The Civil War ended over 150 years ago in May of 1865. It was a dark period of history that, had the Union not won, would have signaled the start of a completely different United States than the one we know. Though the war has long been over, our country’s racial woes have never ended. From Reconstruction to Jim Crow and beyond, this nation finds it difficult to deal with the struggles of our past in an honest and transparent way.
As race and history are concerned, a point of contention for many Southerners has been the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day (or Confederate Heroes Day as it is referred to in the state of Texas), a holiday that came into existence a year after the end of the Civil War. The Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Ga. passed a resolution to set aside one day to memorialize the estimated 280,000 Confederate soldiers who died in the war. First celebrated in April 26, 1866, a form of Confederate Memorial Day is observed in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.
The Palmetto State also observes Confederate Memorial Day, choosing May 10 as its day of celebration, coinciding with the death of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Given South Carolina’s history, and with the murder of nine parishioners in the Mother Emanuel Massacre still fresh in the minds of South Carolinians, many wonder why the losing side of the Civil War feels they need a day to celebrate in the first place.
I don’t wonder, though. I feel as if I have a pretty good understanding of why our legislators find it necessary to “honor” the Confederate dead.
Because they can.
No better way to flex the ol’ I don’t care if we lost the Civil War muscle better than by establishing a paid holiday in honor of people who died fighting for the right to continue the brutal practice of slave labor. In fact, they are so hell bent on reminding everybody who runs the show that the South Carolina General Assembly created Bill 4895 a.k.a. the “Heritage Act of 2000.”
The Heritage Act of 2000 is a lovely piece of legislation. In summation, it prohibits the removal of Confederate flags from statehouse grounds and the changing of any local or state monument, marker, memorial, school, or street commemorating certain historical conflicts and milestones without a two-thirds vote of each house in the general assembly.
Translation: It will take a majority vote from the South Carolina General Assembly to change the name of a street where nine black innocent people were killed by an admitted white supremacist to something or someone other than John C. Calhoun.
Again: Because they can.
This is why South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas are compelled to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day. It’s not just about honoring their fallen, it’s to remind us that — at the end of the day — they’re still the overseers. And until we like-minded get on the same page, it’ll remain that way for the foreseeable future. So the question shouldn’t be why they do what they do but rather, what are we going to do about it?