As a citizen of Florence and Lauderdale County, let me say something. Don’t remove the Confederate monument downtown to the graveyard of American history. Despite the insistence of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the monument is not just about Jim Crowe and white supremacy. To say it is and call for its removal from our civic memory is a grievous mistake.
In 1983 Dr. John J. Winberry, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the University of South Carolina published, “Lest We Forget.” He catalogued the rich diversity of hundreds of Civil War monuments erected throughout the North and South in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Winberry discovered that their symbolism and design were as diverse as the communities that erected them.
He found that the Southern monuments were not all dedicated to white supremacy. Instead, they expressed a host of human motivations, including a reverence for the dead, a remembrance of loved ones, a respect for martial courage, and an abiding connection to heritage, community, and history.
That the SPLC would reduce the rich symbolism of these monuments to an expression of the hard, racist heart of Southern people is not only a moral travesty, it is an intellectually reductionist view of people and history.
Two of our greatest civil war historians agree. Shelby Foote, whom I personally knew, and James L. Robertson, Jr., insist that the history and symbolism of the Southern cause can never be adequately described as a monolithic expression of white supremacy
in the same way that the Civil War cannot be understood without its relationship to the institution of slavery. Both must be remembered as the inescapable facts of a national tragedy.
I say this to our City Council: you propose to eliminate a monument for one reason when there are many other reasons to preserve it. You may succeed in removing the statue as a symbol of white supremacy. However, there are many of your citizens who want to keep it for other good reasons, while recognizing that the truth of any human symbol will always bear the stains of our imperfection history.
The men who fought for the South from Florence and Lauderdale County had feet of clay, disabled by a thousand marches in a war whose reasons they only vaguely understood or even believed in. Slavery was a terrible curse on Southern society. I can’t imagine that most of those young men did not recognize this fact. Were they all rabid racists and can their dedication and sacrifice as soldiers be dismissed as nothing more than a defense of the racist interests of slave owners? I think not.
But the men came home and for generations that monument at the courthouse has reminded us that their feet of clay walked the streets of Florence.
Those young men returned to school and worked cultivating fields obliterated by war. They returned to shops, factories, and businesses providing for their impoverished families as Florence struggled to rebuild a broken economy. And they returned to church, their feet of clay lifted on tiptoes to worship their heavenly Father.
That monument to them at the courthouse should not be removed to the cemetery of history. It marks a moment in the mysterious thing we call the history of America. That history was and will forever be imperfect. Its symbols will bear the all too common tragedies and the rare triumphs of our nation’s past. However, it is from that checkered past that we learn and grow as a nation and become a more responsible people.
Dan L. Hendricks