a Confederate but constantly advocated for the preservation of the Union.
Furthermore, Lee is suggested to have been decidedly anti-slavery. He supported his wife and daughters in their work to liberate and fund slaves moving to Liberia, and they later set up an illegal school for slaves at their Arlington plantation.
Lee himself freed the slaves that had come to him through marriage in 1862, well before the Emancipation Proclamation. It was Lee who in 1864 began to petition slaveholders to allow their slaves to volunteer for the army and, after service, be granted their freedom.
The column’s likening of General Lee to the criminals tried at Nuremberg is the real atrocity of the column. If we liken everything disturbing in our past to the Holocaust it not only sensationalizes our own history but lessens the atrocities committed during World War II.
As for Southerners “flaunting their racism proudly”? Well, that is one dangerous statement. Confederate flags are not, for the most part, about racism, but rather about the romanticism of a lost rebellious cause that is seductive to many cultures. Or maybe they just like “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Don’t judge. We Yankees need to remember that we are not better, more intellectual or any less guilty of our past.
Ball states in her conclusion that “stereotyping all people in the southern United States as racist and outdated would be an astounding generalization and just blatantly false.” Well, at least that part is true. We cannot have so little regard for the customs and commemorations of our compatriots south of the Mason-Dixon line.
While we may all agree that slavery was a terrible point in our history, it is also important to remember that it served an economic purpose in the South that the industrial North cannot fully understand.
The Civil War was more about states’ rights than any issue of slavery, and the Union’s goals were not so high-minded, with Lincoln’s initial goal being to maintain the Union and only later to emancipate the African American population. Maybe it’s the Yankees who are now discriminating against Southerners, and maybe that’s the issue that we should be talking about, not how a few states choose to commemorate two important historical figures, on the same day or not.