Must we forget our Confederate ancestors?

Jesse_Dukes-240x300Jesse Dukes,
Charlottesville, VA.

This question was on my mind recently, when I wrote an article for Virginia Quarterly Review about Confederate reenactors at the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg. I don’t actually have any Confederate ancestors I’m aware of, but most of the reenactors do. All of the reenactors I talked to considered slavery to be an abomination, considered Jim Crow to be evil, and espoused no prejudice against people of color. But, they feel a powerful connection to the Confederacy because of their heritage; because their great-great-great-grandfather marched up a hill in Gettysburg or some other battlefield and watched his friends get shot, or got shot himself. They’re proud of their forebears. They imagine their ancestors as brave and noble people, and say things like “Those boys weren’t fighting for slavery, they were fighting for state’s rights and freedom”. And in certain individual cases, they might be correct, even if the Confederacy collectively fought to preserve slavery.

Historical arguments aside, if white southerners wish to oppose racism today, what responsibilities do they have toward the past? Must they forget or renounce their Confederate ancestors? Is there a way they can honor their memory and the vastness of their sacrifice, while still acknowledging the racism of the 19th century South, and the horrors of slavery?

Listen to Jesse Dukes’ story NPR’s Morning Edition.

Keep the conversation going - comment and discuss with your thoughts

  • barry irving

    …I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that one…i don’t think that anyone should be obliged to forget their ancestors, but it might be a good idea to forget embracing some of what they stood for!

  • Brandi

    Only those in positions of power can make changes in situations like these. The rest of us drones are risking our lives and family when we speak up, and those people are necessary too, however situations like that are NOT without casualty so you have to understand the risks being presented in front of each white individual, and each black. Even members of their own family would oppress them for doing the right thing. So the extreme cases, the ones who are known for doing the right thing, are those that risked it all for the cause and that’s why they are recognised. However, that doesn’t mean all who risked something received recognition and we may not ever know who those people were and the true count of the ones who knew and disagreed with the wrongdoing.

  • Brandi

    No one can be responsible for the past. Human history keeps a long record of the mistakes we have all made. We’re all guilty. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Moving forward now.

  • Janayn ‘Melis’ Evans

    Their reasons for why the Civil War was fought are somewhat correct. The states rights that they fought for was the right to continue to hold Africans as slaves in order to keep their highly profitable plantations. But, the poor whites that actually fought the war didn’t even profit from this except for maybe being an overseer. The rest had their wages under cut due to slavery. Go figure. Southerners wanted to keep the freedom to do whatever the hell they wanted to do even if it is wrong. So no, you shouldn’t forget your ancestors. But you should acknowledge that that so called symbol of pride was a symbol of hate and fear to other people’s ancestors. Remember your ancestors by themselves, not attached to the Confederate battle flag.

 

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