A recent letter in our sister newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, lambasted the City Council there for not listening to voters.
Specifically, the writer was furious that the council had voted to change the name of the Dixie Classic Fair.
“We are to the point that if someone complains or feels slighted,” he fumed, “they cause a commotion and get their way.”
The writer also huffed that the city had earlier removed a Confederate statue in downtown Winston-Salem “without notice to the public — a lack of due process.
“The same thing happened in Chapel Hill with the ‘Silent Sam’ statue.”
“As the saying goes,” he concluded, “ ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ People want to remove anything that has a connotation of the South. We should not have to pay the price for something that happened over 140 years ago.” And that’s where he lost me. ...
So, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it? But “we should not have to pay the price for something that happened over 140 years ago?”
The writer seems to want it both ways — to remember and forget the past at the same time. To keep Dixie, but the not consider its hurtful connotations for African Americans. Then again, the letter does capture, in 200 words, Americans’ odd relationship with our history: We love it ... or we hate it. We celebrate it with parades and somber tributes. Or we quarantine it in the musty shadows of the farthest corners of our collective memories.
“We will never forget,” we say with clenched jaws. Or “Get over it,” with a dismissive wave.
Some of us stage lavish re-enactments of one of the bloodiest conflicts in our history, the Civil War, with fierce attention to detail. But then are offended during tours of Southern plantations that guides would have the temerity to mention that — omigod — there were slaves there. And they were treated badly.
The problem with cherry-picking history is that it is dishonest. Telling only part of the story is to present a false narrative.
So, if it’s so monumentally important to put a statue of a Confederate hero on every corner, where are the slaves? Where are the women? Where is everyone else who played key roles in Southern history?
There’s a reason successful coaches and athletes dwell as much on their losses as their victories in film sessions: To get better.
That’s why we should remember the Wright Brothers and the Wilmington riots. The Battle of Guilford Courthouse and the sit-ins. Iwo Jima and My Lai. July 4 and Nov. 3. And why we shouldn’t merely quote (part of) Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, while conveniently forgetting — or not ever knowing — many of the other things he said:
That “we have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is that capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.”
That “it is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans … .”
And that “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ ”
So, I’ll make a deal with the Dixiecrats in Winston-Salem and the Silent Saministas in Chapel Hill: Open a U.S. history book without skipping chapters — and then let’s have a talk about what we name our fairs and where we put statues.