The Professor Meets Connie, the Concrete Confederate

Thomas Ott

"Whew!” thought the old professor, as he dropped his late payment into the Utility Department’s drop-box.

He wondered if Amelia, the friendly ghost in his Victorian home, caused him to find the missing bill. He also wondered if maybe Amelia had hidden it in the first place to play a trick on him.

“It’s late,” remarked the professor to himself, as he pulled out his time-worn pocket watch and tapped it to see if it were still running. He didn’t want to worry his wife at home who probably awaited his arrival with a cup of hot tea. But a strange urge seemed to give his feet a mind of their own, as he began strolling the sidewalk between the courthouse and the First Federal Building. The cold winter’s night caused him to raise his coat collar and put his head down. That’s when something strange happened.

“Psst-psst,” a voice whispered, so soft that the professor thought it the whimsical sound of a breeze. But there it was again, causing him to look up at the courthouse Confederate monument. The statue’s lips seemed to move, making him wonder if he should have had that second glass of sherry before leaving home.

“That’s right, Professor. I can speak, but didn’t have the need for 117 years until now.”

“Oh, my God,” replied the frightened professor, “the Book of Revelations is coming true.”

“Oh, calm down, Professor. Amelia said that she would get you here.”

“Amelia, my house ghost?”

“Yes, that Amelia, Professor. Now put your fears aside and duck under the police barriers. Come close. We need to talk.” With curiosity outweighing his urge to run, the professor did as he was told.

 

“Now, I’ve got something to say,” the statue emphasized. “When I stood on this pedestal for the first time in 1903, there was a racist fanfare stirred by Dr. Moody’s speech. Many in his audience agreed with his views. But that symbol attached to me then has faded into obscurity with each passing generation’s demand for social justice. But there is another symbol, powerful in 1903, and even more powerful today. It is the symbol of peace. Both Union and Confederate veterans attended my unveiling, school children sang America, and former Johnny Reb and a former Billy Yank shook hands over a Confederate grave. You don’t truly know the value of peace until you’ve been to war.”

“You’re right. By the way,” quizzed the professor. “What is your name?”

“Well, let’s see, Professor. I’ve never had one. But a white marble company in Atlanta shaped me into what you see. The ravages of time have weathered me into a gray appearance. One of my recent viewers even said that I looked like a concrete Confederate. So why don’t you call me ‘Connie, the Concrete Confederate.’ Actually I prefer just ‘Connie.’”

“Professor, do you know how the Civil War ripped Florence apart?”

“I know some of it, Connie.”

“Well, let me tell you all of it. From the beginning, it was awful: riverboats sunk by Union gunboats at our docks, wounded Confederates from the fall of Fort Donelson arriving at Pope’s Tavern for treatment, local residents standing on the banks of the Tennessee to listen to the roar of the big guns coming downriver from Shiloh. And this was just the beginning. Florence changed hands over forty times, and with each new occupation came new privations and tragedies for Florence. Food grew short, and local humor believed that a bag of potatoes made a man rich.

And there was all that killing. A band of Confederate youth calling themselves the LaGrange Rifles marched to the battlefield. Few ever came home. The progression of the war made tensions and intolerance grow. One victim was Reverend Robin Lightfoot, a slave preacher, who Confederate authorities lynched in 1864 for his expression of joy about the outcome of the war.

Banditry became a major feature of the war as well. It bred Tom Clark who fought for and deserted both sides and became a menacing devil to the residents of Florence. Not until 1872 did local authorities catch and hang him.

Florence even played a part in the end of the war. Not far from Florence, General ‘Fighting Joe’ Hood assembled his army in a desperate attempt to drive Union forces out of Nashville. His counterattack failed.”

“Say, Connie, I don’t think that I could have told Florence’s Civil War story any better in one of my lectures.”

“But I am just now getting to my argument, Professor. Mrs. Amelia Camper headed a ladies’ society pushing for a Confederate statue. All the heartbreak that I just described forged her strong demand. She wanted a statue that represented peace.”

“Wait a minute, Connie! Amelia Camper and her husband, Moncure, lived in my Victorian home at the beginning of last century. She’s the ghost that I see in my hallways sometime. In a sort of strange way, we have become friends, even though she can be a bit manipulative.”

That’s right, Professor, we both connived to get you here. But let me continue. Amelia wanted and got a statue symbolizing peace. My rifle is at rest, my bayonet sheathed, and my knapsack of food and ammo rests beneath my feet. I symbolize a soldier coming home and not going to war. In my eyes is a soldier longing to see his family.”

Nice summation, Connie, but what are you trying to conclude?”

“It’s this, Professor. America now is approaching America then: a summer of burning cities, the Capital building stormed, and tempers near the flashpoint. Diversity shouldn’t mean division in a country known for its unity. And this brings me to my opinion about my removal from the courthouse.”

“Well, go on, Connie, I’m listening.”

“I don’t mind leaving the courthouse. Lord knows that my feet have gone flat from standing on this pedestal for the last 117 years. I’m ready for a change.”

“A change to where, Connie?”

“I don’t want to stand in the City Cemetery. Id soon be forgotten if not vandalized. No, I want to move to Pope’s Tavern. I’d be happy with a much lower pedestal with no bombastic inscriptions, just something simple to commemorate both sides in the Civil War. It was at Pope’s Tavern that so many fighting the war died. You probably don’t know this Professor, but the spirits of 600,000 young men that the war killed pulse through my veins. I want the public to see me, and maybe a few will regard me as a lighthouse, warning them about the dangerous shores of a civil war.”

“Hey, Mister, are you speaking to that statue,” a policeman shouted. “Say, aren’t you Professor Ott? I was in one of your history classes twenty years ago. Why are you here so late?”

“I’m just on a walk after dropping off my utility bill. I’m not speaking to the statue, just admiring it.”

“Do you need a lift to your home, Professor?”

“No, I have my car, and I was leaving.”

As the old professor walked away, he glanced back and thought he saw Connie smile.

 

Thomas Ott earned his Ph.D. in Caribbean History from the University of Tennessee. He authored The Haitian Revolution. 1791-1804 which stands as one of the important books on that subject. His interest in Haiti’s great slave rebellion has led him to promote the importance of its leader, Toussaiot I’Ouverture, before academic and general audiences.

In 2010 Ott retired from the University of North Alabama to write the story of Saturday, a slave on the French side of the author’s ancestors and a participant in the world’s greatest slave rebellion. For more information, visit http://booksbythomasott.com