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Symbols of heritage or shame?

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What one sees depends on where one is standing. That is especially true in the ongoing conflict over Confederate memorials in public parks and the flying of the Confederate battle flag on state government buildings.

This columnist grew up in Missouri, which was a border state during the tragic era of our Civil War. My Baptist mother taught me at any early age that all human beings were created by our maker and were equal in God’s sight. Thus the idea of slavery was a foreign, even evil matter to this youngster.

In middle school, I discovered I possessed a natural interest in history, which led me to major in history in college. I remember with fondness and some degree of irony that the professor who taught the history of the South was a direct descendant of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America.

My historical and contemporary perspective on the establishment of slavery in the southern United States and later the succession of these slave states to preserve an economy based on slavery is not one that is positive, nor do I see it as a “positive heritage” to be reverenced.

White supremacy and the institution of slavery are blights on the history of our nation. White Christians who supported slavery were on the wrong side of both history and the laws of the divine one who created all of us as one blood.

To this day, I cannot wrap my head around viewing a person of color as non-human or half-human, as were the slaves who were bought and sold like animals or property. Husbands separated from wives, mothers and fathers separated from children at slave auctions and sold like mere cattle or property.

An estimated 700,000 lives were sacrificed on the altar of our Civil War so that the Confederate States of America could destroy the United States of America and its constitution.

All of this death and sacrifice were to preserve a way of life that viewed fellow human beings as nothing more than property. To call the Confederate battle flag and the monuments “heritage” is to gloss over the brutality and horrible reality of their history.

Today’s U.S. history books delete the tragic fact of the plantation owners’ “breeding farms.” In order to maintain an adequate supply of strong plantation workers, young black girls were placed in breeding barns with young, strong black males and forced to breed like cattle, while the white plantation owner and his family faithfully attended the local church and sang hymns to Jesus.

The story of the 1916 lynching of Jesse Washington, a black 17-year-old, should cause any moral, decent human being to feel a sense of both shame and outrage.

As recorded in the AAMBC Journal: “Jesse was chained by his neck and dragged out of the courthouse by observers. Over 10,000 spectators gathered to watch the spectacle. There was a celebratory atmosphere among the whites, and many children attended during their lunch hour.

“Members of the mob cut off his fingers and hung him over a bonfire after saturating him with coal oil. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. Following, his charred body was dragged through town, and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs.”

This is but the tip of the iceberg of the brutality of the history or heritage that so many seem to want to honor with this flag and monuments.

Every time a person of color passes by these monuments or sees this flag waving, they are descendants of those who were subjected to the horrors of slavery. These monuments and symbols of the Confederacy belong in a museum of shame, not on our public squares in honor.

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.

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