Silent Sam (Photo: WBTV)
History in its complete, contextual, and unabridged form can be devastating. Educational, yes, but devastating all the same. It is the great equalizer. When one denies truth, point to the undeniable evidence of history then sit back and observe. Don’t take my word for it, though – ask ol’ Silent Sam on the campus of the University of North Carolina. He was in the news again over the weekend.
The truth hurts. When you look in the mirror in the morning after first rising out of bed, that’s the truth. You can freshen up, make yourself look nice, and go about your day but that dopeness will be there tomorrow morning waiting on you.
Let America tell it (or America’s classrooms, theatre, and books, more specifically), and they would have you believe that the Civil War was a fight that simplistically pit one zealous brother against another, their mother softly crying, pleading with her sons to reconcile their differences before being called on to fight. It is a story of noble men who when summoned to battle, bid adieu to their wives and children for the good of the country and all of humanity, tear-drenched handkerchiefs be damned. Even tours of very real battle sites withhold a very real truth, evidenced by performances by actors who dramatize the war more for costume than candor.
America has tried to gloss over the hard facts behind a war that was rooted in a practice so vile that its moral stench still seeps through the pores of our nation to this day. Slavery has never truly been reconciled. Moreover, its effects have made such an uncomfortable impact that the very mention of its historical reverberations as it relates to modern society yields defiant accusations of living in the past, the oft-employed get over it, or my personal favorite – reverse racism. Interestingly enough, I have yet to find anyone of those beliefs who cares to address the racism we are accused of reversing.
History, as aforementioned, educates. Conversely, revisions to history have the capacity to cripple. Many choose to hide the very real truth that slavery was a multi-billion dollar venture (in today’s monetary value) back then. When we say that America was built on the backs of slaves, we mean it. Without the institution of slavery, America would not have gained its wealth. Take time to dissect the inner workings of American capitalism and you will clearly see the correlation.
This, when translated, solidified whites’ economic position of power for future generations. In a parental sense, it birthed white prosperity, clothed white supremacy, exalted in white privilege’s first steps, and purposely raised a spoiled child that would eventually grow into a deleterious adult. An unflenching belief in the enslavement of Blacks and what was reaped from their labor under force of violence propelled men to fervently volunteer their lives to uphold a belief that contradicted the very principle to which they and their country claimed to adhere.
As a result of their vanquishing, they needed something to ease the pain of the sting.
In boxing, we call it a soft touch. A manager will usually set up a soft touch after their fighter experiences a tough loss. It serves a dual purpose: it regains their confidence and, barring the unexpected, gets them back in the win column. It allows the fighter to bask in a carefully concocted victory, still silently knowing they have yet to conquer their true nemesis. Similarly, confederate statues still stand as representations of the ultimate participation trophies, remaining steadfast in defending the remnants of the Confederate’s loss. Its defining flag carrying a deceiving label of history and heritage waves at passers-by – welcoming some, teasing others – while laying claim to the dubious distinction of last place.
Acknowledging defeat would be to acknowledge their flaws, knowing the God for which they fought and based their beliefs surely would not want to be associated with defeat. So what was the next logical step to take when their version of the war did not coincide with reality?
They made up some shit.
In his speech celebrating the unveiling of Silent Sam, Julian Carr made his presentation thusly:
The years of the future will laurel the story,
How often the tender, the brave, and the true,
Stood feet on the fields of their merited glory,
A thin line of gray ‘gainst the legions of blue.
O! what if half fell in the battle informal?
Aye, what if they lost at the end of the fray?
Love gives them a wreath that is fadeless, eternal,
And glory invested the line of gray.
Later in that same speech however, his true colors began to emerge. He continued:
I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison…
Confederate Napolean gun used in the defense of Atlanta, 1864. (Photographed by George N. Barnard. 111-B-4738. National Archives Identifier)
It was a story of noble men….
The main characters of the story, however, were largely forgotten in the narrative. Black slaves were already at war. The slave knew what the Civil War was about…and it wasn’t heritage.
The truth is that the Confederacy envisioned and dreamt of a distinctly different country altogether: one that not only enslaved other humans but placed that same inhumane institution of slavery as the centerpiece, indeed, the very foundation of its existence, with intentions of relying upon that as the source of everything it conceptualized itself being.
Grasping the seriousness of that level of inhumanity takes an effort – even for Blacks, at times – mainly due to the sanitized version of American history that has been set forth throughout the years. To understand what the war meant (and presently means) allows one to revel in the current fate of Silent Sam beneath the Tar-stained Heels of a few fed-up college students. That decision should not have been left up to them in the first place but it was an act that was necessary.
I suppose that sympathizers of the confederacy won’t be as Silent as Sam – it would be foolish to think they would be – but there is an undeniable and simple truth they are encountering more so than in years past: they lost.
More than that, the meaning of the Civil War has been lost on us; on Americans; on society. The essential truths behind those confrontations on American battlefields must be parlayed in a manner that challenges not only one’s beliefs but the essence of one’s patriotism.
We must do better.