The history of White violence against Black people in America has been a constant since our arrival upon the shores of this continent.
Perspective from Asheville in Black –
Some Black people grew up hearing the stories of the Ku Klux Klan (started by Confederate veterans) terrorizing their ancestors while bearing the Confederate flag. The imagery of that flag still strikes fear in many and is a constant reminder that we are perceived by some as “less than.”
For White people suffering from willful ignorance, it’s easy to dismiss Confederate flags and other Confederate symbols—statues and memorials—as doing no harm. Some will say, “It’s just a symbol. It makes people feel at home. It’s part of my southern heritage. People are being too sensitive about it.” Those responses beg the questions: Exactly who feels at home with these symbols? What is the full story of the heritage it represents?
The obstacles communities have faced getting Confederate iconography removed shows how effectively the Confederacy’s supporters, past and present, have been at obscuring their support of chattel slavery—the ownership of some human beings by others. Behind the veil of the “noble cause” that Southerners fought for in the Civil War was the premise that Black people were inferior to White people. Their symbols were put up because those White people hated Black people and could not conceive of the notion that we be considered equals to them.
Why have White supremacists throughout the years flown and waved the Confederate flag? They recognize that the banner is inherently a symbol of White supremacy, hate, and terror. Racist atrocities have been perpetrated in the name of that flag. In contemporary history, one of the most potent symbols of the South and other parts of the country’s resistance to Black people being treated equally under the law is the Confederate flag.
Waving that flag they have resisted the progress of Civil Rights Movement: desegregation, Voting Rights, Fair Housing, even the right to sit anywhere on a bus, for goodness sake. White supremacists resist anything that would lawfully give equal access and protection to and for Black people.
History tells us precisely when Confederate iconography gained popularity. It wasn’t during the Civil War or even immediately after: it wasn’t until after the Plessey v. Ferguson Supreme Court decision of 1896, which opened the doors to segregation by law. By then Black people had succeeded at business, built vibrant prosperous communities outside of White control, had sought and begun to achieve good educations and a place in society.
History also tells us that after the Civil War, in an effort to get around laws passed by Congress, many southern states began to pass Black Codes. The laws prevented Black people from voting, going to school, owning land, and even getting jobs. Whites so envied and resented our successes that they rioted and murdered residents of town after town. The statues and memorials were put up—most of them erected between 1905 and 1925—to reinforce White supremacy and the terror that came along with it.
We believe there is a place for Confederate history, and that Southerners or anyone who wants to honor their ancestors who fought for the Confederacy have the right to do so in a private setting or in a museum. In museums, people can visit and learn the true history of the Confederacy—that it was originally formed by secession (a treasonous act against the Union) of seven slave-holding states; that its ideology was centrally based on Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens’s words “Our new government[’s] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
For those who seem to be so anti-government at this time in history, they can learn that the Confederacy was a centralized state entirely devoted to securing a society in which enslavement to White people was the permanent and inherited condition of all people of African descent. Bottom line, they can learn that the Confederates fought the Civil War to protect a southern society of which slavery and the free labor that came with it was an integral part.
Continuing to foist symbols of the Confederacy on those of us who were oppressed by them is no longer tolerable or acceptable. The time is now to remove all public images of the Confederacy; we trust that Asheville will join cities and towns across the country doing so!