Opportunity to Discuss Causes of the Civil War

The Spirit of the Confederacy in 2013

In an amazing change to the movement of removing Confederate statues, the Houston Museum of African American Culture has added a monument to “heroes of the South.” The 12-foot statue portrays a winged male figure holding palm tree foliage and a sword. The statue is dedicated: “To all heroes of the South who fought for the principles of states’ rights.”

John Guess, Jr., the museum’s CEO emeritus, defends the addition of the monument as a way to confront and engage with the image of pain to satisfy the “a need for our folks to heal.” He says the statue provides “a chance to dialogue with that history and say something about it.” The monument presents an opportunity to inform and discuss  Know this was really about slavery” and not states’ rights.”

The “Spirit of The Confederacy” statue was erected in 1908 by the Robert E. Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This occurred when states “re-imprisoned” Blacks through the Jim Crow laws.  The statue was removed from a downtown Houston park in June and put in storage.

African Americans in the Civil War
(Author’s Photo)

James Douglas, the president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP, criticized the museum’s decision to display the statue. Douglas said, “I don’t believe that a statue honoring individuals that fought to continue the enslavement of my people and destroy this nation of ours should exist anywhere on the face of the Earth.” The NAACP said it advocates “the removal and relocation of the Confederate monument to a place of historical rather than sovereign context.”[1]

My perspective is similar to that of the Houston chapter of the NAACP. I feel there are better ways to explain the differences in the causes of the Civil War. The statue celebrates that Confederate soldiers fought to defend their state’s rights. What right might that be?  The right was slavery and maintenance of that institution. The prominent reason cited in state secession declarations is the maintenance of slavery. The states’ rights argument became the primary argument after the war.

Few states presented a secession choice to citizens. Secession was driven by wealthy slave owners whose assets were in land and slaves. Without slave labor, the land would not produce revenue. If slaves were emancipated, these assets would become worthless. Soldiers fought the war to defend their state from Union invasion and to join with their neighbors in this conflict. Hence, the expression: “A rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

I would rather see statues such as the monument to African American soldiers displayed across from the African American Civil War Museum in Washington, DC. The causes of the Civil War could be displayed in a series of markers surrounding the monument. However, should the focus of the display be perspectives on why the war was fought or slavery itself?

One of the great achievements of African Americans in the Civil War was the 186,000 Black men who fought for the Union. These soldiers were instrumental in helping the North win the war. They suffered from high casualty rates and return to slavery. Honor these men, not the causes of the war.

[1] “Museum says displaying Confederate statue part of healing,” Juan A. Lozano, Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Updated: August 18, 2020, accessed August 23, 2020.

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