In the days following Charlottesville’s white supremacist march historians offered evidence that the construction of Confederate memorials represents more than a simple historical artifact of the US Civil War.
The peak in 1915 was a period of extreme segregationist sentiment among white Americans. President Woodrow Wilson ordered the segregation of black federal workers. The first Hollywood blockbuster film, Birth of a Nation, celebrated the KKK, debased blacks, and fueled the growth of racism and segregation in the following decade. The NAACP was founded in the same period.
While at Chautauqua (8/5 to 8/20/17) Marguerite and I attended a showing of Birth of a Movement presented by the filmmaker Bestor Kram. This Independent Lens PBS Documentary gives the historical context surrounding Birth of a Nation and offers a key to understanding why Confederate Memorials are not merely a commemoration of historic figures and events. (Click the image below to view the trailer.)
When we understand the political and social climate surrounding the creation of these Monuments, it becomes clear that they were erected to honor the ideology of white supremacy and those who fought to preserve not just slavery, but the whole social system that dehumanized blacks.
Critics point out that in Germany when structures and artifacts of the Nazi era have been preserved, it is done in a context of national shame. Students are taught about that period as a dark time, not a proud one.
This is not generally the case with Dixie. And, the Confederate flag has been taken by the white supremacists as a symbol of their tribe. You won’t find black Americans flying the “Stars and Bars” on the back of their pickup trucks.